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Graham Burnett

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since May 09, 2015
Essex, UK - Zone 8
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Recent posts by Graham Burnett

I'd like to say a big thanks to Cassie, Burra and everybody else from Permies who invited me to be a part of the discussion around vegan permaculture, plus everybody who participated in the conversations. I hope everybody found it as valuable and as challenging as I did - I certainly went away with plenty of food for thought! Apologies for a bit of a lack of engagement or direct replies from Friday afternoon (UK timezone) onwards, I was co-teaching the last weekend of a Permaculture Design Course in London with very little internet access and even less free time, but I was certainly pondering some of the issues that were raised, it's always good to be pushed out of one's comfort zone even if it doesn't feel particularly nice at the time...

As a final plug, I'll once again mention the Vegan Permaculture Design Courses that I'm co-teaching this Summer in Somerset, England with the very wonderful Nicola Vosper at Brook end webpage, plus with my very good friend William Faith at Wild Earth Animal Sanctuary in Kentucky, USA webpage - see you all there! (well some of you anyway!) Places still available but book fast to avoid disappointment... Vegan or not, these will be a blast....

Thanks again, and I'll try and chip in on this forum when I can - big love to everyone, Graham
6 years ago
Thanks for the post Burra - one of the most important books ever written in my opinion, it was a huge influence on my thinking about both veganism and permaculture, and Kathleen Jannaway was an amazing woman! Here is a blog post I wrote about her on the occasion of the centenary of her birth, together with another of her publications, 'First Hand First Rate', plus a Youtube video of what remains to me one of the best documentaries putting forward the vegan case, even though it does look rather dated by today's standards, the content is still first rate! Kathleen Jannaway article
6 years ago
A magazine I would thoroughly recommend, whether you are a vegan or not!
6 years ago
Hi there Lorenzo - some very valid points raised in your post. To me the essence of permaculture is its attention to energy flows and cycles as well as personal accountability - it's as easy to lead an unsustainable, unaccountable vegan lifestyle based on imported, fossil fuel hungry, monoculturally grown, over packaged and over processed soya convenience foods, as it is to live as an unsustainable and unaccountable omnivore supported by the intensive factory pharm and the supermarket freezer counter. What's important is that we all develop an awareness of our own 'energy budgets' or the 'ecological footprints' of how we are living, and begin to work in our own ways to steadily reduce these.

Whatever we might think about veganism, I would suggest that if we are to create a sustainable future, we will all need to at least lessen our dependence on both animal products and the inputs they entail (at present some 85% of agricultural land use) and intensive monocultural farming in general, and start thinking about major re-afforestation programs and a movement towards a far greater percentage of our needs being met from home, market and forest gardens as well as the edible high protein and carbohydrate and other useful yields of trees.

Thanks for all your supportive words, Graham

6 years ago
Hi Ryan, thanks for your comments - Tolhurst Organics is indeed an impressive testament to how it is possible to build soil fertility with non-animal based regenrative techniques - I was blown away by the quality of Tolly's living soil when I visited last year here's my blog post about it. As well as the mini-documentary Youtube documentary embedded at the bottom of that post, here's another interesting short interview with Tolly;

6 years ago
Hi Autumn - I'm probably not the best person to ask since my local knowledge is more about the 'soft south', being just a few miles away from 'That London', plus obviously I've not seen your site and don't know what your preferences are, etc. I did find a few interesting web sites with info about fruit trees suitable for growing in northern Scotland, Scottish Heritage Fruit Trees, Hardy Apple Trees for the North & Scotland, Scottish Orchards, Fruit trees for North West Scotland, which I hope are useful or at least a basis for further research. This also looks useful, type in your post code to find what fruit trees are suitable to grow in your area.

I'm sure you know far better than me that northern Scotland is one of the least suitable areas for growing tree fruit in the UK so establishing a forest garden will have its challenges, so I'd prioritise creating a hedgerow shelterbelt of hardy trees and shrubs around your site first, that will provide protection for higher value specimens such as fruit or nut trees whose blossom may be susceptible to damage by late frosts and cold winds that can seriously effect yields. The height of the hedge should be at least one eighth of the size of the area to be protected and needs to be dense in composition in order to provide full protection. Hedging trees and shrubs should be planted at least a year or so before more delicate species go in in order to allow time to get established. Choose multifunctional species that provide wildlife benefits, edible crops or other yields, e.g. crab apple, field maple, hawthorn, hazel, Rosa rugosa, as well as nitrogen fixers such as alder, broom, elaeagnus, etc.

I hope this helps, good luck with the project!
6 years ago
A fantastic and thorough book, I'd thoroughly recommend it!
6 years ago
Hello Chad, I hope you are well and happy. First off, I'm sorry that you've previously had negative experiences with what you describe as 'militant veganism'. Whilst I can kind of understand where such 'militant' anger and distress comes from in a world where there is so much unnecessary cruelty inflicted on the non-human beings with which we share this planet, I personally learned long ago that a confrontational approach usually tends to be counterproductive. Judgement and criticism rarely changes hearts and minds, but instead just cause people to become defensive and closed to new ideas. To me it's better to ‘seek to understand before seeking to be understood’; that is, staying open and receptive to others’ opinions and viewpoints, whilst at the same time striving to ‘speak one’s own truth’ in an unequivocal manner, so thanks for coming along with the intention of participating in an honest and polite conversation.

Anyway, that's alot of questions you've asked, and I'm not sure if they all have answers - or at least there are probably as many different answers as there are people who identify as vegan, depending on the individual and their interpretations of the word... At the start of your post you stated that you found it challenging to solidify your questions into concrete words. To be honest I'm having the same problem trying to give answers as I don't think it is my place to try and speak for all vegans! But I'll pick up a couple of your themes and try to give my own viewpoints, it would also be good to also hear what other readers think...

I'm interested to hear that you feel that veganism and permaculture are incompatible. To me that isn't the case. My understanding of Permaculture is of it being an approach rather than a belief system, a useful design framework for positive action whatever our lifestyle choices. So whilst adopting an animal-free diet and permaculture may not necessarily be the same thing, for me the ethical underpinning of all permaculture design – Earthcare, Peoplecare and Fair Shares – doesn’t seem so very different from the compassionate concern for ‘Animals, People and Environment’ spelled out on the Vegan Society sticker in my front room window. To me permaculture is a journey rather than an end point, and the same is true of veganism. As I stated elsewhere, it's an attitude rather than an absolute, with many 'grey areas', and we are all on our personal journeys. Only the individual can decide where they should draw the line between their own ideals, and how far they can acceptably compromise or what choices they feel comfortable with making.

For example, one of your questions is 'What is the vegan perspective on beekeeping?' I don't think there can be a 'one size fits all' answer - bees are pollinators and play an important (in fact essential) part in edible ecosystems such as orchards, fruit gardens, etc, indeed any edible landscape which includes flowering plants. They are part of a (potentially closed and self sustaining) cyclic system, so is it justifiable to harvest excess honey as a yield from that system, provided this is done with sensitivity and respect to the bees needs? The transaction could even be said to be mutually beneficial (in return for the excess honey harvested, the land steward (the human element in the system) is providing a rich and diverse habitat, place to set up a hive, organically growing flowering plants, etc) - this is not the same in my view as large scale commercial honey production which cares nothing for the bees' welfare and where the relationship and their growing environment is exploitative and artificial/industrialised (I confess I don't know a great deal about commercial honey production, but I'm pretty sure in terms of ethics and ecological accountability it's the same as all large scale food production, where the cow/bee/soya bean (Megacorp PLC doesn't differentiate) is viewed purely as a commodity rather than a component within a total system with intrinsic qualities, needs and value/worth measured beyond purely financial terms). Seen in these terms, local scale honey production (an animal product, therefore not vegan) is more environmentally sound than sugar production (an animal free, therefore vegan product, but which can have a large ecological footprint in food miles, land loss, exploited plantation workers, degraded and eroded land, cash crop economies, etc etc.). Which is the more ethical and sustainable choice of sweetener? I guess we would all have our own answers, but my point is that we are all trying to do our best and make the right choices in a messy and complex world that we didn't make, and opting for the dogmatic solution can be a comfortable substitute for thinking for ones self sometimes!

I fully agree with your final point regarding the 5 (at least!) kingdoms of life, and the need to embrace all of these in order to support biodiversity, and have answered this point elsewhere, but at the risk of boring everybody will repeat it again with a quote from my book;

Permaculture Without Animals?
Not all permaculturists or permaculture projects are vegan, and I’ve often been asked whether a completely animal-free permaculture is even actually possible. My response is, of course not, and neither would it be desirable. For example, how would we fence out the earthworms that build our soil and maintain its fertility, or the bees that pollinate our fruit trees and vegetables, and why ever would we wish to? In fact, we actively design in features that are intended to attract wildlife: Ponds for frogs, toads and dragonflies, and flowering plants to bring in the ladybirds and hoverflies that keep populations of potential pests like slugs and aphids in check, and are essential to maintaining healthy productive ecosystems. What we don’t include are those ‘system components’ that we believe perpetuate exploitative relationships with our non-human earth co-citizens, such as pigs, goats and chickens, whose primary function is the production of meat, milk and eggs.

The Naturewise forest garden in north London is one example of an edible landscape that is ostensibly ‘stock free’, although in actuality members of several of the Kingdoms of Nature work together here for mutual benefit. Deep rooted comfrey plants mine nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous from the subsoil, making them available to fruit trees and bushes. Birds and bees buzz around the canopy layer, whilst insects and arthropods patrol the undergrowth and leaf litter, checking and balancing pest populations and playing their role in the cycles of growth and decay. Fungi and bacteria continue the process. These break down dead matter into rich humus and minerals that are exchanged with plant roots via associations with mycorrhizal soil networks in return for sugars and carbohydrates manufactured by photosynthesis. Based on the structure of natural woodland, the forest garden is a complex web of which humans too are an integral part. Aside from a bounty of apples, pears, figs, grapes, strawberries, currants and edible leaves, one of the most important yields of this mini-woodland is the sense of community that the space offers to the volunteers that spend time here. And being situated in a school playground it also acts as an open air classroom where children of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds are able to interact with nature, an opportunity that is often all too rare in the inner city.

Best wishes, Graham
6 years ago
Thanks for your contribution Anne - have you read Mark Shepard's 'Restoration Agriculture'? I particularly like his ideas (which he has also put into practice) about moving away from grian based agriculture and moving more towards perennial systems using tree crops, etc, modelled on natural ecosystems, which are adaptable to both systems that include domesticated animals or are veganically based. Here's part my review of the book from 'Growing Green' magazine (the magazine of the Vegan Organic Network);

Drawing inspiration from classic texts such as J Russel Smith's 'Tree Crops', Masanobu Fukuoka's 'One Straw Revolution', plus the work of permaculturists David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, Restoration Agriculture reminds me in many ways of Kathleen Jannaway's classic 'Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree'1. This was a visionary publication that proposed an entirely new paradigm for the evolution of humankind beyond the age of oil dependency, annual grain agriculture and animal exploitation. It pointed the way towards a tree-based culture very different from anything seen thus far in history, wherin virtually all our needs for food, shelter, fuel and fibre are met from managed woodlands and food forests. We can’t of course know what such a future would look like, any than more than our ancestors would have been able to envisage the world after the advent of the plough or the internal combustion engine, and Jannaway's slim pamphlet (deliberately) provides little more than a tantalising sketch of a world based on values of true compassion and ecological harmony. Yet 'Restoration Agriculture' is a significant step towards fleshing out and adding colour to her broad brushstrokes in the here and now.

With lucid facts and figures based on experience gleaned from his commercial 106 acre New Forest Farm in Wisconsin, Shepard dismantles the myth of feeding the world with annual crops as a long term sustainable option, presenting instead an extremely convincing argument for polycultural and perennial plant-based food production. Monocultural grain-based farming works against nature, uses more energy than it produces in terms of food calories, and generates often toxic wastes. It erodes soil and degrades the earth's resources, while yields inevitably decline drastically over time, requiring ever more inputs of oil-derived artificial fertility. Polycultural alternatives on the other hand are integrated, diverse systems which are resilient and mimic nature, restoring rather than depleting 'natural capital' such as soils, clean water, biodiversity and air quality. Shepard takes the example of the prevalent cool temperate eco-system of his north American bio-regional home (oak savannah, by and large similar to our own climate region in the UK), and explains how diverse alley-cropped trees and bushes such as oak, chestnuts, hazel, apples, blackcurrants and fungi can produce up to 6 million calories of nutritionally dense food per acre annually, and how such farms can not only be financially viable but restorative of local communities and economies.

Shepard does not exclude animals from his polycultural model, although the systems of management he proposes for integrating cattle, pigs and birds into broad scale food forests are based on understanding and meeting their natural behaviours and needs, thus ensuring a high quality of life. This is unlike current industrialised factory (or even 'organic') farming methods that maximise profit above any considerations of welfare, resulting in cruelty, misery and the diminishing of both the animals, and we humans as producers and consumers. To my mind these parts of the book are enlightening and well worth reading. Yet at the end of the day, even though his animals have 'had a good life', they still wind up dead for the purpose of providing human sustenance. This is where, as a vegan committed to a belief in the intrinsic right to self determination for all sentient beings, I part company with the methods Shepard advocates, although it's easy to skip these chapters without losing any of the overall concept. Indeed Shepard himself cheerfully admits that the polycultural model he proposes is fully adaptable to a veganic system, and will provide more than enough of an abundance of high quality food without (captive) animal inputs. I find it very refreshing that he avoids adopting an antagonistic stance towards the vegan point of view, something that perhaps cannot be said for some of the other proponents of regenerative agriculture (eg, Joe Salatin and Alan Savory) and their insistence that domesticated animal 'components' are 'essential' to building and maintaining soil fertility.

Best wishes, Graham
6 years ago
Hi there Mead - it's good to hear your perspective on this issue. Personally I believe in the intrinsic right to self determination for all sentient beings, but I do also accept that veganism might not be the solution for everybody. However if we can agree that current western expectations for meat and dairy to be available on the table three times a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, are globally unsustainable, and that we all need at least to think about lifestyles and diets that are less dependent on animal products and the inputs these entail (which I think few permaculturists would argue with), then we do have some common ground. To be honest I wouldn't have much of an issue with permaculturists who keep a few chickens or ducks or a goat in their yard, this is a world away from the utter barbarity of industrialised animal farming that is not only inhumane but having devastating effects on both the environment and the climate. However we do need to recognise that there is always some form of exploitation or cruelty involved even with small-scale domesticated animal set ups, even if it is indirect, for example as Jennifer points out above, even small scale egg production systems involve the disposal of unwanted male chicks because they are not 'useful', and dairy production involves cows being kept pregnant and their calves being taken away in order for them to continue producing milk.

To me 'veganism' is an attitude rather than an absolute, and we are all on our personal journeys. Only the individual can decide where they should draw the line between their own ideals, and how far they can acceptably compromise or what choices they feel comfortable with making. It would be good to hear others' views on this subject as well, after all, nobody has a monopoly on 'The Truth' (whatever that is???)

All the best for now, Graham

6 years ago