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The three main challenges of permaculture farmers  RSS feed

 
Mikkel Nielsen
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What are your three main challenges as a permaculture farmer?

Hi folks,

I hope you are willing to share some of your views, insights and experiences with me. And why am I asking? Here it goes. I'm currently working on a project called FoodKRAFT in Denmark (www.kraftcenter.dk). FoodKRAFT is a melting pot for everyone who wants to contribute to a sustainable production food. But as experienced farmers, you know there can be a lot of challenges to a bold vision.

A few years back, we (Ausumgaard, owners of FoodKRAFT) established a small-scale production of organic vegetables for home delivery. At the same time, we also set up a new concept for growing hogs, focused on animal welfare, with lots of space, air and straw, and no tail ducking. Today, only the hogs are left, and we are struggling to make it profitable. The close relationships with customers has brought us a lot of joy, but distribution, sales channels and processing have been tough on us.

As part of FoodKRAFT, we want to establish a social business focused on inspiring and educating more people to become farmers in every sustainable way possible. We want to cross the usual borders of traditional production methods, to experiment and mix things up, and we see a lot
of potential in permaculture. But we also need to prepare aspiring farmers for the challenges ahead of them.

To identify, what we need to focus on, we would very much appreciate if you could share what you believe are the most critical challenges for permaculture farmers. Sharing is caring!

Cheers,
Mikkel
 
James Freyr
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Speaking for myself, growing food crops was challenging, with poor results with many pest and disease troubles in the past, until I had this "ah-ha!" moment when it dawned on me that my problems had to be related to soil. I started reading books on building soil and soil management, understanding the soil food web and how everything in the soil is interconnected. I focused my attention, time, labor and some money on building soil instead of focusing on growing crops. I still planted crops, but with soil improvements such as incorporating organic matter, nurturing microbial life, implementing practices such as mulching everything and stopping the blind application of organic fertilizers, the crops started to "grow themselves", being healthier and yielding more fruit. Worms showed up in abundance in my soil, there are bugs galore living out their buggy lives helping build humus and things are balancing themselves out. Do I still have disease and pests in the garden? You bet, but nothing near the plague levels they used to be. Do I spray my crops? Yes, but not for bugs, I only spray for diseases and I only use microbes to fight the microbial battle. I don't use sulphur or copper even tho their approved for organic use. Yes I will find some aphids, white flies, caterpillars et al on my crops, some here, some there, but I also have loads of ladybugs and green lacewings and their friends keeping things in balance. The caterpillars I find have eggs on their backs from parasitic wasps, again keeping things in balance. I have also seen songbirds swoop down onto a tomato plant and fly off with a fatty caterpillar in its beak. I have tiny lime green frogs showing up in my peas and bean vines and their toady cousins patrolling the ground with the lizards. Is my soil at perfection? No, but that is my goal, with improvements made each year. Sick plants grow in sick soils, healthy plants grow in healthy coils. Sick plants are telling us that something is out of balance in the soil. It's not the plants fault, it's not inferior plant genetics, its unhealthy, unbalanced soil. I've been gardening for 25 years, and still learn new things every year, and I know I will continue to learn each and every year. You can never know everything. If there's one thing that sums up what I've learned so far, it's balance. Nature will find a balance with the bugs, I can actively help balance my soil. Regardless of what you want to grow, start with the soil.
 
Matthew Lewis
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James Freyr wrote:. Yes I will find some aphids, white flies, caterpillars et al on my crops, some here, some there, but I also have loads of ladybugs and green lacewings and their friends keeping things in balance. The caterpillars I find have eggs on their backs from parasitic wasps, again keeping things in balance. I have also seen songbirds swoop down onto a tomato plant and fly off with a fatty caterpillar in its beak. I have tiny lime green frogs showing up in my peas and bean vines and their toady cousins patrolling the ground with the lizards.


Not sure how long you were at it before improving the soil but some of the improvement you saw may me attributed to the biodiversity you provided on your land. Mark Shepard says in his book that it may take several years for a permaculture system to balance itself.
 
Rene Nijstad
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The three challenges I think we face in permaculture are time, time and time. You can either have an existing farm that produces with chemical inputs or a non producing farm that is overgrown with weeds (nature's slow repair process) but it all boils down to the same thing, it takes time to shift things around from devastated ecosystems to healthy ecosystems. In our world time boils down to 'money', you need to finance the turn around. If foodcraft is serious about this, then your main contribution to changing to ecologically functioning food production could be to help farmers through the transition process, so they can achieve the results you're looking for. It does take investment, but that mostly comes down to the time it takes to make the shift.
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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James Freyr wrote:Speaking for myself, growing food crops was challenging, with poor results with many pest and disease troubles in the past, until I had this "ah-ha!" moment when it dawned on me that my problems had to be related to soil. I started reading books on building soil and soil management, understanding the soil food web and how everything in the soil is interconnected. I focused my attention, time, labor and some money on building soil instead of focusing on growing crops. I still planted crops, but with soil improvements such as incorporating organic matter, nurturing microbial life, implementing practices such as mulching everything and stopping the blind application of organic fertilizers, the crops started to "grow themselves", being healthier and yielding more fruit. Worms showed up in abundance in my soil, there are bugs galore living out their buggy lives helping build humus and things are balancing themselves out. Do I still have disease and pests in the garden? You bet, but nothing near the plague levels they used to be. Do I spray my crops? Yes, but not for bugs, I only spray for diseases and I only use microbes to fight the microbial battle. I don't use sulphur or copper even tho their approved for organic use. Yes I will find some aphids, white flies, caterpillars et al on my crops, some here, some there, but I also have loads of ladybugs and green lacewings and their friends keeping things in balance. The caterpillars I find have eggs on their backs from parasitic wasps, again keeping things in balance. I have also seen songbirds swoop down onto a tomato plant and fly off with a fatty caterpillar in its beak. I have tiny lime green frogs showing up in my peas and bean vines and their toady cousins patrolling the ground with the lizards. Is my soil at perfection? No, but that is my goal, with improvements made each year. Sick plants grow in sick soils, healthy plants grow in healthy coils. Sick plants are telling us that something is out of balance in the soil. It's not the plants fault, it's not inferior plant genetics, its unhealthy, unbalanced soil. I've been gardening for 25 years, and still learn new things every year, and I know I will continue to learn each and every year. You can never know everything. If there's one thing that sums up what I've learned so far, it's balance. Nature will find a balance with the bugs, I can actively help balance my soil. Regardless of what you want to grow, start with the soil.


Thank you, James. Your seem to have made some very insightful observations that inspire you to strive for new goals. Your motivation is contagious.
As you mention, you want to keep learning each and every year. Whenever you face a new challenge, or want to do things differently, where do you search for the knowledge needed to do so?
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Matthew Lewis wrote: Not sure how long you were at it before improving the soil but some of the improvement you saw may me attributed to the biodiversity you provided on your land. Mark Shepard says in his book that it may take several years for a permaculture system to balance itself.


Hi Matthew, and thank you for your input. I assume Mark Shepard is a resource on permaculture. Could you mention other resources that you turn to, when you need information on permaculture?
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Rene Nijstad wrote:The three challenges I think we face in permaculture are time, time and time. You can either have an existing farm that produces with chemical inputs or a non producing farm that is overgrown with weeds (nature's slow repair process) but it all boils down to the same thing, it takes time to shift things around from devastated ecosystems to healthy ecosystems. In our world time boils down to 'money', you need to finance the turn around. If foodcraft is serious about this, then your main contribution to changing to ecologically functioning food production could be to help farmers through the transition process, so they can achieve the results you're looking for. It does take investment, but that mostly comes down to the time it takes to make the shift.


Thank you Rene for your input. I would like to go a bit deeper into the transition process you emphasize, if you'll allow me. Usually, when we want to change things or do things differently, it requires use to leverage new "tools". And by "tools", I mean skills, knowledge, information and so forth. In your view, what are the most important skills needed to manage this transition?

To quote Einstein: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results".
 
James Freyr
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Matthew- I was at it quite a long time before improving my soil, but yes, you are absolutely right about the biodiversity. While improving my soil did play a role, and biodiversity also plays a role, the largest single change with noticeable results was stopping the use of pesticides. Even though the pesticides I used were OMRI listed controls such as insecticidal soap containing potassium salts, they're still not selective in how they work. The year following the year I quit killing bugs was when the abundance of life arrived. That's when nature in the amazing way it works started striking a balance. I grew up and started gardening with the notion that bugs and weeds are bad, and you don't want any in your garden, and they way you deal with them is with chemicals. Man was I naive. Having a few holes in leaves here and there or maybe one or two defoliated stems from a caterpillar is part of gardening. When crops fail because of excessive holes in leaves or entire plants are defoliated, something is not in balance anymore. That's what I needed to learn.

Mikkel- I started of course with the internet. We all know the internet contains unreliable, or in some cases downright false information. I have found university extension websites to be reliable, but I get fatigued sitting in a chair reading a computer screen for excessive periods of time. I wanted to learn from books, and I found my books on the web. I much prefer sitting on my comfy couch turning paper pages in a book with a cup of hot tea and a cat in my lap. I also subscribe to a number of gardening and homesteading magazines, but I must say the Acres, U.S.A. monthly magazine contains the most useful information in regards to growing food crops. They also publish quite a variety of useful books, and I've purchased many from them. I knew broad spectrum "how to garden" books weren't going to contain the more detailed and intricate science that I was seeking. I knew I had to understand soil and everything going on in it to be a successful gardener, and believe me, I may never know everything going on in it. I've learned a lot and by applying what I've learned in my garden I'm seeing positive results.
 
Rene Nijstad
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Mikkel Nielsen wrote:
Thank you Rene for your input. I would like to go a bit deeper into the transition process you emphasize, if you'll allow me. Usually, when we want to change things or do things differently, it requires use to leverage new "tools". And by "tools", I mean skills, knowledge, information and so forth. In your view, what are the most important skills needed to manage this transition?

To quote Einstein: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results".


That's not an easy question to answer. Let me start with a realisation people need to have to work in regenerative agriculture: nature runs the show, not you. Bill Mollison said something like: we cannot create anything, we don't have that power, we only have the power of assembly. Other people already mentioned soil, soil life and biodiversity. So we find ourselves as humans on a living planet that evolved through millions of years, through biodiversity and through a web of connections between all that lives. When we push nature into a straightjacket as we did for the past centuries, she either pushes back (plagues, disease, climate change) or she dies, locally, from too much interference, like desertification, soil degradation etc.

So the first rule or tool is: work with nature instead of against her.

Now to make sense of this in a more business like way, there is a huge advantage here that can be easily overlooked. If nature runs the show she does an enormous amount of work that you no longer have to do. You just need to figure out how nature does that work, how animals fit in there, and how to manage these animals in the way most natural to them. Then they can live their natural function and help you improve your local ecosystem. Check Joel Salatin, he's a good example.

So, Rule (or tool) number 2: observe and interact. Try things to find out what works in your particular location. Don't put your energy in keeping plants alive, find out what grows well by itself and grow more of that. Mark Shepard called this STUN, Strategic Total and Utter Neglect. You can find videos of him online where he explains.

Optimize the landscape, improve water infiltration and/or retention. Work with zones, to minimize energy losses in your work and moving around. Harness energy flows to help you make things easier (wind, water, sun, etc). The whole idea is to gain profitability by using what is already there and make it work for you. A PDC will explain that in such detail that it becomes easier to connect the dots.

Rule nr 3: it takes time, so you need to hang in there and keep on improving the circumstances. Then nature will start to figure it all out and you get to watch and interact during that process. You'll see problems emerge and getting resolved. You'll start to see the processes that go on, and you can introduce species when you recognize there is an unfilled niche that such an animal or plant can fill.

This is just an outline, there is so much more to say. But I hope it shows that it's not easy to switch from one way of doing things into the opposite. Natural processes do work, our planet is living proof of it, but restoring their functions takes time.
 
Matthew Lewis
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Mikkel, I had typed up a longer answer but somehow lost it 😣

I would recommend anything by geoff lawton, Joel Salatin, and Sepp Holtzer also.

To answer the first question I think the top 3 challenges for a permaculture farm will be work ethic, patience and government regulation.

The first 2 because in permaculture systems the work is front loaded. You do tons of work setting things up and then less work over time as the system matures but it takes patience to wait for it to mature. With a farm scale project there will be plenty of work to do up front and I feel that a lot of people just don't have the work ethic to make it through this stage which could last 5-10 years.

Point number 3 is the ever increasing regulations that prevent innovation. A good example of this would be in this video by Curtis Stone: 
 
Daron Williams
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Rene Nijstad wrote:The three challenges I think we face in permaculture are time, time and time. You can either have an existing farm that produces with chemical inputs or a non producing farm that is overgrown with weeds (nature's slow repair process) but it all boils down to the same thing, it takes time to shift things around from devastated ecosystems to healthy ecosystems. In our world time boils down to 'money', you need to finance the turn around. If foodcraft is serious about this, then your main contribution to changing to ecologically functioning food production could be to help farmers through the transition process, so they can achieve the results you're looking for. It does take investment, but that mostly comes down to the time it takes to make the shift.


Time is sure a challenge on my end that tends to manifest in a couple ways. First off my place is in its very early stages and will likely just be a hobby farm for the foreseeable future but I do aim for greatly reducing my families food costs and hopefully prevent future medical costs by having healthier food. I also want my little boy (six weeks old today!) to grow up with the land being in a state of abundance.

I have gone through the design process for my property but now the big hang up is time. With a full time job and a family to balance I don't have much time to work on improving my land. So one option I have is to spend money to help reduce the amount of time I need. I can rent heavy equipment, I can pay to bring in mulch/soil, and I could pay someone to do some of the work for me. I have rented equipment to do several projects and I have paid for soil to be brought in. So far I have gotten mulch for free and I have not paid anyone else to do work for me. I have relied on friends and family to help me on some tasks which has been a huge help but they are not always available - I might one day run workshops to both educate people and help me complete projects but that takes a lot of time to get setup and working. This means that while workshops might help down the road it is not an option in the short run. I don't have a ton of extra money so I'm limited to how often I can use money to save time. Really that seems to be the key - if I decrease the amount of money I spend then the amount of time I need goes up and if I spend more money the amount of time I need goes down. For my recent hugelkultur project I could have spent the year slowly digging through a hard compacted old gravel parking area by hand - instead I rented a mini-excavator, had some soil delivered and luckily got some free mulch delivered. This allowed me to complete the project in just a couple days and allowed me to move on to other projects that I'm doing by hand. But I did spend a fair bit of time in the months leading up to the project getting logs and other woody debris from friends, neighbors and my broader community. I could have just ordered a load of wood and had it delivered - this would have saved me a ton of time and based on what I make per hour it would likely have been "cheaper." I have explored options to get free mulch/woody debris but it is not always available and is often not available exactly when I need it - makes it hard to plan for a couple days that I can dedicate to knocking a project out if I don't know when the mulch or other item is going to be available!

My land is basically a blank slate of old pasture land - I have removed a few trees/shrubs that were either invasive or way too crowded but that work is now done. I'm planning on planting a lot of trees to coppice so I can grow woody debris on site and I eventually want to stop having any inputs but this all takes time. Should I wait 5 to 10 years to produce enough woody debris on my property for the first few hugelkultur beds? Or should I just spend the money now to get things setup while I wait for the trees to grow so I can get my land a great jump start and then transition to providing all the inputs on my property? Currently, I'm planning on using inputs from offsite (as much free sources as I can get but paying when needed) for now and use those inputs to move my land towards producing its own abundance.

My design is mostly "done" (always being adjusted based on observations) but now time is the limitation and balancing time and money is now the biggest challenge I face. On top of that is of course trying to do my work in an ethical manner - the choice that would save me the most time is not always the most ethical option. This is of course another great challenge for permaculture farmers - do we use methods that some view as going against permaculture ethics (offsite inputs as an example) to jump start our land or do we take the long road? There is always a balancing act to follow and for myself I have decided that using offsite inputs and renting fossil fuel based equipment gives me the ability to get my land from its current degraded state to a state of abundance in a timeline that works for my families needs. But I'm also making sure that I'm designing my land in a way that will eventually eliminate or at minimum greatly reduce the offsite inputs that I'm using. Balancing ethics, time and money are my three main challenges and I'm going to be struggling with finding the correct balance for years to come.
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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James Freyr wrote:Matthew- I was at it quite a long time before improving my soil, but yes, you are absolutely right about the biodiversity. While improving my soil did play a role, and biodiversity also plays a role, the largest single change with noticeable results was stopping the use of pesticides. Even though the pesticides I used were OMRI listed controls such as insecticidal soap containing potassium salts, they're still not selective in how they work. The year following the year I quit killing bugs was when the abundance of life arrived. That's when nature in the amazing way it works started striking a balance. I grew up and started gardening with the notion that bugs and weeds are bad, and you don't want any in your garden, and they way you deal with them is with chemicals. Man was I naive. Having a few holes in leaves here and there or maybe one or two defoliated stems from a caterpillar is part of gardening. When crops fail because of excessive holes in leaves or entire plants are defoliated, something is not in balance anymore. That's what I needed to learn.

Mikkel- I started of course with the internet. We all know the internet contains unreliable, or in some cases downright false information. I have found university extension websites to be reliable, but I get fatigued sitting in a chair reading a computer screen for excessive periods of time. I wanted to learn from books, and I found my books on the web. I much prefer sitting on my comfy couch turning paper pages in a book with a cup of hot tea and a cat in my lap. I also subscribe to a number of gardening and homesteading magazines, but I must say the Acres, U.S.A. monthly magazine contains the most useful information in regards to growing food crops. They also publish quite a variety of useful books, and I've purchased many from them. I knew broad spectrum "how to garden" books weren't going to contain the more detailed and intricate science that I was seeking. I knew I had to understand soil and everything going on in it to be a successful gardener, and believe me, I may never know everything going on in it. I've learned a lot and by applying what I've learned in my garden I'm seeing positive results.


Although, you prefer reading books, have you ever tried taking an online course? I've seen a few out there on permaculture.

I see a lot of interplay between theory and practice in what you're doing. And anything else would be strange, when it has something to do with plants, animals and so forth. However, in terms of gaining knowledge, is there a difference in how you choose your sources, whether it is a practical or a more theoretical question at hand?
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Rene Nijstad wrote:
Mikkel Nielsen wrote:
Thank you Rene for your input. I would like to go a bit deeper into the transition process you emphasize, if you'll allow me. Usually, when we want to change things or do things differently, it requires use to leverage new "tools". And by "tools", I mean skills, knowledge, information and so forth. In your view, what are the most important skills needed to manage this transition?

To quote Einstein: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results".


That's not an easy question to answer. Let me start with a realisation people need to have to work in regenerative agriculture: nature runs the show, not you. Bill Mollison said something like: we cannot create anything, we don't have that power, we only have the power of assembly. Other people already mentioned soil, soil life and biodiversity. So we find ourselves as humans on a living planet that evolved through millions of years, through biodiversity and through a web of connections between all that lives. When we push nature into a straightjacket as we did for the past centuries, she either pushes back (plagues, disease, climate change) or she dies, locally, from too much interference, like desertification, soil degradation etc.

So the first rule or tool is: work with nature instead of against her.

Now to make sense of this in a more business like way, there is a huge advantage here that can be easily overlooked. If nature runs the show she does an enormous amount of work that you no longer have to do. You just need to figure out how nature does that work, how animals fit in there, and how to manage these animals in the way most natural to them. Then they can live their natural function and help you improve your local ecosystem. Check Joel Salatin, he's a good example.

So, Rule (or tool) number 2: observe and interact. Try things to find out what works in your particular location. Don't put your energy in keeping plants alive, find out what grows well by itself and grow more of that. Mark Shepard called this STUN, Strategic Total and Utter Neglect. You can find videos of him online where he explains.

Optimize the landscape, improve water infiltration and/or retention. Work with zones, to minimize energy losses in your work and moving around. Harness energy flows to help you make things easier (wind, water, sun, etc). The whole idea is to gain profitability by using what is already there and make it work for you. A PDC will explain that in such detail that it becomes easier to connect the dots.

Rule nr 3: it takes time, so you need to hang in there and keep on improving the circumstances. Then nature will start to figure it all out and you get to watch and interact during that process. You'll see problems emerge and getting resolved. You'll start to see the processes that go on, and you can introduce species when you recognize there is an unfilled niche that such an animal or plant can fill.

This is just an outline, there is so much more to say. But I hope it shows that it's not easy to switch from one way of doing things into the opposite. Natural processes do work, our planet is living proof of it, but restoring their functions takes time.


Thank you, Rene, for your thorough answer. It's amazing to see someone put that much effort into answering your question.

It's interesting that you put in some names and links, because I would actually love to know, where you find your knowledge? As you mention, it is a long process and one of your most important tasks is to watch and learn. And when you engage yourself in this kind of activity, you must every now and then encounter a problem etc. that you do not exactly how to solve. Where do you go then for advice or new information (apart from this forum)? And have you ever undertaken an online course?
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Matthew Lewis wrote:Mikkel, I had typed up a longer answer but somehow lost it 😣

I would recommend anything by Geoff lawton, Joel Salatin, and Sepp Holtzer also.

To answer the first question I think the top 3 challenges for a permaculture farm will be work ethic, patience and government regulation.

The first 2 because in permaculture systems the work is front loaded. You do tons of work setting things up and then less work over time as the system matures but it takes patience to wait for it to mature. With a farm scale project there will be plenty of work to do up front and I feel that a lot of people just don't have the work ethic to make it through this stage which could last 5-10 years.

Point number 3 is the ever increasing regulations that prevent innovation. A good example of this would be in this video by Curtis Stone: 


No worries, I appreciate what you've given me here

Good to get to know some of the "go-to guys" in permaculture. I've stumbled upon their names before and I will inform myself a bit more as soon as possible. And it's interesting that you've linked a Curtis Stone-video. When I was researching Urban Farming, he popped up all the time. He seems to be a thougt leader in that space.

Going back to the three gentlemen. Where do you find your information on permaculture, apart from what you find with them and here? And what's your experience with online courses, if any?
 
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Daron Williams wrote:
Rene Nijstad wrote:The three challenges I think we face in permaculture are time, time and time. You can either have an existing farm that produces with chemical inputs or a non producing farm that is overgrown with weeds (nature's slow repair process) but it all boils down to the same thing, it takes time to shift things around from devastated ecosystems to healthy ecosystems. In our world time boils down to 'money', you need to finance the turn around. If foodcraft is serious about this, then your main contribution to changing to ecologically functioning food production could be to help farmers through the transition process, so they can achieve the results you're looking for. It does take investment, but that mostly comes down to the time it takes to make the shift.


Time is sure a challenge on my end that tends to manifest in a couple ways. First off my place is in its very early stages and will likely just be a hobby farm for the foreseeable future but I do aim for greatly reducing my families food costs and hopefully prevent future medical costs by having healthier food. I also want my little boy (six weeks old today!) to grow up with the land being in a state of abundance.

I have gone through the design process for my property but now the big hang up is time. With a full time job and a family to balance I don't have much time to work on improving my land. So one option I have is to spend money to help reduce the amount of time I need. I can rent heavy equipment, I can pay to bring in mulch/soil, and I could pay someone to do some of the work for me. I have rented equipment to do several projects and I have paid for soil to be brought in. So far I have gotten mulch for free and I have not paid anyone else to do work for me. I have relied on friends and family to help me on some tasks which has been a huge help but they are not always available - I might one day run workshops to both educate people and help me complete projects but that takes a lot of time to get setup and working. This means that while workshops might help down the road it is not an option in the short run. I don't have a ton of extra money so I'm limited to how often I can use money to save time. Really that seems to be the key - if I decrease the amount of money I spend then the amount of time I need goes up and if I spend more money the amount of time I need goes down. For my recent hugelkultur project I could have spent the year slowly digging through a hard compacted old gravel parking area by hand - instead I rented a mini-excavator, had some soil delivered and luckily got some free mulch delivered. This allowed me to complete the project in just a couple days and allowed me to move on to other projects that I'm doing by hand. But I did spend a fair bit of time in the months leading up to the project getting logs and other woody debris from friends, neighbors and my broader community. I could have just ordered a load of wood and had it delivered - this would have saved me a ton of time and based on what I make per hour it would likely have been "cheaper." I have explored options to get free mulch/woody debris but it is not always available and is often not available exactly when I need it - makes it hard to plan for a couple days that I can dedicate to knocking a project out if I don't know when the mulch or other item is going to be available!

My land is basically a blank slate of old pasture land - I have removed a few trees/shrubs that were either invasive or way too crowded but that work is now done. I'm planning on planting a lot of trees to coppice so I can grow woody debris on site and I eventually want to stop having any inputs but this all takes time. Should I wait 5 to 10 years to produce enough woody debris on my property for the first few hugelkultur beds? Or should I just spend the money now to get things setup while I wait for the trees to grow so I can get my land a great jump start and then transition to providing all the inputs on my property? Currently, I'm planning on using inputs from offsite (as much free sources as I can get but paying when needed) for now and use those inputs to move my land towards producing its own abundance.

My design is mostly "done" (always being adjusted based on observations) but now time is the limitation and balancing time and money is now the biggest challenge I face. On top of that is of course trying to do my work in an ethical manner - the choice that would save me the most time is not always the most ethical option. This is of course another great challenge for permaculture farmers - do we use methods that some view as going against permaculture ethics (offsite inputs as an example) to jump start our land or do we take the long road? There is always a balancing act to follow and for myself I have decided that using offsite inputs and renting fossil fuel based equipment gives me the ability to get my land from its current degraded state to a state of abundance in a timeline that works for my families needs. But I'm also making sure that I'm designing my land in a way that will eventually eliminate or at minimum greatly reduce the offsite inputs that I'm using. Balancing ethics, time and money are my three main challenges and I'm going to be struggling with finding the correct balance for years to come.


Thank you for your time invested in this post, Daron. I can see why time is an issue and how this is also related to how you allow yourself to get things done. In general, there must be a lot of decisions take, over and over again. Do you ask someone for advice on what to do, or how do you inform your decisions?
 
Rene Nijstad
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Mikkel Nielsen wrote:
Thank you, Rene, for your thorough answer. It's amazing to see someone put that much effort into answering your question.

It's interesting that you put in some names and links, because I would actually love to know, where you find your knowledge? As you mention, it is a long process and one of your most important tasks is to watch and learn. And when you engage yourself in this kind of activity, you must every now and then encounter a problem etc. that you do not exactly how to solve. Where do you go then for advice or new information (apart from this forum)? And have you ever undertaken an online course?


We've taken an online PDC with Geoff Lawton. That helped us understand the basics of what we would have to deal with. Obviously that's all theory. Theory helps you to look at things in a certain way, to try to make sense of it. After that we read a lot more, other books, websites with info, searched for details on plants, trees and animals. Then there comes a point that you need less information from outside, and more from your surroundings and your land. So the reading goes down more and more and observation and interaction go up.

When we encounter a problem, we either do nothing and watch what happens, or we ask ourselves if that 'problem' is really nature trying to tell us to do something different. A permaculture quote you'll encounter a lot is "The problem is the solution" because everything works both ways. The thing is also, as soon as you interfere with natural processes you're starting to create other problems or increase your own workload. The only sensible interference is one that speeds up natural processes that are already going on.

To give a simple example: mulch to cover the ground is used a lot within permaculture. It protects the soil life from sun, wind and rain, it decomposes and as such it is food for microorganisms who then feed the plants or trees the nutrients they need. Now weeds are considered a 'problem' by a lot of farmers. What weeds really are is plants who germinate following the conditions of the soil. If there for example is a deficiency of nitrogen, only those plants that are still able to meet their needs, for example legumes, can grow and prosper. So if we allow these 'weeds' some time to grow and we slash them down after it, we get both mulch and we get nutrients that these plants were able to gather added on top of the soil. What I try to illustrate is that 'a problem' is a perception.

So, with enough basic knowledge about permaculture and enough basic knowledge of our local climate and species, we're increasingly learning from nature. Everything that lives on our land demonstrates something about the circumstances here. Our main job is to give advantage to what is important for us to grow, using as much as possible the naturally occurring flora and fauna to help us advance the species we want, without forcing the ecosystem out of balance. That my friend, is a long, but also a very exciting, process of learning.

The questions you ask sound like you expect some basic approach, or some magical answer that makes it easy. That easy answer is hidden because we people still see us and nature as somehow separated. We live our lives in our cities and houses and nature is some weird wild unpredictable thing somewhere out there. What we need to make ourselves realize better is that we are also part of nature. That's where we came from. It only makes sense to join forces with her.

We're now three years into the process of establishing our farm. I think we need two more years to be profitable, and then some more to be really comfortable. If we had to start all over, I think we could cut the time needed in half.

There is only so much I can write about here and it takes a lot of time. If you like to talk more direct, you can PM me and we can setup a call or so.
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Rene Nijstad wrote:
Mikkel Nielsen wrote:
Thank you, Rene, for your thorough answer. It's amazing to see someone put that much effort into answering your question.

It's interesting that you put in some names and links, because I would actually love to know, where you find your knowledge? As you mention, it is a long process and one of your most important tasks is to watch and learn. And when you engage yourself in this kind of activity, you must every now and then encounter a problem etc. that you do not exactly how to solve. Where do you go then for advice or new information (apart from this forum)? And have you ever undertaken an online course?


We've taken an online PDC with Geoff Lawton. That helped us understand the basics of what we would have to deal with. Obviously that's all theory. Theory helps you to look at things in a certain way, to try to make sense of it. After that we read a lot more, other books, websites with info, searched for details on plants, trees and animals. Then there comes a point that you need less information from outside, and more from your surroundings and your land. So the reading goes down more and more and observation and interaction go up.

When we encounter a problem, we either do nothing and watch what happens, or we ask ourselves if that 'problem' is really nature trying to tell us to do something different. A permaculture quote you'll encounter a lot is "The problem is the solution" because everything works both ways. The thing is also, as soon as you interfere with natural processes you're starting to create other problems or increase your own workload. The only sensible interference is one that speeds up natural processes that are already going on.

To give a simple example: mulch to cover the ground is used a lot within permaculture. It protects the soil life from sun, wind and rain, it decomposes and as such it is food for microorganisms who then feed the plants or trees the nutrients they need. Now weeds are considered a 'problem' by a lot of farmers. What weeds really are is plants who germinate following the conditions of the soil. If there for example is a deficiency of nitrogen, only those plants that are still able to meet their needs, for example legumes, can grow and prosper. So if we allow these 'weeds' some time to grow and we slash them down after it, we get both mulch and we get nutrients that these plants were able to gather added on top of the soil. What I try to illustrate is that 'a problem' is a perception.

So, with enough basic knowledge about permaculture and enough basic knowledge of our local climate and species, we're increasingly learning from nature. Everything that lives on our land demonstrates something about the circumstances here. Our main job is to give advantage to what is important for us to grow, using as much as possible the naturally occurring flora and fauna to help us advance the species we want, without forcing the ecosystem out of balance. That my friend, is a long, but also a very exciting, process of learning.

The questions you ask sound like you expect some basic approach, or some magical answer that makes it easy. That easy answer is hidden because we people still see us and nature as somehow separated. We live our lives in our cities and houses and nature is some weird wild unpredictable thing somewhere out there. What we need to make ourselves realize better is that we are also part of nature. That's where we came from. It only makes sense to join forces with her.

We're now three years into the process of establishing our farm. I think we need two more years to be profitable, and then some more to be really comfortable. If we had to start all over, I think we could cut the time needed in half.

There is only so much I can write about here and it takes a lot of time. If you like to talk more direct, you can PM me and we can setup a call or so.


It' exactly, because I do not believe there are any easy answers that I ask these seemingly dull questions. But as I am no permaculture expert, I have to ask the ones that know more than I do. You have given insights into the diversity of things and that's what I'm looking for. So, thank you.

It could to call you a later stage. For now, I'll let you go back to work. Cheers!
 
Devin Lavign
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As Mathew brought up regulations and laws, permaculture has a tendency to be cutting edge and innovative. Trying ideas that are lightyears ahead of other farming (or oddly centuries old). Government regulators tend to be quite resistant to this sort of thing. They tend to take a long time to catch up. And there is the catch 22 of, if you don't let people do X experimenting techniques testing and proving it, it is hard to get evidence to prove it is a useful method.

I would also add, funding. Similar to laws and regulations. When your on the fringe doing things not standard interesting investors, banks, grants, etc is highly unlikely. While more traditional farms can get some funding typically, the permaculture farm needs to pretty much be independent. This puts a lot of strain on the owner financially, and a little bad luck (like an illness in the family) can cause the farm to fold no fault of permaculture.

 
Travis Johnson
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I think one of the biggest challenges is that we are primarily farmers and not marketers. It is so easy to say we are going to cut out the middle man in order to gain their slice of the profit-pie, but the real question is: do many of us have the skills and contacts to do that persons job? For many of us (myself included), I do not. I think we just think that customers will come, but will they? Will they know the difference between permiculture food and organic? And if they do; do they even care? I have made some marketing mistakes like this in the past.

For me it was in forest products. Paper companies were setting up sustainable forests so they could produce sustainable paper products, an I was all about that. Sustainability! Forestry! What a marriage made in heaven. Sadly I was not the only one who was lulled into this line of thinking and spent thousands of dollars on becoming green certified. In the end, people just do not care what their latest Amazon Bought gizmo's come packaged or boxed in, as long as it arrives damage free. Now the paper mills that became green certified are now being torn down, and with it the buyer of my sustainable grown wood. Sad...

The one thing I encourage your group to do is sit down and do a SWAT analysis which stands for Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Weaknesses. How do you go about doing that? It is pretty easy, but only you and your group can answer the questions. You do that by answering the 5 W-Questions on each one. Your meeting outline would look like this. Just be honest with your answers because failing to be truthful with yourself will only result in failure. It is NOT an easy self-assessment to fill out.

And one big clue is this: without question, YOUR BIGGEST HURDLE WILL BE YOUR GREATEST ASSET. The key is how to use it to your advantage.

Strength:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Weakness:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Opportunities:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Threats:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Best wishes to you. I hope this has helped.


 
Matthew Lewis
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Mikkel Nielsen wrote:
Matthew Lewis wrote:Mikkel, I had typed up a longer answer but somehow lost it 😣

I would recommend anything by Geoff lawton, Joel Salatin, and Sepp Holtzer also.

To answer the first question I think the top 3 challenges for a permaculture farm will be work ethic, patience and government regulation.

The first 2 because in permaculture systems the work is front loaded. You do tons of work setting things up and then less work over time as the system matures but it takes patience to wait for it to mature. With a farm scale project there will be plenty of work to do up front and I feel that a lot of people just don't have the work ethic to make it through this stage which could last 5-10 years.

Point number 3 is the ever increasing regulations that prevent innovation. A good example of this would be in this video by Curtis Stone: 


No worries, I appreciate what you've given me here

Good to get to know some of the "go-to guys" in permaculture. I've stumbled upon their names before and I will inform myself a bit more as soon as possible. And it's interesting that you've linked a Curtis Stone-video. When I was researching Urban Farming, he popped up all the time. He seems to be a thougt leader in that space.

Going back to the three gentlemen. Where do you find your information on permaculture, apart from what you find with them and here? And what's your experience with online courses, if any?


I haven't taken a PDC (permaculture design course) or any formal training if that's what you are wondering. I don't think they are even necessary unless you want to be a consultant or teacher yourself. I do have a friend who teaches PDC's Infact he owes me a free PDC lol. I can ask him stuff if I ever need help.

Another great resource is the book "Permaculture: A Designers' Manual by Bill Mollison". It is pricey but you could always find a used copy or borrow it from the library. My other suggestion is just observe and interact. It is amazing what nature can teach you if you are open to it and paying attention.

An example of this; I was at a job the other day and the customer was out in the country and had several large spruce trees in his yard. It was foggy when I arrived and started work. The sun started coming out and I heard what I thought was a sprinkler system. I looked around and didn't see anything but thought it weird because we are just getting into spring where I live. The sound continued and I looked again and realised it was the frost melting off the spruce trees. For about a half hour the water poured off these trees as if it was raining. It was amazing how much moisture the trees had trapped as frost and dropped at the branch line. (Wish I had a video)

Now I already knew that trees could contribute moisture from Dew drop and frost but to see it at this level definitely expanded my understanding of it.

Happy learning!
 
Rene Nijstad
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Hi again Mikkel,

I just read an interview on regeneration international that seems to discuss what you're aiming at. Maybe it's helpful.

http://regenerationinternational.org/2017/04/04/cultivate-career-regenerative-agriculture-interview/
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Devin Lavign wrote:As Mathew brought up regulations and laws, permaculture has a tendency to be cutting edge and innovative. Trying ideas that are lightyears ahead of other farming (or oddly centuries old). Government regulators tend to be quite resistant to this sort of thing. They tend to take a long time to catch up. And there is the catch 22 of, if you don't let people do X experimenting techniques testing and proving it, it is hard to get evidence to prove it is a useful method.

I would also add, funding. Similar to laws and regulations. When your on the fringe doing things not standard interesting investors, banks, grants, etc is highly unlikely. While more traditional farms can get some funding typically, the permaculture farm needs to pretty much be independent. This puts a lot of strain on the owner financially, and a little bad luck (like an illness in the family) can cause the farm to fold no fault of permaculture.



Back in the loop from my holidays . And thank you for your input, Devin.

I see your point. Although it is a totally different case, Uber has somehow seen the same resistance within the system (at least in Denmark), because they are doing things in an innovative way. And the law is never able to keep up with the pace of innovation.
Regulations are difficult to change however, but you still have to handle them. In your personal experience, how do you try to deal with this challenge of laws and regulations?

You also mention a second challenge, the one of funding. I see from your profile that you have your own 40 acres. How did you go about funding in your case?
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Travis Johnson wrote:I think one of the biggest challenges is that we are primarily farmers and not marketers. It is so easy to say we are going to cut out the middle man in order to gain their slice of the profit-pie, but the real question is: do many of us have the skills and contacts to do that persons job? For many of us (myself included), I do not. I think we just think that customers will come, but will they? Will they know the difference between permiculture food and organic? And if they do; do they even care? I have made some marketing mistakes like this in the past.

For me it was in forest products. Paper companies were setting up sustainable forests so they could produce sustainable paper products, an I was all about that. Sustainability! Forestry! What a marriage made in heaven. Sadly I was not the only one who was lulled into this line of thinking and spent thousands of dollars on becoming green certified. In the end, people just do not care what their latest Amazon Bought gizmo's come packaged or boxed in, as long as it arrives damage free. Now the paper mills that became green certified are now being torn down, and with it the buyer of my sustainable grown wood. Sad...

The one thing I encourage your group to do is sit down and do a SWAT analysis which stands for Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Weaknesses. How do you go about doing that? It is pretty easy, but only you and your group can answer the questions. You do that by answering the 5 W-Questions on each one. Your meeting outline would look like this. Just be honest with your answers because failing to be truthful with yourself will only result in failure. It is NOT an easy self-assessment to fill out.

And one big clue is this: without question, YOUR BIGGEST HURDLE WILL BE YOUR GREATEST ASSET. The key is how to use it to your advantage.

Strength:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Weakness:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Opportunities:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Threats:
Who:
What:
When:
Where:
Why:
(How):

Best wishes to you. I hope this has helped.




Hi Travis. Great to see some practical suggestions in addition to challenges. Luckily, I have some experience doing a SWOT analysis and it is very good for summing up, what you have learned so far.

Just to clarify, are you a permaculture farmer yourself?

In your post, you mentioned that the biggest challenge is farmers not being marketers. Now that you have had some experience with forest products, how would you go about it today? How would you improve your decision making when a new opportunity arises, or where would you look for advice on what to do?
 
Mikkel Nielsen
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Rene Nijstad wrote:Hi again Mikkel,

I just read an interview on regeneration international that seems to discuss what you're aiming at. Maybe it's helpful.

http://regenerationinternational.org/2017/04/04/cultivate-career-regenerative-agriculture-interview/


Thanks Rene. I read the full article and it covers many of the things, we're looking into at the moment. Really informative!
 
Maureen Atsali
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My three biggest challenges?  1) Labor and time management.  2) finances (stick marketing in here) 3) lack of community and support
 
Travis Johnson
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Mikkel Nielsen wrote:Just to clarify, are you a permaculture farmer yourself?


I think so, though it is kind of hard to say. I currently practice a lot of permiculture principals, but we have always called them by a different names: same practices, just different names. For instance after 2 hurricanes and a gale came back to back, half the swales on my farm were installed the following year to prevent soil erosion; the year was 1954!! Last year I installed a half mile more in some area that were formerly forest cleared into fields. That is just one example, but we have practiced keyline farming for generations, along with rotational grazing, crop rotation, food forests, and self-sustainable living.

I can say with true honesty that the only people who I ever met who were 100% self-sufficient were my grandparents. Their main commodity was 50,000 broiler chickens and potatoes, but they also had a greenhouse they sold plants out of, logged in the winter months, raised pigs, sheep, and cows, the latter of which they made butter from which they sold, and of course raised beef cows. They also put up 25 cord of wood so they could heat the house, greenhouse and basement, and even made woolen items to sell at craft fairs in the summer. In other words they were poor, though I never knew it until I went to school! Funny how kids are quick to point that out, then somewhere along the line we "made it", though that was a relative term. We soon were leasing the farm to dairy farmers in the area, working real jobs, and soon buying food from the store and getting divorced and never seeing each other unless it was a wedding or a funeral. Yep, as I said, we had "made it".

Now...we have returned to our roots and are much better for it. As Thelka McDaniels says, "I managed to escape the golden handcuffs." Not 100% where I should be, but now farming 100% full-time and managing...a tough winter for us...but managing, just as my ancestors did when they arrived in the 1700's here.
 
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