Surviving in the Cash Economy Once Your Food Forest is Established

Richard Alan Miller likes to tell the classic story of one of the first farmers who came to him for help.

He had 400 acres in Iowa in corn, which was infested with burdock. He had tried everything — spraying, everything — and he couldn’t get rid of the stuff. The bank was threatening him with foreclosure.

He came to a workshop I’d given at Charlie Walter’s Acres U.S.A. conference in Kansas City, and got in touch with me. When the bank heard I’d been hired to consult, the banker gave him a one-year stay of execution. I advised him to: sell half his land; sell half of his capital equipment; and then I had him get rid of his noxious weed — which was the corn! — and grow what nature wanted him to grow, which was the burdock!

I helped him sell all his burdock crop to Asian markets in Chicago, at two dollars a pound fresh (I advised him that he’d only get 60 cents a pound dried), where they couldn’t get enough of it for kim chee and fresh vegetables. After the first year, he was out of foreclosure. After three years, he owned his own land outright . . . and he started buying back his old land, and putting it into timber for his grandchildren!

Miller’s consulting does not always result in such dramatic conversion, but it has brought financial stability to many other small- to mid-size farmers and would-be farmers throughout the U.S.

His game plan: replace the twenty billion dollars of botanicals imported into the United States for use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food production with locally produced products grown, processed, or manufactured in the US.

I’d seen Miller’s book, The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop, and copies of his one-time monthly journal, The Herb Market Report. But my impression of herbs was the fresh bunches sold in the grocery for 89 cents; or little cottage industry potpourris and dried herbs sold at crafts fairs. But that’s not what Miller’s work is about.

I’m publishing this here on the PRI website because I believe Miller’s ideas could provide a solution for how to live in the cash economy for permaculturists, as well as all small farmers. An abundance of food from food forests is fabulous (well, I love mine), but for the moment, we still have to live in the cash economy and come up with funds for annoying things like building repairs and taxes, not to mention putting the kids through college. Once your food forest is well-established, a small amount of acreage put into botanicals and herbals as a cash crop could turn out to be the key to survival in the cash economy that lets the great permaculture experiment continue. But doing this still holds to the permaculture principle of growing and eating locally, and growing what’s appropriate for the land and climate. And as a consumer, it would mean getting fresher, less-transported ingredients in any medicinals and other products I might buy in the market. I would guess that many of these crops are already grown by permaculturists, but the critical key is how much and which varieties to grow, how to prepare them for market, and who to market them to. And Miller is an encyclopedia when it comes to those questions. He started out running an herbal tea company in Washington, and got to know the business from the inside.

So bear with me for a moment, while I introduce his ideas. I hope they help permaculturists who might be struggling with how to survive and be viable in the cash economy we are still in for now.

New Crops, Old Markets

Another farmer with whom Miller consulted is Bill Hicks of Yakima, Washington. An insurance salesman and urbanite, he’d never been a farmer; interested, he came to a Miller workshop. On ten leased acres, he started with a crop of catnip. The first year was a failure, though since he’d only invested seeds and his own labor, it wasn’t too much of a loss. The next year, he raised a successful crop and got a contract from Yakima pet food manufacturer which had previously imported all its catnip dried from Germany. The three succeeding years all produced excellent crops, pre-sold, and the main work is in the summer months.

What’s most amazing about these crops is that many of them are common weeds, like chickweed (Stellaria media), of which forty tons a year are used for the iron in multi-vitamin tablets, again mostly imported from Germany. "Chickweed," Miller notes, "could be a winter crop on fallow ground, even in snow areas, especially strawberry fields where pesticides are now sprayed to get rid of it."

Or take comfrey, though comfrey is a bit of a bad first example, since it had a bad name as a crop. Much talk had been going around for awhile about how easy comfrey is to grow (it gives a higher yield per acre than alfalfa) and how valuable it is as a cattle feed (it has two amino acids that are missing in alfalfa, making them a "whole food" when combined). But for ten or so years, while rumors ran wild, nobody knew how to dry it. It has a very high mucilage, containing some 87% of its weight as water. Miller, however, discovered that a kiln (hop kiln or cone kiln or plywood kiln) does the job quite well, and was able to market around a thousand tons of comfrey pellets a month to a feedlot in Osaka, Japan.

Comfrey is also a bad first example because about 200 acres of crop is needed to make the processing machinery worth purchasing. Miller would like smaller farmers to get together to deal with such economies of scale, but he’s got plenty of ideas for smaller farmers.

I asked Miller to pretend that I was a "small farmer" coming to him for help. "That can mean anywhere from two to 200 acres," noted Miller. (Miller terms one-quarter to six to ten acres "gardening", for which he agrees there is a growing place in the economy, although he has preferred not to work on that scale.) "One crop almost any small farmer could make a living off of is sage, largely imported from Mexico, Turkey, and Greece as an antioxidant for meat-packing," Miller advised. "For California farmers, I might recommend growing licorice root, used in lozenges and cough syrups as an anti-bacterial, and as a sugar substitute for hot chocolate mixes, and currently grown mostly in the Mediterranean area; Californians could also do well with lemon verbena, used in potpourris and perfumes, also mostly grown around the Mediterranean.

"For a South Dakota farm, I might recommend garden-variety marigolds, fed to poultry in vast quantities for coloring chicken eggs and meat, and imported almost totally from Mexico and Peru. In Nebraska, besides burdock, borage would be a good crop: the Omega-3 fatty acids found in its oils are in great demand for the medicine doctors have you take when your cholesterol level is too high, and it still comes mostly from Germany. (Sunflower seed, safflower seed, flax seed, and pumpkin seed are also in great demand for their Omega-3 fatty acids.)

"How about New York?" (Stop laughing. New York state is still the largest exporter of apples in the country. Yes, there are farms in New York, even though most of the rest of the produce sold in Manhattan comes from California’s Central Valley.) "Valerian root, used in vast amounts for valium tablets, still comes mostly from Bulgaria; bergamot (Monarda fistulosa or M. didyma – bee balm, another common ornamental) is imported from Europe for anti-fungal agents used in medicines, as well as a flavoring agent. Ginseng is another idea for New York."

What about more problematic areas of the country? For cold Alaska, white and black spruce cones used in potpourri sell well; "one manufacturer bought 20,000 pounds one year at about a dollar a pound – they had not been previously available at all." For dry Arizona, good crops include sesame seeds ("one candy manufacturer alone buys twelve truckloads a year; bakers also use vast amounts") currently imported from Central and South American countries; and psyllium, which will be discussed later. For problematic Hawaii, with its variable weather and hordes of pests, Miller might recommend lemon grass, which is available in anti-rust cultivars. "Its fresh shoots are immensely popular in Thai cuisine, its leaves are used in herbal teas, it’s used dry as a flavoring agent, it’s distilled for oil, and in California, two hundred acres of it are being put up like a hay crop and sold for $1000 a ton, ten times the price for alfalfa hay." Lemon grass is raised almost totally outside the U.S., in Guatemala, Ecuador, India, China, Mexico. Hawaiian farmers could also do well with gingers (the less well-known varieties like kha ginger are popular wherever they’re available) and with cinnamon, not Cinnamomum eylanicum from Ceylon, known as korintji, the traditional crop, but Chinese Cinnamon, C. cassia, also called tung hing, whose bark is sweeter and has a higher oil content and better flavor."

"There are probably two hundred possible herb crops in any given region of the U.S.," notes Miller. Some of them have well-established markets. Dried flowers are sold to the U.S. in vast quantities by the Dutch, all from seeds grown here. Miller was called on to consult in the flower seed growing area of Idaho, between Boise and Twin Falls. "A Dutch company had put up for bid a 4000-acre wildflower seed-growing contract and it was breaking up the community. I helped organize some sixty growers to fulfill the contract on two to fifty acre plots." Then he helped them move into processing and selling the flowers themselves right here. Dried flowers (statice, baby’s breath, etc) are big business, and are a good crop in many areas. "A client had 4000 acres in turf seed in Hubbard, Oregon, including rocket larkspur which she was growing for the seeds. The rocket they grew for flowers the first year was so superior to what the market had been importing that one warehouse in Buffalo that had bought three cargo containers from Holland is now buying twenty acres from them."

Some of the herb crops are relatively new. Psyllium (plantain seed hulls), for example, is in enormous demand by U.S. cereal manufacturers for inclusion in high fiber cereals, yet it is mainly imported only from one small section of India, whose farmers grow it only as a sideline. Farmers in Arizona and New Mexico as well as wetter places, could grow vast amounts of psyllium to meet the 50,000 plus acre demand. "A 50 to 200 acre site would work fine – simple grinding is the only processing required."

Starting a New U.S. Tradition

Why aren’t farmers growing these things? "We’re the only country in the world that’s not growing its own psyllium – England and France grow it," Miller shakes his head in amazement. He attributes this in part to habit, since the pharmaceutical manufacturers and other users of botanicals had become used to getting their ingredients from out of the country, even with higher transportation costs and poorer quality; and to the European herbal tradition. "The botanicals market in Europe is more than ten times that of U.S markets. Population is denser there, and more people use herbal products, and individuals tend to use higher amounts. For example, herbal tea drinking is quite common, unlike among coffee-crazed Americans; homeopathic medicine is more known. Four hundred tons of peppermint goes into teas sold in the U.S. in a year; in Germany, in the same year, one of five buyers alone buys 5000 tons of peppermint, imported from Bulgaria." (Germany, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Thailand, Indonesia, and India are the main sources for European botanicals, most of it traded through Germany.)

Miller has offered his services to farmers as a consultant and broker. He advises what crop might be right for your area and your problems, which variety of the crop to grow (very important!), and how to process the crop; then he matches you up with the markets he’s hearing from. His fee is 10% of the sale value of the crop. Foragers too use his services, selling mushrooms, cones, dried leaves, moss, and other wild commodities to a whole new array of markets.

For land with special problems, unfit for standard crops, botanicals can also be a boon. "Salty soils can grow a range of new grains, from plants such as saltbush, saltwort, Palmer’s grass, and pickleweed, as well as certain sages." Farmers who have grown a crop too long in one spot in their clay soils and now have verticillium wilt which prohibits growing of tomatoes and other vegetables might do well with fenugreek, a new crop which fixes nitrogen, has a seed which can be used to make a maple-type syrup, and may even be marketable for produce (as it’s used in India). Watery soils may be right for kelp or nori (seaweed) farms. Rocky soils (especially the otherwise problem serpentine soils) may be great for flowers, accenting colors.

Even successful farmers may benefit from looking into botanical crops, says Miller. As permaculturists know well, intercropping, planting an additional crop in with another, can draw additional value from the same piece of land, and sometimes add pesticide or other benefits at the same time. Miller has advised macademia farmers in Hawaii to intercrop with thyme or pyrethrum, both with insecticidal properties. "Where nematodes are a problem, pyrethrum or marigolds might be a good intercrop. Red clover and corn is another good combination. For deep shade areas, say under almond or walnut trees, how about pennyroyal? Vineyards might benefit from interplanting with spearmint, which raises the sugar content of the grapes."

Pyrethrum is an especially hot crop, since there have been world shortages for the newer natural insecticides. "Even 40 acres would be a good size for a pyrethrum crop; Safer and Johnson Wax import all they can get from Kenya."

Another grower, Tom Johnson of South Dakota, was getting by raising animal feeds on his alkaline soils, when he came to Miller’s workshop. Gradually he started to add several new crops, basil, marigolds, comfrey, and others. Then, in a partnership with Miller and the governor of South Dakota, a prototype flower head harvester was designed and built, that can be used with red clover heads, chamomile (used for teas, sedatives, potpourris, and hair conditioners, and generally imported from Egypt, Bulgaria, Argentina, and other parts of the former USSR), and pyrethrum. "A typical Kenya hand-picker can harvest fifty pounds of pyrethrum a day; the Flower Head Harvester, which is about to be produced by a major tractor manufacturer and fits on the front end of a header bar, harvests 10,000 pounds a day."

Even waste products are being put to use by Miller’s clients. Smokey Lake Seed Repository, one of Canada’s larger seed repository, that raise seed for reforestation projects, was more than happy to have him take away the cone "waste product". The douglas fir, lodgepole pine, and ponderosa pine cones are now sold by Miller to companies who use them in potpourris and wreathing products.

Miller peppers his conversation with much discussion of small growers taking on the big conglomerates, building unions of growers, providing locally-grown commodities to markets, agreed-upon ethics, decentralization, the high transportation costs that go into food costs, and keeping money in the community. "I want to be, you know, like Don Genero, not teaching like Don Juan, but provoking, raising questions . . ." He still sees a strong market for growers of: dried flowers and pods, sesame seed, flax (for the oil), comfrey, new mint varieties, all kinds of crops for "ethnic" markets, and a host of other products.

Got an extra couple acres (or spaces for an inter-crop)? If you have any questions, maybe we could get him on here to answer them.

Richard Alan Miller Northwest Botanicals
Grants Pass, Oregon
www.nwbotanicals.org/oak/altagri/a_a_index.html
www.herbfarminfo.com/

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25 thoughts on “Surviving in the Cash Economy Once Your Food Forest is Established

  1. “and generally imported from Egypt, Bulgaria, Argentina, and the USSR

    Oops!

    Would be nice to get some pointers for locating markets rather than just hiring this guy as a consultant.

  2. I’ve just had a look at the first few pages of Miller’s aforementioned book “The potential of herbs as a cash crop” over at amazon.com. In particular, his biography made me curious, mentioning “undergraduate work in theoretical physics”, as well as work with “some of the most prestigious and technically sophisticated corporations in the United States”. So, I took a closer look at his web page:

    http://richardalanmiller.com/cmsmiller/

    Let’s not talk about the fairly strange picture on that page, let’s talk about what he writes there. Somewhat further down:

    “That’s when I discovered Dr. John Curtis Gowan work at Northridge.
    (…)
    This monumental trilogy led him to receive a Nobel Prize in Psychology.

    There is no such thing as a Nobel Prize in Psychology, and Gowan certainly is not among the list of Nobel Laureates.

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/all/

    So, there already are some indications that this guy believes some rather strange things.

    Then, I watched the first few minutes of a video lecture with that guy, online thanks to google:

    http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-6145537271050469917

    I didn’t get past the point where he mentioned Schumann resonances, but what he said up to then I’d call hair raising balderdash from the scientific perspective.

    It may well be that his book has some parts that are actually useful, and there is a chance that his consulting is actually helpful to his clients. But considering that his perspective on so many things is quite – uhm – strange, I am very sceptical about the work of that guy.

  3. From: http://www.richardalanmiller.com/oak/newphysics/bioholography_a.htm

    ===
    (3) the chromosome continuum acts like a dynamical holographic grating, which displays or transduces weak laser light and solitonic electro-acoustic fields.

    The distribution of the character frequency in genetic texts is fractal,so the nucleotides of DNA molecules are able to form holographic pre-images of biostructures.

    This process of “reading and writing” the very matter of our being manifests from the genome’s associative holographic memory in conjunction with its quantum nonlocality. Rapid transmission of genetic information and gene-expression unite the organism as holistic entity embedded in the larger Whole. The system works as a biocomputer — a wave biocomputer.

    The quantum nonlocality of the genetic information is fundamental. Experimental work of the Gariaev group shows how quantum nonlocality is directly related to laser radiation from chromosomes (Light), which jitterbugs its polarization plane to radiate or occlude photons. The same researchers suspect the ability of chromosomes to transform their own genetic-sign laser radiations into broadband genetic-sign radio waves (Sound; Audible Life Stream).
    ===

    Now, Star Trek technobabble (“Treknobabble”?) was mildly funny – but here I really have a major problem as the author seemingly believes this utter nonsense to convey meaning.

  4. JBob,

    let me state this very clearly: the only reason why I am occasionally investing time to put a few science related issues on this site into perspective is that I am convinced that it’s very important that science related information distributed via the PRI is sound. Now, I must point out that I am not diligently scanning every blog post on the site (for example, I’ve never heard of Weston Price before, and did not investigate), but given the present situation, I just don’t think we could afford seeing permaculture being associated with woo-woo (which all to easily could happen due to a number of reasons.)

    This holds for “quantum bioholography” just as much as it does for peak oil, climate science, and a number of other topics.

    There is one book on science I stongly would recommend to everyone who has not gone through scientific training himself: “The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”. When astronomer Carl Sagan (who spent a lot of his time popularizing science) at the age of 61 learned that he only would have about a year to live, he made a conscious decision to use this year to make the one last contribution he considered important above everything else: to write this book. The last few chapters were completed by his wife.

    In the introduction, he writes:

    “It’s perilous and foolhardy for the average citizen to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, air pollution, toxic and radioactive waste, acid rain, topsoil erosion, tropical deforestation, exponential population growth.”

    Also:

    “Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grand children’s time … when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstitions and darkness.”

    Just one issue: Sagan presented a “baloney detection kit”, a toolbox. One should not be deceived to believe that having a set of tools automatically makes one a master in their correct application. Calling oneself a “skeptic” does not imbue one in an aura of sciency superiority, just as calling oneself a “deep ecologist” is little more than a rhetoric trick to make everybody else appear shallower in comparison.

    Coming back to this particular case, while Miller is a strange guy, it’s out of the question that a better understanding of markets for unconventional biological products (such as herb markets) is important. I’d love to see more articles on that subject here – but on that, I cannot contribute since I am not an expert in that field.

  5. Whoa whoa whoa – slow down there. Before you discredit a lifetime and body of work, get a bit more factual information. I first met Richard Alan Miller in Nova Scotia two years ago. He was there to work with the Minister of Agriculture and several of the more prominent farmers in that region.

    I was so impressed I took his ESP workshop in Roseburg, and he began to discuss his hybridization of pharmaceutical mushrooms. I noted that during the conversation, that these cordyceps mushrooms were good for diabetes and cancer.

    My Mother Shirley suffers from severe diabetes and has had breast cancer. Her blood sugar was running between 60 and 360. I put her on these mushrooms about six months ago and “thank you, Richard Alan Miller,” her blood sugar is now 115. My Mother now looks great at 82 years old, and I think he saved her life.

    This is an area where his knowledge based helped me on a personal level. In Roseburg, another scientist was present at that workshop. It was fascinating to watch their interface and we all learned a little bit more about the world around us. While his subjects of interest are quite diverse, he is a voice worth listening to, on whatever subject he speaks.

    We all know that if you pull something out of context, like from the bible, you can make any point. But you can also learn a great deal when reading the entire body of the work, and then weighing it carefully. Marie [email protected]

  6. Marie,

    I don’t say his work on herbs isn’t sound. Believe it or not, Sir Isaac Newton thought about his own work that probably the only part of it that would make a lasting impact was his work on astrology. Of course we don’t consider Newton an utter crackpot because he was an astrologist besides giving us the theory of classical mechanics.

    For that matter, John Hagelin wrote a few quite useful physics papers regardless of all this rather strange “vedic string theory” stuff he does.

    So, again, he’s a strange guy specifically because he claims to have expertise on subjects he seems to know next to nothing about. Of course you could say now that this is just my opinion – fine. Still, people who have to make up their mind about this guy for one reason or another (say, because they consider hiring him as a consultant, and want to know what fields he has valuable expertise in) might consider the hint useful to maybe get a second opinion from a professional physicist about Miller’s physics.

  7. Thomas, thank you very much for your posts. I think you are dead on about permaculturists, even the PRI, having a tendency to not look rigorously about scientific claims. Don’t even get me started on biodynamics!

    I’m currently doing my master’s in sustainable development, and it is very troubling to me that there seems to be this disconnect between permaculture and science. Scientists aren’t really interested in permaculture, and permaculture enthusiasts aren’t that interested in science. But it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. If permaculture is going to gain ground and avoid being associated with new age mumbo-jumbo, we need to work on bridging this divide.

  8. For example, it is very disappointing to me that the “Permaculture Research Institute” does not, in fact, actually do any scientific research that might be useful to permaculture. So in what way does that qualify it as a research institute? Someone please correct me if I am wrong.

    1. It is a interesting point you raise and i can understand your curiosity on semantics. please allow me the opportunity to demonstrate my ignorance.
      Firstly let us try and establish some common ground, after all you are not my foe nor rival. we are both people looking for and seeking truth. if you are in disagreement there , please let me know. I am now assuming you are not and i shall continue.

      When it comes to research is there a assumed time relation factor i am not aware of? There probably is, but allow me to continue any ways. Before the Permaculture Research Institute in tyalgum NSW ,was formally organised registered and given a title and made its mark on the World.
      There was a crusty, cranky anti establishment and anti authoritarian trouble maker from Tasmania. Who went by the name of Bill Mollison, today he is known as the godfather of global permaculture.
      Unfortunately, Bill passed away last year when he was in hs 80’s.
      His all life was dedicated to research and finding better ways, organic ways, natural ways. To live in balance and to reflect nature’s principles.

      After you conduct your own investigations into this man and his ideals , values , trials and tribulations and come up with your own conclusion as to the relevance of the word research being allocated to a institute he founded ,is relevant or not.

      He is responsible for having numerous disciples that have continued his initial research into greening the deserts, for no till gardening. For sustainable growing of food, for the concept of a food forest. the non application of poisonous toxic fertilizers, yet instead using organic matter which nature provides for free.

      On numerous occasions he is known to have argued and lost debates with intellectuals and academics , that were world leaders in agriculture at the time. He would question the better knowledge of professors and experts of the various fields. Many a time he would call them conceited idiots or question their logic and walk out in disgust. he has lost many a contract with a government of a foreign country because he called their minister or his advisors morons.

      Unfortunately for Bill, he was not shy to call a fool a fool. or let good manners suppress the truth. He was revolutionary, a rebel, a modern day terrorist to established thinking. Not only was he a colorful character in real life , but he certainly was not short of colorful language when it came to intolerable situations. To be called a stupid bastard was quite flattering when it came to some of the more other descriptive terms he used.

      but enough of bill mollison and the PRI at tyalgum NSW in Australia.

      more into semantics, Should we the unwashed masses tolerate the word research being permitted to be used in describing a Institute that has made life changing deliverance of information to thousands of farmers around the world?
      Should we be prepared to allow the deliverance of Natural principles to agriculture and to actions now adopted the world over as best practise.
      please do not allow me to sway your well informed disposition, but instead make up your own informed mind. Has the PRI stopped its research? or is it a huge assumption you’re making.
      Look up Geoff Lawton and you decide if the word research should be applied. Im sure if bill were around he’d take great delight on calling you a bloody idiot, fortunately i’m not bill, and i dare not take such liberties.
      i apologies for any technical or grammatical errors.
      Alex.

  9. Adam,

    still, I have to point out that Bill Mollisons Permaculture Designer’s Manual (apart from a few errata and the occasional sarcastic remark about Mr. Kissinger etc.) is from the scientific perspective quite a sound publication – unlike a number of other “permaculturish” publications (and I specifically do include Holmgrens “Principles and Pathways” book here).

    I think it’s in “Introduction to Permaculture” (perhaps the most evolved text) where the need to stick with what is scientifically sound is explained very clearly. It’s not that things such as, say, precognition or whatever else were not part of the human condition or human experience, but if we cannot say definitive and reproducible/testable things about such experiences that would withstand an acid test, we must keep any such speculations strictly separated from what we teach. If education is key to making a transition to a saner society, we better see that that education is sound.

    I definitely remember a small handful of extremely strange events in my own life, and I think quite many people do. And I can accept them for what they are – outright bizarre experiences, strange data points where I don’t see any way to learn more about the nature of the phenomenon as there are no experiments one could do after the event to further probe it. I can leave it like that – I don’t feel distressed by some need to dream up explanations that make these things look rationally explicable, as some physicists do (Steven Weinberg would, I suppose). But what sort of a professional would I be if I based any judgement and recommendations on such irreproducible freak events which after all still might just have been colossal coincidence?

    By the way – the Permaculture Association UK incidentally is trying to strengthen the “Permaculture and research” link, one of the ideas being that research often is a lot about conscientous data taking, and hence gardeners who diligently keep a garden book are a very useful scientific resource. That I think is an extremely useful approach.

  10. Hi Rob, ask away and I will get your question to Richard. I see you are in Florida? What kind of soils do you have? What kind of crops would you like to find a market for? I am working on a follow-up article with more from Richard on marketing. And thanks for the good editorial catch re USSR.

    Greetings Thomas – Richard has a wide variety of interests, as do I. I am extremely interested in Bronze Age and Neolithic prehistory, as well as Arabic music and dance, and also jewelry-making and shamanism, among many other things, but I find more appropriate places to discuss these interests than the PRI website. Nor do these interests (scientific, artistic, or otherwise) affect my practical interest in Permaculture and gardening, and transitioning us off current destructive agricultural practices. The same is true of Richard.

    Typo re Nobel prize on psychology on Richard’s website is being corrected.
    Thanks for catching that.

    > it’s out of the question that a better understanding of markets for unconventional biological products (such as herb markets) is important

    Exactly. The transition off of oil is coming, as evidenced by lots of other information on this very website, and the audience I hope to reach is those who are working hard to figure out how to make the change. Miller was an early admirer of Bill Mollison, and in fact interviewed him many years ago for Acres USA, and he is happy to answer any practical questions that could help to move agriculture in a positive direction.

  11. Thomas,

    I’m not sure how you interpreted my comment, but I only meant that anybody who writes gobbledygook like you quoted does deserve to be laughed at. Maybe his knowledge of herb markets is valuable, but for someone like myself only interested in selling direct to consumers I already know my market for herbs maxes out at about 1 plant, or less.

  12. Our research is on the ground with real results that help people and where possible these are published on this web site and judged and critiqued by many wonderful people with their comments. The popularity of our web site being in the top 2500 in the world is an obvious indicator.

    To quote Bill Mollison “if you lose all the universities you lose nothing if lose all the ecosystems you lose everything”.

    The universities do not even seem to understand that permaculture is a design system applied to all the needs of human settlements, waste, energy, architecture, local economics, water, productive living system etc etc.

    With the amazing information age we are now finding people come to be trained in permaculture design courses more and more informed and less and less capable to take action because of their lack of practical skills. This is justified by the immense popularity of our 10 week internship program.

    We need to realize which type of research is appropriate to this time and age we are in.

    Many of us sense an urgency to act quickly.

  13. As long as the PRI diligently documents what they do and does a fair bit of long term monitoring, I’m perfectly at ease with using the term “research” for that work.

  14. Adam, the PRI is doing its best to walk quite a tight rope. We’re trying to upskill as many people as possible, and get them started in projects all over. Ideally all of these new projects, whether they be urban, residential, aid work, commercial, broadacre, whatever, would essentially become ‘research centres’ due to their keeping, as Thomas has astutely mentioned, good before/during/after data records on things like:

    – soil organic matter content
    – microorganism counts (indications from microscope observations)
    – worm counts
    – inputs
    – yields, and quality thereof
    – incidence of ‘pest’ issues
    – etc. etc.

    These are just points in regards to agriculture, but we need similar data recording in other permaculture areas – buildings, waste management, water harvesting, etc etc.

    The PRI tries to squeeze these things into its work as well, but for us it’s made a little complicated as we’re not working in ‘best case’ situations. Being educational, our work and our project site is more a playground for the inexperienced than an optimum site managed by a team of permaculture experts.

    If we were to transition to become solely a research station (I’d like to see such a research station in every region and climate zone by the way) then where would we get funding for such an endeavour? Geoff and others I could mention would make an awesome research team, potentially creating ‘colour by numbers’ urban design plans, for example, that anyone could implement and maintain. But, you can be sure that BigAgri won’t help us here. So, we do what we can, and ask others to help spread the network and support research and project establishment wherever there are people with the will and wits to give it a try. In the meantime, we educate, educate, educate.

  15. This need for science in permaculture as a priority issue is something that pops up from time to time and while I agree that science can persuade some people to adopt new practices it won’t convince all, enough or the right people. It may even galvanise their opposition. Surely the current debate on climate change is evidence enough of that? I personally don’t think the ‘science of permaculture’ is what is limiting it’s expansion and adoption, after all, many cultures practised permaculture long before structured science was ever thought of. How many people do you meet in the street wishing they could do something but feel they can’t (at least in Australia I do)? They already understand that something must be done, no extra science is going to help them. It seems to me skill sets they feel they don’t have or opportunities to do something is what they really need.

    Don’t get me wrong, non-corporate funded science is all for the good, but I think there are other pressing needs too, particularly empowering people. After all the culture is the people and the people are the culture.

  16. Grahame,

    this isn’t about “science in order to make permaculture appear more sciency”. Getting people in white lab coats praise your work is what companies selling laundry detergents perhaps like to do. This is all about science as a by-product of diligent record-keeping.

  17. What a fascinating conversation!…As a graduate student in the University of Florida’s Interdisciplinary Ecology Program, past student of Permaculture Design Certification (2000), and Permie practitioner and evangelist, I plan to focus my doctoral dissertation on the issues discussed here. It has been such a challenge to permeate the university system with talk about permaculture! I am focusing on conducting sound social science pertaining to Permaculture teaching institutions, demonstration centers and behavior change. I am interested in understanding the barriers to mainstream adoption. I am also interested in understanding why or why not people who pay money to attend Permaculture certification courses as well as local peoples throughout the world who look to Permaculture
    demonstration sites for advice about how to sustain their livelihoods while living in harmony with the earth adopt Permaculture ethics, principles, and practices. My hopes are to essentially find out the barriers to successful adoption and how to overcome these barriers. Now, I know this may seem like
    a lofty goal, but as an organization focused on teaching this framework I believe that a standard follow up evaluation with folks is essential. Do you follow up with people after taking courses? In the vein of social science, how the courses have affected people’s lives, livelihoods and behaviors? Do you know which ethics, principles and practices they are implementing? Do you know if practices are being applied to farms,homesteads, residential landscapes, etc?

    Any input from this bunch would be great!

  18. Also, another comment about permaculture and hard science. Permaculture is certainly scientific by its very nature. The study of integrated disciplines like agroecology, agroforestry and industrial ecology try to answer science related questions, but the reductionist science practiced at universities throughout the world does not allow for whole system design meta disciplines to be studied in the holistic sense. Systems may be picked apart and studied by people in labcoats, but the university is not an adequate institution to accept whole system design frameworks.

  19. Wendi, I would be interested in connecting with you about your research; specifically, about what kind of metrics you are interested in tracking when following up with PDC graduates.

    Am currently working with some other permaculture educators to develop insitutionally-recognized pathways to learning, and your perspective and insights could prove to be very valuable here.

    I’ve also got some practical experience with, and thoughts on barriers to mainstream adoption that would be fascinating to discuss with you from your academic perspective. My extensive work in financial education, non-profit management, and [most recently and certainly less extensive] sustainable overseas aid & development help to inform my perspective.

    Please contact me directly: [email protected].

    Happy Holidays!

  20. An interesting discussion!
    Currently studying at a major British University, I can contribute somewhat to the debate.
    Last year I attended an ecology module titled “Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems”. It was very interesting! It covered a lot of things that permaculturists are very interested in, such as mycorrhizal fungi, composting and interplanting. It also criticized the daylights out of the conventional agricultural system.
    Whilst Permaculture is both an art and a science, there are important contributions that science can and should make to our design. Most beneficial, I think, is in identifying niches and uses of different components in the system. For example, whilst I have read much about mychorrhizal fungi in permaculture circles, I learnt something new, perhaps unknown: many mychorrhizal fungi can digest rock and make the minerals available to plant growth. The knowledge of this may add new interactions in our permaculture designs.
    Every time that we experiment with new combinations of plants in our gardens, we are partaking in science. However, most of us lack the equipment and methods to uncover what is really going on. Institutional science contributes greatly here.

    However, what I have outlined are merely species interactions and the like. It doesn’t appear that there has been much rigorous analysis of permaculture as a system. In this agroecosystems module, the lecturer discussed various proposals for “sustainable” systems. Permaculture, he concluded, seemed the most promising. I admit, I felt a great sense of validation in hearing a “scientist” confirm what I had believed for a few years! He sadly did not expand too much on this, nor point to any significant research. Still, it highlights that permaculture IS making its way onto the academic radar and gaining recognition.

    What has been said by previous posters, that we must avoid spurious, pseudo-scientific claims, is essential to bear in mind. This lecturer labelled biodynamics as ridiculous, based on practices such as burying cow horns filled with manure in order to channel cosmic energies etc. We must keep our claims sensible and avoid delving into strange ideas, or else alienate scientists and the population at large. For most people (as I have experienced when trying to explain permaculture to family and friends) the idea that we might possibly feed the world without tractors, fertilizers and pesticides is hard enough to get their heads around. We don’t want to be complicating things further, confusing promising reality with irrational obsurdity.

  21. Also, possibly more valuable is that permaculture (often referred to as “ecological agriculture”) has made its way quite strongly into the development literature. It is becoming an accepted and promoted practise in journals such as the Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology. Hopefully this might result in permaculture being more widely used in Governments development and aid programs.

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