[Sdpg] FYI/Changing the Face of Farming/Changing the Face of Farming: Permaculture Farms in the US Research funding needed

Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network lakinroe at silcom.com
Mon Nov 12 07:43:37 PST 2012


Changing the Face of Farming

It's 2012. 10,000 years since we started domesticating plants. 3000 
years since we invented the plow. And 70 years since the rollout of what 
we now call ‘industrial agriculture,’ with it’s intensive use of 
chemicals, fossil fuels, and irrigation.

And today, agriculture does more damage to the environment than any 
other human activity: biodiversity loss, soil erosion, greenhouse gas 
emissions, and pollution. This is the face of modern farming.

We need to change that. The question is: how?

Permaculture is one proposal for a different approach. It’s a 
fast-growing international movement with projects on every inhabited 
continent. The idea is that if we thoughtfully design our farms to fit 
the landscape, and intensively use biological resources in place of 
industrial technology, then we can grow our food in ways that build 
ecosystems instead of destroying them. Imagine a world in which all 
farms create habitat, build topsoil, sequester greenhouse gasses, and 
clean the air and water. It’s a beautiful vision.

But does it work? That's a tricky question, because there has been no 
systematic evaluation of permaculture farming. There is no published 
research.There are plenty of books, magazines, and websites - but 
nothing in the scientific literature. Whether you are a policy maker, a 
struggling farmer, or an activist, you’re left with some questions that 
are very hard to answer: What really happens when permaculture is taken 
up as an approach to farming? What kind of impact has it had so far? How 
do we know?

The US is the single largest exporter and importer of food in the world. 
Practices applied here matter globally – so examining permaculture 
farming here in the US would be a a good way to start answering these 
questions. But are there enough permaculture farms in the US for us to 
learn something significant? Until recently, no one knew. The common 
assumption - that I shared - was that the farming sector in US 
permaculture was not significant. I got to prove myself wrong.


In my preliminary research, I conducted a web survey of permaculturists 
that - despite the handicaps of being only available in English, and 
kind of long, and offering no reward for participation - received over 
900 responses from over 40 countries. This survey was the first of it's 

I saw that 10% of US respondents were reporting farming as a signficant 
source of income. This was much more than expected. So when I put away 
my flawed assumption and went looking for US permaculture farms, I found 
them - over 150 so far, and the list is growing. This is a big deal, and 
one of our very first opportunities to systematically assess the actual 
and potential impact of the permaculture approach to farming.

It’s time to see what is happening on the ground. With your help, I'll 
do field research at 50 permaculture farms in the coming year. I'll be 
using a balanced mix of methods in order to address sustainability, 
profitability, and quality of life, and to include the farmer's goals 
and perspective.

The centerpiece of these methods is something called participatory 
functional mapping, in which I work with the farmer to map and evaluate 
the distribution of different ecological, production, and cultural 
functions throughout the farm landscape. This functional mapping will 
reveal the complexity of farming systems in a way that conventional 
agronomic methods can't. It will also help forge a strategic connection 
between permaculture farming and the rapidly growing science and policy 
support for 'multifunctional agricultural landscapes.'


Evaluate how permaculture influences farming practice in the US, in 
terms of key ecological, economic, and social outcomes.
Forge a connection between permaculture and existing science and policy.
Help move forward with the larger conversation about sustainable 
To serve these goals, I'll be sharing the results of this research in 
many ways: as reports for a popular audience, papers for scientific 
journals, and workshops for farmers. I'll also be blogging updates, 
photos, and videos from the field.

This is not about 'proving' or 'disproving' permaculture. These are hard 
times for all farmers - no matter what their approach. Whatever we learn 
about permaculture farms in this project will improve our understanding 
of the challenges and opportunities ahead as we work to change the face 
of farming.

The methods I'm applying are sophisticated, but also - happily - they 
are cheap! It's actually getting to the farms that takes some funding - 
and I do have to be there, to ensure consistency in the methods and 
documentation. Accordingly, all the money that is raised goes to one 
thing: getting to the farms. The project goal of $5000 is enough to get 
started and reach about 30% of my research sites. Every dollar beyond 
that helps me include more farms in the project, learn from the 
ingenuity and experience of more farmers, and paint a more complete 
picture of what's happening on the ground.

Please contribute at the level you can, and help spread the word. Your 
support makes a difference for the future of farming.

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