I initially found permaculture because I wanted to be prepared for a future that I feared, The housing bubble was bursting and I was a new dad. Finding Permaculture however has transformed my fear into seeing the potential for abundance everywhere I look. Looking back now I see my fear was only helpful in that it lead me to a viable solution. The solution is rooted in understanding and using natural systems, but Permaculture's overall goal has always been to help people take care of themselves and their families, what I was hoping to do from the beginning.
Permaculture is built on three ethics and a prime directive. The prime directive is to provide for yourself and your offspring. That doesn't mean you need to be completely self sufficient, but it does mean we all have a responsibility to be producers. So, between what you produce yourself and what you can acquire from your local community, you are to take responsibly for yourself and your family. No excuses. Making a lot of money is awesome, but what if what your family needs becomes scarce? Money might not get what you need. Dig a well before you get thirsty. The basic needs of humans aren't a mystery, so why not work with nature to make sure you can provide for your basic needs all the time?
If your new to this, that concept, and a quick inventory of what you, and your community are producing to meet your families basic needs might be scary. If you've ever been through a storm that has knocked out power and wiped out shelves, you know how quickly things can change. But take a deep breath and relax a little bit, because one of the things I've found with permaculture is it can turn that fear of scarcity, and transforms it into a realization that nature is quite capable of producing an abundance out of seemingly waste products. If we harness these natural systems while times are good, we can be prepared for nearly anything, and even if nothing bad ever happens the connection to nature and the peace of mind we will develop will be worth all the effort.
What is your household or community producing that currently appears to be a waste product? Small breweries produce spent grains, tree trimmers produce wood chips, restaurants create food scraps, horse farms have old hay and manure. Allowing natural systems to recycle these types of nutrients into useful products is the biggest problem in modern society, because none of us want to deal with our waste products, we just ship them "away", where they become part of a growing pollution problem. This is draining the energy out of our production, and forcing us to use expensive inputs to keep the ball rolling.
One of the other cool things about Permaculture is that it can bring people together with completely different world views. No matter if you think humans are creating climate change or not, the best way to create abundance is to return these organic waste streams back to the soil (carbon). The depletion of carbon from the soil due to deforestation (especially on steep slopes), over tillage, and a lack of diversity in agricultural systems has created a fragile system. Soil carbon holds onto water and nutrients, and gives a home to soil organisms that plants need to be healthy. Every time we knock out a piece of nature, we have to try to do the work of those natural systems, leaving us over paying and under delivering. So far it seems like with our constant scrambing we are keeping our heads above water. Trucking billions of bees around the world to pollinate various crops is still getting the pollination job done. Pesticides and herbicides are managing those issues, and pumping water from deep aquifers to water vegetables in the desert is still managing to produce enough. But the systems are fragile.
You might currently be getting along just fine with 100% city water, and grocery store food. Or maybe your happy with your little garden and chickens, but don't want to "go off the deep end". The problem with our current systems is it only takes one problem for our fragility to be stressed to the point of fracture. Taking just a bit of a "deeper dive" in the world of sustainability can provide a net of security that you can't experience without it. The word net is how many describe permaculture because we design in multiple things to meet the needs of everything in the systems, as well as multiple systems to meet each need. Capture rain water in large tanks, and capture the tank overflow into ponds, Not only does it create multiple levels of water security it creates an extremely productive environment for low maintenance food production, as well as reducing runoff and erosion. Fish don't fight gravity like other animals and so don't have to eat as much to gain weight. If your fish produce too much waste and your getting algae, that problem is a sign of abundance, and you know you have (free) excess nutrients, nutrients are only a problem if we can't think of anything else to grow, like aquaponic lettuce running off a small solar pump. Each level of design creates products, products with potential to create more value. The food waste can be feed to composting worms or black solider fly larva to create fish and chicken feed. The "waste" of the decomposers makes your garden soil full of life and nutrients, and the systems all make each other better, which creates an anti-fragile system.
Comparing the safety net of a permaculture system to how most of the modern world lives. City water can become contaminated, or have pipes burst. The grocery story or chicken feed store, can run out of food if we have prolonged drought, or bad storm, And even if none of these normal systems ever fail in a major way, we still know that most of them require huge amounts energy intensive inputs. The goal isn't to create fear, its to accurately paint a picture of how our systems currently work, and what we can do to improve our resiliency.
Even if all you do is buy a high quality, gravity feed water filter, like a Berkey, and catch some rain water in a tank, you've just provided the number one need for your family, clean water (obviously the bigger the tank/pond, the longer you've met this need). But I urge you to not stop there, become anti-fragile. Get an analysis of your property to see how much water is really running off your hard surfaces and dozens of other factors that effect your property. Take control of the things in your power, and plan for the things that nature consistently throws your way. It might take a little work, but once you start seeing the patterns of nature, and realize you don't have to fight nature at every turn, there is a harmony that gradually develops that is hard to describe, but again, very worth the effort.
Permaculture / doing things sustainably is more work, at first. We're coming up on our one year anniversary at our new property, and wow its been really rewarding, but a ton of work. On top of getting settled, and completing a first year of being a homeschool dad, I started designing our own land from a complete blank slate (no trees), and getting the beginnings of our new plant nursery started (in red clay), without much money. While it was a good bit of work, having the permaculture framework of design, removed the largest barrier- not knowing what the do next. I haven't had time to finish by little book (The Abundant Homestead Designer's Workbook) I was working on before we moved, so to get some momentum (public and personal), I want to share a little passage out of the book to help give readers a better picture of how the permaculture lens of seeing the world, helped me not get stuck (or make major blunders), and how a better understanding might help you in your journey to abundance! Hope you enjoy!
...Once you have all the data about your homestead conveniently in one place, it makes it easier to take a step back from the emotion of your property. This follows the principle of designing from the major patterns of the land first, and then progressively working down to details. One of the most common problems in homestead design is to simply start adding things you want and placing them wherever “seems like a good spot”. This leads to major inefficiencies and all sorts of other missed opportunities. Design starting from the broad pattern of your area, climate, topography, etc., and working its way down into the details is where this book will quickly and seamlessly lead you.
Quick story. When I first started learning about permaculture we had already been practicing “backyard farming” type stuff. We already had chickens, rainwater tanks, a big garden, a bunch of fruit trees/berry plants, a little pond with edible plants, and a big playground area for our two girls. This was on a half-acre suburban lot. Some people might think I was already “doing permaculture”, but this is a misunderstanding of what permaculture is. At its core, permaculture is a design science. Even though I had all these things, and had a degree in science, there was very little design, or science to all the “stuff” in our yard. That's not to say it wasn’t productive, it just wasn’t efficient. I did the best I could with what I learned on that property, but a lot of the elements were either difficult or impossible to move without destroying. As it turned out, we ended up moving 400 miles west for my wife’s job. Let me tell you, even though I still miss our old backyard, (mostly all the dozens of plants I left behind), coming to a new property with what I have learned is quite refreshing. I’ll try hard not to bore you with the details about our current property, but let me tell you, having a permaculture analysis in hand is making a huge difference with our new “blank slate” of a property.
Before we ever moved onto our new property (only 1 acre), the former owners showed us where their garden was located, and told us the soil was really good there. This was valuable information, but it also had the potential for mistakes. Their garden spot will make a good planting area, but it’s not the best location for a “kitchen garden”. This may seem like a minor detail, but while you’re cooking and need some herbs, the “100 yard dash” isn’t what you want to do. For us, this garden spot will be great for a “main crop” garden. These are things like potatoes, corn, winter squash, and other things that don’t require as much attention, and don’t get harvested on a daily basis.
Even when you know a lot about permaculture, or in my case, have taken the design course (PDC), it is still crucially important to do an analysis of your property. While I might get some interesting ideas about what is possible at a property, simply by walking around it, it takes a larger investment of time, thinking, and measurement, before good design really starts to become apparent for the property. This is one of my main reasons for writing this workbook. While I can offer a property analysis for customers without actually stepping on their property, I believe there is even more value (benefit/cost) in teaching you how to analyze your own property through this design framework.
Energy in vs. Energy Out.
Handling money wisely has many similarities to handling your land wisely. Being sustainable is all about the wise use of energy. Energy comes in many forms. Some of those forms can be stored more easily than others, and capturing an excess of usable energy, for everything that needs it, is really what we are interested in. Excess, because living “paycheck to paycheck” isn’t fun.
We live in a throw-away culture, but if you’re reading this, you probably want something better. Energy is defined as something that has the ability to do work. Energy is valuable. Valuable, as in, someone would pay for it, unfortunately, most of the time, that someone is us. We don’t want to waste our resources. It’s easy to get into a routine of wasting energy. Just the daily walk to feed the chickens might be a waste. If you normally enjoy the walk, that’s fine, but what about when it’s cold, windy, and raining, or their water is frozen? You’re welcome to walk to your chicken coop whenever you want, but what if you didn’t have to? In this book we are going to put numbers to our actions. Distance numbers, sun angles, feed calories, elevation changes, soil fertility numbers, just to name a few. Don’t worry if you’re not a “number’s person”, all you will have to do is follow the directions and fill in the blanks.
A major purpose of this workbook is to help you get answers. Where is all your energy coming from and where is all your energy going? Is there more being used up than stored? Is one part of the landscape being depleted in exchange for another output? Where are the leaks/wastes exiting our system? How can more energy be captured and held onto longer? What needs feed on your property? What should it eat and how much? If you had to buy all of it, how much would it cost? How much energy does it take to get the feed to where it’s going? These are all energy questions, but I don’t want you to look at them as problems, but as a 4D puzzle, that when solved, will have your homestead running like a well-oiled machine. It’s my job to show you how the pieces fit together, and our goal is a surplus of energy at every level of your homestead.
Only one energy source.
We will assume you don’t have a nuclear reactor. With that assumption, all the rest of the energy of the world originates from the sun, with some help from gravity. Fossil fuels, wind, hydro, and animals are all different forms of solar energy. Fossil fuels are plants and animals squished under layers of sedimentary rock, concentrated carbon. Wind is formed by differences in temperature creating areas of more or less dense air, and gravity is constantly trying to level out those differences. Solar energy also does the extremely heavy lifting of evaporating water…think of all the potential energy of the water lifted up into the sky (ever carry a 5 gallon (41.7 lbs) bucket of water up a hill?). Last but not least, the current collection of solar energy by plants that feeds all of the life on earth, large and small...
Thanks for reading! If you found the concept of the book helpful, leave a comment below, it will help me stay motivated on finishing it up!
We have safely moved to Bristol, Tn, however we are currently apartment living, and homestead shopping.
Between house shopping and listening to podcasts (Check out Peak Prosperty https://goo.gl/k5YVG8), I believe it's clear that the price of most things are at or near their all time highs. As someone who bought their first house about a year or so after the last peak, it makes me want to be very cautious about buying right now, but I'm also not a huge fan of apartment living (what to do!?).
My biggest thought at the moment is to buy more than just a pretty house, yes some land, but it seems everyone around here wants some land with their house. Maybe something with good bones that needs a bit of sweat equity to limit our risk? Leave a comment if you have any ideas about buying in this market!
Also, I'm again able to do a bit of consulting work again if you have a need, fill out our survey!