“Having a plan is important, having a vision is important, but you can’t script it all.” David Sachs
Within the permaculture community we live in a bubble of hope. And sometimes looking out from that bubble we get blinded.
We see the many solutions that the permaculture toolbox offers to real world problems and we are very quick to say, hey, that thing you are doing, you should do it this way, it’s better.
We are very quick to criticize conventional farmers, Monsanto, and Wall Street. Sometimes too quick. I am not defending any practices in particular, but I believe that the majority of people are trying to do the best that they can.
For right or wrong, I believe that the chemists and engineers at Monsanto believe that they are helping the world.
The same goes with conventional farmers – the ones farming monocrop corn and soy. I think that they are trying their best within the system, a system that many have been involved with for a long, long time.
I think that too many people assume that it is easy to flip a switch and quickly convert over to a more permaculture based system. I don’t believe that it is easy as some people would suggest and I don’t think that everyone considers the challenges involved in the conversion.
Believe me I want to see more permaculture based perennial polyculture out there, but there are real world constraints at play here for most of the conventional farmers – families, debt loads, livelihoods, careers, A LOT.
No one is addressing this and this is something that I want to take on. Within permaculture we pride ourselves on reading the landscape – understanding the conditions of a particular site before we do anything. Yet we miss the human component; reading that landscape. We are quick to cast judgment on others who don’t see the world in a way that we do and just preach an easy conversion to ultimate abundance.
So the goal of this particular episode and some future episodes are to highlight some of what I am calling the alternative perspectives. Views from the other side of the fence. Views from people who want to do better and are trying to do more, but it is easier said than done.
The goal here is to get a better understanding of everyone’s situation; one where we can accept the reality of what is happening within the landscape of conventional agriculture. What real world challenge and constraints are these real farmers facing?
Conversion sounds easy, but again there are literally families at stake.
Think about that. Would you change something that you have done for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years, and risk you family’s welfare on some ideas being pitched to you by someone who doesn’t actually farm or have portfolio of functioning models to refer to?
At the end of the day I want to see permaculture infiltrate agriculture as much as anyone, if not more. I want to see more regenerative agriculture taking place on the land. I want it to become the norm, not a fringe movement. But the only way I believe that we can do that is to understand what is happening on the other side, outside of our bubble.
I believe that it is only when we take the time to understand those real world constraints and challenges, from an honest and sympathetic position, that we can make progress and create inroads. We can do that by solving problems and providing solutions within the matrix of today’s current reality instead of imposing our ideological will.
I believe that permaculture has many of the solutions to the problems out there in the world, but those problems have to be addressed in a way that is receptive.
That brings us to today’s episode.
Today I am talking with David Sachs. David is working outside of the farming world and is trying to transition to working within the farming world. His family owns and operates a farm in Virginia; his dad runs the farm and David sees a future where he takes over the farm. David is a big believer in permaculture and sees his future on the farm involving more permaculture design incorporated into the farm’s operations. But it is easier said than done within a family dynamic. Because within the family they are trying to balance the running of the farm and paying the bills with potentially incorporating more permaculture strategies.
Not an easy to make decision. Add in the fact that the family is relatively new to farming and getting all sorts of advice from everyone out there – neighbors to the agriculture extension offices – challenging to say the least.
Never the less they are progressing ahead with the farm and doing some great things. In an area that grows a lot of corn, they are now the only organic wheat grower in their area. They are starting up a small scale mill to value add that wheat by turning it into flour. They are making a go of it and starting to look at a future that might involve grazing animals and strategically managed woodlots. They are approaching the transition strategically and systematically, working within the context of reality.
Hopefully something within this episode strikes a chord with you.
Bringing more permaculture to the farm, real world constraints with David Sachs.
- Look to value add. Selling milled flour over wheat berries. But there is a trade of in start up costs.
- Labeling local versus organic. Both may be true, but one may carry more marketing weight.
- Is organic certification worth it? Or is it good enough to adhere to organic or better standards and not certify?
- Calling restaurants in an easy, cheap way to start connecting to your local buyers and build relationships.
- The idea of restaurant and producer speed dating as a way to connect with a lot of people in a short period of time.
Converting over to using more permaculture:
- How can it be implemented? Is it disruptive? Major infrastructure and equipment changes?
- Can it be profitable?
- Can you start with add-ons first? Slowly integrating more and more permaculture design into the existing farm.
- Can you tweak existing systems versus just completely overhauling.
- Gradually convert and start building on successes.
- Be cognizant of existing production and cash flow. Don’t steal too much from existing production at first.
“If you have constraints, what can you do now with what you’ve got?“David Sachs
Mark Shepard – Introduction to Agroforestry
Mark Shepard – Introduction to Silvopasture
Podcasts Related to this Episode:
You can contact David Sachs for more information via:
federalmills at gmail dot com
grapewoodfarmva at gmail dot com
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