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!