[permaculture] Overly optimistic permaculture attitude towardsland

christopher nesbitt christopher.nesbitt at mmrfbz.org
Thu Dec 3 12:40:49 EST 2009

I think I should mention that my point had more to do with land that  
is not suitable for agriculture at all being purchased for agriculture  
than damaged agricultural land. Certainly, as designers, it is in our  
interest to repair damaged land, and as potential land owners, damaged  
land can usually be found for a lot cheaper than prime land.

There is plenty of damaged agricultural in the world, especially here  
in the lowland humid tropics where we have so many acres of "emerald  
wastelands", or green revolution deserts left behind when the  
productive life span of that land/plant assembly has run its  
inevitable course. When they come to the end of their life span, which  
is extended by regular inputs of fertilizers and soil amendments, they  
are left behind. Pioneering into those lands makes much more sense  
than moving into rainforest. Places like this abound here in Belize,  
and those acres that have lived lives as banana groves, citrus  
orchards, sugar cane patches and cattle pastures can, in most cases,  
be coaxed into being productive.

All of the land I farm here is on either ex-cattle pasture, abandoned  
citrus grove or ex milpa, and most of the reparative work that has  
been done has been very rewarding. The few slices of seriously damaged  
land, land damaged by cattle, that we have tried to repair have not  
been rewarding. You can see pictures of where it is working here: http://mmrfbz.org 
  on the agroforesty link, here http://www.mmrfbz.org/Agroforestry_at_MMRF.html 
. That, though, has been the result of over 20 years of observation  
and work. That area was Valencia and Washington navel oranges in 1988.

There is a cut off point on damaged land whereby the effort to recover  
fertility and coax food out of that land will not give a reward equal  
to the effort in a time frame that works in the scale of a human life,  
and that is a consideration that needs to be made by anyone looking  
for a piece of land, but there is also land that simply should not be  
used for agriculture, too, and that should be left alone. My example  
in Orange Walk is one such place.

On Dec 3, 2009, at 8:14 AM, Margaret & Steven Eisenhauer wrote:

> Hello,
> I have just got to jump on this issue of degraded land.  I have a back
> ground in design/build/historic restoration but have also recently  
> (6 years)
> been working to bring an old orchard around.  This year we have  
> spent a lot
> of money buying imported nutrition - hydrolyzed fish/seaweed/humic
> acids/chicken pooh/elemental minerals with the benefit that we were  
> able to
> bring along crops to harvest such as apples, potatoes and tomatoes  
> along
> with the usual garden fare even though in the northeast we received 14
> inches above average rain fall & it was quiet cool.  I mention the  
> potatoes
> and tomatoes because most were destroyed by blight elsewhere in the  
> region
> this year.
> I suspect all these fertility imports are unsustainable in a post  
> oil world.
> So how do I garner fertility without employing a tremendous amount of
> overhead, and the work to apply these materials?
> I am looking at the farm organism model whereby there are many  
> players -
> plants/animals/microbes/people - all of which will do work for food  
> with the
> potential result of balance and resource availability/fertility.   
> This is
> systems modeling but with the added WAG that goes along with  
> learning from
> experience and often failing.
> It is not easy or cheap - So my hat is off to those that are trying  
> new
> things and letting us know about it!
> -----Original Message-----
> From: permaculture-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
> [mailto:permaculture-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Scott  
> Vlaun
> Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2009 12:31 AM
> To: permaculture
> Subject: Re: [permaculture] Overly optimistic permaculture attitude
> towardsland
> When I interviewed Bill Mollison he related this story. it has always
> inspired me not to be discouraged by poor soil.
> http://www.seedsofchange.com/cutting_edge/interview.aspx
> "...in Ecuador, around a little town whose name is Cangagua, when
> they took the rain forest off there was only a thin layer of soil,
> about a foot, and it washed away. Underneath that was silica, so all
> the hills and valleys and everything's made out of glass. So you own
> a glass landscape; how do you reclaim that? Standing on a glass hill
> looking at a glass valley with a glass hill across the valley. Well,
> one day, some of the troops in permaculture down there on the coast
> noticed a guy up on one of those hills with a sledge hammer and he
> was breaking the glass-which is thick-smashing it up and making a
> sort of channel around the hill and then he was planting little trees
> in the channel and they said, "Oh we can't let him do that on his
> own," so they all went up there and helped him break channels around
> the hills. And now they say there's a little jungle coming along but
> it's going to take much longer than five to six years, but he decided
> that he wasn't going to be dispirited by the glass. Cangagua, it's
> called, after the town where it is. So, there are some very
> discouraging places.
> Since then we've managed to coax a trashed-out logging landing in the
> woods, with very little soil and lots of erosion, into around five
> thousand square feet of fertile raised beds, and produce some surplus
> for our coop.  We've gleaned tons of organic matter from local
> resources but have also trucked in some locally made compost. Our
> local cafe, conveniently located under our office in town and whom we
> supply with greens, has been a great source of food waste which feeds
> our chickens which feed the gardens. We've just discovered tons of
> invasive plants that have been pulled from the local lake.
> It seems like for most of us that are not blessed with 10 feet of
> topsoil there are abundant resources of organic matter nearby in the
> form of animal manures and food waste, not to mention of course
> humanure which we'll all have to deal with to create anything close
> to sustainable systems in the long run. CityFarm in Chicago is a
> great example of a closed loop right in the city (no humanure...yet).
> They have over an acre of organic production growing in windrows of
> compost created from, among other sources, the waste stream of the
> restaurants that they deliver produce to. Of course, plenty of fossil
> fuel is burned in the process, but everything they do could be done
> with human power. It will just take a lot more people.
> We are now looking at two new projects which will need vast amounts
> of organic matter to create soil. One is down a hill from a horse
> farm and  the other is in a small urban setting. In the former, a
> private residence, the horses could haul their own manure to the
> site, in the latter, a community garden project we could use bicycles
> with trailers to haul waste in from the neighborhood.
> I'm sure most of this group has read Heinberg's "50,000,000 Farmers"
> essay. I still find it to be a source of inspiration and hope that we
> can redefine "agriculture" to something that is human-scale,
> community based, beautiful, and ultimately sustainable.
> Scott Vlaun
> Moose Pond Arts+Ecology
> Design Solutions for a Sustainable Future
> 450 Main Street, Studio 2
> Norway, Maine 04268
> http://www.moosepondarts.com
> 207-739-2409 Studio
> On Dec 2, 2009, at 1:20 PM, Rain Tenaqiya wrote:
> As for myself, I was deeply influenced by Bill Mollison, and he
> definitely seems like a booster to me.  I remember him saying not to
> worry too much about soil since you can always transform it with
> organic matter and amendments (which is common in Australia given the
> poor soil).  His Global Gardener videos make it all look so easy.  He
> talks about how cheap earthworks are (not!) and gives inflated
> statistics about how radically you can transform local climate.  For
> results within one person's lifetime, I'm learning to expect much  
> less.
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Christopher Nesbitt

Maya Mountain Research Farm
San Pedro Columbia, Toledo
PO 153 Punta Gorda Town, Toledo
Central America


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