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.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What is Permaculture?

Up to this point, I have not really talked about what permaculture is.  I have done this on purpose, because I didn't feel like I had a good enough understanding of it to write about it myself for people who might be trying to learn from me.  This might seem strange, considering the fact that I decided to dedicate my life to living by the ethics of permaculture.  However, I made that decision based on the holistic nature of permaculture, and the way that the ethics and principles of permaculture brought the many differing ideas I had about life together to form a consistent structure.  In this post, I will attempt to explain permaculture to the best of my ability, with the important caveat that I am not yet "officially" trained in permaculture, so this interpretation is entirely my own and not necessarily representative of the thoughts of the founders or professional practitioners of permaculture.

Permaculture got its name, originally, from a conjunction of the words permanent agriculture.  The founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, had observed the sustainability of forests and believed they could develop a design approach to an agricultural system that would rely on more permanent perennial crops, rather than the annual mono-cropping of traditional farming.  With perennial, self-sustaining crops, a "forest" could be designed that would provide food as well as grow fertile soil for a sustainable and renewable multi-crop.  With further development of the idea, they decided to make permaculture short for permanent culture, as they had observed new ideas of sustainability that touched on more than just agriculture.

Take the homestead idea I mentioned in my previous post.  Making a house more able to heat or cool itself passively, without the use of non-renewable resources, is a "permanent" way of addressing the needs of the human beings residing within it.  Or, consider a town designed to catch and direct rainwater and put it to use watering large swaths of permanent crops that were are planted for the good of the community, rather than just running into gutters and carrying away debris that eventually pollutes our streams, lakes, and oceans.  Shifting your way of thinking from consumption and single-use to a systems approach of permanent, sustainable solutions, is the essence of permaculture, in my interpretation.  And when a large enough group of individuals shift their thinking to a paradigm of permanent solutions, that builds a culture of permanent solutions, hence, permaculture.

I will almost definitely refine and revisit my definition of permaculture as I learn more about it, and as I have more thoughts about how I will use it in my own homestead, but I think I will end this topic for now.  In my next post, I plan to start a series of posts about how permaculture ties many diverse ideas of mine into a coherent picture that has led me to formulate my homestead plan as it is now.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What's the Difference Between a Home and a Homestead? Part 2

In my last post, I gave my thoughts on a traditional home, and how it consumes your time, energy, and money.  In this post I want to discuss my definition of a homestead, and how I think you can make your home into a producer instead of a consumer, even if you went the traditional route to begin with. Warning: this post is a bit long, but I think it is important to deliver these ideas all together, rather than broken into a 3rd post on this subject.

First, let me remind you what my basic definition of a homestead is.  A homestead is a producer, rather than a consumer.  It's that simple.  But let me explain a little.  Which of the consumption items I listed in my last post can be produced by your house, turning it into a homestead?  Electricity would be everyone's immediate answer, and more savvy people might answer water as well.  I argue that everything I mentioned can be replaced or produced with a well-designed homestead.  Even mortgage payments.  How is this?  Well, as I said, electricity is an obvious one, install solar panels.  Yes, they are expensive, but they will pay for themselves in the long run.  And if you shift your lifestyle focus from one of consuming to one of producing, your habits will most likely change to consuming less electricity anyway which means you don't have to produce as much, and can maybe sell a little back to the grid.  Water is another somewhat easy one, as rainwater can be harvested in a variety of ways around your property, and can be treated to be drinking water pretty easily, cheaply, and safely.  You can't sell water to produce a little money, but not having to pay for city or regional water when caring for your plants can save a lot of money off of your bill.

Those are two are examples of things that anyone can do on their path to transitioning to a homestead.  But what about things like natural gas, paying for insurance, and paying your mortgage?  These items are a little stickier, and might require that you think about homesteading before you purchase a house.  Let's start with gas, which is really about the temperature of your home.  What if instead of burning some sort of fuel to heat and cool your home, you built your home in a way that it is so efficient at using the environment around it to regulate it's temperature, you don't need a heating or cooling system in it?  Impossible you say?  Not so.  Building a home in cool climates to have many sun-facing windows that allow maximum exposure to direct sunlight in the winter will heat your house quite effectively, especially when coupled with a dense wall or floor that can capture heat energy from the sun.  But it gets too hot in the summer for that you say?  Install an awning that blocks the summer sun, which is higher in the sky, so no direct sunlight ever gets into the house during the summer.  Or plant deciduous trees in front of the windows, whose leaves block sunlight during the summer, but fall off for the winter.  Simple design ideas like this can keep your home from consuming massive amounts of energy over the course of its lifetime.  And that missing consumption is money in your pocket, as well as good for the planet.  Indirectly, that money saved is "produced" by your home, and can be used to pay off mortgages.  Of course, this might require some lifestyle changes as well.  You might have to get used to your home being in the high 70's or low 80's during the summer, or in the low-to-mid 60's during the winter.  Put on some socks and a sweater, and feel the warmth of the money, and energy, you're saving.

But what about the mortgage itself?  How can a homestead produce the income needed for that?  Well, if you're smart, your mortgage won't be the largest one you could get approved for by the bank.  Borrowing only what you need, and not everything you can, is the first step.  Second, think about what the most fundamental need in your life is.  If you said food, you are smarter than I look.  Let's say you have a quarter of an acre lot.  This is a pretty decent sized lot, but isn't completely unreasonable in some of urban/suburban areas.  You could install 12 garden beds, each 4x8 feet, plant various fruit trees, grapevines, berry patches, and strawberry beds around your property, and plant herbs patches or even an herb spiral, and a 25x50 foot patch of a single grain, like wheat or oats.  Depending on your climate, of course, from just a quarter of an acre lot planted in such a way, you could produce up to 50 pounds of wheat, 25 to 75 pounds of nuts, 600 pounds of fruit, and 2000+ lbs of vegetables.  But, you've still got room on your quarter acre.  Room enough, in fact, that if your local laws allow, you could house 12 chickens, 2 pigs, and even a couple beehives, if you wanted.  So add to your 2700+ pounds of produce 280 pounds of pork, 120 cartons of eggs, and 100 lbs of honey.  Producing this much food for yourself in your own backyard would save you a bunch of money on food costs that you could use to pay your mortgage instead.  Now, for those of you that say saving money isn't really producing money, let's say that you don't own a house yet, and instead of buying one in the suburbs, you go a little further out and get 10 acres.  Multiply the yields you got from the quarter-acre by 40 (except for the pigs and the chickens).  Plus, you can add in some cattle or goats if you want to, for milk production or meat production.  And if you do what I want to do, and buy 40 acres that you design with homesteading in mind from the ground up, you might even be able to multiply some of those yields by 160.  When you start producing that much, not only are you growing most if not all of the food you need to feed yourself, you can probably sell some of it as well.  In fact, you might be able to consider yourself a small-scale farmer.  Considering the fact that the United States, a country that used to be called the breadbasket of the world, recently became a net-importer of food, meaning we import more food than we export, we could probably use a lot more small-scale farmers, or even just backyard homesteaders, if you only have a quarter acre lot.

I know this post was long, and I thank you, as always, for reading it.  To be honest, this post probably could've been 3 times as long, and still not said everything I have to say about making your house produce for you, and not the other way around.  In my next post, I plan to write about the other side of my website's name, permaculture, and what I think it means to call my plan a permaculture homestead.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What's the Difference Between a Home and a Homestead? Part 1

In my first post, right at the very top, I briefly gave my description of what I think the difference between a home and a homestead is.  This concept is very central to me in my ideas for the future, and I have chosen to elaborate on this in my next two posts.  As I mentioned in that first post, the backbone of my thoughts on the difference between a home and a homestead is the idea that a house consumes, and a homestead produces.  What do I mean by this?  Let's start by describing the way a house consumes.  I will describe this in today's post, and will go more in-depth on what I think a homestead is in my next post.

Let's briefly run through the life-cycle of buying a house.  This life-cycle will be the "traditional" way of buying/owning a house, not the house-flipping-selling-every-three-years cycle that prevailed in the last couple decades (and which probably won't work anymore now that the housing bubble has burst).  First, you start saving up in your 20's, to have enough money for a down payment.  Once you find something you can (hopefully, if you were smart) afford, you put about 20% down and take out a 20-30 year mortgage on the rest of the cost of the house.  This debt will own you until you finally have the house paid off.  It will consume your time and your freedom by forcing you to work your life away, even if you hate the job you have, or risk losing the biggest investment you'll likely ever make.  I'm not knocking having a job, I think working hard is an important part of being a happy human being.  But is working hard at a job you hate, that you can't quit for fear of losing your house, the path to being a happy human being?  I don't think so.  Wouldn't it be nice to be able to take a month off with the kids during their summer vacation?  Or two months off to find a new career, because the one you're in isn't satisfying you anymore?  In this manner, having a traditional home consumes your freedom.

Next, a traditional home comes with costly accessories.  You must pay for utility bills, insurance, repairs, improvements, homeowners association dues (if you're unlucky enough to be stuck with CC&R's), and any other number of items that will cost you even more time and energy to pay for.  What's more, all of these items are themselves consumption or consumers.  The electricity, water, gas, and whatever other utility you pay for probably comes from non-renewable sources.  The insurance, repairs, and homeowners dues are all consumers of your time by making you work to pay for them.  The house, in many ways, is consuming everything that comes near it.

In my next post, I will discuss my definition of a homestead, and how it is different from a normal house.  I will also talk about some ways that even a normal house, and not one designed from the ground up to be a homestead, can move in the direction of being more of a producer than a consumer.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Internship Applications!

The moment you've been waiting for has finally arrived!  Actually, it's the moment I've been waiting for, to be honest.  The application period for the Bullock Homestead opened on Friday, so I spent this weekend furiously working on my application.  Obviously, I've got a lot riding on getting accepted for that internship.

I haven't spoken about it much recently, so I'll quickly revisit my time-frame for the homestead.  I would like to go to the internship with the Bullocks this coming spring, and purchase my own piece of land by spring of 2011.  I won't consider myself to be an expert in permaculture after just a 7 month internship, but I think it will be enough experience that I can get started on the homestead soon after.  This is why it is very important to me to get accepted this year, the sooner I go, the sooner I can start in earnest.  However, if I don't get accepted this year (which I feel pretty confident I will) it doesn't kill the homesteading idea.  I'll be able to work more and put more money into the Land Fund, and I might even be able to buy my land in summer or fall of 2010.  This would allow me to start my observational period on the land, to get to know it well and begin brainstorming design ideas.  If I am then chosen for an internship with the Bullocks in 2011, I'll be that much more ahead when I'm done at the end of 2011.

Next, another important internship opened up!  I haven't written much about it, but I wanted to take an internship with the Earthship community before I even knew about permaculture.  Their internship application opened yesterday, and I've already sent in my application because they had a web-based form.  The reason I'm very excited about this, but hadn't been talking about it much before, was because it was something I thought I'd have to do after the Bullock Internship because of how long it is.  But, there is an Earthship internship session starting March 1 and going until March 26.  This ends right before the core starting date of Apr 1 on the Bullock homestead.  I was already planning on setting aside March as an internship month, because the Bullocks sometimes let you come early.  So instead, I'll come on time, but with a lot of knowledge about Earthships and sustainable building design.  I'm feeling really confident about getting a spot on this internship, I must've been one of the first few people to apply, I think I put in a great application, and I'm asking to go in the first session, where the weather might not be so great in Taos, NM.

That's all for now, I'll continue to post as I hear more from each place.  If you want more information on the Bullock internship, follow this link.  And if you want to read more about Earthships or find out about their internship, click here.  Wish me luck!