[permagriculture] New Topic: permaculture and large scale agriculture

Jason Gerhardt jasongerhardt at gmail.com
Fri Sep 18 18:32:39 EDT 2015


Lawrence, you've got me wrong again.

To clarify further, I have NOT said "permaculture is not ready to be
deployed on this (large) scale", as you suggest. I am also not attempting
to say permaculture hasn't had an impact. In fact, go to the original
discussion that you are picking a bone with and see what I wrote. Here, I
did it for you, "It's important to note this doesn't mean permaculture
hasn't had an impact, it's just not at a large system scale."

I will try again, but let's define our terms first...
By "permaculture" I mean, permaculture as an ecological design system. It
can be applied to anything. It is not a basket of agricultural techniques.
That later definition, however, seems hard to avoid with you, so sometimes
I end up using the term to mean agricultural techniques when a conversation
was started with that implication.

By "large scale farm" I mean, anything over 100 acres in regular crop plant
production (and this is tiny compared to most farms, at least in the US).
This is as opposed to what I would call a "ranch" that has a primary crop
of grasses and forbs, and animals as harvesters.

What I'm saying is permaculture, if you want to call it a collection of ag
techniques, has not been shown to compete on the sizes of land that most
farmers are cultivating. There just haven't been enough people willing to
do it in my observation. Mark Shepard is probably the most well known to do
it, though he is integrated with animals (and even his strong data has
holes). So here is my predicament, and what leads me to comment on this
issue at all...when I get a call from a millet farmer with a PHD in crop
sciences in Colorado who's growing 400 acres and he asks if I can help him
make more money for less work, while improving his land, what am I gonna
say? Am I to make something up and tell him permaculture will feed the
world, everybody "should" do it, it's "POSSIBLE", look to the Philippines
for an analogy for Colorado? His life is on the line! You've got to be
kidding me! I *can* tell him that I can slow wind speeds down on his farm,
which could improve his crop yield. I *can* tell him I have some ideas to
reduce the amount of supplemental water he needs to use. I *can* tell him
that he might want to trial some higher value crops and see how they yield
for him. I *can* tell him to try marketing his own crop via a few different
channels to see if he can earn more per acre. What I CANNOT do is tell him
that the techniques commonly used in permaculture will make him solvent on
his farm. They might, but I can't prove it to him. And trust me, he wants
proof. And what does proof mean to him? It means it works day in day out,
year to year, for decades on end, without increasing his workload. So, this
is what I'm saying. There ain't no data. He would be yet another guinea
pig. And we need guinea pigs, that's actually what I've been trying to get
across. We need more people to show and prove.

What I was getting at in the original topic you have been calling me out on
is that I'm frustrated as a practitioner of permaculture with so many
people making wild and unsubstantiated claims about permaculture solving
all the problems of agriculture and then I get calls about those claims
from farmers who listened. I choose the road of telling them the truth
rather than continuing to mislead them, and that puts me in an awkward
position, and it puts permaculture in an awkward position. THAT, my friend,
is what does permaculture a disservice.

As an educator of this design discipline of permaculture, I also choose to
tell my students the truth. I tell them the devil is in the details, and
they should become students of those details. I have zero interest in
pumping out more radical activists for permaculture. I could just slap a
"believe" or "permaculture" bumper sticker on my millet farmers truck, but
I'm not dogmatic enough about permaculture to be so arrogant. Is that a
disservice to permaculture?

Jason


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