I don’t want to be a peasant

blue corn pic 6Chris Smajae wrote an article entitled:

Neo-peasantries: from Permaculture to Permanent Agriculture

In which he nearly immediately accused me of started a pissing match over my recent comment to another of his weblogs entitled:

Pondering Permaculture

I read these articles posted to Resilience.org.

My comment was basically that I thought my permacultured-styled, or rather, scientifically constructed, section zoned,  bio-intensively planted, aerobic compost infused  non-tilled soil (I do input manure for the compost, the city won’t allow animals here), with annual planted raised beds in the main crop area, food forest in another, hugelkultur for all the surrounding trees to feed from through the mycelium network, forest garden, planted with species that are tolerant of the large black walnut trees nearby, with all the related fencing and edges (where plants really interact on a grand scale), in my backyard, is more interesting than his tilled market garden.

Even looking at the picture of the lupines linked to your article Chris I think so. But where’s the celeriac?

With that in mind, I planted celeriac as a monoculture, then as a test, also with tomatos, parsnips, and potato onions this year. About the same area in size. I’ll let you know if you are still of the mindset after reading this weblog, how much more produce I  gained by the interplanting.

Then, in the background of your picture, is close to as I imagined your garden, Chris,  with long rows of single specie plantings surrounded by bare recently tilled dirt. I used to do that. Not on as large of scale. But since I didn’t want to use the chemical fertilizers and biocide cocktails, it just seemed to peter out. Now I didn’t exactly refer to this farming as a detriment, but I would agree with that assessment. It is actually a mimic of the current agribusiness model being used on a grand scale all around the world. Since this farming method is totally reliant on fossil fuels all up and down the scale of inputs, it doesn’t have a future. For reasons mostly of using up the carbon in the soil, carbon is the main element that reacts with the nitrogen element, when the carbon is gone, its over. Plus the fact fossil fuels are finite.

Since,  Chris,  you elected to use my ideas as motivation, even in an instance creating a strawman argument, I will discuss in my response about my motivation to connect with permaculture.

Back to my neglected garden. The area worked was then left alone. First it was pigweed and purslane that grew. Followed by catnip, chamomile, yarrow, tansy, and finally, about a decade later, the eight foot high goldenrod dominated.

When I finally came back to work the area, and yes, I used a rototiller, it was truly amazing to find another inch of topsoil had formed. Then I found, yellowing and weak, hidden beneath the sun hogging wild plants, were a remnant of garlic, yellow raspberries, and my Grandma’s spring onions.

This was the point something popped in my mind. This in the year 2010.

From that standpoint I began a research, you have to admit Chris, all those connected to the internet are capable of learning many ideas. But my research didn’t take me into the peasant idea, I’m sorry to add. It was permaculture that blinked on to my computer screen.

Still, to this day, I have reserved bed space for a single planting of the onions and garlic I found, as I think it special for these plants to have been through all that competition for sunlight. But I have also intermingled it among the food forest and forest garden designated areas, and can attest it is tough stuff.

Think about that for a few minutes Chris. And imagine growing under the closer than is normally planted fruit trees, not arranged in a pattern, but as a polyculture, in the food forest, and somewhat in a pattern in the forest garden, are the onions and garlic, along with leeks, rhubarb, horseradish, mints, chives, asparagus, and an assortment of berry bushes, plus a few nitrogen fixing bushes and plants as support.

In the winter, I prune the trees to keep them away from each other, then drop the pruned shoots to the ground. Wild rabbits come to chew on the bark and leave behind a deposit for the trees, along with the occasional deer nipping at the bushes and lower branches of the fruit trees. Then in summer, the birds come scrounging through the pruning brush and under story for pests. Pest control and fertilizer from all their visits the summer long.

And I didn’t have to spend a dime or do a thing.

Then there is the life in the soil itself. Living, secreting, dying. Adding more fertilizer than anything else. You don’t have to imagine this Chris, growing soil fertility while growing healthy human food. Its the real deal.

Not only do I view some of this tree fruit as growing for free, but also all of the understory production. This view as compared to most people who would sooner plant an orchard of  similar trees and follow the instructions as set forth by the chemical manufacturing agri-business corporations through their agent universities.

Amazingly, since the fruit trees in my permaculture design are varying cultivars, all having different maturity dates, and along with the other bushes and plants,  my backyard harvest will span more than six months. Something to crow about seeing as though the area here is smack dab in the cold climate USDA Planting Zone 5! Again! Amazing! Without tilling, fertilizing, or spraying. The initial setup was costly and work was necessary in the setup, but now its nothing but picking in that area. Has to be something to sell at a farmers market coming out of this arrangement?

Ok, something negative. Sometimes a cultivar or variety fails to produce. Still the rest of it succeeds. And I also have the  main crop and kitchen gardens producing annual food to rely on. These do require a little more effort, like making compost to add in the beds.

I also, along with participating in a college length 72 hour Permaculture Design Course (PDC), did take an eight day Restorative Agriculture Course at Mark Shepard’s farm. Mark fits into the permaculture non-hierarchical movement seamlessly, by the way. I really like that part of permaculture, no one is telling me what to do.  Anyway, I’m here to witness Mark has a farm that has very low inputs and produces a lot of calories in the process. This is one, if not the feature arrangement of the farming future, period.

Along with many other insights gained from the Restorative Agriculture experience, one of the standout insights applies here concerning inputs and outputs: Not quite Mark’s words but close enough: Harvesting $300 produce, like asparagus, apples, hazelnuts, or whatever, from a permaculture designed arrangement similar to what I have described in my backyard, and wholesaling it to a coop, or some such other entity,  will put close to $300 in your pocket. This is far less work and maybe more profitable than tilling, planting, fertilizing, spraying, before harvesting $10,000  worth of produce – which most market gardeners attain by having to sit at the market selling the products, and maybe not selling it all – at the end subtracting the $9500 in costs. That doesn’t work out too well in my opinion.

But I guess this arrangement could employ a lot of peasants.

And I think this description is the difference between being a peasant laboring under the sun in the dirt, from a permaculture practitioner, sitting under the fruit trees watching the kids swim in the pond.

Oh yeah, then there is aquaculture! Mollison real nails it when he integrates aquaculture into a permaculture design (its in the manual).


Here is a link to my Youtube account.I have uploaded segments of my backyard permaculture progress: https://www.youtube.com/user/sevenmmm?feature=guide




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