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who do you think has the best large scale permaculture system?  RSS feed

 
Cassie Langstraat
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I have had quite a few people (mostly skeptical family members) ask me about large scale permaculture lately.. So I wanted to create a thread about the best large scale permaculture systems.

Who do you think does it best?

My family's argument is that while permaculture is fine on a small scale level for little homesteads and whatever, there is no way that it could feasibly feed the world like large scale monocrop ag does..

What do you think about this?
 
Miles Flansburg
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John Wolfram
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My top pick would probably be the 2,500 acre White Oak Pastures in Georgia (Interview). Somewhere in the interview, the guy gives a great response to the "can't feed the world" argument where he basically states that as long as land is the limiting factor, conventional ag produces more, but once something else becomes limiting factor then a permaculture style system produces more.
 
Burra Maluca
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Willie Smits project in Borneo.
 
Craig Overend
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Just listened to Doug Bullock answering this question.
 
Dave Burton
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Here is the video you posted Craig.
 
Dave Burton
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I think it would be a close tie between Ben Falk, Masanobu Fukuoka, Mark Sheperd, and sepp holzer.

I understand where most people are coming from which is why we have centralized industries. People want to do as little work as possible so that they can enjoy life. One of the roots, I think, of this problem is that the Western diet is based primarily on annual crops. Following economics, the Western diet demands annual crops, and as a result, a market is made for companies to supply annual crops. One of the fastest ways to produce annual crops is, yes, with commercial agriculture. However, a great counter to this is Masanobu Fukuoka who was able to have large crops of rice and then ontop of that a crop of barley.

Or in one of geoff lawton's videos, Permaculture for Profit, with Mark Sheperd they talk about the STUN (sheer total utter neglect) technique for tree cropping. This means that only the toughest best trees survive because you're not caring for the trees that are unfit. By actually doing less work, they are getting better profits.

The main arguments that I find against permaculture or any type of "gardening/farming" is the idea of work, and the initial phases of a food forest will take lots of work. But once it matures, it produces greater yields as it takes care of itself.

I think it is just the idea of work. People think farming takes a lot of work; it doesn't have to. With all the time and money spent manicuring lawns, people could probably be growing their own food.

Also, in my opinion, it is self-evident that we don't need farming to survive and have good food because the human species survived as hunter-gatherers for millions of years without agriculture. Nobody really wants to do that again either, so the best solution that I can think of is the one that Toby Hemenway mentioned in gaia's garden: just get a bunch of seeds and let them sort themselves out. Equilibrium is naturally occurring, so in theory, given enough different pieces and enough time, the ecosystem will optimize itself without any human intervention. Consequently, a food forest could self-evolve and yield food.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Excuse me for being skeptical... I'll nominate an entire people instead of individuals. My people have been raising cattle, and deer, and fish, and sheep, and horses, and turkeys, and gamebirds, and asparagus, and honeybees, and onions, and sunroots, and fruits, and nuts on desert adapted permaculture land for 150 years. During all that time, we have observed what is currently there, and taken actions to make it a more productive food production system. Someone that doesn't know the desert would come out here and say "That's just the native land", but it's not the native land. Eight generations of my family and my neighbor's families have been caring for the land and finding ways to make it more productive. Some folks may have rediscovered "permaculture" in recent decades, but we never abandoned it.
 
Peter Ellis
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Cassie Langstraat wrote:I have had quite a few people (mostly skeptical family members) ask me about large scale permaculture lately.. So I wanted to create a thread about the best large scale permaculture systems.

Who do you think does it best?

My family's argument is that while permaculture is fine on a small scale level for little homesteads and whatever, there is no way that it could feasibly feed the world like large scale monocrop ag does..

What do you think about this?


I think it rather misses the point, in that it fails to recognize the paradigm shift I believe is coming. If the availability of fossil fuels is dramatically reduced, either by a lack of supply or by an increase in price such that it is no longer economically rational to use for agriculture (how much fertilizer is petrochemical in nature?), then the current model of large scale farms located well away from dense population centers will no longer be viable.

As I see it, the great value of permaculture is that it empowers us to produce food in substantial quantities on smaller, "less suitable" acreage. How do we feed NYC if we cannot ship it in from the plains states? We go back to NJ being the garden state, to small scale farms in the Hudson valley and western Connecticut and we run those small farms on permaculture principles.

The whole thing, as I see it, is that permaculture is not just the next Big Ag. If it goes that route, then it faces the same fundamental failure modes, because we need to shift to a practice of distributed food production near the centers of consumption.

In a sense, I think asking about "large scale" permaculture is a rigged question.
 
John Saltveit
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I think Peter makes a good point. Does big ag feed the world or does big ag poison the world? We are already obese, diabetic and getting cancer at alarming rates. NOw we're turning the rest of the world onto our "success" story, as evidenced by the shocking suicide rates of GMO Indian farmers. With permaculture we will have more farmers, better long term use of land and more overall production in the long run. The equation is better listed as Total production of big ag - pollution- negative social stratification-bigger expense on transportation- losing our ability to feed ourselves- depletion of yet rarer resources- rapidly decreasing health<permaculture.

The question is not fair. Any economic question needs to address the problems of externalities that they are not considering.
John S
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Jd Gonzalez
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yes, Gabe Brown.
 
David Livingston
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Zaytuna ? cannot remember the name of the guy, Geoff something

David
 
Peter Ellis
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David Livingston wrote:Zaytuna ? cannot remember the name of the guy, Geoff something

David


After a quick look through Google, I found that the old PTI site, Tagiri Farm, was 147 acres. I don't see anyplace telling me how big Zaytuna Farms is.

But let us look at this for a moment. Holzer has a few hundred acres, at most. Shepard is working 125 acres. Lawton, formerly under 150, presently? I don't think Zaytuna Farms is much bigger than Tagiri was. Bulloch Brothers? Ben Falk?

Salatin is on 500 acres, with leases on I don't know how much more.

White Oak Acres, first I have heard of them is here, at 2,500 acres is off the charts big for permaculture and still not a large farm by BigAg standards.
Gabe Brown may be the best current example of someone doing permaculture on a BigAg scale, and I think if I were going to be pressed to "prove permaculture works" to someone whose definition of working was making money on a large farm, I would have them listen to his presentation recently posted here. There were a couple of good punchlines in it. Gabe is producing corn at a rate above average for his county. He does not grow the most corn, but I believe I recall that he makes more profit on what he grows than the guy who is growing the most corn in his county.

So, production levels above average, where that average is dominated by industrial agriculture growers, and profits in excess of the most productive industrial grower.

Pretty decent argument, right there.

I still think that it is the wrong debate
 
Michael Cox
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No mention here of Savory's work on grazing systems? That has to be the absolute best example of "large scale" system in that it covers huge ranch areas using cattle to transform the land.
 
R Scott
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The best depends on where your family are.

Gabe Brown is a great example because he successfully converted from conventional to no till organic on a large farm and ranch. Those are the guys that will make critical mass to move the needle for agriculture in the US.

Grant Shultz is another that is showing new ways to use existing technology farmers are familiar with. He is not proven yet, though.

Most farmers see Permaculture like gardening or hobby farming or tree huggers: cute and fun but not going to pay the bills.
 
Cassie Langstraat
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My dad is currently running 1,500 pregnant heifers on his land right now. They will calve in the spring. That will be around 3,000 cattle. He owns around 30,000 acres of land. He farmed about 500 acres of corn this summer, complete with tons of chemicals and fertilizers... He also used to do much larger acre wheat farming too. He truly believes that millions of people would starve without people like him providing these massive numbers of beef and big crops to the world.

He's not denying that permaculture could be more profitable or produce more on a smaller scale. He is just saying that there is no way we can eliminate Big Ag and feed the billions of people on the earth. I am not saying I believe him, I am just saying I have been listening to him talk about this for the two weeks I've been home and it's frustrating because I don't really know what to say back to him.

So several of you have said that I asked the wrong question, and that this debate is the wrong one.. So what is the right question? What is the right debate in this sense?
 
John Saltveit
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Hi Cassie,
I probably didn't word my response earlier very well. In no way did I mean to criticize you or other permaculturalists.

Big Ag always states the question of comparing the two as "if tomorrow I had to stop immediately doing Synthetic/corporate Ag". That's not what Gabe Brown did. That's not what Will Brown did in Georgia. That's not even what most of us garden/hobby farmers are doing. That's a false argument. People need to learn how to develop the new systems. That's what permies is all about in my opinion.

People need to start looking at what changes they can do. Start with something, then add another or change another. That's what I've done in my garden. People will develop more harmonious ways of making a living over time. To paraphrase someone who I respect a lot, share ideas about how to do the good things instead of being mad at the bad guys all the time. Look at the influence that Gabe Brown has had just in his county!

I don't think that permaculture has to have giant farms to be successful. One could make a really good argument that when farming becomes only a business, people care less about the earth, their employees, and the welfare of their animals. Permaculture will probably have more small farms, employing more families. That's a good thing. It will revitalize local communities, and help people understand nature.

A better question for my money is how can we feed people WELL, take care of the earth and its inhabitants, and provide positive employment for people. The size of the farm is not the biggest measure of success. Smaller farms have better output per acre. Big Ag can't do it: permaculture can do it.
John S
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Peter Ellis
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Makes it harder when you are having this conversation with immediate family.
Questions to consider: is there a limit to fossil fuel availability? Is there a limit to what Earth can absorb in the way of chemical fertilizers (largely petrochemical products), herbicides, insecticides and fungicides? Note the existence of "dead zones" in our oceans (Gulf of Mexico having been highlighted recently in a number of articles) and how those are linked to agricultural runoff. Is there a limit to the avaiability of water for agriculture? And again, note that many sources are presently contaminated with herbicides, etc.

I have to admit to a bit of confusion, reading that your Dad recognizes that permaculture may be both more profitable and more productive on a smaller scale, while believing that there is no way to feed billions of people without big ag.

So, maybe this is worth thinking about - How many farmers are needed to feed the world with industrial agriculture, versus how many farmers are needed to feed the world with permaculture? Measured in terms of individual productivity, industrial agriculture blows permaculture out of the water. I do not think that there is really any room for debate. Permaculture works against economies of scale, i.e. it is not more efficient to have a one thousand acre food forest than to have a one hundred acre food forest. Permaculture is largely incompatible with mechanization (Mark Shepard has some arguments here, but I think my point is valid). Permaculture uses more human labor and less machinery, so no one farmer running his combine over thousands of acres of wheat or corn.

But, is it a particularly good thing to employ fewer people? We have some pretty large scale unemployment. Maybe smaller farms that are more productive per acre and more profitable per acre and provide more people with gainful employment would be a good thing? Say you took a cureent thirty thousand acre spread and broke it into sixty five hundred acre permaculture operations. Many more people would need to be employed working on these farms, but the collective production would likely surpass the production of the single industrial agriculture operation. Each operation would net less than the original, but again, collectively, the net income would likely be greater. Net impact on the environment would be very much better, with no pesticides or chemical fertilizers being used.

These diversified operations would have greater labor costs, but the evidence is out there that the labor cost increases are less than the savings from eliminating fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics.

If a permaculture system produces more, acre to acre, how is it possible that the industrial agriculture would be necessary for feeding the world?

If we had a shortage of manpower, the issue of productivity measured in man hours could be a legitimate concern. We might not have the resources to produce enough food. I think that we do not have that shortage, but that we are coming up on a point where the fossil fuel that has allowed us to leverage our manpower tremendously will become the limiting factor on the industrial agriculture approach. In other words, we are approaching a point where we will no longer have the option of industrial agriculture due to a shortage of petroleum.

Other factors - there is an entire web of industries that currently make up industrial agriculture. Just as the costs of industrial agriculture food production are so much more than the price of seed, fuel, fertilizer, etc., so too the economics of industrial agriculture reach far, far beyond the farm. Chemical companies producing fertilizers and pesticides, biotech companies developing new plants (and animals), fossil fuel producers. Associated activities like advertising for these companies and then the whole food distribution chain that is built around transporting food thousands of miles. Financial industries with systems built around the cureent agricultural methods, making loans to farmers and gambling in the commodities markets.

There is an Enormous economic engine linked into our present agricultural practices. An enormous amount of influence, an enormous amount of inertia.

All of which feeds my sense that permaculture is an appropriate response to a paradigm shift that is coming, is almost certainly inevitable, will be, in some sense and degree, traumatic for many people (imagine how messed up the world would be if oil disappeared tomorrow). Preparing for this shift is not something that will happen from the top down. The top is quite thoroughly invested in the status quo and does not recognize an economic incentive for changing. This change needs to come from the bottom up, as individuals recognize that they can improve their personal circumstances by pursuing a permaculture approach to their lives.

ok, enough already! lol
 
R Scott
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Ok, knowing where your dad is, I would add Greg Judy and the other rotational grazers to the list.

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCeA6DzL9P4uYcD60vRixgK_gF4qMOwUs

This is a sustainable ranching course, if you get him to watch day 1 where Johann runs through the numbers to show just how much more your dad could make and more people he could feed worth what he already has.

And for the record, I have similar issues with my family and in laws. They want to see profitable systems working.
 
Burra Maluca
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Has you dad seen Willie Smits TED talk?

 
Jd Gonzalez
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Cassie, start with baby steps. Is you dad practicing no-till?
If not, have him try it on a SMALL scale. Find out if Gabe is presenting somewhere close and go with your dad to listen and talk with him.

Here is another Gabe Brown video that talks about cover cropping as a base for annual crops such as corn and mob grazing using small paddocks.
On minute 35 of the video he shows a corn crop with NO fertilizer, no pesticides nor fungicides, 142 bushels an acre on a county that averages 100 bushels an acre.


 
Cassie Langstraat
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You guys are seriously so amazing and encouraging. I just now got through having another conversation about this with him at lunch. I mentioned much of what you all have told me in this thread. To no avail. First of all, he just doesn't believe that any resources are limited, so he doesn't see the point in changing things. He says that oil will not run out.. I can't remember his argument in regards to that. He also mentioned that all of the big farming he knows of is required to not till so he doesn't see how it is ruining the soil. Some sort of no till act or something.. I didn't know of that?

He also just doesn't believe smaller scale ag can mean less labor. Even though I have told him that is a major point of permaculture, less labor. But he just says "well basically is what you are proposing is that we go back in time, with small scale farms. But back then we didn't have the mass numbers of people to feed that we do now so it's impossible to do. And without using the large scale machinery and technology, it would be extremely labor intensive." I try to explain to him that if there were more farmers, with less land, but more production, it could work. We could feed the world. But he just doesn't believe it will ever happen.

I am getting to the point where I feel like I need to just stop trying to have the conversation with him because if I keep having it, our relationship is going to seriously suffer.. I am losing my cool. My mom is all, "there is enough sunshine to go around, why can't you both just do what makes you happy" and I am all BECAUSE MY WAY IS BETTER AND IT WILL SAVE THE WORLD.. Hahahah
 
Judith Browning
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I am getting to the point where I feel like I need to just stop trying to have the conversation with him because if I keep having it, our relationship is going to seriously suffer.. I am losing my cool. My mom is all, "there is enough sunshine to go around, why can't you both just do what makes you happy" and I am all BECAUSE MY WAY IS BETTER AND IT WILL SAVE THE WORLD.. Hahahah


This is so familiar I pretty much ruined (for quite awhile) a relationship with my dad over the vietnam war......my brother remembers us arguing every supper time (this is because my family watched the evening news during the meal and the body count was on every night) and my mother was always trying to placate....it really wasn't worth it. I was active in antiwar activities that were making a difference and it just wasn't worth it to try and prove one man wrong for what he had always thought was right....and he just wasn't gonna bend.....
You are making a huge impact in the world of permaculture doing what you do and will probably make some in roads with your dad over time by bringing up bits of what you have learned....small steps..........
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Cassie, be patient, Rome wasn't built in one day. He's doing no till, Awesome!! Ask him about diverse cover crops. What worked and what didn't. Show interest in his point of view and value his life's work and experiences, it is hard to accept and gain new learning particularly coming from a "whippersnapper" that happens to be his daughter.
Read about and view videos approaching large operations similar to your dad's with permaculture principles. Be strategic, instead of a head on collision (I know, as a dad I've been there) win him over step by step. Remember the saying, a drop of honey catches more flies than a hogsheads of vinegar.

And finally find out if he's open to a field trip and "take you" to visit Gabe. /wink, wink/.
 
Michael Cox
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Cassie Langstraat wrote:My dad is currently running 1,500 pregnant heifers on his land right now. They will calve in the spring. That will be around 3,000 cattle. He owns around 30,000 acres of land. He farmed about 500 acres of corn this summer, complete with tons of chemicals and fertilizers... He also used to do much larger acre wheat farming too. He truly believes that millions of people would starve without people like him providing these massive numbers of beef and big crops to the world.

He's not denying that permaculture could be more profitable or produce more on a smaller scale. He is just saying that there is no way we can eliminate Big Ag and feed the billions of people on the earth. I am not saying I believe him, I am just saying I have been listening to him talk about this for the two weeks I've been home and it's frustrating because I don't really know what to say back to him.

So several of you have said that I asked the wrong question, and that this debate is the wrong one.. So what is the right question? What is the right debate in this sense?


Cassie - Have you talked through the various rotational grazing systems? Permaculture can be very daunting for folks who have a huge establishment (and probably huge bankloads underpinning them?) and the safe path is to follow convention. Rotational grazing systems are pretty well proven by now and have a very appealing bottom line (trading daily labour moving electric fences for lower feed costs and over time improved stocking density). I read about a system (in Australia I think?) where they combine rotational grazing systems to build soil with no till grain crops - build the soil up over a few years by good grazing practices then when the soil is nice and rich sow a grain crop directly after the cattle have been through - I think they may have scarified the sod a bit too.

I'd also suggest looking at Savory's holistic management systems - not the grazing methods, the management strategy itself that involves getting everyone sitting down and working out what their goals and hopes for the land are. You will learn about what is important for him, he will learn about what is important for you (and all the other stakeholders - employees, banks, other family...) then you can focus on the common ground rather than the division and make constructive progress. If you haven't read his book cover to cover then do so, there is a lot more to it than the grazing that gets the media attention.

You mention that you are home for two weeks - the implication being that you are not there the rest of the time handling day to day business - do you view this farm as something you will become involved in down the line? Is this a family affair that you may take on at some point?
 
R Scott
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Dad will listen better if you are out in the truck/tractor with him helping feed hay. But don't push it. OBSERVE first.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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One more video: Integrating livestock into a cropping system for sustainability and soil health.

 
Peter Ellis
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If a person does not believe that finite resources can run out, there are undoubtedly better places to spend your energy than in trying to teach them that water is wet.

Is it really necessary for your happiness to convince your Father, specifically, that you are right? Or can you let that one go, work on people not so emotionally near to you, and leave persuading your Dad to someone whose life won't be messed up when the man will never speak to them again?

And I say all of that with a smile. Sometimes we lose when we win where family is involved. btdt.
 
elle sagenev
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I think a lot of them are great for different reasons. Mark Shephard goes about his enterprise with business at the forefront. He wants to make money and he is with his various methods. I think some other people are more into the art form, I guess I would call it an art form. They are experimenting in different ways with different things and money isn't the main driving point. sepp holzer is different from them all I think. I've watched every video I can of his and it's just amazing. He seems to have money and sustainability and art in his plan. I say that because his property is beautiful. It's practical but it is also beautiful. He's added beautiful elements to it.
 
elle sagenev
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Cassie Langstraat wrote:My dad is currently running 1,500 pregnant heifers on his land right now. They will calve in the spring. That will be around 3,000 cattle. He owns around 30,000 acres of land. He farmed about 500 acres of corn this summer, complete with tons of chemicals and fertilizers... He also used to do much larger acre wheat farming too. He truly believes that millions of people would starve without people like him providing these massive numbers of beef and big crops to the world.

He's not denying that permaculture could be more profitable or produce more on a smaller scale. He is just saying that there is no way we can eliminate Big Ag and feed the billions of people on the earth. I am not saying I believe him, I am just saying I have been listening to him talk about this for the two weeks I've been home and it's frustrating because I don't really know what to say back to him.

So several of you have said that I asked the wrong question, and that this debate is the wrong one.. So what is the right question? What is the right debate in this sense?


I don't think you'll change his mind either. I think the best you can do is show him by doing it yourself. Even that may not work. Will you inherit? If you do, there is your chance to try permaculture on 30k acres. Prepare now! lol
 
elle sagenev
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Cassie Langstraat wrote:You guys are seriously so amazing and encouraging. I just now got through having another conversation about this with him at lunch. I mentioned much of what you all have told me in this thread. To no avail. First of all, he just doesn't believe that any resources are limited, so he doesn't see the point in changing things. He says that oil will not run out.. I can't remember his argument in regards to that. He also mentioned that all of the big farming he knows of is required to not till so he doesn't see how it is ruining the soil. Some sort of no till act or something.. I didn't know of that?

He also just doesn't believe smaller scale ag can mean less labor. Even though I have told him that is a major point of permaculture, less labor. But he just says "well basically is what you are proposing is that we go back in time, with small scale farms. But back then we didn't have the mass numbers of people to feed that we do now so it's impossible to do. And without using the large scale machinery and technology, it would be extremely labor intensive." I try to explain to him that if there were more farmers, with less land, but more production, it could work. We could feed the world. But he just doesn't believe it will ever happen.

I am getting to the point where I feel like I need to just stop trying to have the conversation with him because if I keep having it, our relationship is going to seriously suffer.. I am losing my cool. My mom is all, "there is enough sunshine to go around, why can't you both just do what makes you happy" and I am all BECAUSE MY WAY IS BETTER AND IT WILL SAVE THE WORLD.. Hahahah


I can't say I don't agree with your father on the oil thing. It will run out, but not in my life time, I'm sure. Since oil prices have dropped they've shut off all the wells in my area. Our state has been extremely stingy about offering up oil well permits. We have a lot of oil here. Neighboring states are going crazy drilling but our state, ugh. Anyway, so there is a lot of oil here and they only come for it when it is profitable. There are lots of old wells that have been capped here because 50+ years ago prices dropped. They just like to freak us out by saying we are going to run out is my opinion. Then they can drive prices back up.

Of course we've got a well that was going in but has since been suspended since prices dropped. Since we have our rights we can't decide if we are glad they aren't drilling or sad that the money train isn't going to start. Ah the dilemma.


Also, anyone who wiped your butt isn't going to appreciate being told they are wrong and killing the world. Totally wrong way to go about it.
 
Michael Newby
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Like Peter said, there's merit to the worry about not being able to provide enough food for the masses. If you took the current number off farmers/ranchers and convinced every single one of them to convert to permaculture systems the amount of land they themselves would be able to effectively manage would be drastically reduced. I think that's one of the sticking points for modern conventional farmers talking about permaculture systems: the perceived labor intensity that would come with working their farm that way. Most older farmers are very aware of the decline in the numbers of people farming (only 2% of the US population farm or ranch for a living) and feel like a dying race. They can barely provide the food they do and make a reasonable living off of the major tracts of land their managing now, how could you possibly do that without all the modern "time saving conveniences" making everything "easier"?

What most of them have been conditioned to not even question is the cost of the convenience. I'm not just talking about the monetary cost, either. I feel like one of the major reasons for the decline in numbers of farmers is the lack of appeal of a modern big ag style farm. People that like nature and like to grow things will usually shy away from big CAFO's and 10,000 acre mono-crops harvested by automated machines. At these levels it's less about the actual farming and more about spinning around in a chair in some office figuring out the logistics of how to keep the whole beast of an operation going. I'm pretty sure that most here at least would agree that it would be much better to spend most of our time walking our properties observing and making little tweaks to the system instead of having to spend our time at the local bank office making yet another deal to finance yet another huge piece of equipment. How many of the people counted in that 2% figure get to actually work the land how they want vs. the number doing whatever it is that the 100 page purchase contract says they have to do. The whole system has been shifted from actual feet on the ground farming to something that is managed from 1000's of miles away by a group of people who's only concern is keeping shareholders happy.

Luckily for us the growing permaculture movement is helping to show/remind people that managing our land and resources (what farming/ranching is really about, right?) can be done in a way that is regenerative, not just for the land but for the people involved as well. The more this knowledge goes mainstream to more people we can get interested in joining the farmer/rancher ranks. Might be that it's not so much that your dad doesn't think permaculture could feed the masses so much that he doesn't think there's enough people willing to do it that way. If that's the case then there's a good common ground to start working from.

 
Stefan Johnson
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I have 2 initial reactions to this:

1) The "big boys" in the U.S. (not taking into account overseas as an intentional bias on my part here) are Joel Saltin, Mark Shepard, etc... and they all prove a profit and high yield of production.
2) The comparison to "Big Ag" is not really valid. See below.

The majority of the grains being grown (corn, especially) aren't even being grown for human consumption. Some of the crop is grown for feeding feedlot CAFO farms, and some is being grown for processing into ethanol to treat gasoline with. Some is also being used for human consumption, but not a significant percentage. Mark Shepard makes a lot of good points for how to do things in a broad acre productive way that would be more than sufficient to replace many of the "Big Ag" farms and feed more people on less (in my opinion.)
 
Cassie Langstraat
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Is it really necessary for your happiness to convince your Father, specifically, that you are right? Or can you let that one go, work on people not so emotionally near to you, and leave persuading your Dad to someone whose life won't be messed up when the man will never speak to them again?


Of course my entire happiness does NOT rest on changing my dad's opinions. He is 70.. It's probably not going to happen. But I just have been home visiting for a few weeks so it has just been on my mind a LOT. I'm going to show him all the videos you guys have posted though. This thread wasn't supposed to turn into me getting advice about my dad... Haha but thanks anyways everyone.

 
Michael Cox
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Cassie - tangentially related thought. I was watching youtube videos with my two year old this evening who has a love of tractors... we set about looking for videos of combines and tractors and found lots of huge beasts. But it also struck me that these machines are really bloody good at what they do. We watched a video of a blueberry harvester marching down a row of berry bushes picking tonnes an hour - no human picker can possibly keep up with that level of mechanisation. I'd suggest that you'd be looking at 50 or more labourers to harvest those blueberries by hand. Probably many modern farmers are thinking - where would I get 50 labourers from for the week my crop is ready, in the same week every other crop in the country is ready?

I've though for a while that there must be a viable middle ground - a systems that is compasionate to the earth, involves true permaculture principals but also allows the mechanisation of harvesting that make big ag more efficient in terms of man hours. Some kind of polyculture in your rows of blueberries but one that doesn't interfere with the harvesting process. Your polyculture could cover your n-fixers, support species for pollinators, alternative crop yields etc... perhaps then mown/mulched to ground level ahead of the harvester coming through... There are definitely some big concerns out there for a whole sale shift in agricultural systems - for a start the technological complexity of our modern society is largely a product of us not having to work the land for food so production efficiency (for want of a better word) is paramount.

I'd love to see that gulf bridged between large scale/earth destroying/big-ag systems and permaculture systems that by the nature cannot be harvested efficiently.

Some of the silvo-pature systems might be considered a step in that direction - where they keep the machine friendly linearity but diversify species and yields.
 
Dan Grubbs
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Broadacre application of principles is critical if we're going to improve human health and reverse climate change. I'd have to say that Daren Doherty takes the cake for me. However, Like Mark Shepard, Doherty doesn't rely exclusively on permaculture principles but takes solid ideas and systems from multiple approaches and uses them in different combination when he designs large broadacre landscapes.

I have regular conversations such as Cassie is describing with many row-crop farmers and they are not interested in making changes for a host of reasons: investment in machinery, investment in infrastructure, personal knowledge limited to industrial agriculture, no ag school scientists out there supporting alternatives, fear of unknown, fear of learning curve, fear of loss of income, as well as being fed plenty of agribiz propaganda.

I think broadacre farmers are no different that any other people. If you've ever read the business book "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore you will see one creative way to think about the problem Cassie brings up. Farmers will not listen to permaculture advocates in general. But farmers do fit into the same categories that Moore identified (see graph). I believe we are at the innovator state of adoption. The fact that many of us are mentioning the same people as the shining examples is a key indicator that we have not reached the stage of moving to the early adopters. As Doherty, Shepard, Lawton, Salatin, Savory, Holtzer, Wheaton, etc., continue doing what they're doing and we continue to support and spread the news, we will make it across the small gap to create some momentum by numbers as early adopters. We will have powerful forces against this, as you know.

It's the jump from early adopters to early majority that is where we will see positive changes in the anthropocene take place. Early majority people won't blindly accept the word of someone who is a mouthpiece for the thing to be adopted, nor do they usually accept the testimony of the innovators. However, they will consider as valuable and trustworthy the testimony of the early adopters because they are people just like them. In order to cross this chasm, innovators must leverage the testimony of the early adopters to sway the early majority (industrial farmers). It will be the clients of Judy, Doherty, Shepard who are the neighbors down the road from another farmer who will convince this second farmer to adopt a new approach.

One could argue that Greg Judy and Joel Salatin are the first wave of the early adopters because their farming peers are seeing their operational success and are beginning to mimic their practices, or what Moore describes as adoption. But, it will be the unnamed, not famous everyday farmer that takes a leap of faith and lands on regenerative agriculture success that will sway others more effectively than a famous name. Here's an illustration: the names we are giving Cassie ... they are the equivalent to the people who camp out overnight on the sidewalk outside the Apple store to get the new iPhone (innovators). They have their own reasons for doing it. Then, the people who are willing to take a risk, do a bit of their own research on the right phone and read product reviews, these are the early adopters and will buy the iPhone based on that. They may or may not be influenced by an innovator. Now, as a bit of time and trial goes on, those who wait to see that others are using the latest iPhone with satisfaction and they know X number of people with them and see them around in use, only then they will buy the latest iPhone in mass quantities (these are the early majority).

A more practical example may be this: On his farm, R Scott has adopted a variety of systems and techniques from Greg Judy. However, it will be R Scott's neighbors that make the difference by adopting on their farm what R Scott has done, not necessarily what Greg Judy is teaching.


Source: I'm a 25-year public relations and corporate communications professional that has employed chasm theory successfully many times with diverse audiences. As I've stated above, I believe application of chasm theory is useful to supporting agricultural change.

Crossing-the-Chasm.jpg
[Thumbnail for Crossing-the-Chasm.jpg]
 
Mountain Krauss
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Echoing others, I'd say Gabe Brown is the best example. He only has 5,000 acres, as opposed to the 30,000 your dad has, but I think it's large enough to say it works on a large-scale. He's way more profitable, because his inputs are so much lower, but he's also more productive. He's notably more productive than average for his area, and he's more productive than when he started farming, when he was using conventional methods.

From that, the argument is straight forward. If other Big Ag farmers adopted his methods, their farms would become more productive over time. Maybe not a dramatic increase, but yields would go up. And labor would go down, as Gabe Brown has remarked repeatedly how his own leisure time has increased. And, of course, his profitability is up dramatically.

I don't know if that argument will convince everyone, but over time, those who aren't convinced will be bought out by those who are.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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Here is a more recent presentation

 
siu-yu man
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perhaps there's another way to approach this : shift the focus from quantity to quality (aka nutrient density).
if the average person get the same amount (or more or much more) of nutrients in 1/2 the calories, what would the average person choose?

of course, that would require no less than a full scale revolution in the dietary habits of an entire society.
for example --
amaranth over wheat
chestnuts over corn
nettles over spinach
chokeberries over blueberries
sea buckthorn over cranberries
venison over cattle
mushrooms over just about everything

but since to your pop, this is all a fantasy anyhow, it may not hurt to try it out.
maybe you could serve him a cup of nettle tea to soften him up a bit ;~)
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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