Tyler Ludens wrote:it would be great if everyone were practicing permaculture!
Tyler, thanks for your responses before and after my last post. I didn't see the one immediately before until after I posted the last post.
You said a couple things about "everyone." I think those are fine questions to consider and try to answer, but I don't think I meant for any of my questions to be applied to "everyone." My main question is all about the best examples that can be shared and talked about. Obviously some people will have accomplished more than others, will be higher on the eco scale, etc. I'm not trying to lay any criticisms on the low level people, but I would like to hear about people that have accomplished Paul's mid-level metrics with food (either individually or in community, particularly in some location in the US or similar to the US that I could relate to.) So to respond to your comment that I quoted, I'd like to see some examples of where permaculture can take people. It's a fair question, but I guess I'm personally not so interested in the hypothetical question of what it would look like if everyone started with the beginning steps. I'm most interested in what kind of outstanding examples there are from the mid-level steps, particularly when someone's food-agricultural footprint is 90%+ shaped by reasonably mature permaculture principles, free of the kind of compromises that may be commonly necessary/unavoidable in the earlier stages. Of course, food is just one aspect, but it's very important and fundamental, and it especially interests me.
Kurt, thanks for your very careful and thoughtful point by point response. Instead of talking about myself, I really meant to speak much more broadly to the question of the potential for buying and trading in contrast to more narrowly defined self-sufficiency, merely using my own location as an example of the kind of limits that are more or less the same in lots and lots of places. So consider my responses here in the same light. In other words, I'm content to grow/work towards the goal of growing (or foraging, etc.) a lot of these things for myself, but that's only because I don't seem to see as much potential in trading as you do, especially not without people primarily doing these things for themselves.
That's not to say I don't informally trade with neighbors. I've actually done quite a lot of that. Neighbors have also been very generous with me just giving me things (not that I'm needy, but I just have generous neighbors.) However, almost all of the food things I've gotten from neighbors aren't things I (or anyone else) could buy from them, and they're almost all things that my neighbors are primarily doing for themselves and merely sharing the perishable surpluses from the good years with me. So they're not available to buy. They're extremely unreliable. They're often just token quantities (although cumulatively they're significant.) They hardly ever consist of grains, pulses, or oil/oilseeds (precisely because people rarely grow these things for themselves), and if they do consist of dairy, pork, poultry/eggs, alcohol, or honey, they're almost always major compromises of the standards I laid out, i.e. generous gifts but generally a step backwards on the eco scale from supermarket organic.
As far as what can be bought:
1. Grains can, as you suggest, certainly be grown here local-organically. Like I said before a wide variety of items from almost all these categories used to be grown here before local agriculture was subsumed by industrialization and globalization.
2. A variety of pulses can also certainly be grown here as in most places people live, but the extreme rarity of local pulses on the market in any "first world" location indicates to me that the current market potential for pulses anywhere except in the home garden is extremely limited. Selling to alternative, niche markets and growing at that scale, even before forfeiting any cost-saving shortcuts for the sake of permaculture principles, adds substantially to cost/price. Where local pulses can be found, I think the relative price compared to the most affordable USDA organic pulses is greater than about anything else (at least 300% and probably 500 to 1500% of USDA organic prices). I believe in the value of community food sovereignty and organic principles no matter how cheap industrialized food gets in comparison, but customers are really going to have to know and trust their farmer before they pay 10 times the price of USDA organic for something that probably doesn't look or taste any better.
3. Raw milk from minimal grain dairies is available here locally, but I'm not aware of any such dairies that feed organic grain, let alone grain that represents any improvement over USDA organic minimum standards. Pasteurized all grass fed milk is also available, but all grass fed still allows for synthetic fertilizers, herbicides (used especially to prepare for planting annual forages), heat synchronizing hormone injections and other organically disallowed medications... things that may be used on raw milk dairies, too. There are also USDA organic dairies locally, but all of that milk is shipped to a processing plant three states away.
4&5. There are lots of pastured pork and poultry, but similarly, in every pastured pork/poultry operation I've heard about, the grain inputs are very significant in all of these products, and I've never heard of any grain that represents an improvement over commodity organic (and it's mostly far inferior.) That's not to say that I'm currently do much (or any) better, but it certainly leaves clear room for improvement over what's available to buy on the marketplace.
6. Lamb (and goat meat) might be more feasible in other parts of the country. Parasites may be a bigger limitation in the Southeast. Sheep can be managed here without organically disallowed medications but the solutions (careful rotation schedules, rotations that involve other species, including more browse in rotations, etc.) are relatively labor-intensive, and most organically inclined customers don't understand or care enough about these details to pay an additional premium for these steps, so the producers willing/forced to use synthetic de-wormers (and synthetic fertilizers, herbicides...) are the only ones I'm aware of in the marketplace.
7. Yes, there's plenty of potential for growing and wild harvesting a nice variety of tree nuts and peanuts, limited only by the time it takes some species to reach bearing age; they're just not for sale, probably for cost reasons similar to but mostly not as extreme as with pulses.
8. There is a malt house about 120 miles away that opened up within the last 10 years, and I think they have malted some local rye or wheat. I can't remember if it was USDA organic, but it's difficult for those kind of operations to justify paying a premium for local and then an additional premium for organic standards... and it's difficult for them to reliably source the quantities they need locally, which makes it hard for them to market the "local" at all, and the only organic type standards they can effectively communicate to their customers are USDA certification standards, so growers are pretty much forced to compete in the race to the bottom of those minimum standards, unless the malt house chooses to push the local angle instead, in which case there's no premium for any kind of organic. I don't know of anyone that's growing and malting barley on a smaller scale. A smaller scale gets to be very labor-intensive, and most people are focused on the craft of the brewing so much that the agricultural footprint is forgotten. Even "organic" supermarkets frequently have pathetically small selections of organic beer and wine, it seems to me.
9. Tallow (or beef fat to render into tallow) is the fat one could best hope to buy, but I think lard and oil are much more versatile in the kitchen. Oil seems particularly essential for mayonnaise and salad dressing.
10. I think the biggest issues with buying local fish are legal issues with selling game fish. Those aren't really issues for personal consumption, though. There are other possibilities, but I'm pretty sure they haven't found a way to market here locally.
11. Maple syrup is very doable here on a small scale but not done commercially, probably because there aren't woods full of sugar maples here. There are lots of beekeepers here, but they almost always have a heavy footprint in conventional sugar or corn syrup as feed, especially if they're trying to compete in the marketplace (similar to the issues with lamb.) Robbing honey hard and feeding lots of cheap syrup just makes a world of sense from a profit perspective.
Thanks for all the shared thoughts and ideas!