[permaculture] Large scale farming - sustainable? Profitable?

Lee Flier leeflier at comcast.net
Sun Dec 20 18:40:28 EST 2009

This could be a fun exercise to get all our brains working.

Mollison defines "sustainable" thusly: "A sustainable system is one that 
can produce or store as much or more energy over its lifetime as it 
takes to create and maintain it."

Of course some people are going to be pedantic and say that such a thing 
isn't physically possible, which technically, it isn't. :)  But as a 
practical matter, the energy from the sun, wind, gravity, etc. is "free" 
so far as we are concerned.  So it is indeed possible to create 
sustainable systems.

It's also been pointed out that although you may use a lot of energy 
establishing a site, it can still become sustainable over its lifetime, 
e.g. you use a bulldozer to dig a swale and plant trees in the swale... 
by the time the trees mature, the water savings engendered in the swale 
make the system sustainable and of course you can harvest the fruits or 
other parts of the tree as surplus, use the leaves as mulch, etc.

So my question is: what's your idea of a permaculture site that is both 
sustainable in these terms, and profitable (at least enough to make you 
a decent living)? How much land would you need, how long would it take 
to become sustainable/profitable, etc. and how would you do it?  Some 
people say that if you can't farm with only hand tools, it can't be 
sustainable... others say large scale farms can't possibly be 
sustainable while small farms can't possibly be profitable.  Where is 
that line for you?

I realize this is different for different climates, etc. but maybe we 
the question can be answered something like this:

I would own ___ acres in a _______ climate, and I could make it 
sustainable in ___ years and profitable in ___ years.  I would do this 
by planting ___ the first year(s) then moving on to ____.  I would use 
______ equipment and/or hire _____ manual laborers for ____ years and 
then reduce and/or increase to ___ over ___ years.

Etc.  You don't have to use exactly that format obviously... but just 
looking forward to hearing what everybody's ideas are!  And if you don't 
think your "ideal" is possible tell us what you would do instead, i.e. 
what compromises you would make (remain sustainable and continue to work 
another job, sacrifice some sustainability to be able to make more 
money, etc.)  And obviously if you're already doing this, even better!

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