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Profit, Paul Wheaton, and Permaculture  RSS feed

 
Kevin EarthSoul
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While I agree with Paul on the right to make a profit while doing permaculture, I get concerned.

I have seen people get really excited when they see how productive PC can be, and their first thought is "I'm gonna get me 20 acres and make a permaculture farm and make a lot of money selling my products".

Again-- I don't begrudge anyone the right to make a profit, per se... but I do have a serious question for those people:

Every ounce of material that is taken off of that land came from somewhere. The Carbon, the Nitrogen, the Calcium and other trace minerals. How are you replenishing these? If you aren't, then you're mining your land of its resources and selling it off. That's not sustainable, and it doesn't seem like "permaculture" to me.
 
Mountain Krauss
Posts: 130
Location: Northern California
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"Every ounce of material that is taken off of that land came from somewhere"

And every ounce of material on a farm came from somewhere. So, it isn't a mistake to sell nutrients (in the form of food), it's a mistake to fail to replace them. Many of them will replace themselves with little effort on your part-- plants will fix carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, animals will synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, weather will bring water-- but others take more effort.

Many permaculturalists don't like to import materials, and there are many reasons for this-- disease, cost, labor. But I like to import material. So many nutrients are sent to landfills, where they can be of no use. So many nutrients are washed into the ocean, where they create dead zones miles wide. So many nutrients are burned into the atmosphere, where they contribute to breathing problems and climate change. So I like to capture some of this whenever possible.
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
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The carbon and nitrogen, both came from the air. Steps can be taken to increase nitrogen fixation, and the carbon comes from co2 which is abundant.

I scavenge free materials and materials that I am paid to dispose of.  Most of it would otherwise go to the landfill.

The tiny quantity of nutrients that leave in the food can easily be replaced with a small fraction of the money earned from product sales.

Much of what is sold, comes from the air. I am able to replace most nutrients with products from my work or with seaweed.
 
Kevin EarthSoul
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Mountain Krauss wrote: So, it isn't a mistake to sell nutrients (in the form of food), it's a mistake to fail to replace them. Many of them will replace themselves with little effort on your part-- plants will fix carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, animals will synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, weather will bring water-- but others take more effort.


That's exactly what I'm saying. Carbon and Nitrogen have natural systems to replace them (conventional farming, of course, strips these, and uses petroleum fertilizers to replace them). What about Phosphorus and Potassium? Without buying NPK, how do we ensure that we maintain a neutral net loss/gain on these?

Mountain Krauss wrote: Many permaculturalists don't like to import materials, and there are many reasons for this-- disease, cost, labor. But I like to import material. So many nutrients are sent to landfills, where they can be of no use. So many nutrients are washed into the ocean, where they create dead zones miles wide. So many nutrients are burned into the atmosphere, where they contribute to breathing problems and climate change. So I like to capture some of this whenever possible.


I like that way of thinking. I'm wondering if a Permaculture CSA type farm couldn't also offer some discounts on produce if members bring organic materials in? Some communities have communal compost. What if CSA members brought in compost every week with their boxes? It would require the members to understand how to compost properly (no meat scraps in the compost, etc...), but I would think it could be a great way to close the loop some.

Kevin
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Location: Western Washington
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Kevin EarthSoul wrote:


. What about Phosphorus and Potassium? Without buying NPK, how do we ensure that we maintain a neutral net loss/gain on these?



I'm wondering if a Permaculture CSA type farm couldn't also offer some discounts on produce if members bring organic materials in? Some communities have communal compost. What if CSA members brought in compost every week with their boxes? It would require the members to understand how to compost properly (no meat scraps in the compost, etc...), but I would think it could be a great way to close the loop some.

Kevin

Hi Kevin, What exactly is your experience level in Ag?

I think you have some great ideas, but I am not sure about the practicality of some of them - especially the reciprocal compost CSA thing. It's hard enough to get people to pick up their FULL boxes sometimes.

NPK

Animal. You use animals.

Compost/ OM

I have worked on many farms. None of them compost well. They all want to but in the end - to much to do and to little time. Improved practices and an emphasis on the right way to do things would fix this. Most farms have giant rot piles which get very rarely turned and dealt with.

Personally I love the idea of encouraging CSAers to make compost with your produce at their homes. Like, "Hey - here's a little piece of our farm - enjoy it and turn it into a little piece of your own grow space"

Just my thoughts.
 
Dan Boone
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Kevin EarthSoul wrote:What about Phosphorus and Potassium? Without buying NPK, how do we ensure that we maintain a neutral net loss/gain on these?


I'm not sure this is a necessary or reasonable goal, depending on your local geography and soil chemistry.

I have read that the issue with phosphorus and potassium is not so much a limitation on the gross quantities of them that are present in the rocks and soil of your land, so much as it's a limitation of the amount of these minerals that are available in chemical forms that are readily bioavailable. If you grow crops that strip-mine the bioavailable P and K from your soil and sell those crops away from your land, you could wind up with depleted soil. One way to resolve this is to import P and K from off site to replenish them in your soil. But another way -- again this is based on my reading and I do not know if it's actually true or just a nice-sounding permaculture theory -- is to plant various bioaccumulators, which are plants that are more-than-usually capable of breaking these minerals free of their chemical bonds where they lie in your underlying rocks and gravels, thus restoring them to your soil in bioavailable forms.

If this is true and you're worried about net loss or gain in the soils where your food plants live, problem solved. But if you're worried that after decades or centuries even the underlying geology will be depleted of these minerals, problem not solved. It would depend I suppose on your local geology whether this is even a risk.

The trouble with all of this is that nobody seems to have done a lot of good science on which bioaccumulating plants are truly increasing the bioavailability of minerals and which ones are just scavenging-and-concentrating the existing bioavailable minerals already in the soil.
 
Kevin EarthSoul
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I can see that with companion plants, minerals can be drawn up from subsoil, and accumulated. It takes time, however, and attention to planting these "non-productive" plants along with the vegetables, fruits, etc...

I guess I'm more concerned about the focus on turning a profit. Corners are cut, haste toward profitability leads to compromises that lean toward monocultures and artificial inputs. Instead of taking the long, slow, careful route to productivity (even with the acceleration of natural processes that good design can create), I get concerned that people are seeing permaculture as primarily a means to "making money" rather than "economic independence".

I see these two concepts as vastly different ideas in the permacultural paradigm. In the conventional paradigm, "economic independence" comes from "making money". But in permaculture, "economic independence" is obtained through many routes, and "making money" is probably fourth or fifth down the list. Let's see:

1. Subsistence food production (providing for self and family-- those who live on "the homestead"). This reduces the need to buy from the grocery store.
2. Mortgage-free shelter and reduced or eliminated utility bills: off-grid power, water, sewer, etc...
3. Information/Education economy: many permies make money from teaching it to others, or specializing in one permie-related science, such as perfecting rocket mass heater systems and selling those designs, or developing new, simpler building systems and writing books about them.
4. Barter: Exchanging products and labor with neighbors to reduce costs.

Money can be important, but I also see the opportunity, once nature is doing so much of the work for you, of focusing on other things you're passionate about. How about using some of the black-locust wood to build high-quality furniture in a wood-shop? How about selling bees-wax candles, or hand-lotions, scented with essential oils from your herbs? How about making works of art? How about raising those rabbits not just for meat, but for pelts to turn into fur goods? How about writing that novel you've been contemplating for years?

Raising excess produce to sell at the Farmer's Market is just one way to "make money", and one that needs to consider what's going out the door onto the truck.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Location: Colville, WA Zone 5b
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This is an interesting topic. I've seen people post threads about this before, asking if anyone is actually making a living with their permaculture.

To me, permaculture isn't really something you make a living with - it's a way of interacting with the world so you are bettering it instead of using/abusing like most of the human race does. As it applies to farming and homesteading, I think permaculture is a vastly superior way to interact with the land than traditional gardening, monocropping, etc. But I don't understand the idea that you should be able to make a living with it or make a lot of money.

I mean at least not any more than "Can I make a living selling garden produce?" or "Can I make a bunch of money selling (insert farm/homestead product here)?"

So yeah I think some people can make money with permaculture, but the idea that you HAVE to otherwise it isn't worth doing makes absolutely no sense to me. The way I see it, if you want to make a living from your farm or homestead, you can possibly use permaculture principles as opposed to conventional methods to make life easier and more efficient so you can focus more on production, or you can utilize permaculture principles to grow the high value crops that you want to, but to me it's more how you go about doing something rather than being the thing itself, if that makes sense.

Personally - I'm going to use permaculture as a means to be efficient and responsible with my land. I have a business that I run from my homestead and support my family with, and it has nothing to do with permaculture. I don't have any plans to change that, since I make more money with my business for every hour I put into it than I can selling veggies or fruits grown in the best of food forests. I'd much rather continue to work my business for 20 hours/week and have the rest of my time available for my kids whenever they need me (how many single moms have that opportunity!) and work on my homestead (using permaculture principles as my compass, because that's how I roll).

If I end up with an excess of something, then certainly I will look at selling that something. I'm about to inoculate 8 4-foot stumps with phoenix oyster mushrooms in a few weeks, so I inadvertently may have gone into the permaculture business anyway since I may have tons of excess mushrooms in a few years! But the funny thing is I am doing it because I have two choices - bulldoze my future garden area and pull the trees out of the ground, stumps and all, or cut them off myself with a chainsaw, inoculate them with mushrooms, and use the stumps to my advantage threefold by using them to produce food, the decomposing wood will help retain water, and the mycelium will help my veggies grow. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
 
elle sagenev
Posts: 1282
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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I plan to make money. I plan to have a very successful business based on permaculture design.

How? Well, mainly a U-pick. I also have a distributor for excess produce lined up. Farmers markets will probably happen in the beginning stages. I also am diversifying my options. Yes, U-pick fruit and veggies, but also meat, medicinal (value added) and birdhouses made from gourds.

I am not overly concerned about depleting my property. You should see my property right now. There is nothing to deplete. Rather than thinking in those terms I'm thinking in terms of rejuvenation. I am going to bring my property back to life. In so doing I will make money but I will also do more. I will educate. I will amaze. I will show people that you can farm here without doing 1k acres of wheat.

I am going to be bringing things in from outside sources. I have taken a fair amount of horse poo from a neighbor for compost. I have taken leaves and clippings from various people. I go to a supermarket and get throw away produce for my animals. I don't see any of that changing. I am not concerned. Frankly, I don't see how my land can get any worse.

So yeah, I'll be shipping a fair amount of vitamins and minerals off my land. I'll also be keeping a bunch and changing a bunch. What was once rotten fruit will be pig poo and then meat. And while the apples themselves will leave, the trees and leaves remain. My property will function just fine I believe.
 
John Wolfram
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This thread reminded me of Will Harris' take on the relationship between profit and sustainability in the 28th Permaculture Voices Podcast:
Being poor is not okay, it’s not sustainable. If you’re will willing to live on $5,000 expendable income a year for the right and privilege to have good land and good animals, that’s fine, but it’s not sustainable. Your significant other is not going to want to that, and if they do, your children are not going to want to do that. And, when the day comes that you break your arm or leg, you’re not going to be able to do that.
 
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