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Is anyone really doing permaculture?  RSS feed

 
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I just got around to this thread and read most of it...

Before I owned land of my own, I spent two summers working 8 hours a week on a CSA farm, in exchange for a share. The farm was half an acre and had only one full-time farmer plus two of us 8-hour helpers. The full-time farmer was a middle-aged woman who worked 4 hours in the morning and another 4 in the evening and used no power tools nor livestock. She fed 17 families from this farm.

This experience was my real introduction to permaculture, before I ever attended a PDC or read the Designer's Manual. I saw first-hand that it worked, and what was involved. Yet I had no land of my own yet. Since I got land of my own, I've done a lot of experimentation. My "urban farm" is kind of a mess and not that impressive when tour groups come by, but I'm still eager to show it off because permaculture is about experimentation. Because it is based on the scientific method, verifying it yourself is part of the process. If you could just take it on faith, that would be a religion, not a science.

Everything else I had to say has been said already.
 
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Right on, P Thickens.

What I would like to see, more particularly, (since I can't resist reiterating a point ad nauseam,) are best practices organized by specializations that permies are likely to identify with.

The suburban gardener can then zero in on the experts' recommendations for the range of plausible circumstances involved in that, and so can the landed homesteaders, from Maine to Mexico, without spending incalculable time seprating wheat from tares and still not getting down to the nitty-gritty they really need to make things work.
 
Collin Vickers
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To Ben Stallings,

If you don't consider it too personal a matter, could you tell us your experiences with getting your land, pros/cons, what you would/wouldn't change if you could - that sort of thing?

Same goes for anyone else who owns their own property, or is otherwise using land for permaculture. How did you arrive at some soil to play with?

In my case, I'm renting a house with permission from the landowner to do anything I want in a prescribed area.
 
Ben Stallings
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Collin Vickers wrote:
If you don't consider it too personal a matter, could you tell us your experiences with getting your land, pros/cons, what you would/wouldn't change if you could - that sort of thing?



Well, for details, please listen to my recorded tour and see the accompanying photos. But in a nutshell, my wife and I bought our first house on 1/10 acre, primarily for its location close to her work. More than half of the land is taken up by the house, garage, and driveway, leaving less than 1/20 acre. The back yard is unusable for trees due to utilities above & below, so the food forest is growing in the front yard, much to neighbors' consternation. We had some serious drainage problems initially but solved them in the first year. If & when we shop for a new house, we'll look for a larger lot, but for now I'm content to supplement my own yard with space in neighbors' yards. I don't regard small lot size as a liability, just as an opportunity for creativity. Also, I am not interested in homesteading or self-sufficiency; I tend to agree with Toby Hemenway that permaculture is about interdependence, not independence, and so my small lot size is an opportunity to work with my neighbors instead of apart from them.
 
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She fed 17 families from this farm.



Don't mean to split hairs here....but I think it may be statements such as this that are misleading when it comes to growing ones own food and adds to the general confusion on the matter. This sounds like 17 families were provided most of their nutrition from 1/2 acre...but in reality, 1/2 acre could never provide the bulk of foods for 17 families unless those families were made of one or two people per family...even then it really would be a stretch. An average family of 4... x 17 would mean that you are providing the bulk of the nutrients on this 1/2 acre for 68 people.

Would it be more accurate to say that 17 families partook of the produce grown on 1/2 acre? If not, I could say that I fed 30+ whole families off my gardens each year because I distributed some of the produce to many different people.
 
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To fray that hair more: I don't think that statement is miss-leading at all. I read that and did not assume that those 17 families got all of their nutrition and water from that one farm. Rather that they probably each had a CSA share. To assume she is providing all the nutrition for all of those people is being a bit extreme. I wouldn't even assume most and I would still feel it was a reasonable statement since it was made in casual conversation and not quantified in a scientific paper.
 
Ben Stallings
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Thanks, Walter. Yes, 17 families got a CSA share of seasonal vegetables from the farm. I am unaware of any CSA farms that provide 100% of anyone's food.

Imagine if McDonald's had to change its "billions and billions served" sign to say "we fed one guy for 30 days once."
 
master pollinator
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Very few farms, at least in the developed world, provide 100% of anyone's food. Professional farmers in the US usually buy their food at the store, because most grow a commodity. The old fashioned diversified farm is relatively rare. Even a diversified permaculture farm like Zaytuna buys some food at the store, such as flour. The yields at Zaytuna are relatively low per acre. Geoff Lawton is ok with that because the primary purpose of Zaytuna is teaching, not food production.
 
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Part of the scientific method? The scientific method would require that careful tests be conducted of the effectiveness of permaculture's ideas, then the methods used and results found would be published.

There is a remarkable absence of published evidence regarding the effectiveness of permaculture.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Cal Edon wrote:

There is a remarkable absence of published evidence regarding the effectiveness of permaculture.



That sort of implies having read everything published about permaculture over the past 30-odd years....That's a lot of reading.......

 
Tyler Ludens
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One of my personal favorite examples of the effectiveness of permaculture is the part in the PRI "Establishing a Food Forest" DVD where Geoff Lawton goes to Bill Mollison's abandoned farm Tagari and looks at a food forest that was planted and left to fend for itself years ago. It's still growing and producing food. No abandoned cornfield could do the same.
 
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On the subject of how long does it take to see results or change in your 'earth': It has taken eight years for the circle garden (in my project pictures) to become rich black earth aprox a foot deep. Large areas of my property are still only one or two inches of worthless soil over sand.

But, I keep working at it.

I figure healing my little corner of the world and making it productive is a bit like healing my body. It takes lots of time to heal a wound and some of the crappy stuff I've done to myself over the years will never heal. But I'll make the best of it - me and my little acre and a quarter.
 
Collin Vickers
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That's true Tyler, no question about it, but the video doesn't answer many questions one might have: how big is the forest, how many years before it produced, (I'm guessing around seven, based on what Lawton says elsewhere in the presentation,) does the forest produce something edible year round, and how many calories of production would one expect to get from it?

It's probably foolhardy to expect every person with five acres to produce all the food their family needs, with a full range of complimentary ingredients, but if permies were able to establish a community model over a larger tract of land, have a few people in charge in the forest, a few in charge of the pasture, etc, and trade goods with one another, much more could be achieved.

Have a USDA inspected facility for a hundred acres of mixed use land, and say 10-20 independent farmers who market their products collectively, is much more feasible. When it's time to harvest the poultry and livestock, they can do it and get the maximum market effect by adding value, and only use the facility for a few days a year, while others can use the same facility to can their own sauces/salsas at different times of year, and so forth.

With the community model in mind, my question is this: how do we get such a thing together?

If Paul Wheaton ever does his, "I get to be dictator, take it or leave it" community, I'm in.
 
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I think Fukuoka mentioned something about how science deals with a few variables within confined conditions and natural farming (permaculture) is about a system with many variables and varied conditions. In our modern society we love to base our beliefs on science as if it had some ultimate authority but it is in fact our reliance on myopic observations and their misapplication to varied conditions which has created many of our ecological problems. I don't mean to imply that science is wrong only that it is often misapplied. When it comes to complex systems like permaculture the best tool is the human mind. Now we can do plot experiments and make recommendations for different climates and conditions but that is about it. In the end we have to be willing to fail, learn from our failure and try again. We can minimize failure with research and careful planning but even then failure will occur.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Collin Vickers wrote: the video doesn't answer many questions one might have: how big is the forest, how many years before it produced, (I'm guessing around seven, based on what Lawton says elsewhere in the presentation,)



The DVD shows food being produced from a food forest in a matter of months. Have you watched the whole thing?

In the subtropics a food forest will produce food year round. It is more difficult to have year-round production in some other climates. For instance in my climate we can have two growing periods (spring and fall) and two dormant periods (mid-summer and mid-winter). Planning for year round food is challenging here.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm asking some questions about documented evidence over at the PRI messageboard. You might get more accurate information asking over there or even emailing the staff at PRI. They might be able to direct you to some productivity data.

For instance here's an article with input and productivity stats for a backyard system: http://permaculture.org.au/2011/04/13/lessons-from-an-urban-back-yard-food-forest-experiment/
 
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In my opinion, this conversation, which is based on wanting proof that permaculture works as advertised, is sounding too much like those conversations happening forty years ago when climate change/global warming was being discussed. The idea that we could be even part of the cause was dismissed for lack of proof and continued to be dismissed by anyone who had the power to make major changes in public policy to slow the progress. Those individuals who had no doubt (and also no scientific proof) just went ahead and did what they thought right for the planet. But even now with "scientific proof" of our part in climate change it's just another news story for so many folks.
My point is, some people can't be convinced...whether their argument is to justify their lifestyle by disproving others or it's a chance to have a public platform, it doesn't matter...continuing to try to convince them of anything, in my opinion, is a waste of good energy.


edited at 6:30am...sorry for the cynicism....I feel better after a walk (insert smiley face).
 
Collin Vickers
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I don't think anyone here is advocating the existing agricultural model. We inexperienced folks, just starting out, are trying to get a handle on what reasonable expectations are.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think being more familiar with the existing examples and information might help. Like I said earlier, there's 30+ years of published material on permaculture to study if one wants to, that's a lot when you consider all the disciplines which fall under the heading "permaculture"; agroforestry, organic gardening, integrated pest management, managed rotational grazing, timber management, wildlife management, appropriate technology, passive solar design, rainwater management, Keyline design etc etc. This thread seems to view permaculture as merely an alternative agricultural model. Permaculture is a design system for integrating humans harmoniously in the landscape with productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems, at least according to the guy who invented it. So there's a lot more going on than just growing food, far more going on than just growing calories. If one is trying to learn more about productive food-growing systems, there's a lot of detailed information available from the various sub-disciplines which fall under the heading "permaculture." For instance one can get 30+ years of research on organic farming from the Rodale Institute, 30+ years of research on Biointensive gardening from Ecology Action, 30+ years of research on perennial grain systems from the Land Institute, etc etc. It would be great if there were a single clearing-house for information just labeled "permaculture" but there isn't yet that I know of. There are many many libraries of information, some of which have been compiled on the internet such as the Soil and Health Library and various other archives. For scientific study papers one might have to subscribe to journals of the various sub-disciplines (example Australian Agroforestry magazine) though there are several journal archives online. A few different sets of people are working on various permaculture information databases but I don't think anything is online yet.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Here's a study of polyculture productivity: http://oardc.osu.edu/newsitem.asp?id=3379

mtngrv.missouristate.edu/assets/commercial/​Kovach-Polyculture.pdf

 
steward
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I've just done a skim of this thread so pardon me if I've missed something. If I'm reading this right it seems to me that the question at hand is whether there is enough factual evidence available to make it worth jumping into the permaculture world AND how quickly the sting of leaving the comfort of "normal living" will go away. Further more it sounds like the major doubt is whether there will be enough success in the "short term" to justify the conversion effort.

I can speak only for myself, but YES! It's worth the transition. I've always been the type of person who's future-focused. I try to see how things are going to change and how I can make my life better considering those changes I look at the world around me and see that the risks of continuing on the "normal" path are starting to outweigh the risk of trying something new. For me it came down to one event that changed my life overnight.

I was living the typical 9-5 suburbanite life...

Five years ago I was injured in a work accident which left me without the use of my arms (mostly) for a long time. I quickly realized that my future looked pretty bleak as I was unable to do just about anything by myself. Thankfully my wife was still working and was able to pick up the slack in the bills for a while. I stayed home and tried to make each earned dollar stretch as far as it could. That is a difficult task when you produce nothing for yourself and need dollars for EVERYTHING. We knew that we'd have to make some serious changes while I had surgeries to repair damage, physical therapy to regain motion and strength and dealt with the legal battle that resulted when the company I worked for refused to own up to their obligations to me. I saw the ugly side of the business world. What some people would do or say in order to save the company a few dollars was a shock to me. Thankfully I made a lot of wise choices with money in the past so we had some savings to live off of while this all took place. I fully believe that the company I worked for thought that they could wait me out, hoping I'd go broke and drop my case. I made it clear that I'd keep doing battle even if I had to live in my truck and eat out of trash cans. They took me up on the challenge in every way possible.

Ultimately, it took over two years and a lot of stress and money to prevail in my recovery, legally and financially. I've regained most of my physical ability though not enough to be 100 percent. In the downtime, my wife and I made an exit strategy from suburbia. I never wanted to be so dependent on stores, grids, and authority ever again. I saw that one minor hiccup in any of those realms and my world could be shattered again. Perhaps next time I wouldn't be so lucky.

After all that BS we moved to a little town in Maine where we could live out a life that we had CONTROL over. I had dreams of growing all the food, generating all the energy and just living the "simple life" from here on out. I discovered that there are a lot of pitfalls along the way but at least I had some control, which is good. Shortly after our first winter, I discovered Permaculture. After all the reading, watching and learning, I began to look at things in a different way. A permaculture way I guess. I began to see that the possibilities were far more numerous than simply "farming". I realized that the soil was my top priority, not the food coming out of it. In that respect I had to change my goals somewhat. While my original intention was to grow ALL my own food as fast as possible, I soon came to the conclusion that what I should be focused on was building a resilient soil community that would continue to feed me for a lifetime.

Since then I've seen a great deal of success. This is my third growing season and I must say that I haven't had to buy any chicken, veggies or herbs since production started, so my grocery bill is less than half of what it used to be. We're able to sell some stuff as well as store a bit for winter, so the bills will remain low. There are well over 70 varieties of food plants plus chickens here now and I'm just getting started. I heat my place with wood from the surrounding property as well so oil prices don't affect me as much. I feel liberated to some degree and I worry a lot less about my future. With two young kids I feel like it's my obligation to do right by them in any way I can. I work a lot harder than I used to at it, but it's so much more rewarding than a paper paycheck. My wife works outside of the house to pay those bills that keep showing up but I don't think she'll have to do that for more than the next ten years or so. We're on track to be debt free, mortgage free and FREE free by our early forties. THAT is a great feeling!

I guess what I'm getting at in this long babbling mess is that you'll never know what permaculture will do for you until you jump in and try. I'm in no way self sufficient but I'm certainly heading in the right direction. Permaculture, to me, is more of a mindset than a set of practices to follow. It's about how you look at the world around you and whether you choose to fight it or go with the flow. While going with the flow, I've seen that the stresses and concerns that used to plague my life have begun to dissipate. I'm not majorly concerned with whether permaculture is going to make me rich or even pay all my bills. What I do know is, that at some point there won't be anything that has the ability to shatter my life overnight. The further I get in my permaculture design, the larger the buffer between me and disaster gets. That's a good place to be in my opinion.
 
steward
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I personally have not achieved success in terms of maximizing yields or turning a profit - I am a neophyte. What inspired me to Grok permacultures possibilities was watching Skeeters videos on YouTube. The model seems to suggest a keen eye toward niche marketing with self reliance and viewing a project as evolving over the decades into shifting production schemes . His videos demonstrate soil building , ecosystem development , market gardening , medicinal herb production and marketing , all developing towards self sustaining food forest and lumber harvesting. Lawtons videos certainly show this too , but Skeeters really show more of the farming economy at work . I have no idea if his plots have reached the production levels that are claimed possible , but he certainly makes success seem possible for an energetic driven individual.
 
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Hello permies! first poster here, decided I'd chime in on a good topic like this.

A little background to know where I'm coming from. I was raised on a traditional organic homestead. My dayjob is in landscape contruction. Still in my 20's and already getting sick of the city, I'm using a funds matching saving program to help me by a house and land. Many states have these and they're sometimes called IDA accounts look them up and see if you qualify.


I think permaculturists should question themselves and others like the OP did in the first post. The OP is reasonable in his expectations of an ACTUAL framework to be demonstratable testable and repeatable by anyone. That is the definition of success and I think that it will be achieved. But we have to be dilligent in weeding out the charlatans. I get very turned off by people getting too caught up in the 'saving the world' aspect of this. Saving the world is too good to be true, but it's what people want to hear when they're paying a shitload of money for some permaculture design course. I feel that way too many teachers are making money off of the ideas and the sentiments, not the actions. So many books and videos and classes.

If our aim is to propel this thinking into the mainstream and have it supplement/replace our current food system, results are the only thing that will get anyones attention. It's what got my attention in the first place when I saw a friend of mine clearing his blackberry infested property with some goats in movable paddocks. I say lets keep it organic, like this forum and make it truly a grassroots movement based on solid reasoning and not a starry eyed dogmatic lifestyle choice.
 
wayne stephen
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If you want scientific verification you can find alot of data compiled in biology that can be applied to support permie principles. Permaculture does not have to be viewed as a science unto itself. Burra posted an article about a study supporting plant guilds. Soil building is based on established facts. Soil engineering , animal husbandry , horticulture. Alan Chadwicks deep bed experiments . Archeology. Economics. The science is there you just have to apply it to the components of permaculture. Then there is art and the creative process , people taking risks , proceeding on hunches , taking clues from dreams . If it works it will later be verified by science. Personally I have found we can be as scientific as Newton - but nature will either cooperate with you or it won't .
 
Judith Browning
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Collin Vickers wrote:I don't think anyone here is advocating the existing agricultural model. We inexperienced folks, just starting out, are trying to get a handle on what reasonable expectations are.



I think reasonable expectations in starting out towards any level of sustainability would be to expect to work very hard, to expect to learn as you go no matter what you think you know at the onset, to expect to work very hard, to expect to learn to be flexable,to expect to work very hard, to expect to eat really well most of the time, to expect to work really hard,to expect to learn to do without many things you thought you needed and to experience extreme satisfaction in knowing you are doing something for the future of the planet. I do not consider myself a permaculturist.....just someone who is adapting new methods to my food growing skills as they seem appropriate and I happen to like the principles/ethics. I think looking at it as a business venture without a solid belief in the ethics would be a mistake and would likely lead to disappointment, but I also think the principles/ethics are applicable to anyones life at any level...they are not just about growing food as many others have mentioned.

I think some of the challenge may be in information overload rather than a lack....try thinking in small, simple steps.
I think we are all on the same learning curve.
 
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Collin Vickers wrote:Here's a postulate for you, and consider it a rhetorical question. Should I buy bargain land and build it over time, or should I invest in premium land and hope for a quicker turnover?



The reality is there is no such thing as "bargain" land. There is cheap land, but there's usually something wrong with it for most buyers. It might be remote. It might not have water. It might have poor soil. It might have high crime, bad schools or excessive deed restrictions or easements. If it sounds too good to be true, IT IS. That doesn't mean you can't find a good deal -- something a bit below market. Something that has something "wrong" with it that isn't a down side to you or is even a positive. By the same token, an expensive piece of "premium" land may be premium for reasons that don't benefit you. But you don't get to know a good deal or a good property until you know the area.

I think you become grounded in your community first (not necessarily become volunteer of the year or anything) so that you learn what you need to identify the land you need to achieve your goals, and possibly make the kind of contacts that allow it to happen. You aren't going to find the "verifiable experience" you need online -- you are going to find it at the farmer's co-op, with the city botanist and park rangers, with your local gardeners and extension agents and backyard homesteaders. By talking to local people and physically looking at what they've achieved and how, you can arm yourself with all kinds of information... and weed out the big talkers. It's probably not permaculture and you may disagree with a lot of what they do and how they approach things, but these are the people that know what grows well where you are, what doesn't and what your local challenges are.
 
Craig Dobbson
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Collin: If I'm understanding you correctly then what you are looking for is data that can account for all the the variables that present themselves in such a way that gives you some sort of guarantee of results. I think that we must consider that the natural world isn't going to ever be that predictable. Sepp couldn't do exactly what he does if he had Salatin's land. Lawton couldn't do what he does if he had my land. They would probably have to make significant dramatic changes to their specific methods to accomodate differing environments. That is not to say that they couldn't make that land work for them, however the methods would be dramatically different ( i think). Permaculture as I understand it, is a way of thinking about what you have and making changes to it in such a way that it produces more for you so as to make a positive gain in one way or another. For some people that means monetary profit, for others it means a surplus of food to donate, for others it means building a community of like minded people living off the land.

Are you looking for a flow chart of permaculture? I think one could be made if you really wanted to, but there are a lot of variables like I mentioned earlier. Each element is dependent on so many others that you really have to acquire a chunk of land and keep chopping away at it until it works in such a way as to be sustainable for the long term, keeping in mind that you may have to make dramatic changes as the weather patterns change and the system develops.

For example: Consider the drought in the US. A guy like Salatin would have a tough time raising the number of animals he does if the grass doesn't grow. It doesn't matter how fertile the soil is or how well it works under "normal" weather conditions. No rain=lower pasture yields = lower meat yields. Either he has to supplement feed, cut the herds down to managable numbers or deal with sick or starving animals. He can't just set it up and expect the same results year after year without tweaking the system. He's an integral part of that system.

Perhaps the way Salatin does things works for 20 years but not much further than that and that's why it's starting to go sour for him. OR perhaps it's failing because he's too busy with books and tours and doesn't need the money bad enough to "do the right thing" by his farm. I'd be reluctant to suggest that permaculture isn't working for him but rather he's not working for permaculture any longer. The same may be said for Sepp, Lawton or any other permie. I think that at times we forget that people are part of the system as well and that system suffers when people don't do their part in it. There are no guarantees and there are so many variables to even begin to suggest that you could substitute one element for another and expect similar results. The first step is to jump in and commit to making it work. Permaculture starts with a positive mental attitude, a willingness to work hard and a willingness to fail and get back up to try again.


 
wayne stephen
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Why not go see for yourself . Most of the farms and permaculture endevours use interns. Volunteer your labor and go see the working models in action. I have heard a few criticisms of Salatin and Sepp but far more expressions were positive . Then you can decide if they are really truly doing this .
 
Walter Jeffries
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I would turn this discussion around and look at it from the opposite point of view. Some ask for proofs and balance sheets. Instead I look at the soil, plant diversity and animal life changes. Since we have been farming our land we have improved all three of these while also providing all of the income for our family and paying the mortgage. After many years I would call that permaculture, sustainable and success. Ergo, yes, there is proof that it is quite possible to be successful at permaculture.

I do not produce all of our food, although we can do all the necessities should it be needed. I do buy flour and other things but I also sell things from our farm to pay the taxes and buy the luxuries we want (e.g., Chocolate!)

I wouldn't worry so much about whether the 'big names' are doing it or not. Rather, focus on actually trying things and repeating what you find works for you in your situation. I can't emphasize enough that situations vary and solutions will too.

Collin Vickers wrote:It's probably foolhardy to expect every person with five acres to produce all the food their family needs, with a full range of complimentary ingredients, but if permies were able to establish a community model over a larger tract of land, have a few people in charge in the forest, a few in charge of the pasture, etc, and trade goods with one another, much more could be achieved.



No need to have common ownership. Capitalism works quite nicely. Each family can do their thing and trade (that is what money is for but with a minor abstraction since you might not want exactly what someone else has). From personal experience and studying history I've found that communism doesn't work on the large scale or even a moderate scale. It does work on the family scale. Top down control by a few people historically fails. Power corrupts and all that. What works well is communism within the family (do you pay your partner to make dinner? They you?), socialism as a general societal level (roads, mutual defense, etc - pick your level of 'services' because we don't all agree so lets not nitpick that right now) and capitalism for trade (otherwise there is little incentive to innovate and produce which crushed Russia, China, Cuba, etc before they adjusted). The problem with "a few people in charge" is that they don't react to the local level issues and tend towards corruption. A looser organization is more flexible and better able to adapt as well as less likely to fall under the power of tyrants.

Collin Vickers wrote:Have a USDA inspected facility for a hundred acres of mixed use land, and say 10-20 independent farmers who market their products collectively, is much more feasible.



I'm building a USDA facility so I'm a bit familiar with this topic. We're building it just for our own farm's use. Doing anything for other farms gets amazingly complicated and I won't bore you with the details except to say that I can build one for our farm for $150K but to build a _same_size_ facility to do for many farms typically runs $4.5million. Ours will be profitable for just our farm. The many farm version is unlikely to profit. Increasing the number of farms served is extraordinarily complex due to regulations, insurance, biosecurity and other things. We are helping other farmers because we are opening up slots at other facilities by doing our own and we're sharing how we are building our facility. Other farmers are already adapting our methods to their needs. Far better to have many small producers and processors than a few big or even medium sized ones.

Collin Vickers wrote:When it's time to harvest the poultry and livestock, they can do it and get the maximum market effect by adding value, and only use the facility for a few days a year, while others can use the same facility to can their own sauces/salsas at different times of year, and so forth.



Lots of people have tried this. Long history of failures. By all means, try it. You might figure out the way to make it work.
 
Tyler Ludens
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For me this example is comprehensive for a suburban system. For a temperate climate one will have to use temperate species, not subtropical ones: http://www.happyearth.com.au/ But it doesn't include calories per hectare as far as I know.

You're welcome.

 
Walter Jeffries
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Cal Edon wrote:Part of the scientific method? The scientific method would require that careful tests be conducted of the effectiveness of permaculture's ideas, then the methods used and results found would be published. There is a remarkable absence of published evidence regarding the effectiveness of permaculture.



I'm a scientist. I have invented stuff, done lots of research, all that good stuff. But, one of the problems with the mainstream scientific establishment is it tends to look at things in isolation, seeing the trees but not the forest. This results in interactions in systems being missed. Permiculture is about a more systems wide view so it doesn't tend to be as interesting to grant driven research. However, look at the SARS and other similar web sites for some close stuff. Some of that does go beyond the narrow view.

http://www.sare.org/
 
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So rivers of crap at Polyface? That's disappointing if it's true. There's always a tension between animal health and profit when you're determining stocking density on a farm, and if environmental conditions quickly shift (too much rain, not enough rain, etc.) what was once an elegant interspecies dance can pretty quickly turn into a train wreck.

 
Walter Jeffries
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Collin Vickers wrote:most of the bigshots in permaculture own farm-sized tracts of land, yet seem to make the lion's share of their living by spreading the gospel in spite of that, (I could be wrong, I'm making an uninformed assumption,) and some of them do likewise while they don't even own a parcel of land.



Perhaps that nails the problem: look beyond the books, tours, PR, etc. What is loudest are the authors you mention but there are many other people doing it without much fanfare, here on these boards, on other boards and just in life. But these people are not selling your anything so don't demand.

Collin Vickers wrote:Holzer could make a profit off the produce of his farm, hypothetically, but the Austrian government won't let him. Do we have similar problems in the States?



Government intrusion into our lives certainly makes it more expensive to do business, not just farming. And business it is. As there becomes more separation between producer and consumer there tends to be more regulatory barriers and costs. Unfortunately government has been reaching more deeply (bake sales even) but there is still room to work. Do learn the regulations. Generally they're online which helps.

Collin Vickers wrote:Can we get around that, and if so, how?



Unless you change the law don't try to skirt the law. Flying under the radar is dangerous.

Collin Vickers wrote:Salatin makes a living off the produce of his farm, but some folks who have visited say Polyface isn't so kosher after all, with rivers of ------ flowing freely in the fields



Hmm... I've never heard that one. Sounds like an extreme exaggeration. Source? I would not suggest repeating things like that if you haven't verified them. Not nice.

Something to realize about real farms is that they are not fancy bed & breakfast Better Homes & Gardens castles. There is mud in season. There is dust in season. Sometimes the cows get into fresh grass and have the runs. Real farms are not Disney. Real farmers often do not have the time to give tours. I get three to a dozen requests for tours a week. We're not setup for tours. Visitors use time we need to spend working. We get up at dawn, or earlier, and work late. Visitors are serious a biosecurity threat and have brought disease onto our farm. They don't tend to think about this but it is a harsh reality as I watch $80,000 worth of grower pigs and 14 prime sows die because of a visitor came and did not disclose that he had disease at his farm. People complain that I don't like to do tours but this is reality.[/end rant]

Collin Vickers wrote:I'd be happy to cash in on the PDC pyramid scheme/book and speaking tour gig too, I guess, but that isn't what I want to do. I want to grow wholesome food for myself and others, and not face game over in year three because I couldn't pay my property taxes, all for the sake of not knowing my ear from a hole in the ground when I started.



Do. Each year add to what you do. Each day build, maintain and produce. It is cumulative. It will probably take a LOT longer than three years to get to the point of earning your living from the land. It isn't a get rich quick (3 years is very quick). Most, almost all, business take a long time. Most fail. If you stick it out then in time you may built up what you've envisioned. Make a plan but plan to change. What skills do you have now? What skills will you need? What tools will you need. Every day move toward your goals.

Collin Vickers wrote:My point of view is that of a beginner, someone who doesn't own land, and isn't qualified to discern truth from falsity based on any particular frame of reference. Most of the techniques that fall under the broadest possible umbrella of permaculture aren't of much use to me, until I have some ground to play on, I'm living on it/working on it full time, and have the authority to call the shots. Getting to that stage requires an investment of scarce resources, (time and money,)



Yup. Same as with any great adventure.

Collin Vickers wrote:If my misgivings are rooted in ignorance and naivete, I'll own up to it, but the fact is I don't know who to believe.



And we can't tell you because then you would first have to believe us. Not to pick on you, Collin, but this is something everyone must decide for themselves and then jump into at some point.

My personal recommendation is to start slowly and build gradually. I started planning when I was 15 years old. I had nothing but my mind and health. It took a long time and a lot of effort before I owned land and a lot longer before our family was earning our living from our land. It's a process, a journey. Enjoy it. It's a one way trip.

Collin Vickers wrote:I feel my expectations are reasonable: start making payments on a piece of land, work a 9-5 to make ends meet while I work my second full-time job of getting something rolling, cut back my hours in town when the land begins to reduce my expenses, and then finally, some glorious day, make enough off my land to be self-sufficient in the land that I'm stewarding.



Excellent. Be persistent. There will be lows. Run very frugally. We put virtually every penny we earned into our land for decades. It paid off. Owning land is the best physical asset you can have. When times are tight the land can provide home, food and fuel for you. When times are good it can earn you something more from the land. It will be up and down.

Tip: do not buy land in the expensive areas. Better to produce in the less expensive area and transport your goods to the wealthier area.

Collin Vickers wrote:If and when that day comes, then I can start turning my thoughts to helping, if not the world, my neighborhood.



Nice sentiment but the first thing to do to help the world is to help yourself and to succeed. Be careful of the 'save the world' mindset. That takes extra resources. Something for later. Work outward from the center. Zen.

Collin Vickers wrote:Why is so much front-end research important to me? Why am I reluctant to just jump in and pay my dues like the pioneers in this field? Again, scarcity of resources. Why reinvent the wheel if I can get up to speed with the mainstream, (of permaculture,) and begin to contribute something meaningful?



I would suggest starting to do. Find a piece of land and work on it part time. It doesn't have to be your final resting place. Let yourself make some mistakes. Don't take on too much at a time. Add a little each year. A new species to care for. New plants. New animals. Don't get the 'gotta do it all the first year' bug. Winter's a great time to read but you'll learn more in a year of doing than you'll get out of books or asking other people. In the end you just have to do it.

Collin Vickers wrote:Here's a postulate for you, and consider it a rhetorical question. Should I buy bargain land and build it over time



Yes.

But what is bargain land? No water? No bargain. No mineral rights? No bargain. Zoning? No bargain. Buy with your eyes open. What I did was to draw circles on the map around the things that were important to me. Then I looked at the towns that were within the overlapping areas. I went to the town offices and read their regulations, zoning, taxes, town meeting reports, etc. Then I looked for land in the places I found acceptable. Then I visited the land, checked out the neighbors, etc. It's a long process. Don't rush too quickly. Make a list of what is important to you and what is unacceptable to you.

Right now is actually a good time to buy in some places. Prices are down, in some areas. Don't buy where there is speculation, unless you're a speculator. Instead look for quieter markets. Generally you want to be out from the population centers. Remember the long term costs: real estate taxes. They have sunk many a farm.

Collin Vickers wrote:The minutiae of techniques are wonderful, and can't be separated from the larger whole that is permaculture, but I'm not trying to hammer out the finer points of deep bedding in a winter chicken coop



But that is what it will come down to.

Collin Vickers wrote:'Early Retirement Extreme'?



I would suggest that rather than planning retirement instead plan on working for the rest of your life at something you enjoy. The exact details may change over time with your abilities, skills and knowledge but 'retirement' is a modern strangeness. I think what you really mean is to be able to stop working elsewhere but rather be able to work on your homestead. That's a great lifelong goal. More power to you.

Collin Vickers wrote:I want to see: 'You too can have a permaculture farm/homestead/backyard/windowsill,



You too can have a permaculture farmstead. Good enough?

Collin Vickers wrote:this is a comprehensive explanation of how I did it



Sorry, nobody is going to be able to tell you everything all in one sentence, all in one article, all in one book or even all in one lifetime. If anyone claims they can tell you everything then be very, very skeptical. Try Foxfire. It's a start.

Collin Vickers wrote:That's why I asked the people who are currently living permaculture to share their testimony.



See people's blogs. See mine at link below. People are sharing what they're doing and how they're doing it here in the forums and on their blogs. There is no one answer.

Cheers,

-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/
 
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This is like having a baby. You can plan it and study it to death, but regardless it's going to be new to you and you're going to have unforeseen situations - everything you read for your ideal situation would never prepare you for a special needs child, for example - and you're never going to know all you need to know prior to jumping in and it just doesn't make sense or pencil out on an account ledger. The best you can ask for are guiding principles. You can totally talk yourself out of it. Or wait until everything is "perfect" and find nothing is as you anticipated.

You don't do it because it makes sense! You do it to break out of a system that is values poor to become experience rich. You do it because you want to be part of something larger than yourself. You do it to learn and become a better person.

 
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On one level I can totally get why OP asked what he asked; I too when starting out and really beginning to modify my own backyard was trying to see who was really walking the walk in regards to profits and self-suffiency. I was all about facts and figures which although having their place was the main/sole concern in my mind.

I have come to the realization and conclusion that what I was originally looking for and wanted from Permaculture was not what I now see Permaculture to be. To see folks strip people care and fair share (Not sharing/distributing the excess FAIR SHARE); I am seeing permaculture get stripped of its most important factors that can possibly save the destruction of Earth remaining resources. Permaculture in my opinion is both practice and philosophy that are inextricably tied.

One I realized that and long after I realized most people trying to make a name for themselves with Permaculture (Excluding Mollison and people who have been appropriated by permaculture people Fukuoka, Landcaster, and Jackson to name a few along with Kat Steele, Starhawk, Orcas Brothers) were not to be heeded or seen as anything other than capitalists and fame followers I really began to just focus on my work; surprising thats when I met some legit workers lol!

Most of the people really working Permaculture I have met aren't on forums, don't have websites, work in their local communities to educate and/or just see the internet as a means of staying connected with others really making progress. Its far to easy to go numb with "permie porn" of food forest pictures and herb spirals, they just don't find it important as did I (Which is why I am never on here).

I worked a 2 acre permaculture site in SF; fed a lot of people, created community, and got my hands dirty after moving. Now I did not agree with a lot of things in terms of how and what should be on the farm but we did work and I made a little bit of cash doing it.
 
Heda Ledus
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Also I think looking for permaculture may not lead much its a joke among some people; a worker in another farm in SF when asked the difference between our permaculture practices and their standard organic responded "We feed people not soil" in a smug way; Agroforestry & agroecology are more science backed and not so backlashed terms that have been for sometime incorporated within the Permaculture umbrella start tehir.
 
pollinator
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I think the original poster raises some valid points, and while Walter is very open with what he does and how he does it (kudos!), many others aren't that open or just haven't got the time.

But I would also point out that it is very common for people who farm to do other things on the side to make cash. Be it carpentering, doing off-farm seasonal work, or even stuff like filling out online surveys for nickels. Heck, the neighbor by our land does this kind of thing, his wife works part time, and he was still hustling to get his soybeans in on time when I last talked to him (for the record, a couple months back). It's a mix.

Point is, doing sideline work doesn't invalidate the permaculture method or make its economic model weaker than conventional ag. It just happens that permaculture is something people want to hear and read about, so successful folks can do that instead of whatever else needs to be done in a small town or rural environment.

Finally, I would also add that writing and speaking well enough to sell is far from easy -- both take hard work and talent.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Agroecological Analysis of an Integrated Polyculture Food Garden: www.foodforest.com.au/​Agroecological%​20analysis%​20.

sorry, can't get it to link, you'll have to enter it in a search engine....
 
permaculture expert
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Hi Colin
I have done this many times in fact living at it and I am doing it right now.
 
Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you! - Seuss. Tiny ad:
Wildlife Web Kickstarter: Participate in the Web of Life
https://permies.com/t/100598/Wildlife-Web-Kickstarter-Participate-Web
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