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106 Acre Profitable Permaculture Farm - Interview with Mark Shepard  RSS feed

 
Todd Hoff
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Really a wonderful interview at: http://thesociocapitalist.com/2581/mark-shepard-interview-profitable-permaculture/

Shares a lot of the same ideas as sepp holzer, just translated to the savannas of Wisconsin. His site: http://www.forestag.com/index.html

Some points that stood out to me:

1. Annual agriculture is an input based agriculture. Perennial agriculture is a yield based agriculture. Take savannah biomes and the animals go in and do the work for us. Start with cattle, hogs, sheep, turkeys. No fossil fuel inputs into the system. Harvest carbohydrates, proteins and oils off of trees for food or fuel. Livestock will be eating all the grasses and forages underneath it. Woody crops can capture 7 times the energy as annuals. Not anyone crop can be crop on total yield but can be beat on total production.

2. *Treat trees like hurds*. Breeding is involved. Nature provided us the plant families, but the specific varieties that do well under our conditions: complete neglect, pest and disease free, adapted to the site. This is all breading work. Constantly bringing in new genetics and getting rid of genetics that don't work. Very different than how it's been done. Now we just plant one variety and done. Not how we do it anymore. We are constantly looking for new varieties. Reproduce very young with heavy crops and pest free.

3. Doesn't plant in traditional rows. Has a jungle. Synergies. Apples, pears, grapes, chestnuts, currents, comfrey, irises, roses, in rows by height. Creates a 3 dimensional system of birds trying to get at insects. Frogs and toads are at the bottom eating bugs. Pest control kills the amphibians. So by doing pest control you are getting rid of natural pest control. At night there are bats. Good luck getting to apples insects. Has all the pests and diseases you can imagine but they never boom because they don't have too much of anyone species.

4. Completely against composting.  A them of late.

5. Brings up the role of observation as key to success. A theme that I hear everywhere.

6. Earthshaping to maximize relationship of water to land. Capture the water, keep it on the land, so it can be used by the trees. Create miles of water collecting swales. Spread water through swales from the valleys to the ridges. Make pocket ponds to handle the surge of big rains. Hits swales and spreads out and stays there. Rodent holes stores water as well.
 
Emerson White
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toddh wrote:
Annual agriculture is an input based agriculture. Perennial agriculture is a yield based agriculture. Take savannah biomes and the animals go in and do the work for us.

I disagree strongly with this sentiment. In both annual and perennial agriculture you need to pay attention to both inputs and yields. Even perennials need inputs, like land and sun and water.
 
Paul Cereghino
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He started by reseaching native plant ecology.
He buys in rock powder and reads Albrecht
He still grows 2 acres of annuals
He thinks about and works with cashflow
He alley crops during transition from annual to perennial, and grows his polyculture in rows.
He drives around his farm
The interviewer kept saying 'sweet!' and didn't talk to him about his balance sheet or how he harvests his hazelnuts in a polyculture without paying handpickers.

We'll get there eventually.
 
Paul Cereghino
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"Any student in any Permaculture course that you teach, can go out and within 18 months buy land and establish a profitable Permaculture paradise. The skills they need to do that, however aren’t taught in the permaculture design course (PDC) curriculum."

Interesting observation.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Paul Cereghino wrote:
"Any student in any Permaculture course that you teach, can go out and within 18 months buy land and establish a profitable Permaculture paradise.


That's impressive!  Within 18 months! 

 
Emerson White
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Only if they can get reasonable financing!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yep, seems like financial outlay will be terrific with buying the land plus all the earth-shaping, planting trees, buying livestock etc. 
 
Paul Cereghino
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Not without risk.  Perhaps this is a venture capitalist world view.  It is essentially a 'grass fed beef' enterprise plan, with additional long-term investment in other product lines, and a big smear of green investing, maybe some carbon credits to boot.  Land is cheaper in the right location.  In venture capital, finance is everything.  Where can a rich person who wants a green investment option put high risk money these days?  Maybe you pick the right parcel to cash in on any incentive programs for habitat as well.
 
                    
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well im not sure of the 18 months or the financial outlay. if one starts with a small nest egg and no thought of comfort, one can subsist off their land with a minimal investment in seeds, foraging skills, books, and camping equipment. in this model one can purchase a book on woody plant propagation and begin starting plantings from age 0. a few chickens, a dairy goat, some annuals, and perhaps some good scouting for walnuts, serviceberry, acorns and whatnot and this former hobo can appleseed his land. in a few years should be pretty productive
 
Luke Miller Callahan
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Location: Eugene, Oregon
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Hi all!

I'm glad the interview was benficial for you, I am just getting into permaculture and loving learning about it. I will be doing more interviews with permaculture experts in the future, and I would love suggestions for questions and how to improve from all of you!

Also, Paul,  I'll try to work on the number of times I say "sweet!" in the interviews... and my life!
 
John Polk
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Thanks.  I hear so much from the urban/suburban food forest segment up to several acres.  It was nice to hear from a much larger scale operation.  I believe that this trend will continue to grow, but growth will be slow until the time that fossil fuels become so costly that the present scenario is no longer viable economically.  The sad fact is that, most folks will not change until they have been smacked in the wallet so hard that it hurts.  When (tasteless) store bought tomatoes reach $8/lb, everybody will want to grow them on their balcony.
 
Paul Cereghino
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@Luke  --   glad you didn't take offense.  Thank you for what you do!

I think there is a very important lurking issue here at the intersection of money, energy cost, ecosystem services, and farm model.

The permaculture community acts like it has the conceptual corner on the 'regenerative culture' market -- but it is still MOSTLY conceptual.  It seems like when it comes to commodity production (as in the stuff we need to stay alive), some of us are spectators, some of us have various levels of home production going on, some of us advocate individual survivalism, but VERY VERY few of us are actually producing primary foodstuffs except in a 'row crop truck farm' or 'field crop with combine' model.

Even the aforementioned interviewee is not in the business of producing commodities for market.

For any 'ecological design community' focussed on agriculture to be viable, it has to offer viable business models for bridging from now into some target future.  Wouldn't that transition have to hit certain labor efficiency targets across a energy cost curve.  Wouldn't that transition require robust economic analysis?  Wouldn't we need to analyze resilience of such a model to trends in labor and energy costs?

It might take someone like Luke to explore these kinds of issues.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Paul Cereghino wrote:
  It seems like when it comes to commodity production (as in the stuff we need to stay alive), some of us are spectators, some of us have various levels of home production going on, some of us advocate individual survivalism, but VERY VERY few of us are actually producing primary foodstuffs except in a 'row crop truck farm' or 'field crop with combine' model.

Even the aforementioned interviewee is not in the business of producing commodities for market.


I guess I wonder if the production of commodities is compatible with permaculture and vice versa.  If by "permaculture" we mean " the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way" (Bill Mollison) it's hard for me to reconcile this with the production of tons of uniform product which can be shipped to remote markets.  I can see permaculture providing the stuff we need to stay alive - calories and nutrients - in the context of food-growing integrated with human habitation,  but not "commodities."   

 
Paul Cereghino
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That is consistent with my intended use of the term 'commodity'... simply that you are growing it for exchange rather than consumption... no need for uniformity or remote markets.  My town has a thriving and growning local food commodity market based on an organic row crop truck farm model.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ok, thank you for clarifying. 

 
Luke Miller Callahan
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I completely agree.

I am still very new to the permaculture system. (didnt know Mollison's name until November '10).

I know permaculture is the right way to tend the land, very sure of that.

I want to learn enough about it so that I can have an educated debate with somebody who is pro-industrial ag. I know a bit now, but more real life do-ers would certainly help the cause. Currently, Cuba is a great source for that... and soon Detroit?


Also, I will be posting an interview with the big cat Paul Wheaton tomorrow, so hopefully you enjoy that!




 
Tyler Ludens
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LukeMillerCallahan wrote:

I know permaculture is the right way to tend the land, very sure of that.



Personally, and this is just me, I think there are lots of "right ways" to live with the land, but no "one right way".  

Some other ways:

Fukuoka Natural Farming

GrowBiointensive Gardening

Holistic Management

and many others.....



 
Casey Halone
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toddh wrote:

4. Completely against composting.  A them of late.



what about stuffs from the kitchen? For those of us who dont have animals to eat em? i do want to train rabbits to eat stuff i dont.
 
Luke Miller Callahan
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@H Ludi Tyler:

There are lots of "right" ways to tend the land. Working with nature instead of against is the founding principle that I relate to permaculture but it certainly is prevalent in many other methods.


Good catch
 
Tyler Ludens
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Casey Halone wrote:
what about stuffs from the kitchen? For those of us who dont have animals to eat em?


Worm bins? 
 
Wyatt Smith
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Mark Shepard points out that a Savanna has more photosynthesizing surface area than any other landscape. A jungle only gets light in the canopy. On a Savanna overstory trees are stacked with understory trees bushes and grass. Mark's farm in Wisconsin is ripped following keylines and planted to trees on the same lines. He works hard to get new things going. But perennial plants will only survive on his farm if they can tolerate STUNG - sheer total utter neglect.
 
Brandis Roush
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Casey Halone wrote:
what about stuffs from the kitchen? For those of us who dont have animals to eat em?


Worm bins? 


I've met and worked briefly with Mark Shepard. He's pretty amazing. He's not "completely" against composting, he's just against it as the sole, miracle soil transformer many growing methods make it out to be. Basically he's against anything that can't be scaled up (a lot like what Joel Salatin says...). His whole "thing" is that most home and small scale permaculturists live in a dream land, and that most of our ideas should be abandoned because they don't scale up. While you're right, there is no "right" way to tend the land, we can all agree that commercial agriculture, even when organic, is NOT the right way. He knows this, he sees it, and he is working to change it, both by setting the example with his own farm and by teaching others. If we want to change the way our food is raise on a large scale level, we need to work on developing methods that scale up. We need to start thinking bigger- even those of us just looking to produce more of our own food.

Take rain barrels for example. One of the first thing many of us do when we start permaculture is to get rain barrels. What we don't realize is that the average roof dumps off over 1000 gallons of water during a 1 inch rain. Most rain barrels are 100 gallons or less. Same with the traditional guild setup vs. his alley cropping- the alley cropping he does accomplishes the same end (biodiversity) in an efficient layout that is easy to manage and harvest, and allows other crops or livestock to be raised and easily managed in between.

And just generally he is an amazing guy. I did a two day workshop with him this past Spring and learned more in those two days than in all my other reading, studying, and doing concerning permaculture- not just factual information, but new ways of thinking.

You can rail against "commodity" farming all you want, but someone has to raise food for the masses. Just because he is raising food en mass, though, doesn't make it comparable to commodity farming.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Brandis Roush wrote:His whole "thing" is that most home and small scale permaculturists live in a dream land, and that most of our ideas should be abandoned because they don't scale up.


Only a very tiny percentage of the population are farmers (in the US it is 1-2%) or own large tracts of land, so to me it makes little sense to say that most of our small scale methods should be abandoned because they don't scale up, when the vast majority of people are dealing with small-scale spaces. I think people working with large tracts of land should use methods appropriate to large tracts of land and those of us with small tracts of land or yards should use methods appropriate to small spaces. There is no "one size fits all" solution in permaculture, in my opinion.

 
Alex Ames
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Brandis Roush wrote:His whole "thing" is that most home and small scale permaculturists live in a dream land, and that most of our ideas should be abandoned because they don't scale up.


Only a very tiny percentage of the population are farmers (in the US it is 1-2%) or own large tracts of land, so to me it makes little sense to say that most of our small scale methods should be abandoned because they don't scale up, when the vast majority of people are dealing with small-scale spaces. I think people working with large tracts of land should use methods appropriate to large tracts of land and those of us with small tracts of land or yards should use methods appropriate to small spaces. There is no "one size fits all" solution in permaculture, in my opinion.



Yes, we don't all have to scale up. The difficulty with making profit with permaculture is in finding ways to scale up.

As long as I have adequate income permaculture can make my diet more interesting, healthier and better tasting than
what I can buy anywhere else. It can save me money on my grocery bill because many items are growing abundantly
in my kitchen garden. The very diversity of it all makes it nearly impossible to scale up. To do that you have to focus on something
that you grow in a way closer to a monoculture. I have to show my wife where I have planted the cilantro. There is a patch
here, one over there and some on the outside of the fence. If I were to decide to take cilantro to the local farmer's market to sell you
can bet it would be in a row and there would be far more of it planted. I would have to focus on it and make it efficient.



 
Tyler Ludens
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I think you can plant things in rows and still have the system fit into permaculture, I think of Skeeter Pilarski's gardens as an example of this; he grows commercially.
 
osker brown
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I think the Skeeter agroforestry videos on youtube are a good example of "somewhere in between" small scale polycultures and scaled up production gardens.

I think there are wildly divergent methods to scale up production methods. Mark Shepard seems excited about mechanical processing, which is fine and probably necessary to fulfill a goal of feeding the populous. On my farm I am trying to engage folks in the production, harvesting, and processing of their own food. This is generally thought to be impossible in our culture of expensive labor costs. My hope is that by cultivating an empowering new mythology about our sacred relation to the plants that co-evolved with our ancestors I can leverage human energy to close my loops (i.e. pay the bills, cycle the nutrients, harvest the acorns, etc.).

Mark Shepard's model is great, and he is a great inspiration, but I think there is a potential for a more drastic paradigm shift than simply annual crops to woody crops.

peace
 
Tyler Ludens
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osker brown wrote: I think there is a potential for a more drastic paradigm shift than simply annual crops to woody crops.


That's how I feel, oskar. I don't think this will happen overnight, but I envision a future in which most people are involved in some way with growing their food, either in their yard, community gardens, or on a neighboring farm, and that the work is fun, healthy, and beautiful, and improves the quality of life of all people. That food will be growing around all people everywhere, giving peace, freedom and security. This is idealistic, I admit, but it is possible eventually, I think.

 
He was giving me directions and I was powerless to resist. I cannot resist this tiny ad:
Permaculture Playing Cards by Paul Wheaton and Alexander Ojeda
https://permies.com/wiki/57503/digital-market/digital-market/Permaculture-Playing-Cards-Paul-Wheaton
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