All posts by permaculturethinktank

The Inescapable Anthropocentrism

The way I see it, there is no way to escape the anthropocentrism when designing with the land. Let’s take a cold hard look at the concept of a better world without human beings. A world that allegedly is much better than a world full of humans could be. I think this world that lacks human beings is a construct in the mind of human beings, an ideal that cannot even be contemplated without a human brain.

While it is certain that our activities are not always aligned with patterns that emerge in nature, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater in our search for the ideal mother earth. There is a reason why if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it does not make a sound. It’s an age old riddle that has two answers that are equally valid. Yes the tree does make a sound because physics instructs us that anything falling with that kind of mass in an atmosphere like ours must make a sound. No the tree does not make a sound because no one was around to corroborate the experience and communicate it to others.

The fact of the matter is, there is no real tangible benefit to viewing our existence here as hopelessly antagonistic. This type of riddle is along the same lines as the tree falls in the woods. Both answers are equally valid, yet we come to understand that this is a purely theoretical exercise. Yes, a planet without humans would indeed be without the antagonistic qualities wrought by humans. No, the planet would not be better because there is no one to determine if it is or not anyway.

Therefore, if we are to really start getting into the tangible meat of how to design more ecologically, it is always going to be one that is anthropocentric. It is utterly an inescapable aspect of how we view any system to be managed. I exist here on this planet, and I have needs that are met by the environment which means I have this fundamental, inescapable affect on the environment. Not only that, but when I look into the land it looks back at me. The environment has a fundamental, inescapable affect on me. Which leads me to the conclusion that it will take understanding the patterns within myself just as much as the patterns within the environment to do good design.

I exist here and there is no reason I will contemplate a world without me, I will design with the land, together.

Open-Source Permaculture Design: Intro to the Observation Workflow

Months ago I wrote a post about Open-Source Permaculture.  I introduced the programs and wrote briefly about their usage tied together with some stories and fluff.  For this post, I am going to provide an update to the material from the last post as well as begin to layout a workflow for the Open-Source Permaculture Designer (OSPD).

Updates on Software (9/30/15): Most up to date versions of previously mentioned software.

LibreCAD 2.0.8 (August 24th, 2015)

Inkscape 0.91 (January 28th, 2015)

GIMP 2.8

Google Earth Pro 7.1

Sketchup Make 2015

Scribus 1.5.0 (May 22nd, 2015)

Of course, I mentioned other software in the previous post, but I have been mostly using Google Earth Pro, Inkscape, and GIMP for my initial workflow dealing with site A&A.  I have heard calls from some in the community for a permaculture specific software, or accessing knowledge related to permaculture in a open-source way.  I think that these calls are valid and I hope to answer them in my own ways.

My ideal permaculture software is really a workflow of all of these other softwares.  When I look at the whole point of the design process, it is to get from observation to implementation and management.  That means for every aspect of the whole design process, I can fabricate a workflow that can produce a coherent and organized final product.  Let’s begin.

Observation

Observation can come in two different flavors…indirect or direct.  I won’t belabor the efficacy of either flavor of observation, but the way that each is recorded and utilized is unique and this is the first aspect of the workflow.

-Indirect Observation-

I’m discussing indirect observation first because it will most likely be the most robust source of most information on a site before even stepping foot on it.  Generally speaking, indirect observations are from secondary or tertiary sources;  you didn’t do it.  The bulk of this information comes from a variety of sources like the NOAA, USDA, and USGS.  Climate, landform, and soil info can come from these sources.  Beyond this there are countless sources for soil science, species identification, species utilitarian value and more.  Maps are an important form of indirect observation.  Survey maps, soil maps, geological maps, maps that show water locations, topography maps and etc will all fit here.

-Direct Observation-

These are things that you personally observe and interpret in your own unique way.  We all tend to focus on different aspects of experience, there is simply too much to take in all at once.  At any given sliver of time, a group of 5 people in the same general area may record observations on some sort of spectrum from exactly the same to completely different.

Anyway, how does one incorporate direct observation into the OSPD workflow?  I like Google Earth Pro (GEP) for this one.  I will do a full length tutorial on this soon enough.  The beauty of GEP is the tools that are available and the way that the tools work.  I can create polygons and lines that demarcate, on satellite,  different parts of a given site.  Furthermore, I can add text and descriptions to the shapes I draw in GEP.  A dialog box will pop up when clicking on shapes.

A real time saver is that if I have had a survey done, I can put in the GPS coordinates and start out right off the bat with my site boundaries on GEP.

So essentially, all direct observations can be recorded with shapes and descriptions on GEP.  This makes it a quick and powerful tool for taking experiences of the day and recording them for later design use.  Keep vigilant though, there is a pitfall of analysis paralysis here.  The point of direct observation in permaculture is not to have a large archival repository of individual observations, the point is to have relevance of observations and attempt to distill patterns from them.  The other point is to have information in context that can inform design in the future.

Verbal Representations (VeR)

After observation comes representation and communication, with verbal communication being the next logical step.  Observations need to be in a streamlined and coherent package.  This is where some sort of publication comes in, or a working document.  The working document needs to be able to communicate direct and indirect observations of the site in a coherent/organized manner.

Direct– Time is a major factor in the organization of the document, the time that the observations occur is really important.  Location is another major factor, a lot of observations are tied in with a specific location, and can be organized in this way.  Biological individuals/groups are another major factor.  Some observations are tied to a specific species and their behavior in interaction with another.  For example, if I observe that birds are making their nests in a particular kind of shape on the facade of a building, I may be able to design a similar shape to make housing and encourage that species.  These major factors effectively fulfill who, what, where, when, how, and eventually why.

Direct observation can be done in different ways as well.  It can be done in a directed or non-directed way.  For example, if I want to understand the changes of the season more, I can embark on a phenological study, eliciting patterns of seasonal change ultimately.  Non-directed, obviously, is just experience that you pay attention to for whatever reason and deem as important enough to record.

Indirect-More or less, indirect observation is an easier thing to represent visually.  A lot of the information from indirect sources is fairly stable.  Things like climate, landform, soils, water, and plant communities remain stable beyond human lifespans.  One can create a document and be secure in the fact that a lot of the information will not change until site specific information is gathered.

Visual Representation (ViR)

Basic yet undeniably unique in it’s representative power.  Verbal representations are quite weak in how they can connect someone to the subject matter.  The context of text is limited in its explanatory power.  Think, if all textbooks had strictly just text, you wouldn’t nor couldn’t really grasp a lot of the concepts contained within.

The visual representations can be educational, artistic, and most importantly as resources to inform design and implementation.  For all the sophistication and uses of Google Earth Pro, it looks ugly, no offense.  With GIMP and Inkscape, one can make much more compelling illustrations to convey the data cleanly and easily.

If you’ve read Ben Falk’s book “Resilient Farm and Homestead”, you know what I am talking about.  The illustrations in the book are really nice, and convey information real easily while displaying a clean look.

Observation Workflow Overview (2 Flows)

Direct Observation>Verbal Representation>Visual Representation>Working Document

Indirect Observation>Verbal Representation>Visual Representation>Working Document

Software – Google Earth Pro+Open Office+Inkscape+GIMP+Scribus+LibreCAD

Observation Workflow Broken Down

Direct Observation>Google Earth Pro (VeR&ViR)>Open Office(VeR)>GIMP (ViR) or LibreCAD(ViR)>Inkscape(ViR)>Finished ViR product.

Indirect Observation>Open Office(VeR)>GIMP (ViR)>Inkscape(ViR)>Finished ViR product.

 

 

Beyond the Commodity : Food

I read the article ‘What Isn’t for Sale’ in The Atlantic.  On some level it strikes a cord with me.  Read it ; read on.

I’ll step in as a celeb shot for the author and emphatically express that it might be positive for food to make the list.  Food is so real.  Food is our packet of sunlight, the part we get to taste.  Food is central to the human experience.  Why are we selling food?  Seriously, why?  And why do you buy it?  Why do you buy food?

I don’t know…is all food created equal?  Is the organic actually better than the conventional?  What about tilling, is that affecting anything?  Is the soil alive?  Does it matter if the soil is alive?  Is frozen pizza the same level as your favorite place?  How can we feed the cities?  What about rice and beans?  Are you absolutely mad?  Does stress affect the quality of the meat?  What would it be like to exist merely in a contained area, with friends, who are suffering in equal parts to you?  How did they do it 200 years ago?  I don’t know, probably slow.

Look, a candy bar isn’t a diet, and not all food is created equal.  The agriculturalists and cuisine-folk will share stories that are so unique as to be irreplaceable.  Food is not created equal because the ingredients that we choose from alchemate into a novelty, and to some extent, an identity.  Can you feel so much over a food item that you’d include it in what you are, what constitutes who you are?  Do you feel that way about a diet?

Let’s imagine for a second, that the etymology of diet was ‘way of life’.  At some point, diet was what you would consider a way of life.  Today, a diet can and will end, for someone out there.  No doubt this person could have undergone something truly life changing, or lived this day slightly more devious than another.  But the question is what does a change in diet mean for you?  Has diet ever changed your life?

I suppose I might garner a reputation for snobbery at some point in my life.  Though I suppose I might try to avoid that before it happens.  It’s not snobbery, it’s more of an intense interest really.  I eat the chains of distribution while I feast on this neighborhood restaurant.  They are slow to digest and I really had hoped to get enough sleep tonight.

I eat it and I tip well when I can, because to serve those who are faceless can kill a soul.  A fat tip will raise the heart.  The servers are very much stressed.  The cooks, forget them…that was an exercise in management, how you answer will effect the fecundity of your business.  That and if you choose to look at the restaurant as a business or not.

I like good food, seed to swallow and beyond.  Some of the best food I’ve had came with some soil hanging off it.  I felt good about the taste, the atmosphere, and the story.  It’s almost mythic, seeing a lifecyle from beginning to end.  It’s certainly mythic to juice a head sized kohlrabi and drink it slow.  It tastes so sweet, so good, and then there is the broccoli olfactory load.  Perhaps if we can reconcile the power of the broccoli with  the sweet within the kohlrabi, a new tonic will emerge.  Or maybe I’ll suck it up and love it eventually just how it is.

I don’t think I have much of a diet in the traditional sense.  I go to school and work some odd jobs, do design, write and think.  I really just eat what is available.  My mother always used to make these meals with meat, starch, and vegetable.  I can’t say that the Ham Casserole was equal to any other food, or sharing it was equal at every single meal!  She still adheres to the similar pattern, and I feel like I have something like a diet when I’m home.

When I find myself at Sun One, I have another story with those ingredients.  I spent weeks focused on those ingredients.  I spent weeks cooking those ingredients.  I spent weeks trying to sell those ingredients.  And…I didn’t really mind it!  Selling vegetables is fun at farmer’s markets and local markets.  I see that stuff on the shelves in a couple of minutes.  People buy and eat those ingredients.  I don’t know them, but I’m sure they have a nice story about their ingredients.

When a farm doesn’t have to rely on income derived from food production, it eases the burden.  We would most likely decline to comment on our profit margins, but we certainly aren’t going to lose our shirts over it either.  I enjoy the lack of stress, even though I am just an intern and long-term economic viability of the farm doesn’t affect me much.  But for those who do depend on the long-term economic viability of their farm, less stress may be welcomed.

Food isn’t something one will break the bank purchasing.  Some farms don’t find themselves rolling in the dollars shortly after every harvest.  The product is cheap, and the volume is short.  To be successful you need to be savvy.  To be successful you must know your market, know your soil, know yourself.  This could mean specific growing strategies and products.  This could mean micro greens at $50,000/acre , this could mean squash at much below $50,000/acre.

I don’t knock the successful, or the strategies.  It’s a clear example of doing the best with what they’ve got.  Yet, I think there is more to all of this than just succeeding in market gardening/farming.  Putting food into the market is not going to elicit a diet, though it certainly spawns some children of its own.

I have nothing against the diet proposals by various gurus.  Yet, again I fear we’re benefiting from another example of doing the best with what they’ve got.  The market isn’t just in food, it’s in health too.  The diets are commodified like everything else, in ignorance to place and season.  Avocados are great, but I will accept that as I am a resident of New England, they are not practical to become too attached to.

The diet eludes us.  Can you find it for me?  Because I cannot.  Truthfully I haven’t looked that hard, but should I have to look hard for the diet?  What is the diet?  It’s The Diet.

It’s a whole year, with local, seasonal ingredients, satisfying nutritional requirements, all within your region.  The Diet is a holy grail cultural technology that can prove to be a foundation for solving food related issues in the world.  How can I eat January-December?  What kinds of recipes are there?  Is it a way of life?

Grains, Meats, Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Seeds, Ferments, Baked, Canned.  What can we do here?

And it needs to be here, it cannot be anywhere else, it has to be proximal.  The further the food goes, the more it is subject to commodification.  The Diet can build a local food culture, and instill a sense of place and time within the annual cycles.  In a world where it is can be hard to find common cultural grounds with those that live around you, local food will always stand as the great connector.

Face it, your life is civilized and modern.  The history is so complex but food was present every step of the way.  This cultural puzzle still hasn’t been solved.  We still don’t know how to obtain The Diet for our region.  All I know is The Diet won’t be born from market conditions, but from sources beyond.  The market created problems for food and diet, problems that may be unsolvable from the same forces that created it.

Develop The Diet, the way of life, and we will be closer to decoupling food with commodity.

Deep Time and Constraint-Based Design

My lifetime is pretty short, but the ramification of the design journey I am choosing to embark on will effect things long after my time ends.  Permaculture is very much meant to be permanent, it is supposed to last a long time, that is what I am trying to wrap my head around as I learn from day to day.

Site analysis and assessment is something that is undertaken by everyone after obtaining agency at any kind of site.  It is the basic skeleton on which designs can be puttied on top of.  The more robust the skeleton, the tighter the design.  The skeleton is realized from the observations of the designer, the flashlight of consciousness unveils the skeleton as it observes separate parts within the massive structure.

My time is short, but I am designing for eternity.

Site A&A is an eternal affair, it is a constant relationship between the individual and the non-individual, i.e. the site.  Change is inevitable.  As things change, the patterns are emergent.  Within the patterns lie the keys to better design and more conscious decision making.  So when I am first getting onto a site I am doing a lot of unrecorded and relatively unattached observation, to get the gist or the lay of the land.  It isn’t long though before I begin to do site A&A, and then the work is never done.

Exhaustive Site A&A

I am a proponent of a highly exhaustive and dynamic site A&A.  This kind of A&A ultimately serves as the toolbox of patterns and data to which a designer can realize more design goals.  Because of the idea that permaculture is aspiring to be permanent, the exhaustive nature of A&A is crucial.  My own personal design method is constraint-based.  Constraints are determined by site A&A.  Patterns elicited from site A&A create real constraints that can then determine parts of the design.  It is more about what one cannot do on site rather than what one can do on site.

With modern economic constraints for professional designers and typical time-based constraints for non-professional designers, it is difficult to do such a lengthy A&A.  However, the ideal still remains.

Past/Present/Future Patterning

There are patterns of past, patterns of present, and patterns of future to be realized through observation and recording on site.  Each aspect of time has it’s own types of recording methods and attributes which I will outline here.

-Past-

Patterns of the past generally deal with things that have occurred and have shaped the site to be what it is today.  Examples of patterns of the past are paleo-climatology, land use history, and phylogeny.  The Scale of Permanence has aspects that exist in the past like climate and landform.  By taking on a study of patterns of the past for a site, one may find helpful constraints that can inform design in the present.  For example, when looking at the phylogeny of Rhus typhina (or Staghorn Sumac) I can determine what kinds of things would work better on a site that has a lot of the plant growing on it.  Right now I am working on a site that grows it prolifically, which cause constraints with managing the stands.  A better example would be an event that happened in the past the prevents certain design in the present.  This is more apparent with sites that have pollution or a real serious limiting factor.  After examining patterns of past, one should be able to elicit both constraints, opportunities, and catalysts.

-Present-

Patterns of present deal with A&A elements that are changing more rapidly like vegetation/wildlife, microclimate, zones of use, soil management, and aesthetics.  Patterns of present also deal with observations of patterns that are accrued on a daily basis like phenology.  Phenology is recording annual events as they occur on site like budding, fruiting, flowering, first sighting of fauna and etc.  By recording events like this one can get a really good understanding of how the climate is changing on site.  It can be incredibly important to have many of these datasets since official governmental climate studies use phenological records from individuals to understand how climate has changed.  Though there are not many…so we have predictions based on the writings of Henry David Thoreau and only a handful of others.  The present is where most of the constraints will be discovered.

-Future-

Patterns of future are based on the past and present and can be a rewarding exercise to brainstorm about.  It is worth spending time to try to predict constraints that may occur in the future and how to begin to mitigate those constraints in the present.  For example, if I understand that short-term drought is to become more of a reality in Massachusetts with changing climate I should definitely be planning for a more robust water catchment and transportation system on the site.  I would take the drawbacks of overbuilding my water system if it meant that I would hardly experience consequences of lack of water which could be potentially much worse.

Conclusion

I am looking to measure as much as possible on site that will provide me patterns on how to design the site to function better.  While it may take a while to construct the system of data collection, I ultimately think that the extra effort will pay dividends in the future.  The site-specific document that I create with an exhaustive site A&A will be authoritative when dealing with the site and instructive as an analog for sites that experience similar conditions.  No longer will people who live in the area of my site have to rely on aggregate data based on large systems, they can see what kind of energies are occurring near their own site.

Site A&A, to me, needs to be exhaustive, dynamic, and site-centric wherever possible to be able to inform not only the designers on the site but also anyone who is curious to learn what the document entails.

Open-Source Permaculture

A group of college nerds came together collectively at the UC Berkley campus in the 70’s and ushered one of the most technologically important inventions of the modern age…fully functional personal computing.  Fueled by their desire to figure out problems and impress their friends, these students and enthusiasts worked hard and for long periods of time to crack the problems of computing.  Their club was called Homebrew, and the ethic was sharing and open-sourcing.

I am currently working on applying such an ethic and also provide some insights in how to apply open-source to permaculture design.  The sheer power and swiftness of computers makes them well-suited to creating scaled basemaps which can be easily traded, shared, and printed for various uses.

The roster of Open-Source programs and their uses are as follows:

LibreCAD- Scaled Basemapping

Inkscape – Vector Based Editing

GIMP – Pixel Based Editing

Scribus – Desktop Publishing

Krita – Digital Painting

There are other free but not open source programs available to the budding permaculture designer:

Google Earth Pro (Yeah buddy) – GIS and Geositing

Google Mytracks – GPS Tracking

Xmind – Mindmapping

SketchUp – 3d Modeling

Let me briefly explain which programs I am using so far and for what purposes:

Open-Source

LibreCAD – With this program I am trying above all to create a basemap that is scaled, and on which I can make visually appealing with other software.  This is done by typical low-cost surveying techniques like triangulation and offset/extension.  I build the basemap with my own personal measurements combined with any found measurements from existing maps.

Inkscape – Basically the mainframe of the operation.  Even though on the surface inkscape is basically an open-source version of Adobe Illustrator, it can support a large array of file types.  The most important file type it supports is .dxf which is integral to using and then improving upon work done in LibreCAD.

*Here is a link to an example of the first full basemap I created with the LibreCAD/Inkscape Combination.

GIMP – A photo editor.  I use it personally to edit digital photos that I’ve taken.  Right now I’m working with a Canon A2300 modded with CHDK.  Essentially CDHK makes certain point & shoot Canon cameras able to shoot in RAW format as opposed to jpeg, as well as other useful features like altering shutter speed and aperture.

Scribus – Really haven’t been able to sit down and figure out this one yet.  I have experience with InDesign, so I will have to learn the different interface.  From what I’ve seen and read it can get most jobs done.

Krita – A lot can be done with this digital painting program.  This program is for painting the basemaps that I finish in Inkscape.

Free to use

Google Earth Pro – Now the pro version is available, all one needs to do is download the pro version and use the code GEPFREE when logging in to it for the first time.  It is pretty powerful and I sometimes get lost in all that can be done with it.  It is perfect for getting a bird’s eye view of your site and the context of where you are doing design work.  There are topography maps available to put as overlays and there are soil maps that can be overlaid as well to find out what kind of soil types are existent on your site as well.  The soil types can be clicked on and then sent you to more information.

Google Mytracks – This app requires a GPS device via cell phone, so you’ll need a smart phone in order to use this.  It basically tracks the path that the phone moves in.  This can be used to find out how long it takes to travel certain paths, changes in elevation and other data.

Xmind – Just a mindmapping software.  Bubble diagrams and webs are created through topics and subtopics.  Can be used to organize ideas, plans, and projects.

SketchUp – Used for 3D modeling.  Any kind of architectural work and concepts can be hashed out on sketchup for the site.  I have used it briefly to model the garage and see what it would look like with a second floor.  The garage is right in a central location of the garden, so I imagined that with a second floor and large windows facing the garden (and simultaneously facing south as well) a nice space could be created up there that takes advantage of the solar gain during colder months.

Open-Source is an ethic I really like, and computing is important to design.  Things just move faster with open-sourcing, when many users can access the code and change it to improve the programs and offer more applications.  Companies tend to stop innovating when they become a certain size and opt instead to buy innovation from smaller groups or individuals.

But with more focus and time spent on the learning curve with the open-source programs, innovation can be occurring all the time, because individual coders and small groups can constantly be tweaking the source code in order to provide a tighter designed program.  This is what I’m after as a designer, tightest design possible.

So if you have the time, go for open-source, collaborate, and get more sites implemented.

CSA? I think you mean FSA.

It was a humid and somewhat rainy night in Great Barrington, MA. We were celebrating Rob’s birthday at Baba Louie’s pizza with some farmer friends. It was my first time meeting these young idealistic farmers from CT, but it was easy to relate immediately to their mindset and strife.

The truth of the matter was that these two interns were experiencing the troubles of farming, not the work, but the financial woes. Debt is so ubiquitous in the U.S., but it is especially insidious in the farming world. The farmers are well aware of their lifestyle slowly obliterating, but it is the consumer (read: non-producer) who takes no notice of this phenomena until CSA sign-ups for next year never come around…because the farm suddenly ceases to exist.

It is not that our fair shareholders are to blame, after all the dominant CSA model has come to be reified by both sides of the coin, the producer and the consumer. Shareholders pay the money, come to the pick up, shoot the shit, and then leave gracefully as they came. Farmer’s use the early sign-ups for up front costs (or to regrettably cover last years losses), buy the seeds, work the land, weed, water, pay for repairs, pay for labor, pay less for unskilled labor, manage fertility schedules, manage CSA pick-up, do wholesale, do farmer’s markets, and perhaps meander ever slowly into debt.  But it’s cool, bankruptcy is the new early retirement in America.

The question that this elicits for myself is…where is this community? CSA is meant to be Community Supported Agriculture, in the dominant model today there is agriculture (duh), there is support (money), and there is…well actually that is it. There are farms with 30 shares (ours), 170 shares, 300 shares, and some we at Sun One know of that do 1200 shares. But these shares are not Local, some are being delivered to NYC, Fairfield County, and wealthy suburbs north of NYC.

Now, this is not a critique on the exploited providing quality for the elite. This is a critique on what I believe CSA has become not only to the consumers of the food in the baskets, but the producers. The issue is that while the quality of life is maintained for the consumer, it gets worse for the majority of the producers out there.

FSA is the dominant CSA model.

Enter FSA. Or what I like to call Financially Supported Agriculture. If there is to be any support happening for agriculture, it is overwhelmingly through money. This is an issue. This is a very dire issue if the goal is to be community supported. Tell me what kind of community is being created 50 miles away from the locus of production? It isn’t. Even when there are members that come from surrounding towns and even our own town of Bethlehem, CT…I cannot say I know anything about them or vice versa.

After putting out surveys this season I was pleased with the results, many of our members were happy with their baskets and vegetable selections.  Spoiler, cabbage isn’t a favorite.  Though there was one member who felt that the baskets were just not covering the expectations and needs of his family, and that the local supermarket would be a better option.  It was a valid opinion piece.   But, of course, I felt melancholy about the whole notion.  On one hand I felt a little closer to this member, I actually learned something about him…he had a family and wanted to provide for them.  On the other hand I couldn’t shake off the idea he had no clue about what he had signed up for.  I suppose this time ignorance was not bliss.

Transactions as the Fundament of CSA

The dominant CSA model (or FSA) has come to regard transactional relationships as fundamental.  I give you the money, you give me the food.  Plenty of authors have dedicated time to this phenomena so I will leave it to you, the reader, to self educate on self-interested rational actors, neoliberal economics, late capitalism, commons, gifting, debt, and money.  Read broad and varied though, for with different perspectives emerges a more well rounded opinion.

The point is that community is not developed via this fundament.  Community is perpetuated through continuing relationships.  Interestingly enough, continuing relationships are not created through transactions.  FSA is transactional, and the relationships continue inasmuch the transactions do too.  So our most unsatisfied customer will terminate our relationship by refusing a CSA sign up for 2015 and quite possibly strengthen his existing relationship with the store via increased patronage or begin a new relationship via alternative CSA.  I doubt I’ll care.

The real CSA

Ideally, if community is a goal, then models that do not rely predominately on transaction must be experimented with.  An example of this is incentive-based labor CSA.  Let’s say hypothetically it costs $500 for a full season share, and this cost covers operations and perhaps a sliver goes towards the owner as income (Hah!).  In a community oriented model, the cost of the CSA has to be high but reducible through participation of the member.  Let’s say we hike the cost to $800 per share and $5/hr reduction on the cost.  But wait…hold the phone, $5/hr is all for farm work?   Yes…I am suggesting a low reduction in the share price.  If you have interned at a farm (or if you’re a millenial doing…any internship) chances are you’re getting that or worse.  The point is empathy, and one would never experience that when transactions are paramount.  Working 60 hours to reduce your CSA bill $300 is a pain, but working 60 hours to increase your savings account $300 is poverty.

This is just one option and I would never suggest a farm relies solely on this model.  FSA is necessary because CSA needs a culture of support and we need to wait on that to come into vogue.

A Radical Model

One other model may include higher transparency on both sides of the transactional relationships.  Farmer’s should ask for more if members stand in good financial graces.  In other words, progressive payment plans.  Already in existence are sliding scale CSA payments (say $500-$800 pay what you can), but there is no real guarantee that those who can afford $800 will pay $800.  What I am suggesting is that members and farmers be up front about their financial standing and work out a consensus-based dollar amount for the CSA share.

Consensus is important because it would be absurd to attach a % of income onto a CSA share.  $50,000 net income and $100,000 net income families of four shouldn’t pay $500 and $1,000(1%) respectively for equal sized baskets, but I imagine a frugal and community oriented family may be willing to donate more.  However, with the prevalence of the FSA model, it is unlikely that we ever even deliberate on what could be appropriate for real support of farmers, communal or financial.

Final Thoughts

Don’t be fooled, there are little real communities being cultivated through the dominant CSA model of FSA.  It is no different than any other transaction done in life.  Whether it is at the farm, a department store, bar, hotel, local market, or strip club, each person can walk away when the transaction is done.  The community that does emerge comes from talking, spending time with one another, empathy, and gifts.  So while I find it somewhat tragic that a ‘CSA’ member will be leaving us after this year, it is also somewhat tragic that I maintain a Fuck Shit All attitude through it all.

 

 

Constraints before goals in early design stages

In Permaculture design there exists a chicken and the egg paradox concerning the early design stages. Of course it doesn’t matter which came first, merely that the chicken or egg existed in order to create the other. Goals & Assessment fit snug into this paradox, and it begs the question…which first?

First, analyze yourself.  Actually…do this for your own benefit anyway, often. How well do I work towards accomplishing tasks? Does it help to set goals? Do goals gear me into action to acquire the knowledge I need to start achieving my goals? or Do I need to understand more of the system before I make goals? Do I need to know my constraints to avoid error? Do I have trouble letting go of previously determined goals? What works best for me?

Once you’ve done questioned yourself thoroughly with those and similar questions the answer might be clear as to how you want to approach your goals and assessment. However, I have an argument to make here and this is it…constraints before goals in early design stages.

I have been spending some 4-5 hours a day here at Sun One Organic trying to understand what kinds of systems are here. I do this based on the Scale of Permanence, which is adapted from P.A. Yeomans. There are a couple different adaptations but David Jacke’s had lots of bullet points.  One may question where the information to fill in the blanks of the Scale comes from.  The answer is I don’t know, but I am trying to compile that together, because access is very important. Stay tuned for that post.

I haven’t set any goals yet, partly because I lack equity in this property and partly because I want to know my constraints.  If Permaculture is an ecological design science, then vetting constraints is like effort to disprove hypotheses. Science.

Constraints first is a psychological primer.  It puts imagination on hold and objective observation in pole position.  I focus solely on what is present, and that is where my attention is.  Imagination never stays quiet so that is present, but that is not the primary psychological mode.  Goals first is imagination.  Constraints first is observation.

Constraints are useful in the sense that they provide an absolute no.  ‘No’ is a great word, much better than ‘maybe’.  ‘No’ will discipline your mind, ‘maybe’ will clutter it.  ‘No’ will kiss you goodnight, ‘maybe’ will cause insomnia mixed with anxious love-hurt. Constraints tell me: no I cannot develop this conservation area, no I cannot manage the stony woodlands other than as forests, no I cannot put a permanent greenhouse in more than 2 places in the lower area…and one of those areas is likely to be  a parking lot.  So then what?

Once I have my ‘no’,  I’ll use that to develop goals.  Take the woodlands for example.  There are three separate wooded areas on the property.  These are situated on very stony soils and grade that is too steep for cultivation.  Assessment has provided me with proper constraints in this respect.  I shall keep the land wooded in perpetuity and then set goals as to what I want to accomplish in that particular setting.  Perhaps wildlife sanctuary, perhaps copses, perhaps lumber, perhaps mushrooming, perhaps all of these.  Chances are I’d arrive at this same conclusion regardless of when I set goals, but this is a generic example.

The constraints allow for the goal setting stages to be much more informed, and the direct experience that one is exposed to during the assessment stage leads one to understand the inherent change that accompanies goal setting.  The  inter relatedness one sees during assessment allows one to set goals that have complex flavor.

Essentially the choice is an individual one.  Both methods eventually coalesce into a goal/constraint hybrid.  If you have clients, goals probably come first.  But when it’s your time and your choice, take the time to get to know your constraints.  Even if it takes more than a year, take the time.  When we’re designing multi-decade systems, a year or two taken to understand the realities will prove useful.

“The dirt road in front of me is wide I take it.  But the choice is mine in the direction I pave it.”

-Colin

Don’t let your children grow up to be farmers and other drugs.

An article was published the other day in the New York Times in the Opinion section detailing the crumbling structure of small farming in the U.S.  It is titled “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers”.

You can find it here.

Being a recent college graduate myself, I enjoy the impending anxious conversations with my parents about making $500 a month as an apprentice. Our head spaces couldn’t be any different. I am trying to change the inequalities in our society through Permaculture; they are trying to impress financially secure qualities in me. I understand it of course, there is a monthly nut I need to be able to cover as I find myself in a more independent adulthood.

But I am too crazy for that.

The article suggests that there should be loan forgiveness for young farmers. This is a brilliant idea. If you can believe it, farmers are less valued than teachers. I mean hegemonically of course. Politicians will pine for votes on platforms of improving teachers salaries, but there is nothing about farmers. This is systemic. The truth is we’re in the same sinking boat, but farmers are slightly lower on the crow’s nest pole. The difference is teachers, in their relatively self sacrificing occupation, benefit from eventual loan forgiveness federally. This means that a teacher may find relief after a decade of service. Not too shabby if after a Master’s degree one finds oneself to be $35,000+ in debt on the basic principle, not to mention interest (or usury depending on your views).  Though honestly, what kind of loan is that?  Pay me more than I loan you to teach our populace.  Joke.

The question we have to ask ourselves is “do we want less educated farmers?” That is the implication I personally see here. This is inequality. We’re living in the wealthiest empire ever to exist (yes empire) and we cannot even provide policy for food growers to be savvy philosophers to boot, without crippling them in debt peonage.

I consider myself to be an educated small farmer. I want to do Permaculture design but it is tough without another source of income, one I wish to find when I go back to a community college for graphic design. But the fact of the matter is that an Anthropology B.A. shouldn’t cost as much as the business B.S. This is not to mention the asinine view of a critical thinking discipline as an art and business as a science, lacking any real body of theory about the natural world we live in. An anthropology degree is of lower market value than a business degree, but the critical thinking and writing skills are essential for everyone to have access to without indebtedness. Why is the price the same?

Provide legislation to give loan forgiveness to farmers. It will provide farmers like myself with the freedom to pursue valuable polyculture research and to bolster local economies. It will provide a more educated populace equipped with the tools to break down inequality. And quite honestly, I think we can afford to give 1% of the population providing a need we have every single day a way to better themselves without unsheathing a double-edged sword.

-Colin

A Half day and a Full Anxiety

Today was the first harvest day of the week. Mondays are our largest CSA pick up day and it was thunder storming this weekend. Rob, being the ever so weather conscious boss of ours decided to give us half the day off after the harvest was done. After purple potatoes, onions, tri-basil bunches, arugula, green cabbage, baby kale, and collards, the rest of the day was ours!

I took advantage and continued to read a copy of The Name of the Wind that was gifted to me by the other intern. I usually do not read fiction yet I enjoyed the break and my imagination was let out in a nice new world.

I also took time after our chicken and rainbow mashed potatoes lunch to continue a Permaculture Site Survey I have been working on at Sun One Farms. I am currently modeling the Survey on the Scales of Permanence laid out by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, which has been built upon the original by P.A. Yeomans.

I have gathered substantial data on landform and soils on the property, so I figured I would take a crack at climate. One thing is for sure: the NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Climate Data Center is technical. It is very technical.

The point of the exercise is to record patterns of variation and location elements. Patterns of Variation are temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, and precipitation. Location elements are latitude, terrain, altitude, and nearby water bodies and currents.

My goal is to grab the relevant data from the NCDC and create graphs and discuss the relevance to a Permaculture project. Yet the website turned out to be a lot to take in at once.

Perhaps I will need to dive in on another half day after more familiarity with the NCDC web page.