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City Living as the Best Permaculture Move  RSS feed

 
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OK, so the article doesn't necessarily mention "permaculture", but it talks a lot about sustainability.  It's a really dense article, with many links to other resources.  A good read for sure.

http://grist.org/living/the-missed-opportunity-of-a-tiny-tidy-life/

In my musings about permaculture, I arrived at the idea that the best model (in my humble opinion, of course ) is development of a small, English-style village surrounded by farmland that the community worked to sustain itself.  I even designed one that fits in a four-acre square and has a wall around it (as a nod to a possible future that includes roving bands of zombies, but mostly as a way to keep critters out).  Even the smallest amount of urban infrastructure can create a place to live that's sustainable for everyone there.

Village.jpg
[Thumbnail for Village.jpg]
Village
 
J.D. Ray
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As an aside, I've also done some work on a spreadsheet to calculate (in some detail) how much land would be required to support such a village.  I still have to work through the energy production bit, but so far it looks like an 80-acre parcel is enough to suit the needs of 32 households, each with 3.3 persons (on average).  These numbers presume a current American-style diet level of consumption, which I presume is nearly the most energy intensive in the world.

Community Farm Design

Households 32
Household Size (Avg) 3.3
Community Size 106

Annualized Per Capita Consumption
Meat 200 lb
Eggs 250 ea
Dairy 800 lb
Produce 700 lb
Grains 200 lb
Energy kw

Acreages
Housing 1.8
Infrastructure 1.6
Produce 6.9
Grains 10.6
Livestock 57.7
Energy Production
Total Acres Required 78.6

Now, having said that, I think that you'd really need a 120-160 acre parcel so you had room to do some large-scale rotation.  But a well-designed rotation plan could get it done on 80 acres too, it would just take more work.
 
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I'd love to hear more about it, and your calculations, sounds fascinating!
 
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How about clothing production?
 
J.D. Ray
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Clothing and other "inedible consumables" aren't taken into account here, and should be for long-term survival of the community.  Any thoughts around this?

Depending on the livestock consumption model chosen, raw materials for certain types of clothing would come as a result of livestock management (wool, leather, etc.).  Hemp, of course, would be a good renewable fiber product, but it has certain regulatory burdens in some places.  Cotton, as far as I understand, destroys the soil it's planted in.  Other fiber products would depend on region.

My goal for this design project isn't to come up with some "survivability" environment, but one where a small community could thrive long term, even grow if it's done in a managed fashion.  You'll note in the graphic that the individual houses are spaced evenly; the spacing is the same width as a house so that other houses can be built between them if density becomes an issue.  I need to rotate the houses so the roofline runs parallel to the roadway so if houses are built between, guttering doesn't become an issue.  Or use an alternative design that doesn't use the same type of roofline.

Energy

As I mentioned, I want to put some effort into figuring out how much energy this community would consume.  It's fairly easy to look up electricity consumption per household using an American (e.g. "excessive") consumption model.  I would use this for planning because it's the most conservative measure (i.e. "plan for the worst").  But I don't know how to figure out how much energy to plan for the small scale industries, such as food storage and processing, a machine shop/smithy, a school, community resources like restaurants, or anything else that gets added in.  If anyone has any input on energy consumption, I'd appreciate it.  I'm planning a multi-type energy production system, to include a solar array (solar panel lifespan and replacement is out of scope) and a number of thermal conversion mechanisms (biogas/biomass --> combustion engine --> electricity + heat) that can consume farm products and release the captured solar energy (which is what biomass primarily is).  So ultimately I need "energy consumed" to be expressed as BTUs (MMBTUs) and kW, and we can figure out from there how to get them.

More later.

Cheers.

JD
 
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Hi, I'm loving and experimenting on a 0.22 acre plot to see how far I can push the possibilities of this. At a breif glance your numbers look good, maybe a little high, but better safe than sorry. So, maybe fiber isn't so hard to add in. Like you said, sheep or other edible animals. As for energy, I think the best thing is to set up the place energy smart. So, insulation, properly placed windows, etc. Cold storage and venting, etc. I have to get going, but maybe I'll post more on this later. The trick is to make current cities into this.
 
J.D. Ray
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I don't want to change the world, just my little corner of it.  I'd like the world to change, and will contribute to that change, but I won't expect it.
 
raven ranson
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I think this is a neat idea that would benefit from adding textiles to it.  Most clothing textiles can be grown as part of a food production - even to the point that it benefits and increases food yield. For example, silk production requires trees (mulberries for domestic silk moths but there are about 4 dozen other types of trees that will work depending on the part of the world it's in).  The silk moths poo which fertilises, the larvae can be eaten or fed to livestock or fish...The trees used to feed the silkmoths can also produce food or building materials (like maple syrup, mulberries).  Choosing sheep that also produce a half decent wool would help increase soil fertility, feed meat and milk, as well as cloth the population.  There are lots of exciting ways to work textiles into a system like this, but what would actually work depends on the location.  

For example, where I am it makes no sense to grow hemp.  Hemp takes more soil fertility and water (irrigation) than flax and produces a coarser fibre.  Flax (which makes linen cloth) produces a fine fibre, using natural rainfall patterns, and is less ecologically damaging to process into fibre - at my location.  Other parts of the world, hemp makes more sense... except with hemp, it often requires a harsh chemical treatment to be next-to-the-skin-soft whereas flax and nettles can naturally be that soft.  Stinging nettles produce a softer and finer fibre than flax, but not as strong.  Cotton can grow very well without excessive irrigation.  It used to be grown in places with very little rainfall and in a poor quality soil - and it thrived!  
 
J.D. Ray
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Is it reasonable to get things distilled down to "yards of cloth per acre of [some fiber crop]"?  Say something like "10 square yards of medium-weight flaxen cloth per acre of flax planted".
 
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What part of the world are you describing here in these plans?  In my area 57.7 acres will run two cows for a year when it rains enough.  I'm not doubting you, just curious where you are at.
 
J.D. Ray
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We live in the Pacific Northwest.  I grew up in the Willamette Valley in Oregon; one of the most fertile places in the country.  However, I based my production rates on some U.S. Dept. of Agriculture average farm values, squinting slightly to make useable numbers (simplifying units, rounding a bit, etc.).
 
raven ranson
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J.D. Ray wrote:Is it reasonable to get things distilled down to "yards of cloth per acre of [some fiber crop]"?  Say something like "10 square yards of medium-weight flaxen cloth per acre of flax planted".



This is a fantastic question.  One I've done a lot of research and experimenting with.

Short answer: it depends.

Long answer: will fill several books.  

Somewhere in between answer: If the textile production is well integrated with a sustainable food system (preferably one that includes textiles from the start), then take those official numbers of 'agriculture average farm values' and add about 10 to 20%.  In a fully functioning system with an experienced fibre farmer to guide you, it probably won't take any extra land than food production - but it's more likely we are starting with inopportune soils and set up.  There is also a learning curve to textile production.  

How many yards per acre?  Can we calculate it how much space per adult textile needs?  This is how most of history looks at cloth production.  An adult needs clothing, bedding, towels, and other bits of cloth here and there.  So long as the system isn't vegan (if it is vegan, you'll need to change my above number to +50%), then assume at least one main plant and one main animal crop.  For my location, that's flax and wool.  Let's look at them closer.  

Wool.  An average sheep can produce between 1 to 2 kilogrammes of finished cloth per year.  That's about one cowichan sweater per sheep, or with a very fine yarn, enough fabric to make up to 10 t-shirts.  You can get an idea by weighing clothing you already have to get a better idea.  Historically, clothes were much better made than they are now.  People had fewer clothes, most people having two outfits (one for work, one for Sunday best).  These clothes would last years.  Modern day ideas on clothing are very different, so the numbers from sustainable traditional farming practices don't apply well to modern people - but the modern numbers for cloth production don't take into account 'stacking functions'.  In the past, the wool from two sheep per person would do nicely.

Another challenge is the land.  When I moved here, one sheep per two acres was really pushing it.  The land was terrible.  But the sheep improved the land and I'm now about to host 5 sheep per acre.  

Stacking functions with sheep:
graze them under the fruit trees to reduce pests and diseases in the trees as well as fertilise them.
Other times of the year, graze them on fallow fields after harvest to increase soil fertility.
The rest of the year, they mow the lawn.
they provide meat, milk, wool, soil fertility, and other products.

Flax.  This takes dedicated space when it's growing but can be worked into a crop rotation.  Traditionally, they suggest 1 hectare per family, but I don't know if that much is necessary and I don't know if that was every year or once every seven years.  When we first started growing flax, there was a lot of waste when processing the fibre.  The learning curve is steep.  

If I was growing flax for my own household needs, I would grow 1/4 acre most years.  

Flax also produces mulch/animal bedding.  Oil from the seeds (fibre flax seeds are harvested immature, so the germination isn't great, but it is great for oil), livestock fodder from the oilseed cake, food and medicine for people and animals.  lots of things.

I don't know if that helps or not.  It gives a general idea of what 'it depends' looks like and how we can work some of these things into a food production system.
 
raven ranson
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Another source of inspiration might be the book just enough. It includes architecture, farming, community ideas, all very much like you are proposing here.  It's a history book, and the success story it tells might be useful.
 
J.D. Ray
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Thanks, I just ordered it.
 
J.D. Ray
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Finding information on clothing consumption is difficult, let alone other consumption issues.  So I'm going to build another sheet in the workbook and pull several numbers straight out of my anatomy.  Reviewers can throw poo at them later. I'll capture it, put it in the biogas digester, and make energy out of it.
 
J.D. Ray
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So, as promised, here are some numbers for consumables.  Any suggestions for categories are welcome.  I left out metals on purpose.  This is for the previously-stated community size of 106 persons.

Consumables

Annual Per Person (lb)Annual Requirement (lb)Units Per AcreAcres Required
Textiles202,1201,3001.6
Finished Wood252,6509,0000.3
Ceramics252,6508,712,0000.0
Leather101,0601,0001.1
Total3.0


I actually did some research and came up with "reasonable" units per acre.  For instance, an acre of a clay pit with a six-foot deep clay band produces 8,712,000 pounds of clay that, when dried, weighs 100 pounds per cubic foot (which it does, according to the Engineer's Toolbox).

Suggestions?

Cheers.

JD
 
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