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permaculture farming economically viable?

MJ Solaro


Joined: Feb 21, 2008
Posts: 131
Location: Bellevue, WA
A lot of the permaculture systems that I've looked at seem to be smaller scale: a garden, a home, a plot of land that somebody runs to feed their family or as a hobby. Many of them have successfully created healthy, sustainable ecosystems, but I haven't seen one yet that is economically successful as well.

What examples have you found of larger farms that can pay their mortgage based on the yield from their permaculture establishment? Are there well-known examples?


Brave New Leaf - Everyman Environmentalism
http://www.bravenewleaf.com
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Permaculture is economically viable if we change our concept and perceptions of what constitutes "economically viable."  Does it mean making enough or making more than enough? That's the fundamental juxtaposition between permaculture and market-driven economy.

Mortgage as a concept works against permaculture as a concept. Taking a loan from a bank to start a permaculture operation requires a lending institution willing to take a substantial loss on a "unproven, non-regulated and unpopular" form of production. Most lenders will decline. That means private donations that compromise the permaculture operation with irrelevant thinking from investors that live on the conservative side of investment (like most lending institutions) choosing investments they can control even if they have no insight (conventional insights into) into the nuts-and-bolts of the operation.

Going into a shared housing situation to share expenses and work into and across a permaculture system produces a different model. One that is more a political model of Intentional Community than one of permaculture. Doing permaculture as a lone individual or family means cross-correlating non-permaculture requirements (land, mortgage, loans, modern conveniences, the regulations and licensing requirements, etc) with basic permaculture needs that make it hard to get a pure permaculture operation going. To keep a feasible model going at present requires compromises that undermine the strength and inter-cooperative-balances of a permaculture model. Also, the models available for use at present are relatively untested and largely incomplete or entirely theoretical. The bugs and problems that should have been worked out twenty years ago are still rampant in the few models that have been devised and the outside culture that permaculture is attempting to interact with - must interact with to keep itself going financially and operationally - has become even more glutted with requirements and regulations that make permaculture models the exception to the rule and therefore weighted with regulation the model inherently cannot shoulder if it is to work properly.

The result is tiny operations that barely keep themselves going to avoid the huge farming regulations or "commune community" models that tend to degenerate over time into models of social experiment instead of models of permaculture.

If permaculture becomes a government project it goes the way of farm subsidies and over-regulation of production so it needs to stay small and local. But small and local today finds it nearly impossible to operate without massive monies and special dispensations for operation because permaculture models are not standard farming/production models and as such have difficulty organizing and operating in the present western climate of regulation toward globalization.

Globalization is something to think about in terms of the inability of small local farming models to get off the ground. There is a lot of dissension over this in light of globalization. The EU has excellent agriculture records, supporting its small farms and farming communities, and EU farming cooperatives (of various types) have been expressing concern over formation of the EU and globalization for some time. If we have no sustainanble permaculture models in place and we expand consumer-driven farming and production models into a global economy model how long will it be before we have depleted global natural resources? In terms of the production of pollution in direct proportion to expansion of models we are already concerned about at the local and regional levels how will we not lose at least half of our natural resources to pollution?

Sustainable resources is a common marketing term for Free Trade meant to try to handle these question but a resource is only sustainable if it is not marketed into overproduction that results in its complete depletion. Marketing models are the dominant agricultural and production models right now. Permaculture models are not market-driven (marketed through Advertising) but exist in a market-driven economy. As such, they are crippled for themost part.

There is a post in here somewhere from someone who found a sitcom (Brit) called Good Neighbors they were recommending. That sitcom is from the late 60's and early 70's. Their permaculture model is still the most prevalent today,  a sort of cottage-industry model, and it is still treated with same contempt and derision as it was then by the sitcom couple's conservative neighbors. Almost 50 years of attempting to introduce permaculture and we haven't got far yet. There is another post in here somewhere from someone who wanted to start an intentional community/permaculture on her inherited property. There was almost no advice for her (for lack of knowledge, not for lack of neighborliness). She had nowhere to go and no one to ask for direction into getting something started. She never checked back in. That's why this post is so long, we still have a long way to go...

MJ Solaro


Joined: Feb 21, 2008
Posts: 131
Location: Bellevue, WA
That was a rich answer to a complex question. Let me see if I understand what you're saying by summarizing it back to you, and you can tell me if I've got the general gist:

The general answer is "no." Under today's conditions, permaculture is not economically viable on any meaningful level of scale. The reasons for this are:

1. The chicken and egg problem:
*Lenders won't lend to permaculture farms because it's an unproven financial model.
*Permaculture farms can't prove themselves as a viable model because lenders won't lend to them.

2. As a result, permaculture adherents tend to enter into international community arrangements, which ends up compromising the philosophy, which ends up hurting large scale practices financially.

3. Current governmental farming regulations also make it prohibitive for large scale permaculture operations to move forward easily.

Globalization may be a way out, but the model is unclear.

Based on what you say, it sounds like we may be forced into to figure it out sooner rather than later because current practices (and programs like Free Trade) are unsustainable, and it's only a matter of time...

Is that about right? Thanks for taking so much time to answer this...


                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
The statement reader "irtworks" posted under "environmental certifications and labelling on food" is directly relevant to why it is not now economically viable to make permaculture economically viable. These two things support each other in the problem-solution category (GM in response to limited dispersal of agricultural overproduction). Permaculture is the odd effort out. Doesn't make sense to finance a non-solution to standard models.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14191
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Sepp Holzer's farm is an example of permaculture being economically viable.

sign up for my daily-ish email / rocket mass heater 4-DVD set / permaculture playing cards
Kelda Miller


Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
Of interest in this topic:

Washington Tilth is looking for a speaker for their annual conference to speak on 'permaculture in agriculture' (the assumption being that since these are working farmers, pc techniques that can be used on working farms).
But last I heard they haven't found anyone to speak on the topic!!

And, in the other camp the Washington Permaculture folks are looking at the topic for Their convergence, although I think 'is permaculture economically viable' is more of how they'll be putting it.

Once again, looking for anyone knowledgable on the topic. Laura Sweeney knew of someone that IS doing it, not from this area, and to be even more helpful, I can't remember his name!

Divine Earth Gardening Project
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14191
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
My first thought is Skeeter.

Next up:  what about that guy in the "broken limbs" movie?

                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Re: Sepp Holzer's farm in Austria there's an excellent paper based on his model at www.ecovoice.com called

Modelling of a Permaculture Farm in a Cold Region of Austria with Consideration of Nutrient Flows, Labor Balances and Economy. by Trondl and Freyer

Very readable.
Kelda Miller


Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
and Re: Skeeter as speaker

(kind of leap-frogging the posts, but...)
 
Well, Skeeter was the one to bring it up, which means he could probably talk on the topic but is hoping to learn from others.
!

In Pierce County, Carrie Little has a great 'not the word permaculture' set-up at Mother Earth Farm. She does beds of polycultures, saves seed, horse plows, has orchard, bees, etc. And it all goes to the food bank. So that's the criticism 'well, the farm doesn't make money and has tons of free labor.' True.
BUT if the farm was for-profit I have a feeling it would definitely turn a profit.
http://www.efoodnet.org/mother_earth.htm

I've heard of the 'broken limbs' thing, which I'll have to see, and of course Sepp Holzer. It's awesome though to find the local examples as plants and techniques can translate faster to other farms.
NWor Nowhere


Joined: Mar 31, 2008
Posts: 5
I think you really have to define the terms permaculture and economically viable first.  Pure permaculture as using only local resources and producing zero waste/pollution is probably only profitable on a large scale in a few select niche markets, if that (grass-fed beef comes to mind).  From what I can see, there are two big obstacles, the suburbs and the farm bill.  First, it's very difficult to eliminate waste and use only local resources when the farms are nowhere near the cities and the cities are nowhere near the farms.  This is a recipe for waste and pollution and imported resources.  Second, as a society we've gotten very used to VERY cheap food, and very centralized systems of delivery.  The farm bill is an extension of that culture, and is anti-small farm as a result. 

That said, if a person isn't looking to get rich and already owns or can lease a chunk of land, permaculture should be the most efficient (and therefore least expensive) form of agriculture available.  In addition to Sepp Holzer's work, you may want to read up on Masanobu Fukuoka.  Though he is not permaculture in name, his most fundamental principles are very in line with permaculture concepts.
pixelphoto McCoy


Joined: Jun 20, 2007
Posts: 44
Location: Middle Georgia
Mortgage as a concept works against permaculture as a concept. Taking a loan from a bank to start a permaculture operation requires a lending institution willing to take a substantial loss on a "unproven, non-regulated and unpopular" form of production. Most lenders will decline. That means private donations that compromise the permaculture operation with irrelevant thinking from investors that live on the conservative side of investment (like most lending institutions) choosing investments they can control even if they have no insight (conventional insights into) into the nuts-and-bolts of the operation.

Why do we need a mortgage. What if someone already owns a piece of property as I do and many other people here in America do?
Unproven, non regulated, unpopular Not hardly. Its been proven over 30 years or more. Just ask Bill Mollison.
Non regulated ok its not regulated whats wrong with that to me thats a good thing. Selling of food is regulated however by your states Department of Agriculture and the FDA and the USDA as to what and how you can sell things and how you advertise it.
Unpopular not hardly its gaining momentum every year. This is the year of permaculture in my opinion. I have seen ad heard more about this movement in the past two years than ever before. Being green, permaculture, biodynamic, and organic are the IN THING.


Going into a shared housing situation to share expenses and work into and across a permaculture system produces a different model. One that is more a political model of Intentional Community than one of permaculture. Doing permaculture as a lone individual or family means cross-correlating non-permaculture requirements (land, mortgage, loans, modern conveniences, the regulations and licensing requirements, etc) with basic permaculture needs that make it hard to get a pure permaculture operation going. To keep a feasible model going at present requires compromises that undermine the strength and inter-cooperative-balances of a permaculture model. Also, the models available for use at present are relatively untested and largely incomplete or entirely theoretical. The bugs and problems that should have been worked out twenty years ago are still rampant in the few models that have been devised and the outside culture that permaculture is attempting to interact with - must interact with to keep itself going financially and operationally - has become even more glutted with requirements and regulations that make permaculture models the exception to the rule and therefore weighted with regulation the model inherently cannot shoulder if it is to work properly.

There you go with loans and mortgages again. What if people own the land. No reason for loans or mortgages then.
No where did Bill Mollison or anyone else say that permaculture was only for lone people or small families. It can easily be applied to major cities like NEw York. Many villages in Australia, Africa, and other places across the world are using permaculture practices and have been for some number of years now. theres nothing new about it and its all self sustainable eco system with very little if any outside inputs needed.
you say the permaculture models are untested thats simply not true it models natural life. And Some of the practices have been practiced well over 30 years and are very self sustainable.


The result is tiny operations that barely keep themselves going to avoid the huge farming regulations or "commune community" models that tend to degenerate over time into models of social experiment instead of models of permaculture.

This I may agree with you partially.
There are many farming regulations that are not geared for the small farmer. But things are getting better.
Im not a big fan of the old style communes but I do know some have been around since the 60s that are still going strong to this day. I for one wouldnt join a commune or intentional community but I respect the people who do.


If permaculture becomes a government project it goes the way of farm subsidies and over-regulation of production so it needs to stay small and local. But small and local today finds it nearly impossible to operate without massive monies and special dispensations for operation because permaculture models are not standard farming/production models and as such have difficulty organizing and operating in the present western climate of regulation toward globalization.
Well first I would say I never compete against large companies with lots of cash.
Keeping your inputs low and not requiring inputs to be brought into the farm by creating your own cuts down on cost of operation. I know farms whos only cost of operation is driving to the farmers market to sell their wares. Saving seed, building compost, growing animal feed, etcetc all done on farm so no inputs are brought in all cut down on operational cost of a traditional farm.




Globalization is something to think about in terms of the inability of small local farming models to get off the ground. There is a lot of dissension over this in light of globalization. The EU has excellent agriculture records, supporting its small farms and farming communities, and EU farming cooperatives (of various types) have been expressing concern over formation of the EU and globalization for some time. If we have no sustainanble permaculture models in place and we expand consumer-driven farming and production models into a global economy model how long will it be before we have depleted global natural resources? In terms of the production of pollution in direct proportion to expansion of models we are already concerned about at the local and regional levels how will we not lose at least half of our natural resources to pollution?

Globalization is the reason small local farming cant get off the ground. Absolutely not. I wouldnt want to sell my pears or (fill in the blank) to China or Africa anyway. The allure of small farms is making a comeback. Buying local where the farmer and customer actually know one another on first name basis is the IN THING. Being able to go out to the local farm and pick your own and talk to the farmer and see how things are grown is growing by leaps and bounds. Knowing it was picked fresh that day, that the farmer drove less than 30 miles instead of the average 1200 miles most food or produce travels means its fresher, riper, has more vitamins and nutrients, Less pollution was created to get it from point a to point b.



Sustainable resources is a common marketing term for Free Trade meant to try to handle these question but a resource is only sustainable if it is not marketed into overproduction that results in its complete depletion. Marketing models are the dominant agricultural and production models right now. Permaculture models are not market-driven (marketed through Advertising) but exist in a market-driven economy. As such, they are crippled for themost part.
no real comment here I could but my fingers are getting tired LOL

There is a post in here somewhere from someone who found a sitcom (Brit) called Good Neighbors they were recommending. That sitcom is from the late 60's and early 70's. Their permaculture model is still the most prevalent today,  a sort of cottage-industry model, and it is still treated with same contempt and derision as it was then by the sitcom couple's conservative neighbors. Almost 50 years of attempting to introduce permaculture and we haven't got far yet. There is another post in here somewhere from someone who wanted to start an intentional community/permaculture on her inherited property. There was almost no advice for her (for lack of knowledge, not for lack of neighborliness). She had nowhere to go and no one to ask for direction into getting something started. She never checked back in. That's why this post is so long, we still have a long way to go...
pixelphoto McCoy


Joined: Jun 20, 2007
Posts: 44
Location: Middle Georgia
oh p.s. check out path to freedom I would call them very self sustainable.
in a small scale sort of way.
http://www.pathtofreedom.com/
Toby Hemenway
author


Joined: May 06, 2008
Posts: 85
    
  15
When people ask me whether Pc is economically viable, I give a two-part answer. The first is that practicing permaculture can significantly reduce your need to earn money (I live on roughly 20% of what I used to), which is at least as useful as earning more money, and almost certainly is better for the planet. Some have the erroneous idea that Pc is a set of techniques, and that these techniques can be substituted for current practices, much the way a conventional farmer can substitute organic practices. But Pc is primarily a decision-making tool that can be applied at many levels, from "how can I stop spending so much money on pesticides and fertilizers?" on up to "how can I change my current practices that turn ecosystems into money and instead live on land that supports me as well as nature?" So it's asking us to look at the question "how can I make money" differently.

The 2nd part is yes, there are plenty of farms that use permaculture successfully to generate an income. Don Tipping of Seven Seeds Farm in Williams, OR is one nice example; I know a lot of farmers and ranchers who use the Keyline system devised by PA Yeomans, which is a very permacultural approach to water and soil management; there are examples of these, created by permaculture designers, in OR, CA, MT, and AZ. What Joel Salatin is doing at Polyface Farm is utterly permacultural. You use a different set of techniques at farm scale than you would at home scale, of course.


I'm offering weekend permaculture courses in the SF Bay area. Info (and more) at http://patternliteracy.com
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Here I am again, jumping into a thread that's over six months old...

I just read through the above responses to the question, and I didn't notice that anyone mentioned one of the most obvious answers.....

Permaculture is probably the MOST economically viable method on the planet.  Joel Salatin has been proving it for years.

I think where the complication comes in is the source of money to start it.  Many people who get into, and want to get into, permaculture are not money-obsessed people. Do you ever hear of someone like Bill Gates deciding to dump $30 million into setting up a permaculture farm?  That's how much he donated to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. 

If someone wants to start a farm using permaculture methods, they are expected to do it on a shoestring, on their own, and work at outside jobs while they're doing it. Most bankers probably have never even heard the word 'permaculture', and what they don't know or understand, they're not going to loan on.

Ten thousand- acre corporate farms already have backers. They can dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into machinery, chemicals and hired help. Then the taxpayers are going to pay up the wazoo in subsidies to support them year after year after year. And the taxpayers also get the joy of paying for cleaning up after them.  The costs of a conventional farm are not limited to what shows on their tax forms. The costs of lost soil (blown away or washed away), contaminated water, contaminated food, products lacking in good nutrition leading to health problems, and all the other hidden costs of conventional farming, if added up and posted, should make every American citizen so mad they should be spitting nails.

Corporate mega-farms are not economically viable and never have been. So why have we been supporting them for the last sixty years or so?

If the money that has been dumped into financially and ecologically unsustainable farms had been funneled into organic and permaculture farms (yes, I know the years don't match), visualize what this country would be like today!

The question asked at the heading of this thread was actually the wrong question to ask.

How about "Are conventional farms economically viable? And if they're not, why are we continuing to subsidize them?"

Sue
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14191
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Sue,  maybe you wanna make a suggestion here:  http://www.project10tothe100.com/index.html
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Well, now... Isn't THAT interesting!

Hmmmm........... maybe I will.  October 20th..... I'd better get my rear in gear.

Sue
Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 552
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
Seems to depend on our definition of permaculture.Personally,I dont think generating large amounts of surplus is sustainable.I strive to grow small amounts of many things.The market demands large amounts of a few things.I strive to create complex polycultures.The market wants simplified ecosystems to utilize unskilled labor(weed everything but that one plant!)and mechanized equiptment.PERMACULTURE might be economically viable but it probably ceases to be sustainable when it is.Plenty of what passes for permaculture,I would say is not sustainable.Unless your idea of sustainable is imported straw and cardboard,plastic pipes for water,plastic greenhouses,fuel consuming machines,hell,most metals are not even sustainable as refining them is very energy intensive.Permaculture tries to be everything to everybody and the down side to this is niether side feels like they fit(farmers and ferals).I aim for subsistance and sustainability and rarelly use the word permaculture because I dont want to be associated with so  many of the resourse intensive models outthere.I'm not alone on this either.I prefer to use the term rewilding because there is a clean break with economics.Every new term gets co-opted by people trying to make a buck and words like Feral and Rewilding or subsistance existance seem more resistant to commodification then permaculture.


There is nothing permanent in a culture dependent on such temporaries as civilization
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
How much land do you have, and how many people are you planning on providing for?  How much of your food do you intend to provide?

If I understand rewilding properly (and I may not), it seems to be the least productive and least sustainable of almost everything else suggested, possibly equal to current methods of chemical farming.  It isn't realistic in any sense.  If it is a return to living like the American Indian, forget it. They were nomads and traveled almost all the time, following food sources. 

If your rewilding method is just a way to supplement your food supply, and you're buying three-quarters of your groceries from Safeway, that isn't sustainable, either.

But, since rewilding is a new term to me (just today), if I am not understanding it properly, please explain.

Sue
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
i guess my answer would why can't you have both? Why do you have to rule out permaculture just because you have a mortgage to pay. You can choose to make your land more and more self sustaining yet still pay your mortagage by going to your job, can't you?

I've been at this since 1971 and our house had a mortgage..at one time. We had debt, at one time. We do not any longer. Now that we don't, I can actually spend MORE time working on the self sustaining direction of my land, as, retirement looming on the horizon means less money to spend and more need for permanent non dig/till soil and plants that will sustain us for the rest of our lives


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
albertpostema Hatfield


Joined: Jan 15, 2009
Posts: 9
Location: Cascadia (Maltby)
argh...had a great response...but some back/forth issue dumped it all, great topic.  Quick recap for i gotta get the new chicken Hilton going.

1. Build soil like your life depends on it.  (it does)
2. Giant deficits always equal Giant inflation
3. Ag, trucks, highway subsidized big time, using your dollars wastefully.
    THIS WILL STOP
4. Our food come from CAL. become real expensive
5. give it 2-9 year, its coming
6. Secure your land, get land, or be with people who do.
7. It will become profitable as we both adjust our thinking and
true cost accounting takes place. Which is a given when we have to slash
programs and subsidies.
8. Permaculture is not sending money to far off places to be sent back piecemeal
9. Folks...a giant amount of "money" evaporated.

Buckle down
13. True permanent culture is keeping the cycle close to home. So if we truly
practiced permaculture,
no taxes = more soil = more food = richness beyond compare


Earthwise Excavation**Wise Earth Ecological Landtrust**Wise Earth Organics
360-668-2452  425-486-1664  postema.com
Bioremediation-Ponds-Swales-Terracing-Drainage-Tanks-Consultation-Design
Evolutionary business practices have helped us
avoid massive amounts of pollution. Certified Permaculturist

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Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
going back to the first original thought, Is permaculture economically viable..and watching the news this morning, I'm thinking..is there not a better time to begin?

They are talking some new predator that wants to killl the orange crops, Florida froze again, there are droughts everywhere, not enough water in California, and the economy tanking.

When the idea came to the US in the 70's and when Mother Earth started and I was a HIPPIE..the unemployment rate was nearly 11 % nationwide, everyone I knew was losing their jobs, including my husband, and trust me, every single thing you could do to save a buck was the only way you could keep from losing everything you had.

We nearly lost our house, had we not had help from in laws, we were picking up nighcrawlers and selling them to bait shops, picking morel mushrooms and huckleberries and selling them for gas money, so my husband could go to the nearest town 20  miles away and look for work and we were part of one of the first natural food coops in the area..buying food in bulk in a small group in our small town 2 times a month.

Since the 1970's and 19780's there has never been a more important time for diversifying our gardens to produce as much food and craft as we can use and sell, to make ends meet.

In Michigan where I live..nearly everyone I know has been laid off most or all of this past winter..inculding my son and his girlfriend and all of her family.

there has never been a MORE relevant time for permaculture..at least as much as you  can do to help get by on.
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Brenda, truer words were never spoken.

This is certainly NOT the time (financially or sustainably) to be dependent on chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.

Sue
Kelda Miller


Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
Can't help it, but I've got to say: hunt up the DVD 'Permaculture in Alpine Regions' about Sepp Holzer's place.

It's like a half hour about Tons of his farms marketable products and how he produces them so well.

Of course it does help some that he inherited the land (I think), and grew up in a culture tied to that land. But still, big food for thought.....
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
is pemaculture economically viable?

does it have to be? I think that an economical business can be created that uses some permaculture ideas, but the premise of a business is to be profitable first and adhere as closely to its values as it can while doing so second. to me I think some compromises would be inevitable for most. and to touch on mt. goats idea that a thousand rototillers are worse than one big tractor...it may not really be best in the long run for a large agricultural business to "go permaculture" even if it was economically viable. for instance a thousand men pooping on a farm may be more damaging then the tractor that can do the work of those thousand men. I suspect that the larger the given permaculture value based business the less likely that it could be as profitable, more sustainable and less damaging than its non permaculture counterpart.


[img]http://i109.photobucket.com/albums/n52/havlik1/permie%20pics2/permiepotrait3pdd.jpg[/img]

"One cannot help an involuntary process. The point is not to disturb it. - Dr. Michel Odent
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14191
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Permaculture doesn't have to be economically viable.  But it is nice that it can be.

In fact, my impression is that a farmer can have a far more massive profit with permaculture than with conventional techniques. 

As for the thousand people pooping - that can be mitigated.  Further - isn't that a moot point?  After all, those same thousand people are gonna poop whether they are on a permaculture farm or working in the city.

I think permaculture doesn't use tractors or rototillers.  I think there will still be some fuel use.  And I think a tractor can still be a useful tool.  But on a permaculture farm, it will be a tiny fraction of what conventional farms use.

Hamishmac McCoy


Joined: Feb 16, 2009
Posts: 1
Location: Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
Hi Guys 'n' gals from a fellow permie in Oz,

This is my first post here. I'm a forum member at the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia, where a lot of the initial work on PC came from.

There's a recent thread on this very topic, to which I'm contributing, which is exploring some of the issues surrounding this. A lot of thought provoking stuff on how to compare economically, whether the permaculture ethic has an economic dimension ('provide for the needs of human communities sustainably', and whether PC should need to compete economically (we pay more for organic food, ergo 'uneconomic', but the value of the product is higher than broadacre), and to what degree examples of PC proof of concept exists, and economically competetive examples exist.

http://forums.permaculture.org.au/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=9976

Read & ponder..

Feels a bit strange to be posting to yesterday, from tomorrow 

Hamish
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
One of the problems with the attitude that organic and permie costs more or too much isn't really comparing apples with apples.

America has this mania for 'cheap' food, which has evolved into wanting cheap everything (like WalMart).

But that food isn't really so cheap because it's heavily subsidized.  We're paying for some it it out of our pocket at the grocery store, but we're also paying for it out of our taxes.  And we're paying for the problems that come with chemical fertilizers contaminating water sources, and we're paying for the time bomb of genetically-modified crops.  We're paying for all the health problems caused by herbicide and pesticide residue in our food, air and water, as well as from food that is of poor quality and low in nutrients.

Grocery store chicken, $1.69 x 5 lbs = $8.45, PLUS the costs listed above.

Non-subsidized, organic free-range chicken, $3.15/lb x 5 lbs = $15.75.  Period.

Where is the REAL savings?

Just because the bozos in our government and big business tell us that our food is cheap doesn't mean it's true.

Sue
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
that is sooooo true sue! raising my own food "more organically" on a individual basis isn't any cheaper than buying it and sometimes more expensive but I feel like I have a healthier product in the end so that ads value. and old freind of mine had family land in missouri. they were paid to not farm it. (I don't know all the particulars) we may not see that cost in the grocery store but we are paying for it and that needs to be worked into the figure of our food costs when comparing permaculture farms economic viability.
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Another thought:

When people say that permaculture isn't commercially viable, I'm sure they mean it in the way that much of our food is produced now, on mega farms in CA and the Midwest.  THAT alone is not sustainable in any form, including the costs of trucking it all over the country.

Mega farms have not always existed in America.  They originated in the 1970s when then Sec. of Agriculture Earl Butz told farmers to either "get big or get out".  This was the death knell of healthy agriculture, the killing blow that was begun with chemical agriculture.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s there were approximately 5.5 million small farms across America. Now there are only maybe half a million farms in all, large and small.  By no reckoning WHATSOEVER was this an improvement.  It was just another form of the growing control of food.

We may be facing an economic Depression now that will make the last one look like a Sunday school picnic. 

But just suppose that my small town of about 3,500 decided to make a point of growing their own food to the extent that it could be done.  The farmers could get together and pool their knowledge and resources and decide what they would be growing. Some would raise cattle, some hogs, some chickens. Some could raise multiple crops (to insure against crop failure) of everything that could be grown here, vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs.

A vacant lot could be rented as the local farmers' market, and be open maybe five days a week, or even all week.  The farmers would be growing stuff and selling it directly to the consumer, getting the retail price instead of an artificially low price designated by the gubberment.

With the farmers now making some decent money, they could afford to hire people who are currently unemployed now to process and sell the food.

If a few farmers got together and build a one million gallon/year ethanol distillery, all the produce that didn't sell or was damaged or was lower quality could be taken to the distillery and turned into alcohol for vehicle and home fuel.  The distillers would accept the stuff from the farmer, distill it, keep maybe 20% of the alcohol as their fee, and the rest would go into holding tanks/fuel station with the farmers getting 'credit cards' with their 80% on it, and they could go and fill up their vehicles or tanks whenever they wanted.

The residue from distilling would be returned to the farmer.  It contains every nutrient that was in it when it was harvested, with the exception of the starches and sugars, both of which did not come from the soil, but from the sun.  The farmer could take the 'waste' (a misnomer if every there was one) and could use it to feed his livestock, return it to the soil as fertilizer, grow worms in it, or feed it to his aquaculture fish, which would also produce a high-quality fertilizer via both the fish poop/algae and the fish remnants.

The whole thing would be a closed cycle, with NO WASTE.

Now, suppose every town and city in the country did the same thing?  If they did, would this country be in the position it is in now?

Sue (pant, pant)
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14191
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I've popped in on the australian forums from time to time. 

I've opened that thread and have started to look at it. 

As for real world examples:  What about what Sepp does?  That sounds like he is making a living and he is not accepting grant funds.  Specifically, the videos explicitly say that his farm is running cash positive without government money. 

Of course, Sepp did get his land for free. 

The math works out.  After five years, no more irrigation, fertilization, planting or pest control.  Just show up for the harvest.  Year after year. 

Trade in the high cost of equipment + all that it takes to keep the equipment running, for the high cost of lots of people to do the harvesting.  You've still saved on irrigation, fertilization, planting and pest control. 

Further, you have more crops from the same acre of land. 

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
sue for president! sue for president!

getting land for free is HUGE! that is the single biggest one time (sort of)expense. certainly for me it has been the major limiting factor in my own organic living /permaculture /homesteading endeavors.
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
My mortgage is the highest bill I have, by far.  And my mortgage is only $400.  I could do a lot more to work on my land if I didn't have to pay that $400.

Free land really is a big deal!

Sue
dvmcmrhp52 Hatfield


Joined: Nov 10, 2008
Posts: 92
OK, I'm going to dump a couple of cents in here just for kicks and giggles.


Economically viable.
Everyones got their own definition, but when it comes to a business approach, it seems there are too many hours of labor involved to create something economically viable.

On an individual basis, it can certainly be done, your hours are your own to use as you see fit, but mortgages and taxes are a real part of life, along with daily living expenses. Those expenses can be reduced drastically, but on any larger scale regulation reduces the ability to cut costs.

They aren't making any more land these days......

Arguments for and against regulations can be made, but the bottom line is they exist, and will for the forseeable future.

Again, just my couple of cents.


Laughter is the best medicine.
http://www.lawntimes.com
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14191
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Have you seen "broken limbs"?

You don't have to earn big money.  Just more money than doing things conventionally.

Even if you only go as far as Fukuoka, you have already cut your costs by a factor of 10, increased your rice crop by 40% and have two more crops on top of that.

Sounds economically able to me.

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
this reminds me of that joke......

the labor dept comes out to a mans farm and say he had a tip that the farmer was violating labor laws and not paying his help enough and he wanted to talk to everyone who worked there. the farmer says "there are only three people who work on this farm, one is the ranch hand, he gets room and board and a thousand dollars a week. Then there is the house help, she works whenever she wants to and gets paid 25$ and hour" "well, what about the third?" asks the suit. "well" says the farmer "he works 80 hrs a week, does 90% of the work and gets paid about 50$".  "thats the guy I want to talk to" says the suit. "you are" says the farmer.
dvmcmrhp52 Hatfield


Joined: Nov 10, 2008
Posts: 92
paul wheaton wrote:
Have you seen "broken limbs"?

You don't have to earn big money.  Just more money than doing things conventionally.

Even if you only go as far as Fukuoka, you have already cut your costs by a factor of 10, increased your rice crop by 40% and have two more crops on top of that.

Sounds economically able to me.





Haven't seen broken limbs, but just looked at the site. Sounds interesting, and I'd like to check it out.

Old family farms where the land is owned and has been for generations can do many things that other folks can't.It is nearly impossible to "become" a farmer these days because of land prices, but occasionally someone does break through.

It's got to be even tougher to attempt with practices that are much more labor intensive than what is happening now.

Am I wrong?

I'm talking about starting from scratch......is it possible to buy some land, pay the mortgage and the bills and create enough income from it to survive?
That's economically viable to me.

If it's being done on a family farm that has been around for the past forty years, or for the past 100 years, then it is being subsidized by the previous generations, is it not?

Now, I would most likely agree that through subsidization, it can become economically viable, but I'm not sure I agree as a complete stand alone that it can happen.

Convince me.



paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14191
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Now we're not talking about whether permaculture is economically viable, but whether any form of agriculture is economically viable. 

I think a much fairer question is to consider a currently economically viable farm and then ask if they can remain economically viable by switching to permaculture - or make even more money. 

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
that probably true paul. apples to apples.  existing farms are granny smiths new ones are oranges. 
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
"I'm talking about starting from scratch......is it possible to buy some land, pay the mortgage and the bills and create enough income from it to survive?"

Maybe.  I don't think it's one of the black or white things.  But I think it's probably possible, esp if you "work smarter, not harder".

Acquiring a new-to-you piece of land is probably a double-whammy expenditure right off.  Not only do you have a mortgage hanging over your head, unless this land has been lightly-used pasture, it is probably overused, overgrazed, and almost certainly low in certain nutrients.  Before you're going to have any success at all, you'll have to fix those problems by amending the soil organically.

Just to deal with that from the beginning, you're probably talking about at least one of a couple working in town.

Let me toss out a possible scenario, just to have it make sense.

You buy 50 acres of land with a house that is livable for $200,000.  The former landowner was a farmer who went broke following the advice of the USDA and the state agricultural college.  He broke up his 300 acre parcel into six separate parcels. His land was farmed chemically, he fertilized for the usual NPK, and didn't bother with adding any other nutrients.

You move in and do a soil test.  It needs some lime, sulfur, boron, molybdenum and trace minerals.  The lab tells you what you need, and in what amounts. It isn't going to be cheap to fix all of it at once, so you only buy what you need for five acres.

You have to keep your town job because there's no way you can have income coming in immediately.  Your wife can quit her job and work on the farm.   To help cut food costs, she starts a vegetable garden.

The first thing you do is improve the soil with minerals and a cover crop. 

You decide to divide the improved five acres into five one-acre strips and plant five high-value crops:  asparagus, strawberries, five varieties of garlic, kiwi and raspberries.

The garlic can be harvested the following year, the berries will produce the second year, the asparagus in the third year, and the kiwi won't produce for four or five years.

The second year, they improve the soil in another five acres and plant a small orchard of fruit trees, not expecting much of a harvest for about five years.  They sell the garlic at a well-attended garlic festival 35 miles away and use the money to buy materials for an in-barn hen house for free-range chickens.  They create a gravel parking lot and advertise U-pick strawberries, which requires a good liability insurance policy.  That fall, they plant about an acre of garlic between the new fruit trees.

The third year, they improve a third 5-acre section and plant a mixed cover crop, and buy 100 day-old straight-run chicks of a dual-purpose type, which are run on the newly-improved section (the cover crop is still growing, as the chicken density isn't high enough to cause problems, but the chickens are also adding manure to the soil). The young cocks are separated and raised as meat chickens, slaughtered and frozen at a local facility.  They offer U-pick strawberries and raspberries, garlic at the festival, and sell about 25 frozen chickens (saving 25 for themselves).

The fourth year, they improve the fourth 5-acre section, buy another 50 sexed pullet chicks, and 100 cockerels, and do the same as they did the previous year.  This year they are selling free-range eggs, asparagus, raspberries, garlic, and about 125 frozen chickens.

You notice that every year they make another step forward with the advance of soil improvements.  They are also adding more sources of income, but all of that takes money.  They aren't likely to get a bank loan (they don't want one, anyway) because they don't have much of a track record with production, as the bank still considers them a hobby farm.

But one thing they must do is improve the soil.  Healthy soil = healthy crops = nutrient-dense food. Healthy crops can resist pests and diseases much better than those stressed by lack of appropriate nutrients in a balanced amount.  Anytime the soil is lacking or excessive in one nutrient, it throws the rest off-balance somewhere.  All that is stress to plants.  Stress is going to show up in disease, pests or reduced production.

They also must stick to high-value crops unless there is a very good reason to grow something that isn't.  Growing low-value crops like feed corn and soybeans just to hit a price limit set by the gubberment is a waste of your time, energy, money and resources. 

But the really, REALLY big problem is money to get the ball rolling.  Without having to deal with a mortgage, you would have more money to buy soil minerals, fruit trees, plant stock, livestock, and build necessary structures.

But mega-farmers are getting large subsidies to produce large amounts of a single crop that has a price that is out of their control.  If they grow feed corn, they're not going to sell that feed corn at a 25% higher price than everyone else in the county.

Now, if a mega-farmer is thinking of going organic, he knows that if he goes for certification it will take him at least three years, absolute minimum.  He will need to grow multiple crops as "crop insurance", just in case one or two of his crops are hit by pests, hail, or a neighbor's herd of cattle.  And the one thing that is made clear to him is that if he wants to change, HE WILL NOT GET SUBSIDIES TO PAY FOR THEM.  Currently, after the expense of growing his corn, he is making about $50 on each acre of corn.  He still has a lot of other bills to pay. By the time the dust settles, he just about has enough to pay his household bills that he's been running up since the harvest last year.  He doesn't have anything extra.  So, he asks himself, HOW CAN I CHANGE TO SOMETHING BETTER WITHOUT FINANCIAL HELP?

He's doing something different, and his bank doesn't like that. 

He's doing something different, and the government isn't going to subsidize the changes.

He doesn't have enough money of his own to go it alone.

NOW, how is he going to change, even if he does own his property outright (which is probably unlikely)?

How is a new farm owner of 50 acres going to make all his improvements if he can't spend more time on the farm instead of working in town to pay for the improvements?

And I've just mentioned a few operating costs.  If an organic or permie farmer has practically no waste in his operation, and a mega/chemical-farmer is ruining his soil, contaminating the water supply for miles, killing off all the bees, adding cancer-causing chemicals to our food, and he's getting paid by the taxpayers (aka victims) for doing it all, what is the point of comparison?

What I see people in permie and organic forums wanting is a real double-standard:  they understand that the mega/chemical-farmer is getting subsidized to pay for much of his expenses, but they STILL think the small grower should do it all himself, NOT work outside the farm, NOT get subsidies, and do it all fast enough to make a decent profit.

And when they can't find people who are doing it, they say that larger-scale organic or permie methods aren't economically viable.

Just like ANY OTHER operation, it all takes money.  Money, not some pseudo-religious spiel, not a double-standard, not a different set of rules.

Look at both of them with the same-colored glasses.  If the rule for one is the same as the rule for the other, it will level the playing field.  But to hold one group to one set of standards, and the other group to no standards at all, what are you accomplishing?  NOTHING!  You're comparing a bag of shelled walnuts to a stack of broken bricks.  There just ISN'T a comparison that will hold water.

Try mentally reversing the situation and what do you think would happen:

Make the mega/chemical-farmer pay for all his own expenses, as well as for the cleanup of the contamination he's causing, and all the health problems he's causing by growing contaminated food.

Subsidize (even temporarily) the organic and permie farmer so he can move his farm along quickly enough to become viably operational and profitable.  Suppose he can get a guaranteed subsidy for a certain amount of $ for seven years.  After that, the subsidy ends, no excuses, no extensions.

What do you think would happen then?

Sue
dvmcmrhp52 Hatfield


Joined: Nov 10, 2008
Posts: 92
paul wheaton wrote:

I think a much fairer question is to consider a currently economically viable farm and then ask if they can remain economically viable by switching to permaculture - or make even more money. 





Slowly, and over a period of a good number of years with the right marketing approach I think that is possible.  I've also seen farmers go the "pick your own" approach to move in that direction with very limited success.
Around here the big thing is to give the city folks a "taste" of farm life with pumpkin patches and hay rides during the seasons.

Kind of sad............
 
 
subject: permaculture farming economically viable?
 
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