I want to believe.......

Discussion in 'General chat' started by zzsstt, Feb 11, 2009.

  1. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Hi,

    I'm new to this forum, so let me start by saying that I'm a farmer which may bias my thoughts (or other peoples thoughts of me!).

    As a farmer I'm interested in ways of improving what I do, and some aspects of permaculture interest me greatly - to the point where not only have I "bought the book" but I've also attanded a (singular) training course. Unfortunately this course, whilst very informative and useful with regard to the specific subject being taught, left me with some serious doubts as to the reality of permaculture. Having found this forum, I thought I'd ask for some honest (please, honest rather than hype) opinions on the realities of permaculture.

    For an average "real" person, can permaculture ever work? I don't mean can it produce some food, or a few eggs (not wishing to belittle either intention, we do both as a matter of course) but can it genuinely "sustain" a family? In conversation during the course I attended it became apparent that the land in question hand been supplied for free. Normally this would not be the case, the land would have to be purchased and a mortgage paid. The large costs of setting up the system were being covered by other people, and in the longer term the manpower and costs were to be supplied by people using the site for education purposes.

    For a "real" family, the above would not be true. The land would be purchased. The earthworks would be paid for. The manpower paid for or supplied by the family, leaving no time for an outside job to provide supplementary income. So the entire system would need to be self-sustaining AND self financing, at a minimum therefore producing the total food requirements for the family with sufficient surplus to sell to fund mortgage repayments and the purchase of everything that cannot be made or grown on site.

    Is this actually possible?

    Every system that I've looked at so far has required inputs from other sources to keep it running. The site was a gift, the labour provided free by students, financial inputs from those same students (not sustainable, what if someone opens another training centre closer to town?). Even the well publicised "exhibition" sites fail when sponsorship runs out (and could therefore not be self sustaining!). So at present I'm inclined to think permaculture is a lovely idea, with some useful aspects, but is not a real answer - or at the very least does not live up to the hype.

    Can anyone here tell me, honestly, that they are self sustaining and self financing, with no external gifts, or free workers, free land, cash injections etc.? Because I really do want to believe..........
     
  2. Hamishmac

    Hamishmac Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hi zzsstt,

    I have to admit to sharing some of your findings, opinions and skepticism.

    I am in the process of changing some of my two acre block to use permaculture-based principles in an effort to become more self-sufficient and self-sustaining. I have found it to be quite capital and labour intensive. In year 2/3 but didn't really take it seriously till a year ago. Probably getting 15-20% of food from the block. And the mortgage certainly ain't going away.

    I think that the story "spend 30 days of intensive work planting a food forest, and with occasional maintenance you can walk away, come back at any time and always have food" is somewhat of an illusion for most of us.

    It would have been good to have highlighted at the PDC I did a realistic timetable for conversion, and, based on self-sustaining examples at work so far (free from the bonuses of donated land, subsidised labour etc), a realistic expectation of how far down the self-sufficient line you'd get on say, a suburban block, semi-rural acreage, farm etc.
    I'd sort of guessed that 5-10 years was a reasonable rough estimate for us to reach close to the max level we could get, and reading the article on the blog on Phases of Abundance a few days ago generally confirms this. (https://permaculture.org.au/2009/02/09/phases-of-abundance/).

    However, I think I've come to think of permaculture in different terms to try and appease the skeptic within. I look on the block, the local community, and society in general as having shifted so far from the natural sustaining cycle in 200 years (in Oz anyway) that it will take a great deal of effort, time and money to get that abundant yield back, and repair biodiversity and soil fertility. Another impost may be that early adopters may pay more. Small block size and high land costs present further barriers to meet and climb. An early view of successful PC sites may be that they are a bit like ponzi schemes which rely on some free or subsidised inputs, but I think that the biggest barrier is the giant ponzi scheme in which we are all enrolled; the fractional reserve banking system, and an economy which relies on ever expanding debt, rising asset (land) values and the paying of interest by plundering our ecological bank to do so.

    Early societies managed. If they couldn't; they had to trade, use a nomadic lifestyle, or die. Or even conquer and colonise other nations to grab their resources (ring a bell anybody?). In addition early societies couldn't easily colonise and live on some of the more marginal areas and the higher temperate latitudes that we do, in the numbers that we do, because they didn't have access to the earth's credit card in the form of cheap oil.

    It does make PC seem somewhat of a 'lifestyle choice' rather than necessity for me, and I suppose it is, but I find it stimulating, fulfilling and it makes me happy. I am convinced that one day, here in the first world, it will be a necessity, though I may be compost by then. In the majority world from what I read I think it may already be a necessity.

    I imagine that one of your issues as a farmer is that you not only need to meet your own needs, but grow a surplus, to sell for dollars to pay costs, debts etc. I would imagine that PC's focus on a diversity of species for year round food supply, rather than more economically and easily harvested monocropping or rotational cropping doesn't really fit the current farming model. So perhaps the model needs examined, where possible, to suit different models eg community supported agriculture. I do appreciate you need a supportive community for this! But imagine preselling your crop even before the seed was planted. Every time. And thus farming without incurring such large financial risk and stress. However I suspect that the real question posed to large scale farmers is "Should we really be farming on such a scale at all?" And I mean that with no disrespect or slight to your current position, of which I am ignorant.

    Anyway, my skepticism won't stop me trying. I think that there is too much at stake not to try, and that some of the issues we face regarding water use, soil erosion, biodiversity and soil fertility are far too important to leave to governments. I hope I've been honest, but suspect I've posed more questions than answers.

    Best of luck with your endeavors,

    Hamish
     
  3. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hamish,

    I think you are saying fairly much what I have decided, and that is that "permaculture" works only in a primitive (I can't think of a better word for it) society. It provides for life, but not luxury. It relies on everybody producing, and trading/sharing their surplus. It is, in effect, a return to a pre-industrial age where the majority of the population were involved solely in food production with each family generating a small surplus for trade or to pay as taxes or rent to a landowner. As you (I suspect) are suggesting, it cannot in this society ever produce enough to even buy the land required, nevermind pay for schooling the kids.

    This does not, by the way, put me off the techniques. It just dismisses the hype!

    By the way, I always find it interesting when people mention the issues of water, soil and so forth. Like everything, there are two sides to every story. Currently one side is getting a great deal of press, but that doesn't mean its true! I am in a lucky position. I am a farmer, a laboratory chemist, and I owned an IT company. That puts me in a reasonable place to evaluate what I am told. I agree with you, these things are too important to be left to governments. But also too important to be left to the press, or "extremists". Half the battle is getting the real facts, not the edited or deliberately misleading "information" supplied by people or groups with their own agenda. I can't say I've seen much factual information relating to the environment recently! It's just too easy to extract the bit that supports whatever claim a group is trying to make. For example:

    It takes more land to produce a kg of beef than a kg of wheat. True, but only applicable in a tiny area of Australia with richer soils and reasonable rainfall. In the areas with poorer soils and lower rainfall (most of it!), cropping is untenable. The best use of this land is well managed grazing which controls the fuel load and provides some output.

    Which of those "facts" (they are all true) a group or organisation chooses to publicise depends entirely on its beliefs! There is as much "evidence" pointing to an ice age as to any increase in temperatures, but you wouldn't read that in the press! Most of the scientists I have met that are not making money (reasearch grants etc.) related to climate change don't believe it's real. Most marketing people think that a stciker that says "water saving product" will make a sale - and they're probably right! [On this note, I went to Sydney last weekend and bought a magazine to read. Apparently if I replace my two toilets and bathroom basins with "water saving" ones, my water usage will reduce by 100,00 litres/year, which is amazing because with our "water wasting" taps and toilets we only use about 70,000L anyway!]

    As for farming on a large scale, that's an easy question. The larger the scale, the greater the efficiencies. It is cheaper and quicker (per unit area or unit of produce) to farm a large area than a smaller one. Should we be farming on that scale? Thats more tricky, as it raises the equally valid question "should millions of people be living in cities, producing nothing and expecting someone else to supply them with cheap food"? The two things go hand in hand.

    Preselling my crop. An interesting concept! What happens when my crop fails? Do my customers give me the money anyway, even though they get nothing? Or is it like the current "forward selling" concept, where I have to buy myself out of the contract at current market price? I suspect that food production (for oneself or others) is too important to be stress free at any time. The only people who don't stress about food production are those for whom food comes from Woolworths and is an unending an unconsidered supply.......
     
  4. Hamishmac

    Hamishmac Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Zzsstt,

    I should like to think that permaculture can provide for the needs of human society, but will require a radical rethink of some sacred cows: wealth distribution, property ownership in common, legal frameworks, monetary systems, delegation of food production, centralised decision making, etc. I don't think we've yet suffered enough true shortage or mayhem to test these tenets as a society, though questions are starting to be raised by 'the man in the street'. I don't have answers here, only questions. Fortunately there are a good sized bunch of people setting up PC projects to test theories, and yes, they will need capital to start.

    Whether it can meet the wants of society is a different issue altogether, and the answer is likely a simple 'no' as our wants I feel already exceed the carrying capacity of the environment to supply them sustainably. That realisation alone is not enough for us to voluntarily relinquish our wants though.

    I still feel that PC is very much in it's infancy/learning to walk stage and is not yet a mature discipline. Took us a few centuries to stuff the planet up. Expecting an unforced radical change in 2 or 3 decades is somewhat optimistic methinks.

    Coming from a scientific background also I agree entirely with the need to examine evidence without hype & vested interests. Usually this means the 'follow the money-who benefits?' appraisal. I've found, in contrast to other disciplines and groups, that PC seems refreshingly free in a relative sense, of this. Of course, that is not to say there aren't areas within PC where odd beliefs & self-serving financial interests lie, and if you don't watch out you'll get hit by swinging crystals and have your chakra badly interfered with.

    And with regards to circumstances where you have presold your crop and it fails...with all these supportive community minded people just willing your crop to flourish (as they've already paid their three-monthly subscription), how could it possibly fail? The positive energy flows over your fields would be just too massive. :)

    Hamish
     
  5. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hamish,

    I agree, permaculture does seem reasonably free from the money motive, though to be fair as yet there doesn't seem to be much opportunity to "value add". Apart from compost and earthworks, it seems a fairly "manual labour" based system, rather than one based on copper mixing pots and flow forms, and so presents minimal space for the profiteer to practice his or her art! Perhaps in turn this is why it appears to have made less impact than some of the other alternative systems - a vineyard can make great claims about being biodynamic (for example) based on the fact that it has invested in some nice expensive flow forms and mixing vessels, whereas permaculture actually requires hard work?

    I do not really believe that the "man in the street" has asked any questions as yet, nor in fact suffered at all. The media may be suggesting that he has, and in small groups of "believers" it is perhaps easy to kid ourselves that the world at large shares some of our concerns, but I don't think that it really does. I suspect that the solutions (the real ones, not the pointless fake things currently being done) are too hard for 99.9% of people to even contemplate. It's far easier to stand for 30 minutes in a multi-bodyjet shower and blame the farmers for the lack of water! The logic applied in these cases is astounding - I was involved in a discussion about farming in Australia, where it was suggested that Australian farmers are stuffing the environment and should be stopped. When asked what the person proposing this would eat, they replied that "Australia is a rich country, we can afford to import our food". ?????? So we should stop growing (under fairly well controlled, safe and in reality a reasonably environmentally friendly manner) our own food, and burn fossil fuels transporting product halfway around the world from places that may be doing far more harm than us anyway? Hmmm. It seems to me that the man in the street asks only the questions that the media prompts him to ask, and accepts only the answers the media provides for him. Of course if ones only source of information IS the media, I guess that's all one can do!

    Permaculture techniques, I suspect, could sustain an isolated family. Or even a small community, as we have said. But I think we have agreed that they rely on everyone working together - mostly on food production. The reason that farming has developed the way it has, with fertilisers, herbicides and big machines, is that it is the only way for a small workforce to produce vast amounts of cheap food to support a large non-productive population. This will change only when that population no longer requires others to produce their food!

    And every belief system (religious, lifestyle or anything else) has its share of loonies! Whether they wave crystals, claim copper and lime will save the world, dance naked by moonlight or think that smeone opening a can of RoundUp 5km away will cause them to grow an extra arm, they're all just loonies! Personally I disregard them, and then sift through the case presented to find what makes sense to me and whether I can incorporate it in to my own system to provide any benefits! Currently, some aspects of permaculture actually seem to!
     
  6. Hamishmac

    Hamishmac Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Zzsstt,

    Some further thoughts on the economics,

    Just for the sake of debate, (you know, since the govt and technology will always save us,) if we make the assumption that:

    the cost of a barrel of oil will rise faster than any associated productivity gains;

    then what does the cost/supply curve look like for various foodstuffs using broadacre farming (ie a graph plotting cost of production per hectare against oil price)? A rising straight line or curve of some description. I'm not looking at the demand side, just cost of production.

    Now what does the comparable curve look like for permaculture-based food production? I imagine the line is flatter, but not completely flat, but starts higher up the y-axis, ie, at very cheap oil prices PC is more costly. The line may even fall a bit over time as initial capital needs for conversion diminish.

    At some point as oil prices rise the two lines will cross, and PC becomes more cost effective. At this point PC-produced food becomes cheaper. Indeed the cost advantage is even greater to producers/farmers who invested in the changeover when it was cheap to do so, and the price of things related to oil price like landscaping/excavating, solar panels, (labour) etc were lower.

    Of course, demand wouldn't stay the same and customers would buy the same product cheaper (imports, tho' increased transport costs would negate this advantage), or swap to different foods, such as root vegetables over cereal crops, or grow their own.

    Does this scenario change the terms of the debate at all? Or is the above argument fatally flawed?

    Hamish
     
  7. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hamish,

    Your argument is valid, but it's a touch "apples and oranges" (no pun intended!).

    Firstly, cost of production is almost irrelevant to a business (a farmer, rather than a self sustaining family). A high cost of production is fine as long as the value of the final product is also high, and hence the returns are reasonable. So whilst the costs may go up, as long as the sale value increases it's OK. Given that our entire economy is "fake", in that it's manipulated artificially to ensure that the non-producers (banks etc.) maintain a profit, and the price of oil is determined by the desires of the Arab states to install cooling systems under their artificial beaches, and that people will always have to eat, I have no doubt that no matter how high prices go there will always be a profit available. If this was not the case then the point would be more relevant.

    Secondly, the permaculture system is massively labour intensive. One man in a tractor can sow hundreds of acres an hour. To generate the same amount of food (of any description) using permaculture requires a vast labour force, as permaculture is by it's nature (it seems to me) ill suited to mechanisation, and in any case if it were mechanised it would surely suffer from the oil prices in the same way. In a society that is totally dependent on oil, the wages demanded by that vast labour force would increase at the same rate as that of oil, so it is questionable whether there would come a point where (lets say) 100 people would be paid less than the cost of running the tractor they replaced.

    Thirdly, one of the main costs associated with farming is fertiliser (yes, an oil related cost!). It is easy to suggest that permaculture avoids this cost, but that's not entirely true. The only parts of a product (vegetable or animal, "dry") that do not come from the soil are the carbon and nitrogen. As soon as a product is exported from the site of production, all the other elements are lost. No matter how good permaculture is, it cannot magically create P,K,B,Mg,Mn,S and all the others from nowhere. This means that in a "full" permaculture system (biosphere!) everything is retained on site, but in a commercial system that exports product, over time external inputs will be required, exposing the system once again to those oil based costs. Even for the replaceable nutrients, as soon as production starts to be pushed to provide a commercial harvest, "nature" starts to fail. It is not strictly true that "nature used to do this", because what nature intended - to provide a specific example - was a small bitter crab apple. A heavy bearing big juicy Granny Smith tree (or even those "heritage" varieties we hear about) require far more care, water and nutrents than that crab apple. Hence, labour, fertiliser and irrigation.

    So whilst your thoughts are totally valid in isolation, I'm not sure they work in the real world - unless that real world returns to the previously mentioned "primitive" society.

    Edit:
    Again, please understand that I really do think that many of the concepts of permaculture are valid, but only for the single isolated family, or very small community. In such a situation, essentially a biosphere exists, in that with suitable recycling (composting toilets ec.) no nutrients are lost and sustainability can result. I'm just not sure that permaculture "farming" (in a commercial sense) can be viable, and as a result I'm not sure that (disregarding the fall of our current society and a return to a more primitive system) permaculture is the answer it's claimed to be.

    I suspect that many evangelists of the permaculture movement have perhaps forgotten that modern farming methods evolved to supply cheap plentiful food to support an ever growing population in any way possible. Until that population stops growing, starts to reduce and move out of cities to areas where it can produce it's own food, any system that requires more labour or higher costs to produce less food is going to struggle!
     
  8. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    I'm really enjoying this discussion... I have no plan to achieve self sufficiency from my own garden but I certainly fall under the heading of "I want to believe" that it is possible. My Mum never had a vege patch as it was easy and cheap to put petrol in the car and drive to the shops to feed your family. My Grandmother wasn't allowed to have one by her husband (grounds for divorce in my books!) - I think it was because he felt that only poor people had to rely on growing their own and he wanted to demonstrate his prowess as a provider by having a car to put petrol into and money to spend at the shops. My maternal grandmother passed away a few years ago at age 94, and had the pleasure of a small herb and flower garden after my grandfather's death.

    But my grandmothers mother, and every woman in my family tree before then? Surely they must have grown enough individually, or collectively within their neighbourhood, to meet their needs? I guess their needs were less than my and my children's wants are. They will have managed with out electricity, let alone the internet! Or am I just guilty of viewing the past through rose colored glasses?

    I'm in the planning stage of my garden at present and have been brainstorming a list of fruit trees that will grow locally, that my kids and I will actually consume. As I gazed longingly at the bright orange apricots at the supermarket (imported from NZ...) this week I realized that if I intend to supply all my fruit and vege supplies from my block that I'm never going to have stone fruit again! :cry: It's a terrible thing to have been so spoilt for choice all my life. I still can't come at paying $5 for a single pomegranate imported from California though.

    I want to have the vege patch that my feminine ancestors did, but I guess that I don't want to have the life that they had with it.
     
  9. Hamishmac

    Hamishmac Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Eco4560,

    I think you've hit the nail on the head. All of us feel the same to varying degrees I'm sure, and I think this is why, as Zzsstt says, conventional broadacre farming offers what has been, and to most still is, such an acceptable, affordable, and even attractive alternative. The downside has been largely ignored.

    I would like to think that the use of Permaculture in terms of it's design potential, placing of elements, and use of systems which complement each other and replicate nature instead of fighting it, would offer an alternative where we can have decent food grown sustainably without the high lifestyle cost and a necessity to revert to hard pre-industrial or primitive lives.

    Hamish
     
  10. Tim Auld

    Tim Auld Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hi zzsstt,

    I'm enjoying this discussion, as I'm interested in farmers' perspective on permaculture. Let me put some things to you.

    Your point about generating an income to cover a mortgage is an important barrier to sustainability in the current system. The way I think about it is that you are not only sustaining yourself, you are also sustaining the bank and its shareholders through interest, government employees and beneficiaries, the previous owner of the land, and any other speculators that benefit from inflated asset values. No wonder it is tough! In a world without credit which we are heading for, where you can't bid with speculated future earnings, asset values will be much diminished. The automatic earth blog suggests that real estate may plummet to 10-20% of their peak values. The transition will necessarily bankrupt a lot of people and businesses, but it may be the only realistic way forward to redistribute land.

    Arguing that cost of production doesn't matter to your business I think is rather specious. For starters consider the increased cost of crop failure. Someone must bear that. If the practices you use degrade the land and aquifers, isn't this the ultimate outcome? Stuart Staniford made the same argument here: https://www.theoildrum.com/node/3481, saying peak oil won't stop industrial agriculture. In my opinion the argument is moot if the physical resources do not exist in plentiful enough supply to carry on in this way, even if fertility does not give way. It puts too much emphasis on money and not on energy, material flow and ecology. There is also the matter that customers have limited capacity to pay increasing food prices. There are plenty of alternatives, such as growing your own, changing diets, stealing, eating less, and starving.

    You talk about permaculture being labour intensive, but my impression is that permaculture is intended to reduce human labour to the extent possible without (in the long run) additional inputs. Ultimately the labour would involve mostly correcting the design, tending, harvesting, processing, rebuilding after disaster etc. Compared with long days in a tractor, industrial food processing (I've done that - it's not fun) or all the other mundane, demeaning and unnecessary jobs that industrial civilisation provides this doesn't sound too bad. It may be significantly healthier too. Keep in mind that handing sites down to future generations would not require re-establishment. While working examples are limited, they do exist. I am currently reading 'Edible Food Forests', and the oldest temperate food forest is supposedly Robert Hart's in the UK (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hart_(forest_gardener)). He was able to sustain himself on a small plot without a horticultural education. On the PRI's 'Establishing a Food Forest' DVD, there are extras about existing food forests in other climates (one of them thousands of years old). It may mean a greater proportion of the population is involved with food production, but that seems like a better outcome than mass starvation. If it is done well, we may also find we have more leisure time. Industrial society has been sold to us as convenient and labour saving, but in fact we are overworked serfs to the elites who live up an extravagant lifestyle but aren't all that happy themselves!

    Looking forward to your response,

    Cheers,
    Tim Auld
     
  11. Hamishmac

    Hamishmac Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hi Tim/Zzsst/eco4560 & readers,

    Tim makes some good & valid points re asset values, declining reserves of cheap oil, depletion of aquifers and soil fertility, and a fall in labour requirements in PC systems once up and running, which I reckon complement some of my opinions.

    However if we refer back to Zzsstt's original question;

    the problem arises that it seems PC offers much in the way of potential in the future, without an established past track record which is solid, easy to measure and easily accessible for folks from any background to examine and evaluate according to their circumstances. Zzsstt is asking a very reasonable and valid question which it is not unreasonable for all of us to ask, if only to have a good, evidence-based answer.

    Thus for certain groups, including those where change from current methods would involve some financial or other risk, being comfortable with future predictions or taking a leap of faith is required.

    I am fairly new to PC myself, so perhaps there exist lots of successful projects that I haven't yet seen. If you read the PRI blog attached to this forum you'll see links and references to permaculture projects and a PC master plan. I think that this approach is imperative, both to establish a track record and convince folks that PC can work in a wide variety of landscapes (The Jordan Desert is a pretty good place to start though!). I think only then will PC more easily become mainstream.

    And eco4560,

    I'm glad for you that your ancestors were so attractive. Mine were all hairy-arsed butt-ugly savages who make the Adams family look extremely kissable by comparison. :)

    Hamish
     
  12. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Tim,

    Much of the following is moving away from my original question (as Hamish remarked) because I was questioning permaculture in the real world. Permaculture in a world managed by a species that has moved beyond selfishness to a credit-free utopia (so not us humans then!) was not part of my question....

    I guess many of the arguments are speculative, based on an uncertain future. To assume that the future will be credit-free, which is also to assume that our entire banking and finance industries worldwide - and therefore our entire method of government (based on the control of interest rates, gathering of taxes to pay for developments "for the common good" etc.) - seems to me to be unlikely at best. As a species we are simply too greedy and selfish for this to happen. It is very easy in cases like this to "see" the solution, but getting there is a different matter. I suspect that the reality is that we will destroy ourselves long before the banks go out of business!

    The redistribution of land is another interesting point. It perhaps fits the selfish nature of our species that we can glibbly comment that many people will have to suffer in order that the land be redistributed - people who have worked hard all their lives in order to not only own the land but to provide food for those who CHOOSE to live in cities are now to go bankrupt because some of the city dwellers decide that they have screwed up and would now like to return to a more agricultural lifestyle? Seems fair.......

    The cost of production IS irrelevant. The cost of non-production (crop failure) only important if it cannot be clawed back later. You are correct, someone must bear all costs, and this person is the customer. The customer will always be able to bear that cost, because our economy is organised that way. The fact that, within reason, wages and "inflation" run hand in hand demonstrates this (and, of course, how utterly pointless is the whole process!). Interesting to hypothosise that the reason for any discrepancy between wages and costs is equally "designed" as a means for the financial institutions to generate further revenue from credit, for if this is true it simply reinforces the viewpoint that the design will now modify to marginally reduce available credit and return to a more reasonable cost/wage relationship. Whether this will result in a fall of the magnitude you are suggesting is, I suspect, very doubtful across the board, though it may be that some of the grossly inflated prices ($25+million for a house in the eastern suburbs of Sydney) will take a tumble. But then, of course, the people buying/owning those houses are the people in control of the financial "design", so perhaps they won't let that happen, eh?

    "If the practices degrade the land and aquifers" is a really interesting comment. Degradation is a tricky thing to define, and very subjective. Many greens would tell you that using dozers to make unnatural lumps and bumps in the landscape is degrading it, or that planting a species not native to an area is degrading it, or that (as a specific example) using willows to stabilise a watercourse is an act of vandalism. Farmers realise that their livelihood depends on the land, and therefore the majority will do everything possible to maintain it. It is always possible to find some "facts" or "statistics" that can be manipulated to suggest that something is being "degraded". Of course, in reality there are always mistakes made. With the benefit of hindsight we can prove what an idiot Mr Bush was to invade Iraq, or that the introduction of the cane toad was a mistake, or that excessive tillage of fragile soils was less than optimum. Indeed I have no hesitation in suggesting that there are aspects of permaculture (through it's development) that have failed, or later been improved upon but because permaculture is a very small and recent movement, these issues go unremarked.

    It's interesting, again, that many of the problems that we perceive are the result of "development". For example, as I have said earlier, current farming methods evolved to provide for a mostly non-productive population, requiring cheap food. Equally "credit" (and our entire monetary system) followed the same development. In our PC utopia, we are all happy and content. But then our children need a place of their own (our "food forest" has reached capacity). At that point they have to build their own "food forest" and whilst they are doing that they cannot help work on ours, yet they must still eat. So we [give/lend/lease/loan] them some food, seeds, and livestock to get started. Wow, credit! Then Thommo's wife gets sick, and he needs to look after her, so we maintain his "food forest" for him for a couple of weeks. He says he'll do the same for us at some point, and writes that down so we don't forget. Wow, "money" and credit in one! Because we don't think we'll need Thommo's help, we exchange his "note" for a piglet from Sally's sow. Wow, trade! Sally loses the note and gets upset. She vows that this will never happen again, so decides to build a cupboard in her house in which everyone can store their IOU "notes" safely. Wow, a bank! A few more people seems to have caught whatever Thommo's wife had, so everyone gets together and builds a shed where Sally's daughter Amy can look after all the sick people. Because Amy can't work in her food forest, everyone supplies her with food. Wow, wages! But Thommo didn't help build the "sick hut", nor does he give food to Amy - why should he, his wife has already recovered. Amy is displeased by that, so when Thommo gets sick she refuses to look after him. Wow, a private health system! And so it went, and will go again.

    "Credit" in some form will always be with us, and when the number of people in a community grows to a point where it is no longer possible for everyone to remember correctly who "owes" what to whom, there will always develop a monetary and banking system.

    Finally, PC as labour intensive. I think we are talking from different perpectives here. PC is most definitely labour intensive. It may be nice to think that one will simply saunter out, pick a fruit or two for breakfast and take the day off, but I will hazard a guess that's not how it will work. We all know that left untended things don't go the way we'd like. It's fine to hold up example of an "ancient permaculture" oasis in a desert somewhere, but please note that in the middle of a desert outside influences (animal or plant) are largely non-existent. The plants growing in that environment are very well adapted (native), and in the examples I have been shown are very limited in diversity - as in fact is (from my experience) most "natural" vegetation [this may be because most of the worlds vegetation has been to some extent "managed" by man over history, but in most places I have been the "mature" environment appears close to a monoculture - north Amercian redwood forests, north european pine forests, English beech woods, even many Australia areas are predominantly one species, perhaps with an understory of a limited number of others]. However, I for one would not want to spend my life living on a 99% fig diet (if that's possible), no matter how self sustaining the environment might be!

    As soon as you introduce animals, non-native plants, and indeed any mixed planting you introduce labour. One plant interferes or dominates another. The chickens escape, destroy a vegetable planting and then get killed by a fox. Suddenly the citrus are covered in bronze orange bugs, or caterpillars, black sooty mould, aphids and ants. The nut trees were stripped of their buds in one morning by a flock of cockatoos, and the gallahs ripped out all the new seedlings just for fun. Nevermind the gale last night that took branches off half the fruit trees that will all require pruning and retraining. And then of course the cow/goat/sheep needs milking, all the animals need checking/feeding/watering and todays food needs harvesting. And then anything non-perennial needs to be considered with regard to sowing, thinning, planting out etc. The green manure needs digging in before it sets seed which will swamp whatever was going to be grown there next season. Then someone needs to go to the market to swap the xxxx for some xxxx which can't be produced here. Now it's getting dark, we haven't had breakfast yet and b*gger me nobody collected the eggs from the chicken run. And did anybody shut the valve that irrigates the food forest (hereafter known as "the swamp") with nutrient filled water from the acqua-culture dam (hereafter known as the "mud puddle filled with dead fish")?

    Sorry, I got distracted. Back to labour intensive! I think when you say it's not labour intensive you are referring to an idealised maintenance of a perfect PC envronment, supporting a small family unit. In that circumstance I agree with you to a degree (I'm guessing that we'd write off all my previous paragraphs with a single stroke of the "doesn't happen in a PC environment" pen). However I am talking about PC as a farming system (rather than self sufficiency). In that sense we are talking about larger areas and higher volumes of produce. Where one man can easily pick a few items for dinner, asking him to harvest the tonnes of produce required from a "Farm" is another matter. Mechanisation was developed becuase it was cheaper and faster than human labour. In cases where this is not true (premium grape picking, some fruit and vegetable harvesting for example) the actual picking may still be done by hand, but with machinery to transport and process the produce. It seems to me that even the layout of a PC system is not conducive to mechanisation. A mix of plants, for example, defies any harvesting machinery, and the physical layout makes machine access more dificult even to transport a manually harvest crop. The mix of plants also means a greater area is required to produce the same amount of a product (I won't get distracted with yield changes!), again reducing the efficiency (walk further, carry further, more time to do the same job). If PC did include the use of chemicals, this is vastly complicated by a mix of plants. As it normally doesn't, we can add the manual removal of unwanted plants to our list of tasks. All this means lower efficiency and more labour for a commercial operation. As I said above, it makes little difference for someone growing for their own consumption with 24hrs a day to do it!

    By the way, I find the comment "Ultimately the labour would involve mostly correcting the design, tending, harvesting, processing, rebuilding after disaster etc." to be absolutely fascinating. If we add "planning" and "selling" to that list, we get a fair definition of "farmer".

    As I have said before, I have no doubt that PC can provide for a small family unit or community. Using what we would call "organic" methods, my grandfather provided almost all his own fruit and vegetables (and for my grandmother and aunt) throught his retirement from 1/3 acre block, though he did have a farming background. However there is an enormous difference between a single person or family providing food for themselves and (as was my original question) a commercially viable real world system. I have never read Robert Harts book, so I can't be sure, but my sister owns a small rural property in the UK and it is valued at many $10K's - or possibly $100K's by now - per acre, for pure agricultural land without "improvements". In the south of England, a detached suburban house on a small block is unlikely to cost below $750K. Does Mr Hart pay his own mortgage from his block? Presumably he makes no money from selling his books, or giving lectures etc., as this would surely place him squarely in the bracket I mentioned in my initial post of "living only by permaculture", oh, and income from bookdeals, TV shows, the lecture circuit, dad's share portfolio, charitable donations, volunteer workers etc.

    I have tried, within reason, to address the points you raised (or a least give you my "take" on them). It would seem from your post that you envisage a return to a more basic lifestyle for society, with the majority of people living on small blocks of "redistributed" land, the banks and central goverment seem to have been removed, along with "industrial civilisation". My questions to you:

    1/Do you realise that this in turn means no cars, electricity, refrigeration, medicine, internet etc. We are talking about a full return to primitive society here. (btw, unless you can "grow" a solar panel, or an old Fisher+Paykell washing machine from which to salvage a motor for a wind powered generator, I do mean no electricity!).

    2/ How do you see the migration to this new system? Will people slowly move out of cities to rural areas where, with no credit, they will buy land from people who realise what it's worth and inflate the price accordingly, or do you see it as a rapid "fall" along the lines of Mad Max?

    3/ Given that every primitive society that has ever existed has been based on rule-by-fear; when everyone has given up their status as overworked serfs in the industrial society and moved to their self suffcient smallholdings, how will we ensure that with no communications, or central government, those elites (who all own guns) do not simply continue to live off our backs but this time on pain of death?

    Please, stop laughing. I am being serious here, and would like answers. Whilst unrelated to my original question, it seems there are two views of PC. I am asking about how it fits to the real world, which includes banks, credit, industry etc. The answers I am getting are not "real world", or more accurately "current world", so I would like a full explanation of what we are envisaging and how we get there!
     
  13. Hamishmac

    Hamishmac Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hi all,

    The debate is certainly multi-faceted and complex, but looks like some key features are emerging around which it revolves.

    1. How does PC stack up in proof of concept terms in being able to supply food?

    2. How does PC stack up in terms of supplying all human needs?

    3. How about human wants? And what is the difference? Is a laptop a need or a want? (simple answer taking account of human greed and self-interest: mine is a need, yours is a want)

    4. Lets add an ecologically sustainable dimension. Does it hit the mark here? Is there a minimum (or maximum) land block size required so that no outside inputs are required? What is the ratio of land block size to number of people able to be sustained within its area? Can this be scaled up to tens or hundreds of hectares?

    5. And now add the elephant in the room, an economic dimension. What are the implications here? If I can earn $30 an hour off-site, is it worthwhile to me to spend time in the garden? Given that we haven't till now put dollar values on ecological harms, or difficult to measure things like soil fertility, how do we compare PC in "like-for-like" terms with other methods. How close does it need to be economically to current methods for people to start changing behaviours. Can it work at all using current economic paradigms? If not, how is transition approached and managed?

    6. And emotional terms. A fuzzy, qualitative dimension. How does it stack up in terms of fulfillment, frustration, uncertainty, responsibility etc? To what degree does this make up for any economic deficits?

    7. A health dimension? Better food and a healthier lifestyle? Or increased skin cancers (in Australia anyway) and a dinner of a plate of fruit-fly ridden chillies and a maggoty cucumber.

    8. Implications for a wider economy? If we all spend xx% of our time on the block, who is going to fix up Windows Vista? (and puh-leez, no comments re "just get Linux"..it is only my attempt at a humorous example)

    9. Implications for a wider ecology? If 1% of the world population, say 60 million people, become completely self-sufficient through PC means, and 99% don't, then the planet will hardly notice, and the devastation continues. Does that mean that we need to spend more time promoting it to the 99%, and less time on our own blocks? Or, bugger the rest of them, as long as I do the right thing I'll live happy and die happy?

    10. Political. If I am almost completely self-sufficient with only a small outside financial income, can I tell the Govt to sod off and mind their own business, and with my neighbours form a local mini-council? If tax revenue falls by a huge amount who will pay for essential community services, and more importantly, the New Year Fireworks Display on the Harbour Bridge?

    11. The clincher. Evidence. What is the evidence for each of these things? How much evidence, in the absence of localised or generalised ecological collapse, is required for people to change their spending patterns, behaviour, and view on wants. Does this requirement vary according to socioeconomic status within, and between countries? Perhaps one of the most important things we can do is to fund, establish and support projects here and now to get the required evidence. Or not, as the case may be.

    And, co-incidentally, an email has just hit my in-box:

    More questions than answers. But lets find the answers we need, even if some sacred cows need slaughtered in the process. Because, I fear that until we have these answers, there will be little incentive for the majority of us to change.

    Hamish
     
  14. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Just a couple of other points....

    I entirely agree with Hamishs desire for the PC community to present evidence of the success of permaculture, indeed that is exactly what I am looking for! I would, however, go one stage further and suggest that such doumentation should include a full financial breakdown and analysis. It is very easy for any system to claim success by witholding information about it's costs and failures. Indeed the opinion that conventional farming is "failing" is based only on the perception of fertiliser inputs etc. From a purely commercial viewpoint, the reality is that most farms (whilst perhaps struggling in the current drought, and disregarding EC claims) are nonetheless still there, which is a fair indication that convertional farming is largely commercially sustainable, no matter what our opinions of its "environmental" sustainability. And this is, remember, in a country that largely throws it's farmers to the wolves with regard to and vote grabs, revenue raising, or unilateral "free trade" legislation in a market where almost all it's competitors are massively subsidised by their respective governments.

    If the inputs and costs of permaculture are not fully disclosed, no objective analysis is possible. Any system can be propped up almost indefinitely with sufficient outside help. For PC be objectively judged as "sustainable" it must prove itself to be so - which is why I repeatedly mention the apparent need in every example I have seen to gain external inputs from lectures, gifts, free labour, consultancy, book writing etc. The proof of sustainability must be conclusive, and relevant. This may, indeed, result in several "proofs", as indeed there seem to be several "claims". It is entirely acceptable to give proof that PC is an environmentally sustainable mechanism for food production to cater to the needs of a family, either wholely or partially, as long as that is the limit of the claim. Such a proof may not, for example, rely on two adults working full time in the "food forest", as this denies the need to earn sufficient money to pay a mortgage etc. However if the claim is that PC is a methodology suited to commercial farming, then the proof must be relevant and thus must be financially profitable, even after costs of labour, land purchase etc. have been taken in to account.

    In terms of PC's relevence to family food production, I'm still enthused! I do believe that PC offers many useful techniques for supplying family food. Whether it is possible to supply the majority of ones own food whilst having a full time job I guess I'll have to find out for myself.... though perversely even that would not be conclusive "real world" proof, as I am lucky enough to have machinery and land available to me that would not be considered "normal". If I want to "Yeomans" an acre of land, install driplines and mulch with oaten hay, I can do that with equipment and materials on site, at minimal cost and time (the Yeomans is on the tractor already, it'll only take a few minutes!). By my own terms, I would have to "cost" that process to make it relevent to an average person!
     
  15. Tim Auld

    Tim Auld Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Hi zzsstt,

    My first paragraph was an attempt to explain why the examples you are looking for are limited. The current land owners have the land locked up at elevated prices and still survive, even if the profits are marginal. There may be be some fully documented commercially applied permaculture farms, but I'm as interested as you are in finding them. The credit I was referring to was the type that required a large proportion of a person's productivity for 30+ years to repay. Are any of your characters able and willing to loan someone that amount? Of course there will be a mechanism for exchange, money systems and barter, and other arrangements that facilitate productive enterprise and support. The difference will be that they won't support a class of wealthy people that produce nothing of value. I don't really see the point of morally agonising over things such as redistribution of resources and bankruptcy of otherwise good and hard working people. It can and will happen whether you or I like it or not. The more interesting question is how to pick up the pieces so no-one suffers unduly, and as you point out, prevent the acquisition of resources by force. I believe the best way to prevent such undesirable outcomes is to build community, satisfy everyone's basic needs, make them feel included and provide them meaningful work.

    The collapse of fractional reserve banking is reasonably assured. It is simply not compatible with economic contraction. Chris Martenson's Crash Course is a good summary: https://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse.

    "The customer will always be able to bear that cost, because our economy is organised that way" History and current events doesn't support this statement. Look at the food riots, government intervention and starvation. In a broader sense, the collapse of previous civilisations doesn't support it - their economies were frequently based on free markets too. People can't simply pay any price because their resources are limited. If the price is above what people are able and willing to pay, demand will collapse and supply will follow. A new equilibrium may be found, but if the inputs to your system are depleting then you will be continuously falling behind. It is often a collapse in prices that cripple producers while inputs remain relatively high. The Australian wine industry is in contraction due to a drop in demand, but the cost of production hasn't dropped by the same amount, making the enterprise less profitable at current output. Throughput is contracting, and vines are being ripped up.

    I believe that permaculture does have potential for farming. Here's an interesting example of permaculture practiced on a broad acre scale: https://www.fao.org/organicag/doc/australia.htm. Also, https://www.permaculture.biz/ appears to cater to more commercial ventures (follow the portfolio link). Because of the difficulties you express - efficiency of harvest, transport issues, mining of nutrients, the greatest value may be in the retrofitting of existing housing infrastructure to home based production.

    The most important metric by which degradation of land is measured is the life and quality of the soil. Whatever justification you give for farming practices and mistakes made, the point is that if you poison, mine, salinate, compact or erode your soil it will eventually affect yields. The amazing transformation Geoff Lawton achieved in Jordan demonstrates in the extreme how permaculture can achieve the exact opposite: https://permaculture.org.au/2005/02/01/use-of-permaculture-under-salinity-and-drought-conditions/.

    "If we add "planning" and "selling" to that list, we get a fair definition of "farmer"." Sure, functionally they are similar, but there is a qualitative difference in the lifestyle of, say, Robert Hart or David Holmgren, and a farmer who grows hundreds of acres of wheat and spends many days in a tractor not truly interacting with nature, exhausted by the end of the day with little time for his family.

    Now, to answer your questions:

    1/ For the most part yes, I realise that modern conveniences will fall by the way side. It doesn't necessarily mean we are back to the stone age. Cuba is still able to maintain a fleet of old American cars, although this will become progressively more difficult as time goes on. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can stop wasting resources on a way of life without a future. Spending "stimulus" money borrowed from future tax payers to build road infrastructure that is already diminishing in use is extremely myopic.

    2/ There is already something of a movement back to the land. The latest figures from the USDA show an increase in the number and diversity of small farms and an increase in farmers markets. In China people are heading back to rural areas because their industrial jobs no longer exist - often to find polluted and degraded land. In some places there will be civil unrest and chaotic changes, Darfur and Sudan for example. In many places it's hard to see. Fuel and fertiliser shortages may spell the end for long supply chains that industrial ag relies on. How exactly we transition to something sustainable after that is a question I'm very interested in. The PRI is backing the creation of demonstration farms around the world, whether the intention is for existing primary producers to adopt it en masse, new farmers taking it up, or urban populations retrofitting. There may be no hard and fast answers - we are in uncharted territory. Of course there's no gaurantee that people will take up permaculture-like practices and survive (or thrive). Which is why I promote it.

    3/ I'm not sure that I agree with your extreme premise that "every primitive society that has ever existed has been based on rule-by-fear". Anyway, it is certain that in any growing civilisation a class of ruling elites forms and has power over the subservient. In declining civilisations there are unsavoury parties that fill power vacuums, for example the Russian Mafia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. How to ensure they simply do not live off our backs again? I don't know, but I think we give ourselves the best chance by forming strong communities as mentioned above, and spread the knowledge, wisdom and culture required to live sustainable lives. Maybe it will be something we just live with as best we can. Has anyone throughout history found an answer?

    I find your insistence on proof of sustainability curious. Did anyone prove to you that industrial ag was sustainable? Perhaps the claim wasn't explicitly made, but it sure is implied. Can you see that profit over even a hundred years is no proof? Some prior civilisations have lasted for millennia, ours is still a baby and look at the damage it's already done! Permaculture's principles were derived from the most sustainable cultures. Even if sustainability can't easily be quantified and analysed, these principles have empirical value.

    Regards,
    Tim
     
  16. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Tim,

    A few quick thoughts, I'll post a fuller reply later (I have to go and feed some weaners!).

    Firstly the Australian wine industry. The industry was very attractive at one point, due to both high prices paid and (I am told) government incentives to plant vineyards. The vast majority of the product, however, was exported and sold at "premium" prices in countries such as the UK, making the industry even more profitable. It is my understanding that a major player then boosted production far above the previous levels, taking a punt on his ability to sell it all. Unfortunately the market did not absorb the excess at premium prices, causing a re-negotiation with the major overseas buyers, and a sudden massive drop in the price point for Australian wines. The fallout from all of this was a massive stockpile of wine (causing further price decreases as manufacturers tried to clear their inventory), a low price and a large number of "bandwagon" grape growers with no market for their product. It was my understanding that currently the market is stabilising slowly, though at the new price point, resulting in lower grape prices and smaller, less efficient non-premium vineyards "going under". By the way, regardless of anything else we are discussing, the greed that produced this situation (both that of the winemaker in question and the bandwagon grape growers) is currently set to be repeated, I suspect, in both olives and cherries (the NEW big thing), which are both still being planted in quantity because of a perceived market shortage, even though the planting take several years to reach anywhere near full production which may well mean that when they all hit top production we have an oversupply!

    Food riots, government intervention and starvation. Some interesting points are raised here, and some revolve around issues that are not politically correct. If we supply medicines to cure disease in a culture that has historically suffered massively high child death rates (and therefore has a culture of many children), we cause a massive increase in population. As these countries are often incapable (through climate, techniqe or whatever) of producing the sudden large increase in food needed to supply this booming population, we simply increase the number of people starving. On top of this, we start to educate the upper echelons of that society to believe that they shouldn't have to do manual labour. We then start supplying "aid", which is often diverted to provide a nice income for the people at the top. We encourage the population to move to cities, further reducing the manpower for production of food, and also start to educate them in our western ways ("you shouldn't need to work"). Having taken this society from one that is adapted to their environment and conditions, even if that lifestyle with its associated child mortality rate and low lifespan was offensive to us, we then wonder when they riot because they cannot buy food? I read a fascinating article in The Guardian Weekly some time ago, in which a "Bono" style moron journalist was stating - in all seriousness - that one of the biggest issues facing villages in Africa was THEIR LACK OF INTERNET ACCESS. I kid u not! Obviously people will riot if they cannot afford food, but these examples move outside the remit of my arguments - this is another artificial situation where we have created a very low paid, poor society, dependent on imports, and then attempt to sell them food at western prices.

    As far as my "insistence on proof of sustainability" goes, I find it equally strange that you (or anyone else) should not be asking for the same. Whilst it is currently fashionable to make statements about "the damage that we have done", we currently have a farming system that produces food. It is, as all things are, constantly being developed to address the issues that arise. Recently it has been realised that some of our farming practices cause increased salinity, and practices are being changed to counter this. It has been realised that northern hemisphere practices are not totally applicable in Australia, and they are being modified to suit. Soil compaction has been identified as an issue, so tramline farming and minimum or no-till methods are evolving to address this. Most new tractors and machinery will run on bio-diesel. Fertiliser strategies are being modified to reduce the build-up of salts. Even the basic use of fertilisers is changing, with farmers adopting the use of nitrogen fixing legumes in rotations, or nitrogen fixing bacteria replacing or subsidising fertilisers. Bio-solids (poo from Sydney!) is being trialled commercially. Irrigation methods are evolving to gain higher efficiencies. Many of the above measures also help to incease the organic matter levels in the soil. These are all evolutionary measures, overlaid on a system that has been doing the job reasonably well for many years. I do not have to ask for proof that this system works, I live in the system - though I realise that you don't share this view. When someone comes along and tells me that my system doesn't work, and theirs does, do I not have a right to ask for proof of this? I have, obviously, no idea what you do for a living, but I can fairly well be sure that if you had been doing it for years and someone marched up and told you it didn't work, but their system did (based on no evidence, no proof, just a few demo projects) you would not drop everything and change! Actually one could possibly question any devotion to permaculture, given that even it's major exponents cannot provide an example of it working....

    I must feed those calves!!....
     
  17. Tim Auld

    Tim Auld Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    A quick reply from me also -

    "I do not have to ask for proof that this system works, I live in the system" You must have missed my point. I do not doubt that the industrial ag system currently "works" (whether it works well is another question). I do doubt that it works over an extended period of time of say, thousands of years, and you can't prove that it does even by living in it.

    "I find it equally strange that you (or anyone else) should not be asking for the same" I didn't really say I wasn't looking for supporting evidence and examples. In fact I am attempting to prove the concept to myself (in a town house no less). The point must be made that eventually you must move beyond theoretical proof, use your intuition, and just give it a go. It may not satisfy you, but the fact that life continues to thrive on this planet after hundreds of millions of years is proof enough for me that an approach based on natural systems is as sustainable as we can expect: https://permaculture.org.au/2009/02/09/the-key-to-management-is-trust/. Other models and constructs that we have built recently may prove to be a blink in geological time.

    " even [permaculture's] major exponents cannot provide an example of it working" This appears to be a rather belligerent and unsupported claim. I've been providing links to examples of permaculture "working". Of course the boundaries and terms are debatable, but then where do you draw the boundaries for industrial ag? Nothing exists in a vacuum, and any enterprise requires some existing capital for establishment, whether it is earned, inherited, borrowed, given or stolen. Geoff has written detailed notes on the parameters of the Jordan Valley project including irrigation, yield, climate and soil composition. I agree that it would be interesting to see the financial breakdown of that project. In an effort to draw donations for another project he provided detailed costing here: https://permaculture.org.au/2009/01/12/please-help-the-palestinian-people-in-a-time-of-tragedy/

    Cheers,
     
  18. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    My lot were also Scots, so they will have been the fair maidens tending the fields while your hairy-arsed lot were rubbing themselves with indigo mixed with semen and running around chopping the heads off the neighbors! :lol:

    Sorry - this adds nothing to the weighty discussion under way...

    As a newby to PC - Does PC state as one of its essential tenets that you can be self sustaining? Or is it designed to be a whole lot less grand than the Unified Theory of How We Should All Live? Maybe it is just one of a number of possible ways to live a live that works to a greater or lesser extent than the other ways to live? Admittedly, it looks like a great approach to me, but I'm the sort who can still nip down to the IGA for that imported NZ apricot. Maybe if I was the producer of the apricots, or a community leader in an area were genuine food shortages were a reality, I'd feel differently about it.
     
  19. zzsstt

    zzsstt Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    Tim,

    "I do not doubt that the industrial ag system currently "works" (whether it works well is another question). I do doubt that it works over an extended period of time of say, thousands of years, and you can't prove that it does even by living in it."

    If a system works in the short term that's fine by me, as long as it allows adaptation to address problems that arise - and that is exactly my point. "Conventional farming" has done the job intended. It is also adapting to address the issues that have arisen, as it has been doing for thousands of years. Whilst it is fair that you doubt that what we have done for the last 50 years can continue to be done for the next 1000, it is also utterly irrelevant, because what we are doing today is a far cry from what we were doing 20 years ago, and what we will be doing in 20 years time. But that is a process of evolution. We take what we are doing and if it appears to work we keep it, or attempt to improve upon it. When it doesn't work we modify it and try something different. I am completely sure that the same applies to permaculture - unless, of course, it is a system that came to someone in a moment of divine inspiration, to be rigidly adhered to for the rest of eternity (joke!).

    So we have two systems (in this discussion anyway). One is tried and tested with known good and bad points, and a large historical database and "development team". The other is new (albeit "derived from the most sustainable cultures"), and largely untested [to quote from GL's email (as quoted by Hamish, and to which I was referring when I said PC's major exponents cannot provide an example of it working,) "Whilst we would ideally be profiling projects where people are fully self-sufficient in providing for their own food, clothing, shelter, energy and community needs, these are few and far between, unfortunately, if not wholly unknown"].

    So with no full proof, not even a complete working model, we are to discard a system that is known to work? It seems to me, without wishing to be rude, that the best PC can show at present is that with the aid of income from external sources a man can feed himself, which is (lets be honest) pretty obvious. Currently Australia is (I believe) a net exporter of food, so for all its alledged problems our current farming system can more than support our population. PC seems to be able to offer no proof (never mind guarantee) that it can do the same. In order even to try we have already incorporated the fall of the banks, the redistribution of land, the removal of industry etc. to our requirements. AND Hamish has to run Linux on his laptop :)

    I cannot find any detailed breakdown of the Jordan project on the URL you supplied, just a "shopping list" of what a donation will buy. Indeed, I can find no results or analysis of the Jordan project beyond the first two or three years (ie about 2003). Whilst not meaning all that much, Google Earth shows it to be little different from many of the surrounding blocks (GE date 2006, though that in turn means nothing) in terms of apparent vegetation density. Have the surrounding land owners been sufficiently impressed to do the same thing - I see no evidence of swales in other blocks. Am I wrong to want to see results beyond the first couple of years? It has taken since about 1830 for the supposed downside of superphosphate to be revealed, yet we are to regard a couple of years data of a PC project (if I was to be a scientist about this I'd start talking about third party monitors, data quality and so forth), with no ongoing results, as sufficient evidence to remodel our entire farming system, or even our entire society?

    I hope your own PC project goes well. Indeed, I hope mine does as well, because I intend to use PC principles where applicable in my own garden. But we both have the fall-back of a trip to the supermarket if it should all fail. Or, assuming your town house is in a town, phoning for a pizza if you're "too tired to bother" (in my case even that option is not available). In that situation we are risking little - the worst case scenario for you (based on what little I know of your situation), is that if it all goes wrong you'll have to buy some turf to cover it over again*. But for me to change my entire business and livelihood, or society to change so massively? That's another proposition altogether!

    *In our local town I watched, over the last year, a garden lawn be rotavated, planted with vegetables, overgrown with weeds and finally flattened back to lawn as the owner discovered that his great dream involved more work than he had thought.
     
  20. Hamishmac

    Hamishmac Junior Member

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    Re: I want to believe.......

    eco4560,

    Good question.

    Probably need to clarify a couple of things: whether the question refers to your veggie patch/block/farm, or your way of life in general; whether we are talking about sustainability or self-sufficiency, and whether we mean can be or should be.

    As ever, the thoughts that go into my postings are just that, mine, and as such represent only one of a number of points of view, and are intended to provoke thought and debate.

    I tend to think of PC as having a number of realms or dimensions, which include a Definition, Ethics, Principles, and Design Tools & Techniques. In addition, using the design tools and principles is probably more accurately referred to as Permaculture Design.

    One Definition (from this website https://www.permaculture.org.au/what-is-permaculture/ is

    This makes sustainability a key concept, ie the way you have designed your PC project means it can run indefinitely without needing energy inputs from outside, and a degree of self-sufficiency too ("providing their... needs"), but self-sufficiency I see as a desired result, not an integral make or break of PC use. How can it be when much of what we consume are wants and not needs?

    Ethics and Principles. Good explanations can be found here:

    https://permacultureprinciples.com/

    Again I see the use of these as having a sustainability focus (earth care, capture energy, use...renewable resources and services) with self-sufficiency as a desired result. There is no mandated percentage of self-sufficiency which "should" or "must" be achieved, and this will vary by context where in, for example, a PC project in a refugee camp in war-torn Darfur or earthquake-affected Kashmir or Sichuan, the need for self-sufficiency is higher, as compared with a suburban block in SE Queensland.

    OMG I bought compost and manure from Bunnings again. Major fail! I'm not doing it right. I am a Permaculture Loser.


    Well, no. Not at all. Early on in his book "Gaia's Garden" Toby Hemenway gives a good account of the results of devoting some of our own backyards to food production, roughly saying that for every backyard acre that is turned over to producing for human need, one less acre of out of sight farmland is needed in future. It may be less than this, may be more. If we grow foods without additional inputs of fertiliser, and use harvested rainwater rather than irrigation from bores or river sources, then that is also one less acre of farm inputs required. This is a huge bonus, and is on top of the land saved. So even if we buy in some or much of our inputs, I don't think this should detract from the land saved, or the fact that my block follows PC principles where I can, or that my efforts are heading in the right direction from an ethical point of view, or I am merely 15-20% self-sufficient in food.

    Hamish
     

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