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Where Are All the Examples of Economic Success?

 
pioneer
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I’ve been pondering this as I consider my pursuits as a woodworker with a desire to homestead.

The economy is dependent on producing something with demand, whereas a homestead seems to be focused on supplying one’s own demand and potentially storing surplus, or selling it.

I have been unable to figure out if being a true homesteader is compatible with pursuit of typical lifestyles. I feel like it’s impossible to homestead without having been involved in “the economy” at some point.

Theoretically, if one homesteads from birth, is the act of passivity and not destroying the environment justification for owning things like mass produced technology?

Just things I have been pondering. As it has been since I joined these forums I am ironically to poor to homestead, the ultimate poverty act!

Reminds me of a meme I’ve seen a few times in socialist subreddits

I think the main solution to this problem is total permaculture within a city environment to maintain a sense of civilization and career, so basically literally what was done for centuries in places like Mesoamérica, Egypt, anywhere... Only modern people could butcher so badly the necessity to live around what keeps you alive, water included, and distance themselves so far from it.
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John C Daley wrote:



John, your post has served as my introduction to syntropic agriculture. As I watched the video you posted and another featuring the same fellow (Ernst Götsch), it was transformative. I've studied various aspects of permaculture for 10 years while saving for a plot of land, but not until I saw what Götsch did with successive planting did I understand what I need to do in order to convert Utah or Idaho desert land to a food forest. Thanks a lot for posting, partner.

- Mike
 
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If measuring "economic success" in financial/ profit terms, this may not be so easy to see or uncover, let alone a permaculture objective.  In 1991 I was connected with a prominent 1st generation SW USA aridlands pioneer about undertaking a masters' research case study of one of their projects (before-during-after, inputs/ outcomes, costs/ benefits), but after being invited & traveling long distance I was abruptly turned away in the remote desert ('we don't document').  

In my own regional homesteading projects during the intervening decades & recent years, despite being a designer using analyses/ spreadsheets/ drawings/ case studies, I came to understand much better that shortcoming/ obstacle to wider uptake.  Many of the sites, projects, operations referenced here are exemplary, and focused on the bottom line around one or several market operations.  But with transition costs/ efforts, additional ecological/ social/ household factors & levels, and especially lifecycle perspectives under shifting parameters, arrival at a final accounting is difficult.  

My own approach is, and with our shifting circumstances + declining conditions around us, has had to be experimental, incremental, progressive, contingent, & long term: conservation, regeneration, biodiversity, subsistence, resilience, redundancy, replication, expansion, constraint, emergency, force majeure, etc.  I've been doing my best to document & maintain paper trail through the long emergency, though in our drylands after decades of drought & successive severe/ extreme years, continually weaning from conveyed water & working/ investing to go rain-water only, the whole thing seems very precarious, until I look at everybody else around us & think how our son will be prepared to go out into the world.
 
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This essential question has been raised numerous times. It is, in my opinion, based upon a false premise. That premise being that in order for an example of applied permaculture to be economically successful, it must be profitable based solely on farming revenue. The premise is false for at least two reasons: 1) Permaculture design is not restricted to farming, the design principles of permaculture can be applied to all human activities 2) Permaculture teaches us to stack functions and pursue multiple streams of revenue, which essentially means that if you're only generating revenue by the sale of your farm production, you're not applying permaculture principles effectively.
This second point means that holding workshops on your site is an obvious opportunity to stack functions. Holding workshops can generate income directly, build community and build community awareness of your project and thereby build your market presence. Suggesting that it is somehow improper, or that this invalidates the "economic success" of the project, tells me that someone is working with an excessively narrow definition of permaculture. And, oh, yes, it is possible to legitimately have people pay you for the opportunity to help you build a new facility, or garden bed or get crops sown. They get education and hands on experience and you get revenue and work done.

There's also, again, in my opinion, an inherent misunderstanding in approaching permaculture as something that has to be profitable. Profit is a terrible tool for measuring things. Look at the mess it has gotten us into ;) The point for individuals engaging in the practice of permaculture is that they find value in it. Whether they are able to pay their bills through the application of permaculture or not. The person who still needs their "day job" to meet things like tax bills and mortgage payments may still be very successfully practicing permaculture as their permaculture practice reduces their bills for energy, food and water. Does it generate cash? Maybe not, but reducing expenses contributes real value that must not be dismissed.
 
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As a person that has had what I think is economic success, I think you don't often see examples because we are very modest. But, doesn't that really make sense because by being modest is what has really allowed us to be just where we are?

It may seem overly simple, but my girlfriend and I have never drank, smoked, did any drugs, watched much TV, gambled, had credit cards, or bought cars on credit. Some call that boring, but it has also saved us a ton of money over the years. Early on it did not seem like a big deal, but over time that exponential saving has really put us in a good spot fiscally. But that is how life works; you have to do the work up front, to get the rewards for the rest of your life.

As my girlfriend and I often say we are the most unassuming power-couple ever. Anyone that looks at us would never think we are where we are in life... and that is just the way we like it. We have the acreage, barns, fenced fields, timber-frame house, and all that, but we also have good jobs. Not because we have to work; she loves to teach and I like working in renewable energy, but because working makes fiscal sense. At 48/49 what else are we going to do... play shuffleboard? As the old joke goes:

How do you make a 3000% investment? Put $50 in your car, drive to work for a week and make a $1500 paycheck.

A lot of farmers/homesteaders are smart, and realize this, and as long as they can work, they are going to off-farm jobs to maximize that fiscal success. Add in farm deductions and other incentives and the homestead/work life balance only makes sense. Other people look at that as failure, but its that view that will make their own success unattainable.
 
author and steward
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Economic success ...


One path is work hard and save money.  Then the future you has safety with that pile-o-cash.  Unless, of course, that pile of cash turns to dust somehow.  We have heard the stories of millions of people where they had to go back to work because something happened.

Suppose you have a homestead with a massive garden.  Loaded with perennial systems.  Maybe you even have a few animals and it takes almost zero work to take damn good care of them.  Maybe it is enough to feed you and maybe sell a wee bit to a few folks on the side.  Food and shelter.  Seems less likely that you will have to go back to work.  So it might be fair to call this "economic success".   But I suppose different folks have different ideas of "economic success".  So this is for those that think that is the ultimate form of "economic success" but maybe not for people that think the best life is a city life.



You wanna talk just straight dollars?  Like sepp holzer earning millions from 110 acres?  Joel salatin makes some pretty good coin - probably millions.  Mark Shepherd talks about profits a lot - maybe a million.   Have you seen the broken limbs movie?  

https://permies.com/t/56746/permaculture-apples-safeway
https://permies.com/t/7474/making-big-bucks-permaculture

Although Dan already mentioned gert: https://permies.com/t/gert




There are many schools of thought under the permaculture umbrella.  And for straight up dollars, there are lots of excellent examples.  Personally, I think the Gert path is the smarter path.
 
master steward
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paul wheaton wrote:Economic success ...

One path is work hard and save money.  Then the future you has safety with that pile-o-cash.  Unless, of course, that pile of cash turns to dust somehow.  We have heard the stories of millions of people where they had to go back to work because something happened.

Suppose you have a homestead with a massive garden.  Loaded with perennial systems.

There are many schools of thought under the permaculture umbrella.  And for straight up dollars, there are lots of excellent examples.  Personally, I think the Gert path is the smarter path.

Gert works for you, Paul, but you've already been on the other path. You had enough money, that you could choose your location for Gertdom very carefully. I've got a lovely patch of land except if the Cascadia Subduction lets go early (it probably won't for another few hundred years... let's hope?)

This is why I'm really impressed with the PEP program for our permies who need it (I'm more in the Otis section and just dabble in PEP for the education it offers.) If you're one of the people with a wonderful job you love, that pays you decently and doesn't stress you through the roof, and if you live modestly so you can save enough money to buy land *and* have enough left over to build what you need in a locally sustainable and safe way, you can get the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, I know too many young people who despite living modestly are barely living paycheck to paycheck and they are feeling pretty stuck. I wish I could get more of them interested in permaculture and PEP!
 
paul wheaton
author and steward
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Jay Angler wrote:This is why I'm really impressed with the PEP program



Every once in a while i still need to hear these things.  Thanks Jay!
 
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@Pete Host

I love this! There are three things you said I want to highlight, and comment on.

pete host wrote:
My short answer is : there are none,.....At least, I haven't met one in my own country, and I've been working with farmers for almost 30 years.



This is a huge thing to know, and perhaps even be relieved about, because knowing this will keep you from reviewing the same road that others have failed on.

Right now, in any modern country, Labor (including your own) is just too valuable. In developing countries Labor is inexpensive and available, while Commodity goods are expensive and difficult to find. This means that homesteading and growing your own food makes economic sense.

In the USA and other "1st world countries" the opposite is true. Labor is expensive and Commodities are cheap. Why? Because they are all subsidized by an Imperial regime we collectively call "The West". Until this changes. Until our labor is valued. Until we stop subsidizing corn, wheat, and soy, and start subsidizing small farmers again, there will be no room for Permaculture, or any small mixed perennial system, to stand up to market forces.

The second thing you said:

pete host wrote: "But given the current status of the world, and given our benevolent leaders don't lead us into some totalitarian dystopia, profitability even on small scale could come faster than most think. So I'm a strong advocate of : If you can afford it, farm some, even on a thenth of an acre. Or become friends and give some of your working time to people who farm.



This is huge because it highlights the real value of homesteading. The market forces I laid out in the paragraph above are unimportant in face of real change.

The skills you gain are more important and valuable than anything you are able to sell at market.

The skills ALONE make this whole thing worthwhile, as our society appears to be reaching a breaking point (see 'totalitarian dystopia').

Whenever this has historically happened the people with skills and friends tend to do the best.

And your third point:

pete host wrote:  Now there are farmers like Fortier, who live correctly from their enterprise, but he works his ass off, on a very rationalized veggie farm, and he has tons of street smarts. This model works. There are other legit small scale farmers who publish here and there on the internets, but most of the time, they're busy farming.



This is my experience as well. Farming is possible as a life-blood business.

Anyone (in theory) can do this, from an economic standpoint, if you are willing to abandon all pretense of permaculture and simply focus on good soil management, good farm management, and good economic/business principles.

Collectively I would call these three things "Hard Work".

Worth it though! Keep at it! =)
 
pollinator
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Many very good points all, but I think this discussion might be undervaluing the potential profit and ecological benefit of permie-flipping property while also reaping home economic benefits from permaculture at the same time. I think that fills a niche described above relating to the conundrum created by the absurd disparity in the valuation of people’s time and effort. These are our lives, and in my opinion, most precious resources to give. The fact this is largely based on the caprice of where and to what group one is born is all the more unjust.

However, I think I am an example of someone from the economically “richer” part of the world who has been able to leverage that privilege into being debt-free, landowning, off-grid and relatively self-sustained in a way that makes it much easier to give back. I am no John Henry when it comes to work ethic, and I can be a total mess when it comes to organization, but permaculture design and a lot of observation of nature has made most of my current privileged life work. We produce most of our power, all our water, and a lot of (but not close to all) of our food. We are financially debt free. We are building soil and increasing biodiversity while helping deeply rehydrate our watershed. We try to help our neighbors and community how we can, but they always seem to give more back.

We did similarly at our old place, but on a much smaller lot with a more fixer-upper of a house to start with. Our original down payment was 16k, and the mortgage was very manageable even with a two year private loan while we made the place worthy in the eyes of a bank. We worked on it for the entire time we owned it. It was many tons of work, but paid off by increasing in value 2.5x in 6yrs. We likely could have gotten more had I foreseen the real estate madness of late but it was March of 2020, but we had the right buyer who loves nature and kept some of our old birds as pets. That, and it allowed us to pay off all our debts and save a good amount. I also made a decent living off what was grown there, and people noticing the work we did led to employment as designer, installer and maintainer of food forests. In return for my pay these produce food for the community, are farmer incubators, increase the value the land that they are on, and the neighbors property value as well.

Like those food forests, our first place will be a much more ecologically and human friendly property unless someone works pretty hard to mess it up. I think that is less likely because permaculture design principles informed how we made the place much more productive, diverse, vibrant, verdant, manageable and user friendly for future occupants.

Of course we had the good fortune of buying low and selling high in the market, but we did so with intention. That and I have the fortune of being the son, grandson, and great-grandson of economists (this had its downsides when it came to a kid’s ability to engage in dinner table conversation). All that said, I think permaculture design can be very helpful in creating economic higher ground, and the competitive advantage of entering any marketplace at a time and place of our choosing.
 
Steve Zoma
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I have lived the GERT life and can say for sure it has certainly been a worthwhile struggle, and got me to where I am now. But now... at this point in my life, I don't know... I am thinking of cashing out.

We made it, and certainly are the example of success with making my own house using resources found on the farm, buying land when it became available, figuring out low-cost ways to build the infrastructure that we needed... all that, but at age 48 for me, and 49 for my girlfriend, the 30 year struggle has left us tired. We made it yes, but now... now what?

The kids are gone. Everything that needs to be built has been. I have not even walked the land for over two years. Its just this huge, "been there, done that, and now there are no more challenges to overcome", sort of thing. Sure there are a few undone things I have considered; this place is ideally suited for pumped storage, and there is a place ready for a tiny house that could be rented out. But I am not going to get to them because we are just plain burned out.

We went back to work because we were both bored, and honestly have skills that a civilized society needs (teaching misfortunate kids and alternative energy). Part of me wants to just stick it out to my death, fearful of forever saying, "well we used to have this on the farm", but part of me says to just let the next generation try their hand at it. There is always more that can be done for sure, but only if the energy and interest is there.

How do I sleep at night now morally? I guess knowing there are 15,000 customers who live in suburbia and want alternative energy. Today, I'll go in the substation, change out some switching gear, and keep sending 15 megawatts their way. I don't need hundreds of acres to do that.
 
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VRBO = Vacation Rental By Owner

(in response to an earlier question in this thread)
 
This tiny ad is made of adobe
Own 37 Acres in AZ - good water wells - 44% discount, only $22k!
https://permies.com/t/96159/Acre-site-Northwestern-AZ-sale
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