Fine review ad critique of the piece.
Neil Layton wrote:I conclude that the latter is the case. The author seems overly critical, indeed unfair, on Permaculture in general and forest gardening in particular. On balance, I still don't think my way out won't work.
I have a range of issues with Permaculture's current economic model – with a few early practitioners making a lot of money teaching the rest of us, to go and teach others. In any other area we would call this pyramid selling. It's a good short-term model, while we get the system up and running, but it's not sustainable in the long run.
I think a lot of the criticisms in this article and in the comments section are fair, but I also think they are overgeneralised, and used as a means to support industrial agriculture. It's impeccably referenced, if selectively so, and has some strong points, which need to be addressed.
There are problems with forest gardening as it stands: that's not a reason to give up and return to systems that are likely to fail within the lifetimes of people alive today. It's a reason to identify the problems and make it work.
Earl Mardle wrote:
It cannot save the planet or all of the people on it - I am harshly aware of how much fossil energy is used in modifying the landscape to encourage sustainable ecosystems, there is not enough energy or hardware to spare from existing systems to transition comfortably and not enough to recreate the scale of production, even if it were possible to produce enough once we get there. .
Ray Moses wrote: I think it was a well written article the guy is obviously an advocate of permaculture and has a lot of experience. The author is writing that in a temperate zone a food forest is more of a hobby and way of life possibly a good way to grow your own food but not commercially profitable. Very few examples if any of producers making a living solely off foods harvested and sold from a actual food forest.
The blog may be a hatchet job, because when I tried to post on his site, disagreed with him and mentioned that I had a food forest, he refused to let me post.
Discussion of yields is important because the driving rationale of the forest garden is that modern agriculture is unsustainable, laying the blame at the feet of monocultural systems based on annual grains and pulses. However, despite often well-founded fears of soil erosion and nutrient depletion, global yields of these crops continue to increase through improved varieties and technology (Ausubel et al 2012; Grau et al 2013). Indeed, total land used for agriculture may have already peaked (Our World in Data 2015) as a result of ongoing improvements in efficiency, and substantial area of land has been “spared” for nature as a result (Stevenson et al 2010). This dramatic and sustained increase in agricultural productivity over the past century has resulted in only 2% of the population in the U.S. being required to farm (AFBF 2015). In these respects then, modern farming is arguably more resilient because of its continual innovation and adaptability.
No argument from me on that, but you use two words that are a massive wall between what we are doing now and what we NEED to do beyond this. Those words are "could" and "if".
Tyler Ludens wrote:
My opinion is exactly the opposite, because I see around me massive constant daily waste of energy on non-regenerative systems, which could just as easily be turned to regenerative systems if people chose to do so.
R Ranson wrote:I'm still a bit confused by the definition of forest we are using. Different parts of the world have vastly different forests, don't they?
Here, nothing substantial grows beneath the conifers. It's just tall trunks, lichen, moss and the occasional mushroom. ...
Earl Mardle wrote:
It would take a massive, concerted, extended, universal commitment to enabling the transition
John Saltveit wrote: European colonists and explorers starved and often died because they wouldn't eat the plants that the natives had cultivated and grew well in those places. Sow thistle, black salsify,burnet salad, earth chestnut greens, plantains (not banana relatives), curly and many mallows, shotweed bitter cress, false dandelions, Alexander's, lamb's quarters, purslane, and of course dandelions are nature's gift to us and we kill them. No wonder we can't feed ourselves sustainably.
Tyler Ludens wrote:Personally I'm not seeing why annual vegetables can't be grown on the edge or small clearings in the food forest. This might not be the ideal situation for them, and much less ideal the further one gets from the equator, but still, annual vegetables will grow on the edges and clearings. Does this somehow cause the food-growing area to stop being a food forest or prevent it from becoming a food forest? I hope not, because it's what I'm doing! My vegetable garden is right in the middle of a lot of trees, and has apple trees planted in it.
Yes. That is the accounting system that gave us our current production models. It is why the so called "green revolution" can claim such huge increases in productivity while actually producing less than a properly vertically stacked integrated system.
Erica Wisner wrote:
Is it only food production if it can be sold off-farm?
Aaron Barkel wrote: Humans as a species have a very short attention span. We tend to look at problems by finding solutions for the here and now and not look at what is best for the long term. While food forests may be a great way to produce food 20 years from now when they have matured, we have millions of people starving daily, so the push is on to feed everyone at the lowest cost to humans regardless of the toll it takes on the environment. I don't advocate this type of thinking, but it is how humans tend to think.
You also have to factor in that the whole concept of food forests hasn't been around for a very long time, so the technology for working them on a large scale hasn't even been invented yet. It took thousands of year for people to get from growing a small personal garden to the place where millions of people are fed from a handful of huge factory farms with dedicated machinery. As the concept gains momentum, new breakthroughs will happen that make the concept more economically viable.
Another issue is the turn around time for a food forest to grow. Humans as a species have a very short attention span. We tend to look at problems by finding solutions for the here and now and not look at what is best for the long term. While food forests may be a great way to produce food 20 years from now when they have matured, we have millions of people starving daily, so the push is on to feed everyone at the lowest cost to humans regardless of the toll it takes on the environment
Dan alan wrote:
For the masses, no change is wanted or admitted or coherently expressible.
Dan alan wrote:The trap is that we are programmed to want the luxary of the system separate from anything natural.
Aaron Barkel wrote:There is a huge difference between something not working and something not being economically viable on a large scale. As a "factory farm" producing food for millions of people by a single farmer, I'm not entirely sure that food forests would be economically viable for a farmer. From what I have seen and read, it's pretty labor intensive as it isn't conducive to traditional mechanical means of harvesting, so by "current" conventional standards it doesn't work. However for a single family or a shared cooperative looking to feed a small number of people and sell the extras for a bit of cash, it seems like a very viable solution.
... While food forests may be a great way to produce food 20 years from now when they have matured, we have millions of people starving daily, so the push is on to feed everyone at the lowest cost to humans regardless of the toll it takes on the environment. I don't advocate this type of thinking, but it is how humans tend to think.
Earl Mardle wrote:
The key problem is that the humans we have now are making such huge demands on the planet that there is not enough resource spare to make the transition and certainly not enough time.
People needed to change their habits dramatically in order to defeat Hitler. But they actually had to decide to do so. And they did.
Not at all Mick. The solutions are not that difficult, as Tyler points out, what is hard, and I say is now impossibly hard, is getting to them from here for everyone. And it doesn't matter what end of the socio-economic scale you inhabit, the permie life is not at all easy street.
Mick Fisch wrote:Sorry if the post seems negative. I think permaculture will eventually become the norm, but I think it explains the general resistance to a very common sense solution to our problems.
Earl Mardle wrote:
And yes, I can see our business and political and academic leaders all agreeing that it will be done, reforming the tax and regulatory systems to make it happen and bending their backs as well in the process.
Mick Fisch wrote:I think it explains the general resistance to a very common sense solution to our problems.
I don't see anyone arguing against permaculture. I am, to the best of my ability, a practitioner, I promote it to those who are interested in food production, sustainability etc. What I am not, and never have been, is a messianic believer that it will save the world. I had the same discussion with Albert Bates after one of his talks about how biochar, which I use a lot of, could also "save the world" from its CO2 mess. In some idealised, perfect world it might mathematically be possible, but then in such a world we would not need saving and in this one it will not so time spent trying to make that so is wasted from the real work of building bridges to a different way of living on the planet, bridges big enough for as many who actually want to do the work to cross.
Tyler Ludens wrote:
I probably won't be debating in this thread anymore, because it is incredibly depressing to read permaculturists arguing against permaculture, so I'll have to let someone else pick up the boosterism flag.
Despite the lack of promise forest gardens show in becoming a viable alternative to industrial farming, the ongoing interest in permaculture philosophy together with public concern about sustainability will ensure that they continue to be experimented with by enthusiasts. The myth of the need to return to a “balance with nature” remains a powerful influence in many areas of public policy well beyond the permaculture movement and will continue to shape ideas about food, farming and conservation for a long time to come.
When Big Ag comes under unbiased third party academic scrutiny, it's advocacy also has very little supporting evidence beyond the much touted yields that are the driving evidence in this article.
“Permaculture is more an approach or philosophy than any specific technology, but where it has come under academic scrutiny, many of the kinds of practices frequently advocated have been found lacking in supporting evidence (Chalker-Scott 2010).”
I completely agree; though I would elaborate: It think it's partly the prophesied crash of industry and the rise of Eden or Gaia Consciousness, or the Age of Aquarius, or whatever that he is trying to dismiss as hippy dippy airy fairy crap and that he is using as an argument to prop up his idea that Big Ag is the answer to feeding the world, but in doing so he seems to also completely discredit ecology, (and by focusing on Permaculture he point's a finger at permaculture as having bought into this myth). Thus permaculture's ethical commitment to restoring or working with ecology has been reduced to being part of some mythos, rather than something that is a realistic goal to at least head toward in our food producing methods. For that reason, a seemingly well written (though not in my opinion at all), and seemingly harmless article (that has some points about problems with our lack of abundant good models so far), can be a disaster of seeding it's own Mythology of the consumption culture's status quo: the TINA principal (There Is No Alternative). I will go out on a limb and call this article dangerous and worth challenging... though as John pointed out, this might be challenging to do considering the author's refusal to admit any dissenting thought (or rebuttal) into his publication domain.
He openly mentions the roots of permaculture in 1960's counter-cultural ideas, that industrial civilization was due to collapse, leaving people to revert to a subsistence or rural survival.
He seems to dismiss this as a failed prophecy, and expects the reader to dismiss it as well.
That might be the only good that comes of this article.
But if the critiques can stimulate us to question our decisions and push us to make better choices, that cannot be bad.
Thelma Mc Gowan wrote: the best examples of food forests are in tropical and desert conditions.
Thelma Mc Gowan wrote:For my part, what I take from the blog article is that permiculture in different regions is going to vary. The author is correct in his argument that what Lawton, and Mollison etc teach regarding food forests does not apply in the temperate zones. the best examples of food forests are in tropical and desert conditions. a food forest in my area if it is to have that "third Layer " he speaks of would need to be an edible plant that can tolerate shade , cold and wet. Dandelions are about the only thing i have seen to accomplish this task. one can only eat so many dandelions.
Permaculture uses ideas, it doesn't really *have* them so to speak. The specific techniques and methods are based on the site, not forced into it.
From my experience I have found that some permaculture ideas do not work in my region
Todd Parr wrote: Would you mind defining "food forest" as you see it?
Gardens which are primarily or entirely perennial polycultures, containing at least three identifiable vertical layers of food-bearing plants including trees, shrubs and perennial herbaceous understory.