Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

To everyone who has ever touched my life, or to the people whose lives I might have touched a little bit by writing this blog, Happy Solstice (four days ago), Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus, or however you might celebrate, I wish you the best.  And Happy New Year as well, may 2010 be a bountiful year for your health and happiness!

Friday, December 18, 2009

How "Self-Sufficient" Do I Want to Be?

I have devised a little project for myself. I want to quantify (perhaps a little vaguely) how "self-sufficient" I want to be. Why do I put self-sufficient in quotes, you ask? Well, I am a believer that self-sufficiency is somewhat of a myth, and certainly an egotistical way to try to go about life. Community-sufficiency or local-sufficiency is a more appropriate term, and my project will address these.

So, enough preamble. What is my project all about. For a month, starting tomorrow, I want to keep a small journal of everything I use in my personal life on a day to day basis.  I will exclude materials I use at work, because it is doubtful I will be in need of venti cups or syrup pumps on my homestead.

So, what types of things will I be cataloging.  Basically everything.  Books, my computer, toilet paper, food I eat, paper towels, every object I interact with in my personal life.  The reason for this is that I want to calculate exactly how self-sufficient I can and want to be, and what areas I'd rather be community- or locally-sufficient.

To give a few quick examples...
  1. I washed my clothes today using laundry detergent I purchased from a store.  It would also be possible for me to grow some soapberry bushes on my homestead, and use these to produce my own laundry soap instead.  This is a product with which I can be self-sufficient.
  2. As anyone could guess, I also used toilet paper today.  It is possible that I could make and use my own toilet paper, but I have not yet discovered or devised an efficient way of doing so.  Most likely, this will be something I will rely on a specialist in the community to provide for my acquisition.
  3. Clothes are my final example.  I wear clothes everyday, and while I probably could make my own, I prefer not to.  Purchasing or bartering for clothes manufactured by a responsible, ethical company will not only support good business practices, but will also probably last much longer than anything I could make for myself, therefore reducing the amount of "stuff" I'm using in my lifetime.
At the end of the month, I will not only be able to evaluate what percentage of items I could provide or manufacture for myself, but it will also be a good catalog of ways I can reduce waste from my day to day life.  I will try to post a list every week starting next Saturday and running until January 15th, when I will evaluate the overall results and discuss what I've learned about where I want to be self-sufficient, and where I want to rely on my community to help me with the items I need or want.

Would anyone like to join me in quantifying how sustainable you can/want to be?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fuelwood Gathering for the Winter

The Coronado National Forest near the US/Mexico border offers a free downed fuelwood permit every year.  Their intention is for citizens to aid in fire control while collecting fallen dead trees, mostly oak and manzanita.  My roommate and I decided we would take advantage of this offer yesterday, and we had a great time.

We got started at about 630am when we left to meet my friend's husband and buy a couple of chainsaws from him.  After that we headed down to Nogales to pick up the permits from the Ranger Station, and stop in Home Depot to pick up a couple of parts for the chainsaws.

After that, we finally were on Duquesne Road to Washington Camp and Loquiel, which is where most of the wood for collecting was located.  Here is a Google Map showing the area we were collecting in.  Most of what we collected was on the road between Washington Camp and Loquiel, but we found quite a bit north of Washington Camp as well, on the smaller roads that split off to the east.

View Larger Map

Naturally, when in a beautiful setting, doing something awesome like using a chainsaw, I couldn't help but snap a few testosterone driven pictures, and film some short videos. I include them here for your enjoyment and/or ridicule.

Old equipment from an abandoned mining operation west of Washington camp.


The wood we had collected along Duquesne Rd. between 
Washington Camp and Lochiel.  This picture is just north of
Washington Camp.

Brian and I wielding our chainsaws.

Our final take.  We estimate that to be just over 0.5 cords of wood.
Our permits are still good for another 1.5 cords.  We will definitely
be making a couple more trips.

When you have two chainsaws, how can you not pose like this?

The following YouTube videos are of us chainsawing some massive branches off of a dead oak that was so big it fell over on its side.  Getting these branches required us to climb up onto the tree, so how could we resist being awesome and dangerous at the same time?

And here I am getting the second one.

So as you can see, it was an awesome day yesterday.  Collecting firewood, using chainsaws, preventing intense forest fires in the area by removing some of the fuel.  We even encountered a local who said his name was Desert Arizona.  He tried to slyly trick us into cutting down a huge oak tree that was dead, but wasn't fallen, and wasn't quite on his property.  Since we weren't allowed to cut trees that hadn't fallen, we took off after he left the area.  But, with his semi-drunken ramblings he managed to stall us for the better part of two hours.  Annoying because I wanted to be collecting wood, but awesome because he said some crazy things.  Maybe someday I'll go back there and try to find him when I don't have something to do, and we can split a 12 pack and talk about the random stuff you talk about with an old guy who lives out in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, I want to tie this in with permaculture somehow. Obviously, I know that fires are a natural part of a forests lifecycle, and that all out prevention of them isn't necessarily healthy.  By never letting small fires occur, large amounts of fuel are able to build up, causing the massive fires you hear about on the news.  Well, if you're not going to let small fires happen because you're worried about them becoming massive fires, why not let people come in and remove that extra fuel that causes massive fires?  The free permits the Forest Service gives out to do so are a very permie solution, in my opinion.  

  • It follows the 5th principle, "Use and value renewable resources and services."  By only removing wood that has already fallen and is dead, we are not harming any trees still comprising the forest.
  • It follows the 9th principle, "Use slow and small solutions."  Ok ok, I know the chainsaw is not a slow and small solution, but it's fun and effective.  But, by only allowing one person one cord of wood each, you are removing small amounts of fuel slowly over time.  And to be honest, if Brian and I retrieve our full allotment of one cord each, we won't need to go back for several years.  That is slow and small.
  • It satisfies the concept that the problem is the solution.  What is the real problem that the Forest Service is trying to address?  Huge forest fires.  What causes those?  Too much dead wood from never allowing small fires.  What's the best solution?  Get rid of the extra wood.
  • The permits to remove the dead wood also serve as a stacking of functions.  The Forest Service doesn't have the budget or the manpower to remove all of that wood.  So they issue free permits for citizens to remove it.  This does several things all with one action.  1) It helps remove the wood., which helps prevent massive forest fires. 2) It serves the public by providing them with extremely low-cost fuel to heat the homes or cook with (essentially only the cost of the gas in your vehicle). 3) It reduces the man-power and budgetary resources involved on the part of the Forest Service in preventing forest fires.  4) It gives me an excuse to use a chainsaw. 
If more people became involved in taking care of our National Forests, rather than just enjoying them, I doubt that we would have some of the massive forest fires that have happened in southern Arizona in the last decade.  If the Forest Service can find more solutions similar to the free permit we used yesterday, and make the public aware of those solutions, I think there could be some serious progress in that direction.

To wrap it up, yesterday was an awesome day.  Fun productive, and just a little taste of what life might be like for me on my homestead once I finally realize my dream.  I have to sign off now, because I have some firewood to split.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nature, with a Side of Butterflies, Hold the Machismo

Every year, the Tucson Botanical Gardens holds a "special event" called Butterfly Magic.  Butterfly pupae are shipped in from around the world and raised at the Gardens so people can experience their beauty.  This post is not about the event because I have not gone yet, but for more information click this link.

Last night, I was discussing going to this event with a friend, and during our conversation we began to reflect on the fact that quite a few men might object to attending such an event due to a misconception of what does or does not constitute "being manly."  In this post I hope to at least make my views clear, and add some thoughts that might help to set the record straight.  Naturally, many people have many different views on what it is to be manly, masculine, etc.  This post is not about lifting weights, eating steak, drinking as many beers as possible in the shortest amount of time, or anything else like that.  It is about having a healthy sense of awe and appreciation for the beauty and mystery of nature, and that doing so is truly a "manly" quality.  (Ladies, you can probably even go ahead and skip this post if you want to.  You are already much wiser than us, and know the importance of appreciating nature.)

To start, I would like to make an argument that I think anyone can agree with.  Masculine men should have a certain ruggedness to them.  Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, all men can agree that these guys are masculine.  They have an air about them that says "put me anywhere, anytime, and I can be fine and enjoy myself while I'm at it."  Well, any nature enthusiast will instantly know that I also want to put a couple of other guys into this category.  Edward Abbey and Henry David Thoreau.

Edward Abbey is probably most famous for "The Monkey Wrench Gang," but he also wrote a book called "Desert Solitaire" which is about time he spent alone in the Utah Desert, as well as stories from his past.  In this book, he shares adventures such as helping to wrangle stray cattle, hiking some of Utah's more dangerous canyons, canoeing (or was it kayaking) to the Rainbow Bridge, and various other tales of intrigue.  And of course, he used to blow up dams and destroy construction equipment with his bare hands.  To describe him in a single phrase, he's basically the Chuck Norris of outdoorsmen.  And to share a quote with you...

All we have, it seems to me, is the beauty of art and nature and life, and the love which that beauty inspires. –The Journey Home (57)

Edward Abbey, most certainly, would have delighted had a butterfly graced him with its presence.  And he was, unquestionably, one of the most manly nature enthusiasts of all time.  If you don't believe me, you go spend years alone as a park ranger in the harsh Utah high desert and then tell me he's not.  For a final piece of evidence, here is a photograph of Ed Abbey.

As rugged as they come.  With an awesome, manly beard.

Henry David Thoreau was perhaps the preeminent nature lover in America.  He wrote countless pages on the beauty of nature, and the importance of appreciating it.  He, like Ed Abbey, live alone in the wilderness for a long time, and took care of himself in a most manly fashion.  He also said...

Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.

Now obviously he wasn't really talking about butterflies in that quote, but it demonstrates the kind of pleasure he found in them.  To use a creature as the literary manifestation of happiness obviously shows a keen pleasure in their existence.  Thoreau was a rugged individualist like Edward Abbey, but he held another quality that I consider to be very "manly."  He stood up unwaveringly for what he believed in.  Anyone who has read "Civil Disobedience" knows that he was as principled and dependable as a man can be, which is surely something all "manly men" can appreciate.  And this man, who should be admired and looked up to by all, was a lover of nature and its beauty, mystery, and intrigue.  And a lover of butterflies.  He also had one of the manliest beards ever grown, as evidenced in these pictures...

 Clearly a man (and a beard) to be looked up to.

Something else these two had in common is a quality I have always admired in the men I look up to, awareness.  A keen observer of the world around him is, in my opinion, more masculine than someone who bumbles through life without a clue.  The military calls it "situational awareness", and I'm sure most people can agree that men in the military are generally masculine.  Permaculture reflects this value in the very first Permaculture Principle "Observe and Interact."  And surely, anyone who truly stops and takes the time to gain an awareness of nature will develop a sense of awe and appreciation for it's mystery and beauty.  Anyone who is still enough to reflect on that beauty might enjoy a butterfly that alights upon their shoulder.  And in my opinion, doing so can only make someone more masculine, not less.  Failure to enjoy the butterflies, or "stop and smell the roses" out of some misguided sense of machismo is only cheating oneself out of an experience that is uniquely and preciously human.

For most of my readers, I'm sure this post was a no-brainer.  Especially my female readers... I'm sorry if I bored you.  But I am friends with several guys who need to know it is ok to enjoy a butterfly, even encouraged.  I know that some people, male or female, just aren't interested or intrigued by butterflies or nature, and that is sad to me, but ok.  But if you are someone (a guy) who would like to stop and appreciate them, but you don't simply because you are afraid of ridicule or a reduced feeling of masculinity, know that the people who might ridicule you probably want to stop and enjoy them as much as you, but are afraid to do so for the same reasons you have.  So go outside, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy whatever comes your way.  And bring a friend.  You'll be in the company of some of the manliest men who have ever lived.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A New Job Brings New Opportunities

I decided not to write about it until I had gotten started (just in case there was some way I might jinx it), but I got hired at a local Starbucks as a barista last Monday, the 23rd of November.  I started this Monday, the 30th, and have worked two training days of nine so far.

Starbucks is not necessarily my ideal career path (obviously, since I want to have my homestead), but it's not the worst place I could have been hired, and in this economy it's hard to say no to a job after being unemployed for 4 months.  The wage is not amazing, but the benefits are pretty great, and I get all the free coffee I can drink on shift.  Also, according to my roommate (who also works at Starbucks as a shift supervisor and put word in to help me get hired quickly) I will probably get promoted to shift supervisor very quickly thanks to my previous management experience, which would make the wage much more livable.

There is one more benefit that Starbucks has that I can only classify as a fringe benefit.  It is a national company.  Normally I would not be a big fan of this fact, since I'm very interested in localization, but in this case I'll make an exception.  Starbucks being a national company allows me to transfer to Portland with a job rather than trying to find one remotely, or moving there without one entirely and risking another long period of unemployment, which I frankly would not be able to afford again.

My 4 month long stretch of unemployment almost entirely drained my savings.  It might not have been noticeable over the 4 months I've had this blog, but my land fund started with significantly more money in it, and it will shrink some more before I get promoted with Starbucks.  So, I've made the decision to put planning for/thinking about internships on hold for a while until I can build up my nest egg again, and move to Portland and get settled there.  From Portland my options for learning PacNW specific permaculture techniques will be terrific, and I may not even have to take a long-term internship (though I still think I would like to).  My plan as of now is to work my butt off, save up some more money, and GOTu Portland.  (For anyone who doesn't remember what GOTu is, it stands for Get Out of Tucson, and is pronounced like go to.)  I'm hoping to make the move sometime during the spring or summer.  From there, I'll be able to proceed with my homesteading plans full-stride.  Of course in the meantime, I'm still going to learn as much as I can about permaculture, gardening, homesteading, and self-sustainability.

I have seen on my analytics page that I get a few visits from Portland readers.  If you are one of those people, and you or someone you know works at a Starbucks in the area, please leave me a comment or send me an email and let me know, because I have a few questions for you.  Actually, I'd love to get a comment or an email from any of my readers, so if you have any thoughts for me, please share!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Blog Layout!

I am in the process of finding and detailing a new blog layout.  I've been seeing several permaculture related blogs with my exact layout (I'm pretty sure they all copied me since they were all started after mine), and I want my website to be unique so it is easy to identify.  Someday I hope to have the time and money to design a totally customized website with my blog as a part of it, but for now I am sticking to layouts that I can find on the internet for free.

So, if you come back this weekend or later, and looks completely different from what you've come to expect, don't panic because you're still in the right place.  Also, if I pick a new layout let me know how you feel about it and why, whether you love it or hate it.  I want my readers to be happy while they spend time on my site, so I'm going to be very receptive to any feedback you have.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and I wish you a terrific weekend!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I think permies, perhaps more than most people, have a particularly strong sense about what Thanksgiving is really all about.  I want to briefly share my thoughts about Thanksgiving with you before the holiday.

Despite what I believe most people were taught about Thanksgiving in American schools, it has nothing to do with Native American's helping out the Pilgrims during hard times.  And I disagree that it, in the words of President Obama, is a "quintessentially American holiday."  I think when and how we celebrate it now is probably very American, but Thanksgiving is "quintessentially" a fall harvest festival.

To me, Thanksgiving is about celebrating the bountiful harvest of the fall, when the plants go nuts because the oppressive heat of the summer sun has finally subsided, and they can finally flourish.  Thanksgiving is a celebration of growing enough during the good days to be able to make it through the colder, darker days of winter.  Thanksgiving is about family and community, because it originated with families and communities feasting in celebration of their hard work, the bounty that hard work has brought to them, and the fact that the most grueling harvesting work of the year is finally over.  I believe Thanksgiving is probably known as Thanksgiving precisely because it is very natural, after the hard but bountiful fall harvest, to reflect back on everyone and everything it took to accomplish that harvest, and be thankful.  Finally, I think the fall harvest celebrations, throughout history, were about reminding yourself that no matter how hard the coming winter might be, things would end up ok... after growing, storing, and saving the food needed to make it through the winter, there was still enough to have a feast.

On Thanksgiving, I like to reflect not only on the people and events that have shaped my life, but also on what this time of year has meant to other peoples throughout history.  I am thankful for the lessons that they have taught, and I am thankful that those lessons have not been lost, and are in fact being rekindled through movements like permaculture.  I am thankful that in this modern day and age, and through a movement like permaculture, I can share my thoughts from Tucson, AZ with like-minded individuals in Victoria BC, San Francisco CA, Portland OR, Hempstead NY, and even as far as Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and Adelaide Australia.  Thank you for the support you've given me by visiting and reading my blog.  Whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving, I wish you a bountiful harvest in all of your permaculture projects, your attempts to better our planet, and most importantly, the happiness those can bring to your lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Ideas for 2010: Move to Portland or A New Internship?

As anyone who has been reading my blog knows, I unfortunately was not selected for an internship with the Bullock Homestead.  I am disappointed of course, but there is always 2011!

In the meantime, I am trying to find something to replace it with that will be a big step forward towards my homesteading dream.  Since I am planning on homesteading in NW Oregon or SW Washington, my main plan is to move to Portland as soon as I can.  From there it will be much easier to look at potential parcels of land and start to build community with other permies in the area.  Portland also has plenty of opportunities for me to learn permaculture in less intensive ways than an internship with the Bullocks.  I subscribe to a Google Calendar that can be found here, and it is full of awesome environmental and permacultural opportunities around Portland that I hope to take advantage of when I move up there.  (In fact, this calendar is probably the best resource for Pacific NW permie events that exists.  Check it out, I guarantee you'll find it useful if you're in the Cascadia region.  And make sure to drop Jocelyn an email to tell her how awesome she is!)

Despite Portland being my most likely location come spring or summer next year, I haven't entirely given up on finding an intensive internship either.  Last night, I decided to browse around for some new permaculture internships, and it reminded me that I also had been thinking about taking a natural building workshop from the Cob Cottage Company in Coquille, OR.  So since I was planning on being in Portland next year anyway, I decided to see what workshops were available.  And while browsing their website, what did I find?  That's right, another intensive internship to apply for!  Paul Dillon, a cob workshop instructor, will be teaching a natural building internship in Tipperary, Ireland. (Which is awesome!  I feel like natural building techniques are less area specific than learning permaculture, so Ireland should be just fine.  The skills will translate even if the materials differ.)  The internship runs from April 1st until October 31st next year, the same time I was planning on staying at the Bullock's.  And other than airfare to Ireland, there is no cost!  So of course, I emailed for information about how to apply.  I'll keep you all posted on how it goes!

MIDNIGHT UPDATE: After writing everything above, I looked into getting a visa to the UK and how much it costs.  It's not looking so great.  I'm definitely still going to apply and get information from the instructors about getting a visa, but we'll see how it goes.  If there isn't some kind of special exception since the internship and living arrangements are free, then I'll have to come up with £3600, which is about $6000!  I won't necessarily have to spend much of it, but the UK would require me to prove that I have it before they'd issue me a visa.  I guess I might have to start a pie chart on the side for my GOTu Ireland fund. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thoughts on Civil Disobedience

I have just finished reading "Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau for probably the tenth time.  I usually try to read it once every 6 months or so, for inspiration.  I would like to share a quote from it that comes from the closing paragraph:

I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose, if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellowmen.  A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

This paragraph strikes me as one that all permies will probably agree with.  We all hope to live in a State that is "just to all men" and women.  We look to treat each other (and nature!) with respect as a neighbor, and in many ways we do seek to be "aloof" from the system, or rather, the systems of dependence that most American's are umbilically linked to, such as the food system, energy system, etc.  Does the government stand in the way of people producing their own food? Or creating their own energy?  Is the government comfortable with people being able to take care of themselves, or does it crave dependence of the citizenry as a justification for its existence?  Some would say yes, and others would say no.  Thoreau would say it doesn't matter, that whether or not the government is standing in your way it is your personal duty to pursue that which you think is right, whether it be energy independence, food independence, or anything else... even at the risk of being imprisoned or persecuted!

"Civil Disobedience" was written 160 years ago, but it still makes poignant points about how people should live their lives today.  Putting conscientiousness ahead of personal wants or the demands of government strikes me as a very "permie-esque" way to think about things.  Right livelihood, appropriate technology, fair share; all of these paradigms are built around ideas that I believe Thoreau would've wholeheartedly embraced.  I also think that civil disobedience does not always have to involve breaking the law.  Simply refusing to participate in activities you deem as unjust is a form of civil disobedience, especially if refusing to do so is considered "outside the norm."  Some see designing your life to be in harmony with nature, designing your home to produce for you and others, growing your own food, refusing to eat GM foods, refusing to be a "typical" consumer, storing food, learning primitive survival skills, seeking personal energy independence, producing as much as I can for myself so that I can be taxed less by not having to buy so much, bartering, and many of the other things I am doing or learning in pursuit of my homestead, as odd or outside the norm (or even illegal).  But to me, pursuing this type of life is simply living the way I think I'm meant to live, and I suppose in some cases they could be considered civil (or social) disobedience.  I like to think that Thoreau would approve.

When discussing permaculture, homesteading, or self-sufficiency, if Thoreau comes up I know most people would probably assume Walden would be the book that's being talked about.  But I think "Civil Disobedience" carries a lot of important ideas that can be carried into permaculture and homesteading.  Do you agree that permaculture can be considered civil or social disobedience?  In what ways do you think you civilly disobey?

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs, Part 4: Political Ideas

This post is Part 4 in my "Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs" series.  If you are new to my site and haven't read any of the posts leading up to this one, you can catch up on the other ones by visiting the introduction.  This is the second to last post, where I will be talking about some of my political views.  This will be the last post where I describe my own various beliefs.  In Part 5, the final part in this series, I will try to explain how permaculture ties all of the beliefs I shared with you in the first post together.

Because my political beliefs are complicated, I think it will be best to describe them by describing the political party I sometimes think about trying to start.  A few years ago, when my environmentalism began to reach full stride, a friend and I were talking about the fact that my beliefs were somewhat "hippie" and somewhat  conservative.  We joked about starting a political party called the "Hippublicans."  Problem is, "hippie" can be somewhat of a derogatory term, and I don't want my party to be associated with the Republican party even in rhyme.  So, I filed the idea in the back of my mind, and forgot about it for a while.

Later, I started reading about some of the original tenets of libertarian thought.  Notice again, dear readers, my use of the lower case "l" in libertarian.  The Libertarian party is a bit wacko, but the original libertarian ideas have some merit.  I realized the conservative thoughts I had were much closer to original libertarian thinking than to today's so-called conservativism.  And my "hippie" thoughts mostly have to do with ecology, so I finally came up with the name of my party.  The Ecotarian party.  Or so I thought.  I typed Ecotarian into Google, and found out that it's already taken by a movement similar to the localvore movement.  So, I have a philosophy that weighs environmentalism/ecology and individual liberty both very heavily, but I can't come up with a good name for it.  If you have an idea for me, let me know.  For now, let's call it the Eco-liberty party

To summarize my political beliefs before going in-depth (design from patterns to details, right?), the Eco-liberty party would be a hybrid of the Green Party and original libertarian thought, taking the best from both sides and mashing them together.  It would definitely be what most American's would consider a 3rd party.  In my political science studies, I have always seen the defining principle of a 3rd party as focusing on individual liberty, and not on expansion of government powers.  In my mind "traditional" parties, such as the Republicans and Democrats, focus on overly large social structures, globalization, and disempowering the individual by creating structures of dependence on the government.  3rd parties seem to be the parties that focus on manageable social structures (community level), localization, and individualism (as well as individual responsibility for solving problems such as those described in part 2 of this series), and independence from sluggish governmental/social structures.  If you are a permaculture enthusiast, and you describe yourself as a Republican, I urge you to learn about the original ideas of libertarianism.  I bet you'll be surprised.  Likewise, if you are a permaculture enthusiast, and you describe yourself as a Democrat, I urge you to learn more about the Green party.  If you do check these out but you don't change your mind, that's fine with me... at least you will have observed and interacted, and probably learned something and expanded your mind a little, as well as strengthened your knowledge about your beliefs.

Now, to get into a little more detail.  I believe that nothing is more important than the environment, including the most serious human/social issues we face.  Without a healthy and balanced environment, none of those issues would even be possible.  I'm sure I'm mostly preaching to the choir on this one, but in case I have new readers who're new to permaculture and environmentalism, I want to be sure to stress that everything is part of the environment.  The economy is built on products created from resources gathered from the environment.  The service, sale, and transfer of those goods takes place within the environment.  It should go without question that the economy is part of and subservient to the environment.  Questions of whether dealing with climate and environmental issues would "cripple" the economy are moot, because without a healthy environment, the economy will eventually fall to pieces anyway.  For my own personal cherry on top, I like to point out the etymology of the word economy.  Economy comes from the Latin oeconomia which meant "household manager."  And what is the environment if not the largest household of which we are all a part?  To have a healthy economy, you have to manage a healthy "household," and the earth and it's environment is everyone's household.

Second only in importance to the environment is individual liberty.  Every person should be free and entitled to provide for themselves, their family, and their community to the best of their abilities.  This is where my libertarian thoughts come into play.  I feel strongly that individuals should be allowed to do almost anything that they please to improve their life.  There is of course an important caveat that can be summed up perfectly by a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said "the right for me to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."  I interpret this to mean that you are free to do whatever you like, as long as you don't negatively impact those around you.  Speak freely, produce food, make money, store and conserve resources, etc.  But of course while you can, you should not speak to harm anyone, steal or hoard food or resources, focus solely on making money, or think only about yourself, because then by exercising your own liberty, you may be impeding on the liberty of others.

I believe so strongly in individual liberty that I believe it should be carried out to all possible extremes, within the boundary of not infringing on the individual liberty of others, or damaging the environment.  I believe all people have the complete and inalienable ownership of their body.  This means women should be free to get an abortion if they so choose, and no person or organization has the right to force anyone to ingest any substance or incur any physical interaction that they do not wish to.  I believe drugs should be legalized in similar ways to alcohol and tobacco, and that people who choose to partake have the liberty to do so.  I believe people should be given the opportunity to produce the healthiest food they possibly can for themselves, and that healthy food should be made available and affordable for those who do not produce it; or they can eat all the junk food they want.  And I believe that other people should not be allowed to infringe on any person's right to do those things, unless of course by doing so they are stepping on someone else's toes.  This of course can be a gray area in some situations, and I don't pretend to have answers for all of those, but I think when in question, we should err on the side of an individual's rights above anything else (other than the environment, of course).

Finally, I know this post didn't go into nitty-gritty detail, but I think what I have said probably answers most other more detailed political questions.  My own guideline usually goes something like "If I were alive 20,000 years ago, was I free to do this?"  Almost always the answer is yes.  I next ask, "by doing this, am I creating or inviting harm/hurt/danger into someone else's life?"  If the answer is no, I proceed to "By doing this, am I causing harm/hurt/danger to the environment?"  If my answer to the last question is no, then I usually have my answer to almost any political or individual liberty question.  Try it yourself!

In my next post, I will try to summarize what all of the ideas I have shared in these previous posts have to do with permaculture, my homestead, and why I have chosen these as the direction for my lifestyle.  I expect that my 5th and final post could push 2000 or more words (and I don't want to break it into two parts, this has gone on long enough!), so bare with me while I work on it.  I of course want it to be a quality post.  Thanks, as always, for reading!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs, Part 3: Economics and Localization

This is Part 3 in a series I call "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs."  If you are new to my site, check out the introduction to see what this series is all about, plus links to the first two parts.  IMPORTANT NOTE: Because of the time between when I envisioned this post and when it is being posted, I am going to take a cop out and come back to it more at a later date.  Since posting my introduction to this series, I have been reading a lot about financial permaculture, slow money, and other systems of finance and economics that I want to explore more before I can write a post like this as well thought out as I want it to be.  But, I will share a few of my thoughts so this post isn't entirely hollow.

Another topic that I have complex ideas about is economics, and once again Permaculture answers some of my questions for me.  As the introduction post says, I have thoughts and feelings about taxes, money, the economy, and globalization/localization that don't always fit well with each other, or with some of my other personal paradigms.

As everyone is aware, the economy of the United States and of other countries all across the world have been faltering this year and last.  The solution the US government and many other governments have pursued has been to issue "bailouts" or "stimulus" packages for failing banks and faltering corporations.  In the last twelve months, the United States has passed legislation to spend nearly $2 billion in this fashion.  Because the government budget was already in deficit, this stimulus and bailout money was entirely deficit spending, which basically amounts to creating money out of thin air.

Economics may be where I do not necessarily share the same views as many permaculture enthusiasts.  I generally tend to be small government because the bigger a government is, the more money it spends.  I'm not "low" taxes but I do believe we should only pay necessary taxes.  I also believe in maintaining a conservative household budget, just like I would advocate maintaining a conservative ecological budget.  I will try to give an example of each other these.

As far as small government, as you can probably guess from my earlier paragraph, I am quite against the bailouts and stimulus packages.  They put dangerous strain on our economy by hugely inflating the money supply, and vastly increasing our national debt.  I think of our money supply the way I think of stocks.  Imagine that each dollar bill, printed or electronic, is a "stock certificate" in the United States economy.  In a crude way, it really is.  Foreign exchange (forex) traders buy and sell dollars the way Wall Street buffoons buy and sell stock in companies.  And just like the Wall Streeters are betting on a company when they buy a stock, forex traders are betting on our nations economy when they buy dollars.  When we print money that doesn't really exist to pay for things like bailouts/stimulus packages, we devalue the dollars those people are buying, because anytime there is a lot more of something, it becomes a lot cheaper, right? And guess what, the dollars those forex guys are buying are the same dollars you have in your bank account.  I will now give a shortish lesson on inflation.  If you don't want to read it, skip the next 2 paragraphs.

Imagine you own 10 shares in stock. (It won't ever exist, but we'll say it does for the sake of argument.)  And let's say there are 100 shares of stock available in the world.  And finally, let's say is worth $100.  That means each share is worth $1, and your 10 shares equal $10.  Now, let's say that has been doing well in the market, and I decide I need more shares to sell, and I split my stocks.  So now, instead of 100 shares, there are 200 shares.  But my company is still only worth $100 (until my stock prices start going up) and I have 200 shares on the market, so each share is only worth $0.50 now.  Well, as a shareholder, you are entitled to another 10 shares, bringing your total to 20 shares and maintaining your shareholding value at $10.  Everything balances out nicely, and if you were a shareholder, you'd be quite happy, because now you have twice as many shares to make money off of, right?

Now imagine the exact same scenario.  Let's say the United States has a GDP of $100 (we'll use small numbers so I don't confuse myself) and you have $10 of it in the bank.  Your purchasing power is 10% of the GDP.  (Once again, I know this is a ridiculous number, but the logic carries out if you make the number $46 trillion, or whatever our GDP is.  Trust me, I used to teach math.)  Now, the United States government decides it needs some money to bailout Ford or Chase or whoever, so it prints another $100.  So now, the US economy has $200 in it.  But they never send you another $10 to keep your purchasing power at 10% of GPD.  You still have the same lousy $10 in the bank, and your purchasing power has dropped to 5% of GDP.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the basic gist of inflation.  (For anyone interested, the numbers are more like a GDP of $46 trillion, and the bailouts/stimulus packages created about $2 trillion, plus another unaudited production of about $4 trillion by the Federal Reserve, all on the Fiscal Year 2009 budget. This means that in 2009 alone, the money supply expanded by about 13% of GDP, and the one dollar package of spaghetti noodles you bought on January 1st, 2009 will cost $1.15 on December 31st, 2009.

Naturally, I see this kind of spending that leads to massive inflation as a slow robbery of my money, and I reject it's validity, therefore rejecting the validity of bailouts/stimulus packages.  Next, I'd like to discuss what I mean by "necessary" taxes.  The most obvious one is our military spending.  While I do think military spending is necessary, I absolutely do NOT think it is necessary in the volumes the we spend it.  Our annual military budget is larger than something like the next 5 countries combined.  This is enormously too much, and I believe it could even be dangerous to our liberties should someone even crazier than some of our more recent presidents (and I do intent the plural, I'm not just talking about "W" here) become elected.  Not to mention of course the danger it implies to anyone we decide to go after.  If we spent a lot less on the military, we wouldn't be able to engage in so many quagmires.  We might even have to keep our troops home, defending our ports and borders from foreign invasion/attack, but otherwise going about their training and leaving the rest of the world alone.  We would probably make a lot fewer countries angry with us, and hopefully the desire to terrorize our country might subside a bit as well.  This has gotten long enough, so I won't explain any more examples of where spending less might solve some of our problems, and I bet you can think of others.  Basically, I want our nations leaders to set our tax policy to the original meaning of "conservative" economics, which involves conservation of dollars.

And speaking of conservation, this brings me to my last topic, keeping a conservative household budget.  Again, please notice the lower-case "c" on the word conservative.  I'm not talking about the Republican political party's idea of what conservative means, I'm talking about the original meaning of conservative, namely... conservation, saving, protecting, preserving for the future.  That conservative.  So in the household, I think people should learn to spend less money, save more money, consume less material, consume less resources, just consume less in general.  I think credit cards are a bad idea.  There is a Native American proverb you have probably heard that says "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors.  We borrow it from our grandchildren."  I think the same logic applies to using credit in your household budget.  "Credit appears to better our lives today, but it borrows from our happiness tomorrow."  I don't know if anyone has said that before, and if they haven't, you can quote me.  So, to sum it up, I think people should conserve their money and household economies the same way they try to conserve water, forests, the soil, and any number of other things.  Remember, the economy IS part of the environment, so your household economy is part of your personal environment.  Be ecological in all things.

Finally, I would like to say that I will definitely be writing another post about economics sometime in the future.  As I mentioned before, I am only now starting to read about slow money, financial permaculture, etc., and I would like to revisit how permaculture effects my personal beliefs about the economy once I know more about those topics.  And I didn't even touch on localization because this post is already far too long.

Thanks as always for reading.  Please comment if you have the time after reading this treatise and let me know what you think.  And if you have made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back.  Heck, if you've made it this far, comment and let me know, and I'll issue you an "official" share for my imaginary stock certificates.  And please come back soon to read the next post in my "Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs" series, which will probably be the most controversial post of all since I will be talking about politics. (Cue dramatic music!)  Political Science was my major in college, so I can't help but slip a little bit of politics into this blog.  And you've got to admit I've done pretty alright so far with sticking to permaculture/gardening/etc.  Anyhow, bye for now, and all the good things to you.

Monday, November 09, 2009

False Start, On Kyle, 5 Day Penalty...

Repeat suspense of waiting to hear from the Bullocks about an internship. 

It appears I may have jumped the snap a little bit on assuming I didn't get the internship with the Bullocks.  I guess I'm too much of a stickler for deadlines.  I received an email a bit ago from the intern coordinator at the Bullock Homestead saying they are a bit behind schedule due to the volume of applications they have received this year.  I guess I'll find out in a few days whether or not I land an interview.  Exciting, because it means I'm still in the running, but scary because it means I might have to suffer the same emotions I did on Friday all over again.  I'll just wait and see, and I'll make sure to keep you posted!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Looking for a New Internship

As anyone who has read my blog in the past couple of days knows, I did not get the internship with the Bullock Homestead that I was hoping for.  I'm sure it is a pretty competitive process, and since I'm still a relative new-comer to permaculture, I'll probably have better luck next year.

This brings me to my next dilemma though.  I was definitely banking on getting that internship, and I've structured my life so that I'd be able to leave the "real world" for 7 months and go up to Orcas Island.  So now I have a mindset for 2010 that involves some kind of long-term permaculture internship, and since that has been my thinking for the past 5 months, it's hard to turn around and think "well, I'll just start on a regular career and figure it out some other way."  This is where I need some help.

I've been looking for alternatives to the Bullock Homestead where I could be a long-term intern.  I prefer to find a place in western Oregon or Washington, and anywhere close to the Portland area would be perfect.  Does anyone know of a good homestead where I might be able to land an internship?  Preferably I'd like to take one from someone who also offers a PDC and might be willing to trade me a PDC for a little extra intern work.  Does anyone know of any permaculture schools that offer a long-term internship that includes a PDC?

I'd also be willing to take an internship with anyone who has a less "official" permaculture homestead, as long as you would be ok with sharing your surplus and a tent space with me.  I budgeted about $200 a month for the Bullock internship, so that would be the most I'd be able to afford to pay you a month for various expenses, since I have a few other bills I'll have to be paying until at least June.  If any of my readers in the NW want to "room and board" me that would be an awesome way for you to share your surplus a little bit.  I'd be happy to exchange my labor, good humor, and devilish good looks (see, there's an example of my humor right there... have you seen my profile picture?) in return for your permaculture knowledge, some delicious permaculture food, and some ground to sleep on.  Contact me if this is something you might be able to do, and we can discuss the details.

If anyone has any suggestions for "official" permaculture schools, or thinks they might be interested in hosting me, please feel free to contact me with a comment on the blog, with an email, through Twitter, or using my Google Voice link (the button for that is on the right sidebar, a little lower than this, and it's anonymous if you want it to be, so try it out!).

Friday, November 06, 2009

Internship with the Bullock Homestead

Well, unless the Bullocks intern coordinator is a late-night emailer, it looks like I did not get selected for an interview for the internship, which obviously means I will not be an intern with them next year.  This feels like a very big setback to me right now, and I'm down in the dumps.  I'm going to have to rethink a lot of things now, but it does not mean that I am giving up on my permaculture homesteading dreams.  I was thinking about taking down the timer for the Bullock internship, but I've decided I'm just going to reset it.  Today will be the first day of my new countdown, and April 1st, 2011 will be the ending date.  Yes, that's right, I'm just going to apply again next year and see how it turns out.  It's a long time to wait, but I really think an internship with the Bullocks would be a huge leap forward for my project.  Wish me luck on finding something to replace it with in 2010, and wish me more luck in getting an internship with the Bullocks in 2011.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Garden Beds!

Well, my roommate and I finally got around to building the raised bed gardens for the backyard.  I know I said we'd probably do it Saturday, but it waited until Tuesday.  This post will mostly be pictures, but I'll try to make the captions instructional in case anyone likes our design.  The materials were a bit expensive, but not too complicated and easy to acquire wherever you are.  They are:

12 - 2"x12"x8' planks, 4 of them cut in half to 2"x12"x4' for the short side of the beds.
2 -   4"x4"x8' posts, cut into 2' sections, for the supporting corner posts.
64+ - 3.5" wood screws

First we lined up two post sections on our flat patio, and set a long plank across the two of them.

Here is the view with both posts.

We then lined up the second plank, and drilled in two screws to a plank on each side.  I know the lighting is a little funny, but notice the extra inch or inch and a half at the bottom.  We know theoretically this shouldn't have happened if the wood was all perfect, but it made it MUCH easier to level the beds once we placed them.

My roommate Brian drilling some planks down.

After building both of the long sides, we attached them together with the short planks.  We decided to make all of the planks flush with each other, so in this picture I'm making sure the boards are square with each other, and not with the post.

Another view of the corner being put together.  After drilling the lower one into place, we placed another on top, them squared up the other side and did it again.

Here's Brian putting the finishing touches on the second short side of the bed.

Here is the finished product!  If you can tell, the bed is up-side down, with the extra bit of post sticking up.  We placed them right-side up when we moved them, it was just much easier to make the top of the bed level by constructing them up-side down.  Sorry for the poor lighting, it was just that time of day. 

Probably not good!  My dog figured out he could jump into the bed pretty quickly, and Brian's followed suit.  Oh well, we decided to take a picture with the finished product.  Notice Brian's dog's inability to look at the camera.

The finished garden beds set in place!  This is before we leveled the beds and the ground around them, but it is the first step in the transformation of this backyard from a dusty Arizona desert lot, into a luscious home-scale permaculture!

To finish up the garden beds, I am going to get about 2 cubic yards of cleanfill from a "green" landfill here in Tucson.  I know green landfill doesn't necessarily sound realistic, but I know the guy who operates it, and if any landfill can be considered green, it is his.  The cleanfill I'm hoping to get from his is actually pretty nice as far as dirt goes.  It's not quite soil, but it has decent amounts of organic matter, and smells pretty nice.

After filling the bottom half of the bed with the cleanfill, the top half is going to be soil/compost that I'm going to get from the Tucson Botanical Gardens.  They have excellent soil that will grow almost anything.  So, we're going to be wheel-barrowing and shoveling about 4 cubic yards of soil over the next week or so.  I've already got some seeds started for some winter plants, so hopefully we'll have the beds full or soil by the time the seedlings are ready to be transplanted.  I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Permie Homestead News

I have finally found some time to write.  I have yet to find a job here in Tucson, but some other personal things have settled down and given me more time.  So, I will be updating the website more often than earlier this month.  I plan on trying to wrap up my "Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs" series by next Friday.  Also, my roommate and I are going to begin (and possibly finish) construction on our raised beds in the backyard on Saturday.  I know November is way later than most people would start planting, but Tucson's weather is funky, and I plan on experimenting.  Even failures have something to teach me (such as don't wait until November to plant winter crops, even in Tucson).  I will post our progress on the beds with pictures and plans, so come back soon to see how it turns out.

Next, as I mentioned in my last post, I mailed off my application for the internship at the Bullock Homestead on Friday last week.  I will find out next Friday, November 6th, if I am selected for an interview or not.  If I am, I feel very confident that I will be selected to be an intern, because I think my passion and interest in permaculture and self-sufficiency will really come through, and they'll see that I'm the kind of person you can hang out with for 7 months.  I also find out this month whether or not I'm selected for an Earthship internship in Taos next March, so November will bring me a lot to blog about.  If I get selected for one or both internships, I'll make sure to keep you updated on what I'm doing to prepare, and if I don't get selected for either (that's not gonna happen though right? Knock on wood), I'll have to rethink my entire strategy for beginning my journey into homesteading, and I'll have a lot to post about then too.  So again, keep coming back often to see what's up with me!

I have been seeing a lot of increased traffic to my blog in the last week or so, and to everyone who is new to reading my site, I want to say welcome!  A big thanks to David at PermaculturePower.  His site is a tremendous Permaculture resource and one I visit daily to learn something about self-sufficiency, ecology, or permaculture.  It never disappoints.  If you have not visited, please do.  Also, if you are interested in following me on my journey, please make sure to follow me on Twitter, follow me through Blogger, or subscribe to an RSS feed that will show up in your favorite feed reader.  All of these options are available on the right sidebar.

Also, please feel free to share your thoughts by leaving me a comment on a post you've read, sending me an email, or even calling me through Google Voice (see the button on the sidebar).  I have a long road ahead of me, and hearing from people who are already walking down the path of permaculture, homesteading, and self-sufficient freedom, or who are interested in starting like me, helps me stay motivated to walk that path myself.

Finally, if you REALLY like what I'm planning on doing, and want to support it financially in some way, here is how.  The easiest way to help with that is to click on one of the Google ads found below my posts.  If you see an ad that catches your attention, don't be afraid to click it!  Google ads are safe and trustworthy, and even though it will only send a few cents my way, it helps me pay for my web hosting costs for this website.  Please, just don't go crazy with clicking them, Google is a good partner and host, and you should only click on ads that you are truly interested in seeing.  The other, also easy, but much bigger way for you to help me is to donate to my Land Fund.  Just click on the Donate button in the right sidebar and follow the directions on the following pages.  I receive donations through PayPal, so your donation is safe and through a trusted site as well.  I know asking for donations is asking a lot, so I wrote an FAQ about why you should donate and how I will use the money, to help assuage your fears.  That FAQ can be found by clicking here.  Big or small, I appreciate every donation and will remember you when my homestead is finally up and running.

Whether or not you can donate money or choose to click on ads, please show your support by continuing to visit and read my site, and share your thoughts with me.  I have a lot to learn and a world of people to learn it from, so please help me out and let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Permaculture Internship Application

After a lot of deliberation and thought, I finally mailed in my application for the Bullock Homestead internship yesterday.  Many thanks to my friend Will who reviewed/edited my application for me, your thoughts and insight were very helpful.

Now that the application is out of my hands, I'm very nervous.  6-7 months of my life next year rest on a decision that will be made from 7 pages of paper.  I don't remember being this nervous about applying to colleges, but maybe that means this is more meaningful to me.

I will find out if I am selected for an interview on Nov 6th.  If I am selected, I will have to interview sometime between November 7th-29th.  Then on Dec. 7th I find out if I am selected for the program or on the waiting list.  If you are reading this, please keep your fingers crossed for me.

I also find out anytime between now and the end of November if I am selected for an internship with the Earthship community.  While I will be disappointed if I don't get it, I'm not going to be as disappointed, because once I have my land I still won't be able to afford to build an earthship on it for another 5 years or so.  I can't always keep applying year after year until they select me, but I would like to take a permaculture internship as soon as possible.  If everything works out perfectly, I'll get both, and will be blogging from Taos, NM next March, then Orcas Island, WA from Apr until Nov.  One can only hope!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Delays

I've been having a heck-of-a time with trying to end my extended period of (f)unemployment, and have had absolutely no time to even think about writing.  I have no idea when I'll be able to post again, sorry.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs, Part 2: The Crises we May Face

This is Part 2 in a series I call "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs."  If you are new to my site, check out the introduction and Part 1 in the series as well.

It seems to me like we are constantly bombarded with news of one potential crisis or another.  The economic crisis and the climate crisis are two big ones.  It doesn't seem to be framed as a crisis as often, but the treatment the health-care system receives in the news, it could certainly be considered a crisis.  Peak-oil and the energy crisis are talked about but not as popular.  And a couple that we don't hear about as much but are just as important, if not more so, are the water crisis and a possible food shortage crisis.

These seem to be very different crises that wouldn't have much to do with each other.  But in truth, I think they all boil down to over-population, and subsequently, over-consumption.  Let's take the climate crisis as a starting point.  The fact that the United States over-consumes can hardly be argued with.  This country accounts for a little under 4.5% of the world's population, but uses almost 25% of consumed resources annually.  Over population in the United States is a harder argument to make, but world over-population is not a hard case to make.  There is a concept in biology called overshoot, which is when a population grows larger than there are resources able to sustain it.  Any population in any area is governed by the amount of biomass available to it per year.  The annual stipulation is due to the seasonal aspect of the (near) bottom of the food chain, plants.  This available amount of biomass per area per year is known as carrying capacity, and any environment has it, from a small island all the way up to the entire planet.  Humans, however, have figured out a way to "borrow" the stored up biomass from millions of years, in the form of oil, natural gas, and other non-renewable natural resources.  This borrowing of biomass gives the planet an artificially higher carrying capacity.  This ability, coupled with increases in medical technology (also related to our use of petroleum based products) has caused the world population to skyrocket in the 20th and 21st centuries, from 1.65 billion in 1900, to nearly 7 billion in 2009.  Estimates put world population in the year 2050 anywhere between 9 and 10 billion. (source)  With world population never coming anywhere near 1 billion until 1850, over the course of over 2 million years of human evolution, there can be no question that we are taxing the earth and its resources more heavily than it has ever been taxed in its history.  This means we are in overshoot.  When we eventually run out of stored up biomass to borrow from, we must find a way to reduce our consumption, increase our production of biomass, or reduce our population, which reduces our need for biomass.

Now that I've given a layman's explanation of the biological term overshoot, and how it basically defines overpopulation, I hope it makes it easier to see why all of the crises I mentioned above are just branches on the crisis tree of overpopulation.  Quite simply, more people means more consumption, more people who need more stuff, like more food, more water, and more health-care.  It also means more waste, like more effluent, more garbage, more petroleum used, more land being developed, more non-potable water, etc.  And unless we either reduce our population, or find a way for technology to drastically 1) increase the carrying capacity of the planet using a smaller amount of resources, or 2) increase the number of resources available to us without impacting the environment any more than we already have; then as long as the population of the earth keeps growing, these problems will get worse.

I don't pretend to have an answer as to how to solve the problem with technology, or an easy plan for reducing world population without the tragic death of billions of people.  But, I do think that permaculture is a terrific way of starting to find an answer.  The third ethic of permaculture, Fair Share, is very related to population.  To me, fair share doesn't just mean only using what you need and sharing the surplus with other people, but it also means sharing your surplus with animals, plants, and the earth itself by not cultivating or developing more land than is needed.  I myself would love to find 40 acres of land to use for my homestead.  But I certainly don't plan to cultivate all 40 acres.  I would like to keep most of it wild if possible.  Let's assume that I cultivate 10 acres and leave the other 30 wild.  Once I am established, I would like to invite as many permanent residents or interns as my 10 cultivated acres could support, no more, no less.  And instead of expanding my cultivation later on, I will preserve the acres I leave wild as space for animals and native plants to thrive, and instead encourage and teach other people to start to pursue their own permaculture lifestyles, whether they be rural, urban, or something else.

If more people designed with the end in mind, and planned to set aside space for the planet to heal itself and recover from the overshoot we are in now, I believe that kind of paradigm shift would also trend towards solving our over-populations problem, and all of the other problems it creates.  Someone who is planning to live sustainably with their environment will not try to raise more children than they can support, and will raise their children to be ecologically conscious as well.  I believe that permaculture can lead people down a path towards having that paradigm shift.

Please come back and read my next post in this series, when I will discuss money, the economy, and my thoughts on localization.

Monday, October 05, 2009

My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs, Part 1: Why Food is Central

This is the first part in a series I call "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs."  If this is your first time reading my site, please visit the introduction to this series for a little information about why I'm writing this series.

I believe that many issues in life revolve around or are very related to the food we eat and how we acquire it.  Obviously, many creature comforts are important to us because we have come to expect them, such as air conditioning or a nice comfy bed.  But food is important because it is what sustains us, and in many ways defines us.

What we eat says a lot about who we are, and vice versa.  Aside from the obvious "if you eat too much junk food you can get fat" kind of definition, think of all the other ways food might define you.  Where are you from, and what kind of food is prevalent in your area?  Being from Tucson, AZ, I very much enjoy  and eat a lot of Sonoran Mexican cuisine.  And I bet I can handle eating a much hotter salsa than someone from, say, Boston or Minneapolis.  Take this to a broader perspective than just you and I, and you have culture.  The food we eat in a region helps to define the culture of that region.  There is more to the saying "you are what you eat" than most people think.

The food we eat also impacts other portions of our lives, and the lives of others.  Choosing to eat a kiwi fruit that has flown all the way from Chile or New Zealand impacts the livelihood of all the people in the supply chain it to get it to you, the air we all breathe, the energy supply we draw from, and the local farmer growing the apples or oranges that you choose not to eat.

Finally, and probably most importantly, the food we eat is probably the most important aspect of staying alive (besides breathing and drinking water) that we almost never really think about.  Breathing is automatic, and in the United States we are blessed with rather ubiquitous access to clean drinking water, so that leaves food as the most basic need that we must make sure to provide for.  Of course shelter is important as well, but even without an apartment or house to stay in, we can survive relatively intact if we have decent food to eat.  I am a backpacker, and I can definitely say that every trip I have ever taken, I have spent a large portion of my time prepping on the meal planning aspect of my trip.  Sure my sleeping bag and tent are important as well, for comfort or protection against exposure, but if I lost them I would be (in most circumstances) better off than if I lost all of my food.

So what does all of this have to do with permaculture?  Permaculture is indeed much more than just an alternative agricultural system, but it speaks volumes that something so diverse grew out of an original concept aimed at addressing food issues.  And the part of permaculture that is food system design seems to me to be aimed at providing food for people in a way that is healthy for them, their family, the community around them, and the environment as a whole.  It is a system that trends towards self-sustainability.

Once you have your basic need of food covered in a way that you don't have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, it gives you freedom in other areas of your life.  According to a study by the USDA (pdf) the average American household spends 9.4% of their annual income on food.  If instead of having to go to the grocery store to purchase your food, what if you were able to grow half of it at home, freeing up almost 5% of your annual income to put towards something else.  Today's median household income, according to the US Census Bureau (source), is about $45,000.  Freeing up 5% of that means the average American would have in the neighborhood of $2,250 to put into savings, improve their homes, pay for school, or expand their ability to grow more food, giving them the ability to save even more money.  And growing food is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to start on the path to self-sustainability, as well as a very important one.  You can live without electricity and without gasoline for your car, but you cannot live without food to eat.

Jules Dervaes of Pasadena, CA, who many consider to be the original urban homesteader in the US, says that growing your own food is one of the most dangerous things you can do, because you are in danger of becoming truly free.  I agree that the statement is a bit dramatic, but I also completely agree with it.  Imagine starting down the path of growing or raising your own food using permaculture design principles.  Your target might be 10% of your food needs.  Once you have this accomplished, all you have to do is double your production, and now you're up to 20%.  Not too hard right?  Double two more times and you're at 80% of the food you might eat.  This is an astounding accomplishment that most people will never even attempt, let alone achieve.  Now I know that you might argue that you don't have the space to grow that much food, but Jules Dervaes and his family grow nearly 6000 lbs of produce on their Pasadena, CA lot, and on only a 10th of an acre that they cultivate.  If you don't believe me, go to Jules' site,, and research it for yourself.  (If you do believe me, go to his site anyway, it's awesome.)  If you have shown yourself that you have the ability to do something like that, wouldn't you feel empowered to strive for self-sufficiency in other aspects of your life.  Maybe install some solar panels, use the money you save on food to pay off your debts, or start attempting to do other things yourself as well, like building or creating other projects that make you more self-sufficient?  What if you start keeping a few chickens (if local laws allow), or even a couple goats?  What if you had your house paid off, you could grow or raise all of the food you need, you had installed solar panels on your home, and had reliable transportation that you could use for close to free?  Maybe you could retire early, who knows.  It would all crash down around you though, if you didn't have food to eat.  And growing some of your own food is the easiest and fastest way for you to start traveling down that path to self-sufficiency and freedom, which is what permaculture is all about.

Now let's take that last paragraph to an extreme hypothetical.  Let's say you have nothing in life but some land, and the ability to grow food on it.  As long as you can keep growing food, you can build or acquire all of the other things over time, can't you?  You can sell any surplus food you grow to pay your property taxes.  You can barter some of that food to get materials to build a small house.  You can build that small house yourself, as long as you have food providing you the energy to do it.  As long as you have food to sustain you, and a willingness to work towards the other things you want, you will be able to bootstrap yourself into anything.  This is the original concept of homesteading.  Here's 40 acres and a mule, go make a life for yourself.  And that concept, to me, proves that everything comes down to food.  If you start with any other premise, like some land with a house on it, but don't include food into the equation, it breaks down, and you either starve to death, or have to spend 40 years of your life working for someone else so they can live out their dream, instead of you living out yours.  But if you take the first step of producing your own food, you really are taking the first step towards true freedom, and the ability to pursue your dreams.

I know this post is tremendously long, but because I believe food is central to everything, it's important to me to say everything I can to spread the message.  I will try to keep subsequent posts in the "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs" series a bit shorter.  But I hope I have convinced you that food is one of the most central things in your life, or if not, I hope I've gotten you thinking about it.  As a parting thought, consider why having a job and making money is called such things as "bringing home the bacon," putting food on the table," feeding the family," or "being the breadwinner."  Language speaks to us in more ways than just what the words say or phrases are taken to mean, and there is a reason that being a provider is almost always equated with producing food in some way.  Thanks as always for reading, and don't forget to check out the next post in this series, when I will be discussing how permaculture can address the crises we may face in the coming decades.

Sorry for the Delay!

I would like to apologize for the delay in posting in the "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs" series. I wrote the introduction to this series over two weeks ago, and circumstances almost immediately thereafter drove me to make the decision to move from the house I was living in and into a house with my friend Brian.  Moving is obviously an involved process, so I didn't have any time to write.

On the upside, the house I moved into is great, and my friend and new roommate Brian is great.  Mungo has a dog friend to play with too, and I think I can ask Brian to watch him for me while I am in Washington state taking my permaculture internship with the Bullock's, which was something I've been worrying about quite a bit.  Also, Brian is as motivated as I am to start gardening in the backyard here, and his parents are willing to help us purchase the materials we'll need to build a couple of very sturdy raised beds, in which I will probably try some square foot gardening with my newly acquired book by Mel Bartholomew.  I'll make sure to update frequently with pictures of the garden beds being constructed and plants being planted in them.

Now for a "business" item, I added a button on the right-side toolbar that you can use to call me!  I got an invite from Google Voice to try their service, and it included the ability to make it easy for you to get in touch with me using the blog.  You just click on the button, enter your phone number, choose whether or not you want to keep it private, and then Google Voice will call your phone and connect you to me.  Give it a try, I'd love to hear from you and talk about permaculture, homesteading, or whatever else!  This also gives me the ability to record calls (with your permission of course), and I am entertaining the idea of someday doing some interviews and posting them as podcasts.  This of course will depend on whether or not I develop regular readers who would be interested in hearing interviews about permaculture or homesteading.  And if there is enough interest, eventually I will pursue interviews with the biggest names I can get in touch with in the permaculture, homesteading, and self-sufficiency realms.  Please leave a comment to let me know if this is something that would interest you.

Finally, I just finished writing and editing the first part in the "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs" series, and that post will go live midday today.  I'm going to try to publish all 5 parts this week, but depending on how involved I get with constructing the garden beds, it may take longer.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Post Interruption: Moving

I have been moving to a new house across town, and have not had the time to continue the "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs" series of posts.  These will most likely continue on Monday, Sept. 28th.  Sorry for the delay, but in the meantime, you can stare at this awesome picture of my dog.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs: Introduction

I have mentioned in a couple of posts, (such as my last post) that I hold many beliefs that are not always easily reconciled with each other.  Up until I discovered permaculture, and in particular until I had formulated the idea of starting my Permie Homestead, I had a hard time figuring out how to understand myself and my sometimes conflicting sets of ideas.  I have decided to write a series of posts about those ideas, to illustrate the power I found in permaculture and homesteading to describe many different and seemingly disparate ideas inside of a cohesive framework.  I won't always necessarily be describing my own conflict with my ideas prior to discovering permaculture, but instead I will focus on writing about what ideas I have, and how I think they relate to the permaculture ethic, permaculture design principles, and my thoughts on homesteading.  The posts will be labeled "My Permie Homestead Unified Beliefs," and will consist of five parts after this introduction.  In these posts, I will write about:
  1. My belief that everything comes down to food.
  2. My thoughts on the climate crisis, resource shortages, peak-oil, etc., and how they all relate to over-population.
  3. My thoughts on the economy, taxes, and money; and why localization, not globalization, is the direction in which the world needs to turn.
  4. Some of my political beliefs, how some of them conflict, and even the "political party"  I sometimes think about trying to start.
  5. My ideas about individual freedom, how it can be achieved, and how it relates to self-sufficiency and sustainability. I will then close this post trying to explain how all of my thoughts in these posts relate to my ideas for my Permie Homestead.
I have many more, but I fear that ranting about my personal beliefs anymore than that would be too presumptuous.  I close this introduction with the important (to me) idea that starting my Permie Homestead is the way that I think I will most effectively be able to impact all of the topics I mention in these posts, and have a positive impact on my friends, family, community, and the world.