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who do you think has the best large scale permaculture system?  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Good point, Siu-vu-man,
But the health problems of Americans are not caused by eating spinach, blueberries and cranberries. Those are three of the healthiest things on the planet. In general, I agree, however.
I do think, as I mentioned earlier, that cheap bulk unhealthy bad food is not the solution to the now worldwide problem. Barely organic food is also maybe a stepping stone at best. I think we're going to have to think seriously about food as medicine and medicine in the form of food. That's easier to do with smaller, local, more permaculture type farms than giant big ag. Where we're already at in terms of big ag doesn't feed people well now. Doing more of it will feed us even more poorly. so I agree.
John S
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hi John, true, but the 3 alternatives are even more nutritious per calorie but yes, i agree, better to grab the low-hanging fruit first, which is a feat in and of itself. so much of what we choose to eat now are empty calories : more engineered to satisfy cravings, rather than to sustain the bio-machines that we call our bodies so that they can operate to maximum potential. hence, the "need" for a bloated healthcare industry to deal with the fallout. this is such an enormous topic with so many interrelated variables, it's really difficult for most everyone to wrap their minds around fully, especially when one realizes that much of the west's economic output (GDP) derives from creating & sustaining unhealthy environments.

there is another huge factor that i'm willing to wager that Cassie's dad understands at least intuitively -- much of the soils that are used for agriculture are depleted of nutrients. sure, cover cropping with clover, etc. may help to reintroduce nitrogen, but that is only one element out of dozens that are missing. someone with a large tract of land has 2 choices essentially : spray with chemical fertilizer or remineralize using natural processes. both require outside inputs and investment in time, energy & large equipment. one is a proven easy fix that will more or less guarantee an immediate yield, but has numerous long-term consequences (salt accumulation, bacteria/fungal dieoff, etc.) which further destroy the land for future generations. the other is unproven in the conventional practical sense, and may have to sacrifice yield for one or multiple seasons for rehabilitation.

perhaps this is also where the "permaculture" mindset can interject into conventional farming : developing and trial testing radical alternative methods to speed up natural succession in mineralization that can be used by mainstream farmers to eventually wean themselves off the addiction to chemicals. i read somewhere once (maybe in the forums here) about someone saying that it is folly to try to convince a conventional farmer to rethink everything that they have been doing for decades but that it might be reasonable to encourage them to dedicate 5% of their land as an experiment. if it works over a given time period, do 5% more. i would add to that it might be more of a convincing argument to color the proposal in economic terms (large risk on a small amount of capital (land) to achieve a long-term return at lower cost) and appealing to common ground (the realization that the soils are depleted).

i'm quite sure that none of this is news to everyone reading here, so the above is written simply in an effort to help construct a bridge between the "permie" mindset and that of conventional farmers on the ground.
 
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Peter Ellis wrote:So, maybe this is worth thinking about - How many farmers are needed to feed the world with industrial agriculture, versus how many farmers are needed to feed the world with permaculture? Measured in terms of individual productivity, industrial agriculture blows permaculture out of the water...Permaculture works against economies of scale, i.e. it is not more efficient to have a one thousand acre food forest than to have a one hundred acre food forest. Permaculture is largely incompatible with mechanization (Mark Shepard has some arguments here, but I think my point is valid). Permaculture uses more human labor and less machinery, so no one farmer running his combine over thousands of acres of wheat or corn.

But, is it a particularly good thing to employ fewer people? We have some pretty large scale unemployment. Maybe smaller farms that are more productive per acre and more profitable per acre and provide more people with gainful employment would be a good thing? Say you took a cureent thirty thousand acre spread and broke it into sixty five hundred acre permaculture operations. Many more people would need to be employed working on these farms, but the collective production would likely surpass the production of the single industrial agriculture operation.

If we had a shortage of manpower, the issue of productivity measured in man hours could be a legitimate concern. We might not have the resources to produce enough food. I think that we do not have that shortage, but that we are coming up on a point where the fossil fuel that has allowed us to leverage our manpower tremendously will become the limiting factor on the industrial agriculture approach. In other words, we are approaching a point where we will no longer have the option of industrial agriculture due to a shortage of petroleum.



I'm going to disagree with the notion that there is a surplus of workers willing and able to do the labor needed to harvest broad acre permaculture food forest type systems. While there are many people unemployed, they are often unwilling or unable to do the difficult manual labor needed. In the US, in order to alleviate the worker shortage we have set up an array of guest worker programs. Back in 2010 (when the economy wasn't exactly good), the united farm workers had a "Take Our Jobs" campaign where they tried to get US citizens to take the jobs of migrant farm workers. Out of thousands of people responding to their campaign, only a few dozen actually followed through.
 
pollinator
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I do find it interesting that when I read about farmers who are a bit skeptical about making a switch to regenerative techniques from industrial techniques that they tend to do a plot trial and then they see the benefits for themselves and end up making the system-wide switch. When trying to win over industrial farmers, I think one strategy is to leverage this idea and encourage them to trial regenerative techniques on some subdivided piece of their landscape. I'm confident that the majority of them would make the system-wide switch if we just stand by them a bit and help them learn this better way.
 
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John Wolfram wrote:
I'm going to disagree with the notion that there is a surplus of workers willing and able to do the labor needed to harvest broad acre permaculture food forest type systems. While there are many people unemployed, they are often unwilling or unable to do the difficult manual labor needed. In the US, in order to alleviate the worker shortage we have set up an array of guest worker programs. Back in 2010 (when the economy wasn't exactly good), the united farm workers had a "Take Our Jobs" campaign where they tried to get US citizens to take the jobs of migrant farm workers. Out of thousands of people responding to their campaign, only a few dozen actually followed through.



Here in the UK most of our manual/seasonal farm work is done by labourers from elsewhere in the EU, while at the same time we still have high levels of local unemployment.
 
John Saltveit
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I think the whole unwilling to do hard work thing is also part of a long-term cultural change. If you grew up in a family where hanging out in your yard and doing a couple of cool experiments was fun and you got great food out of it, you're likely to see the upside of it and see the benefit. Also if your friends do that. If you grew up in a family and among friends where watching TV, playing video games and surfing about lives of celebrities was the norm, you'd see that work as unreasonable. Part of what I'm trying to do is make a positive pebble wave that connects with others on the idea that working to make the world and your neighborhood a better place is a worthwhile lifestyle. So is biking to the library to get books. A lot of my students grow up in families where Dad works in a nursery or does construction and landscaping, and so they don't see that as such a terrible thing. Their parents are almost all immigrants, but the kids are American citizens. I think permaculture is going to be an easier sell to those who grew up and know others who think that working on projects is fun and interesting, and getting exercise is not a bad thing.
John S
PDX OR
 
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There's more to this question than people are thinking.

I'm starting to think the real answer isn't a large farm. Even at 30,000 acres, it wouldn't be the 'best' or even the 'largest' permaculture system.
Generally this is considered a faux pas in Texas, but I'm going to tell y'all for the sake of putting my cards on the table - my family has a >5k ranch in the Texas hill country. The last real offer on it was $60,000,000, the last high offer was 80, but it's not really for sale - my grandpa, who may be quite more stubborn even than Cassie's dad, likes to take offers just to imagine the money, but we've had it since I think 1938. It has its own natural springs, caves, miles of roads, hunting camp, two large stone houses, smaller houses. Sounds like paradise, right? See the website my brother made for it years ago - pipecreekranch.com/ We've got lakes, one with a concrete dam, ridge roads, the works.

It's been the cause of some very nasty fights, one that split my father and his sister apart - they don't talk - and my grandfather (96, turns 97 next month) hasn't helped but threw fuel on the feuding fire. It's been, in my opinion, basically mis-managed since white men set foot on the land in the 1840s, as has much of the hill country. It was once prairie, with the Comanche riding around on our land, and through Bandera Pass, the Lupan Apache. The settlers, as one (now deceased) old-timer JB Edwards told me, were so terrified of the Comanche that they let the trees grow right up to the house before they'd allow anyone to so much as chop a branch off. Now areas are unnaturally overrun with junipers - locally called 'cedars' - whereas they once clustered on the hilltops. In the 1930s, a government grant paid for JB and his brother to drag a massive several-ton chain between two bulldozers. One as far up as he dared drive it on the hillside, one down in the valley -- everything taken down. You can still see the massive scars on the mountainsides. It also seems to have semi-plowed, in effect, all the topsoil. At any rate, the land seems to hold less water and be very flood-prone. Another recent government program let us pay a Mexican to drive a Bobcat all day with a tree-cutter, to cut the junipers down individually, then pile them up and burn them. Another government program paid for British Petroleum ("BP") solar panels to be installed, to pump well water over to various water troughs along the ridge. But without much grass growing in the drought, there's not many cattle the ranch can support, so they're only rarely used. The politics of who-does-what are rather convoluted, but basically it doesn't matter because no one in the family has both the work ethic and the knowledge base to manage it well.

All of which is why, despite working on farms in Massachusetts (Morning Glory, Edgarton) and Ohio (Foxhollow, Mt Vernon), and getting an Environmental Studies Minor at Kenyon College, and making a documentary film on agriculture including interviews at The Land Institute in Kansas, an organic farm in California, and with fishermen and professors in southern Louisiana, and taking geoff lawton's PDC last spring and building a permaculture aquaponics system at my house and designing a plan for an acre plot here in Dallas, I've not even touched this ranch with a 10-ft pole, until yesterday.

Because yesterday I saw Gabe Brown's talk in Idaho last fall, and just couldn't help myself. As far as convincing my own family of the merits of permaculture, I think a moral argument, or any form of discussion that could take aim at how they do things presently, would be met with quickly shut ears and perhaps hurt feelings. They already all read "Holistic Management" by Alan Savory back in the 1990s, and nothing really changed. The only way that might work is to slowly feed them very feel-good videos. But I haven't really been doing that even. Probably the only thing that would work, and I think Cassie and anyone else who has to share land with others might try this, is to ask for your own manageable-sized plot of land to experiment on.

But let's say I / you / anyone convinces them - and there's often a "them" with large properties, say they're convinced completely, exactly as you could dream it, and set up a massive, profitable, permaculture-based operation. It seems anytime you give people something and say, "OK, share this," it's going to fail. As Geoff Lawton said, living and working with other people is very very hard - making, say, an 'intentional community' work is very hard. Even when they're all monks in a monastery, as two of my friends are, there's still massive drama and power struggles and people who cannot stand each other. Family is a crucible for this - it's a particularly tight-nit community who all have each other's strings-to-pull down by heart, at the ready.

Any profit venture is like making a movie. It's best when there's one director. Owning and operating land makes one the director, producer, and lead actor. No wonder my grandfather enjoys it, even at 96, with only in-name concessions of control to his (more easily controlled) daughter. And if she were in his position, I suspect it'd be the same. I've enjoyed shows like "The Men Who Made America." It's fun to say you know rich and famous people. I know several indeed. But it tears people apart, isolates them from the most valuable asset, which in my opinion is human bonds. Our family was mostly happy before my father and his sister began to see the possibility of owning / controlling this land.


So. What is the best large scale permaculture system?
Larry Santoyo's Los Angeles.


Happiness is having skills that fit you like a glove, living in abundance without chronic worries, surrounded by people you naturally agree with, working on a vision with your own hands that is out of love for those you've built bonds with.
Unhappiness is having contrived or coerced skills that fit someone else's bill, living in want and worry, surrounded by people that handicap or undercut you, working on meaningless projects with delegated hands that are done out of fear of losing control and power.



I know a dot-com San Francisco millionaire who's about my age, early 30s. He came up with the game "Mafia Wars," and owns properties around that city. The guy seems mentally unstable and severely isolated. He's a big preacher of entrepreneurship. He's pale and hard to reach.

I know Erykah Badu, who has multiple children by as many fathers, has one house (won't say where, she has stalkers) that is home to many people who seem to endlessly cycle through - her mother lives there, relatives, her entourage, Andre 3000, friends. She works hard but supports an ecosystem, and it sustains and nourishes her. She doesn't love to travel, so she does a lot of shows in Dallas and is a master of local promotion. She's gotten Dave Chappelle to come to her, and do local shows. The woman is as happy as a clam, and seems 15 years younger than her age.

Make a whole city like that, where things network into each other, where a supplier always is responding to an existing need, where enterprises are stacked and human bonds are formed naturally, a web of real skills, and you create stability in what economists call the 'informal economy,' which is nourishment. Geoff Lawton's ranch is the entire world, and he's always invited where he steps foot. As for what may happen with my family's ranch, I don't know. But it's not worth fighting over - my priority's not the plans or projects or profit, but the relationships. If something good comes of that, great.


Just my opinion anyhow.


 
pollinator
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I really enjoyed your post Preston . Money is not everything neither is land it's what you do that's important. I have never been as poor in financial terms as I am now nor so rich in experience friendship and love . I eat better am healthier and expect to live happier

David
 
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Cassie Langstraat wrote:My dad is currently running 1,500 pregnant heifers on his land right now. They will calve in the spring. That will be around 3,000 cattle. He owns around 30,000 acres of land. He farmed about 500 acres of corn this summer, complete with tons of chemicals and fertilizers... He also used to do much larger acre wheat farming too. He truly believes that millions of people would starve without people like him providing these massive numbers of beef and big crops to the world.

He's not denying that permaculture could be more profitable or produce more on a smaller scale. He is just saying that there is no way we can eliminate Big Ag and feed the billions of people on the earth. I am not saying I believe him, I am just saying I have been listening to him talk about this for the two weeks I've been home and it's frustrating because I don't really know what to say back to him.

So several of you have said that I asked the wrong question, and that this debate is the wrong one.. So what is the right question? What is the right debate in this sense?

The right question is what does your Dad want for his children and his grand children and his great grand children for generations to come? Just ask him. A Joel Salatin/Gabe Brown business model will eventually produce 5000-8000 dollars profit an acre. On 30,000 acres, that's enough revenue to support MANY MANY families...ie many generations of your Dad's family! Each generation inheriting a better farm than the last as each generation improves the soil. Each year requiring less and less inputs until you hit that magic point when you have no more inputs at all....and instead get more and more yields.

To that generation, leaving more and/or a better life to the next generation is a common cultural paradigm. Maybe just maybe it will strike a chord. But it has to be your Dad's idea. So ask him? What does he want for his extended family for generations to come. Don't focus on things like running out of oil. Whether it runs out or not, it still cost money. Spending less on oil means more for his family. Same goes for every input. Let's say the conventional model of agriculture never fails? What if at the last second every pesticide that fails gets replaced by a new one. It still costs money. Every dime he spends on expensive inputs is one dime less he keeps for his future generations. Your Dad can afford it. But how many generations before there just isn't enough to go around. That's HIS legacy. Should be the most important thing to him. But again. You have to let HIM come to that. You simply can't do it. If you say it, you come off as greedy. But you can ask what he wants for you and the rest of the family, and their families, and so on and so on. See what he says.

BTW Here is yet another large operation besides Gabe and Joel:
 
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Gabe brown has my vote, he is a actual income producing farmer. He spoke at our annual forage conference at Michigan state last year. I also would say Joel salat in for sure. I have seen at least one of the other mentioned speakers in person, however I am sceptacle about how much off farm income sales supports the farms of many permaculture speakers eventhough they have great working models and are sources for furthering research and genetic sources. Most systems just are not producing enough income or produce reliable crops yet to support a commercial ag business so that is why many of us are still burning fuel and equipment to farm large acreages and run commercial livestock as the reliable income producer.
 
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John Wolfram wrote:My top pick would probably be the 2,500 acre White Oak Pastures in Georgia (Interview). Somewhere in the interview, the guy gives a great response to the "can't feed the world" argument where he basically states that as long as land is the limiting factor, conventional ag produces more, but once something else becomes limiting factor then a permaculture style system produces more.



I agree.

It seems to me that land is only a limiting factor because of industrial agriculture practices turning fertile soil into desert. The rate of loss of topsoil in tilling systems is astounding. While industrial farmers can "maintain" a soil with 2.5-3% Soil Organic Matter for years and years, it catches up with them during the next drought or other external "limiting factors". Regenerative practices turn marginal land or desertified land into productive land. Industrial practices don't do that. I wonder if conventional ag actually does produce more, though. Let's look at land and inputs. Does it take more to grow corn at 10,000 lbs/acre yield, giving 4.5x the energy put into growing it, given to cows at a feed ratio of 1 lb of beef for ever 8 pounds of corn, this is a 2x losing proposition. Forget transportation, the energy required to raise cows in AFO, forget all of it, and the energy balance is still inefficient. What is the energy balance of a managed intensive rotational grazing operation? The cows harvest their own feed and fertilize the land. The embodied energy in the electric tape is the only input. Efficiency is not a limiting factor, but it is a way to measure limiting factors.
 
pollinator
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Andrew Mateskon wrote: I wonder if conventional ag actually does produce more, though.



I don't believe it does, especially if one works on the small scale. Conventional ag produces more per human hour of labor, but only because of the massive inputs of petroleum products. But permaculture and other related methods such as Biointensive, are much more productive per acre. A permaculture world will require more people to grow food, but it will actually require less land because of the stacking of functions on a given piece of land. Bill Mollison believed most land could be returned to wild nature if food for humans were grown by permacultural methods.

 
pollinator
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I had an idea--the INFP-Bot farm.

what is the INFP-Bot? It's a robot that knows where everything is, even though it all looks like complete chaos.

One of the limiting factors for productivity in a polyculture (I know this from my own experience now) is the challenge of harvesting. But the INFP-Bot, like the INFP person who has papers stacked and scattered all over in complete disarray, has a perfect record of where everything is seeded. Maybe it patrols around and updates records as some plants die or others sprout, or maybe it's just recording where things are planted, but it can get you what you need.

The idea's not so fleshed out, but the basic principle is somehow harnessing information sharing to make up for the loss of "economy of scale" that polyculture can create.

INFP-B-7 would also be cute, like the droid in the new--oops, no spoilers.
 
pollinator
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Hello!

I have been offered 5ha of land to grow staple crops.

Since many years I grew small-sized permaculture gardens, with vegetables and perennials, but now facing large-scale areas, how does one practice permaculture?

We don´t want to do animal grazing, and there is already a small orchard/food forest and a small vegetable garden.
We want to use the remaining 5ha for growing staples like corn, potatoes, cereals, beans, amaranth.

How exactly to do this in a way of polycultures?
How to make it in a way that would still be harvestable in a practical manner? By use of machinery or hand labour?
How to improve soíl other than growing before cover crops?
Perhaps a solution could be to uses lines with trees like in agroforestry? Which trees would be best (climate is humid temperate, zone 7)?

I look for people that have already large-sized plots and have been growing staples in a more permaculture way.
 
John Saltveit
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I would look into what Mark Shepard is doing with Restoration Agriculture in Wisconsin, USA.  He is alley cropping nut and fruit trees  with annuals between the rows.  Many people won't know how big 5 ha is. I don't.  He has a summer rain, humid, cold winter continental climate that will have some similarities to yours.  I would want something to stop the sun from drying out and baking the farm in Portugal, so alley cropping trees makes sense to me.  I do a garden version of that here in PNW USA, a climate between yours.
John S
PDX OR
 
Tyler Ludens
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More than 10 acres!

 
Paulo Bessa
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The land I have been offered is 13 acre and located in southeast Austria.

Climate is continental (warm moist summers, winters usually mild but ocasionally hard freezes)
Similar to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Alleycropping by Mark Shepard is a good idea.

Does he till? If not, how? Does he uses machinery or land labour?
Does he uses polycultures in between thelines of trees?
Which crops? Corn, potatoes, grain, beans?
How does he harvest those polycultures?
 
John Saltveit
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I don't remember all those details because I am a gardener, not a farmer. I just kept what I could use. It's in his book, "Restoration Agriculture".  It's also a great book.
I think he alternates crops.
JohN S
PDX OR
 
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