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permaculture farming economically viable?  RSS feed

 
                                      
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Susan Monroe wrote:

What I see people in permie and organic forums wanting is a real double-standard:  they understand that the mega/chemical-farmer is getting subsidized to pay for much of his expenses, but they STILL think the small grower should do it all himself, NOT work outside the farm, NOT get subsidies, and do it all fast enough to make a decent profit.

And when they can't find people who are doing it, they say that larger-scale organic or permie methods aren't economically viable.

Just like ANY OTHER operation, it all takes money.  Money, not some pseudo-religious spiel, not a double-standard, not a different set of rules.

Look at both of them with the same-colored glasses.  If the rule for one is the same as the rule for the other, it will level the playing field.  But to hold one group to one set of standards, and the other group to no standards at all, what are you accomplishing?  NOTHING!  You're comparing a bag of shelled walnuts to a stack of broken bricks.  There just ISN'T a comparison that will hold water.

Try mentally reversing the situation and what do you think would happen:

Make the mega/chemical-farmer pay for all his own expenses, as well as for the cleanup of the contamination he's causing, and all the health problems he's causing by growing contaminated food.

Subsidize (even temporarily) the organic and permie farmer so he can move his farm along quickly enough to become viably operational and profitable.  Suppose he can get a guaranteed subsidy for a certain amount of $ for seven years.  After that, the subsidy ends, no excuses, no extensions.

What do you think would happen then?

Sue



Good post Sue, and I agree.
There does seem to be a double standard, and some rose colored glasses being worn here and there.

It does take money, lots of it.

Subsidizing shouldn't exist at all in my mind, why does it exist?
That said, I don't see all of the subsidizing that I hear about all over the place, I don't think it's quite as rampant as some would have you belive, but the corporate farms are certainly reaping benefits from the feds, that I'll say.

Tax breaks and some form of susidy for a certain period of time is an idea I would embrace, as long as it is a definitive period of time. Period. Otherwise it is nothing more than what is happening now.

If you can't provide cheap food to the masses, the overseas entities will, and who knows what is in that stuff when it gets here?
Walmart is the biggest retailer in the world because it provides cheap products to the masses, agriculture isn't much different.

What happens when the food supply for the country doubles in price?
We've seen some of the effects of that in the past year with increases in the cost of foodstuffs and the complaints were heard loud and clear.

Can higher food prices somehow HELP the economy?

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way, and maybe the thought is to produce only enough for the family and be self sufficient with a few extra dollars to pay the leftover bills.

The Amish do it very well.
 
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What makes food production not sustainable is the act of commodifying it.Does it take less calories for 1000 people to walk outside in the summer and pick a pint of blueberries off a bush in their yard or for those same people to go to the store to purchase a pint of blueberries.As far as I can tell,subsistance is going to be more efficient,calorie wise,then a producer/consumer model.Of the 1000 sp. of edible plants that grow in the PNW,only about 100 fit into the industrial production,shipping,and storage model.As long as we are locked into the producer/consumer model,we limit ourselves to less potentials.Edible plant varieties geared toward the home use/subsistance are very different from varieties geared for mass production.Home use varieties will often ripen over a longer window,which(based on my experience)allowes you more security if a dry spell comes and you dont have irrigation.If plants have alot of genetic variability then they will flower at slightly different times which makes the blossoms less suseptable to total loss if a hard late frost happens.You are more secure in food production but far less effecient then if everything ripened at the same time.So,what Im saying is that production models sacrifice security(of course on a global scale,security stays the same since famine never occurs everywhere all at once).So why would you want to be competative?
 
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Most kids and many adults don't even know where their food comes from!  And that is truly sad.

In my opinion, the small farmers will have to cater to this ignorance to a certain extent to make a go of a farm.  Americans are exceptionally ignorant, spoiled, and get what little 'knowledge' they have from television and movies, which are far from accurate.

People who have done the U-pick farms and etc and failed probably overestimated the the knowledge, abilities and stick-to-itness of their customers.  I could see this happening, because many people simply aren't used to real food, either picking it, cooking it, or processing it.  You either be ready to educate them with flyers on how to process the food, and provide recipes, or they just aren't going to know what to do with it.  If they repeatedly let it spoil, they won't be back.

A berry farm near me gives customers the option of buying picked berries, or they can pick the berries themselves and save some money.  Some never go beyond the picked berries, some 'graduate' to doing the picking themselves, once they know what they're doing.

If you have pickers, the roadside stand or the farmers' market may be your best option.  But you might have to try a few things out before you discover which method is best for you.

Sue
 
                                      
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Mt.goat wrote:
What makes food production not sustainable is the act of commodifying it.




I personally believe you have a very good point here.

There were at one time millions of family farms, today there are many production lots.
 
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Susan Monroe wrote:
Most kids and many adults don't even know where their food comes from!  And that is truly sad.


Sue



it is sad. the grimaces I get when people find out I milk goats and eat them use chickens for eggs (and occasional meat) preserve produce and meat by canning. I gave my mil eggs one year, months later she asked me if they would still be good to dye as easter egg decorations.....she wouldn't eat them. she is scared of them. so many times people ask me..."how do you know it is safe to eat"  com'on people, how do you know what you buy at the grocery is safe to eat?
 
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Yep, people who think that food from the grocery is safer are just pathetic. Someone I know once told me that they liked chicken, loved to eat it...but didn't want to think about the killing process & how it got from point A to their dinner table. Soooo emotional...about chicken! Geeze!
 
                                      
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The taste difference between a fresh egg and a store bought egg is enough for me to have a hen house when we get relocated.

It's much of the same mindset concerning hunting, "how can you go out and kill those animals".

Easy, I have a bad habit for most of my days here on earth......I like to eat.
 
Susan Monroe
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When my hens were one year old, they were laying eggs like crazy.  I would give my neighbors my excess, usually six at a time to make sure they were fresh (I have 4 hens). I gave some to one neighbor that I really didn't know well, and later asked her if she wanted some more, and was floored by her answer:

"Oh, no, thanks.  The yolks are so bright yellow they don't look right."

Sigh.

Sue
 
Gwen Lynn
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BUGS! I'm convinced hens eating bugs is what makes eggs taste the best! The darker, deeper yellow/orange...the better! Once you've develope a taste for those eggs, the rest are super lame, practically flavorless. I know, I'm preachin' to the choir here. We are so spoiled getting eggs from Leah's hens.

Oh well...they say all good things must come to an end & she'll be moving soon. That won't put an complete end to getting the eggs...but driving 2 hours to get them sure isn't economically viable. Sigh...they are like gold now. Will become more like platinum soon. Chicken caviar, I guess! Tried "home grown" eggs from someone down the street from me, but not nearly as good. Very similar to store bought. Oh well, I'll have to keep searching for some close by. 
 
Leah Sattler
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I'm sorry wenvan maybe I can mail eggs  when my hens don't lay I just don't eat eggs except for in recipes. can't do the bland ones. bleche, ones cooked to death by restaraunts are really gross.
 
Gwen Lynn
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It's okay! I'll just have to go to rehab! 
 
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I've owned "The omnivores dilemma" for a couple of years now and have browsed it several times.  With all of this driving to Sepp events, I got it from the library as a book on CD.  I'm more than halfway through it. 

So, it would seem, that perhaps the reason for subsidies is because somebody gets rich. 

It sounds like "cargill" might be that company.  They buy corn for something like $1.70 a bushel (56 pounds) and the farmer gets 80 cents for that from the gub-mint. 

-----

Back to the topic:  is permaculture economically viable.  It would be a lot easier if the gub-mint would get out of the way.  If I raise a pig, cut it up and freeze it ... and the bacon is the best bacon ever tasted - it seems like I could sell it for $20 per pound for that really special breakfast.  Only the gub-mint says "no".  You would think I could sell it as "not approved by the USDA - could make you sick and die." but, no, I'm not allowed to sell it that way at all.  You have to buy the whole pig, or nothing.  Maybe we can finagle a sale of a quarter of a pig - and then a USDA butcher has to get involved.

And ponds - and what about so-called wetlands?  What if there was no wetland before and I made a wetland?

I just spent three weeks hearing Sepp Holzer go on and on about all of the government (in austria) lawsuits against him for stupid stuff.  And most of the same laws are (or were) here too.

Take a look at Salatin's new book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front

And ....  despite all this ... I still think that permaculture is economically viable.


 
                            
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Hey, I'm sure this question has been answered better in other posts from the past, but it seems like no-one could give the OP a direct answer except maybe Toby Hemenway.

YES, permaculture is economically viable. I'm sometimes mystified by how permaculture in English-speaking circles focuses so heavily on the gardening aspect... from listening to 60+ hours of Mollison lectures, it struck me how he spent maybe an hour focusing specifically on setting up your own food supply. The rest was a lot of guerrilla-style business and legal advice and anecdotes for integrating ecological work into an unsuspecting economic machine. The specific case studies he picks out in the mid-80s, aside from dozens of individual farmers who make their livings using the permaculture mindset, were Common Work (a Quaker collective in England) and the Mondragon system from the Basque. I have to believe that present day 72-hour permie courses contain even better documentation of these systems and more case studies from others.

Today we have numerous examples of profitable permie adventures, the most straight-laced (yeah right) perhaps being the Dervaes in LA, Salatin in Virginia, and Mark Shepard in Wisconsin. Don't Bullocks Bros make a good living at what they do? And Sepp Holzer is, once again... how do you stop that dude? "The Farm" and "Financial Permaculture", both in central Tennessee, are worth looking into, and for very broad-scale examples of permaculture being economically profitable, see the work of Blume and Santoyo, the hundreds of farmsteads designed by Mollison and Holmgren in the 70s and 80s, and especially, the millions of acres under Allan Savory's "Holistic Management" regimen -- permaculture in a drylands grazing situation. In many cities an organic or biodynamic CSA would easily qualify as "permaculture" -- and boy do they make money.

But so, for a profitable farmer running things permaculture-style, Mark Shepard is your man, and his interview on Agroinnovations is the quickest route to hearing it with your own ears. Sepp Holzer's videos are the quickest route to seeing success and money and abundance with your eyes. There's a very illuminating lecture by Salatin at UC Berkeley moderated by Pollan.
http://journalism.berkeley.edu/events/details.php?ID=164

Part of the OP's question reflects a frustrating situation for me, researching permaculture in the first world via the internet and books: most of the major work, like with Holistic Management, has been done in third world areas, and there the question is not usually "is it economically viable" -- it's "can I feed myself next month, can I escape slavery, can I pay these debts and bribes? The result as far as I can tell from Mollison, Savory, and others is "now we can feed and heal ourselves, own land, travel, escape debt and slavery" etc etc. We on the interwebs could use a lot more extensive video evidence of these successes, however.

The same entanglements apply in America -- but in a jumbled-up way, where the debts are mortgages and credit and the servitude is wage and rent slavery, and the violence is largely offshored or takes the form of mining, tilling, etc. If your goal is to buy expensive land and try to make it in the existing agricultural markets, then Mollison and Blume and Savory have hours and hours of advice for you. But there's NO NEED to go that route. The strategies for permaculture apply to making a living from technology, education and information (as permies are so wont to do with their expensive as heck courses and videos!), marketing, land and business development, gleaning, and hustling in general!

Mollison always throws out Village Homes in Davis CA as his favorite permie-style land development, which has been very profitable, though I'm sure there are quite a few others. But the original permie-mindset was to set up legal entities on a low budget which could then make moves in the marketplace, forming and collapsing business ventures as needed. Someone who is committed to making a single piece of land pay for decades on end isn't participating fully in the very wide scope of possibilities opened up by permaculture: the merchant banker or lawyer/broker with an ecological mission. If you're not up to the task of modern business, you're probably not up to most of what permaculture has to offer! Paul Hawken has a lot of advice for you there.

I personally am approaching my permaculture challenge from an income of less than $5k per year in Pittsburgh PA (bought a house on 1/5 acre for $5k). If I only wanted to make money from growing things here, abandoned woodland can sometimes be got for less than $1k per acre... but real opportunity is with growing crops in forgotten wasteland spaces, then gleaning the harvest for profit, without the bother of owning land and paying tax or insurance. A similar thing can be done throughout the rust belt, and likely throughout any "depressed" industrial or rural region, and any "wasteland" in the world. There's likely just such a place within a few hours (or minutes) drive from you!

Those of us from Ohio through Quebec can also follow the Nearings and make some well-earned cash from maple syrup -- but then, there are hundreds of things to make money from! Paul Stamets is a favorite example of how to tie money to providing a planetary service.

On these matters I would also direct you to Jakubowski and his peers at "Factor e Farm" near Kansas City -- who have the goal of rebooting civilization from new Open Source blueprints. Ran Prier, William Kotke, and others have given voice to the idea and virtues of "dropping out" of society at large in connection to permaculture, but Jakubowski, Paul Hawken, Mark Shepard, Mondragon, Common Work -- these are people and organizations developing economic organisms that are making bucks in large markets, and they're profitable and accessible to someone with a middle-American cultural background. For wealthier people and academics, the work of McDonough, Braungart, Lovins, Hawken (Springfield Remanufacturing is a great case study), and Stahel all can fall partly under the "permaculture" umbrella -- and now we're talking about billions of dollars in revenue.

Take a hint from Holzer: don't try to beat Iowa with your hippy corn, instead grow fish and rare produce and shrooms.

I'll leave you with David Blume's plucky "defense of permaculture" essay:
http://www.permaculture.com/drupal/node/141

 
paul wheaton
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Following your last link:

"[font=Verdana]On approximately two acres— half of which was on a terraced 35 degree slope—I produced enough food to feed more than 300 people (with a peak of 450 people at one point), 49 weeks a year in my fully organic CSA on the edge of Silicon Valley[/font]"

"[font=Verdana]The farm produced so much income that I was routinely in the top 15% of organic farms in California (which has over 2000 organic farms) in most years on a fraction of the land that my colleagues were using.[/font]"

"[font=Verdana]I'd like to remind everyone that in the 1850's, prior to refrigerated transport, New York City supplied all its food for a population of over a million from within 7 miles of the borders of the city. (It wasn't worth the cost of horse feed and time to go further than 7 miles to export food into the city). No one would discount a system of community food security for one million people as non-commercial.[/font]"

"[font=Verdana]There are two main reasons known for the dramatically increased productivity of a polyculture?\the benefit of mycorhyzzal symbiosis (which is destroyed in chemical agriculture) and less solar saturation. Solar saturation is the point at which a plants' photosynthetic machinery is overwhelmed by excess sunlight and shut down. In practice, this means that most of our crop plants stop growing at about 10am and don't start again until about 4 in the afternoon. Various members of a polyculture shade each other, preventing solar saturation, so plants metabolize all day. Polyculture as we pursue in permaculture uses close to 100% of the sunlight falling on its mixed crops. Monoculture rarely can use more than 30% of the total sunlight received before saturation. How long could you run any business without external support at 30% efficiency?[/font]"



 
                  
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If "Permaculture" is a DESIGN PROCESS, than I would argue that the only way to be economically viable practicing "Permaculture" would be to offer DESIGN Services, Teach DESIGN Classes, or sell books that educate the public about all of the food production and exchange practices that have been successful (sustainable) around the world that might prove to be useful models to emulate today.  Homesteading is great.  Small scale food production is great.  Polyculture is great.  Edible Forest-scape is great.  Using "Permaculture" DESIGN principles to set up or to inform one's management of a food growing system is great.  Growing one's own food is not "Permaculture."  "Permaculture" is a PROCESS--a DESIGN PROCESS.  Having a party with like-minded friends who also grow their own food is not "Permaculture."  If "Permaculture" is a DESIGN PROCESS, this may refer to the DESIGN of a system that would factor in resource management, food production, environmental and ecological concerns, social concerns, etc.  How one chooses to utilize the information gained from this DESIGN PROCESS could be an interesting DESIGN question.  One might even find that information gained from a DESIGN PROCESS might be a valuable resource/asset that is interesting to other people.  One might "market" this information, as many do.  The exchange of "Permaculture" DESIGN ideas would be similar to other types of exchange common to homo sapiens throughout the ages.  The question of whether one can make a living doing this (be "economically viable") has been answered.  There are those who market their design services for considerable compensation--in some cases up to six figures ($) per project.  Many supplement their "income" by selling books and teaching "Permaculture" DESIGN classes.  Can one DESIGN a system that will allow them to live sustainably outside of the "traditional" market economy???  Cetainly there are those who have and those that will continue to attempt to do so.  I might argue that there have been those that have done so long before the term "Permaculture" arrived on the scene.  Giving thought to the means of production for a small scale business or other means of commerce or exchange (or survival) is something that people having been doing for millenia--based in traditional market economics or not.  The extent to which a group of believers who share a common vision and join together to live in community using "Permaculture" DESIGN PRINCIPLES to guide how they meet their individual and "corporate" (as in "group") needs might make the use of the term "Permaculture" meaningful in that they might call themselves a "Permaculture" (DESIGN) based community.  Whether they will be able to be "economically" viable or not would be judged by how well they were able to meet their needs.  I'm not sure how an individual who uses growing practices that they learning in a Permaculture DESIGN course could be said to be practicing "Permaculture" if "Permaculture" is a DESIGN PROCESS.  Growing food by whatever system you choose is growing food.  I'm not sure that the term "Permaculture" was intended to refer to growing one's own food.  Doesn't it refer to a DESIGN PROCESS?
This is now my third entry intended to increase my chances of winning that ticket to the Bullock's to see what they do with DESIGN.
 
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Dan wrote:
If "Permaculture" is a DESIGN PROCESS, than I would argue that the only way to be economically viable practicing "Permaculture" would be to offer DESIGN Services, Teach DESIGN Classes, or sell books that educate the public about all of the food production and exchange practices that have been successful (sustainable) around the world that might prove to be useful models to emulate today.



Dan,

I strongly agree with you that "Permaculture" refers to a design process. You can have solar hot water, an organic garden, and an herb spiral and still not have a "Permaculture". In fact, there is no theoretical reason why someone wouldn't be able to achieve sustainability without ever using the permaculture design process. However, it sure seems like a helpful approach to me.

I see the relationship between permaculture and economic viability a little differently. To me, a design process, like permaculture, must have a goal (an intended outcome). What is it we are trying to achieve with this design? On one hand, permaculture's ethical basis defines part of that for us. We wish to see ecological processes continue unhindered to engender a healthy ecosystem. However, that's just one piece of the equation. On the other hand, addressing "care of people" will look different for everyone. Therefore, human goals, along with care of the earth, intertwine to define what we want the end product of our design process to look like.

I believe that economic viability is something that one would define in early in their process as part of care for people. That definition will inform what the end product will look like. The write up of these end goals of the design process is often referred to as a "design brief". The design brief lists out all the parameters that will affect your decisions and, ultimately, steers the design.

The economic viability piece will look different for different folks. For instance, a single landowner who is passionate about wildcrafting, lives in his or her van, and makes all their own clothes will have a different definition of economic viability than a typical suburban family of four that just heard about permaculture and wants to take steps toward sustainability in spite of their rather sizable mortgage. How about folks who, for right or wrong, are independently wealthy? It will certainly look different for them as well. In any case the economics become an important part of your design brief.

Therefore, simply by creating a permaculture design for the space in which you dwell, you will be addressing the question of economic viability (the question of how will I pay for the excavator, plant material, construction materials, etc. will always come up). Hopefully, the design will result in a resilient system of potential income streams from many sources. Conversely, it may result in saving real dollars through improved efficiency or creative planning, which, in reality, is just as good as increasing income. It all depends on the goals of the designer and/or client. That is how I see the permaculture design process directly impacting the economic viability of the designer's/client's life in our current economic paradigm.

However, there seem to be some questions cropping up about the validity of our current economic paradigm (note my gross understatement here). During the permaculture design process we should also be looking at a future where economics work differently. A future where resiliency must exist on a local level. A future where everyone in a community is expected to be a net producer, not just a consumer.

This is why an elegant permaculture design must both allow one to meet their economic needs today and in the future. There is actually a pitfall here that excited permaculturists often run into. They plan really well for the future, but they do not focus on obtaining a yield today. What good are chestnut trees that will bear 12 years down the road if you have to sell your land and move back to the city in search of a job in two years because your money ran out? Those trees probably won't even make it to year 12. The most savvy permaculturists will always be planning for success in our current paradigm while planning for change (that's even a permaculture principle).

When we do designs for clients we often try to create as many micro-business opportunities as possible for them to take advantage of as appropriate. These include:


  • [li]On-site/Mail Order Nursery Sales[/li]
    [li]Basketry[/li]
    [li]Lumber[/li]
    [li]Non-Timber Forest Products[/li]
    [li]Market Gardens[/li]
    [li]Value-Added Food Products (e.g. jams & jellies, dried fruit, sauces, etc.)[/li]
    [li]Medicinal Herbs & Products[/li]
    [li]Eco-Tourism[/li]


  • And yes, this list also includes education and design services. However, those certainly aren't the only way to turn a buck with permaculture. I believe Mollison himself said, "theoretically, yields are limited only by the imagination of the designer." I would tend to agree with him.

    Dave
     
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    on the HT forum, a fella named Ken S has a great book that he'll send you online for free that helps people to figure out what ELSE they can do from home selling products or services or whatever, to earn extra money from home or part time..I guess if you have the time doing your permaculture or other farm, then you can try out some of his suggestions and earn a living to pay the mortgage without working OFF the farm..so to speak..I got his free book and it is very much worth it..
     
                      
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    Dave,
        You've come up with a very nice list of practices as possibilities for ways of creating an economically viable and sustainable system:

    On-site/Mail Order Nursery Sales
    Basketry
    Lumber
    Non-Timber Forest Products
    Market Gardens
    Value-Added Food Products (e.g. jams & jellies, dried fruit, sauces, etc.)
    Medicinal Herbs & Products
    Eco-Tourism


    Many people--mainstream and otherwise--now recommend these practices.  I believe it was the BioDynamic Farming community that initially gave us the idea of Consumer Supported Agriculture--another model of sustainable practice that involves sharing the "risk" of growing a crop through a season (with financial backing or with labor) and thereby sharing the production--a very powerful community building concept that continues to be put to service throughout the country, and abroad.  I might add this to your list.

    If we agree that "Permaculture" is a Design Process, then I can see how one might go further to say something like "a Design Process with specific constraints in mind."  For example:  A design process that must 1) produce a yield, 2) be sustainable, (economically viable) 3) do no harm to the ecosystem--in fact enhance the ecosystem, etc.  (Very important for our day when Peak Oil looms and Global Warming begins to display its affects.)  While it can be said that not all design systems recognize these values, there are many designers today who do. 

    It can be said that Permaculture Practice is a Practice of Designing.  Being economically viable doing Permaculture Design would be being successful as a Permaculture Designer.  Operating a successful enterprise that has been formed and informed (designed) with selected constraints in mind--such as those constraints that a Permaculture Designer is likely to have in mind (obtain a yield, sustainability, ecologically sound, etc.)--would be simply operating a successful enterprise...   

    Many people Design.  Wouldn't it be nice if more and more people could articulate their Design values as clearing as Permaculture Designers do.  I also hope that we can begin to see those who operate "production systems" begin to incorporate such an extensive collection of design constraints (and restraints) when organizing and operating their production systems while still successfully producing yields and being sustainable.

    Fourth entry--chances for that ticket are even greater now...
     
                      
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    Is Permaculture economically viable...

        I've continued to think about this question over the past several days.  I imagine that one way of thinking of this question would be to ask:  Can I produce enough efficiently in my Permaculturally Designed guilds and Edible Forest scapes to be able to sell so that I can pay for other things I might need to buy, or is it more economical to grow an abundance of food stuffs in rows (row cropping) like other systems would have us do???
        I imagine several ways of looking at this question.  First of all, in practicing "Permaculture," would it be more appropriate for me to grow surplus to sell or trade with others or would it be best to sell my services as a Permaculture Design Consultant and teach others how to grow things for themselves???  More about this question later.

        Getting back to the first question...  I don't have the answer for this.  I do see many comercial growers who have taken Permaculture Design courses who still grow in rows thereby growing volumes of produce to sell in a way that can be managed efficiently, for them.  A 100 foot row of seed can be put into the ground very quickly using a EarthWay planter for example with a high germination rate and therefore a predictable harvest.  It can also be much easier to remove plants that would compete for nutrients ("weeds") from around plants that are planted in a row--hoeing, pulling, etc.  Harvesting large volumes of produce for marketing can also be more efficient, according to some people, if the crop is lined up nicely--one just moves quickly along without having to search for specific plants from amongst others growing in a guild,and without having to be careful not to trample on other plants for instance.  Would the plan of perenializing one's lettuces, for example allow one to ensure an abundant and predictable crop that could be counted on as being attractive enough for someone to pay for it???  Would scattering seed in a somewhat "random" fashion (as I have seen some Permaculturists advocate) so as to promote a wide diversity of plants in one growing area make for an easily harvested end product that is easy to prepare for sale???  Speaking with those who have asked themselves these questions and who are in the business of growing volumes of produce for sale seem to universally come to the conclusion that guilds and growing areas with rich diversity and complexity work well for personal home gardening but don't do so well with a high volume production oriented system.  A problem arises in that growing in rows can quickly deplete the nutrients of the soil in that growing area which would require extra work and extra inputs to remediate.  To some, this looks inefficient.  (Some just don't want to do this work and are glad to be told that the Permaculture Way is a more lazy way and therefore it is better.)  Whereas designing a guild that uses companion plantings to enhance soil fertility in one location might make needing to source amendments and then incorporating them into the soil less necessary (?).
        I hope to one day see Skeeter's experiments with this as I understand he is planting a fairly large scale crop of Medicinal Herbs and other plants this year that he will be marketing.  I have also seen that he has plans for teaching a "Permaculture on a Production Scale" type class this fall.
        If Practicing Permaculture means using a bunch of techniques that are taught in Permaculture Design courses, then this question takes on one meaning.  If Practicing Permaculture means designing a system carefully taking into consideration many variables, then maybe one could decide to grow crops in rows as a part of one's Permaculture Design if this would fit into one's larger situation.  Have I just committed blasphemy with this statement???

        Back to the second question...  Grow for others or teach them to grow for themselves???  I know of those who have suggested that to "Practice" Permaculture is actually to "Teach" Permaculture Design, etc.  Growing food to sell for others is not necessarily Practicing Permaculture even though one might be informed by Permaculture ideas in how one does the growing--the Practice of Permaculture being a Designing Process.  This goes back to the question of "What is Permaculture..."  Please see "Defining Permaculture" thread on this forum to read some lovely discussion by Permaculture Dave on this topic.

    thanks,  dan
     
    Dave Boehnlein
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    Dan wrote:
    If Practicing Permaculture means designing a system carefully taking into consideration many variables, then maybe one could decide to grow crops in rows as a part of one's Permaculture Design if this would fit into one's larger situation.  Have I just committed blasphemy with this statement???



    Absolutely not! It sounds like you've dealt with some really dogmatic permies and that's a shame. If we really break it down, permaculture gives us a step-by-step process for problem solving. I say grow straight rows of peas, grow spirals of corn, grow three dimensional double helices of beets...so long as the method you've chosen makes sense for the situation (situation defined with both an ecological AND a human context). If selling veggies to make money is part of your plan, then by all means, plant rows if it works better for your planting, harvesting, & maintenance regimes! However, where rows don't make sense, do something else.

    At our place we have very few keyhole beds. Most of our annual beds are rectangles. Have you ever tried to put a chicken tractor over a giant mandala of keyhole beds? It ain't easy. Even in Mollison's permaculture literature, he talks about large scale grains, pulses, and staples being grown in zones 3 & 4. You can even tractor manage them if you like and still tell people you have a "permaculture farm".

    Hopefully, going through the process of permaculture design will lead one to understand economics similarly to ecology. Often monocultures don't work for a variety of reasons. There are similar reasons why a single income stream is fraught with risk. Every business school freshman learns that you should diversify your portfolio. What happens when one has a lousy veggie year? Hopefully he or she is able to turn over money from some other land-based income sources (selling nursery stock, selling baskets, selling goat milk, offering guided tours, having a B&B, etc.). Exploring this end of permaculture design can often get overlooked.

    Non-land based income is okay too. Wait tables, deliver the mail, be a computer programmer. All of one's income doesn't have to come from their land. The concept of "self-sufficiency" is often confused with permaculture and misapplied. Some people think that all of their income has to come from their land. Others even take it a step further and they think they have to grow all of their own food, produce all of their own energy, and make all of their own tools. In reality, self-sufficiency isn't something we want to apply at the individual level. I haven't seen anyone attain it yet. However, it makes a lot of sense at a community, village, or bioregion scale. You don't have to grow every crop. It's okay to grow peas and trade them to your neighbor for peaches. You can start to see how looking at the bigger social/community picture becomes critical to permaculture design.

    Here I'd like to make a plug to remember that permaculture design addresses far more than just growing food. For those of you who've taken a design course or read the literature, I'm talking about that section called "invisible structures." This deals with economics, social systems, policy change, and so on. To have a truly robust design you need to think about these things as well. How will this system help to support me economically? How will other people interact with this system? How will I react to the external policies in place that help/hinder my design? Unless these factors get addressed in the design process one is ignoring something tantamount to ignoring club root fungus in your garden bed and planting your cabbage anyway. Just as club root will surely put a damper on one's plans to harvest a big crop of cabbages, not thinking about how one will earn the money needed to live will put him or her in the poorhouse.

    So to respond to Dan's first question, I would say grow row crops on part of your land if that helps to meet your needs, but think about diversifying your income stream so that you can have less land in row crops and more land emulating a diverse ecosystem.

    Dan wrote:
    Is Permaculture economically viable... ???
        I imagine several ways of looking at this question.  First of all, in practicing "Permaculture," would it be more appropriate for me to grow surplus to sell or trade with others or would it be best to sell my services as a Permaculture Design Consultant and teach others how to grow things for themselves???



    In response to the second question I would say why not do both (sell produce and teach people how to grow it)? One provides folks with the food they need today while the other provides resources to help people grow more of their own in the future. At this point I don't think there is any danger of losing one's market for produce because everyone is growing food forests.

    I guess I look at growing produce to sell as an activity that takes care of me. Teaching people to create permaculture designs for their land is an investment in community-level resiliency. When I think of it more, teaching about permaculture often goes along with selling produce (if you're a good marketer) anyway. It is hard to escape the teaching component. The idea that teaching is an inherent part of permaculture is valid (especially if you actually use the "p-word", which isn't a requirement). Anytime you talk about what you're doing on your land, how your product is different, or even just chatting about your revolutionary chicken forage system at the local farm supply store, people will be interested. They will want to know more. Now you're a teacher, whether you like it or not! If you wish to sell your professional design services, you will need to be a good teacher, to boot. If you can't explain what it is, why would someone buy it?

    Anyway, that's how I'd look at those questions. Thanks for your thoughts, Dan!

    Dave
     
    paul wheaton
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    As much as I am an advocate for polyculture, I would think that polyculture would be silly for folks that have not yet learned how to tell the plants apart. 

     
                      
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    Paul,
        With regards to Polyculture vs. row cropping...

        It wouldn't be an inability of telling one plant from another that would be of concern but more like having to take the extra time to harvest a large quantity of a selected crop from around a variety of other plants that aren't ready for harvest-- having to work to avoid doing damage to other plants while moving quickly along.  Compare this to, say, a twenty foot row of your selected crop--easy to travel right along the row without having to take extra time to work around other plants.
        The hyposthesis would be that harvesting from a row would be a much more efficient use of time and labor.  This is what I see many commercial growers who have taken Permaculture Design courses decide to do despite being informed of all of the benefits of a randomly organized polyculture.
        When one grows for one's own consumption, a "good enough" crop is still edible.  I've seen heads of lettuce that have failed to achieve their potential because they were literally "choked" by all of the surrounding "weeds"/plant diversity--they tasted just fine to me.  Could one sell a "Dwarfed" head of lettuce at a market price???  Clearly, if one wishes to grow and sell plants at their fullest potential, ensuring that a plant is not being out competed for nutrients by neighboring plants becomes a concern--the need for weeding becomes a concern.  Most commercial growers seem to find that weeding can be done easier with row crops.
        Also, there's the business of attempting to "economize" by ensuring that a large percentage of what you plant actually grows to maturity.  I've met many Permaculturists who are not worried about the success rates of what they plant because they have enough to harvest to meet their own needs.  If you have budgetted to sell a certain quantity of produce each week at the market, wouldn't it make more sense to do all you could to ensure your crop does well.  This would mean occasional weeding...  again, isn't it easier to walk along with a full length hoe and catch any plants that might be competing for nutrients if you have a row to work in???  Again, this is what I see Permaculture Design graduates who grow commercially doing. 

        Could you say more about plant identification???  What have you seen occurring???
     
    paul wheaton
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    I think the first step of any permaculture farm should be to come up with at least 80% of your food from the farm.  I see too many farms that focus on a market garden or CSA crops without regard for their own food first.

    Now that that's out of the way ....

    It is true that there will be more labor for the harvest.  Supposing that you need to walk ten times further to get a bushel of potatoes (for example), that is a down side.  And, yes, it can be a bit challenging to harvest the potatoes and leave behind the 12 other crops that you are going to harvest later.  Does it now take ten times longer?  I doubt that.  I suspect that it isn't even double the time. 

    But there are two important points here:

    1)  Assuming that you are following a first class permaculture system, you have no fertilization, no irrigation and no pest (weeding) issues.  I think you saved a lot of labor and expense right there.  In fact, I think what you saved is vastly greater than than the time you lost with the extra harvest time.

    2)  Since your produce comes from a polyculture, I wonder if the flavor and nutrition is better.  Thus, after a few years, perhaps the rules of supply and demand will raise your prices and put more money in your pocket.

     
                      
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    Paul,
        I look forward to seeing a "First Class" system designed with Permaculture principles someday.

        From where I sit...  no land of my own...  getting started will most likely mean some kind of leasing expense if not a morgage of some kind.  I will need to factor in some type of income from the land in order to be able to "access" land in the first place--unless someone is willing to let me be a "squatter" somewhere.
        I look forward to feeding myself as one way of decreasing my dependence on $$$ and minimizing my "out of pocket" expenses--this will be a given.  I will most likely need to continue to work "outside" of this enterprise for some time, too--I'll have to keep my day job.  Being able to "make ends meet" while enjoying the independence of not having to work for "da Man" is one of the things I look forward to...  simpler lifestyle, being in touch with the seasons, having a keen sense of "place"--all of these things.  Making the fruits of my labors available to those who do not grow their own would seem to me to be a very practical way to contribute to a larger community--and a way of keeping in touch with the larger community--this would be the "market garden" portion of what I imagine--I would support them with quality "produce" in return for support of somekind ($$$??)...  Many details to be figured out yet...  I can't say that I'm one that is looking to "check out" and turn into a Mountain Man/loner type who is earnestly hoping for and awaiting the implosion of the world as we know it...  Yes, I look forward to the present culture shifting to a more sustainable way of living...  I hope to start with my own shift in this direction...

        The idea of "No Fertilization" is an interesting one...  harvesting of any crop means taking nutrients from the soil.  If I live in a closed system, my humanure would of course be returned to the soil (as would my dead body one day).  I would argue that this is "attention to the business of Fertilization."  To imagine that no attention needs to be given to plant nurishment seems to be, according to everything that I have ever understood about growing plants, a downward spiral.  Isn't the planting of a cover crop with nitrogen fixers an intentional attempt at "fertilization"  Or does one include nitrogen fixers as a cosmetic landscaping feature???
        Certainly, there are many techniques for "dry land" farming that have proven to be very useful and effective.  What if I happen to have water (a pond for example)--perhaps with a gravity fed network to boot--does this mean that I should use "dry land" farming techniques as if I lived in the dessert in Australia or in the Southwest U.S.???--No Irrigation???  Really???
        I do believe that the word "weed" is a funny one...  What really is a weed???  Being attentive to plants that compete for nutrients with a desired crop makes sense to me...  Perhaps one could use a variety of techniques to minimize the need to physically hoe or pull unwanted plants...  timing of one's planting for example, mixing companion crops--one that grows quickly and is harvested quickly that will shade out most of the "problem" plants that would be competetive leaving the desired second crop just what it needs to thrive...  I would suggest that even the "die hard" permaculturist who is serious about a reliable crop yield will at some point give some consideration to what plants he/she would want to encourage in a given area...  Or does Permaculture simply mean "Let Chaos take over???"
        I'm not convinced that Polyculture makes for Magic produce that will be much better than what can be produced by other means.  Could you elaborate on this, Paul???  The BioDynamic folks talk about their produce being more flavorful and nutritionous, and you know, they grow the best stuff I've ever seen...

    Thanks,
      Dan
     
    Dave Boehnlein
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    paul wheaton wrote:
    I think the first step of any permaculture farm should be to come up with at least 80% of your food from the farm.  I see too many farms that focus on a market garden or CSA crops without regard for their own food first.



    I would recommend being very careful with this type of statement. In fact, I disagree with it wholeheartedly when expressed as such. There are plenty of situations where producing 80% of one's own food won't be the top priority. For instance, if someone has sizable mortgage payments and market gardening is a way to make those payments on time, they might choose to grow straight rows of peas and carrots for a while.

    In prior posts I've been trying really hard to steer people away from the dogmatic ideas of what permaculture "is" (in my opinion, the only way to "blaspheme" permaculture is to throw out the design process). Some people will have producing 80% of their own food as a priority. Others will prioritize building a house for their family. Yet others will prioritize fixing an existing environmental problem (e.g. erosion). As designers, it isn't our job to tell people what their priorities are. Let each person define their own priorities based on their needs and resources. It can be a discussion, but implying that someone isn't doing it right if they aren't putting food production first is quite alienating. It seems to me like that would discourage a lot of people from even trying.

    Can you have a permaculture site without having an herb spiral? You bet! Can you have a permaculture site without having a chicken tractor? Absolutely! Is there one right way to implement a permaculture design that is right for everyone? Definitely not!

    Be careful of any statements made in the name of permaculture using the words "always" or "never". The best, and most frustrating, advice usually involves the words "it depends".

    Dave
     
    paul wheaton
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    It is one of the many perks that comes with a polyculture.

    Consider the carrot.  If you grow it in a row, or as some other forum of monoculture, then it is surrounded by a certain amount of exposed soil.  The sun can actually touch the soil.  The UV radiation will kill a lot of stuff on the soil surface. 

    Further ...  one carrot is surrounded by hundreds of carrots.  All of the carrots need the same stuff.  And all of the carrots are good at exuding the same stuff.  In a polyculture, the stuff that the carrots exude is of value to the mycelium and other things in the soil.  And other surrounding plants will happily take up what the carrot does not need - because the other plants need that.  And the other plants exude stuff they don't need which the carrot would enjoy. 

    Some plants are, as you pointed out, N-fixers.  All plants get sugar through the photosynthesis trick.  Some are better at it than others.  Those with lots of sugar are willing to trade it for stuff they need. 

    Some plants are good at accumulating minerals - and those plants are often good at finding water down deep.  And sharing (or maybe "trading" fits better). 

    Soils get depleted in monoculture.  I've only heard of polycultures getting richer.  Even if you are harvesting.  I suspect it is rooted in pulling N and C from the atmosphere combined with deep mineral mining.





     
                      
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    Could "serial mono-cultures"--as in complex rotations of various plants--also share some of the benefits of a "polyculture"?  What exactly does "Poly" in the word "polyculture" refer to?

    Thanks,
      Dan
     
    paul wheaton
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    I would say "no" doesn't quite cover it.  "Hell no" seems a bit more accurate.

    "Poly" means "many".  And in this case, refers to many things growing together at the same time.  The mycelium plays a really big role helping to swap stuff between all of the different growies.  So when your carrot grows next to the oak tree which grows next to the raspberry, you carrot ends up with some oak tree and raspberry in it.

    Crop rotation (what you describe as "serial mono-cultures") does serve some function by curing some of the problems that mono cropping creates.  Fukuoka's work is clearly a mastery on this topic.  And (back to the topic at hand) has demonstrated it to be economically viable by getting more food from his land than his neighbors get from theirs.

    Polyculture is even beyond that.


     
                        
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    Consider a traditional Mediterranean farm. The driest, windiest areas (hilltops and south slopes) are covered with olive trees. Other slopes may have grape vines.  There are citrus trees here and there.  Clover and wildflowers grow between trees, grazed by sheep, with chickens running around. Garden by the house.  Bee hives.

    There is no inherent reason that a farm like that can't support itself selling grapes, making wine, shipping citrus to the city, selling eggs or honey, etc.   This type of farm may not identify itself as permaculture, but I think it is.  I think the people on such farms could learn a few things from the people who identify with the word permaculture, and vice-versa.
     
    paul wheaton
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    I wonder if there might be a word to differentiate between fukuoka's serial crop rotation (three crops in one year) and something that seems to be the norm - one crop per year.
     
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    You could use the extensive/intensive descriptions that are applied to aquaculture.
     
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      Indeed - more so than traditional farms on a small scale. It is ideal to have a 10-20 acre permaculture farm maybe 10 minutes from a city. Then, you can set up a roadside stand and go to farmer's markets. People will pay a lot for homegrown, organic peaches.
     
                              
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    pixelphoto wrote:
    oh p.s. check out path to freedom I would call them very self sustainable.
    in a small scale sort of way.
    http://www.pathtofreedom.com/



    They get by.  And mind you, that's with the help of their new storefront and other similar ventures, not just selling their produce to local restaurants.  But it's not the kind of profit you could make from almost any other traditional career.  From the perspective of an outsider, their whole lifestyle is unnecessarily ascetic.  So sustainable?  Maybe.  "Viable"?  If it were viable, you'd think by now someone else on their block in Pasadena would have followed suit.  Instead they are still little more than local eccentrics who are, at best, admired but not worthy of emulating.  Don't get me wrong.  Lots of people are growing a few tomatoes here and there across the country, but they aren't quitting their dayjobs.

     
    pollinator
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    I'll bet his neighbors can't quit their day jobs because they're making mortgage and credit card payments. Dervaes sees himself as more free than his neighbors, and I'd agree with him. We all spend our money and time on the things that are important to us. He works hard, yes, but for himself, and he does not buy into consumerism. Who was it who said that you can measure your wealth in terms of the things you don't need?

    He has found his economic niche, 75% of his children admire him enough to emulate him, and many people look to him for inspiration. Sounds like a successful life to me, we should all do so well. Why would he want to trade all that for a wide-screen blu-ray TV?


     
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    Can't be in a hurry. I am learning this by doing. You don't get any deals by being in a hurry. I am preparing to start a permaculture farm in Southside Va on a modest salary. Trade is something the locals are accustomed to around here. I was encouraged the other day when I talked an older poultry farmer the other day and he was talking about chicken tractors. He said he had a waiting list for his eggs. He also said he tried to build his farm in small increments. I have looked into this "Can I make enough money?" thing. No waste, is the key. Plan to use what you can get and make the best of it. Poly-Face Farm outside of Staunton, Va is a good example as well. I am planning on about 10 years into it before it is all we do. I want to build an forest ecosystem that produces food 300 years after I die, this will not happen overnight. Networking with locals, learning and observing how things grow in your area and resourcefulness I am finding are the key. I am really learning how to slow down and be flexible to what comes my way. Of course I think this way because I don't have alot of money, but then again it forces me to be me to be creative and reduce waste. Which, from what I have learned about permaculture is what its all about.
    I think what we think of as large scale is going to change in the next few decades. We are trying to increase yield by 500 to 700 percent, so a 200 acre farm will produce what 1000 acre farm is doing today. My personal goal is to completely feed around 75 families in ten to fifteen years on what I produce on 42 acres.  Slow and steady wins the race, and he also enjoys life while he's at it.
     
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    I agree with the slow and steady approach. My permaculture parcel is an environmental sculpture slowly taking form. Flexibility and acceptance that the stone I have to carve with will have flaws and occasionally the chisel will slip, and because it is the only stone I have. Coarse work to medium to polish and in the end hopefully perfection.
     
    pollinator
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    Fukuoka ensured a significant overlap between the presence of the various grain crops. You could look at it as a serial bi-culture (grain + clover), but even in that naming scheme, spring & fall were a tri-culture (winter grain + summer grain + clover), and in interviews & his writing he seemed always to acknowledge the importance of wildflowers, fowl, etc. to the health of his crops.

    Maybe in contrast to serial crop rotation, it might be called "parallel crop rotation"? Or perhaps words like "interleaved" or "staggered" would be appropriate...in any event, the fact that each species was given more than half a year to develop goes partway to explaining the high productivity, and the fact that symbiotes that would partner with grain species could gradually transition from one crop to the next might also have been important.

    An existing term that is closer to polyculture, and might help illuminate the topic, is "succession planting." To distinguish it from ornamental gardening, I might call Fukuoka's work on grain "succession cropping."
     
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    Look at Darren Doherty's large scale agroforestry projects, definitely successful. Marsha Hanzi's castor bean polycrop project in Brazil had 3-8 times the yield of commercial crops right next door, and fewer costs.  Absolutely, it's viable.

    I consider holistic range management to be a part of the permaculture toolbox. This is more viable than conventional ranching. Joel Salatin's approach is being picked up by more and more permaculturists as well. Very viable.  The tools for a large scale farm are different than for a kitchen garden or backyard food forest.

    Look at the shade grown coffee plantations that are more and more prominent. Some are more "permaculture" than others, but they are definitely viable - in some ways more so since there is diversity which compensates and protects from monocrop failure.

    We're doing a keyline/range management project at Pine Ridge this summer as a permaculture design, which also includes economic elements of microlending and cooperative business planning/marketing, etc.  Come and check it out - it's in its formative stages but you will be able to see it from the beginning.

    Cory Brennan
    permacultureguild.us
     
    paul wheaton
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    Cory,

    Do you have any stuff with any numbers?  Even, maybe, some rough estimates?
     
                                  
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    what a great thread! funny how people usually hate talking about brass tacks with money/economics--plenty of dreaming and speculation, but, the really good stuff comes from people who BTDT.

    All I got to throw into the soup(before I go catch up on the thread) is I'm currently looking at Permaculture stuff as a way to reduce expenses and grow good food with less expense and less work in my little world(my home). In this economy it is so hard to make a buck. It helps to not have to make so many bucks.

    so keep talking and sharing the good stuff, I appreciate the nuts and bolts so much!
     
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    2019 PDC for Scientists, Engineers, Educators and experienced Permies
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