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Article saying temperate food forests don't work
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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.

Fine review ad critique of the piece.

My $0.02
I have no idea whether permaculture is, in fact, permanent, but it is WAY ahead of the alternatives as a durable system.

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. My justification is that, while I have the economic power to choose between a holiday in Bali or building a swale, I will choose the more durable use of those resources, but Jevon's paradox guarantees that they WILL be used.

Part of my strategy is to try plenty and see what works on my piece of land. In 4 years we have built up about 30 plants that I call endemics, ones that reproduce themselves easily, vigorously and without my input. Yes, I have a garden overflowing with beetroot right now and it, plus the paths on either side, need thinning, but that ALL they need until I harvest. That is the kind of energy equation I aim for, abundance that works for itself and ease out of things that don't, I can always find a new recipe for something that grows easily. If I can do the same, or similar for parsnips and carrots, spuds and kale and another 20 or 30 plants so that they become weeds that I need to pull out to plant other stuff, great. Then I can put my energy into beans, peas, corn and tomatoes or rock melons while the rest take care of themselves.

Above all, or rather underpinning everything, is the health of the soil and my measure of success is not how many kg of this or that, however enjoyable that is, but rather how soft and friable and full of life is the soil I grow them in and what can I do to make it better for next year and the years after? Until some measure of soil health and sustainability is properly weighted in these researches, they will be almost meaningless.

But if the critiques can stimulate us to question our decisions and push us to make better choices, that cannot be bad.
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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. .



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. I think most don't because they aren't aware of the alternatives, not because they are hellbent on destruction. I personally have no doubt that permaculture systems can recreate the scale of production of what people need to live, because permaculture systems are so much more productive and efficient than the systems we currently use, which are mostly wasteful and destructive.

Video about how: http://geofflawton.com/videos/surviving-collapse-designing-way-abundance/


Here's an example of what I mean by waste. In the US, more resources are wasted on lawns than on wasteful agriculture, therefore, if the resources used for lawns were turned to regenerative systems of urban and suburban food-growing, we could feed everyone in the US and have all those resources used for wasteful agriculture left over to do more regenerative work. http://scienceline.org/2011/07/lawns-vs-crops-in-the-continental-u-s/
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.
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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.



I guess I wonder if anyone has made a claim that any people creating temperate food forests are even trying to make a living solely off foods grown from a food forest? If no-one is trying to do it, it's not much of a criticism to say they aren't doing something they aren't even trying to do.

All these permaculturists keep sharing their knowledge with books and teaching, so they fail the "sole living" test which is utter flapdoodle anyway considering most farmers have a second income in their household in addition to farming.

http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/25/farmers-work-a-second-shift-to-supplement-income/

This is something I've noticed about alternative systems, they always have to adhere to some standard the conventional system doesn't have to meet. For instance alternative energy systems always have to "pay for themselves" whereas we never demand our grid power pay for itself. Permaculture farmers have to make their sole living farming, whereas conventional farmers do not.

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Once I realized the author of the article was Graham Strouts, some bad memories came back to me.

John Saltveit wrote

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.



I had a similar experience five years ago or so when I stumbled across Strout's blog that he had at that time. Even though it was supposed to be a permaculture blog, most of the posts at that time were obnoxious and arrogant polemics directed at natural medicine and practices such as biodynamics that didn't fit his view of the world.He seemed to accept and respond to some critical comments, so I posted a several paragraph long comment addressing several of his particularly derogatory claims about homeopathy. I was curious if and how he'd respond, but he never put my comment through.

I looked at that blog a while later and he was parroting the big food companies in saying a single study was evidence that organic food was no more nutritious than conventional food. That completely missed the point, for one thing other studies have shown a difference, but the larger issue is that nutrition comes from the soil and if you just manage part of a field conventionally and part "organically" (meaning just according to organic standards, not with a philosophy of caring for the soil to back it up) for a few years, then yes, the organic crops won't be any more nutritious. There iare plenty of industrial organics out there that may not be any more nutritious than conventional equivalents (though they still have less toxic residues on them), but everything I've seen confirms to me the importance to taking care of the soil to get nutritious food. I never bothered to comment again as I assumed it would just be deleted.

I dug deeper and found that he was also parroting the industry line about GMOs being no problem. I also found a few reports from people who took his PDC and found his arrogance intolerable. Some permaculture teachers are more practical and experienced than others, but I've never come across any others with the sort of stuff being said about him. His position seems to be that permaculture is a fine hobby, but industrial ag is the only way to feed the world. That's suspiciously like what industrial ag would love to have a spokesperson in the permaculture movement be saying, so I've definitely wondered if he's a paid troll. I can't know for sure, he may have just bought into their propaganda on his own.

Compared to my previous experiences with Strouts's writing, his forest garden article seems tame and almost reasonable. However, as other commenters have pointed out, it really misses the point. There are plenty of failed models of forest gardens, but also successful ones which he ignores. And, forest gardens are not by any means the only way to practice permaculture. Permaculture methods are in need of fine-tuning and critical analysis should be welcomed, but based on my earlier experience I question Strouts' motives, as everything he writes seems to at least subtly endorse industrial agriculture. This paragraph near the end reflects that,

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.



This makes it clear what his real intentions are. I'm not going to write a lengthy rebuttal as there's so much out there already about the unsustainability of the industrial food system that most people who are on this website have probably already heard, but I have a few quick points. Increase in yields in the short and medium term doesn't have anything to do with sustainability and resilience in the long term. Industrial agriculture is dependent on the temporary situation of fossil fuels being abundant, it's basically a way of using land to turn fossil fuels into food, not to mention the environmental impacts and epidemics of chronic disease from the toxins in the environment and depletion of the soil. But it's his last sentence in the paragraph that really has me shaking my head. How can he possibly imagine that modern industrial farming is the only type that has innovation an adaptibility, after being involved in permaculture for 20 years? Every good permaculturist that I know experiments and tries new things frequently, and recent permaculture authors such as Mark Shepard and Ben Falk have introduced so many ideas that weren't in circulation a decade ago. If there was a tenth of the resources going to researching and developing permaculture systems as there is going to the industrial model, imagine the kind of practical knowledge that we'd have in a few decades.
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I think that Rick makes a good point about "classic vegies". The problem is that we need to think outside of the box of "classic vegies". I grow tons of vegies year round without hardly trying. The most nutritious vegies are green leafies, and the most nutritious fruit are berries. Both are super easy to grow within the framework of a food forest. As the soil turns more fungal and less bacterial, there is a midway area called meadow soil in which most of our vegies and fruit trees grow well. I am doing that right now, and as I've said, I hardly put any effort into it. Some of the vegies are classic, like asparagus, artichoke, swiss chard, leeks, and various cruciferous vegies like turnip greens, and collard greens. In my opinion, one of the best things to do is to see what will grow with little effort in your food forest. Many plants reseed themselves and multiply or stay the same size. Some of my vegies are relatively unknown or related to well known vegies. Some are forgotten vegies that were brought to the US as vegies and have since been forgotten. Some are now considered weeds but they taste good, are nutritious, easy care and well, they grow like weeds. Essentially, I don't weed except for grass. I just harvest. The best book I"ve found on this topic is Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas, but there are others. Rosemary Gladstar and Marjorie Wildcraft have done a lot of work in this area. Green Dean, of Eat the Weeds is my hero. 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.
John S
PDX OR
Nice to be able to use Leucaena. I do use alders, Elagnus, and a number of other shrubby N-fixers in my systems in a cool Mediterranean climate. I do find too, that I don't need to add much nitrogen to the forest garden/perennial-rich areas, but in the veggie and grain beds I do use lots of compost and occasional liquid N doses. My composts are high in vegetation components, don't have as much manure additions as I would like. A significant portion of the N in my compost systems comes from woody legumes and Alnus.
 

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.

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".

It would take a massive, concerted, extended, universal commitment to enabling the transition, it would take a total willingness to say farewell to about 95% of the devices, services and functions by which we live and to hand over what we consider our wealth and prosperity to tyhe production and distribution of food, simple, clean, nutritious, sufficient but not excessive, food, prepared from scratch by everyone and produced by everyone who is physically able.

Therefore, not.
A very interesting and informative thread with lots of info to digest. Being a "baby permie" I am still in the learning stages and have read all about how incredible food forests are. having read the article and the replies to it, I think the most important things I have learned from this thread is that it is necessary to change our perceptions (and tastes)about what is edible and what is practical given the circumstances we find ourselves in.
I did not like his article and how it countered my perception of EFFs and by the end of it I was still convinced it is a viable "system" as it had really turned the food forest into a monoculture itself by disregarding any yield that was not being "picked". As to his maintaining that no viable ones existed, "Sepp Holtzer" just kept repeating in my head but I have no idea whether he does EFFs or more more of a hugelkulture concept so I couldn't use that argument until I had done more research.
After reading the comment made by someone who was a horticulturist-or at least had a better understanding of plant relationships than I did-I was slightly less able to refute 30 years of experience and starting to feel totally inadequate to post a "yes but" or even comment on this thread. He agreed with the author because his yields were so low and food for birds and squirrels. None of us want to lose our food crops entirely to animals-it negates the reason for growing in the first place. But then I started reflecting on my own experiences and although few, I realised that I had actually suffered from the same "attacks from nature" as he had concerning cherry trees, hazels, blackberries and the like in a mono culture, and had successfully managed these problems (as a complete novice) with non invasive deterrents that not require me to net the whole place.
This, together with the informed posts regarding food types and stacking gives me the resolve to continue to believe in EFFs as an important PART of the Permie way of life in any location, be it temperate or tropical.
The other thing I picked out of the article mentioned is that the author makes compares a nut yield in a food forest and a yield of another crop per acre. The yield is definitely less than the yields of the other crops mentioned but the yield given reflects nut trees as a mono crop and fails to add in any other yield from any other crop within the forest. This would surely add to the tonne per acre yield? And as someone else mentioned price per tonne of the yield was not factored.
I would also like to know if profit/acre was factored in? Monocrops may produce more per acre, but after costs is the profit margin really all that great? I know from first hand, intensive animal husbandry that profit per unit is very small and that you have to rely on sheer numbers to make decent profit.

thanks to all the contributors of well researched, logical and calm rationale- you are too many to mention.
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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. ...



I used to look at my conifer forests the same way (As a Good Person I Must Not Cut the Trees, but that's a lot of non-edible landscaping there...maybe I can start a berry patch?).
Then I stumbled across a local ethnobotany reference in our library.
Turns out the dominant, black lichen that is on ALL my conifers around here is edible. Not necessarily choice, but edible and historically, sometimes a staple food. What we might call "famine food."
I see my "barren" forest a lot differently now. What else am I missing?

The squirrels sure seemed excited about fir-cones, and a flying squirrel seems to have cached a pile of mushrooms - puffballs? truffles? in a tube in our woodshed.

I started to respond to the discussion before reading the article, then went back and read it.

It does sound like the author is tired of "hype" - and that he believes (or has read) people advocating food forests on the basis of caloric productivity, as well as soil preservation etc.
The fact that he compares them repeatedly to "the fruit gardens and home orchards prior to the 1950s" seems like a positive comparison to me.

I like to imagine that the whole point of permaculture is to re-discover what worked for our ancestors, or the ancestral people in our particular climate.
The best candidates for home gardening are two ends of the spectrum: reliable producers that can bear neglect (the perennials that you plant now, so that you can enjoy the plums in your old age), and tender vegetables that call for some level of immediate, daily care for best quality. Crops with economies of scale are best grown collectively, commercially, or wherever those economies of scale can be applied. If you had to be 100% self-reliant at the village level, you'd either have a barley and potato field, or olive groves and wheat fields, or whatever would produce best. But most villages trade; salty coastal villages provide the fish and inland villages grow the chips.

A home garden can provide ultra-fresh herbs, fruits, and veg that would be inconvenient, expensive, or impossible to buy commercially (tomatoes, paw-paws, real strawberries).
Culinary and medicinal herbs and flowers are also grown, for beauty and "just in case." The varieties have altered with our priorities, but I think it's hubris to dismiss a flower as "not food" if you don't in fact know whether it's edible.
People may not eat their day lilies or sunflowers, they may grow them for the pleasure of sharing winter protein with the birds, but the fact remains that there is useful, edible, choice biomass being produced.
Whether it's harvested and used by people is a second question.

As long as calorie-rich, nutrient-poor staples can be purchased cheaply, there is less incentive to husband the home garden closely, and more to treat it as sanctuary or hobby. Just as cheap nitrogen results in cheap manures, river pollution, and over-fertilization in both conventional and organic farms.

I would tend to agree that a temperate forest garden is more closely related to home gardens, and less closely related to fields of potatoes or grain. This seems obvious and right to me.
The author questions the "self-sufficiency" goal because people are not in fact growing most of their staples.
I have known a few people who did experiment with growing their own food - Norris and Theresa in Portland got serious about this a while back, and tracked their inputs pretty closely, and I believe they were pushing over 90% of their calories from their under-an-acre urban yard.

But what if your pensioners are looking for "self-sufficiency" in terms of cash, not calories?
A cheap hobby, that also makes cheap flour and lard into delicious pie, seems like pretty good value in this sense.
Perennials are an investment for pleasure and security; they will still be there if medical problems, family emergencies, or poor practices make it impossible to succeed with an annual garden any given year.

But I think it's not just personal value, subsistence, or even calories that is being assumed here.

I think the author is judging production crops, in terms of exportable calories.

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.
(Me, I don't think industry will collapse leaving us to homestead in a garden of Eden - I think it will decay into a God-awful mess, which it will take generations to remediate.)

But for now, history continues along the path of the "green revolution" (chemical agriculture): teeming masses of people, exponentially growing numbers, to which the only politically correct solution is to put them in high-rise feed lots and grow more food at all costs.

Do permaculture growers accept this premise? That unlimited human growth must be supported, by exporting calories to urban populations at all costs?

This gets into cider-press territory real quick, so I will not attempt to answer it.

But the definition of "productive" is certainly a key point in examining this article.

I agree that the permaculture plantations are not producing massive crop exports - isn't that intrinsic to the design?
I thought it was part of the soil-building approach.
(Don't some permaculture teachers say "nothing leaves this farm unless it walks off on its own feet," emphasizing that exporting hay or vegetable crops is equivalent to exporting your soil fertility?)
Value-added products, like jams or jellies where the bulk of the pips and skins stays on the farm, or dairy and eggs where you get to keep the manures, might be more acceptable, as it would take fewer inputs (oyster shell) to balance the nutrients lost.

So where do starches come from, if we are not to deplete our soils?

Hunter-gatherer cultures, on closer examination, seem to have had choice areas of key staple foods that were tended, and even partitioned out into family 'plots' in the case of Columbia valley wapato.
Camas, wild rice, chestnuts, acorns, and lily-family bulbs were used in various parts of North America. To dismiss a forest with an unnaturally high percentage of chestnut, in a culture where burning chestnut wood was taboo for all important ceremonies, as "wilderness" seems like the willful ignorance of cultural bias.
I think we have to acknowledge these seasonal staple gathering areas as similar in function, if not in appearance, to the distant fields we rely on for our cultivated starchy staples.
And then we might note that many of these staples either grew in fertility-concentrating areas (freshwater swamps, estuaries, and lakes), or were fed by cultural practices that returned fertility (as the New England tribes teaching Pilgrims to plant a fish in each hill of corn).

I don't think we will see an end to starchy staples, or to there being specific situations that suit those plants.

But we might owe it to our future to question the logic of enlarging the human population, or the commercial food supply, at all costs.
Populations of other animals show definite signs of stress and ill-health as they approach carrying capacity - let alone exceed it.

The very fact the author mentions, of the population being largely dependent on a few grain crops, raises the spectre of massive famines consequent to a blight or unforseen genetic accident.
The potato analogy calls to mind potato famine.

I think biodiversity is intrinsically an important hedge.
Joseph Wilcox advocates using our current agricultural research capacity to focus on developing climate-extremophiles into productive domestic variants. It may not be as easy or quick as bringing a GMO wheat to market, but it is arguably more worth doing, and a lower-risk experiment, which could result in a much more resilient food supply.

What do we mean by self-sufficiency?
Is it a hubristic sort of independence from society?
Is it a naive return to a pseudo-historic lifestyle, which only a few can now afford to try?
Or is it a sort of willingness to work harder, to create more resilient fallback options, in case society stops feeding you cake?

You don't pay insurance to make money. You pay insurance to give yourself peace of mind, when the possibility of death or catastrophe is keeping you up at night.
If you can find a way to make money that also brings you peace of mind - or even a way to improve your food security that doesn't actively lose money - then we might be looking at hobbies as subsistence-insurance.

"You can't eat the pavement," as Leon Uris pointed out in Trinity, his characters comparing experiences of the Irish famine.

As a permaculturalist, I don't think I'm arguing that food forests can feed the world's urban poor.
I'm arguing that it's worth getting out of urban slums, and back to a village or family compound where you can feed yourself if things go bad.
There is not enough good land for us to give everyone 40 acres and a mule. We need to become better at growing a lot of food in 1/8 acre, as Chad is doing, as Norris and Theresa have done.

I will not live well if industrial agriculture collapses.
I live on a frickin' mountain, and the only things that seem to be functionally perennial here are native plants, the apple and cherry orchard, onions, rhubarb, horseradish.
We can annually garden peas, potatoes, carrots, and maybe even corn, if I end up home long enough to manage the seed, water, and storage.

But because I team up with local organic farmers, and grow some of my own organic herbs and fruits, I can afford to buy organic flour, and organic potatoes.
I am not self-sufficient on calories. But I feel I have gained value from treating food as a hobby.

I don't eat the lichen off my pine trees. But I'm glad to recognize it as an option.
I didn't become capable of recognizing edible mushrooms, or cooking over-ripe zucchini into palatable food, overnight.
But I'm learning a lot faster now that I live in the country, and routinely help on neighbor's farms and dairies.
Last year, I could make one kind of cheese. This year, I can make six kinds of cheese.
Several gallons of that milk came home by bicycle, from a farm close enough that I could walk there in an emergency.

Is non-cash subsistence valuable?

This article
http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/short-history-enclosure-britain
on British land enclosure (1200s to 1800s), points out that common lands were valued differently depending on who was looking at them.

Were the lands being "wasted" when they supported feral families, rather than taxable export crops?

If you are a nob trying to make money from your tenants, it must be hard to watch all those commoners go berry-picking, thatching and patching stuff, poaching geese, raising kids and children, and run a motley herd of cow, goats, pigs, and sheep on the fen-lands, like happy animals. Or like miserable, starving animals, in bad years. They certainly show up when you put on a feast. And they go AWOL from your minimum-wage field work to go fishing, or help out a neighbor.

Are they unproductive? or just unexploitable?

It's not quite identical with the points raised here, but has a very similar flavor.

Is a Moroccan villager who takes a half-day from school to help with his family's olive harvest a third-world peasant? Or a first-world educated teacher with an admirable sense of family responsibility?

In New Zealand, when they had agricultural subsidies, the south island had 40 sheep per capita. There was a glut of lamb and mutton on the market, and it would have been difficult to farm sheep without the subsidies at those prices.
When the subsidies went away, the numbers dropped to 15 sheep per capita, and they found ways to market premium lamb for export for as much as $55/lb. Locally, it was available to farmers for the same price as ever, or at groceries for something more like what we'd expect here- $5 per lb? (I didn't buy much, since I was working for farmers).

Here in the US, we have both grain subsidies, and an effective subsidy from fossil fuels, which makes it possible to grow staple crops very cheaply, yet the farmers are insured against glut-price losses.

I have seen numbers which suggest that industrical agriculture uses as many as 10 calories of fossil fuels (as fertilizer, cultivation, and transport) for 1 calorie of food.
Or maybe that was ethanol production, a net energy-sink, supported by subsidies to the corn industry.
The author's numbers are very different - I think he implies 1 calorie of fuel to 5 of food, or 1:1.

I'm sure the actual numbers vary widely. And they're devilishly hard to calculate, and to put on any kind of fair basis.

These seem like important questions.

Is industrial agriculture is a net producer of calories, or a net calorie sink with only temporary, artificial productivity?
Is labor an expensive cost that hobbyists ignore, or a healthy family activity that landlords deny to the urban poor? (More production per worker is great if everyone has jobs; not so great if they don't.)
Is biomass only valuable after it's been sold for dollars, or does it have intrinsic value in the ground or cycling through wild and feral bodies?

Is it only food production if it can be sold off-farm?
 

Earl Mardle wrote:
It would take a massive, concerted, extended, universal commitment to enabling the transition



This is the case with any solution to our predicament. People needed to change their habits dramatically in order to defeat Hitler. But they actually had to decide to do so. And they did.

Permaculture is a solution to our problems, in my opinion, but like any solution, it has to actually be implemented to work.



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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.



Though I may be one of the most boosterific optimists among some pretty darn doomy permaculturists, I see this as one of the biggest obstacles to The Permaculture Solution to our problems. There's plenty of evidence that people will choose to die rather than change their way of life. But I think we at least need to try to give people the option of living by spreading information about permaculture and not pretending, as the author of the article apparently does, that the current system is somehow preferable. How can it be preferable if not sustainable? How can dying be preferable to living? Yet I see people arguing on the side of dying by repeatedly stating that permaculture "won't work." What is the benefit of saying such a thing? I think it is tremendously valuable to find the weak points of permaculture and improve or solve them. But going on about how it "won't work" to me seems like defeatism on a grand scale, though I've been told it's "realistic" to think in this way, that any idea short of the collapse of civilization and near or total extinction of humans is a cute fantasy. We seem to spend a lot of time here on permies working on proving and improving permaculture, so I like to believe I'm not the only person who sees it as something other than a quaint hobby and cute idea.

I also want to add: It is a bit disconcerting, and rather depressing, to see permaculturists claiming that "permaculture doesn't work" when it's working so well in my own life - and I'm not even very good at it (embarrassingly slow learner, dark brown thumb). I've been able to mostly quit my job (or have it quit me) and slip below the poverty line and barely feel it, thanks to permaculture. But then, I see permaculture as a way of life, not a way to produce commodities.

http://www.permies.com/t/54918/frugality/Working-money-expensive
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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.



This is exactly what I'm doing with my vegetable garden in the middle of a mass planting of apples, pistachios, almonds, and pecans. The trees are about a metre high at the moment, and about 2 metres apart from each other. My goal is that the vegetable garden beds are adding biomass and nutrient exchange to the soil while the trees are getting established. Amongst the garden beds are also elderberries, currents, blueberries, and other understory specialists. This is an intensive planting.

In a few years the trees will get a few metres high, and start to close the canopy above them. Ideal spaces for my garden beds will be reduced to a few select spots where the canopy is still open. As you say, I'll end up retreating more to the edges where there is more sunlight, leaving the inside to be taken over by the understory specialist berries.

Eventually (fingers crossed!), my trees will close up completely and form a true forest. Only the understory specialists like berries will be able to thrive in there. By then, I'll have moved onto the next area of my property where small fruit trees will have been planted, and the cycle will continue. My intensive garden plantings will "lead" the food forest on a time-stacked journey around my property.

geoff lawton's Food Forest DVD has a really good tour of his food forest, which then leads out into an opening where he then takes you on a tour of his vegetable garden.

edited to change "blackberries" to "blueberries"
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Erica Wisner wrote:

Is it only food production if it can be sold off-farm?

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.

They brag about 2% of the population feeding the other 98%. But when 50% were feeding the other 50% about 1/2 was used to feed themselves. So just changing that demographics doubles the food productivity without producing a single calorie of extra food. It's an accountants trick. Oh and btw the actual % of food dollars that the farmer sees has dropped dramatically and is currently at approx 7%. So all they did actually was change the system and with various accounting tricks and distribution networks steal from the farmer and fund all the "big ag" industry, with the net result an economic devastation of small town rural America.

Luckily most people in permaculture are able to see through this smoke and mirrors.
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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.

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. I don't advocate this type of thinking, but it is how humans tend to think.
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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.



In my opinion, there's plenty of evidence that humans as a species do not necessarily have a very short attention span. (only one example here: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/oak-beams-new-college-oxford)

Millions of starving people is a political problem, not a food availability problem, and there is no push on to feed everyone. There is a push on to make the greatest amount of profit at the lowest cost to investors. Buying into the claim that we have to destroy the environment in order to save the starving millions is not helpful to the cause of preventing this starvation, which permaculture can do. If there were actually a push on to feed everyone, permaculture would be implemented everywhere. Food is a political tool used to coerce people into behavior which is contrary to their long-term wellbeing, and myths such as "we must destroy the environment in order to feed the starving millions" and "industrial commodity farming is the best way to produce food" are just part of this coercive process.
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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



Geoff has a video of a 2000 year old food forest. He also demonstrates anual crop beds fertilized by tree systems. These systems produce income and food while the trees mature. They can mature out of use or remain. I think the key is that our unnatural live is inherently not comparable with nature. Though, I believe, it's possible to force production and wage slave city systems forever. Comparing the solutions to the problems as a measure of success does not pass the straight face test for me. It would be much better to look at food forest as the way we could live. Wanting want to do the same things with different systems and expect different results might just be insanity. While robotics could easily harvest wild looking mixed multi Species systems, that is missing the point. A chance to change. Local CSAs are a workabke model. Labor is only expensive because we do not value food or health. Further, government subsidies to farmers and the larger part to big companies to transport, process, and store the foods makes a loaf of bread actually cost closer to $20 a loaf. So, it's a completely synthetic system designed to get people off the land and into the cities. Remove ALL the artificial political manipulation and then suddenly manual labor is NOT to expensive. Many immigrants would love the work. Also, there is a rather large trend of people like woofers and work-a-wayers who desire the peaceful lifestyle apart from the system that they work for quality food and a place to stay.

For the masses, no change is wanted or admitted or coherently expressible. I think it will not change until it must. Even dole is doing Inga alley cropped pineapples because it's more profitable, not because it's healthy for crops or people. Some day the city's may have gmo alley cropped poly cultures picked by robots and red from chemically processed sewers.. I suspect the disease rate may be ultimately what forces a change away from this whole thought process, or the masses may just be content to be milked and blead, accepting shorter lives...

 

Dan alan wrote:

For the masses, no change is wanted or admitted or coherently expressible.



Though I agree with a lot of what you've said, I don't agree that no change is wanted, but it is not coherently expressed. I think many, many people are unhappy with their lives, unhappy about being coerced into wage slavery. But they are not aware that an alternative system is available to us if we implement it. So many of us have been raised up to believe in "leaders" who will "solve our problems" possibly with "science" - we have become passive, waiting for some hero, god, alien, etc to appear and solve our problems for us. The solution is at our own fingertips, but many aren't aware of it. That's why I think it is so important for each of us here on permies to demonstrate it in our own lives, especially if we live in conventional circumstances such as the city or suburbs, with a regular job, etc. I think we need to show that we don't need to wait for ideal circumstances "if I only had land" to have a permacultural life.
The trap is that we are programmed to want the luxary of the system separate from anything natural. I would argue that progress has not been of any benefit to the well being of humanity. All the problems, the wars and even famine is the result of wanting a king to make our decisions who in the end only make decisions that further their own immediate benefit with no care of earth or people. Most people would hate to have to deal with fallen fruit and flies or to even walk on dirt. We are a species in full swarm. In the end nature will epress patterns to correct the issues over a great deal of time. Even with man and his progress.

You are right. We need to demonstrate an alternative where we find our selves. Some day we will take responsibility good or bad. It's nothing we need to force. I believe there are a lot of people waking up, but the people who wrote about slavery being made into self slavery of controlled wages and issuing bonds, already, are prepared to move the dissatisfaction of the current system into the next version of slavery, one that that is not understood or noticed; one with a spiritual component.
 

Dan alan wrote:The trap is that we are programmed to want the luxary of the system separate from anything natural.



This is cultural, I believe, and quite recent. Distaste for touching the dirt may only be a couple of generations old among many of us. If dirt can be made to appear beautiful and appealing, as it does in Geoff Lawton's videos, I think more people would want to be a little closer to it. The botanical garden in the city near me (San Antonio) is making a large expansion, showing that people actually do like being around plants and even dirt. http://www.sabot.org/grow/

That's just one example. San Antonio also recently made growing food legal throughout the city. http://therivardreport.com/city-council-makes-urban-farming-legal-throughout-city/

Also, because of the efficiency and productivity of permaculture compared to agriculture, not everyone will have to be a farmer. I believe most people won't have to be anything that looks like a farmer. Lots of people enjoy gardening. Farming, not so much. http://www.statista.com/statistics/227419/number-of-gardeners-usa/

The difference between permaculture ("gardening") and agriculture ("farming"): http://kennysideshow.blogspot.com/2008/05/agriculture-or-permaculture-why-words.html
 

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.



Completely agree Aaron. Which goes back to what I was saying further up the thread about not being able to feed the world.

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. I suspect that, while your point about harvesting by machine is absolutely right, it has been the machines that have pushed us towards the system we have and trying to push THEM in a new direction will be too hard in too short a time frame.

I'm 100% certain that, for those who survive, food forests or edible forests or biointensive or natural farming will be the ways we feed ourselves, there will be many fewer people and life will be very, very different
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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.



Totally enough resources to "spare" (see my example above) and plenty of time - the transition could occur within a decade if we chose to do it, in my opinion. All of the significant examples of degraded landscapes being transformed to regenerative systems have happened very quickly, in a decade or two.

Again, it is very bizarre to me to see a permaculturist arguing that permaculture won't work. Permaculturists arguing strenuously that permaculture won't work is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it? Fortunately most are not arguing from that position.

Geoff Lawton: Permaculture & The Tipping Point:
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People needed to change their habits dramatically in order to defeat Hitler. But they actually had to decide to do so. And they did.



I have a friend who claims that when someone brings Hitler or Nazis into an internet discussion all worthwhile discussion has ended. (Just a joke on my part, I think it's hilarious. If it needs to be stated, I am not a fan of Hitler or the Nazis. It's just that the Nazis and Hitler are the only PC boogymen left, no matter what others do.)

Getting quickly on to the reason I am making an entry. When economists figure on productivity, the main emphasis isn't productivity per person, it's productivity per dollar spent. We need to broaden our view of productivity, although it makes measuring it much harder.

Right now, in the US, although our govt. refuses to admit it, we have unemployment at well over 20% (just look at the # of employed and the # in the working age brackets, figuring about 1/2 the women are homemakers without external jobs (which is probably higher than it is). My numbers may be off slightly, but are probably low. As far as being contributing members of society, many of these people would be seen as an economist as simply a drain on the system but other than that, they aren't really viewed as a resource.

The reason I mention this is that many people who aren't currently employed, or are underemployed would like to work in a food forest/ permaculture situation. People have a basic need to feel they are needed members of society. Even if they weren't producing at the maximum, any gain over zero is a gain. Add to this the personal gain of enjoying what you do, having something really positive to do with your time (when I young and had too much spare time, I would generally find trouble. Others may be smarter than me, but many aren't). If rather than figuring that the waste land in cities were just a drain on the coffers, they were used for gardening it would provide needed food, exercise and positive sense of community. I know in my town more and more community gardens are springing up. If we could get more people growing something useful we would gain. That isn't really permaculture, but it's a gain.

We need to worry less about maximum productivity in the narrow sense and look for more productivity in the broader sense. I know that in this forum our top resource is the soil. Can't argue that, but about as high, I would put people. That's also our biggest problem. The problem is the solution. If we actually turned yards and desert strips into gardens, turned much our parks into food forests, took our fallow, abandoned spots of land and used them wisely there would be no shortage of land. I live a couple of miles from the Ohio river. There's a lot of land that floods every year or two and often the ground stays wet so long they have a hard time getting corn planted in time. If it were planted in pecans it would flood in the spring, do no damage to the trees and in the fall we could harvest pecans and finish pigs on whatever pecans people missed. Couple this with intelligent community planning where you can walk or bike to meet most of your needs and the solutions are possible.

I remember reading how 17th century french aristocrats and clergy didn't like chestnut trees. The peasants with lots of chestnut trees in their commons had a food source that was harder to control or tax and the peasants in those areas weren't viewed as being as hardworking (they probably wanted higher wages because they weren't as desperate). The aristocrats knew that just going in and cutting all the chestnut trees would lead to an uprising, so they waited. When an opportunity presented itself the aristocracy got rid of the trees and switched the peasants over to grain. I believe permaculture has the potential to create an egalitarian society that is much better adapted to the human animals happiness. I don't expect governments or major corporations to do anything but try to stop, or at least slow it down until they figure out how they can turn it to their profit. We really haven't changed much.

We have created our own problems and the solutions are availabe. There are only two things stopping us from implementing them. One is education, which if the government was onboard would not be a problem. The second is who makes the money and who has the power. Our current system is designed to funnel all resources from the producers through a relatively small number of conduits to the final users. This makes it easier for taxing, and guaranties huge profits for a relative few. If I'm buying food from my neighbor and producing it myself, if I'm burning my own wood and not buying oil or gas how can they bleed me for their own profit. The 17th century aristocrats didn't like chestnut trees because they reduced their tithes and incomes and reduced their control over the commoners. Governments and major corporations will try to discourage permaculture for the same reasons.

Looking at my post, I guess I have now brought in the modern Nazis, major corporations and government. 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.

 

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.

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.

It is 9am, I have already this morning made breakfast for my wife and sent her off to work in the city, fed the dog, fed the chickens and cleaned out their coop, let the cows into some new grass, collected from yesterday's paddock and the overnight one, about 60kg of manure that I have added to my compost heap, with biochar (made a few weeks ago) a layer of Japanese cedar mulch from branches cut for firewood and the foliage mulched last week, then some organic fertiliser and a layer of hay, also cut, raked by hand and collected last month. Then collect the electric fence stakes from yesterday's grazing, stack in the barn with the fence unit and run out a new fence in the paddock for tomorrow.

The rest of the day includes some weeding, scooting into the brewer's shop for some consumables, coming home via a friend's to collect another 30kg or so of apples for cider vinegar from her tree to go with the 25kg I processed for cider yesterday, maybe 20kg of pears for pearer, process same, clean up the kitchen which will be a mess then mulch the garden bed I sowed with 350 broad beans (by hand, each seed) yesterday, dig a few Jerusalem artichokes for a treat for the cows, one of whom is a heifer in calf and needs training in the stall and being handled round the udder.

After that, get dinner- fortunately leftovers from yesterday so just cook some rice and reheat the rest.

Somewhere in there check the greenhouse and water the seedlings that will be planted out tomorrow, you know, the ones I sowed 2 weeks ago. And, BTW, nowhere in there is any of the long term tree planting, mulching, companion plant propagating and planting out, water pump maintenance and all the pruning, harvesting and processing that that will take.

Yeah, I can see some CEO with his corporate lunch and limo, or a single mother buried under caring for her kids and trying to figure out how to pay her bills or an ordinary shmoe, overweight and with no idea which end of a shovel is which, adding all that to their existing work days, because that is what keeps them fed now, so that in 10 years they can eat at all.

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.

Yeah, right.
 

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.

Yeah, right.



They are irrelevant. Did you watch the Geoff Lawton video above? If the rest of us decided to make a permaculture world it would happen, and those guys could not stop it.

 

Mick Fisch wrote:I think it explains the general resistance to a very common sense solution to our problems.



I have not personally encountered this general resistance to a very common sense solution to our problems from everyday ordinary folks. I've seen ignorance of permaculture, and misunderstandings about it.

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.

 

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.

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.

When I first started on this, my permie designer pointed out that I would need a crap tonne of compost and where was I going to get it from? My answer then was that I didn't know, my answer now is that I don't need a crap tonne, I need about 8 tonnes, and I can produce it from the resources within my boundary. I can still not produce it sustainably because I use fossil fuels and move it with my little tractor, taking those out of the equation is next on the list of things to learn and do, but in the meantime I have to eat so fossil fuel and a tractor it is.

Permaculture is a great idea, food forests are a brilliant concept but they are not settled science and they respond well to challenge, don't get discouraged because not everyone is sailing in your boat, they sure as hell aren't sailing in mine and that's fine, we need, above all, an ecosystem of responses to an existential challenge.
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I just re-read the article and all of the comments. Phew.

From the article, the closing paragraph:

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.



I guess, since he began his argument with the seminal temperate forest garden work of Robert Hart (who I seem to recall reading, personally foresaw a future where food forests covered the open expanse of field crops returning it to once upon a time timbered land of primeval days and ecological stability), he feels the need to continue with his blasting of the 'myth' that we should somehow strive to return to a balance with Nature.

Also from the 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).”

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.

He seems almost exasperated that people are still enthusiastic about permaculture in spite of the seeming failures of his own forest garden projects or the aspects of forest gardening that he chooses to see as negatives in other projects. He does have quite a focus that the food forest is somehow how all permaculturists would envision replacing Big Ag's methods of feeding the world, and does not really account for row cropping, or keylines, or swales or pretty much any other permaculture practices that can show massive gains in grain or potato crops, without massive inputs. He also seems to drastically disagree with the concept that this 'myth' should be so prevalent in public pressure/policy, but does not seem to even acknowledge that the Big Ag lobbyists and other industry connections in the electorate as well as in the media are extremely prevalent in pressuring for public policy in the opposite direction.

Erica wrote:

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.

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.

Earle Mardle wrote:

But if the critiques can stimulate us to question our decisions and push us to make better choices, that cannot be bad.

That might be the only good that comes of this article.

It's sad that this man has any following at all. He is doing a remarkable disservice to permaculture and specifically sadly to his students.
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The claim is that forest gardens ( defined as: 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,) do not "work" e.g. live up to expectations.

The whole thing should focus on what you want them to do. If you have a tiny yard, and want to grow something interesting and edible, they will work. If you have a bigger plot and want to grow a ton of fruit, they will probably work. If you have a tiny lot and want to feed yourself a complete diet, no, they will probably not work. If you want to grow tomatoes in Pennsylvania, no they will probably not work. If you have 50 acres and want to feed yourself, they may work, but will probably focus on growing grass and trees to feed animals, which strays from the definition above.

Now, does Permaculture work? Meaning, can intelligent design solve the problems we face? Well, yes, probably, but often times the solutions look like the problems. The solution to the collapse of ancient Rome was the Feudal system of the dark ages. (And actually, many people lived better in the dark ages then in the Roman Empire.) But to an intelligent Roman, it would have looked like no solution at all, just a problem!
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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.

I do not think he is condemning permiculture in the least. By mentioning "back to eden" gardening he is supporting the idea that permuculture ideas and similar concepts are great alternatives. He never claims that Permuculture doesn't work.

From my experience I have found that some permaculture ideas do not work in my region, where other permie ideas give me permission to break the rules of traditional gardening.

example....Mollison condemns Cats, because in his region they cause havic to the local birds etc......on my homestead cats are our best ally. The birds here are safe in the trees and the rodents are kept at bay from our house and gardens etc.

Permaculture is not about rules and being inflexable......
 

Thelma Mc Gowan wrote: the best examples of food forests are in tropical and desert conditions.



I think Martin Crawford's food forest is one of the best examples. In a temperate region.

 

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.


How about Alpine/Forest Strawberries? Or Lingonberries? Or rabbit-eye blueberries? [Which are slightly marginal if planted out in a field, but protected under a canopy in our region should be fine.] Or our native trailing blackberry Rubus Ursinus? Or Mint? Or Ramps [wild onions native to the East Coast that pop up really early in spring before the canopy fully leafs out.] There are tons of options for that space in our region. It's a bit challenging [and if you make the canopy TOO dense it gets harder still] but it is doable. Also, Crawford is on record stating that a forest garden isn't intended to be dense shade, but an open woodland. The same goes for Toensmeier and Jacke in Edible Forest Gardens. [They're all likely a better source than Geoff Lawton tbh, Geoff does the vast bulk of his work in Mediterranean and Tropical regions. Our water cycle is a wetter version of Mediterranean but we have far less heat and sunshine and more cold.]

From my experience I have found that some permaculture ideas do not work in my region

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.
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Todd Parr wrote: Would you mind defining "food forest" as you see it?



I don't have my own definition, I just use other peoples'. My go to definition is Geoff Lawton's, ie:
1. Overstorey canopy.
2. Understorey canopy.
3. Shrub/bush
4. Herbaceous
5. Ground cover / trailing
6. Climbing
7. Rhizobial
But I'm not going to be too hard on myself if I don't quite make all 7! Just keep heading in that general direction.

I'm actually pretty darn satisfied with the definition by the author of the article:

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.



That's not too shabby a definition, as they go. But saying that a food forest doesn't work because you can't grow cabbages in it is classic petitio principii, or begging the question. The question being begged namely, is this what they're designed for? Successfully growing vegetables in something not designed for it is fine, no problem. But if it doesn't work, don't blame the wrong tool for not doing the job.
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Paul Gautche (back to Eden) did use woodchips in both his orchard and in his vegetable garden; however, it was only in the more recent videos of his garden that he started planting a few crops like Kale under a tree, to protect them from the winter frost.

My understanding of a forest garden, is that perennials are planted in layers, using shade tolerant plants in the understory. A lot depends on your climate. In a cool and cloudy area, there would have to be fewer trees, farther apart, if the understory plants are expected to be productive. But in a sunny clime, more shade is helpful for some protection from the hot sun. Many of our common garden vegetables need or prefer full sun, so don't do well under a tree, yet in places with hot summers, tree cover or shade of some sort is needed to get cool season crops to flourish.

Most of the permaculture resources I have studied suggest a food forest as only a part of a design, which may well include a separate vegetable garden. For example, a u-shaped food forest with a vegetable garden in the open center. In my 1/8 acre yard, I have a small food forest with apple and plum trees, Nanking cherries and Siberian Pea shrub, gooseberries and currants, rhubarb and perennial onions and various herbs, flowers, and self-sown greens (some people call them weeds) and more. Because I live in a place with long, cold winters, I also have about 400 square feet of framed vegetable beds, each of which can be fitted with a mini hoop house or cold frame top during the colder part of the year. I don't think there is anything here not in keeping with the ethics or principles of PC. It may not provide all the veggies and fruit etc we can eat, but it sure provides more than just a lawn would give for the same effort.
I believe you are right dj niels. Of course one wouldn't want to be using tons of agrichemicals in that garden surrounded by a food forest. You would still want to apply sound organic methods like the use of mulches, companion planting etc.... But it is important to keep in mind that Permaculture is still agriculture. More than only agriculture, but agriculture at it's base. That means it isn't some actual wild ecosystem, it only appears and functions like a natural system. ie biomimicry. We humans get to actively participate and move that so called "natural" system along guiding it to produce more food in a long term sustainable and/or regenerative way. An annual vegetable garden is certainly compatible with that.
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Tyler, thanks for those links. Some great references. I like what Geoff said, It's not about all being perfect tomorrow...It's about getting enough people with intention to start moving in that direction--just start to make that move. He is doing a lot with his online videos and courses to educate people as to the need, and how to start. There are many online articles and videos now. And we can help spread that info and build on it, sharing our experiences of what works where we live, as the techniques and species are different for everyone, according to climate and desired results. What grows in Texas or Florida may not grow in Colorado, for example. People helping people is how we can make this transition.

As all of us do what we can to do something, whether growing some of our own food, or setting up solar or wind or water power, or swales for water catchment, or greywater systems, or whatever, and talking about it with our friends etc, we are helping to move toward that tipping point.

The author of the article in question said something about having to use big ag to feed the world. Mark Shepard pointed out in his book, Restoration Agriculture, that the massive corn fields in his area are not really "feeding the world" because corn is not a complete food, and a lot of it doesn't even feed people anyway. To feed the world, we have to set aside space to grow other foods that provide the nutrients we need--it's not just about calories. A book I read recently about the great potato famine pointed out that corn almost killed the peasants in Ireland, because it was not a complete food. And has been pointed out above, big ag uses and loses more calories that it can provide in food. So if we are growing fruits and veggies and herbs etc that are higher in nutrients, we are doing our part to feed the world, one mouthful at a time.

Someone above said, permaculture doesn't work here. I understand the feeling. Many of the techniques and methods I have seen seem to be effective only in warm, humid climates, but the principles work. I just need to learn how to implement them here. So keep sharing ideas and species for various regions so we can help each other. For example, when I lived in Northern Maine, I had to be careful with mulches because it kept the soil too cool. Here in the high desert, I've learned that the more mulch I put down, the better my garden works at holding onto the moisture I put down. Yes, I still have to water my garden once a week--but that is a lot better than the daily watering I see others doing, so I am moving in the right direction, I hope.

I am gradually seeing topsoil developing on my very marginal plot of land, which is almost pure sand and had no topsoil when I started this journey. My small garden patches are islands of green in a sea of yellow desert, and are increasing in diversity, with large numbers of beneficial insects and birds swarming over the clovers and yarrow and wild sunflowers, etc, and food is growing where before was only a patch of cheatgrass and weeds.
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John Saltveit wrote:

You should see some of the areas where a sign says, "Welcome to ________ National Forest." I often look and say, "Where's the forest?" I see desert rangeland.

That is because we lease ranchers USFS and BLM land for about 1.68$ an acre as I remember from working with the BLM, virtually the same rate as 80 years ago. Ranchers are one of the largest welfare recipients in the country.
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Something I have learned while living in this high desert, is that if so-called grasslands in arid areas are not grazed or mowed, the bunch grasses actually start to die, choked out by the top growth. On my small parcel of land, the grass clumps put out tall growth in the early summer. By Mid to late July the green all turns to yellow in the intense sun. If we go through and mow it, when the rains come again in autumn the plants put out new green growth. But where we don't get it mowed, the plants die back more each year. Here in this arid country we don't get natural biological decay without adding a lot of water and effort. I have built compost piles that sat for a whole year and when I dug into them, the plant matter looked just like when I put it in. Organic matter that just lays on the surface just dries up, oxidizes, and blows away.  Grazing actually makes sense here to manage the heavy growth and help create more fertile soil.

DJ, you are right about the benefits of appropriate grazing. The way the US manages its rangeland however, is subsidizing and encouraging inappropriate species grazing in unhealthy ways for the land and ultimately the sickly cattle that are glorified pets of legacy homesteaders (which itself was the theft of land from its more responsible prior managers/inhabitants).
The bottom layer of a climax forest in the Pacific NW is a salmon stream. Of course we are looking for faster than 250yrs for restoration, but the importance of anadromous fish in this region cannot be underestimated when talking about the sustainability and security of food production.
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