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Is anyone really doing permaculture?

 
pollinator
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I hope this thread isn't discouraging to some people just venturing into the discipline.

One of many misconceptions about Permaculture is that it needs to be practiced on a grand scale. The truth is, Permaculture is a method of planning and design. Permaculture projects can be small or large, so long as you have used Permaculture practices in developing them. Your plans don't always work as intended, but at least you know you thought them through beforehand and have learned both from your successes and failures. Most people, myself included, do not practice Permaculture perfectly. Those who do, are often blessed with resources (either skills, brains, or money) that many of us do not have. That said, there are so many things to learn from Permaculture that, even if you are only using some of the techniques, your homesteading skills will benefit from them.

To keep it real, I'm including a picture of my humble front yard in year 2 of transitioning from a traditional lawn to a productive foodscape. It is a small plot, but I am trying to keep my 2014 PDC in mind while developing it:

 
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    I don’t have the time to read this whole mega-thread, but I think I have the gist of it, and I’ve got some things to say: permaculture is a design science, based on the ethics of care for the earth, care for people, and return of surplus to these two goals. In other words, it’s a tool that lets you organize everything, especially your local bit of the biosphere, so that it permanently, simply and comfortably provides your needs and increases in abundance and fertility in the process.
    Let me give a thought experiment: everyone has a zone 0, which is the home that they live in. In a temperate continental climate, the house needs to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. So, build your house around a rocket mass heater (also known as a Russian stove or a  kang.) and plant deciduous trees to provide shade in the summer. Sun-side windows are also in order. In zone 1, which many people have, you can put... whatever you eat regularly. An herb spiral is a common feature, as are double-reach garden beds on contour. These would have huge diversity, to fill niches  and confuse pests, as well as having lots of organic mulch regularly applied, probably from coppice or pollard of border shrubs, preferably legumes, Siberian pea tree would be useful in this scenario. Rose bushes can have parsley and garlic planted under them, for regular harvest. a garden pond (it can just be a hole in the ground lined with plastic or clay) can be installed for predator habitat and temperature control. Zone 2, which most people with zone 1 can fit in, can be wrapped around the zone 1 garden on the side away from the sun, can be a more intensely managed or barely managed (depending on the owners’ inclination) food forest that can also benefit from the zone 1 edge legumes, it can be just 10 square feet, or a whole two acres. It will probably be the most vibrant and diverse ecosystem on the property, and will provide yearly harvests of fruits and berries to be processed for winter. Part of the inner edge of zone 2 can have double-reach garden beds for low-maintenance staples. Unless you’re involved in farming, you probably won’t have a zone three, and I think that this is what confuses people the most about permaculture. They think it takes tons of land that you can turn into a forest-pasture-water harvesting continuum to be sustainable, because that’s what you see in the movies. It is a very profitable zone if you get it right, but it’s actually the least important for most people. zone four can just be a treed border to the property, for a bare minimum of replacement building materials, a really profitable timber forest, or non-existent. Zone five can either be a wide swath of land or just a little “representation” of zone 5, a wild corner that is left to go crazy, and be a therapeutic, peaceful nook. Not to be neglected in design are the outside forces acting on the property, and they are very easy to handle. Simply identify them, and then say “yes” or “no”. Strong winds from this sector? Wrap zone 4 around that side near zones 1 and 2 in the form of a heavy windbreak. A breathtaking view in that direction? Leave a gap in the forested areas to make sure it stays in sight. Is there a bad smell from that sector?  Strong smelling flower bushes should help, and maybe you can create a wind tunnel with the gap in the trees you left to leave the good view open, and direct that wind flow towards the smell somehow, blowing it away from you.
    I hope this helps to show that anyone can “do” permaculture, from the lawyer who just wants to eats healthier food and live with a measure of sustainability, to the regular suburban Joe with less than half an acre and not much time, to the farmer who wants to make it his life’s work. Don’t worry about how everyone else’s permaculture looks. Do your permaculture.
    (Water catchment is a must, though. Just take a shovel and an A-frame and make some mini swales, if you don’t feel like messing around with big machines)
   
 
Myron Platte
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Karl Treen wrote:

To say that Permaculture doesn't work is, literally, to say "careful observation and planning are a waste of time."


    In a nutshell! I like to say that permaculture is common sense taken to its logical conclusion.
 
Myron Platte
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Jotham Bessey wrote:Permaculture = Permanent Agriculture

That was the original idea, and it can take that form, but it quickly became clear that permaculture has to mean permanent culture, that is, permanent, continuous enrichment.
 
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I refloat this thread: lot of brazilian guys are doing syntropic agriculture, wich is similar to permaculture, making a decent money. Some of them big scale

 
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Collin Vickers wrote:

What we have right now in the world of permaculture is an accumulation of mostly isolated details, like coupons stuffed in a drawer, but no shopping list.  I'm not saying throw away the minutiae - after all, I'm interested in that too.  However, because I'm still at the stage of figuring out how to get started, I'm looking for a big picture perspective.  A choice I make at the outset could affect the options I have ten years from now, socially, economically, and personally.



I'm coming to this discussion nearly a decade late, but thought I'd let you know that William Horvath (Permaculture Apprentice) seems to have created what you're asking for. You can find details by searching for Permaculture Implementation Program (enrolment only opens once per year: https://permaculture-apprentice.ck.page/03981be143.

Quoting from the website:

"P.I.P. is a system specifically designed for permaculture farmers and homesteads who are starting out with their farm or homestead development, who are mostly doing things on their own, and need practical guidance on implementation. The program provides you with the practical tools so you know exactly WHAT to do WHEN, and HOW, with a specific focus on growing food (food forests + annual gardens).

What’s included? The system has 4 main components:

1. THE BIG PICTURE that gives you an overview of the hands-on work required to grow food an abundance of food
2. YEARLY PLAN that outlines WHAT to do in a year to kickstart your farm and produce an abundance of food with food forests and annual gardens
3. IMPLEMENTATION GUIDES that explain HOW to do the WHAT (step-by-step implementation guidance for each p]roject)
4. PERMACULTURE IMPLEMENTATION CALENDAR(s) that explains WHEN to do the WHAT in your climate zone"
 
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Collin Vickers I am right there with you. I also want to see some success stories. That is: ethics+sustainable practice+ real world income. It's not too much to ask.
 
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Jim Spalding-You've received several examples. It seems like you and some others want someone to do all of the work for you.  That's not how permaculture works.  You can add bits at a time, and realistically, I think that's how most people do permaculture. It seems like the ones complaining on this thread want lots of money first, very little work involved, all of the questions answered beforehand, and all of the ecological stuff done automatically.  I don't think that's a realistic viewpoint.  It seems that for most of us doing permaculture, the discoveries along the way are fun! Sharing ideas with others about how to make it work is enjoyable.  Curiosity is a blessing, not a curse.  Prosperity rolls in gradually, but steadily.  Some of us are doing large farm agriculture, but not all by far.  For many of us, making the most money possible is not the number one priority, as we have designed our lives to be able to live well as we develop prosperity strategies. I don't even think that most people who have become prosperous outside of permaculture get rich quickly.   Helping the ecology is in line with helping ourselves financially, but it doesn't all occur at once at the beginning without effort. It's really a lifestyle direction, rather than a bundle of secrets on how to get rich.  
John S
PDX OR
 
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I have a master's in sustainable agriculture, and I would tell you the truth is that permaculture is an evolving topic. As much as everyone here wants this to be a very back to Eden experience, IPM and disease management practices for a number of species still has yet to be developed and as such many who grow dozens of species use integrated management practices instead of being 100% permie or organic. As with another post of mine:

A good example of this is like apples/plums/peaches with coddling moth and plum curculio. Conventional organic means have low success rates, and while I think that there does exist natural methods, these methods are not readily known, or not yet developed to be both efficient and effective.


I personally would love everything to be 100% natural, however the unfortunate truth is that the information needed for some to have success does not exist -yet-. The same mentioned of apples/plums/peaches above isn't always an issue for everyone in every locale. However, they are awful where I live. Infesting over 90% of the crops, and I even used my first master's project on organic controls for the insects and they failed horribly. Even with all organic controls in place it was total crop failure in all three.

I would tell you on the bright side of the topic, MOST fruits and vegetables CAN be grown in organic and permie means. The few with problems is where it gets dicey, and you get naysayers. So, I support farmers as they transition as if you have 6 crops you grow for market each year, and 3 of them to issues like above fail as you're learning. That hurts your family. So, I support the farmers who are moving towards 100% sustainable methodologies, knowing they may not get there tomorrow or next year.

Also the more people in this forum and elsewhere work on experimenting the more it could open doors for new methods that can free up farmers from needing to have integrated methods.
 
pollinator
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Kevin Goheen wrote:...permaculture is an evolving topic.



Exactly. There's a reason we all joke about permaculture's answer to everything: it depends

Permaculture is not, nor was ever meant to be, a one-size-fits-all, step-by-step instruction booklet on how to do x, y and z. It's a philosophy more than anything, and at that level, helps in shaping the questions you ask rather than delivering the answers. Yes, there are lots of "answers" available within the realm of permaculture (swales, herb spirals, keyhole gardens, ponds, edges, etc, etc) but those are not THE answer - they're just potential answers to questions you're being guided to ask. Many new-comers forget, too, that permaculture isn't and was never meant to be solely about growing food or restoring ecosystems. The "topic" of permaculture encompasses everything in life from building technique and architecture to local and global economies, and from food production in all its many forms to heating and cooling systems.

This is why it's so hard for some to find people successfully "doing permaculture" - the issue is that their definition of permaculture is lacking something.

Bill Mollison, in one of his PDCs way back in the day, talked about a man growing watermelons on the side to sell at market. He suggested growing the watermelons in the field, picking what would fit in the bed of his truck, then tilling under the remaining watermelons to reseed for the next crop. That's permaculture...the farmer didn't have to buy seed, was recycling the nutrients from the spent plants, and his one pass with the tiller plus harvest was all he needed to do to make that system work.
 
master steward
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Jim Spalding wrote:I also want to see some success stories. That is: ethics+sustainable practice+ real world income. It's not too much to ask.



Welcome to the forum!

The folks at Wheaton Labs could give you a lot of success stories, especially the Boots!

Some samples:

https://permies.com/t/24511/couple-pics

https://permies.com/t/224087/Dez-Permaculture-Bootcamp-Experience

https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp

https://permies.com/t/47311/freds-photos

 
pollinator
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Glad this thread woke back up. Useful info.

My goal is simple: To grow for myself 100% of my calories for one year. Does not include all spices, or meat, eggs, milk. Simple. Just calories.

To that end I planted my garden in corn, beans, potatoes, carrots, squash and a dozen other plants, all intercropped. It's not 'permaculture' yet, by any definition, since there were quite a lot of added inputs. But next year should be a lot fewer inputs, and going forward fewer still. It will take a few years of gradual expansion to meet my basic goal.

Financially, it's silly. I can work at my job a few extra overtime shifts and easily buy a year's worth of calories, along with all the veggies I can stand.
 
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I have to agree with Tom above.

Unfortunately even selling high end organic from a financial point of view there just isn't an easy win. We nearly went for it last year until we did a full business analysis....

Pick a crop, work out spacings and crop volume for a common land size in your area ( we used 1 acre ) and multiply that by what a local organic supplier charges. If we went full zero input farming and had a perfect 1 acre crop of calbrese it came out at around £600 profit and that's assuming everything went perfectly. People make a lot more on higher profit crops like bagged salad etc but it's a huge amount of work.

We came to the sad but very real conclusion that growing our own produce under conditions we were morally happy with but along side a normal job is as good as it's going to get.

Not sure about that side of the Atlantic but in the UK house prices have out stripped all other bills to the point that anything even remotely artisanal as a job just isn't viable anymore
 
gardener
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The succesful stories of farming in these conditions are some of these types:
- A market garden that sources a nearby restaurant with high quality veggies. The real bussiness is the restaurant, but the market garden gives it its premium quality.
- A farmer that directly sells his products to a wide range of customers. The bussiness is in sales, avoiding intermediaries.
- A school farm, the bussiness is in teaching, and the farm is an extra.
- The hobbyist gardener, that instead of going to the gym, cultivates something in his backyard, saving a little bit on food and a lot on gym and therapist bills.

There sure must be other cases, but they all share that it is difficult to become rich by selling your produce to a big corporation. Working for the big ag isn't gonna make you rich anyways.
 
John Suavecito
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I think that we are missing something here in our discussion.  We don't live in a vacuum.  Modern physics tells us that our perception of the experiment changes the experiment.  We are showing others the way.  I do have other work, but my food forest isn't mostly about saving money, even though it saves me tons of money.  As I start to grow fruit, I get better at growing fruit. The flavor of my produce is spectacular. I eat more produce and less junk.   I share my experiences with others.  They learn from me. I learn from them. I share some of my extras with the poor and others.  We are changing the future.  When I hear doctors talk about centenarians, I have heard several say that they have never met a centenarian that wasn't a gardener.  People in our communities around us start to want to grow high quality food.  I went to a restaurant a couple of years ago and he wanted me to grow fruit for him.  These are opportunities.  As Abraham said, a high quality restaurant doesn't just want produce that is the cheapest. THey want to know that it's high quality so their customers are satisfied.  

It's not just the money that is saved. The quality of my personal food is much better because I'm growing it.  It has more nutrition and more minerals in it, because I'm not extracting profits to sell to make the most money. I'm taking care of the soil and the plants in the long run.  Ask any naturopathic or osteopathic doctor and they'll tell you that the best way to remain healthy is to eat really high quality food.  I don't make a lot of money, but I care about the food I'm growing.  Yes, we get more exercise, but we're also connected to nature and we can share that with others.  We are also helping others change the culture in a better direction. I am planting an orchard at one of the schools that I work at. My hope is that the kids can see that and want to try this for themselves. The kids see me playing full court basketball in my 60's and stealing bases in baseball and maybe they start to figure out how to be healthy.  Maybe they will see how we are connected and we don't want to pollute.  Pollinators are important.  Our actions affect the whole community.  Who knows what impacts we will have, but if we don't start, we'll never know what we could have done.

John S
PDX OR
 
pollinator
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"Doing permaculture" for me has a rather opposite end goal..  allowing me to opt out of the financial/income/economic system to the greatest extent possible.
 
Tristan Vitali
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"...doing permaculture" (define "permaculture")
vs
"...successfully doing permaculture" (define "success")
vs
"...successfully making a living doing permaculture" (define a "making a living")

Shawn and Beth Dougherty of "reviving the independent farmstead" said something a while back that struck me funny - they compared "making a living" to "making a livelihood". They stressed the importance of defining your goals before you go trying to make something happen. Was an interesting way to put what I couldn't articulate before hearing them do so.

If you're trying to feed yourself, your family, and your community high quality food that will substantially improve their health and mental / emotional / spiritual well being, well, that's one thing.

If you're trying to make 6 figures a year so you can buy other people's high quality food, pay for high end health care and pay a psychiatrist / therapist / guru, that's called Big Ag.

Define your terms but also your goals. "Success", by definition, needs context

Timely example: Our own bred-on-farm, pasture-raised turkey for Thanksgiving ... time and money investment around $60 for a 24lb bird, compared to equivalent weight Big Ag produced turkey at the grocery store for 1/6 the cost. The 2 friggin hours I spent dry-plucking a single turkey in the cold wind the other evening could have been spent earning enough money to buy 4 turkeys, but those turkeys would have been lower quality (possibly to the point of being hazardous to our health!), I would not have had a personal connection with the bird on our table, and I wouldn't have reaped all the benefits of turkeys on my woodland-transitioning-to-pasture. That bird is going to be a celebration in its own right, never mind the squash, green beans, onions, potatoes and other delicacies from here on the land served along side it. This was success in my own personal context, even if I could have replicated it for 4 hours of paid time working my "job".
 
John Suavecito
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I also think that as more of us grow our own high quality food and improve the soil, we are going to notice the difference between highly nutritious, tree-ripened,  great tasting food and the grocery store model.  I believe that we are going to set up a lot more exchanges locally, and people will connect with others near themselves to find the good stuff and heal the Earth. As we look into and invest in the experiment, we change the experiment, and it changes us.    That only happens if we invest in the soil, in the knowledge and in connecting with others, such as here on permies.

JohN S
PDX OR
 
Thom Bri
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John Suavecito wrote:I also think that as more of us grow our own high quality food and improve the soil, we are going to notice the difference between highly nutritious, tree-ripened,  great tasting food and the grocery store model.  I believe that we are going to set up a lot more exchanges locally, and people will connect with others near themselves to find the good stuff and heal the Earth. As we look into and invest in the experiment, we change the experiment, and it changes us.    That only happens if we invest in the soil, in the knowledge and in connecting with others, such as here on permies.

JohN S
PDX OR



Absolutely. Generally, what I grow is better tasting that what we can buy. Except for my carrots this year, which were kind of sad! Even basics like corn and potatoes just taste better. My peaches are great.
 
John Suavecito
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I think that even when our produce is occasionally off or damaged, that means that we are connected to the cycles of the Earth. We see our role in adjusting to what we humans have done (pollution? disrupted the balance of nature? Climate change? Disturbing normal soil regeneration?).  That means that we can see how we can try our best to get the planet back to a normal, healthy situation in which we are fulfilling our ecological roles and making room for all of the other beings to do their jobs.

John S
PDX OR

 
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Collin Vickers wrote:Hey all,

OP here.

A few years have passed since I posted this topic, and I have to say, I've come to realize that there are lots of people ACTUALLY doing permaculture, all over the place.  They aren't necessarily on camera, but they're definitely out there doing the good work that needs to be done.

A lot of the work I have seen first hand is at Dancing Rabbit Eco-Village, where I am now a member!  If you're interested, check us out at www.dancingrabbit.org

I am most impressed with Geoff Lawton and some of the people he has showcased in the video series he and his comrades have produced in connection with their online PDC project.  I definitely recommend checking that out.

Thanks for taking so much interest in the topic and keep growing the greens!

- CV



Took me forever to find this post by the OP that I remembered in this discussion...it was nice to see that things fell into place for him.
 
Thom Bri
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John Suavecito wrote:I think that even when our produce is occasionally off or damaged, that means that we are connected to the cycles of the Earth.
John S
PDX OR



And honestly, there is just as much poor or damaged produce in commercial farming. We just don't see it because it gets canned or made into other products, and only the 'perfect' produce ends up on grocery store shelves. My produce usually looks pretty good. Wash off the bugs and it's acceptable to my very anti-bug spouse.
 
Tristan Vitali
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Thom Bri wrote:

John Suavecito wrote:I think that even when our produce is occasionally off or damaged, that means that we are connected to the cycles of the Earth.
John S
PDX OR



And honestly, there is just as much poor or damaged produce in commercial farming. We just don't see it because it gets canned or made into other products, and only the 'perfect' produce ends up on grocery store shelves. My produce usually looks pretty good. Wash off the bugs and it's acceptable to my very anti-bug spouse.



I always remind others when there's "damage" to things that veggies are just like herbs in that bug and disease pressure leads to higher quantities of phytochemicals the plants use to fight off those issues...in other words, they're better for you  Of course, this is within reason. Anything too far gone, though, certainly shouldn't go to waste. Worm bins, chickens, pigs, compost piles, etc...plenty of ways for wormy apples and squashes with blossom end rot to feed right back into the system as long as you think in terms of interconnected webs and waste streams being valuable inputs.

In other words, it's all profit if you can maintain the right mindset!
 
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John Suavecito wrote:I think that we are missing something here in our discussion.  We don't live in a vacuum.  Modern physics tells us that our perception of the experiment changes the experiment.  We are showing others the way.  I do have other work, but my food forest isn't mostly about saving money, even though it saves me tons of money.  As I start to grow fruit, I get better at growing fruit. The flavor of my produce is spectacular. I eat more produce and less junk.   I share my experiences with others.  They learn from me. I learn from them. I share some of my extras with the poor and others.  We are changing the future.  When I hear doctors talk about centenarians, I have heard several say that they have never met a centenarian that wasn't a gardener.  People in our communities around us start to want to grow high quality food.  I went to a restaurant a couple of years ago and he wanted me to grow fruit for him.  These are opportunities.  As Abraham said, a high quality restaurant doesn't just want produce that is the cheapest. THey want to know that it's high quality so their customers are satisfied.  

It's not just the money that is saved. The quality of my personal food is much better because I'm growing it.  It has more nutrition and more minerals in it, because I'm not extracting profits to sell to make the most money. I'm taking care of the soil and the plants in the long run.  Ask any naturopathic or osteopathic doctor and they'll tell you that the best way to remain healthy is to eat really high quality food.  I don't make a lot of money, but I care about the food I'm growing.  Yes, we get more exercise, but we're also connected to nature and we can share that with others.  We are also helping others change the culture in a better direction. I am planting an orchard at one of the schools that I work at. My hope is that the kids can see that and want to try this for themselves. The kids see me playing full court basketball in my 60's and stealing bases in baseball and maybe they start to figure out how to be healthy.  Maybe they will see how we are connected and we don't want to pollute.  Pollinators are important.  Our actions affect the whole community.  Who knows what impacts we will have, but if we don't start, we'll never know what we could have done.

John S
PDX OR



Yes, well said. Growing great food for my household is the #1 motivator. And to do that, I rely on the organic and Rurh Stout practices my Grandma relied on and taught me. ~ I still have her huge Encyclopedia Of Composting, and first edition Gardening With Ruth Stout books.

Along the way, I went no-till, and began learning and implementing permaculture principles. Learning more and more about living soil vs dirt, etc.

That said, there are certainly other benefits beyond eating healthy. Exercise, for sure! As well as sharing good produce with family and friends, and giving bags full of vegetables to the lady at church who works at a health clinic for people with no insurance. And the knowlege spreads. One guy, whose wife loves my garlic and tomatoes gives me all of his leaves instead putting them out by his curb. That came about because of a conversation in which I explained how I love the fall leaves, and shred and corral them to make leaf mold.

Two years ago, during Trick or Treating for the dozen or two kids in our small rural subdivision, a neighbor/Dad looked over at my garden with surprise at all the stuff growing. That gave me the opportunity to tell him about succession and companion planting. How re-sowing lettuce, spinach, broccoli and kale in September meant we could have fresh salad with Thanksgiving dinner. And how much of that will overwinter and spring up as soon as the snow cover melts off.

The other gardeners in our 20 house rural enclave just have nothing but dead plants by Halloween. Then they drag it clean in the spring, and roto till for the plants they buy at Menards.
But I think they’re learning. They are no longer surprisedto see me out in the rain moving wood chips from the latest Chip Drop load, coming back from the stables down the road with horse manure in big bins in the back of my car, growing squash in rotted straw bales, etc. And last month, no one raised an eyebrow while I was hauling rotten logs from around the pond across the road.
They already thought I was weird thirty five years ago, I stripped the grass out of the perfectly manicured front ditch and filled it with wildflowers. And planted three dozen or so Black Walnuts I’d started from seed. I do remember a comment about the wildflowers, fruit trees, and prairie grass taking over the front of my property, referring to it as a “jungle”.


Other than one lady who may be taking my advice on mulching for weed control and moisture retention, I don’t see them turning permie overnight. I still see the Chemlawn trucks going to poison their lawns, as well as the mowing crews so they don’t have to mow, or God forbid, have to find something to do with the grass clippings. But baby steps, right? They were not blessed with grandparents to pass on knowlege of feeding your soil organically, or of foraging in the Appalachian woods because Dad died in a mining disaster, and without the watercress and other greens, along with squirrels they shot, they’d have starved.

I am definitely no ambassador for permaculture. I have way more to learn than what I do know. Although I did give a lecture on composting at a friend’s organic market and berry farm, and would gladly do so again, I confine my advocacy to simple explanations of my methods ~ what works for me, and what doesn’t, whenever I get curious neighbors asking why I so this or that.

“Why don’t you spray that weed?”
“Because that’s purslane. It pulls minerals up, and is filled with healthy vitamins and compounds. We eat it raw and cooked. And I never use herbicides.”

Baby steps.”
 
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