So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the PermacultureVoices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended. I will share them here with you!
Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.
So, the first day was Thursday. The first speaker was Joel Salatin, who is just delightful. This man is comfortable in front of an audience. The topic was Fields of Farmers, or how are we going to transition from the current group of "curmudgeon farmers" to a new generation of young farmers on the land. (The news that you DON'T have to buy land to be a farmer is one of the big take-aways from this whole conference, for me.)
9:45 Diego starts: “go for it!” drop the excuses There’s people out there doing what people say is impossible.
9:58 Joel Salatin
“if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly, first.” The fact is, we don’t do anything well at first. When the task is daunting, look in the mirror, hike up your diaper, and say “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly, first.”
The only difference between success and failure is that the guy who got back up one more time is the success.
You tend to think of the advantages that some other successful person had. Every place has its assets and its liabilities. Until you have two salaries from your farm enterprise, it is not a business and it is not sustainable. He did a sustainability conference for Nike in Beaverton. The avg Nike employee is 32. Average farmer is almost 60. In the next 15 yrs, 50% of American farmland is going to change hands.
When you’re over 50, you quit being innovative! People become risk averse as they age. In the past, elders leveraged their experience on the youthful energy of the youngers.
“The average American farmer is aging, alone.”
Joel is thrilled that he has 4 generations on his farm. His mom is 90 and very active. His grandkids are 6, 8 and 10.
People who want to farm rarely say “I want to get rich!” Yo, if you want something that lasts generations, money is part of that.
I believe we have thousands and thousands of young people who want to get into farming, but don’t think you can make a (white collar) living farming. We had more than 500 queries for 10 spots in our internship program. Other farms say the same thing.
Here’s the thing: when young people can’t get in, old people can’t get out.
9/24/1982 is when Joel left his office job. Nobody thought that was a good idea. They all told him he was crazy.
There is not a piece of property in the world that is fully developed. (Farm property) The radical environmentalist strategy is to extract people from the landscape. The assumption is that whatever is there, is the best there can be.
Could it be that I’ve been endowed with these gifts to come along as a masseuse, to massage the land, to make loving changes to make things better?
“The earth is on a weight gain program!” (turning sunlight into biomass via photosynthesis)
You ask any of the speakers here “what’s next?” and they will have a huge list of what they’d like to do on their land. There’s no end to it. So many potential projects.
Think of an old barn. They’re just about falling down all over New England. They are dark, wet and drafty and have killed more animals and rotted more lumber and wasted more paint than you can think of. Met a guy in Canada with a 150 yr old barn. He cleaned it up, mounted some spotlights in the beams, put up white painted plywood sheets on the walls and now he holds a juried art show every fall and he sells just about all his food product to the thousands of people who come to the show.
Think of one of those historical recreations of an 18th century farm. So many people on the property! But in California, second generation farmers aren’t allowed to build a second home on the farm property because “you can’t have people on a farm!”
Modern farmers always think that they need to get more land to bring in more people. There is so much that can be done on the land you have. The average cattle farmer in our area brings in $250/acre. At Polyface Farms, we bring in $8000/acre.
FSMA: Michael Taylor from Monsanto is administrating this. Trust me, he doesn’t like compost piles. He doesn’t like pastured chickens. They’re trying to criminalize co-production of vegetables and animals. They’re making mesclun farmers in California sign an affidavit that nobody can bring a child under 5 onto the farm! (diapers)
Shoot, you get 20 families on a property and suddenly there’s work there for a full time mechanic, accountant, babysitter. It starts with believing that there is more that I can do with this piece of land.
The development needs to be primarily portable. The more you can make portable infrastructure, the more flexibility you will have. When you have this, you don’t have to own the land. Our average intern has 10 opportunities to choose from when they’re done with us.
In New York State, 3.1 million acres of farmland has been abandoned in the past 15 years.
Greg Judy lives in a place where the agriculture economy is depressed—he operates on a lot of leased land. The equity is in management and customers, not in stationary infrastructure and land.
If you know how to make aesthetically, aromatically, sensually appealing landscapes, you will never lack for land.
If there’s one thing that permaculture can do, it makes beautiful landscapes. (There’s this tension in permaculture with the “let it all hang out - whatever, man” versus order). Think about the way things look. There is a place for order in the world. You want the visitors to think “wow, I want that on my land!”
We may move into a two tier system, where wealthy people own the land and other people manage the land. This is how it is in Europe, lots of places. Prince Charles has 1300 acres. It’s managed in multiple 99 year tenurages.
When we bought our 550 acre farm in 1961, it was $90/acre, feeder calves cost $30/hundred weight. Now it’s $8000 and $150. The ratio is all messed up now. The land preservation movement is trying to freeze things in a 1950 pastoral pattern. People with farmland have to sue in order to build a bottling facility, to have a day camp for kids, to do so many things. “I’m not supposed to write books in my farm house, because that’s manufacturing a product!!”
You can’t make a living producing commodity products. It’s got to be value added. Just go for it, don’t ask permission.
Leverage your resources. If you’re not putting 2000 hours a year on your tractor, you should rent one, not own one. If you rotate the use of your hoop house, you create pathogen cul-de-sacs. Everything on your farm needs to have multiple functions.
The next piece of this is marketing. Farmers are notoriously poor marketers. Most farmers don’t like people! I don’t anyone who gets an agriculture degree from a land grant college who takes a class in marketing. 80% of all marketers are last borns. If you want an engineer, get a first born. The middle borns are entrepreneurs. (That’s me—don’t have a baby book.)
Another reason farmers are poor marketers, they’re so invested in the product, it’s too stressful. The thought of rejection is too painful—we don’t want to do the marketing. OK. You don’t have to do it. You need to get the person who can do that.
11:01am “I don’t want you to have to treat farming like an addiction that has to fed with an in-town job!” Your farm has to support a community. This is not a place for scarcity, it is a place of abundance. The earth is not a reluctant partner. She is a loving partner who is ready to bequeath upon us abundance if we take care of her."
And. . . apparently cutting and pasting from Notebook leads to messed up quotes, dashes and apostrophes. I may come back and try to edit this. Sorry if it's hard to read.
Wow! Somebody fixed all the wonky apostrophes and quotes. Thanks, mysterious someone!
Yes, I have taken notes at just about every talk I've attended. I am currently sitting at a table with my feet (and my poor, swollen ankles) up on the table, taking a break from attending talks, because I was ready to break. The schedule today started with Geoff Lawton at 8am and runs until 3pm. Yes, it's 2:20pm and I have not even started eating my packed lunch. Then, it starts again at 4pm and runs until 8pm. Ack!
Now that I have hope that some special someone has a magic way to fix the formatting issue, I will try to throw all these things up quickly.
CJ, I think what he meant was that farming needs to be it's own thing, and it needs to support at least two people, often a couple, to be truly sustainable. I think he was aiming at the same thing when he said:
"I don't want you to have to treat farming like an addiction that has to fed with an in-town job!"