Jamin, Karen and I discuss how they developed their interest and expertise in Permaculture. We cover how they scaled their operation up from modest beginnings on a small plot of rented land in a densely populated area to the 12+ acre homestead they have today. We also scale down to strategies for a small, affordable first-time garden grown in less-than-optimal conditions.
"We are a family of four with one on the way, working to live a lifestyle with more individual autonomy. Following the principals of permaculture and natural law. The desire for more individual autonomy, to opt out of of financing our own enslavement, and to be less dependent on the systems of domination.
From the beginning of our marriage, out of high school, we started out as farm hands. Living in a trailer on a small farm doing jobs around the farm to pay part of our rent. It ended up being an exploitative relationship between us and the owners. It seemed to us that the situation was closer to chattel slavery than a mutually beneficial arrangement. We were evicted when I refused to repair a barn roof for free by myself and refused to obey their curfews and other paternalistic rules (other fabricated excuses where given, but I digress). The experience was a net positive. We gained a working knowledge in the basis of the care of meat rabbits, chickens, and organic gardening, along with the experience of doing a lot of miscellaneous farm related tasks. During that time, we visited a local man who had built an off grid sustainable homestead (with time, recycled materials, and $20,000) . That inspired us to do something similar on our own terms.
We decided we would have to put that dream on hold while we acquired marketable skills to fund those ambitions. After a brief experiment in communal "college" living , we moved to the inner city for education. We bought a soon to be foreclosed , house/ property (owner died and family sold the house to settle estate) for $8000 in a run down/ high crime part of Pittsburgh. It had very limited yard space. Karen went through an accelerated nursing program and I continued my open source education. I learned computer repair, networking, administration, digital audio manipulation, home remodeling, repair, and restoration on my own. Using the route of independent certification using free, 'pirated', and inexpensive learning materials. Thus avoiding the debt slavery of the conventional schooling approach entirely. Karen got her RN and worked at the local hospital while I got various IT certifications and ran an agorist custom computer/ computer repair business while telemarketing for a steady paycheck. Then started to work as a help desk tech. Then later as a systems analyst at a local TV station, where I decided that while I loved the challenge of figuring out , and supporting all the different tech in a TV station, the corporate hierarchy wasn't ever going to meet my fundamental autonomy needs. About the time, I left there, started to get into Linux and the open source software movement, and started building and selling custom Linux desktop PCs.
Living in a governmentally dependent neighborhood, where grown adults had never seen a tomato plant, our desire for taking more responsibility for ourselves and the autonomy that creates did not fade, but grew stronger. We dug up the front yard and planted a large vegetable garden, and it provided all our summer vegetable needs.
Also during this phase, I started getting serious about providing for our own physical security after having some close calls with violence that could have ended badly. I built on and started to refine on a background of experience in martial arts and weapon craft from my 'patriot' movement days, on both the tactical and mechanical/technical level. I was committed to always being armed and capable of taking the responsibility of protecting myself and others around me. Deciding that I was no longer going to let the state have the level of control over me and mine, that it has over one when one depends on it to provide for their physical security, was another important step that took back autonomy.
After living in the city outlived its usefulness, we saved for four years and were able to afford a home with 3 acres in the country. At last, we could really start to live our dream. We were fortunate to already have blueberries, raspberries, apple trees, and elderberries on the property. We started a larger garden with raised tire beds/tilling/and sheet mulching. At this point we started to use companion planting and even added beneficial animals to the garden for pest control. This provided a good portion of canned food needs and potatoes to last the winter. We then obtained chickens to furnish our eggs. After study, trial and error we were coming up with innovative ways to use the resources around us to have low maintenance, high yield gardens. We later learned that many of the observations and techniques we discovered were being done by people under the guise of permaculture.
After discovering all the available resources on what we were doing, and refinements to the techniques we were developing ,we were overwhelmed with all the possibilities. At that point our ambition was larger than that property could provide. While we could have made due, the total investment on that property would have exceeded the price of tour next property. Along with the gardening and permaculture design experience I gained while living there, I started to build Linux PCs. Working with a friend to develop/ sell Linux based home theater PCs made of commodity hardware and using (then still in early beta) HTPC software package Myth TV. The prototype system was really cool and did pretty much anything you could want a home theater PC to do including multichannel video surveillance with motion detection. While every DVR on the market was still using antiquated MPEG2 compression our system was using MPEG4 with approx half the file size for the same quality and the second generation prototype was able to record 4 channels at once. It also archived your shows to DVD in any video format you wanted with the all commercials edited out. Nothing on the market came close to the feature set. After running into too many barriers to profitability we abandoned the project. After that I pretty much quit the tech field only doing my own stuff and an occasional repair job. I also took it as an opportunity to learn automotive mechanics. One thing that crazy old farmer (dude handled mercury daily for some job as a young man, he saw 'little people', seriously ) said to me that I think was great advice, was that the reason he could still afford to do what he does, without being in indebted servitude, was because he had a pair of 1930s Allis Chamers tractors that he could keep running indefinitely. Basically, that he would have to produce a substantial amount more yield to afford the same lifestyle if he had a monthly tractor payment and/or had to pay a mechanic when it broke down. That advice sparked my interest. If attaining a high level of self reliance on the mechanical front and at the same time learn how to minimize our reliance on petroleum power for our food needs. We didn't want to base our efforts on a foundation of petroleum for a variety of reasons. Including the possibility of peak oil, the house of cards the US empire built to maintain the illusion of keeping domestic prices low. We wanted to be resilient enough to thrive in an environment where oil prices would make it imposable to survive. That idea sparked our interest in manual (petrol free) low input, high yield, food production methods. We stopped using the rototiller altogether for soil preparation and began experimenting with various 'no till' methods for making fertile garden beds.
Off to a larger 12 1/2 acre property, that at one time had been a small farm and commercial apiary. One of it's selling points for us is it's gravity fed irrigation from a 1 acre pond stocked with Lg mouth bass, channel catfish and bluegill. The property also has a small orchard, blueberries, walnuts, chestnuts, red raspberries and blackberries.
For the first couple of years we spent the majority of our available income on structural repairs and improvements to the outbuildings and installing a perimeter fence around the half acre of the property the house is on. We spent the majority of our effort studying, experimenting with, and implementing the basics of permaculture design with a goal to use this property as an example of what is possible in a number of scenarios, from the smallest scale 'micro spaces' to a multi acre broad scale operation, with the intent of financing it through it's surpluses. Basically, we are designing a system that scales up from a starting point of a small suburban lot that can heavily supplement a families food needs all the way to a multi acre operation that could feed a small community. The property is being designed with the typical permaculture zoning with the inner most zones being a micro version of the rest of the property being dividable into micro versions of all the zones themselves. The 1/2 acre surrounding the house will be an example of some of what is possible in a suburban or even urban setting. It will be surrounded by a food hedge ('fedge') that will transition to a micro forest garden full of perennial edibles and medicinals. Along with edible and medicinal landscaping it will feature innovative designs for space efficient low maintenance food production like a 150 sq' key hole shaped wood core kitchen garden with an herb spiral in the center, a small scale aquaponics greenhouse, a mobile chicken 'ark' (that is a self contained chicken coop and run), rainwater collection systems, meat rabbit tractors, a vermi-composting system. It also will have sections that are examples of low maintenance turf that actually yields something useful to replace the traditional resource intensive and unproductive turf grass lawn. The next module of the design starts where the first leaves off. A large intensive growing area surrounded by another fedge, more animals (pigs and dairy animals, meat chickens), a multi-acre forest garden , a network of paddocks for successive rotational grazing, a large pond for irrigation and aquaculture. Outbuildings for various tasks like a fabrication shop, automotive garage, smoke house, barn, gym, and gp workshop, add another layer to the entire system.
We started gardening here with double dug beds and planted in a biointensive method. This time we were able to grow a larger amount of potatoes and vegetables. Chickens were added, then a small raised hugulkulur/wood core bed as a kitchen garden, with an herb spiral in the center. Bees were purchased and time was put into the skill of beekeeping. The next step was to devote time to our immediate yard and mixing a variety of trees, bushes and plants to take over the grass. A big portion of last years time was spent making a living food hedge (aka "fedge") made up of fruit bearing trees and shrubs. In this manner, we will have a fence with increased security and privacy, that provides food to both the local animals and our family. Pigs were added last year and there are now 8 piglets.
This year we are gardenscaping away more of the lawn adding a substantial amount of grow area for our annual vegetables, while at the same time transitioning our 900sq feet of biointensive style garden beds into perennial food crops for animal use and as emergency human food. We're building a small greenhouse to experiment with aquaponics. Building mobile rabbit pens to let the rabbits graze on renewable food crops. We also are creating a natural living areas (or paddocks) for the livestock. They will be established by moving mobile pig pens and chicken pens around the property. The pigs will till the soil then food can be planted behind them to provide substance for the next time around. By the end of the summer, the plan is to have all root vegetable needs provided, 3/4 of meat, 100% of eggs, the majority of vegetables-canned/dried, along with some fruit.
In the near future, to expand our farm, A larger aquaponics greenhouse may be built onto the side of one of our outbuildings for 4 season use. We would also attach a solarium to the south side of our home obviously for gardening but to also implement some passive solar heating. More fencing and animal housing will be added along with dairy animals. It is planned to have enough milk to also make cheese/yogurt and butter. After our 1/2 acre yard is entirely garden and outdoor living area we will then concentrate on designing the rest of the property into a forest garden with a network of animal paddocks rich in perennial food crops, and firewood plantings. We will also grow the majority of our animal feed to supplement what they forage. Finally, we will work on energy needs with alternative power, and alternative heating sources.
Along the way, We have been experimenting food preservation. Karen does the majority of canning and dehydration. Salsa, pickled items are our favorites and last through most of the year. Grape juice is always very popular in our home and an easy thing to can. Karen is also learning to make wine and experimenting with fermentation processes like kin chi.
We learn as we go, and learn/live along the way. It is fulfilling a need for natural involvement in life itself. We go along with the flow of our natural surrounding and include these in our designs. Taking advantage of the plants and animals that are already here. And adding to the biodiversity whenever we can. We let the animals we keep live as free as possible, and are progressively moving to a more 'wild flock' management method. At times a hard lesson is learned, but it was well worth the effort."
Jamin's Group - Agora et Agricola: the market and farm. - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1931500123655775/
Agorism Resources - http://agorism.info/
Design Principles of Permaculture - http://www.fincatresanillos.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/designprinciples.jpg
Paul Wheaton, permies.com - http://www.permies.com/
Permaculture Design Principles Expansion - http://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/