Elizabeth Ü wrote:Buying "my own land" or starting "a new business" or developing "a new permaculture demonstration site" or anything else new might not actually be the most appropriate way to achieve your goals, make the most efficient use of resources, take the best advantage of your unique skills and whatever else you bring to the party, etc... though it certainly seems to be the preferred option based on the questions here. Why is that, I wonder?
There are so many forms of capital: financial, social, ecological, intellectual, cultural, experiential... I realize that this part of the forum is dedicated to finances, AND let's not lose track of the other forms, as they will also be crucial in launching a new venture, or supporting an existing one.
If you are in fact starting from "zero," one possible path toward your dream (and I don't make any assumptions about what that is!) would be go get some experience working with others who are doing something similar to what you want to do... while perhaps getting out of debt, and even building your savings, in the meantime. Even if you find yourself in a position where you are not actually earning money while contributing to a project that's not "yours," if you are intentional about it, you can make significant gains in the other types of capital.
I can attest to this, and to Josef's point above! My partner and I received our PDCs 2 years ago and were invited the following year to "practice permaculture" on a family member's land. We could live rent-free, join the CSA at the organic farm just down the road to help cover food costs, practice permaculture with food and animal systems, get part-time jobs and start up a few small ventures which could help us achieve financial independence down the road.
Sounded ideal, but we didn't take into account a couple of vital things, namely the family member's understanding (or lack thereof) of what permaculture on her land would look like, as well as how much a like-minded community (or again, the lack thereof) to learn with/from would mean to us as beginners. So although it seemed like we had plenty of resources at our disposal to make things work, it turned out social capital was at the top of the list of resources we needed, and it just wasn't there.
To make a long story short, things didn't work out with the family member and we are now down the road work-trading at the little organic farm with the CSA. We've been here since January and thankfully we've had no food or rent expenses, which allowed us the time and space to develop a few small income streams while starting up an oyster mushroom-growing operation. While things are much better here, development has been slow and we are still lacking a community of people with whom to interact around permaculture, either in a business, learning or social setting. The owners of the farm, while committed to organic practices, are not all that attracted to permaculture. I think they are a bit weary of farming here (I would be too, after 14 years of trying to make modern ag models work in the tropics!) and they see adopting permaculture techniques as "starting over," for which they just don't have the energy. They are looking to move elsewhere, they don't want to be here anymore and neither do we. We are going to stick it out for the upcoming busy season, when hopefully we'll see a bit of return for all our efforts we've put into the mushroom operation. After that, we are outta here, and we'll be a helluva lot more thorough in deciding where to land next!
I'm really enjoying this thread, and a lot of Elizabeth's points have certainly rung true with some of the conclusions we have been coming to recently. Wherever we end up next, we won't be so bent on "making it work" with permaculture in a financial sense, at least not yet. Certainly, we'd love to find employment with something permaculture-related. Certainly, we will continue to practice permaculture and experiment with creating valuables for our community. But we're realizing that as beginners, our relationship with permaculture right now should be one of stress-free learning, not financial dependency. Once you remove the pressures of making something produce for you, suddenly you get to interact with that thing in a way that allows you to see the full beauty of it. Deeper learning and understanding can take place, successionally and at fuller maturity. That extra time spent in the beginning will save you time in the long-term.
If you wanted to plant a food forest, you wouldn't just spend a bunch of money on trees and plant them around willy-nilly, at least not if you expect those trees to flourish. Instead, you would take time to prepare the ground, research what works in your area, visit people who have fruit trees, and plan slowly and carefully to maximize the health and efficiency of your forest. You might even decide to mimic nature's successional stages, in which case it may be a few years before you even plant your first fruit tree. Why wouldn't we take the same approach in launching a career in permaculture? I certainly don't mean to suggest that anyone on this thread is being rash or careless, and I would be the last person to judge another person's readiness in such matters. But I am now in a place where I can critique my past self, and I can assert that for me, haste makes waste. This time around, I'll be more humble and cautious in my approach, and I will be diligent in seeing each learning stage through to maturity before moving on to the next one!