[permaculture] A small-scale farm report. Was: Large scale farming - sustainable? Profitable?

Michael Pilarski friendsofthetrees at yahoo.com
Sun Dec 20 19:14:32 EST 2009


Hi Lee, 

A few comments on your question. “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”

Your questionnaire to fill out is
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.

Your question has too many variables to make blanket formulas.  We could also debate endlessly about the true costs of industrial inputs.  

But since I have done my own systems and make a lot of my living from my little farm, I am in a position to give you some feedback from my own system.

I would steward 2 acres in my north-central Washington climate. With my management systems that is about all I would want to handle personally.  My multi-story, medicinal and food agroforestry systems are designed to go for 50 years plus.  I would guess that sustainability would arrive somewhere relatively early in the game.  I get profitability from year two onwards.   

Typically I start out with between one half and one acre of land in year one and expand to two acres over the course of three years. I rent a small field tractor to do soil tillage in year one of a plot. In year two approximately half of the area is tilled again (the rest is in perennials) in yeaar 3 and thereafter it is all done with hand tools since most of it is now in perennials and there is no room to get a tractor into the system.  A walk-behind rototiller can be used in subsequent years to save labor, but these days I just stick with hand tools, once the system is well established.

I hire very little manual labor and have some interns but typically operate with 80% of the labor being done by myself.  

After year three it takes less effort to manage the system (initial establishment is the most time and resource consuming part of the equation), so in year four I can either expand the initial planting, take more time off, or finance extra workers to intensify the harvests.  

With a decent soil base and water, and in most climates I would estimate that 2 acres could support a modest permaculture lifestyle for one or two families. 

A few thoughts,

Michael Pilarski


--- On Sun, 12/20/09, Lee Flier <leeflier at comcast.net> wrote:

From: Lee Flier <leeflier at comcast.net>
Subject: [permaculture] Large scale farming - sustainable?  Profitable?
To: "permaculture" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
Date: Sunday, December 20, 2009, 3:40 PM

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!
_______________________________________________
permaculture mailing list
permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
Subscribe or unsubscribe here:
http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/permaculture
Google command to search archives:
site:http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/permaculture searchstring





More information about the permaculture mailing list