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Sustainable Agriculture is an Oxymoron.

 
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Robert Ray wrote:
  The Palwan are cultivators.
  The Bushmen raise goats.
  The Dongria Kohnd use agriculture.
Though primitive in practice a form of agriculture.




There are many other groups mentioned on that website.

Horticulture is practiced by many groups, but horticulture is not agriculture.  Unless you define "agriculture" as "growing plants deliberately in any manner."

Some people think there are different meanings between the words "agriculture" "permaculture" and "horticulture."  That they don't all mean the same thing.

http://tobyspeople.com/anthropik/2007/06/agriculture-or-permaculture-why-words-matter/index.html
 
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  I define agriculture as the deliberative growing of plants for food and or the deliberative alteration of animal habitat/behavior for acquiring food.

  Horticulture is simple agriculture. I would agree that horticulture and agriculture don't necessarily mean permaculture but permaculture definitely has components of horticulture in particular and agriculture in general within its definition.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Robert Ray wrote:
  I define agriculture as the deliberative growing of plants for food and or the deliberative alteration of animal habitat/behavior for acquiring food.



Personally I find that definition so broad as to be virtually useless.    Hunter-gatherers who used fire to create edge between forests and grasslands practiced "agriculture" under your definition, since their activity was deliberate.

Very broad definitions can make communication difficult or impossible. 
 
Robert Ray
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When a hunter gatherer remains stationary long enough to alter his habitat to acquire food is he still a hunter gatherer? Does that period of permanence to alter his food source availability turn him into an agriculturist?
Once a tool (fire for instance) is used to alter an environment to obtain food isn't it at that point simple agriculture starts?
If your definition of agriculture is monocrop megalithic farms than that is pretty restrictive and ignores its root origins.
Britannica's definition of agriculture and horticulture is more along my line of thought.
The use of fire, using the essay you refer to, seems to mean that the hunter gatherer has become  a horticulturist, a beginning agriculturist. The lines are easily blurred aren't they?
 
pollinator
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this seems to have gone a little off topic, however, the discussions about the several different authors of permaculture books ..it seems that i have read so many different opinions recently of how this book is written wrong, or that book.

I guess if you have written the definitive book on permaculture, then you have the right to judge those authors, however, IMHO I have a great deal of respect for the people that have taken the time out of their lives to attempt to help others out of their lack of knowledge and understanding into at least going out into their backyards and planting a few fruit trees and some perennial berries and vegetables.


So what if what they do isn't up to "permie" standards..who gives a rip. They are trying and I for one would like to thank those authors for having the guts to put up with people that would condemn them, to do their best to raise awareness out there to those of us who need the additional help.

God Bless you Toby Hemenway, (I know you read these), you have made a difference in my life. I have sent your book out for others to borrow and read, and i have made copies of the Bill Mollison books online and have sent them to family and friends to play (cd) so that maybe they also will stop planting lawns and a shade tree or two, but start to plant some food and trees and have some life in their land.

I sure wouldn't have had the abilities to produce those books, lectures, or teaching schools..and those who worry about getting every fact right, will never write a book.
 
Robert Ray
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I personally don't ever see a point in the future where there will not be some type of agriculture hopefully all employing permaculture tenets.
IMO the romantic notion of a hunter gatherer future is probably not feasible. Though I do believe that hunting and foraging is viable for some calories, but there we are again with external inputs.
Initially for expedience a piece of property would probably have to have external inputs until a permie oasis is established. Mulches and composts from off site initially have been required for me. My property had six inches of pine needle duff and then several feet of porous pumice. Without the addition of mulches and compost water disappeared into the pumice as fast as it was applied.
Once the process starts external inputs would reduce exponentially.
We haven't done it right so far so Mollison and Hemenway and others are giving us insight into the way I feel it should be.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Robert Ray wrote:
.
IMO the romantic notion of a hunter gatherer future is probably not feasible.



I think only a very very tiny number of people hope for a hunter-gatherer future. I have only met the smallest handful of people like that.  I like to hope they would have some place where they could live that way if they choose.  These people don't strike me as "romantic" BTW, not any more romantic than permies, anyway!   
 
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Perennial polycultural forest gardens are a defining feature of both horticultural societies and permacuture.If permacuture is to be anything different it is its implied advocacy of horticultural existence.If it is agriculture then why bother with another movement at all.After all,there are hundreds of pro ag sites out there.Permacuture is in my mind the horticultural alternative to agriculture.No one here is advocating a return to the no-intention hunter/gatherer mythos.Permaculture is new in that instead of advocating a return to the past,it shows us ways of living that utilize the vast increase in diversity of spiecies and cutural ideas and draw from some of the proven sustainable techniques utilized by horticultural societies.
 
Brenda Groth
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well said Mt Goat..I agree that we probably will never be able to turn back to any sort of hunter gatherer pre columbian condition, even the native americans although they were hunter gatherers, they still saved seed and planted and managed crops of plants and animals, including domesticated animals, so we would have to go back a lot farther than pre columbians to find something more primitive..for sure. However, I don't see in any of the permaculture texts that I have read any one advocating that type of life. I have seen a few "cave man diets" on the internet, that say eat raw meat and raw fruits, vegetables, leaves and roots. But they don't even believe in fire or for that matter baths.

I have read a good deal of permaculture books and articles for many years, and I have never really heard anyone suggesting any thing even pre columbian. What I have heard is that, esp in the more recent writings and esp those that deal with food forests, trying to mimic the layering that occurs in forest, thus layering many plants in the same square footage that might have previously been considered to be farmed only to one crop, such as a grain or a row of beans.

Now before I ever read any permaculture books back in the 70's, I just by nature had a tendency to grow things in layers here, not sure why, it was just the way my asthetic and sensabilities seemed to tend toward, maybe cause of my time spent playing in the forest growing up, i don't know. My grandfather was a trapper and my family did a lot of foraging for food when i was growing up, so i was used to finding berries and herbs under trees, i was aware of the natural way things grew, so that is the way i have always tended to plant here, jam as many things into the smallest area possible when i got my own property. Moving here there were a few failing trees, a few  dayllillies and iris, and a lot of scraggly lawn, overfarmed areas (previous celery farm) and not much else. Now in 40 years I have reforested nearly the entire area and continue to add trees and plants every year.
 
Matt Ferrall
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Well I doubt most permies would advocate going back exactly.I have heard both Skeeter and Toby reference books like Keeping it Living and Tending the Wild.The west coast natives practiced a perennial horticulture that is pretty much exactly what permiculture would promote so I and others definitly find much of our inspiration( as far as management goes)from some pre columbian models.After reading about the history of euopes soils,Im not really sold on the annual production model from a sustainability aspect.I`ll take some of the tree and shrub genetics and utilize them with west coast natives cultural practices!
 
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MikeH wrote:
With apologies to Toby Hemenway for plagiarism, it seems to me it's true.  Much of what I see around the web involves, technology and oil, either directly or indirectly.  When you take these out of the equation, things get smaller in many senses. The amount of land that can be cultivated gets smaller because the work day gets smaller.  If you introduce animal power, you need to cultivate more land to feed more mouths.  And the bigger the animal, the bigger the appetite.  And the bigger the appetite, the more land you need to cultivate.  And so on and so on.

The more complicated it gets, the more difficult it becomes to be sustainable, i.e, to make sure that what you take out ≤
what you put in. The more complicated it gets, the more fragile it gets. 

I'm increasingly starting to believe that animals in general (there are probably situation specific examples where they do fit) don't fit in to the sustainability equation.

Hemenway's essay has an AV version (my apologies if it has been linked elsewhere here)  where he expands on his ideas.


The question asumes that crops and fodder are separate,but most of any row crop is usualy unsuitable for humans.Yhe remainder is often fodder .I remember seeing an article about a traditional African agriculture system in the sahel where the people had turned thin sandy soils to rich productive soil mostly by feeding crop waste to pened cattle and using the manure as fertilizer.Thay saw the manure as more valuable than meat or milk.
 
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Hmmm ... if 'sustainable agriculture' is an oxymoron or impossibility, what does that say about the possibility of 'permanent agriculture' or permaculture?? Yes, folks, agriculture as it is commonly practiced is rather destructive and inefficient. But permaculture is a form of agriculture (one that can theoretically be practiced for any length of time without destroying the Earth, thus making permaculture 'sustainable.')

"Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life."  Yes, that is a very broad definition, but (as with words like 'love' and 'blue' and 'food'), it was created in response to a broad need to point at a very general concept. Love comes in thousands of flavors, there isn't one simple type of blue. Agriculture is an umbrella term that includes horticulture, agronomy, animal industries, agro-forestry, etc.

Agriculture as it is practiced by most farmers today is clearly not sustainable. But Mollison also says (in Danger of Falling Food) something like "you can still grow and eat some grain, just not as much as you are accustomed to."  Even in Mollison's post-agriculture permanent agriculture, there is agriculture. The key is to make sustainable and regenerative components the focus, these positive practices must exceed practices that mine the soil and destroy the broader ecosystems while we are providing us with food, fuel, fiber, and fun.
 
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Not sure if this is common knowledge around here but just wanted to add an FYI

Agri=field
culture= cultivation, specifically tillage

So the latin word Agriculture translates as "tillage(or cultivation) of a field".
Horticulture translates as "cultivation of a garden".

I think word choices are very important, I also think that Agriculture is bad for humans and the earth, regardless of it's sustainability.
 
Jonathan Byron
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osker wrote:
Not sure if this is common knowledge around here but just wanted to add an FYI

Agri=field
culture= cultivation, specifically tillage



To cultivate can mean to till, that is one possible meaning. But cultivate also means to tend, nurture, encourage, honor, defend, and maintain. When Plato said "What is honored in a country will be cultivated there" he was not talking about plows. The Latin root 'cult' is tied in with culture, religion, vision, the organization of groups, and microbiology, among other things. Words can be colored according to the meaning we associate with them, but that is not the only meaning possible.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=culture
 
osker brown
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Jonathan_Byron wrote:
To cultivate can mean to till, that is one possible meaning. But cultivate also means to tend, nurture, encourage, honor, defend, and maintain. When Plato said "What is honored in a country will be cultivated there" he was not talking about plows. The Latin root 'cult' is tied in with culture, religion, vision, the organization of groups, and microbiology, among other things. Words can be colored according to the meaning we associate with them, but that is not the only meaning possible.



Thanks for clarifying, and I definitely agree about the meaning of "culture", but I'd like to point out that the definition of culture listed in that link is "the tilling of the land".

Regardless, I believe that the term Agriculture inevitably conjures up images of fields maintained for pastoralism and grain growing in the general consciousness, and I believe that this practice is not healthy for human culture or the soil we rely on or the global ecosystem as a whole.  The general pattern seems to be that grain supplies become controlled by central "authorities" and animal herds facilitate the actions of warlords.  Obviously I'm generalizing massively, but that's what this thread is all about.

To cultivate permanence I focus on gardens, not fields, and so I never would refer to anything I do as agriculture.

peace
 
Robert Ray
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  Would a community garden be agriculture? Could there be a permaculture family farm? If the farm used outside help would it be permaculture?
An eco-community might be governed by a central council.
It's so big when does permaculture become too big?
 
                        
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It seems to me that this  thesis is only a half a step away from saying that man can do a better job of organising how life should be than nature (for lack of a better word) has. It seems to me that that is precisely the attitude which got us into this mess in the first place. Instead of blaming the animals, let's see where WE have gone wrong in our relation to them.

I know of no culture which has not used some sort of animal product to some degree if they could get it,  be it insect larvae, eggs or flesh. Not everyone will be accepting or even can survive with an all plant material diet.  Everyone needs some fat in order to have a healthy body. We don't all live in an area where we can grow avocados and olives.The further north you go, the less able the natural world to supply everything  humans need without animal input.  

To my understanding, man is an omnivore, which implies the eating of flesh and eggs as well as plant  material. People who choose not to do that are perfectly within their rights to make that choice, but this sort of discussion looks to me as the beginning shots of a crusade. to make everyone follow the beat of their drum.

I watched a video earlier today in which an academic  expounded on how it was really cattle who were to blame for climate change and the comments below the video had the fervor of a revival meeting.  His thesis also , of course, was that livestock is not sustainable.

OTOH  you have Joel Salatin who takes thousands and thousands of pounds of animal product in the form of eggs and meat off his property every year  AND builds soil and diversity at the same time..not only his claim but that of others who have been there, seen and tested  it.  I have seen some comments that he isn't really sustainable because he buys grain from a neighbor..isn't that what community is about?

Or, if really unhappy about hay and grain , then Greg Judy, who raises a whole lot of cattle and needs have nothing special provided for them over most winters, not even hay, except to provide some shelter; again while healing the land and restoring diversity (it happens, he plants nothing) and such. No inputs for his operation.

I have great respect for people who have brought forth some solid information on how to heal much of the damage  people have done to the earth. I don't think it is necessarily the right thing to do to assume they know all the answers.

Granted factory farms are horrifically awful places which should be  banned. I think that rather than trying to focus on doing away with animal husbandry (factory farms cannot be considered animal husbandry in any sense that I understand it) we should be focussing on how to make it more humane. Creatures all die, including us.  Some creatures  from bacteria to mouse to bird to steer are destined to be someone's lunch. We all will (unless cremated), eventually be food for various organisms. It's the way things are..cycle of life and so forth. Some people have made a fairly convincing argument that plants show some sorts of awareness..so should we not eat them either? Where is the line drawn?

Factory farms certainly don't show any hint of respect. However,  saying we shouldn't even raise animals at all is  imo, also disrespectful. They have a role to play as does every other creature..Some say well they are not the same as they were 10.000 years ago, well, neither are  humans and neither is that carrot in your salad.  So what?

I think we really really need to learn how to co-exist respectfully with other life forms on this planet.   That doesn't mean we won't ever kill or eat them, it means that when we do we do so with respect and appreciation for what they have given us.
 
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One could generalize about just about anything without having actually said something about anything in particular if you know what I mean... but then again, very little of the great deal that goes between the head and the tounge seems to amount to much.  But than we get hungry and we go eat what we can find.
 
Jonathan Byron
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:

Again, I will state, I don't accept that "permaculture is a form of agriculture."   



Ok, that is your right. Mollison and Holmgren, who started the movement and coined the term, think differently ... at numerous times, they have said permaculture = permanent agriculture. Of course, they even think differently from themselves at times, as they have used the word agriculture to mean very different things at different times, which can add to the confusion.

And I'll check out of this thread with this post - definitions are merely words. Words are like fingers pointing at the moon, there is only so much one can learn about the moon by extensively contemplating fingers.
 
Robert Ray
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Mollison says at one point "consciously designed agriculture systems".
A relaxed open view for me is more constructive than a rigid view for something that is still formative and geographically diverse as permaculture is for me.
 
                                
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It seems to me (and this comes from Mollison) that a system which produces food while increasing soil fertility is sustainable -- and if you're not building topsoil/fertility, it's not sustainable.  There it is, in one simple statement.

Everything else is pretty much academic.  The question of chemicals is already answered this way, because biocides require energy but don't increase soil fertility. 

Another simple equation: if energy out > energy in = sustainable.  We can apply this equation to biofuels, for instance.  Today's agribusiness corn ethanol production does not make the cut, but there are ways to produce ethanol and biodiesel wherein energy output exceeds input.  As long as output exceeds input, use of tractors (in some ways) and motor vehicles (in moderation) is a sustainable proposition.

Other times, it comes down to making a choice between the lesser of two evils.  We might say that the mining of minerals and the manufacturing processes to create computers, and generation of the electricity needed to power them and the networks through which they communicate is unsustainable.  Okay... what's the alternative?  Cut forests for paper.  Not really a better choice.  As what we are trying to accomplish with permaculture depends heavily on communication, we accept some bad in exchange for the greater good.
 
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one of Mollison's inspirations was when he realized that current hunter/gatherers either planted or selectively cullivated (clearing away competition) 80% of the plants in their diet. they weren't just wandering around hoping to bump into something. this is in contrast to most "survivalist" types.

human are omnivores but were originally scavengers
so at any one point humans and ancestors were (not in any particular order)
scavenger/gatherer
scavenger/gardeners
scavenger/agriculturists
hunter/ gatherers 
hunter/gardeners
hunter/agriculturists
herder/gatherers
herder/gardeners
herder/agriculturists



deleted extra line
 
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This post is rather old, never mind, I think I could exchange some info.
We have a vineyard in Douro region and we let sheep graze weed since I can remember.
How it's working (not ok from my point of view):
We let the sheep graze in winter until the small buds start to appear.
Everything looks ideal, but it's not. Why?

The shepperd also owns some land and he tends to protect his own, bringing the sheep to the vineyard when the weeds are too small.
The land becomes completely bare and so, unprotected for rainfall.

Then comes the spring weeds, different species, they grow vigorously and tend to grow at heights that cover the vines (1,5m and more).
This is actually the weed that we would need to be mown, because they shade too much the plants, and stock too much humidity on the air, bringing all the dangers of mildium and oydium (not sure how to write it).

I have to find another solution.
 
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