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Are Small-Scale Farms the Key to Feeding the World?

Are Small-Scale Farms the Key to Feeding the World?

In the United States, agricultural production has been shifting to larger farms for many years. The demand for cheaper food and lower production costs has turned fertile fields and small operations into industrial plots and factory farms.

Today, these large-scale operations account for most of U.S. food production. However, due to high soil erosion rates and a loss of biodiversity, industrialised farming doesn’t offer a long-term solution to the world’s food crisis. If anything, it reduces food security and dooms future generations to barren, un-farmable land.

It seems the U.S. has much to learn from countries like China and Africa, where small-scale farmers produce a vast majority of food. Here, family-run operations and rural farms thrive, and sustainable solutions are readily adopted, many of which would greatly benefit the Americas.

Organic Food

The most obvious alternative to industrial farming is organic farming. Organic farms tend to take up less land and produce almost the same amount of food as conventional small-scale farms. Certified organic cropland has increased nearly every year since 2002, and organic sales in every food category have also multiplied in recent years. In 2016, fruits, vegetables and milk accounted for 55% of total growth, despite many of them costing two to three times more than conventional products.

As more small-scale organic farms appear, the price of their livestock and agricultural products will likely decrease. Meanwhile, consumers will continue to become more aware of how their food choices impact the environment. When considering the negative impacts of industrial farming, they’ll come to discover that organic agriculture is cheaper for society and healthier for the planet. Their support will likely hasten the widespread adoption of this more sustainable farming method.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Zero Input Agriculture

Zero Input Agriculture

On Tuesday afternoon, 24th November, Evita and I ventured to meet Shane at his 40 acres near Pomona. I first heard Shane on an Abundant Edge podcast in July 2020. It was his first podcast and it was incredible to hear him talk about growing food without using inputs such as irrigation, fertiliser, and imported nutrients. It’s the first podcast I have heard in the permaculture space where this approach has been seriously taken and where results are very encouraging. I messaged Shane after checking out his blog enquiring about getting some of his seeds to try. While we are in a cool temperate climate about 400km away and he is the subtropics I was keen to try seeds from plants grown without irrigation as water is often our limiting factor. Shane was very responsive to my message and we communicated many times about seed saving, plant breeding, and goats. He did send me some seeds and cuttings and I promised to return the exchange by gathering and sending our local bunya nuts in February to contribute diversity to his breeding program. So, it was somewhat serendipitous that we were able to have a holiday nearby and visit in person.

A smiley Shane greeted us and we enthusiastically went for a walk within minutes. Shane’s philosophy of zero input is immediately evident as there are weeds everywhere. “The weeds are repairing the paddocks from decades of cattle overgrazing and cutting them or removing them
around trees will make little real difference in their long life.” “It’s just not worth the time and effort. If the weeds do outcompete the tree for light, water, nutrients, then so be it, we want strong trees.” So Shane has various widely spaced rows of trees that are densely planted with as many genetics of each type as possible…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Frost in the Garden

Frost in the Garden

Plants That Love It, Protecting Plants That Don’t

It seems many a gardener spends the winter locked up inside, hiding from the chilly weather, darning socks in front of the cookstove, the gardens tucked in with mulch and awaiting the spring. But, that’s no way to be when there is a large collection of plants that adore a little frost tickling their leaves.  Many plants willing to brave freezing temperatures if given the right encouragement.

In short, a good lot of us could be growing a good lot of fresh food year-round, no greenhouse necessary.

Just for fun, and because our fall garden is kicking out the good stuff so far this year, and because a few holdovers from the summer are still producing in mid-November, it felt like an appropriate time to revisit some of those plants that not only endure cold weather but improve with it.

Equally so, it’s worth remembering that, with a few tricks here and there, we can coax some of those summer gems to extend their output for a month or more.

Plants That Improve With Frost

Around these parts (North Carolina), it is well known and widely accepted that collard greens are notably and inarguably better after a frost. Though a bit more tolerant of heat than, say, kale (they will grow in the summertime), collards are planted in late summer all the same, and gardeners in the know wait to harvest any until after a good frost slaps the bitter taste away.

Last year, a mild winter, Emma and I played pick-and-eat with collards over the entire season. We let them go to seed in spring and replant themselves…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Turn Your Backyard Into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

How to Turn Your Backyard Into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

Climate change continues to alter the planet and make it less suitable for sustaining life. Animals have felt this effect more than anyone else. As people look for new locations to build safer, more weather-proof cities, wildlife species have retreated to the minimal spaces still left intact.

Humans can do their part to mitigate the current mass extinction of animals and insects. Before you visit a zoo, consider transforming your property into a better home for creatures in need.

This is how you can turn your backyard into a certified wildlife habitat. Your backyard may currently have features that hurt the environment or prevent animals from roaming through or living safely. Use these tips and you’ll join the effort to save numerous species the food chain depends upon.

1. Ensure a Food Supply

Nothing can live without a steady supply of food. You’ll have to think of a way to ensure constant food that local wildlife can eat.

First, you should research where you live. Read about which animals thrive in your neighbourhood or migrate through your town. Think about whether your area interacts with creatures like:

  • Birds
  • Butterflies
  • Deer
  • Rabbits
  • Squirrels

Even some animals like bears, which don’t necessarily pose a safety threat, can find refuge in your homemade habitat if they first find access to food.

2. Provide Shelter

Bird Box
Image by Sabine Löwer from Pixabay

Animals want to feel safe, both for themselves and their potential offspring. Habitats must always include shelter for these purposes. You might hang a few birdhouses and bat houses on your trees or nestle a lizard shelter from a pet store next to your garden.

Don’t worry about needing a big budget for this step. It’s great to build or buy extra shelters, but animals will also appreciate leafy bushes and trees.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Different types of biogas systems

Different types of biogas systems

In our three part series we have examined the use of biogas to reduce emissions and drawdown carbon as a tool to address climate change. We looked at some of the factors that make biogas suitable and some of the limitations that might make biogas less than optimal for a specific location or application in the first article, and biogas through the lens of the permaculture principles in the second article.

In this last article, we will examine some of the types of small scale biogas, and what applications they may be useful for. Included are links to the systems location and service or equipment providers.

There are three main kind of biogas digesters
1) Buried or sealed vault, popular in China, fairly expensive, requires skills to make, and takes time, but if built properly will last forever. These are primarily for animal based systems, especially pig and cattle manure.

2) Tank system, which functions like a vault, except the anaerobic conditions are created by the use of a sealed container of some kind. Water tanks and second hand Industrial Bulk Containers (IBC’s) are used for this. These are primarily food waste systems

3) Bag systems, which are very easy to make, very inexpensive, but relatively fragile (though there are exceptions to that, such as the Sistema Biobolsa, covered below). These are primarily animal waste systems.

4) Floating gas systems, which are easiest to make, but some have issues of a percentage of methane escaping to the atmosphere, which is counter productive to reduce the effects of climate change. Methane is much more powerful as a green house gas than carbon dioxide. Floating gas systems can be for food waste or for animal based systems, depending on size.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

People power: everyday Australians are building their own renewables projects, and you can too

People power: everyday Australians are building their own renewables projects, and you can too

In the town of Goulburn in southern New South Wales, an energy revolution is brewing. The community has come together to build its own 4,000-panel solar farm – everyday citizens are invited to buy shares in the venture and reap the rewards.

Goulburn is not alone: community-owned energy is an idea whose time has come. About 100 community energy groups operate across Australia – their projects at various levels of development – up from 25 groups in 2015.

The concept is gaining political attention, too. Independent MP for the federal Victorian seat of Indi, Helen Haines, in August moved a motion in parliament, calling on the Morrison government to support community energy, including establishing a new government agency. The bill is backed by fellow independent Zali Steggall.

At its core, community energy rests on the belief that everyday people should have power over how their energy is generated – including its environmental and social impacts. Big corporations should not control our energy systems, nor should they reap all the profits. So let’s take a look at how community energy works.

A solar farmProjects such as the ACT’s Mount Majura solar farm allow citizens to take control of their energy needs.
Steve Bittinger/Flickr under CC licence 2.0

What is community energy?

Australia’s first community-owned renewable energy project, Hepburn Wind, started generating power in June 2011. Since then, many more communities across Australia have banded together to manage their own solar, wind, micro-grid and efficiency projects.

The Goulburn project will be built in the Hume electorate of federal energy minister Angus Taylor, about 3km from the town centre. Earlier this year it received a A$2.1 million state grant, under the Regional Community Energy Fund.

Investors can reportedly buy A$400 shares, each covering the cost of a solar panel and the infrastructure needed for grid connection.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ancient Gardens of the North America

Ancient Gardens of the North America

Native Americans, like many other ancient civilisations, were clued in on the inner-workings of nature. They found ways to harmonise with it, taking advantage of biological cycles and utilising astute observation to make abundance seem almost fortuitous. But, it wasn’t all luck. Sometimes colonisers simply didn’t (and still don’t) recognise the guiding hand behind these highly productive, innately cooperative systems that were in place when they arrived. We continue to pay a price for that oversight today, and our payments may have only just begun.

One of the reasons permaculture is such an appealing methodology for creating sustainable homes, gardens, and lifestyles in the modern world is that it so often harkens back to ancient techniques, adopting the logic behind them whilst imbuing them with today’s technological advancements. In this interplay between bygone ingenuity and mechanical diggers, wells of inspiration spring forth for innovative design that keeps us comfortable and, at the same time, emboldens nature to put forth its best work on our behalf.

With that in mind, perhaps now—amidst Pacific Coast wildfires, cues of hurricanes in the Atlantic, and a pandemic putting the brakes on consume-it-all capitalism—is a good time to revisit what was happening in the gardens of North America a few hundred years ago, before colonisation. Maybe we don’t want to live exactly that way today, minus the internet and all that good stuff, but maybe there are some answers for today’s problems that were overlooked back then.

Chinampas

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Edible Weeds on Farms

Edible Weeds on Farms

A Free E-book

The word “weed” has negative connotations to many people.

As such, some humans go about disturbing the landscape, poisoning and removing what they perceive to be valueless plants, a nuisance, a pest.  In some cases (if not many) these actions are carried out without fully understanding the true value of the said “weed”

But some “weeds” are actually very nourishing and as any experienced forager will know, some “weeds” are culinary delights.  It could be that the roots, leaves, shoots, flowers, seed or fruit of a “weed” that is being treated as worthless is actually edible and nutritious.  On the other hand the “weed” could be playing a valuable roll in the ecological system, one that we just don’t see with the human eye.

Edible weeds, now that sounds a little less negative. Spontaneous vegetables, that sounds even better. Self-growing vegetables, that sounds like a no-brainer!

Thanks to Tusha Yakovleva (and funds from the northeast sustainable agriculture research and education grant) there is an informative and free e-booklet all about edible weeds on farms.  Learn more about the gifts of edible weeds, making a livelihood from weeds, cooking with weeds and much more in this great e-book:

Edible Weeds on Farms: Northeast Farmers Guide To Self-Growing Vegetables

 

Why Permaculture?

Why Permaculture?

It’s been several years since I first stumbled upon permaculture, and several years minus a couple of months since I started doing my best to practice it.  Many people have a similar story, and my guess is, like me, they’ve been asked dozens, possibly hundreds, of times what permaculture is.  But, it’s been a rarity—if it has ever happened at all—that someone asks me why permaculture. That might actually be more notable.

When permaculture came into my life, my wife Emma and I were on a trip through Central and South America, hopping from farm to farm on work-trades to both stretch our budget while traveling and learn a bit about growing our own food. We cared about the environment, so we’d guessed organic farms were the way to go. It only took a matter of weeks to begin hearing the term permaculture as byword. We borrowed some books and were soon engrossed in the practice.

Our life has radically changed for the better. We’ve become stronger people, physically and mentally. We’ve become more capable, able to grow and preserve our own food and to build our own home, while consistently adding to the toolbox: forage wild mushrooms, make an earthen pizza oven, design a grey water system, start a social business… The world, from twenty feet away to the entire global construct, looks totally different, and while it may sometimes be scary, there always seems to be identifiable, simple steps for us to take, right now.

Why Permaculture?

 The grand appeal of permaculture over basic organic gardening is that it is so much more. We had aspirations of living on a piece of land and growing a lot of our own food, but there were so many more ambitions beyond that.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Importance and Complexity of Community

I deeply believe that people are the only critical resource needed by people. We ourselves, if we organise our talents, are sufficient to each other. What is more, we will either survive together or none of us will survive.

–Bill Mollison, from Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual

 

Community is paramount to permaculture. This is not a practice for isolationists because isolationists can’t change the world in a positive way, and ultimately that is the goal behind every garden, eco-home, and water catchment we build. In fact, the “culture” part of the permaculture term cannot be realised without a social group that shares values, traditions, and practices. In essence, those gardens, homes, and dams are all embodiments of that culture, and without people—that’s plural—to create, utilise, and share the fruits of these efforts, permaculture can’t exist.

While we may be attempting to individually take responsibility for ourselves (and, yes, that’s a wonderful thing to do), it is our collective effort that matters most. If we each live in our own sustainability bubbles, then we are doomed to repeat mistakes, to use more resources, to fear others, to limit our potential… and that’s not even getting into the basic psychology of person-to-person social interaction, something COVID quarantines have revealed as principal to a happy existence. For better or worse, we need each other.

Even so, community can be a difficult thing. It’s often wrought with rules and ruling classes. Conflict is inevitable. Belief systems become complex and spiritual: How many versions of Christianity/Islam/Judaism exist? How well historically do they all get along within the respective religions and outside of them? Designing sustainable homes, productive landscapes, and water catchment systems is a far easier undertaking than deciphering the mysteries of human interaction. Nevertheless, it’s every bit as important. After all, it is one of the three ethics of permaculture: People Care.

 

 

Easy Ways to Increase the Available Minerals in Your Food

Easy Ways to Increase the Available Minerals in Your Food

Assuming you’re eating the healthiest plant foods, grown in the healthiest soils, that you can find or afford, what else can you do to increase your mineral intake without using pills?

In the first article in this series we discussed the relative nutrition available in supermarket veggies, heirloom veggies from bio-diverse gardens and farms, and edible wild plants.

In the second article, we explored what’s happened to the mineral availability of the plant foods we eat as a result of soil management, and also as a result of our food selection and preparation choices.

In this final article for this series, we’ll explore some ways to maximize our absorption of the minerals that our plant foods offer.

We Need “Outside Help” To Digest Plant Foods

Plant cells have a cell membrane, and then around the outside of that they have a rigid cell wall made out of cellulose and lignin (substances that are particularly hard to digest), which gives plants their structure in the absence of bones to hold them up. We need ways of breaking down this tough cell wall if we are to digest and absorb the nutrients held in plant cells.

Animal cells, in contrast, have a thin, permeable cell membrane which can regulate what comes in and out of the cell but provides nothing in the way of structure[i].

Cooking with heat, fermenting, pickling, or dressing with an oil and vinegar salad dressing are some examples of preparations that break open plant cell walls[ii] and liberate the nutrients they hold.

All these processes cause plants to lose their crunch and change their colour; that’s how you know the cell walls have collapsed.

Think of it as pre-digesting tough plant foods that our digestive systems are not equipped to handle without some outside help.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

My Permaculture Design Mistakes

My Permaculture Design Mistakes

Wrong Turns in the Right Direction

Like anyone, I find it much more inspiring to talk about gardening and building successes. That rhubarb we planted last year has gone nuts!  Emma and I have probably foraged 15 kilos of chanterelle mushrooms so far this summer, so much that we are having to give them away despite the fact that I eat mushrooms on toast just about every morning (unless I’m having tofu scramble with chanterelles). We just passed our framing inspection for the cabin we are building! Good things are happening, no doubt, but life isn’t always beautifully blooming roses.

In short, in permaculture, we are all fallible (even the fabled Geoff Lawton, as you will learn by the end of this). Of course, for the most part, we share our successes, and for the most part, that’s also what we want to read about: successes. We want to know what works! But, like any good craft, sometimes it’s the lessons that we learn from our slip-ups that make us wiser in the long-run. At least, at the beginning of this list, that is what I’m going to say. Believe me, this is no exhaustive catalogue of minuscule catastrophes but rather a brief accounting of the ones that are currently unfixed and on my mind.

I want to share them because sometimes, when things go awry, we feel like no one else struggles, as if all other permaculturalists are out there making the right moves, relaxed supine atop a stack of butternut squash. Well, that just isn’t so. To grow a garden, to build a home, to manage water, to raise animals, to live off-grid… they are all replete with repairs, reconfigurations, and re-imagining. Part of the process is often not getting it right. At least, that’s what I like to tell myself, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Here goes:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Weeds: Real Nutrition, For Free

Weeds: Real Nutrition, For Free

If you’re walking over chickweed and dandelion in your lawn or ignoring a nettle patch by the garden wall as you hop in the car and drive to the grocery store and pharmacy, you’re passing up opportunities for a quality of nutrition that no supermarket or pharmacy can ever provide.

When our grandparents were told, “eat your veggies,” that was good advice. But nowadays there are veggies, and then there are other veggies. In terms of nutrition, they’re not all created equal.
Imagine a graph that measures nutrition. At the bottom there is very little nutrition, and at the top there’s lots.

Nutrition
Image by author, Kate Martignier

On this graph, I’d place supermarket vegetables at the bottom, heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs from home gardens, community gardens, and small, diverse farms in the middle, and wild/undomesticated plants (many of them known as “weeds) at the top.

Supermarket Veggies – Seriously Lacking In Variety And Nutrition

The food plants we see in the supermarket represent a tiny sliver of all the food plants available to us.

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food.

Plants for a Future

Besides being a very narrow representation of the plant foods available to us, supermarket vegetables are the least nutritious veggies you could be eating. They almost (through no fault of their own) shouldn’t be called by the same name.

Most likely you already know all the reasons why, but just in case, two of the main reasons supermarket vegetables are unable to do a good job of nourishing us are:

  • they’re bred for appearance and keeping ability over nutrition, vigor, or anything else remotely useful, and

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

 

How To Make Your Own Simple, Cheap And Toxin-Free Body Hygiene Products

Biodegradable Body Hygiene Products

Body hygiene products often contain a large number of dubious substances such as artificial perfumes, microplastic, silica, aluminium and a host of other chemicals that are harmful to the environment and to your body.

With our very simple and cheap alternatives below you can replace all your commercial products and do both your body and our planet a favour.

Body wash

You can very easily replace your body wash fluid with any natural soap. We just use olive-oil based Aleppo soap or Castile soap, but any other natural soap will do just as well.


Body scrub

You can dunk your natural soap in (used) coffee ground and start scrubbing. This method even cleans machine oil off your hands!

Shampoo

Aleppo soap & baking soda.
Image from thepermaculturecollective.com

There are plenty of recipes available on the internet, but after experimenting with a few we opted for the two simplest ones, give them a try and choose the one you prefer:

  1. Aleppo soap: simply scrub a good amount of Aleppo soap into your hair and onto your scalp, then rinse thoroughly.
  2. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): mix one tablespoon (or more depending on the length of your hair) of baking soda with one cup of water, pour it onto your wet hair, scrub it in, then rinse thoroughly.

Our experience was that our hair became oily and itchy when we first switched from chemical to natural shampoo, but after about a month our hair had adapted. We now only use natural shampoo and wash our hair only every fourth or fifth day and it looks and feels healthier and cleaner than ever!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Protein for the Plant-Based Permaculturalist

Protein for the Plant-Based Permaculturalist

A Parade of Pulses

Whether plant-based eating (veganism) is the guiding force behind your diet, or you simply enjoy having plant-based dishes just because plants taste good, there is something to be gained from experimenting with plant foods. In particular, pulses are great for providing some substance and protein to plant-based meals. And, for those omnivores amongst us, this doesn’t mean meat doesn’t exist, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy (or try) a bean burger or some other leguminous treat every now and again.

My wife Emma and I have been vegans for nearly a decade now. Luckily, we came to the practice with a penchant for beans and rice. I, being from Louisiana, grew up with a myriad of this particular combination. And, having lived in Central America for several years, Emma also developed a taste for it. A pot of beans, a pot of rice, and some fresh vegetables has long served us as an ample and nutritious meal. Sometimes the combo comes out as soup, sometimes the items are plated separately, or sometimes the beans may become more sauce-like to be doled out over the rice. We might use Cajun seasonings, Indian spices, Middle Eastern flavours, Mexican palettes, or even Italian herbs. The trio has served us well for many years and has amazingly provided us with plenty of variety.

However, of late, we’ve been experimenting more. We’ve been learning to branch out, converting our beans and peas into new creations, things that have opened our menu. It’s been especially satisfying as summer has kicked in, and the heat and humidity has become overbearing, an atmosphere in which a hot plate of beans and rice often doesn’t sound all that appealing. For those interested—and if you aren’t that’s fine, no need to continue reading—I’ve compiled some of the new (and old) ideas we’ve been kicking around this year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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