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the potato gapper idea  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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This is something that was brought up last year. And in the last few days I was able to build some clarity around it.

We had a gapper here for a while that seems to have evolved into a standard of measurement for gappers. Justin. Active on the forums. Listened to all the podcasts. Learned to drive the excavator, and shortly before he left, he had gotten to be a pretty decent driver (I think).

We had a guy here last year that ended up assisting Tim a lot: Andy. And we had another guy here for a while that ran point on wofati 0.7, Matt Beckman.

So, Justin does the work of three wwoofers. Andy does the work of four Justins. Beckman does the work of three Andys (Andies?). Tim does the work of three Beckmans. So, mathematically, Tim does 36 Justins.

So far we have:

A Justin does the work of 3 wwoofers
An Andy does the work of 12 wwoofers (4 Justins)
A Beckman does the work of 36 wwoofers (12 Justins)
A Tim does the work of 108 wwoofers (36 Justins)


We did a whole lot more math and calculated that "A Justin" will use about $1000 worth or resources in a month (granted, over the next three years we hope to shrink that down a lot). So, it is possible that 36 "Justins" will do the work of a Tim, but cost $36,000 per month. In the meantime, Hiring "A Tim" would probably cost about $3000 per month.

So, if a Tim is $3000, that means that a Beckman is $1000 and an Andy is $333 and a Justin is $83. So we spend about $1000 and get $83 worth of work.

I think when a Justin arrives, we could get them up to "an andy" in about a year. At the same time, once we have our food systems in place, more infrastructure and we have optimized a lot of our systems, I think we should be able to just about break even with an Andy at $333. And then after two years, I think we would have a Beckman at $200 of expenses per month. So all of the effort was worth it.

Wwoofers would cost $108,000 per month to support the wwoofers that would do the work of "a Tim". It seems like the way to manage this is to have a spot for wwoofers where, somehow, the cost per wwoofer is less than $28 per wwoofer per month.

Of course, if you bring in 100 wwoofers, there is a good chance the five of them will graduate up to a gapper and possibly on up to even more. Even further, it is possible that somebody might show up as a wwoofer, and be an Andy, the day that they arrive.


- - - - -


Here is another bit of perspective:

A wwoofer shows up with no tools and no experience. A wwoofer needs a lot of guidance and, accidentally, consumes a lot of tools.

A Justin shows up with no tools, but has listened to all the podcasts. Probably has built a bird house and maybe helped with one building project.

An Andy shows up with a few tools for himself, has built a few dog houses and helped with a few building projects.

A Beckman shows up with enough tools to keep himself and two others working and has led several building projects.

A Tim shows up with enough tools to keep himself and five others working and has led hundreds of building projects.


- - - - - -


An argument was made that we should never have wwoofers/gappers here again. Too much tool burn and they need so much time to be brought up to speed on projects that it is easier to just do it yourself. And, wwoofers tend to bring more drama. 90% of the farmers that have brought in wwoofers say they will never do it again. And when you run the numbers, it does seem like it is not wise to spend $1000 per month on somebody and get $28 worth of work out of them. Especially if the wwoofer thinks that they are bringing $2000 worth of labor to the table and getting a measly $200 in resources.

On the other hand, I think that wwoofers can and do work well for those 10% of the farmers that have brought wwoofers in and they bring wwoofers back year after year. So the thing to do is to observe what is the difference?


- - - - - -


So the big expenses to host a wwoofer are:

1) food
2) tool burn (lack of knowledge about tool care)
3) drama
4) ramp time consumes the time of more experienced people
5) water, shower, pooper, TP, laundry, etc.
6) ride to/from airport/bus
7) cleaning up after them

One thing that has been done at many farms that still have wwoofers is the wwoofers have a space and collection of projects separate from the folks that own the land. I'm not sure that we want to go that far, but maybe we can do something of a hybrid.

What if we do something where there could be different levels of gappers? We talked about this at dinner and it was suggested that we model the levels along with the food forest. So we came up with the first level being "potato gapper" which would be pretty much the same as a wwoofer. We could make a "potato village" up by the volcano.

The next levels might be "mushroom", "rhubarb" and "apple".

So, for the potato village:

1) grow more food; have the PGs cook for themselves; provide some staple foods that seem to be the core foods for wwoofers
2) provide all hand tools. No tractors, no EVs, no power tools, no shop access, no chainsaws ...
3) they have their own village separate from the other gappers
4) PGs are led by one, more experienced gapper. The projects will be selected to help prepare them for a higher gapper level
5) basics, stictly outdoor, is provided. So PGs probably won't want to stay the winter.
6) rides for those that have paid the gapper fee
7) all of their time is outside, so no worries about keeping things tidy.


- - - - - - - -


So we talked about this a little bit at dinner tonight. Jesse seems like the perfect fit for managing potato village. He is already putting together a list of projects. We talked about how most of the work would be done very close to potato village:

- build hugelkultur beds
- build chicken fence
- plant seeds
- chop wood
- build trails
- build tent pads
- tool care
- wildcrafting
- cob projects

His list looked much longer than this.

- - - - - - -

I'm looking at the page for this sort of thing at the bullock brothers site: http://www.permacultureportal.com/visits_skill_building.html

It sounds like they work 40 hours a week, but you pay about $250 a month to be there, plus you provide your own food. And you pay for the first two months in advance.


- - - - - - -


I guess the summary is: rather than providing much more than what other wwoof sites provide (as we have in the past), offer something that is more in-line with the norms. We can still offer the better stuff too - but for those folks that are at a level higher than the "potato" level.

People can still build skills and experiences, but it is at less expense to us. And when we find the rare person that is well aligned with our stuff, we can move them up to power tools and a place at my table.

What have I left out?

 
Ann Torrence
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Triple Tim's rate and rescale. I haven't paid anyone who can operate equipment less than $25/hr around here. 2,000 work hours per year. Tim's worth at least double that, 3x what you use for your calculation. Not sure if the other levels scale out, but Tim is beyond Timness.

Not to mention he comes with a Kristie.

As for gappers, if I wouldn't winter over a chicken because it wasn't worth feeding, a gapper has to meet at least the same standard of utility. Good idea to restructure so it's a seasonal thing. Give yourself a good rest and recharge.
 
Curtis Budka
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I've been seriously considering going to wheaton labs. I'm working on the podcasts, currently reading Sepp's 2nd book, and the big black book and Gias Garden are next.

My question is would I be able to stay the winter if I graduate from potato tapped and if there is room? I've been seriously considering going to Wheaton labs. I'm working on the podcasts, currently reading Sepp's 2nd book, and the big black book and Gias Garden are next.

My question is would I be able to stay the winter if I graduate from potato tapped and if there is room?

I would consider myself to between a Justin and an Andy:
-currently building a house using conventional framing for a development in a class at school (not permaculture at all but it is experience)
-I've built a woodshed, a chicken coop
-I've experimented with gardening, this past year with very minimal irrigation and no chemicals.
-I've been creating a decent knowledge base for where to find decent new and old hand tools and how to take care of/restore them.
-I have tools I could bring, but that would probably mean driving from NH (would be difficult to justify the two way drive for a summer just to bring tools), and then there's the issue of storing them and keeping them from getting them mixed up with others' tools.

If I find that this is something I definitely want to do, I would like to commit to being long term and be PEP1 certified.
 
paul wheaton
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Curtis,

If you have listened to all the podcasts, you would start off as a mushroom gapper (one step up from potato). So you would eat with us and work on the more interesting projects.

Who stays the winter would be decided each fall based on who is here and who wants to stay the winter. Do you have more people that want to stay than there are bunks? Did you build your own winter shelter?

I think the most important thing is that if we roll into the winter and have more people than bunks, then we will need to figure out who is heading down the road. It seems that the people that seem like they would be of the greatest value through the winter would be the keepers. And I think there is a lot to be said for the people that were here the earliest.

A few months ago we had a guy that was gonna build a debris hut and overwinter in it. He never seemed to get around to it, and as the cold set in, he decided to head back to california. But I think a person could build a pretty big debris hut in a day. And I would be willing to put materials to a project like that.

Another guy was here in early summer and was going to build a tree house. He made some really cool plans and wanted to put a rocket mass heater in it. We found a spot with stout trees and a freaky steep slope - so on one end the treehouse would touch the ground - we could support the weight of the rocket mass heater - and on the other end it would be about 20 feet off the ground. I offered to put in a lot of materials. We even worked out how to have a really cool zip line. But he moved on. The key is that if you build it, you (usually) get dibs in staying in what you build.



 
Mike Feddersen
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My dad has been dead since 1998 but he had a rule of thumb that a new gravel truck driver would cost $5000 dollars in training; tearing up equipment, teaching to operate at a peak efficiency, etc. I know that figure applied to me and I had grown up in the business. Even with a background of working on them, it still didn't prepare me for on the job screw ups.

I think a lot of a persons future wealth is tied to their present training and by learning from what the mistakes of your past bunch did or didn't do you'll be able to circumvent future repeats.

I know I see so many things and wish I was a young man now so I could go have the experience.

The place you pointed to that had their skill learners pay $250/month; I wonder how long their site has been full and not accepting new recruits? Seems you could funnel a ton of new muscle your way with them sending you their overflow.
 
Mike Feddersen
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Paul, Ann makes a great point about seasonal resting and recharging. Have you some members in southern locales like Arizona or Florida, maybe Texas that would love to get a permaculture master in exchange for room and board and snow-free sunny weather? Do some local talks on the side for cashflow?

I would suggest even further south but I recall something about you not wanting to give "the man" personal info...
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I find myself talking about this eight times a day. The more I think about it, the more this seems to be an excellent fit for so many things.

Apparently there are thousands of wwoofers looking for a place to build experiences in the summer. So, we would be able to more easily facilitate a group of 20 or so at basecamp as "potato gappers" and we could do another 20 or so at the laboratory as "mushroom gappers". To these folks, I'm nobody of interest - just some doofus like all the other doofi all over the world. But we have just the kinds of experiences that wwoofers are looking for and there is food and a place to pitch a tent. There are even some tents and tipis provided - if needed.

Tool burn is reduced by 95% because these folks don't use the expensive tools.

Drama is reduced by 98% because it is a few hundred yards away from me.

Cleanliness is 98% less of a worry because they are a few hundred yards away from the house.

Food prep is 98% less of a worry because they cook for themselves.

If people say they will be here for three months, but leave after a week, I never even know that they were here. If people come for a week, but stay forever, I will probably hear all about them as winter approaches and we figure out who is staying where for the winter.

If somebody in potato village is awesome and they wanna go to the mushroom village, that can be arranged. And, if somebody in mushroom village is great and tim, rick, tim s., tim e. or somebody who wanta some help with something more interesting, that can probably be worked out.

And with any of the gappers - if they have been here for four months and have listened to 90% of the podcasts, they can have an acre to be their canvas to express their vision in seed and soil.

And it sounds like we have two people here now that would probably manage potato village, and two more people that would probably manage mushroom village.
 
Seth Peterson
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Paul,
first of all, let me say yes.

This is an excellent potential development.

it would take care of many of the worries and problems we discussed in my time with you and the team. i will address some of those here, if i sound critical, i apologize, I'm a straight talker, and i do so with profound respect for the work you all do out there. in fact, i look very forward to coming back, helping out more, and being a part of the great experiment.

Paul, in my view, essentially, you are creating a new pattern, so that the energies (people) flow through the system in ways that improve and help more than they do currently, and hurt or detract less than now. What you have now is a mixed bag of well meaning mostly awesome individuals in very close proximity in an ever-changing sea of projects, goals and "oh, shit! get that fixed/built before the snow comes" moments. thus, although, it is producing sometimes beautiful results, that fact is inconsistent. more importantly, as you say, so much time and money and people power is waisted due to the inefficiencies mentioned. i remember doing an accounting of kitchen economies that showed you will likely have a 1000 fold reduction in costs and waste as your kitchen systems get developed and become up to speed. (beginnings are hard). so when i read your figures for justin's cost vs. tim's, that really motivates me to implement change. i do agree with the person who said you calculated tim’s cost too low.

i believe that you give too much, too soon. too many options, too few guidelines or restrictions and too many ways to screw up. many people who currently show up at your door, aren't ready. i mean you give them not only excellent food and housing, and training, and so on, but you also give them access to everything. expensive tools, access to a vehicle to get to town, computers, powered vehicles, machinery of all sorts, a chance at the excavator, a place to bunk and a seat at your table, just to name a few. it is like ctaking aged chickens, and suddenly allowing them to go free range, they don't know how to take care of themselves nor behave in the ‘range’. Many are not ready for all this free open choice and imagined responsibility. at the gapper level, many are fresh out of college or their parents' homes, first time out in the world of adults, and few have taken a PDC, so they are taking their first step. so really they haven't done anything, i remember one time rick mentioned that it took him till about 4-5 years ago to get his own personal act together at the age of 38. I think i may have taken just as long, i dunno.

these entry level potatoes and mushrooms should earn more of their keep from the get go, or at least greatly minimize their impact. they should start at the bottom and learn all the systems from the ground up, so they look forward to, learn and master each stage before moving on. I'm talking miyagi style. wax on, wax off. I think my suggestion was to have new people start with the cleaning and waste systems as well as food production. these are two critical areas that cause much waisted time, and two areas that are greatly impacted by an influx of people. so, if the problem is bunch of newbies to cook and clean for, for me, the solution is let them do the cooking and cleaning. let them be at least accomplished at these two areas, so that as they progress, they already have a solid basic orientation to "what it takes to feed and house all these people". i could see new people working in the kitchen a lot for the first three or four weeks as a part of their bread labour.

my point is people need structure. people want to fit into a structure that runs well. and starting at the bottom and working your way up that structure, although not the only way, is a common way here in the US that people can relate to. each level should have rights and responsibilities that are outlined. performance should be tracked, even if in diary format by the potato people, etc. people should show competence and initiative and then be given increased access and/or responsability. i remember many instances where someone failing to do something well was nit because they were bad people, but rather that they really didn't understand what to do (i.e. how to wash dishes and not have them all come out greasy is something that not everyone was up to speed on, and some people couldn't even tell the difference or understand the importance.)

i feel that you are so good-willed, and that you want to give the benefit of the doubt to people, such that your current system depends on everyone being an upstanding individual, someone that goes the extra mile as well as being noble in action. yet in other rants i've heard you say that people aren't noble and living in community means allowing for and designing for our own inherent self centered ego based desires as well as our altruistic moments and tendencies. i think there is a way to be open hearted and give people appropriate access for their own benefit, as well as everyone else's. I'm not saying change your way of bending over backwards for people you just met, i appreciate that, so much. I'm saying design a system that avoids the concomitant pitfalls to your open handed giving nature.

i’m saying give a little, then get a little, then give a little more…. which i believe is in line with how some of your best online partnerships have begun, from hearing your kickstarter stories.

essentially, i feel, that by giving people everything you risk raising spoiled children, rather than gardening gardeners.


now some questions about specifics:
you said the potato village would feed themselves. but the mushroom people could eat at your table, and there could be 20 mushroom people. it sounds like a lot of people to feed and clean up after in that small kitchen space. in fact it sounds like you send the rappers out to the mountain, but then replace them with a new group that is almost as 'resource intensive'

seasonality. as you mention, i love how you can program this concept into the year, lots of newbies in summer, but then less in the winter when you hunker down. so it is not all new people, all the time. you put the incoming energy into manageable waves.

i also like how a person who wants to move up has ago find a sponsor in a higher level to help them. and how higher level people have to find apprentices to 'pull up' the ladder.

costs and efficiency. the idea that you could build your structures faster and cheaper if you hired people, is definitely true in some areas i observed. beginnings are hard and woofers are hard to deal with, why do it all at once. why not bring in more competent people now to get systems up and running, then focus on bringing in more newbies, who will learn the systems already in place by running them, and then improving upon them, and then building their own new systems. the bullocks brothers example came up, and yea they have a system mature enough that newbies are oriented more properly, more easily. and thus detract less / help more. as many organizations confirm, orientation of new people is a key to efficient future potential return by those same people.

also, i encourage you to create a clear and formal application process for people to come out. so that you can help them get up to speed before they come, weed out undesirables, identify how applicants could best fit in, etc. i am sure the bullocks brothers, geoff lawton and joel saletin have this. and i think it would help if you all did, too. you know an orientation packet, a cover letter of some sort, references, interests, goals, bio, multiple phone interviews up the chain of command, etc. something like applying for college. i was listening to a PV podcast about pricing strategies and customers, diego's guest said "if you aren't turning away ten percent of inquiries, you are charging too little." You, too, paul, should be turning some people away. not everyone is a good fit, the earlier you find out the better for you all, as well as for the people wanting to come out.

justin costs $1000 a month, how to reduce this. this is where the 1000 fold reduction in costs and waiste, i mentioned earlier, is going to come from. i assume the financial costs are mostly food, some toiletries, water and electricity, training time. and i imagine food to be the largest part. did I miss something?

have potatoes and mushrooms do work that directly reduces their costs first. they learn to cost less first, then they expand and learn to be more productive/creative.

paul said
"I guess the summary is: rather than providing much more than what other wwoof sites provide (as we have in the past), offer something that is more in-line with the norms. We can still offer the better stuff too - but for those folks that are at a level higher than the 'potato' level.
People can still build skills and experiences, but it is at less expense to us. And when we find the rare person that is well aligned with our stuff, we can move them up to power tools and a place at my table."

i couldn't agree more.

seth peterson
permie chef
 
John Wolfram
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From what I recall of Fields of Farmers, Joel Salatin expects his interns to be detrimental to the farm for the first two months. Considering Salatin has the pick of the litter among farm interns (400 people apply for 9 slots), does a two day onsite review, but still doesn't get quickly productive interns, expecting that at Wheaton Labs might be a tall order.

While the ideas that were suggested (no power tools, etc.) would decrease the initial cost of interns, it would also simultaneously decrease the appeal of the lab to potential interns and increase the length of time before an intern becomes productive. Perhaps it would be better to focus on increasing the average wwoffer length of stay so that you get more productive time out of them.

For example, you could require wwoofers to pay a $1000 deposit which is repaid to them $100 at end of their first month, $200 at the end of their 2nd, $300 for their 3rd, and $500 at the end of their fourth. The fact that the wwoofer who stays the duration makes $100 on the deal would make the larger deposit more palatable to the wwoofers. It would also separate out those that had not done their homework before showing up.
 
Andy Reed
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I do question your maths, because I don't think it is that simple, but I agree with the basic point. However for certain jobs it wont really make much difference if it is Tim or a WWOFFer doing it ie. harvesting nuts, it will still take the same amount of time and resources.

I know that when I hire new staff they are going to break something, and I have hired backpackers to fill in while I spend the time looking for a new full time worker. I am struggling to think of anyone who has worked for me that hasn't cost me by breaking something or forgetting to do something.

You are absolutely right in that you have to start off small with new people, until you get to know them and their capabilities. I think you will find that the people that make the best use of WWOOFFers will be those that give them what I call 'roid (android) work. Very simple basic stuff, like harvest the nuts off the ground, or similar. There is no stress because it's pretty hard to stuff it up. Normally in return they are happy to provide food and lodgings because the work is getting done. They don't generally get them in the tractor or using expensive stuff unless they are showing some kind of ability.

I would absolutely have PG's the way you described. I'm not sure how you are working the numbers but I would be limiting it to the amount of productive work you have for them to do. That way you feel like you are achieving something, not just burning through resources.
 
John Wolfram
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paul wheaton wrote:We did a whole lot more math and calculated that "A Justin" will use about $1000 worth or resources in a month (granted, over the next three years we hope to shrink that down a lot).


I would be interested to see how you calculated this number, especially since you are the guy that fed a house full of people on organic or better for $108* a month.

*may not be exact, it's been a while since I've listened to a podcast that mention it.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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The onlyh thing I can think of to add to this discussion is looking at the end game and then working backwards, or looking at several possible end games. Which are the plants that are growing well in the system and which are the ones that are about to get a weird illness and bring plague to themselves and all around them? if a tree costs you for the first few years, that's OK, you know it's going to provide chestnuts in year 6 or 10 or something and begin to turn a profit. Meanwhile you grow asparagus among the trees for the quick turn-around. Maybe you were doing this with apple-potato metaphor, I didn't quite follow the sequence there but I'm going on Mark Shepard's thing. At any rate, that still leaves the question, which trees will make it? you can usually tell by looking at the soil. How do you do that with people? I'm not sure. You can get a sense of them by looking at the context of their lives, and at the context you're creating for them. You can tell a lot more over time than by looking just for a few weeks. You can tell the most by looking at your relationship with them and how you're impacting them, what you're drawing out of them--their best self or their least diligent.

Observe, observe, observe is always a good idea. Keeping them 100 yards away from you and not observing sounds less positive. Keeping them 100 yards away and observing regularly would be better. If you're going to go on what others tell you about someone's contribution you're setting things up to get political. If you observe for yourself you're keeping things clearer. Offering rewards is de-motivating for creative work, though, that's important--it's not congruent with your style to offer rewards. Your style is more about the inherent reward in things.

I also was thinking about community today in terms of water flows--"what are the contours of social capital? what are the ridge lines? what 'soaks and captures' it? if an individual person comes and goes but finds a way to leave some of their social capital in place for the next person, then can this change things?"

Also, what about tool training? I bet %80 of the issues are caused by %20 of the mistakes. Also, pig bucket problem. Label label label. Take time to observe, take more times also to work ON the system instead of at the job.

Lastly, what is the biggest positive resource you have here? It's the imperative awesomeness of making a truly, truly, truly better world, right? I mean, the people who are goofy about permaculture are really really really REALLY passionate--they don't just want to wooff, they are on fire. I'd think you'd have already inspiring lots of Tim's. Maybe you are, they just don't have the skills yet? I'm unclear about this. Or, maybe there are small leader-like things you could do a little more of that would make a big difference--like toast people for the contributions they make? quantify them? celebrate non-quantifiable contributions also? contributions of spirit, of calm, of uplift? I don't know specifics. The point is, small tweaks to the system that net big gains--becuase the potential is there, the energy is huge.

For me, I've thought about going out there, and the main thing I would want is to know what impact I'm having. Is doing this wax-on thing contributing to a better world? as long as i know it is, or is likely to be, I will be tireless. If there's a lack of clarity, my motivation will drop. Now, knowing that things go wrong, that there will be setbacks, unexpected things--knowing that ahead of time I would be prepared for it--I would expect, OK, the excavator might break and the shop take an assinine amount of time to repair it, and that's just how it will be. OK, so my job is to be resilient and have 10 other things I can do to keep things moving forward, and if I can't find 10 ask someone or invent them.

Again, I would think that the people who really love this are mostly already clear and motivated. I'm surprised that you have any waste in this system, and I think you just need to wait for your Paul Wheaton genius idea to strike and then you'll revamp the whole system in a way that will kick ass. And then make a hilarious podcast about it. How I got my gappers to be more productive than Joel Salatin's in half the time even if they broke almost everything for that first period. How I turned ugly ducklings into geese. Or turkeys. Or super slug-eating ducks that graft apple trees by day and build wofatis by night. And take out the pig bucket.

OK, I guess I had one more idea--SEMCO factory really kicked ass by decentralizing its power structure and firing all its employees (they actually agreed to this) and selling them the equipment they'd used at the factory--then contracting with them as independent contractors. I guess this is along the lines of separating out a potato village, but the part about selling equipment to them, empowering them somehow--is there an easy, one-time-investment way you can do that? teach them something that will help them self-organize?
 
Seth Peterson
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Nice comments Joshua,

Having been to Paul's place I think many of the things they are trying to do or talking about follow along the lines of what you said. Others are future potential improvements.

Somethings, I learned about Paul's style while I was there:
He is invested in going through the process to arrive at a solution. This takes longer than just imposing a solution, but also allows them to develop better solutions in community. It can also be frustrating and slow for those who don't understand this process. I spent the first couple of weeks trying to find Magic bullets to the problems I saw and wanted to 'fix'. Then, I learned to surrender myself to the process of discussing those problems from every angle, trying different ideas and evolving a solution.

Gappers and newbies levels of ability: the description that paul gave me, the one that really clarified the situation, was that of the bad news bears. A group of misfits and goofs, that eventually pull it together and become a powerful team. This long process might be too frustrating and expensive for some of us to manage.

About observing gappers and not being wholly separated from them. Truth is Paul's time is so overladen with imperative tasks which "have to get done" that he doesn't even have enough time to walk and observe the land, much less the people. So I like the idea of trusted captains for the potatoes and mushrooms crews. I think Jesse, for example could be AWESOME at this.

Two cents,
Seth
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Oooooooooh, permaculture chef! gosh darnit, another reason to move to Berkeley.

Wow, that's really cool that that's the way you come to solutions there! I would love to be a part of that kind of process. I love the idea of the misfits that pull together too.

I wonder that Paul doesn't have time to walk the land--if I had a magic wand, I'd design it so that Paul has time to walk the land! That's the most important thing on Paul's agenda, even if it doesn't seem important to anyone else, even if Paul doesn't think he has time for it, he magically has time for that and everything else can fit in around it. Or something that gives an equal measure of reconnection and nourishment.

I know the "do one more thing, time is scarce, things are urgent" tape, but I am sure we've all had the experience of observing showing us something entirely new. The time I suddenly found out that my cover crops had grown after all, when I'd been convinced for weeks that nothing was growing there, the serenity that just sitting down and closing my eyes after a day in the garden has given me...

What happened to the Fourth Ethic--Be Lazy? Really, I expect more from Paul. ESPECIALLY since I'm sure everyone will tell him that that can't be done.

Which gives me an idea. I'LL tell him it can't be done. Paul, I hereby tell you that there's no way you can make time to observe and walk your land and recharge your batteries with all the urgent things that need to be done. No way! Impossible! No one ever has so therefore it's inherently impossible!

There. I've flashed the giant Paul symbol in the night sky, it's only a matter of minutes before he takes the bait.

I mean I get the sense that Paul's basically recharged by the work itself, but still I like the idea of idle time in anyone's schedule, especially when things are "urgent" and "unavoidable."

Looking forward to seeing how the solutions evolve, and thanks again Seth for sharing about what that was like, really fascinating. I'd love to read more threads about the dynamics at the labs, I'll search for that whne I have time later.
 
Andy Reed
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Farm walks are very important!
Farm Walks are held every Tuesday morning throughout the year starting at 9.00am sharp so be there by 8.50am. During the winter months Farm Walks are held every second week. Farmers or their managers and staff are welcome to walk with the Management Team, bring your platemeter and gumboots. Please phone the SIDDC office to notify of your intention: Ph: 03 423 0022.

http://www.siddc.org.nz/lu-dairy-farm/farm-walk-notes/
 
Michael Cox
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A few years ago I went on a National Trust Working Holiday. 12 people staying in a bunk house (small converted farm building) with a kitchen. We were predominantly hedge laying but also did some species thinning in a managed woodland. We each paid £250 for a week for which we got a roof over our heads, basic ingredients for meals which we prepared ourselves and hard labour from 9am to 5pm. The venue in question ran these week long courses once per month (different activities as the seasons changed) but you knew what the primary activity would be when you signed up. They were mostly low skilled tasks that needed basic hand tools only and/or minimal training.

When we were hedge laying we had one "professional" forestry worker with his chainsaw for the stuff that was too heavy for the hand tools. We started the week with an hour or so of instruction and from then on got on with it. We were not part of the main operations of the farm/estate - I don't have a clue what else was going on on the site while we were there, but that had at least 6 full time staff.

Lessons for your "Potato Gappers" - you can still attract people even if they are expected to pay for the privilege, they don't need to be launched straight into the core activities of the enterprise, and they can still do meaningful and important work. After a week of working with people you get a pretty good idea of who can handle the work, who can actually cope being out in bad weather, who has the right attitude etc...

Things could definitely have been improved for my week - we were under equipped (insufficient hand tools to go around, only one set of sharpening stones between 12 of us) and the organisers were not especially well organised. There was a lot of wasted time hanging around when we actually all wanted to be useful and productive. A second person with a chainsaw for example would have doubled our work rate as we spent a lot of time waiting for the one guy to come and clear each of our patches so we could continue. Quiet a few mornings we were all ready at 9am but our organiser was still sorting out vehicles and tools so we were mooching around. From the point of view of a participant this was all quiet frustrating as they could have leveraged our efforts considerably with a small investment in equipment and planning. Yes it was fairly "low value" labour - but 12 low value people who have paid their way can still get a lot done.
 
Tom Rutledge
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It all depends... and random thoughts.


Luckily the lab has a simplifying feature. The overriding mission and goal is doing Paul Stuff.


On balance, people who show up to help should end up helping. The next big question is helping along which goals? Training Wheaton permaculture missionaries is one goal. Having 12 gapper drive around to help the lab bootstrap is another. Setting up a CCC ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps ) style permaculture work camp is still a third (and one I'm guessing is not on Paul's short list of goals this week).


The shape of the solution will be largely due to the near term goals of said helping.


Having a potato gapper village, sounds like a good little test kitchen for the whole 20 people living together and not stabbing each other project (yes, yes, one roof vs possibly many roofs, it's a start).


Lots of the people going out to the lab do so in part to spend some time with and get some permacutlure wisdom from Paul and crew. With the potatoes segregated off away some time will probably need to be explicitly scheduled with the village cohort. This might end up building a rather interesting dynamic over time. E.g. Save up questions until the next brunch with Paul.


Skipping the short term issues, and the hatred of maps and such things. What could a future vision for potato village be? A water source, road access, truck garden for 40 people or so, lavatory, kitchen, dinning space?, winter housing? Lounge and chill space that isn't directly adjacent to people who need to be sleeping? Would potatoe gapper village be mobile? Would it go to where the work is?


Is a potato village it's own little system thing? Oh this is exceedingly interesting. If a well running permaculture homestead/camp takes 2-4 hours a day of upkeep per person/day for people who know what they are doing (One of the Lawton videos). How much time would that take for people who are new to the systems involved? Especially if they showed to a place with 19 people in front of them that had labeled all the pig buckets and simplified all the procedures? Oh this is quite interesting in deed.




 
Patrick Roehrman
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I am going to have to find some time in 2015 to get up there, it looks like a good place for some young people to learn and work!
 
paul wheaton
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John Wolfram wrote:
paul wheaton wrote:We did a whole lot more math and calculated that "A Justin" will use about $1000 worth or resources in a month (granted, over the next three years we hope to shrink that down a lot).


I would be interested to see how you calculated this number, especially since you are the guy that fed a house full of people on organic or better for $108* a month.

*may not be exact, it's been a while since I've listened to a podcast that mention it.



Excellent point.

We think we are currently feeding people at a rate of about $480 per month for food. At $108 per month, we divided the food bill - so people had a strong financial incentive to bring in fruit from a fruit tree, other wildcrafting, or find a great deal, or make sure the meals were heavy on rice, beans, oats and flour. But here, I am the only one paying for food, so the incentive isn't there - and some of the cooks focused more on delicious and less on thrifty. We are working on it.

We then add in some for the cook, average tool burn, general use of resources/fuel ... that took us to about $800. We rounded up to $1000 without hard numbers, labeling it as impeding the more experienced workers to be taught stuff, and administrative stuff. We did hire the occasional housekeeper to clean the house because we were having a really hard time with folks not keeping it clean. It seems like we came up with a bunch of other expenses that we wouldn't have without the gappers. Overall, $1000 per month seemed about right for the past year. And we hope that the potato gappers will cost a small fraction of that.




 
paul wheaton
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Currently, the gappers spend 35 hours per week on bread labor. If a gapper takes time to cook a meal, it comes out of the bread labor time. But if people work a normal job, they work 40 hours per week, do the commute, buy the groceries and cook their own food on their own time. At the same time, some people just get a LOT of stuff done in 35 hours, and then they stack another 20 to 40 hours of stuff on top of that. For those folks, I think back to my time on the tubbs ranch where we worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and we got three excellent meals each day. Some people just don't care to cook - and when they get so much hard work done, it just seems right that they don't have to cook.

And then some people work 35 hours, but get about three hours of work done.


If there's a lack of clarity, my motivation will drop.


I promise that there will be a lack of clarity. Every day the mission is "make the best of it" and some people are driven nuts by that. So things change constantly. We have a huge list of stuff to do in priority order and about once a month we go over the list and update and talk about it, but people still come and say "what should I do now?"

Some people pay attention to the list, get a few of those projects locked into their head. And then they have five or six projects they want to do that are sorta PEP1-esque and if they get a moment they work on that.

So, some people have clarity and some people need lots more clarity.


evolving a solution.


That's the magic stuff right there.


Gappers and newbies levels of ability: the description that paul gave me, the one that really clarified the situation, was that of the bad news bears. A group of misfits and goofs, that eventually pull it together and become a powerful team. This long process might be too frustrating and expensive for some of us to manage.


This is from my corporate whore days. This is what I tell managers that are having trouble managing their group.

Being a manager is a lot like being the coach for the bad news bears. You have eight kids that were rejected from all of the other teams. You HAVE TO get a ball team together and at least play a reasonable game. Not only can you not fire anybody, you have to go out and find one more player. You HAVE TO make the best of what you have. There are coaches out there that can coach this group into awesomeness. And if they win or lose, it is a reflection of the coach - not the players. And it isn't a coaching job you can phone in. You have to care about the process and do a damn good job.


Truth is Paul's time is so overladen with imperative tasks which "have to get done" that he doesn't even have enough time to walk and observe the land, much less the people. So I like the idea of trusted captains for the potatoes and mushrooms crews. I think Jesse, for example could be AWESOME at this.


Oh good. Somebody noticed and shared. I feel like less of a whiner now.


if I had a magic wand, I'd design it so that Paul has time to walk the land!


We've been working on food system plans lately. I have some soil just outside the office where I will have a patch of my own, private garden. I think that will be great.

 
Jesse Grimes
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Hi Paul. I've been going over this potato gapper idea in my mind, instead of sleeping, and I have some ideas and suggestions to share.

In order to have this potato village you are going to need to build some basic infrastructure: a kitchen, a pooper, a compost water heater, a shower, simple shelters, and a place to hang out that is not the kitchen. Also, it would be great to get some kitchen garden beds established to provide at least some food for the potato kitchen. At the same time there are lots of people out there who are dying to learn how to build these things, and in general learn more of the basic life skills we are never taught in our culture, i.e. how to properly use hammer. I think you could make a workshop series out of this, or something like a homesteading boot camp. I think there a people out there who would love to pay to come out to the lab for 2 to 4 weeks and build this basic infrastructure, under the guidance of a competent leader. Sort of like the Wofati workshop, but much smaller and simpler structures that could be completed quickly. The participants would leave with the skills and experience to build their own basic infrastructure, and the potato village would get the infrastructure it needs. You might also make some money off the deal.

This boot camp concept could be applied to incoming potato gappers. Design some very basic projects that will teach the gappers new skills while also providing yields for the village, or Lab. For example, potato gapper shows up, first task is to build yourself a tent pad to sleep on. By the way, here is the proper way to use a pick and a shovel. When the task is done you have a gapper who knows how to use a shovel without breaking it, as well as another tent pad for the village. Next task, chop this wood so you don't freeze at night (hypothetically), and here is how to properly use an ax. The gapper learns how to use an ax, and you get more wood for the rocket mass heater. It could be designed in a way that after a couple weeks you've actually got some productive work out of a brand new gapper, and on top of that you have a previously unskilled person who is now proficient in the use of a good variety of basic hand tools, and a much better idea of the amount of work it takes to be a homesteader.


And now on to Tools:
You could collect a tool burn deposit from all incoming gappers, say 100 to 200 dollars. This gives you a fund to replace broken tools, and provides gappers an incentive to take care of tools better. A gapper might think, "I would really like to use that power drill. I think I know how, but I better ask someone first because I don't want to pay for it if it breaks." or "Oops, I forgot my hammer back at the build site. I better go find it, that thing costs 20 bucks!" Having financial responsibility for the loss or damage of tools will give people a much better appreciation for the real value of tools, and I'll bet you loose less screwdrivers. In the event someone breaks a really expensive tool, you might have to take the whole deposit, and people would have to come to the land with the understanding that they might loose their deposit. But like I said, that money will give them much more motivation to take care of your tools. Additionally, when someone decides to leave and they haven't broken a bunch of tools, they've got a nice little chunk of money saved for them to buy a bus ticket.


Now back to the Boot Camp analogy.
When some one gets to boot camp they are given a set of Wheaton issue tools. Instead of boots, uniforms, and a gun, they might be given a shovel, a hatchet, a knife, a hammer, a screwdriver, and a saw. These would be the tools they need to complete the tasks required to graduate from boot camp, and they would be responsible for the whereabouts and care of these tools. Again, incentive to keep track of tools. They could remain responsible for these tools while they are at the potato village. In order to graduate to being a mushroom gapper, they would need to successfully sharpen and refurbish these tools so they are ready to be issued to the next incoming potato gapper. A lot of this could fit in with your PEP1 program.

As for the shop, I think you need to treat it like a middle school shop class. All the really expensive or dangerous tools need to be locked up, and there needs to be a shop teacher guarding them. If you can find a grumpy old man missing some finger tips, perfect, but it really just needs to be someone who has the keys and can make sure the person checking out a tool is qualified to use it. In my 8th grade shop class we had to take tests on a tool and demonstrate its proper use before we were allowed to check it out. All of the other tools that are more freely accessible need to be stored on labeled hooks or drawers, and they must be put back when the job is done. Also, there has to be an enforced rule that the shop must be cleaned up before going to lunch or ending the day. Of course, all of this requires someone who is willing to take resposibility for enforcing these policies. For your situation, I think a shop commander is just as essential as a kitchen commander.


In the short time I was living and working at Wheaton labs, I did observe a lack of clear direction in what the gappers were supposed to get done. There was a lot of freedom for self direction, which seems nice at first, but it often isn't very efficient, especially not for newcomers. I feel like a bit of structure would be beneficial for gappers coming in without a lot of skills. At first they might be doing some simple tasks that don't really contribute much to the project overall, but they will be gaining the fundamental skills and knowledge to be able to self direct efficiently, at which point they can be a tremendous asset to Wheaton labs. Having milestones and rewards can give someone incredible motivation to work, especially when combined with a passion for the kind of work they are doing.

Anyway, now that I have these wacky(?) ideas out of my head, perhaps I can get some sleep.

 
paul wheaton
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This thread has been on my desktop for a day. I was off trying to get kickstarter stuff rolling. But now while I wait for the kickstarter to be approved, I have a moment.

Jesse, I cannot find a single point in all of that that I don't agree with. The key, of course, is to come up with the competent leader you are suggesting. Any chance you are thinking of coming back? We could try to turn it into something where you get paid by the people the wish to experience what you have laid out.

Rick and Tim have a lot of ideas on how to improve tool burn issues and proper shop stuff. Some changes are started, but, much like the list you made - they require time, tools, materials and somebody to run point.

In the short time I was living and working at Wheaton labs, I did observe a lack of clear direction in what the gappers were supposed to get done. There was a lot of freedom for self direction, which seems nice at first, but it often isn't very efficient, especially not for newcomers.


I agree that we have a serious need for strong leaders. I think if we had three strong leaders, we might see 40 gappers here and lots more fun projects happening.


 
Jesse Grimes
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Good work on the kickstarter paul, it looks great. I think it will fund easily. The thought of coming back to Wheaton labs has definitely crossed my mind, along with a bunch of other ideas. I am 90% sure I will be attending Humboldt State University in the fall to get my bachelors in environmental management education and interpretation. I would like to teach permaculture to more people in a bigger and better way, but quite frankly, a two week certification course doesn't provide much legitimacy as a teacher. I have been seeking out continuing education in permaculture and there are some good options out there, but none of them are within my financial means at this time. A big part of why I am attending a university in California is the fact that I can receive financial aid. I feel like permaculture education would be accessible to a lot more people if it qualified for federal financial aid, perhaps even if it were turned into a college major, or better yet, if there were permaculture schools with dedicated four year programs that provided some structure to the learning process. I think a huge part of this schooling would be practical hands on training like what I described earlier, as well as a lot of on farm experience similar to wwoofing but with a lot more structure and guidance. This ties in with your PEP stuff, in that I feel there needs to be some kind of widely recognized and accepted measure of permaculture experience beyond the "I took a 10 day course and now I'm a permaculture designer" model.

So yeah, when I was describing the homesteading boot camp class I was thinking it was something I could help teach, but to be honest, I'm not yet sure where I will be between now and September. I may want to get established near the university right away so I am ready for school, but I am also looking to gain more knowledge and experience in permaculture through the right internship or farm stay opportunity, and then there is always the need to produce some income. Perhaps I can fulfill all three of those at once. I will be attending the Permaculture Voices conference in two weeks, so I am waiting to see what opportunities arise out of that.
 
kadence blevins
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What time frame do yall think is good for lookin to come and help work on potato village? Like after things have thawed and warm enough to cut and mill wood etc and stay in a bunk.
Though honestly its 53*F in here now at midnight and I am a pinch chilled so the roller shelf bunk with the mass goin probably be better!
 
Danny Smithers
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Drama seems to be the wildcard. So what about trying to filter the drama?

What about a type of wheaton laboratories Bootcamp? You've said many times that the mundane job of fencing needs to happen, that the dishes need to be done, that snow needs to be moved etc... What if you built in a system where anyone that wants to be involved has to go through some time doing the work that needs to be done, however un-glamorous, no matter the skill set of the individual?

Say you have 10 of these seemingly menial tasks and they all need to be done every day. Based on the impression that I get, you have a fluctuating population that is hard to predict. But if you create a rotational system where newcomers have to do a percentage of time on these tasks, and provide some time for their passion projects, you will probably weed out some of the emotional vacuums. This also builds a sense of camaraderie... "ya, we all had to do the dishes at one point in this journey."

You also say that tool-burn is a big issue. What if part of this "bootcamp" included an intensive day of "how not to fuck up the tools"?

I hate to rely on the tactics of a system that dehumanizes and destroys... but if an organization like the military can make people feel okay about killing, I just wonder how powerful those techniques might be to growing.

Okay, I'm just realizing I missed one of the posts that already mentions the "bootcamp" idea... But it seems like it might be a useful process.


 
paul wheaton
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kadence blevins wrote:What time frame do yall think is good for lookin to come and help work on potato village? Like after things have thawed and warm enough to cut and mill wood etc and stay in a bunk.
Though honestly its 53*F in here now at midnight and I am a pinch chilled so the roller shelf bunk with the mass goin probably be better!


We have bunks available now.

I talked to Jesse yesterday about the idea of setting up the first village near wofati 0.7. The only problem right now is that water is packed in. Well drilling starts in a couple of months.

If we get a dozen people, then it seems that that would be the wisest location. And if we get two dozen, then we divide into two villages.
 
paul wheaton
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Danny Smithers wrote:
What about a type of Wheaton Laboratories Bootcamp?


I think a lot of people might like that sort of thing. But I far prefer the idea of embracing how some people are really excited about trying EVERYTHING and some people wanna make sure they get plenty of hammock time. If we get enough people, I think we can evolve into two villages: one that leans more toward the hammock and one the leans more toward wanting to try EVERYTHING!


You've said many times that the mundane job of fencing needs to happen, that the dishes need to be done, that snow needs to be moved etc...


I think the village system is great in that we no longer care about dishes or snow or laundry or cleaning the bathroom or cooking food or .... any of the domestic stuff. The villagers take care of all that on their own.

But I do like the idea that there are dozen standard tasks that will be worked on each day: fence, hugelkultur, peeling logs, etc. And once in a while, the more industrious will be called on to help with more interesting tasks.



an intensive day of "how not to fuck up the tools"?


The trick with that is that you would need to have this intensive day a couple times a month. Part of the village system is to set folks up with more basic tools so that the risk is lower until they learn more.


 
Dillon Nichols
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1) I'd third(or whatever) this: going by the description, a Tim is worth way more than 3k a month. Double or triple that sounds more like it. Definitely impacts scaling.


2) There are things where 35 relatively unskilled folks and 1 good manager can absolutely do more than, say, 2 Tims. Harvest, clearing areas... Things where they can all work on the same task in the same area. The biggest problems I see with this are that:
a) Getting the yield out of those unskilled folks requires the full attention of said manager
b) There isn't always work like this available, so the 35 unskilled are far less useful much of the time

It seems to me like the potato-village could be used to make sure that when you have something that would benefit from thrown bodies at it... you have bodies on hand, ready to be thrown.

The other way around would be like what Danny is saying about boot-camps; do this as a 'surge' sort of thing, where you run that sort of bootcamp X times per summer, and use them to bang out the things that benefit from lots of bodies in those weeks, while minimizing the unskilled-person-days outside those surges. Getting income from people doing labour for you should really take the sting out of inefficiencies...

*If* you can count on those bodies showing up for your surges, the latter is probably more economical?


3) What about implementing some sort of pre-qualifying process? For some things, the bar seems to be, 'listened to 90% of the podcasts'; something quicker and more basic could be applied to even the entry level folks, IE:
Applicants must tick here to confirm that they have:
-Watched this tool-care video
-Watched this video providing an overview of work expectations, living conditions, etc
-Successfully done 20 pushups and 20 situps within 2 minutes
-The ability to distinguish a chicken from a labradoodle

This could be adjusted to raise/lower the bar, depending on how applicant volume is meshing with space/infrastructure/other capacity considerations. Requires someone to find/make the content, but after that basically zero time... Wouldn't expect it to be as effective as the more hands-on tool-preserving options, but maybe worthwhile anyhow.
 
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