Monday, February 18, 2013

What Permaculture Isn’t—and Is

What Permaculture Isn’t—and Is
by Toby Hemenway

Permaculture is notoriously hard to define. A recent survey shows that people simultaneously believe it is a design approach, a philosophy, a movement, and a set of practices. This broad and contradiction-laden brush doesn't just make permaculture hard to describe. It can be off-putting, too. Let’s say you first encounter permaculture as a potent method of food production and are just starting to grasp that it is more than that, when someone tells you that it also includes goddess spirituality, and anti-GMO activism, and barefoot living. What would you make of that? And how many people think they've finally got the politics of permaculturists all figured out, and assume that we would logically also be vegetarians, only to find militant meat-eaters in the ranks? What kind of philosophy could possibly umbrella all those divergent views? Or is it a philosophy at all? I’m going to argue here that the most accurate and least muddled way to think of permaculture is as a design approach, and that we are often misdirected by the fact that it fits into a larger philosophy and movement which it supports. But it is not that philosophy or movement. It is a design approach for realizing a new paradigm. And we’ll find that this way of defining it is also a balm to those in other ecological design fields and technologies who get annoyed, understandably, when permaculturists tell them, “Oh, yes, your work is part of permaculture, too.”
Humans are a problem-solving species. We uncover challenges—How do we get food? How do we make shelter? How do we stay healthy?—and then we develop tools to solve those problems. Permaculture is one of those tools. For the last 10,000 years, agriculture and the civilization it built have been the way humans attacked the problems of meeting basic needs. Because we live on a planet that for millennia was large compared to the human population and its needs and impact, our species could focus on expanding and improving agriculture’s immense power to convert wild ecosystems into food and habitat for people, and we could ignore ecosystem health. But our industrial civilization of seven billion is chewing up ecosystems relentlessly. We are learning that without healthy ecosystems, humans—and everything else—suffer. So we cannot focus solely on the problem, “How do we meet human needs?” but must now add the words, “while preserving ecosystem health.” Rafter Ferguson has offered that question as a definition of permaculture. He’s onto something, though I think that “meeting human needs while preserving and increasing ecosystem health” is the goal of permaculture, and not its definition. But it gives some clues toward defining it, and helps untangle the knots wrapped around “What is permaculture?” It names and clarifies the problem that permaculture is trying to solve.
Thomas Kuhn, in his masterwork, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, uses the word “paradigm” to mean the viewpoint that defines the problems to be solved in a particular field. Kuhn explains that the proper framing of a paradigm reduces the number of blind alleys that researchers go down by re-stating a problem in clearer terms. New paradigms usually require—and spur the development of—new tools to solve the now-reframed problem.
“Paradigm” has been trivialized through overuse and I’m sure that Kuhn is spinning in his grave. But I don’t think it’s abusing the term to view the change in humanity’s principal goal from “meeting human needs” to “meeting human needs while preserving ecosystem health” as a paradigm shift. It changes the tools that we use, and the mindset required to develop and use new, appropriate tools. It restores a relationship between people and nature that agriculture, by treating nature like a mere resource to be subjugated and consumed, had severed. Suddenly, agriculture and industrial society look like scourges and technologies of destruction, rather than the saviors of humanity that we’ve regarded them. That’s quite a shift.
Permaculture and other ecological approaches are attempts to articulate this new paradigm, by framing the problem and offering tools and strategies to pursue its solution. When the larger problem is framed so that it reveals the interdependent relationship between human needs and ecosystem health, we can more clearly see the steps to the solution. Now we can ask, what are human needs, and how can each of them be met while retaining, restoring, and improving ecosystem health? We know how to articulate human needs, and we have metrics to gauge ecosystem health. Our problem now is to reach this twinned goal, and permaculture offers us hope.
So, why, then, is permaculture so confusing to define? I think it is because in the early days of any new paradigm, the boundary between the new paradigm and the tools—mental and physical—needed to articulate and solve it is blurry. We’re confusing the mindset required to do permaculture effectively with the work of doing it. Let me give a historical example to show what I mean.
In the 18th Century, combustion was explained by something called phlogiston. Matter was thought to be composed of elements plus principles, and phlogiston was the principle of combustibility. When an element burned, it released phlogiston, and burning stopped when all was released. The residue contained the principle of calx, the true elemental substance. The theory was backed by the fact that many things, such as wood and other fuels, lose weight when they burn.
In the 1770s, cracks began to appear in phlogiston theory. Antoine Lavoisier, using careful experiments and new, accurate balances, found that many substances gained—not lost—weight when they burned. In 1771, Carl Scheele, and later Joseph Priestley and others, produced samples of a gas (the yet-unnamed oxygen) that made flames burn more brightly and longer. They called this “dephlogistonated air,” since, to fit into the theory, it had to be able to accept more phlogiston from burning substances than air could. This sort of stop-gap, convoluted reasoning is one of the first signs that a theory is failing. By 1777, Lavoisier was sure this gas was a pure element that combined with others to support burning, and began to reject phlogiston theory. Priestley and others objected; the were simply not able to recognize oxygen for what it was. They knew that elements contained principles, like phlogiston and calx, and these principles combined with elements, were hidden or revealed through processes such as burning, and were emitted, unchanged. The idea that a substance could chemically bond with another and be transformed did not fit their paradigm of matter. It was, literally, inconceivable. But phlogiston theory was doomed by the piling up of inconvenient facts, and by 1800, what is now called the chemical revolution had swept it away.
The rejection of phlogiston and the acceptance of the chemical revolution was logically simple—the oxygen theory of combustion snuffed out the contradictions of phlogiston—but it was cognitively difficult because of the mental barrier created by phlogiston thinking. It took a revolution in thought to see oxygen.
Many of the pioneers of this revolution called themselves natural philosophers, and they led an enormous shift in worldview that required and prompted a new way of thinking about nearly every natural phenomena and event. From the 1500s to the early 1800s, the new astronomers, chemists, and physicists were seen as radicals and a threat to the social order. They often were: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and other revolutionaries were promoters of this new scientific approach based on measurement and experiment. The philosophy that guided their work was, at that time, hard to distinguish from their work itself. Nowadays we view chemistry and the other sciences bred during this tumultuous era as settled disciplines that are neatly split from politics and philosophy, but in those days, to practice chemistry or astronomy was part of a radically new worldview, and the boundaries between the scientists’ radical philosophy, the problems that it set for them to work on, and their experimental approach to those problems were not distinct.
Permaculture, like phlogiston-cramped chemistry, can’t be understood well under the old paradigm, and I think this is why it is often regarded as a movement and philosophy as well as a problem-solving approach. To grasp permaculture fully, we need to have made the shift to the new paradigm.
New tools and new paradigms mutually reinforce and strengthen one another, and permaculture is one of many examples of this. Lavoisier’s improved balances exposed inconsistencies that toppled phlogiston theory from its perch, and demanded a new way of thinking about gases and matter. In a similar vein, permaculture’s design methods such as zones, sectors, and needs-and-yields, by emphasizing relationships and consequences, reveal the weaknesses of thinking in terms of isolated events and static objects. The flaws in old-paradigm concepts like infinite growth, waste, and “externalities” become glaringly obvious under a whole-systems view. The tools encourage the new thinking, and the new paradigm helps create the appropriate tools.
Many people come to permaculture knowing that there is something wrong with the old worldview, but they don’t yet have a new paradigm to replace it. They are attracted to permaculture as better gardening or as a means of social change, and gradually adopt the new worldview as they see it overcoming the flaws and damage of the old. Others come to permaculture after shifting to this holistic paradigm because permaculture supports it and offers an approach to working within it. In both cases, it takes time to fully grasp the depth of permaculture in part because nearly all of us were raised in the old paradigm. After twenty years of practicing permaculture design, I still have trouble defining it.
Permaculture, then, is not a philosophy or worldview, and it is not a single tool, either. But to use permaculture well requires adopting a new worldview and new tools. Like the early chemists who called themselves philosophers, right now the boundary between the tools, the approach to using them, and the worldview that makes their effective use possible are blurry.
In some ways permaculture is in a class similar to the problem-solving approach called the scientific method, the experimentalist view developed by Lavoisier, Boyle, and their peers. It is not the paradigm, it is not the tools. It is the approach for using the tools—a way of working that is guided by the paradigm. So of course this is confusing. People have been arguing over what “the scientific method” is for centuries: is it deductive or inductive, does the hypothesis or the data come first? Most scientists can’t tell you. They learn the scientific method by using it, and it’s devilishly hard to explain what it is. Sound familiar?
With all this in mind, I think the definition of permaculture that must rise to the top is that it is a design approach to arrive at solutions, just as the scientific method is an experimental approach. In more concrete terms, permaculture tells how to choose from a dauntingly large toolkit—all the human technologies and strategies for living—to solve the new problem of sustainability. It is an instruction manual for solving the challenges laid out by the new paradigm of meeting human needs while enhancing ecosystem health. The relationship explicitly spelled out in that view, which connects humans to the larger, dynamic environment, forces us to think in relational terms, which is a key element of permaculture. The two sides of the relationship are explicitly named in two permaculture ethics: care for the Earth, and care for people. And knowing we need both sides of that relationship is immensely helpful in identifying the problems we need to solve. First, what are human needs? The version of the permaculture flower that I work with names some important ones: food, shelter, water, waste recycling, energy, community, health, spiritual fulfillment, justice, and livelihood. The task set out by permaculture, in the new paradigm, is to meet those needs while preserving ecosystem health, and we have metrics for assessing the latter. The way those needs are met will vary by place and culture, but the metrics of ecosystem health can be applied fairly universally.
This clarifies the task set by permaculture, and I think it also distinguishes permaculture from the philosophy—the paradigm—required to use it effectively and helps us understand why permaculture is often called a movement. Permaculturists make common cause with all the other millions of people who are shifting to the new paradigm, and it is that shift—not the design approach of permaculture that supports it—that is worthy of being called a movement. Permaculture is one approach used by this movement to solve the problems identified by the new paradigm. To do this, it operates on the level of strategies rather than techniques, but that is a subject for another essay. Because we are, in a way, still in the phlogiston era of our ecological awareness, we don’t know how to categorize permaculture, and we can confuse it with the paradigm that it helps us explore. Permaculture is not the movement of sustainability and it is not the philosophy behind it; it is the problem-solving approach the movement and the philosophy can use to meet their goals and design a world in which human needs are met while enhancing the health of this miraculous planet that supports us.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The perennial imperative: Breaking the land-abuse spiral of annual agriculture

The perennial imperative: Breaking the land-abuse spiral of annual agriculture

“Was there ever a time since our gathering and hunting days that the planet’s capital stock has not been drawn down to support agriculture and civilization? …[A] hypothesis: Since agriculture began, humans have produced no technological product or process – including our crops and livestock – without drawing down the earth’s capital stock and, thereby, reducing the overall net primary production of its ecosystems using only contemporary sunlight.” – Wes Jackson, in “The Virtues of Ignorance” (2008)
“In the broadest sense, the life span of a civilization is limited by the time needed for agricultural production to occupy the available arable land and then erode through the topsoil. How long it takes to regenerate the soil…defines the time required to reestablish an agricultural civilization – providing of course that the soil is allowed to rebuild.” – David R. Montgomery, in “Dirt” (2007)
“What must we do? …[W]e must not work or think on a heroic scale. …We must work on a scale proper to our limited abilities. We must not break things we cannot fix. There is no justification ever for permanent ecological damage. If this imposes the verdict of guilt upon us all, so be it.” – Wendell Berry,
SUMMARY: It’s time to admit that annual crops are an inappropriate technology. We can’t HELP but misuse them, and the consequences of their inevitable misuse are dreadful, essentially permanent, and morally unforgivable. Their use must be strictly controlled and viewed as potentially dangerous to our well-being. We must find a better way.
Will it ever be possible for us to tread more carefully upon this Earth? -- To wield our clumsy power with an appropriate caution? To acknowledge and respect our unavoidable ignorance? To strop thrashing about carelessly and, in the end, diminishing all that we touch?
On bad days, I’d say no. On good days, like today, I’d say maybe.
…Listen to this:
Lately, after my daughter & nephew (6 & 7 years-old) help out in the community garden on Saturday mornings, I’ve been taking them down to a nearby wooded creek for an ‘adventure.’
Our latest quest brought us to an exposed stream-bank that featured a pretty perfect soil profile – plants in the thin dark organic O-horizon, 8-inch root-filled A-horizon, and then a thick lower layer of dense clay. While we sat there making a small arsenal of gooey clay balls with which to pelt a nearby tree (-- OK, I indulged them), I had a good opportunity to see if it was possible for little kids to grasp one of the most important earthly ideas of our species – what Wes Jackson calls, “the problem of agriculture.”
I pointed out the difference in qualities between the topsoil and the subsoil -- they got it. I showed them how plants have an easy time growing in the topsoil, but would have a tough time growing in the dense, clayey subsoil – no problem. I told them that if you plowed-up the soil surface or let the plants get eaten down too much, it was pretty easy for the topsoil to wash away – understood. I amazed them with the outrageously long time it took to build up just an inch of topsoil & thus how precious and vital it was – got it. I pointed to the mud-colored stream and asked them where the mud came from and what would be the result of it going bye-bye – they nailed it. And finally I offered them the example of my sheep-pasture/mixed-fruit-nut-orchard as an alternative form of agriculture that would hold onto the precious topsoil – slam dunk.
Two converts. OK…so that’s two down, 7 billion to go.
The key points here, and ones I hope I can drive home a bit more in this essay, are this: (1) healthy, living topsoil is THE foundation of all human life and is essentially non-renewable on human time-scales, (2) annuals-based agriculture – even almost all non-industrial versions – is inherently/inevitably wasteful of topsoil, (3) there is another type of agriculture (perennial polyculture) that inherently/inevitably BUILDS topsoil, and (4) we have not only the knowledge and opportunity to make a transition to a smarter, saner form of agriculture over the next several decades, we have a moral obligation to do so.
So yea, the three of us tackled ‘the problem of agriculture,’ pelted a silver maple with some clay balls (to the admonishment of a resident chipmunk), and went on to have, in the words of my nephew, “the best adventure ever!”
…So then how DO we stop ourselves from thrashing about so destructively? How DO we learn to be careful and respectful of our ignorance? To stop wrecking the joint? Well…maybe we just need to start teaching the right things – the important things. And then we need to start DOING the right things – the important things.
And maybe then we have a chance. …Maybe.
If you have not read geomorphologist David R. Montgomery’s book “Dirt” (2007), you need to (1) find a copy, (2) brew a strong pot of tea, (3) sit down, and (4) spend a few hours staring the stark-naked truth of our species’ 10,000-year agricultural experiment dead in the face – the whole shockingly-terrible, pathetically-repetitive, tragically-avoidable truth.
If Montgomery’s book does not horrify, shame, humble, anger, and sadden you, you have not understood it -- repeat steps 2 to 4 until you do. If it does not fundamentally change the way you think about the future of annuals-based agriculture in this country, you need to start thinking a little more seriously about agriculture.
A main theme of Montgomery’s “Soil” is this: the massive soil loss/degradation associated with annuals-based agriculture is not just an artifact of just our irresponsible 500-year colonial period, or even the frenzied industrial orgy of the past 150 years – it is an inevitable result. i.e., Wherever humans have tilled the soil and sown annuals, destruction of the soil and essentially permanent reduction of biotic potential followed – sometimes over centuries, sometimes decades, sometimes in a few disastrous years, but ALWAYS eventually.
And as soil is the foundation of every civilization, the inevitable degradation of soil subjected to annual tillage presages the end of every civilization that has chosen the annuals-based path. Because as a civilization becomes soil-challenged, the pace of soil degradation inevitably increases (for reasons I’ll go into shortly), and the civilization becomes increasingly vulnerable to a host of civilization-ending ailments on every front – agricultural, social, economic, political, and climatic/environmental.
In fact, given the preponderance of historical evidence we now have, it is not unreasonable, I think, to summarize our 10,000-year experiment with annual agriculture in the form of a general principle: Enter annuals, exit soil, exit humans.
So as a country enthusiastically washing away our top-soil as we speak – and likely set to embark on another massive erosive assault on marginal lands as industrial agriculture falters – is this not something we should maybe address like grownups at some point?
So, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of this land degradation business.
Now, it is one thing to make the cogent historical observation that annuals-based agriculture has weakened and destroyed civilizations, but it is another task to show why this end result is so inevitable – i.e. why annuals-based agriculture, for all its seductively bounteous yields, cannot HELP but self-destruct in the end. Montgomery develops this theme nicely in ‘Dirt’, but I’d like to formalize it here as a sort of general algorithm: the Land Abuse Spiral of Annuals-based Agriculture (LASAA, for you fans of annoying agricultural acronyms – AAA’s).
In a nutshell, the ‘spiral’ goes like this: (1) a few years of low agricultural yield leads to (2) economic stress in the agricultural sector, which leads to (3) the initiation or expansion of poor land-use practices, which leads to (4) soil-loss and degradation, which leads back to (1) again – lower agricultural yields. The cycle continues to spiral downward in a positive-feedback loop generating ever more soil loss/degradation and ever lower yields.
The end result, after a few years/decades/centuries of this land degradation, is a host of nasty consequences (for those living it) that go by some rather innocuous-sounding names (by those recounting or predicting it): agricultural failure, civilization collapse, rapid depopulation, and abandonment of the land. Human abandonment (or extreme population reduction) is then followed by a loooooonnnng period (hundreds or, more typically, thousands of years) of biotic impoverishment, as the geologically-slow processes of soil re-accumulation and ecosystem rebuilding occur – often from near-primary succession.
…Oh those barren, rocky hillsides of our soil-denuded homeland – land where the scrawny, rock-lickin’ goats roam!
In the interest of space, I won’t go through the relentless, grisly accounting of historical examples of this land abuse spiral. For those of you interested (or skeptical), take a look at Montgomery’s book. He presents a veritable silted-in-dam-load of detailed examples ranging from the dawn of agriculture to the present day – from Mesopotamia to Manaus.
But in order to flesh it out the destructive spiral a bit more, consider the following slightly-more-detailed scenario. And note here that we could start at any of the four cornerstones of the land-abuse spiral of annual agriculture (LASAA!) -- but for the sake of example, let’s begin with this:
(1) Some inevitable climatic stress (severe drought, series of intense storms, extended temperature extremes) causes a reduction of agricultural yield -- e.g., lower yield per acre, per input cost, per energy input, and/or per capita.
(2) This reduction in yield contributes to stresses in the agricultural economy -- e.g., financial trouble & bankruptcies of smaller farms, loss of skilled farmers and farm-culture to cities, consolidation of small farms to absentee owners and salaried tenant farmers, increases in population as a response to social breakdown and/or economic needs of subsistence farmers, decreases of small-farm size below subsistence-level.
(3) These economic stresses contribute to poor land-care practices -- e.g., deforestation & cultivation of marginal lands (semi-arid, hillsides, drained wetlands) previously under perennial vegetation, overstocking & over-grazing of livestock, abandonment of soil-conserving techniques (berms, contour-plowing, fallowing, windbreaks, crop-rotations, and legume cover-crops), increase of farm-size above internal nutrient-cycling capacity, increased use of herbicides & pesticides, over-use of slow-recharge aquifers, and the use of ‘one-size-fits-all’ farming practices not suited to a particular field/farm/region (e.g., plowing Great Plains, irrigating deserts).
(4) These poor land-use practices contribute to soil loss & degradation – e.g., storm-water erosion from tilled fields, wind erosion, land-slides from deforested slopes, nutrient depletion, organic-matter depletion & decreased water-holding capacity, stream & riverbank erosion from more rapid storm run-off, salinization from over-irrigation of semi-arid soils, build-up of toxins in soil, and collapse of ecosystems within agricultural soils.
…and then we (tragically) return back to the start of the cycle as soil loss & degradation leads to even (1) lower yields. And on and on and on, in a positive feedback loop -- to the part where scrawny goats are licking barren rocks.
There are, of course, additional feedbacks and interconnections conceivable in real life. A fully fleshed-out diagram of the cycle could get VERY messy.
One example: Reduced agricultural yields (and the resulting high prices and scarcity) can lead to general economic/social/political stresses (e.g., failure of credit systems, rioting & social upheaval, war, breaking of supply chains) that can cascade back to economically stress the agricultural sector and accelerate the overall cycle.
Another example: Poor land-care practices can lead to a host of more general biotic-impoverishing (and food-reducing) environmental degradations in addition to soil-loss – e.g., species extinctions from agricultural expansion, siltation of rivers, dams, and estuaries, chemical contamination of drinking water, dead zones off the coasts.
And there are many other ways to get on the spiral in first place, aside from just a climate disruption. Indeed, you can hop on the spiral at any of the four ‘stops.’ For example, unwise political decisions can initiate unwise land-use practices (see Dust-Bowl era US, 1960’s-era USSR, present-day Brazil, etc.) and the ensuing spiral.
And so on.
So while the web of social/political/economic/environmental/agricultural interactions is mind-numbingly messy in real life, I think the integrity of the general model holds. The positive-feedback, land-abuse cycle of annual agriculture (described above) seems to be a valid model for explaining why our annuals-based agricultural adventures (a.k.a. civilizations) have ALWAYS ended tragically. Every…single…one.
In fact, the inevitable implosion of annuals-based agriculture is as close to a universal principle as you’ll ever see in the messy chronicles of human history.
Of course, it doesn’t happen the exact same way every time. Depending on various factors (technology used, soil type, climate, socio-economic pressures, etc.), it may take anywhere from a few years to many centuries for the land to be exhausted to the point of human extirpation – but again, degradation, eventual mass-abandonment of the land, and long-term biotic impoverishment is guaranteed EVERY TIME a civilization goes down the annuals-based road.
The bottom line is this: You start down the road of annuals-based agriculture and the gradual wasting of life-giving biological capital has begun. Your days as a civilization are numbered and the world will be a worse place once you have passed on.
How’s that for an epitaph? Not exactly inspiring, huh?
So having savagely excoriated the growing of annual crops, I think I should at least briefly address the times and places where annual agriculture has NOT been destructive – where it has even (for a time at least) helped to BUILD biological capital.
Because there are scores of historical (and current) examples of people NOT screwing up the Earth with annuals. Witness the skillfully tended Far-East landscapes of F.H. King’s ‘Farmers of Forty Centuries’, the mixed annual-perennial “cultura promiscua” of the early Roman era, Gene Logsdon’s small-scale grain raising, Carol Deppe’s ‘resilient gardening’, Eliot Coleman’s intensive organic production, my annual veggie garden (, etc., etc.
In other words, it IS possible to do annuals right. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. The problem here is that it’s MUCH easier to do it wrong. And the consequences of doing it wrong are both dire and essentially permanent on the human civilization time-scale.
“Doing it right” requires a tenuous combination of skill, self-discipline, long-term economic/political/social stability, and maintaining the proper smallness of scale to ensure essentially closed nutrient cycling. Consider a partial list of “inconvenient” things you need to keep doing year-in and year-out to avoid slipping into the land-abuse spiral with annuals: locally-adapted crop-rotations with legumes, regular manuring, strict maintenance of berms and terraces on even mildly-sloped land, extended fallowing periods, alternating relatively thin strips of annuals with perennials, a strict avoidance of deforesting the seductively-beckoning hillsides.
Such sound and virtuous measures can and have been implemented for years, decades, and even centuries. But…then they broke down. Every time. It’s just TOO easy to fall off the good-practices wagon in this crazy mixed-up world. Humans are too fallible. The weather (increasingly) is too uncertain. Gravity is too universal. The Second Law is too relentless and unforgiving.
Once you drop it, an egg doesn’t un-break. Once you fall off the ‘good-practices’ wagon of annuals-based agriculture, topsoil doesn’t pick itself up off the sea floor and scamper back up to your cornfield in time for planting season. It’s gone.
In this sense, any civilization following the annuals-based path is very much walking on the razor’s edge of non-reversible disaster. Once the path of soil tillage and annuals-based agriculture is chosen by a civilization, it is only a matter of time before ‘something goes wrong’ and the land-abuse spiral is initiated – e.g., enter severe economic down-turn, drought, war, chaotic revolution, wave of migration & social upheaval, unwise national agricultural policies, natural disaster, industrial disaster, etc., etc., etc. Take your pick.
Every year is a roll of the dice. Every growing season. Every storm. Every drought. Every recession. Every regime change.
…And we have a winner! …Or rather, a loser!
So I think, at this point, we’re forced to make a pretty darn uncomfortable admission (a la Wes Jackson): The suite of technologies that comprises annuals-based agriculture – that crown-jewel of human ingenuity, those strokes of genius that separated us from the beasts – was, is, and forever will be just a flat-out bad idea as the main food source for a civilization.
The plow, the disc, the harrow. Those rolling fields of corn, beans, wheat, and rice. -- Bad ideas, all of them.
And now consider this: Technologies that are just flat-out inappropriate for the human species on this planet tend to have some things in common – they’re fast, they’re powerful, they initially seem to be almost magical in the “making life easier” department, …and they all release seven kinds of hell on us when the biophysical-consequence chickens come home to roost.
Witness fossil fuels. Witness nuclear power. Witness annuals-based agriculture.
Our ignorance is too great, our inherent weaknesses and flaws as a species too numerous, and the workings of the world too complex for technologies that work too fast on too big of a scale. Mistakes happen…and then they compound. Such technologies turn us, effectively, into toddlers with loaded machine guns.
Rat-a-tat-tat…Hey, gimme that!!...Rat-a-tat-tat-tat…Good lord!!....Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat….Oh, the humanity!!!!...
In this vein, permit me to raise one more objection to annuals-based agriculture: In addition to the locked-in fate of annuals-based agriculture to degrade the land (via the heretofore-discussed Land Abuse Spiral), there is something about the “speed” of annuals-based agriculture that introduces another unfortunate side-effect for our species. -- Namely, annuals are just too darn FAST.
Cut the trees, plant the crops amongst the stumps, and collect the bounty. A one-year agricultural yield increase of many, many fold over the hunting and gathering yield of the same land. Instant energy = instant population explosion. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the 10,000-year story of our species’ experiment with annual agriculture.
The phenomenally fast rate-of-return – one season and you get a yield – has certainly been a significant driver in our yeast-like population explosion over the past 10,000 years. It’s just too darn EASY to grow human population when you get this sort of rapid energy-increase feedback from annual crops. It takes too much discipline and luck for us NOT to screw up eventually – for us NOT to overpopulate like yeast in a bottle.
So permit me this analogy: Annuals are the original ‘fast-food’ -- seductive, immediately-rewarding, and prone to both degrade and rapidly expand your biomass. The short-term payback of actual ‘fast foods’ trick us into eating too much. The short payback time for the annual crops tricks us into f***ing too much – bringing on overpopulation and the ensuing land-abuse spiral before you can say, “Hey, just LOOK at all these kids!”
Lacking the consistently-engaged, higher-order mental capabilities that humans do not (and will never) possess, it’s just too easy to overshoot carrying capacity on a diet of fast-return (but ecosphere-diminishing) annual crops. So we overshoot. …Time and time and time and time again.
I suppose this theme could be developed more, but I think I’ve made a sufficient case for the following general statement: Annual crops are an inappropriate technology. We can’t HELP but misuse them, and the consequences of their misuse are both dreadful and unforgivable. Their use must be strictly controlled and viewed as potentially dangerous to our well-being. We must find a better way.
Now, I say ‘ouch’ here because, to most people, saying that the widespread use of annuals is bad for us and we need to find a better way is like saying, “Oxygen is bad for us. We must find a better way.” In other words, it’s inconceivable to most people – even many ‘progressives’ in the alternative agriculture movement – that we could or should ever move to something beyond an annuals-based agriculture. Amber waves of (annual) grains foreva!
“…But, but, but …we just need to do annuals RIGHT!” “The change you advocate is too radical! “The consumers won’t go for it!”
But looking ‘big-picture’ here, we really have no choice -- especially if we introduce morality into the equation.
Because, if the biological potential of the Earth inevitably becomes degraded with each go-round of the annual-agriculture carousel, can we maybe see where this is eventually going? Can we extrapolate the trend-line here – even tentatively?
And are we really OK resigning ourselves to the inevitable diminishment of the planet? Is that the only moral and physical legacy we can hope to achieve? Are starving, rock-licking goats forever to be the final stage of human succession?
I propose that – in the spirit of Wendell Berry’s agrarian sensibilities, Wes Jackson’s “nature as measure”, Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic”, and Dan Allen’s “I Want My Daughter to Have a Life Worth Living Ethic” – maybe we should try something else.
And that something else, of course, is the perennial-based agriculture conceived, advocated and enacted by the permaculture movement, Wes Jackson’s The Land Institute, Wendell Berry, Sir Albert Howard, J. Russell Smith, Liberty Hyde Bailey, and scores of historical experiments in perennials that were snuffed out by the seductive poison of the annual-crop expansion.
Why is it so hard for us to renounce agricultural suicide?
When will we let ourselves learn from the people who already have renounced it and want to show us how?
When will it be too late?
Now, this has been a rather long essay and you’ve all been very patient with me. Thank you. So here’s the part you’ve been waiting for: Let me now describe exactly how the perennial transition will work.
It’s simple, we just need to…ummm...we need to…well...hmmmm…maybe…
OK, I don’t know -- I admit it. …Well, at least not the details.
But for the host of physical and moral reasons discussed so far, we MUST make the transition -- and I can guarantee that we WON’T make the transition at all it if we don’t try. And so, despite our ignorance, we need to try. So let’s try. …Fine details be damned at this point!
…But we’re not totally in the dark, of course -- there ARE some ideas out there already.
For a long-term strategy at the national level, I suggest you take a look at The Land Institute’s “A 50-Year Farm Bill” ( They present a well-reasoned plan for transforming the current 20:80 perennial:annual mix of US agriculture to an 80:20 perennial:annual mix over the next 50 years. And while you’re at it, check out ALL the publications at The Land Institute’s website (
The only thing I’d advocate for in regards to their plan is the possible expansion of already-existing perennial tree crops and vegetables for the more well-watered regions of the US. As just one example among many, chinese chestnuts have a nutritional composition very similar to corn, and when a FULL accounting of energy, resource, and environmental costs are included the carbohydrate yields may be comparable. And of course, as discussed previously in this essay, from a long-term physical and moral standpoint, there is no comparison at all.
I’ve written previously on what might be required to transition to a perennials-based agriculture in my essay, “An Agriculture that Stands a Chance” (
Check out this essay for someone who’s doing some pretty cool perennial stuff on a farm-sized scale:
And check out another large-scale perennial operation from Greg Miller’s Empire Chestnut website:
And of course, I’d highly recommend exploring the complete works of both Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry -- as well as the now-voluminous permaculture literature (maybe start with Learn the science and art of perennial crops. Learn the ecological principles and practical considerations of planting a food forest (or food prairie…or food savannah…) in your back yard (or back 40).
But more than anything else, you just need to start DOING it. Start planting perennial food crops wherever and whenever you can. For the past ten years, I’ve been experimenting by planting dozens of types fruit and nut perennials – hundreds of trees/bushes/vines in total – to find out what sorts of things work in my area. I plant them in my yard, in my sheep pasture, in the yards of near-by relatives, in my annual-veggie garden, on township-owned land (via the community garden) – wherever I can! And in the past few years I’ve been experimenting with a dozen or so species (and counting) of perennial vegetables. Again, wherever I can!
As noted previously, perennial crops are the original ‘slow food’, so you’ll need to start your experimenting NOW. i.e. Don’t wait until you have a masters degree in permaculture design and have memorized the genus and species of each perennial crop. – Just learn some basics about your soil and the plants’ natural histories and toss those babies in the ground to see what you get. Watch them closely. If it doesn’t work, try something else.
And let’s try to get off this land-abuse spiral. I think this whole planet’s getting’ a little dizzy, no?
Editorial Notes: From the author: I'm a high school Chemistry teacher in NJ. I'm also a concerned father, organic farmer, and community garden organizer. You can contact me at 

Time to Garden the Planet

Time to Garden the Planet
by Peter Bane

      This is a season (Dec.2006) for talking truth about the world. Americans do elections and feasting in the same month and for good reason: All politics hinges on the question, "Who eats?"

     When we shifted our economy from the wild harvesting of nature's surpluses to the cultivation of cereal crops at the end of the last ice age, we started on a course of collective self-discovery: Will the clever monkeys solve the puzzle in time? Can they figure out how to grow enough food to keep up with their sex drive?

     So far, the answer is no. The Agricultural Revolution, sparked in the semi-arid regions of the Near East about 10,000 years ago, has been a failure. The production of surplus grains has always led to increases in population that outstrip the productive capacity of their regions, leading to war, empire, destruction of forests, and migrations. On a shrinking planet, there's nowhere else to go.

     To get to the root of politics we have to talk and act on food. Freedom isn't just "nothin' left to lose," rather it's an abundant supply of locally grown food for every household. Our current food system, and with it the entire economy of the now hyperlinked world is balanced precariously on a dwindling supply of fossil oil and gas, controlled by a tiny elite of mostly foreign powers.This is not a temporary problem to be solved by technology or better management. It is a structural problem of geological limits and burgeoning population that will never go away until we break our addiction to oil.

     Thirty years ago, two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison discovered in their conversation about energy and equity that they had something to say about this problem. They described their response to global limits and the failure of central authority with the made-up word, "Permaculture," or "permanent agriculture."

      In the generation since "Permaculture I" was published, a hundred thousand others have joined this conversation around the world and Permaculture has come to mean "permanent culture," because, of course, no system of farming can exist without a just and stable society to support it.

      Besides being a paradox ("permanent" means long-lasting while "culture" is about continuous change and adaptation"), Permaculture is a way of seeing the world that emphasizes context and processes. It requires a shift of focus from objects and actors—which is the cultural bias of western civilization and of our English language in particular—to relationships. Whether seen as feminine or right-brained or Eastern because these qualities have been suppressed in our culture, the capacity for holistic thinking is really about balance —drawing on both sides of the brain and emphasizing the connections between them.

     Permaculture is also a design system, based on ecology and taught by grassroots networks, for creating human habitats—homes, neighborhoods, towns, and the countryside—that capture energy, grow food, and recycle wastes, as they grow ever more diverse and abundant. The principles are simple but not trivial:
• Humans must be engaged interactively with the natural world around us;
• Our chief task is to capture and cycle solar energy, using it to meet our needs;
• We have to feed ourselves and regulate our behaviors to fit in with nature;
• Biological systems work best;
• Waste equals food;
• The patterns of natural systems show us how to create cultivated ones;
• Combine top-down thinking with bottom-up action;
• Always integrate elements and systems for mutual support;
• Choose small and slow means;
• Cultivate diversity and look to the margins for action;
• Be prepared for change.
These have endless ramifications.
     And out of these networks of "each one, teach one," has grown a social movement for people-centered development and grassroots scientific research that has successfully demonstrated pathways for a low-energy future in 100 countries. The abundance of cheap fossil fuel and the material excesses of USA culture have retarded Americans' awareness of Permaculture, but the rise of energy prices and the continued contraction of the global economy are helping awaken more people to the need for which Permaculture was created.

      Permaculture has a great analysis of the world—Energy comes from the sun, therefore it's time to reorganize our economy and technology to recognize that (Think biology.); The Earth has limits, of which energy, water, tree cover, and soil minerals are especially critical to life; People, once educated, are best able solve their own problems and meet their own needs locally, so teach them to teach others. The household, not the factory, is the source of prosperity, so create edible landscapes everywhere people live. But the Permaculture story would be empty theory if it didn't lead to positive action for change.

      If you want to turn the world on its head, it takes a really good idea and a lot of practice. And that's where the design system comes in. You apply these principles to your own life, your own household, your own economy to make permaculture happen where you live. And every one is different. Starting at the back door, permaculture designers and activists have created city farms, food forests, solar homes, living roofs, edible parks and schoolgrounds, backyard fish ponds, community health centers, water gardens, local currencies and credit unions, farmers markets, ecovillages, and a worldwide university.

What will be your part of this story?

     The true test of permanent agriculture is whether it builds and maintains carbon (organic matter) levels in soil. This takes trees, animals, careful observation, persistence, and a new worldview. No mechanized agriculture can do it, only people who understand their kinship with all of life can. The land needs people. At the same time, there can never be enough "stuff" in the marketplace to satisfy our profound need for love and meaning. These can only come from relationship—people need the land and each other. In a world of diminishing resources, the only inexhaustible resource is our creativity and our undying connection with the Earth. These come together in the garden, and while Permaculture is much more than can be imagined by one person or captured in an essay, it is most often and truly associated with the garden, our deepest image of connectedness with the original source and of a world filled with pleasure and delight.

      Politics has captured the attention of Americans again after a generation of lethargy because the world's problems are growing more complex with each passing day. We face endless war over oil, rampant consumerism, a hollow economy and a crumbling dollar, an epidemic of obesity, toxicity and illness, and a medical system out of control. Hunger and plague stalk the global South. At the risk of being thought romantic or utopian, I assert that the solutions to these and most of the world's dramatic crises rests in a rather simple shift of our awareness and our behavior. We must care for the Earth and for people, and share that which is surplus to our needs so that others may meet their own. We must also consciously limit our consumption and population. These ethics are central to permaculture: they belong to no nation or creed but to all of humanity. It's time to garden the planet.

Peter Bane is the publisher of Permaculture Activist. Please contact us if you wish to reprint this article in any format, virtual or hardcopy.

Who Am I to Farm?

Who Am I to Farm?
by Peter Bane, Permaculture Activist, 
Issue #82, GROWING STAPLE CROPS • NOV 2011, excerpted from Peter Bane's new book: The Permaculture Handbook

Today only 0.3% of Americans and 2.2% of Canadians derive their primary income from farming.(1) This is the smallest proportion of the population devoted to farming in the history of either nation or in the history of the world. No other societies have made our basic connection to the earth and the garnering of sustenance such a marginal specialty. Are we, as economists and prophets of progress proclaim, more evolved and more efficient, freeing up labor from the drudgery of farming to perform more complex and rewarding tasks in industry or the creative professions? Or have we so lost ourselves in thrall to the logic of the machine, that we will sacrifice everything to it, the quality of our food, our health, the land, even our very souls?
The dynamic of the modern economy, by which large-scale production became dominant through the subsidy of fossil energy, has indeed made farming a marginal occupation at the bottom fringe of the system—a dirty and dangerous primary industry, akin to mining, logging or fishing. The vast prairie expanses of the United States and Canada have lent themselves to mechanized farming so that only a few individuals are needed to manage holdings of hundreds or thousands of acres.
Of course the statistics about farming as an occupation mask many ways in which the work of millions of people is hidden, so the “efficiency” and “progress” of our high-tech societies may be seen as an artifact of ideology as much as a sign of social evolution. More and more food is imported to North America from elsewhere in the world, where it is grown by Asian, African, Latin American, Caribbean or European farmers, usually on smaller farms and with more labor input. Even within our borders, the real food grown here, that is, the nutrient-dense food that sustains our health, such as fruits and vegetables, is picked and processed by an immigrant labor force of Mexicans, Jamaicans, Salvadorans, Haitians and other dispossessed farmers from the South. Many of these are undocumented workers whose labor and whose lives don’t officially exist. Even in our wealthy societies, we have many millions more farmers today than we acknowledge.
But what about most North Americans? Are we happy to be eating industrial food? Are we flourishing in our post-agricultural careers? Do we gladly forsake the countryside for city culture?
North American suburbs occupy some very good agricultural land. The land is irrigated; labor and markets are near at hand.
Back to the land?
Certainly millions seem content or may never dream of asking these questions. But there is ample evidence that many of us have never completely relinquished our attachments to a more agrarian way of life. The American Frontier, and the opportunity for anyone to claim a piece of land from the government and homestead it, closed in 1890. Yet every wave of urbanization since World War I has been accompanied or followed by the resurgence of agrarian ideals. Thomas Jefferson’s vision of the United States as a nation of yeoman farmers continues to echo down the ages. In the 1930s, M.G. Kains wrote a manual for erstwhile farmers, Five Acres and Independence. He introduced the book with a quotation from Henry Ford extolling the virtues of the land—which may be more than ironic.(2) Already by 1935, the manic ups and downs of the capitalist business cycle were familiar enough that “return to the land” was a recurrent and well-recognized impulse in society.
Even after microbiology and engineering made cities less acutely unhealthy, industrial production, with coal as a primary fuel, made them dirty and often noisome places from which the better heeled residents sought relief at summer resorts and in “garden suburbs” where the amenities of a quasi-rural settlement could be combined with the convenience of swift rail transit to the centers of commerce. Long before use-based zoning began to sort out industrial from residential sectors within the city, the dream of the suburbs had taken root.
An even more radical critique of industrial civilization arose from the lives and writing of Helen and Scott Nearing. Their 1954 book Living the Good Life and subsequent titles extolled the virtues of simple living close to the land. The Nearings not only turned away from the hubbub and clamor of city life but proposed an unconventional response to economics as well. After Scott, who was trained as an engineer and an economist, was blacklisted from academia after World War I for his socialist and antiwar views, the couple retired to the Vermont frontier, reduced their consumption of industrial goods, and adopted a vegetarian diet based on home-grown food. They built their own house from local materials and disciplined themselves to divide their days equally between “bread labor”—or work for sustenance, intellectual pursuits, and socializing. Working six weeks a year in the late winter to make maple syrup and sugar afforded them enough cash income to pay taxes and even to travel. Not only did their forest farming and designed approach to living inspire a whole generation in the 1970s seeking a way back to the land, but they appear to have lived healthy, principled, and successful lives without compromising their values. Scott lived to 100 years of age and ended his life by fasting in 1983, while Helen, a generation younger, survived him some 12 years in their second homestead on the Maine coast, surrounded by friends and admirers. Their legacy is perpetuated in part by their writings and in the dreams of millions of their readers, and also through the work of the Good Life Institute in Harborside, Maine. (3)
A pastoral ideal
While not agrarian by design, the post-World War II suburban boom appealed to the unrealized dreams of millions who left the countryside for war and better wages, but from whom the pull of a pastoral life had never entirely vanished. Men continued to enact, in mechanical and often neurotic ways, the rituals of making hay as they cut lawns into perfect green squares every weekend. Women organized ice cream socials and birthday parties like the collective celebrations of harvest that had ennobled the hard lives of their ancestors. Children were the real crop here. During the 1950s this patchwork of farm fields, forest remnants, and village-scale neighborhoods, peopled by the children and grandchildren of factory workers, immigrants, ex-farmers and other groups newly enriched by the war economy, became the dream landscape of the boomer generation, the largest in history. Small herds of children roamed this bucolic terrain, secure in the privilege their parents extracted as world conquerors until, of course, the next development took down a totemic patch of woods or replaced a mysterious meadow with a cul-de-sac of new houses. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that as it reached adulthood this age cohort sought meaning in nature amidst a world seemingly mad with the designs of human dominance: corporate conformity and mutually assured destruction from nuclear weapons.
Well into the 1970s, when energy crises began to call into question the wisdom of a commuting way of life, the suburbs continued to afford a new generation of children the same glimpses of a comfortable life embedded in nature. But the suburbs were changing too, as they grew to become the dominant habitat for North American societies. (4) City centers and their surrounding neighborhoods, under assault by highway builders, redlining, and white flight born of racism, hollowed as their outer fringes spread.
The agrarian way of life found its greatest contemporary philosopher in Wendell Berry whose political views on farming, land use, and culture reshaped the national debate. If the Nearings had offered moral inspiration and economic guidance, Berry’s critique of urban civilization provided an intellectual foundation for the Vietnam-era pulse of return-to-the-land. Driven less by economics than it had been during the 1930s and more by cultural alienation from the turmoil of decaying cities and a general rejection of the values of industrial capitalism and war born of empire, this broad wave of hippie communes and homesteaders brought lifestyle issues into public consciousness. Vegetarianism and concern for wholesome food free of chemicals grew in direct proportion to the expansion of “get big or get out” agriculture with its emphasis on vast grain monocultures and the feedlot finishing of livestock.
Migrants harvest and process most of the real food eaten in the US and Canada.
A perfect storm
Economic opportunities in the countryside continued to be constrained, however. The agrarian ideal struggled against industrial consolidation. The US economy began its long-term contraction about 1973 following the peak of national oil extraction. Farmers continued to be squeezed by the relentless logic of the market—overproduction leading to large surpluses and low prices—while input costs rose with the inflationary price of oil, now set in the international markets and no longer by the Texas Railroad Commission. A second oil shock and double-digit inflation piled on top of too much farm debt led to a severe depression in rural America in the early 1980s. The traditional household pattern of life eroded as millions of women moved into the workforce in the 1970s and beyond, largely to compensate for falling incomes and inflating costs of living. While energy concerns and economic hardship during the 1970s put a temporary brake on the expansion of suburban housing, military Keynesianism under Reagan combined with loose banking laws led to a glut of suburban housing and office developments occupying the new niches created by the federally-funded interstate highway system. Flight from center cities, which had begun as a backlash against racial integration in the 1960s and 1970s, accelerated. A generation of sprawl had begun whose end we viewed in 2008 and 2009 as the so-called “sub-prime mortgage crisis.” In truth, the near collapse of the nation’s banking, automobile, and housing industries is tied directly to the energy excesses of the preceding 30 years.
The depression of the 21st century, outwardly visible from 2008 onward, has been the occasion of much writing on the link between energy supply, settlement patterns, and the shaky basis of the American economy. Social critic and geographer James Howard Kunstler has called the suburbs, “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” (6) There can be little doubt that paving over much of the nation’s best agricultural land and cutting old growth forests to frame shoddily-built McMansions was a tragedy of epic proportions, but the question is not whom to hang but what can be done with it now? However disreputable its causes, the emptying out of many American cities and the spreading of the population over broad metropolitan regions marks a necessary and inevitable turn toward a state of lower social and technological complexity that will develop progressively as energy supplies decline.
Crisis is also opportunity to re-envision and give a new purpose to land and housing within and around our cities.
Creating a new yeomanry
The contraction of oil and other fossil fuel supplies must translate into a contraction of the economy and of industrial food production. We cannot expect to see a sustained increase in economic output ever again. Indeed, sustaining present levels of output may be barely possible with a full-scale national mobilization of resources to transform energy systems, transport, and other infrastructure. This is, frankly, unlikely to be achieved. Many workers in the developed world will become permanently unemployed as farmers in the developing world have been in the past generation with the growth of global trade; food prices will rise with transport and energy costs. The stage is set for a new Agrarian Revolution, though whether this turns into a fulfillment of Jefferson’s vision or a new feudalism depends on how we the people respond.
It turns out that land ownership patterns matter a great deal, not only to the structure of society, but to the economy’s ability to create wealth. The stars of the post-World War II economic boom were the east Asian Tigers: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Each of them either had land reform imposed upon it (in the case of Japan by the American occupying administration of General MacArthur), or adopted it early on in their rise to prosperity, and economists generally acknowledge that redistribution of land to many millions of farmers was essential in providing the broad-based access to wealth that sustained each nation’s rise to the first ranks of the international economy. (7)
A new vision is needed
The epic “misallocation of resources” created in North American suburbia a fabric of many small land holdings packed close around our centers of population. In a clumsy, expensive, and still incomplete way, we have created a pattern for a democratic yeomanry. Many potential garden farms are located on some very fine former farmland: northern New Jersey, northern Illinois, the south end of San Francisco Bay and the Lake Ontario lowlands. And even where the soil was not originally well developed, the land is usually flat to rolling. These territories have been supplied with extensive road and water networks, and both labor and a rich array of resources, biological and industrial, lie all around. The largish houses, especially those built after 1980, may be poorly configured at present, but they could accommodate the extended families and larger households that will be needed to grow food and manage land with lower energy resources and technologies.
The emergence of garden farms is at hand. Under the pressure of necessity as unemployment rippled through the economy, millions of North Americans turned to gardening or expanded their gardens in 2009 as evidenced by a 40% increase in vegetable seed sales. (8) Urban homesteading is spawning its own literature as energy descent forces more and more households to adapt in place. With income constrained and energy and materials shortages looming, the only resources capable of filling the gap in livelihood are imagination, information, and knowledge, in particular a deeper understanding of the material cycles and energy flows of nature. For that understanding, we look to permaculture, a language derived from the patterns of the world around us.
1. EPA [online] Citing 1997 USDA Census of Agriculture, “…less than 1% claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms.” The U.S. had 2.2 million farms in 2007. Counting one principal operator per farm (and most did not make their principal living from farming) that constitutes about 0.7% of the US population. And also,, “In 2006, Canada’s agriculture industry has (sic) 2.2% of Canada’s total population…,” both cited September 7, 2011.
2. M.G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence, 2d. ed. revised. Garden City, 1940. Kains quotes Henry Ford: “The land! That is where our roots are. There is the basis of our physical life. The farther we get away from the land, the greater our insecurity. ... It is there waiting to honor all the labor we are willing to invest in it, and able to tide us across any local dislocation of economic conditions. No unemployment insurance can be compared to an alliance between man and a plot of land.”
3. Helen & Scott Nearing. Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely & Simply in a Troubled World. Schocken, 1954.
4. US Census 2000 Special Report. Demographic Trends of the 20th Century. November 2002. [online], cited August 29, 2011. Suburbs overtook central cities about 1965 at about 1/3 of total US population each. By 2000, suburbs held half the US population, center cities 30%. Throughout the century, rural areas both lost population through migration and were annexed or incorporated into metropolitan regions.
5. The New York Times [online], cited September 6, 2011. More than 900 male farmers committed suicide in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Montana in the 1980s. The peak rate occurred in 1982. Seventy-one female farmers, 96 farm children, and 177 farm workers also committed suicide in this region between 1980 and 1988. Study by the National Farm Medicine Center, Marshfield, Wisc.
6. James Howard Kunstler. The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophies of the 21st Century. Atlantic, 2005. Also [online], cited 9/6/11.
7. Re: Japan [online], cited Sept. 6, 2011. And also, Experts agree that land reforms in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have made a major contribution to overcoming the legacy of colonial (sic) development (King, 1973).
8. The Washington Post [online], cited Sept. 7, 2011.
Peter Bane is the publisher of Permaculture Activist and the author of The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country, forthcoming from New Society Publishers in 2012, of which this essay is an excerpt. Used here with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.Please contact us if you wish to reprint this article in any format, virtual or hardcopy.