[DISCLAIMER: I'm very new to permiculture ideas. My total knowledge so far is from watching a few Geoff Lawton videos, reading Gaia's Garden and about 1/3 of Permiculture Design Handbook and listening to Paul's podcasts for the last several months. I'm working on "catching up" on the podcasts from the beginning, and this is the first one I've felt a strong urge to speak up about.]
I found this to be a somewhat discouraging podcast. I'd be curious to hear what others thought about it.
Helen was trying to make the case that when it comes to total food production per acre, agriculture with many inputs (organic or not) always wins against the closed-cycle, no inputs system that is in many ways the ideal of permiculture. She did a pretty good job making the case, especially considering her very extensive experience on a Fukuoka-style no-till, few-to-no-inputs farm and on a quite large organic farm with significant inputs. She seemed to be saying that annuals put more of the available resources into making food, and perennials had to devote more resources into building permanent plant structures that could survive the winter. Therefore systems that grow annuals with inputs have a huge food-production advantage over system that grow perennials with no inputs that can never be bridged.
Paul did not agree, and focused on Fukuoka's success in no-till no-input rice farming many decades ago, and the fact that permiculture is still in its infancy and has not reached its full potential.
Two things came to my mind:
1. First was the inherent advantage that perennials have in gathering resources from the soil. A previous podcast mentioned the "Dirt" movie that had footage comparing annual's 3 foot roots with perennials ten-foot root system. When you are going 3 times as deep, I'd like to think you have access to at least twice the resources, so you might not need as many inputs to produce the same amount of food.
2. The other thought that came into my mind was this passage from "Gaia's Garden", pg. 168 (1st Ed.) "Trees' ability to produce soil-enriching leaf litter, fill the earth with humusy roots, quell temperature swings, hold moisture, arrest erosion, offer tiers of habitat for animals is unparalleled and in the forest garden they're on our side. As for productivity you can't beat trees. An acre of wheat provides a mere i to 2 tons of grain, an acre of apple trees yields 7 tons of fruit, and an acre of honey-locust trees explodes with 15 tons protein-rich pods—without annual replanting." I remember that thought really grabbing my attention when I read it, and really causing a paradigm shift for me that with permaculture, I'm tapping into a very advantageous method of food production.
Unfortunately, Paul didn't bring up either of these thoughts, so I didn't get to hear how Helen would have responded to these arguments.
Helen is one of the most research, fact-based contributors to the podcast. She also has tons of experience from a broad range of agricultural practices and philosophies. So what gives? Does Toby Hemingway's statement in "Gaia's Garden" need lots of qualification? Is Fukuoka a fluke? Do or do not perennials have access to more nutrients than annuals?
And the worst part is that Helen over and over tells us that we have to either continue high input farming or we must reduce the human population. I already had five children, was that really a mistake, ecologically speaking?!
Is it necroposting to want to have a conversation about this?