Converting Farmers to Permaculture
Individual progress, we strive to save the Earth and to reduce our carbon foot print, this only works to a point. Unless we convert big businesses and corporations to green side, there doesn’t seem to be any impactful effect on the environment. Biggest pollutants, of our industrial age, is the industry itself.
While we live in our permaculture bubble, life goes on around us. You might be an inspiration to your friends and to visitors who are coming into your garden but what actually are we adding to society around us? Have we accomplished all our permaculture goals? Are we positively contributing to the meaning of permaculture so that it can be understood by the masses?
Once we graduate from PDC, our job should be distributing the permaculture knowledge, and the biggest impact would be converting the conventional farmers. Permaculture is a community movement, it centres around the people, nature, habitat we live in. We cannot possibly convert a conventional farmer to permaculture completely but there are still things we can do for them so that they can fix the soil, increase the nutrients in the produce, support wild life and protect water ways.
A conventional farmer’s life is the hardest I think. The production relies on either rain or licensed and limited water, they have to be part of an association to get government incentives, they have to use suggested and sometimes mandatory pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, GMO/hybrid seeds, they have to produce a certain amount to stay in the market, they work hard to get their books to have the least loss, they struggle to collect debts and as a result they are always in debt. They work almost 24/7 with little or no pay. In Turkey, it is forbidden to sell heirloom seeds in commercial or hobby quantities so farmers can only buy hybrid and GMO seeds for commercial operations. The cost of the machinery and the fuel to run is increasing everyday too. If this is not enough, the customers (from the farmer’s market to the big food corporations) always demand cheaper, glossier, better product…
I think all of us have a role in today’s farmer’s bad situation. And I think the permaculturist should do more to reverse this situation otherwise the food we are eating will be more and more full of hormones, chemicals and less in nutrients.
There is one thing for sure; it is not impossible. We have the tools; we have the training for it.
For a commercial farmer, it is difficult to understand the permaculture as they use their operation to compare with it. These archetypes used to compare permaculture with a blurred industrialised understanding of agriculture is not a real comparison but perfectly natural for the farmer to use as they don’t know any other way.
How should the permaculture teacher should this mindset? The answer is to start from the basics of permaculture principles and observe, interact, value the marginal and adapt to your audience.
You should observe your farmer and listen to their problems and worries, take notes.
You should interact with them, suggesting ways that can be used to create cash flow while restoring the fertility in the soil using their existing equipment.
You should respect and value their way of life and try to find ways to incorporate permaculture systems into their already working farm without disturbing their operation first. Once they see the benefits, they may naturally convert areas of their farm into more permaculture.
You listen to their problems, teach them tools for their particular situation, support with facts and ask them to devise a plan to get their accounting books to positive using the tools they’ve learnt then they will understand the permaculture and use combination of methods and tools. Hopefully incorporate these into their commercial farm. Not a bad start!
The common notion is that there is no working example of a wide scale, commercially applied permaculture farm/system out there. That wouldn’t be permaculture anyway (or would it?).
Permaculture is for the community, it is a socialist movement whereas commercial farming is a capitalist driven phenomena.
We are comparing apples (permaculture) with oranges (commercial large farm) obviously. Growing food naturally is just one section of permaculture. We need to get this message across.
Permaculture is about creating abundance with the least effort in any subject like information, food, happiness, peace etc., and not just producing food for masses to gain monetary benefit.
There is of course economy in it but not as we know it.
Contrary to belief, there are working examples of large permaculture implementations that produces food for masses. We just don’t hear them often. They are not publicised enough or they don’t run numbers to prove they are doing it. There are also political reasons that they are going under the radar or not calling themselves “permaculture farm” to prevent prejudgement. They may not be as “large” as commercial farm definition requires them to be too.
Just because examples are not known by wider public doesn’t mean that the methods and design principles are not applicable to large commercial farms’ production.
Many people get into permaculture thinking “producing food” only and realising that the entire philosophy surrounding it is even wider and there are many subjects that it deals with. We care about the soil, nutrients in the produce, wild life in our garden, resources available around us and try to think the best ways of reuse, repair, reduce and recycle as much as we can.
Even I started collecting some numbers of my produce and gave it up after a while for the reasons:
1- It wasn’t practical to measure everything and write them down (I have better things to do).
2- Seeing the produce was enough for my family, there was no point of crunching numbers.
3- We were munching in the garden even more than we collect.
4- Compost we made never accounted for
5- Soil microbiology we supported is not accounted for.
From a permaculturist point of view, comparing commercial agriculture with permaculture is a useless endeavour anyway. That would be a dim view of permaculture as the permaculture is taking things as a whole and considering the nature, soil, animals, microbiology, rains etc. and building a holistic approach altogether. We know this but what about your course attendees who are farmers already?
We have to adopt a different approach to explain the permaculture to conventional farmers so that comparisons in their minds sprout with more realistic examples that is applicable to real life or specifically to their particular situation.
So first thing at a PDC’s first day, we have to ask the students to empty their minds and absorb the information given for the next 2 weeks with an open mind and without comparison to any sort of commercial/conventional methods of farming, living, making money etc.
First learn what permaculture is and then look into implementing it your way.
The students also have to understand that the definition of “Commercial Farming” is an important differential factor. CF does not care about soil, microbiology, nutrient density rather they are into using GMO or hybrids, ploughing deep, fertilizing with chemicals, killing the weeds and pollinators with more chemicals, harvesting fast, shipping to distances, longer shelf life and paying the debts while their books are always in negative and relying mostly on government incentives. Also they don’t produce ready to eat food but they mostly produce ingredients for the larger food industry. CF is a business not a design system that cares about the Earth care, People care and Fair share.
Permaculture considers all the problems in the above paragraph as well as environment issues, Earth, its habitants, pollution we create, carbon we produce, etc. etc. problems too.
Converting couple of farmers as well as your operation will be an example for others. Hopefully, the new generation farmers, as well as the converted ones will be enough to spark the change. Mind you that these changes sometimes may be illegal till the legislation changes.
As a conclusion, teaching permaculture to conventional farmers should start with knowing them by enquiring their past, observing their worries, teaching tools to devise plans to remedy their immediate problems and letting them immerse in the vast information ocean of permaculture. Hopefully they will see the light and convert their operation into more permaculture ways. Even if I can convert one of them, that would be my gain.