I work for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). For those who are unfamiliar with the agency, it is part of the United States Department of Agriculture and offers financial and technical assistance for farming, ranching, and forestry; monitors snow pack and provides water supply forecasting in the western US; and operates research farms for agroforestry and conservation plant materials.
NRCS has recently been increasing its work with small farms, growers of niche crops, and organic farms. I am considering writing a white paper to recommend that NRCS encourage some of our planners to obtain permaculture design certificates and provide freepermaculture designs.
I am looking for feedback from US-based permies about this idea. Here's some specific questions:
1. Would you be willing to work with a federal agency for a free permaculture design?
2. Would you be able to implement/install a permaculture design with your own financial resources?
3. If you are not able to implement a permaculture design with your own resources, for which type of practices would you be interested in receiving financial assistance?
4. Do you have any other thoughts on this idea?
Please post in your reply whether you would be willing to have your words quoted anonymously in my write up to NRCS, and whether you are willing for me to contact you via PM for further questions.
It would be helpful to list the state and county where your land is located. I suspect if this goes anywhere, NRCS would want to pilot it in a small area. If I can mention specific counties that have expressed great interest, it would help identify potential pilot areas.
I'm in texas and planned on visiting you guys next couple days. I'd like to do a combination pecan and cow project on my small place (16 acres). Like cut the stocking rate by 75% on both so the land is not shaded by the trees and the cows don't overgraze.
1. Yes, I would be very happy to work with the NRCS, in order to have a free or even low cost permaculture design for my ranch. I have earned 3 PDC certificates over the last 12 years, but in the case of my own ranch, I feel it's important to get another designer's input and thoughts on my own land, to get some clear eyed vision. I am currently working with a good friend Permaculture Designer, to do this very thing and I am paying for this, because it is very much worth it!!
2. I am planning on investing in my land by implementing in stages the permaculture design. Of course, because infrastructure permaculture or otherwise, is expensive, I will need to do this over years.
3. I would definitely like some financial "aid" or grants or loans in the form of: fencing to exclude cattle from sensitive wetland type areas, I would really like to get some help with perimeter fencing to exclude range cattle, so I can establish agro-forestry plantings. Fencing to protect small tree plantings from deer and other wild browsers. Help with installations of water resources on the ranch to irrigate for tree plantings, water tank storage for gravity feed irrigation, livestock watering and for wild fire protection. Funding for nursery tree stock, establishment of infrastructure for producing my own nursery stock for tree plantings, and herbal nursery stock. Funding for pasture monitoring tools and training. Access for training all aspects of Holistic Management and other workshops in Key Line Design, permaculture and innovative marketing techniques.
4. I think its a great idea, because the more education federal agencies can access on the topic of permaculture, the better. There is potential to expand the information about permaculuture to many varied populations of land owners. Having workshops at landowners who have installed some permaculture designs, would help spread the word about permaculture also.
You are welcome to include these thoughts in your report, and of course you may email me questions. As you know, I am located in Okanogan County in Washington.
I would suggest that the inquiry back up a level to the question of how the NRCS can support permaculture, rather than should it provide free consulting. My experience both in Africa and working with the local economic development agency tells me that when agencies offer services that directly compete with local business, the local economy stagnates. When agencies train locals and give business start-up support then local economies grow. Find out who is currently offering permaculture consulting, and anyone who is moving in that direction. Include them in a discussion of how the NRCS could support permaculture business in the area without directly competing.
Wayne, thanks for your thoughts. There is certainly a lot of overlap between NRCS and permaculture work. I would say many of the tools in the toolbox of each are similar. My impressions are that permaculture tends to be more willing to adopt practices with a slow pay off, whereas NRCS likes to see results within a few years. Permaculture also has a much higher focus on energy and labor efficiency. NRCS officially lists "Human" and "Energy" as resource concerns that we should plan for, but in practice they tend to play second fiddle to the issues of soil erosion, water quality, etc. I haven't heard of "out on the land" - thanks for mentioning it.
Barbara, thanks for posting. Perhaps you can help put me in touch with some of the local folks who are already offering permaculture design resources, as Larry mentioned.
Larry, very good thoughts. One of the ways that NRCS currently provides financial assistance is to pay for "Conservation Activity Plans." The way this works is that we provide money to the landowner, who hires a private sector consultant. I've worked with these for forest management plans and energy audits, but there are many other options available as well. The main challenge with this right now is the limited number of consultants who have been vetted through our process.
I'm slightly familiar with the NRCS grants to landowners for forestry management (wildfire mitigation) from helping a friend fulfill the terms of her grant a couple winters back. Some NRCS employees have also been very helpful with information about fire recovery, and active in discussions of permaculture/fire-wise design strategies.
However, there's a bit of a problem in the PDC system, and in some government agencies, where folks with limited experience can get their certificate / get hired to give advice to others. In government agencies, it is not so much the shallow or limited experience, as it is a person getting hired in from out of the area and maybe giving advice based on a different region or climate - or very broad guidelines that are one-size-fits-all.
And then you have a "permaculture designer" with a 2-week qualification who is good at marketing themselves, competing with someone with 20+ years' experience in managing for local issues.
One thing I've noticed about all these grants and assistance programs is that it seems to take a few years (or forever) for folks starting up on their land to realize these resources are available. If they have already set a lot of things in concrete, it's not as easy to do a complete design; or more to the point, many PDC courses do not really take into account how to work with existing infrastructure.
Permaculture design services are useful at any point, but might also be particularly useful at a larger scale, or as part of the resources offered to new land buyers.
Maybe a way to mitigate this would be a two-fold approach:
1) go ahead and offer some level of support for those interested in getting a permaculture design review of their property.
I like the idea of grants for hiring a local consultant; there are a lot of farmers here who help each other find local funding and creative, sustainable land-management support. Permaculture designers could be one category; experienced organic farmers might be another; century farms might be another.
I think it could be worth allocating some funding for NRCS staff to take their PDCs, not necessarily to start doing permaculture plans right away, but it could be very useful in general for the work they already do for other kinds of planning, and for evaluating local resources and consultants in the local area.
2) Consider offering some kind of support or recognition for established sites, which have been sustainably farmed over a longer number of years.
Maybe NRCS doesn't fund the initial experiment, but puts out a call for examples of long-running personal "experiments" like soil restoration, water retention, intensive/regenerative grazing management, etc.
Could be a competition with prizes, for "model farms" of several different categories. (Regenerative forestry; polycrop food production; wildlife habitat (woodland/meadow/wetland/scrub); regenerative stock/grazing management; mixed-use or integrated management; "hobby farms" or cottage business (B&B, craft products, etc.)).
Could be case-study grants for documenting longer-term experiments such as productivity/pest-resistance of polycrops, water retention strategies, non-invasive groundcovers and mulches, soil-building and fire recovery, or other innovative systems.
Could be small grants for documentation of long-standing farms recognized as "Model land stewards" for specific climates and regions. (i.e. there should be at least 3 to a dozen examples in each "locality," showing different but excellent ways to develop and regenerate fertile landscapes).
In any of these case study/competition type options, if there are more than a few applicants per year, the scores could be determined on a combination of NRCS mission objectives and permaculture design principles.
Since the best knowledge of what works for a given region or microclimate is going to be developed on the ground, over time, recognizing those good stewards could counterbalance the tendency for a larger institution to mis-apply "one-size-fits-all" models. Lots of novice permaculture people only get as far as an herb spiral and some swales or hugel beds - all techniques that assume a "blank slate" of unspecified land. Learning which methods actually improve the local landscape would be a valuable undertaking, worth partnering with established farmers to pursue.
p.s. I think tribal land management should also be included in the mix - a "farm" is not the only sustainable way to raise people on a landscape, and the tribes often hold valuable knowledge and may be willing to share it on appropriate conditions.
Hello, I googled NRCS and permaculture just to see what connections were out there between the two subjects and this was the first one. I'm thinking of my 5 year plan applying with the NRCS since I have my 3 years in with federal agencies. I stopped working after having children and thought I would get into teaching in a Waldorf school. I decided working in nature, and an office, is where it's at for me, not the classroom. I also just completed a permaculture design course, partly for lifestyle with my family but also because of practicing this on a bigger scale and making it more of a reality. It takes so long and can be very expensive to do permaculture pracitices that are 'presentable' for the rest of the public to consider adopting it into their lifestyle. It takes money to retrofit, update and do things efficiently, I hate feeling like I can only do these things that are good for the environment because my husband makes a decent salary, I want everyone to have simple access to this because I believe in social environmental justice. I was especially inspired with my environmental planning background within a federal agency (USACE) and tying in permaculture into their endeavors after reading 'Beyond the War on Invasive Species'. Yes, Yes, Yes in answer to your question, I personally, would love to work as a planner and do permaculture consultations with the NRCS! Sending your planners to a PDC course is an AWESOME idea! I know this was posted 6 mos. ago so I look forward to hearing about any progress you've made since! And hearing more about working for the NRCS, I'm hoping to find out more about job qualifications, interviews and getting caught up with it all. Thanks.
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