Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
Farmers of Forty Century: Organic Farming in China, Korea and Japan
By F.H. King
(1911, reprinted in 2004 by Dover Publications)
I don’t typically review (or read) 100 year old books. Farmers of Forty Centuries is an important exception. It has become a classic of the permaculture/sustainable economics movement for several reasons. First, it dispels the myth that fossil fuel-free agriculture will produce much lower yields than industrial farming. Without access to oil and natural-gas based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, agriculture will be much more labor-intensive. However with global population at more than seven billion (as of last October), the world seems to have no shortage of human labor. Second, Farmers of Forty Centuries paints a detailed picture of tried and true regional models of food, fuel, and construction materials production, as well as regional water and human waste management. Third, it provides detailed descriptions, almost in cookbook fashion, of a broad range of permaculture and terraquaculture* techniques. As a backyard organic gardener and member of the lawn liberation movement, I have found it really easy to incorporate a number of the techniques King describes into my routine. I was also intrigued to see Charles Eisenstein cite King’s book in Sacred Economics (2011 Evolver Editions), supporting his argument that more intensive production techniques could easily produce the same or better yields as current factory farms.
Briefly, Farmers of Forty Centuries describes the voyage agronomist and former US Department of Agriculture official Franklin Hiram King made to to China, Korea and Japan in the early 1900s. The purpose of his trip was to study how the extremely dense populations of the Far East could produce massive amounts of food century after century without depleting their soils. What he discovered was a highly sophisticated system of water management, crop rotation, interplanting and rational utilization of ecological relationships among farm plants, animals and people.
The 248 high resolution photos of Chinese, Korean and Japanese farmers and their fields are even more remarkable (especially for 1911) than the text. Unfortunately King died while the book was in production, and it was published posthumously by his wife.
Seasonal and Rainfall Differences
King notes at the beginning of the book that much of China has a longer growing season than the US. Moreover in China, Korea and Japan, most rain falls during summer months when it’s most conducive to crop growth. He notes that China enhances their summer rainfall with an extensive system of canals and that both China and Japan have elaborate schemes to capture run-off from uncultivable mountain areas. However he also presents strong evidence that water management alone fails to explain these countries’ amazing crop yields.
Human Excrement and Green Manure
He’s equally impressed by the extensive time and effort put into collecting all human waste (even from cities), processing it by drying or fermentation and distributing it to farmers, who would apply it more or less continuously to their fields. Noting the high price human sewage fetched for the men who collected and processed it, King bemoans the incredible waste in the US system of sewage disposal, which flushes so many rich nutrients into inland waterways and out to sea.
He also describes in detail the extensive use of soybeans, peanuts, clover, pulses and other nitrogen fixing plants in crop rotation schemes, as well as “green manure,” fibrous plants (either grown in the fields or collected) that farmers continuously plowed into their soil to increase organic matter.
Succession Sowing and Interplanting
Finally he stresses the systematic effort by Chinese, Korean and Japanese farmers to maximize their limited cultivable land. In one example, he describes how land flooded as a rice paddy in summer would be planted with leaks and other vegetables as winter crops. He frequently describes the presence of three crops (for example radishes, cabbage and wheat) in the same field simultaneously at different stages of maturity. According to King, farmers in southern China would typically cultivate one plot of land continuously throughout the year. In addition to two rice crops during the winter and early spring, they would also grow rape, peas, beans, leaks and ginger as a third or fourth crop during summer and fall.
The Economic Hardship of Japanese Farmers
King’s description of farming in Japan is striking in its heavier use of chemical fertilizer (as was increasingly typical of US agriculture in the early 20th century). He notes that Japanese farmers had to be encouraged (via a contest for the best compost heap) to compost kitchen waste and green manure to provide organic matter for their farms. He also describes the fines the Japanese government levied against farmers who applied excessive lime to their fields. Japanese soils are volcanic and quite acid (like the soil here in New Zealand).
King is also extremely sympathetic to the heavy tax burden carried by Japanese farmers (to pay for the Russo-Japanese war, which ended in 1905), as well as their struggle to pay extremely high rents. It was his view that their economic hardship seemed to sap their initiative. He offers this as a possible explanation for their eagerness to use chemicals and take labor saving short cuts instead of embracing traditional organic methods.
*Terraquaculture is the practice of farming living water flowing through the landscape. It is the traditional farming system of the Asia-Pacific region where it has been practiced for thousands of years and is arguably the only truly sustainable farming system. See http://www.terraquaculture.net/
by stuartbramhall in Going Non-Corporate, Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
Much of the work that went into the Voluntary Simplicity and Y2K movements (see prior blogs) has been incorporated into Transition Towns and other sustainability-related movements. There are now literally millions of groups worldwide focused on some aspect of bioregional sustainability. The most visible evidence of their success are the blossoming of home veggie gardens, urban community gardens and orchards and farmers’ markets; the 1,040 cities and towns (nearly 1/3 of the US population) which have signed onto the Kyoto accord; and the 125 communities voting to place citizens’ above corporate rights (see http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/jan2011kanner).
One of the most important factors in this success is the ability of the sustainability movement to address apathy and alienation head-on, by reengaging people in neighborhood and community life. For many people, local civic engagement leads on to re-engagement in the political process. I would never argue that progressives should focus on local community building to the exclusion of critically needed government reforms. Corporate lobbies still have the ability to overturn local and state laws in the courts by claiming that they violate alleged constitutional rights. Thus organizing to end so-called constitutional protections for corporations (which clearly run contrary to the intent of the founding fathers) – either through federal legislation or constitutional amendment (www.movetoamed.org) must be an extremely high priority. At the same time, I see the neighborhood and community sustainability networks playing a pivotal role in building strong grassroots lobbies to tackle banking reform, restoring of civil liberties or ending the wars in the Middle East.
The Basics of Sustainability Organizing
Sustainability-related work can be broken down into concrete, achievable steps, which also lends to its appeal. In preparing for the End of the World as We Know it, Y2K activists predicted local communities would need to prepare for breakdowns in the following services:
- Global commerce (food imports being the most crucial)
- Water and energy utilities
- Waste removal systems
- Telecommunications, Internet and mass media
- Financial institutions
- Transportation systems
- Governance and government services
- Health Care
- Institutions and agencies responsible for education, justice, manufacturing and security
In most places, organizers have found it easiest to begin with food, water and energy security – in part because they are most critical to human survival. However the bioregional economic network established as a first step in addressing food, water and energy security can also be used to prepare for breakdowns in other systems. For 99.9% of human existence people have relied on a bioregional economic model in which they have sourced the vast majority of their food and other essentials for life within a 100 mile radius. The process of re-creating this network is very helpful in learning to shift our thinking away from relying on national and multinational corporations to meet our needs.
Although the sustainability movement receives little attention in the mainstream media, it has it has been quietly building for nearly two decades – often with the support of state and local government (it receives the most state support in California). In Europe it receives national and EU support. The following is just a small snapshot of local accomplishments around energy, food and water security.
FOOD AND WATER SECURITY
- Increased local expertise in permaculture and biointensive agriculture techniques, as industrial fertilizers and insecticides (manufactured from fossil fuels) become unavailable and/or prohibitively expensive.
- De-paving – digging up private and public driveways and parking lots and replacing them with backyard veggie gardens and community orchards and gardens. In addition to improving food security, this restores watersheds by reducing run-off, a major threat to water security in the industrial world.
- Lawn liberation – replacing lawns and ornamental trees and shrubs with fruit and nut trees and veggie gardens.
- Support of local farmers through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture Schemes (in which residents “subscribe” to weekly deliveries of fresh veggies and fruit).
- Neighborhood and municipal systems of rainwater collection and purification and gray water collection
- Adoption of active run-off management plans, in which lost groundwater is measured and minimized in development planning – and replaced, for example via the Blue Alternative (in which groundwater is replaced by digging small catchment pools in open spaces).
- Reduced fossil fuel dependence in transportation:
o Beginning work to create local consumer-farmer/consumer-retailer networks, including state and locally owned banks, credit unions and cooperatives. Given that local businesses struggle to compete (their costs and prices tend to be higher) with national and multinational corporations, this can be facilitated via the creation of local barter systems (example from Greece at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12223068) and/or local currencies, such as Ithaca hours, that can only be spent locally.
o Community and municipal initiatives to increase public and active transport (cycling and walking) through urban planning that incorporates growth management and sprawl reduction, creation of urban villages where residents live closer to essential services, and restricted permiting of malls and big box retailers (Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia are excellent examples).
o Community and neighborhood street reclaiming initiatives to make streets safer for people to use cars less and walk and cycle more.
o Increased uptake of car sharing schemes, employing efficient electric or hybrid vehicles or those run on regionally produced biomass fuels.
- Reduced home/business fossil fuel dependence:
o State, local and power company subsidies for home insulation schemes and solar water heaters.
o Subsidies and reduced permit fees for Green Building (buildings purpose-built to be energy/water/waste self-sufficient).
o State and local regulations and subsidies (as per German model) to increase distributed energy systems based on alternate energy sources (solar, wind, tidal, etc).
o Active promotion of Open Source computer and information technology.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance, Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
One of the community organizations I belong to, the Taranaki Sustainable Living Fair, hosted regional fairs in 2008 and 2009 to bring local residents up to speed regarding all the alternative, non-corporate products, skills and concepts out there to assist people in adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. The fairs featured 50+ stalls by small businesses offering solar panels, non-chemical cleaning and beauty products, organic food and other sustainability-related products and about two dozen workshops on a variety of topics, including techniques for reducing home energy use, organic gardening and dairy farming, permaculture, food preservation, gray water systems, sustainable waste management and transport, and how to build a worm farm and chicken tractor and set up a wind turbine on your milking shed.
The workshops were by far the most popular aspect of our fairs, so this year we sponsored an environmental films series instead, in collaboration with our local Arthouse Theater. We ordered a package (half Kiwi, half American) of films from New Zealand’s Reel Earth Film Festivals. Most of the films are deliberately priced to allow people to have small film showings in their homes with their neighbors. It strikes me that people worldwide have given up on government doing anything to help us with the major lifestyle changes they need to undertake over the next few decades (owing to climate change, resource scarcity – and the virtual collapse of the world economy). However I find it really exciting that locally and regionally people all over the world have taken the challenge on themselves – just as we are doing in New Plymouth.
So far, these are my three favorites:
- Fresh: 70 minute film meant to be an answer to Food, Inc. Much of the footage documents the absolutely barbarity (and major human health problems) associated with industrial agriculture and raising chickens, pigs and cows packed into cages and feedlots (as a doctor, I wouldn’t dream of eating meat raised this way – it’s just too likely to be contaminated with disease organisms). However it also shows the incredible creativity of small farmers who are raising food differently for their communities – and, surprisingly, making it work economically. After growing up in Milwaukee, I was most impressed by the interested in the segment on Growing Power – a national non-profit program started by former pro-basketball star Will Allen – to address the reality that many US inner cities are ‘food ghettos’, where residents are denied the luxury of purchasing fresh foods and vegetables. People can purchase Fresh to show it in their homes for $29.95 at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5958/p/d/freshthemovie/shop/items.sjs
People can take a virtual tour of the Milwaukee Growing Power facility at http://www.growingpower.org/our_history.htm.
- Soil in Good Heart: 15 minute short demonstrating how industrial farming – and the heavy use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides – is rapidly destroying top soil (without which food production is impossible) and the practical (low cost) steps being taken by many small organic farmers to both replenish it and produce food sustainably without depleting it. Can be downloaded free at http://views.newhope.com/organicfilm/Home/VideoPlayer/tabid/83/VideoId/44/Soil-In-Good-Heart.aspx
- Homegrown Revolution: 15 minute short portraying a man after my own heart who dug up his lawn in a Pasadena ghetto to created an urban homestead, enabling his family to produce a majority of their own food. He has done this as basic act of rebellion (a refusal to patronize corporations) – which has extended to producing his own biofuel and using wind-up blenders, alternative transportation, etc, to minimize his patronage of oil and power companies. Trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxORRJRWKH8.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
In The ABCs of the Economic Crisis, contemporary Marxists Magdoff and Yates also express the view that capitalism is on its last legs. They, like Strachey, propose “socialism” as the solution to a failed capitalist system. However they are even less prescriptive than he is as to what this should look like and exactly how it ought to come about.
At the end their book they simply suggest that Americans come together to decide if our current system is worth fighting for (which is after all why we are at war in the Middle East). They then itemize some of the human costs of our current way of life:
- increasing exploitation at work (all the lay-offs mean workers who remain are doing the work of 1.5 – 2 people)
- increased stress accompanied by poorer health
- rising consumption that has polluted our planet and filled our homes with junk, impelling us to move into ever bigger houses, fuelling the growth of suburbs and exurbs that waste gasoline, power and water and destroy our natural habitat
They then offer some alternative priorities that are worth fighting for: adequate food, decent housing, full employment, quality education, adequate income in old age for everyone; true universal health care, enhanced public transportation, a commitment to a sustainable environment, progressive taxation which reverses the process of taxing the middle class and poor to enrich a wealthy elite, a non-imperialist government and labor- and environment- friendly trade.
End of Capitalism Theory
In laying out End of Capitalism Theory on his website www.endofcapitalism.com, Alex Knight is the most specific of the doomsayers in describing what the alternative to capitalism should look like. He also stresses the need to begin working to build this new form of social organization now – and gives examples (in my view the most exciting section of his website) of hundreds of community efforts around the US that have already begun.
Knight lists five guideposts he considers essential to bringing about real change: freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love. The essence of his vision lies in how he defines these terms.
- Freedom – in the sense of self-determination, ordinary people controlling their own destinies instead of huge corporations and corrupt politicians. He advocates strongly for local communities to guarantee their residents access to land and food security and indicates some have begun to do so.
- Democracy – in the sense of “participatory democracy.” At present this takes the form of non-violent civil disobedience – taking back rights we should have but don’t. Knight gives the example of Taking Back the Land, which supports the homeless in squatting in foreclosed homes in Miami.
- Justice – eliminating systems of oppression that benefit one group, like whites, at the expense of another group and guaranteeing everyone access to resources like food, housing, education, health care, transportation, clean water and air, and a decent livelihood.
- Sustainability – learning to meet human needs without sacrificing the ecosystem. Knight indicates this is where the most progress has been made, with the boom in organic agriculture, permaculture and the renewal energy industry.
- Love – learning to value life over profit and money, recognizing the immense emotional isolation the current system has imposed on all of us and the healing (learning to love ourselves) that must occur. Knight stresses that capitalism, after all is system founded on and centered in abuse – and war.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
I find it fascinating to watch the blossoming of the sustainability movement in New Zealand, as hundreds of thousands of Kiwis make conscious lifestyle choices to reduce their energy and carbon footprint. New Zealand was a relative latecomer to globalization and a lifestyle based on the cheap Asian imports that have come to dominate our retail shelves. Many women of my own generation talk of growing their own fruit, veggies and chooks (chickens) in their backyard when their children were young, as well as canning surplus fruit and veggies for winter, sewing their children’s clothes, knitting their jumpers (sweaters) and saving and recycling string, rags, scrap metal and any other household waste that could be used for some other purpose. It is intriguing to watch many of them fall back on these deeply engrained habits, as they make a conscious choice to adopt a less energy intensive lifestyle.
Most of New Zealand’s sustainability groups are formal or informal members of Transition Towns New Zealand, a member of the global Transition Towns movement that started in Ireland and the UK. In perusing the TT New Zealand website, it is interesting to see how many local groups have taken up concepts that originated with the Y2K movement of the late nineties – which was advising people on preparing for the possible “End of Civilization as We Know It.” The following are key examples:
Initiatives to improve local food (and water) security:
- De-paving – digging up private and public driveways and parking lots and replacing them with backyard veggie gardens and community orchards and gardens
- Lawn liberation – replacing lawns and ornamental trees and shrubs with fruit and nut trees and food crops.
- Development of “bioregional” transportation security (that doesn’t rely on imported oil) for delivery of food and other essentials (99.9 percent of human existence has relied on a bioregional economic model – which entails sourcing the majority of food and other goods within a 100 mile radius)
- Development of strong community networks to provide neighborhood patrols in the absence of police services.
- Neighborhood systems of rainwater collection and purification
- Strong local credit unions and locally owned businesses and cooperatives
- A local currency or trading system
- Building a solid tradition of neighbors sharing with one another and helping each other one other out.
- Increasing local expertise in permaculture and biointensive agriculture techniques, should industrial fertilizers and insecticides (which are manufactured from fossil fuels) become unavailable or prohibitively expensive.
Initiatives to improve energy security:
- Neighborhood and community solar and wind power energy systems
- A shift in urban planning to put essential services closer to residential areas (the urban village concept), facilitating increased use of public transportation and an increase in active transport (walking, cycling, skateboarding, etc.).
- Neighborhood, as opposed to household, disaster planning. Ensuring that everyone in your neighborhood has access to dry firewood, candles and oil lamps and ensuring that schools, churches and other neighborhood gathering sites are similarly prepared.
Like the Y2K movement that proceeded it, the Transition Town movement emphasizes the over-riding importance of building strong social networks to cushion the impact of a sudden economic shock or infrastructure breakdown. This approach is supported by extensive medical and psychological studies showing that people with strong social networks recover more quickly from any major illness, personal crisis or catastrophe.