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From The Library

July 16, 2019

I get a lot of questions about why I’m so gung-ho about Permaculture, since to the newcomer, it appears to be a “society” dominated by social justice warrior liberals. While that’s not entirely inaccurate as an observation, it’s really a simplistic approach, and ignores the inherent value of the Permaculture concept to not only survival, but tribal culture.

My general, semi-humorous answer is, I’m gung-ho about Permaculture because I’m fucking lazy. The ideal behind permaculture, for those unfamiliar with it, is that it is “permanent agriculture.” To whit, it involves planning and planting, in such a way that requires minimal human interference, to maintain continued useful production for decades. This is contrary to standard agriculture that requires annual replanting, fertilization, and all the related tasks and inputs that go along. I like the idea of not having to work too much to produce food, because I’m fucking lazy.

Really though, if we’re being serious, from a preparedness perspective, this makes sense for resilience. In a post-grid environment, I suspect I’m going to be awful busy. If I can reduce my task load then, by planting a resilient, low-maintenance food production system—a food forest—now, that seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s more labor-intensive in the front end, especially if you do it like I do, without using power equipment any more than necessary, but the back end pay out is brilliant.

In an speech he did before he died, called “Liberation Permaculture” (If you do a Google Search, you can find audio files of the speech. It’s well worth listening to.), the late Toby Hemenway, author of my favorite Permaculture book to date, Gaia’s Garden, made the point that Permaculture is really the ultimate guerrilla/insurgent/survivalist form of food production, and it is incredibly anti-totalitarian.

The tax collector is used to looking at crops on flat, level, arable ground, planted in monocrops. He can look at that, and with a basic knowledge of local conditions, can say, “Okay, with that crop, in that many hectares, you can expect to harvest XXX number of bushels. The king gets 10%, so we’ll be back in three months to collect.” And, if you don’t have your 10% ready for the King when the tax man comes back, his escort of light infantrymen are going to fuck your shit up. They’re going to burn your house down, and take anything they can find of value, and probably throw you in prison as well.

At the same time, if the King’s realm is invaded, and the invading Army rolls up, they see this big, beautiful field of wheat, or oats, or corn, or whatever, they burn the crops in the fields, then they salt the ground, then they kill and rape the people (sometimes in that order, no less!).

In either case, there’s really not much you can do about it. It’s not like you can pick up your crop and move it out of the way of the invading Army. Hiding a six hectare field of wheat from the tax man is kind of tough as well.

On the other hand, when the King’s tax man marches into Kirkcudbright, Scotland, at the head of a column of redcoats, or into Cade’s Cove, TN, or some other small little mountain holding, they might see a plot of corn or wheat or oats, but it’s so small that 10% might be enough to feed one man for the march back down the mountain….it’s not even worth coming back for. The tax man thinks, “Shit, I walked up this damned mountain for nothing! Well, fuck. I’m not coming back!”

What he doesn’t see is the eight other patches spread out in random clearings in the woods, or the asparagus growing semi-feral along the roadside ditch. He doesn’t see the pine nuts and acorns that are gathered to make flour out of, or the semi-feral hogs that are harvested once a year, after fattening up on the acorns. He doesn’t see any of that, because it doesn’t fit the patterns he’s accustomed too. It’s not subject to taxation, because no dumbshit flat lander can tell that there’s anything of value there anyway.

It’s likewise resilient, because it’s hard to burn the crops and salt the fields, when you can’t even tell what is crop and what is just forest. So, the King, or his enemy, sends troops up to hunt you down? So what? They might burn down your huts and cabins, but Hell, you live in a little cabin that you built yourself, by hand, and you can damned sure build it again, when they go home, as long as you’ve got food to sustain you (and they always go home…just ask the Pashtuns…or the Overmountain Men….)

Are the 1st Fusiliers going to spend months, marching through the forest, in order to dig up every Jerusalem artichoke? Are they going to chop down every oak and pine tree in the forest? Are they going to locate and dig up every asparagus plant? Are they going to recognize the plaintain and the cattail roots, and the chicory, and yarrow and coneflower, let alone know that they are useful and edible (and medicinal?). Are they going to hunt down and exterminate every feral hog of breeding age running wild in the mountains?

Probably not.

It might get a little sketchy come late winter and early spring, with some growling bellies, but folks have always suffered in the hungry season. Mountain folks abide.

THAT’S what permaculture is. It’s simply growing food in a manner that is resilient, and doesn’t need to be coddled and babied. It’s gathering “wild” edibles, and then cultivating them in places that are more convenient for you to gather. It’s planting not just annual plants, but perennial plants that will continue to produce for decades. It’s planting fruit trees and nut trees that may produce for centuries. It’s learning to know your ground, and where you’ve cultivated different things in your food forests, and pass that knowledge on to the next generation, so they can enjoy the same bounteous existence, and still tell the King to go fuck himself.

While most Permaculture writers discuss planning and designing small food forests in backyards or on farms, it’s just as applicable—and really, more so—to plant them on abandoned lots and in green belts in urban areas. It’s a survival food production method that works anywhere that plants can be coaxed into growing, even if the plants are dandelions. It’s recognizing the usefulness of “weeds,” and cultivating those resilient little plants that nobody else wants.

That’s why I’m so gung-ho about Permaculture.

I’ve previously recommended Gaia’s Garden in this series. I stand by it. It has, so far, been the best Permaculture book I’ve found. It’s probably one of two I would recommend so far, with The Permaculture Handbook, by Peter Bane, being the other.

A couple of weeks ago though, my buddy Greg Hamilton texted me that he had started reading Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, by the late Bill Mollison. He told me he wished he’d started with it, because it covered the same stuff that the newer, strap-hanger authors did, only better. That made sense, and Greg is a pretty smart dude, so I broke down and ordered a copy. I hadn’t previously bothered getting a copy, because it’s pretty fucking expensive, at $100 a copy that I’d been able to find it, and when I’d glanced through it, it seemed really, really dense and dry. I’d read some of Mr. Mollison’s other work, and they were dense as fuck. So, I had avoided it.

Mr. Mollison, along with his student David Holmgren, are recognized as the founders of what we now call “Permaculture.” I would argue they were the two who managed to codify, in language that modern westerner’s could understand, the traditional mountain tribal form of agriculture, but then, I’m pedantic like that.

I’m only a few chapters in so far, but I’m happy I took Greg’s advice and got it. I’ve picked up a few things I didn’t catch from Hemenway or Bane, and I think Mr Mollison’s development of the Ethics and Principles of Permaculture are a little less influenced by 21st Century cultural egoisms about what is and isn’t reality.

Recommended.

(I will add, parenthetically, that I do believe Mr. Mollison, Mr. Bane, and Mr. Hemenway, along with pretty much every other single writer I’ve read in the Permaculture world, suffers from the same affliction. That is, too much faith in the inherent intelligence of humanity. They too—obviously—believe in the supremacy of Permaculture as a means of food production, and they too believe that industrial agriculture is on a dead end path to collapse. They too agree that people are going to be very hungry, and very angry, in the very near future.

Unfortunately, they seem to believe that Permaculture will somehow magically be adopted as a universal solution, and thus somehow save all the hungry people, by “sharing the surplus.” I, of course, suspect that a solid basis of Permaculture food forests, to supply YOUR people, coupled with armaments and the will to kill people who decide to come try and take what your people need and have worked to produce, is a far more realistic expectation.

Ironically, since every single Permaculture writer I have read, and every single interview with Permaculture teachers I have listened to, discusses the tribal origins of this agricultural philosophy, none of them seem comfortable confronting the idea that every tribal group out there that has every used these types of methods, also had the means to protect their “hunting grounds.”

Go Permie, but gun the fuck up too.)

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20 Comments
  1. tropicthunder81 permalink

    Living in the extremely arid southwest desert I can only dream if such a land.

    • Vagus permalink

      You can grind mesquite pods into flour.

    • jimd303@reagan.com permalink

      Not knowing exactly where you are, I will ask, didn’t the Apache have their own permaculture system of food production? Didn’t sound like anything I’d want to eat, but…Also, although far from ideal, you can store decades of grain for far less than the cost of some mountain land.

    • Atlas Shrug permalink

      Research “Greening the desert” by Geoff Lawton. He did this in the DESERT in Jordan. It can be done.

  2. HarmonWolf permalink

    I suspect permies suffer from the Rousseauian delusion that a lot of soft-hearted people tend to have, that people are naturally good and only corrupted by civilization. The same foolishness that thinks primitive people don’t engage in war, murder, and torture.

  3. Vagus permalink

    I like permaculture because I suck at gardening, but even I can grow blackberry bushes and nut trees.

    Side note, monoculture societies have their vulnerabilities, but they also field more soldiers. This is the great downfall of tribal societies. We talk about going barbarian and collapsing early, but it didn’t work out so well for the Gauls when the Romans came to town. I say this in service to the above article in the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    • We are in a rather different technological paradigm than the Romans and Gauls. Back then numbers really did matter in every way, these days numbers have less to do with the firepower you can bring to bear.

      • Vagus permalink

        I’d say yes and no. Larger civilizations are still likely to have more complex and better weapon systems. The small arms are going to be equal, but a more organized society can field artillery and airpower, not to mention all the ECM, etc. How much that would matter, your mileage may vary.

        I don’t disagree with John in the slightest, just pointing out that there’s a reason the “barbarian” societies got eclipsed by monoculture societies. Everything exists with trade-offs is more the point I’m trying to make.

  4. mickey d permalink

    I think you would also find Geoff Lawton interesting as he was one of Bill Mollison’s students. Geoff has a number of videos on you tube.

  5. Jarhead permalink

    John,

    I would also recommend you search out Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast. He has a series of videos on Permaculture, not to mention links to Geoff Lawton (who was Bill Moulison’s padawan). Geoff currently operates the Permaculture Institute in Australia.

    Stay Frosty

    Semper Fi

  6. bruce r dawson permalink

    I would like to add ‘primitive’ people (N. Europe & FGtBrt), would dig pits in CLAY ground (about a bushel in size & 3ft+ deep) to store grain. Add a bushel of grain then cover it over with more clay. The grain on the outside of the bushel mass would be in contact with damp clay, sprout, and die. The inside remained safe and dry, and out of sight to visitors. Only the tribe would know where the food was hidden. Practice now, like your life depends on it. bruce, himself

  7. bruce r dawson permalink

    Oh, and by the way as a new guy I found out that chickens love to eat oats when they sprout. Work with that chicken wire. bruce, himself

  8. I’ve been haunting the permaculture a/natural/holistic websites for years and can’t help but notice how gubmint intervention is pushing many to the side of liberty . Can’t buy or sell raw milk . Can’t butcher a chicken and sell it without FDA approval etc .

  9. drdog09 permalink

    Read the Permaculture One book three times thru. It took me at least that many times to gork the nuances of the concepts presented. I would also suggest The Keyline Plan by PA Yoemans. It leans more to the large scale, but the concepts provided are pemaculture based and predate Morrison’s literature.

  10. bruce r dawson permalink

    P.S. chickens & chipmunks won’t wait for you to put up the chicken wire the next day. They will eat 90% of the seeds the 1st evening. Ask me.
    Saw a photo of what must have been a 300 year old chestnut tree being cut by 2 men with a handsaw. These trees will survive bad weather. Hillfolk back east lived on chestnuts (just like the indians before them), and some corn . Bad weather like this spring didn’t kill my trees, but they’re damaged. No nuts this year.
    Only 3 apple trees out of 13 trees had blossoms. About the same for 6 pear trees. AMERICAN hazelnut bushes survived. Concord grapes and La Crescent came through the best.
    Geese will see store bought geese as outsiders. They will drive them 30-40 feet away where they can be picked off by coons. Lock them up at night. Same for ducks, but if you raise them together from babies they will flock together as adults,and the goose flock has a good chance to scare away predators, if your dogs are near-by bruce himself

  11. Atlas Shrug permalink

    I decided a year ago to make a major change. I dived into the Permaculture material on the net, in print, and via others and have been drinking from the fire hose. Now I’m implementing the principles at a farm scale level.

    Yes, in some ways it is lazy in the out years, but in other ways (especially at my scale as it requires earthworks and forestry harvesting), it requires tremendous up front design work. That actually appeals to me, as career #1 was engineering and I like designing.

    The references you list are good. For a quick course to ramp someone up as to what it’s all about, find the Jack Spirko series on YouTube. It’s about 12 parts IIRC, each 10-15 minutes or so. Fairly well explained and reasonable succinct.

    And yes, I gunned up first. There surely are some SJW types in it who misinterpret “reinvest the surplus” into “fair share” but the SJW fool’s always find a way to fuck up a good thing.

    Keep your powder dry, and learn about permaculture,

    Atlas Shrug

  12. 4hawks permalink

    Good timely write up. I have seen a bit more posts here and there about the ‘coming food shortages’ due to the weather. Takes a certain amount of skill to process polk salad weed like our southern ancestors did. When I can net enough of em and they are eating size,grasshoppers fried in olive oil taste like bacon bits (true story). One day being able to forage plantain, sorrel, honeysuckle and dandelion might just help keep your edge. I encourage weeds to grow in my garden and I eat a ton of them thru the season, way better than that questionable plastic bag of salad or lettuce from the store.Tons of enzymes, minerals and on the spot vitamins. Eventually you adopt it as second nature without even dwelling on it. I will take care of the earth that takes care of me. P.S. cicadas are good eatin too but hard as hell to catch.

  13. anonymous permalink

    for those who are otherwise tied to the desert, check out Lisa Rayner’s “Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains” – of course, Flagstaff area is unusually wet, relatively speaking, but Navajo and others been making their way out there for quite a while.

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