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MLT Newsletter

December 1985


Kenneth Dahlberg
Jan Filonowicz
Albert Huntoon
Maynard Kaufman
Sally Kaufman
Michael Kruk
Lisa Johnson Phillips
Michael Phillips
Thorn Phillips
Mark Thomas

Snow covers the ground bringing beauty, silence, and a kind of repose until the days lengthen again.  The holidays and the beginning of winter is a time for all of us involved in MLT to give thought to the efforts we make to overcome the abuses of earth, to bring health and peace to our world.  Happy-and thoughtful-holidays to all of you.


-Jonathan Towne-

In the membership renewal flyer of October, 1985, I began a summary of the Permaculture design course held here in August.  I will now complete that summary by giving a description of the design that the class began for the homestead farm, subject to some editing by me.  The plan and any other information is available for reading here at the homestead farm.

The eight members of the class divided into four groups covering:  Buildings and energy; Water; Land use; and Institution.  The map will pinpoint areas of concern while providing additional information.

Permaculture Map

It was decided that the house needed a greenhouse.  There are three locations eligible with attention drawn to two of them.  The south living room wall could be replaced with glass or the attic room could be used.  This greenhouse would function in plant propagation, as a drying room and for producing winter food.

A breadbox solar water heater was mentioned as appropriate for producing household hot water during the warmer seasons.  A shed added on to the barn would protect equipment and house grain cribs and feed storage.

Conservation of water includes using it as many times as possible and leaving it on the land as long as possible.  Runoff and drainage are seen as undesirable since the water is under-utilized and results in erosion and pollution of waterways. Farmstead needs can be met by roofwater catchments.  Zone I irrigation, livestock water, and household use (except for drinking) can be met this way.  Strategies for the farm land include chiesel plowing for water retention and ponds to deal with the excess.  The ponds can be constructed cheaply using available equipment.  They would add new dimensions in income potential, providing new edge for fish, ducks and specialized plants such as basket willows, berries, cattails, bamboos, etc.  They would also function in irrigation and wildlife habitat.

Land utilization around the house would consist of permanently mulched Zone I gardens of both perennials and annuals. II would be similar with an overstory of select tree and shrub crops.  A new windbreak system would protect the house and buildings from the west to supplement the newly established windbreak to the north of the house.

Further land use strategies include a chicken forage system that would produce marketable fruits and nuts, and habitat for poultry and, successionly, pigs.  Belts of trees 80-100 feet wide would be carefully assembled to maximize environmental inputs, light, water and nutrients, through the use of edge and microclimate. Management would be by control functions rather than continually wrestling nature to an early successional stage by annual cropping.  Such a system would be self-maintaining but would require a large initial expenditure.  A productive, complex, stable perennial polyculture such as this, is an example of a developed permaculture and would be a model to give to the world.

Out back adjoining the woods, is a sandy-acid area where a specialized crop, blueberries, could be raised in a polyculture to reduce insect and bird predation and be self-sustaining in nutrients and water.  Mulch, nitrogen-fixing plants and mulberries would be used to conserve water, supply nutrients, and reduce predation by birds.

As a transitional strategy, an experimental system growing corn and soybeans in a clover sod will be done.  If possible, a grant will be procured to finance this. It will require modification of conventional equipment to till narrow strips, and cattle to stress the clover.  Different techniques and timeing along with different species of legumes and possible different varieties of corn and soybeans must be tried to work out a system that is practical.

The farm with these long range experimental programs would be meeting the institutional needs of MLT.  Workshops can be developed around these activities serving an outreach function.  Another design course can be sponsored in the future. A permaculture design service can be set up to give workshops and provide designs
for people in this region.

Many details have been left out in this summary.  Since permaculture is concerned with details, this presents a problem which the reader will have to solve by delving into the subject in more depth.

is more
when you look
at what trees mean
in your life.  There,
in trees you find food,
fuel and shelter.  And it's
floors and doors, baskets and
caskets—even rubber gaskets.  It's
a handle for the rake, syrup on your
pancake.  To the kids it's a great place
to climb from.  For some, it's a fascination of
buds and bark, blossoms and form.  To others it's
inspiration upon a windswept hill or in a dark, still
valley.  To others it's business measured in cords and
board feet.  If you ever take a tree for granted, think
in a
out a

-from Organic Farmer, December 1980
John Yaeger, editor

Michael Petelle, a native of Bangor, who now lives on a small farm in Fairview, North Carolina, was kind enough to put together the following thoughts.  These are drawn from his Ph. D dissertation and subsequent publications.  Besides the specific points of interest, there are a couple of larger themes of importance.  First, the piece illustrates how biological/ecological research needs shift significantly as one moves from monocultures (where the conventional farmer intervenes and seeks to control the simple systems involved) to diversified small-scale farming (where the farmer seeks to coordinate broad crop-animal systems over a longer rotation period) to permaculture systems (where the designer/horticulturist seeks to understand and encourage interactions of systems, cycles and levels over an indefinite period). Second, what this really suggests is that in permaculture systems a whole new range of ecological interactions will need to be examined practically and researched scientifically-- an  exciting challenge to all of us.

-Ken Dahlberg


-Michael Petelle-

The obvious and traditional view of herbivory (animal consumption of plants) is that there is a one-way flow of energy and materials from the plant to the herbvore.  The plant clearly does not benefit from this relationship.  These observations form the basis for  various pest management strategies wherein attempts are made to prevent insect pests from eating crops.

Mutualisms are interactions between two different types of organisms where both organisms benefit. Well-known and well-documented mutualisms exist between ants and aphids and between certain fungi and algae that form lichens.  In these cases and others it is very clear that there is a mutually beneficial relationship between the associates.

Recently, ecologists have been debating whether or not mutualisms exist between some herbivores and plants.  The notion that herbivores benefit plants by eating them is certainly counter-intuitive:  how can a plant possibly gain from losing leaf surface area to chewers or sap to suckers such as aphids?  Ecologists have made the discussion difficult for themselves by demanding that mutualisms be narrowly defined in terms of reproductive fitness.  Measuring fitness is nearly impossible in many cases.  The result is that ecologists have not been doing much actual research on herbivore/plant mutualisms.

In agricultural systems reporductive fitness is not an important concept since it is the farmer who selects which plants survive from generation to generation. Consequently, it may be easier to study mutualisms in agroecosystems, because one need not be constrained by a very narrow definition of mutualism.

An agronomically acceptable definition of an herbivore/plant mutualism would be: "An herbivore/plant mutualism exists when the plant produces more 'useful' material at some optimum level of herbivory than when there is no herbivory at all" (this definition assumes that the herbivore also benefits from the relationship).

After searching the scientific leterature, it appears that there may be cases where low levels of herbivory increase crop production.  A few possibilities follow:

1) "Leaf area index" (LAI) refers to the density of leaves on a plant. Some plants produce too may leaves - the lower leaves become so shaded that they cannot photosynthesize.  In effect, these leaves are parasitic: they require sugars to respire but are not producing any sugars for the rest of the plant.  An herbivore chewing holes in leaves can reduce the LAI enough so that all leaves become productive again.  Hence, crop yields increase.
2) Aphids and other sucking insects ingest large quantities of sap from plants.  Consequently they excrete large quantities of material called honeydew that is similar to plant sap.  This honeydew may stimulate soil nitrogen fixation or encourage the growth of beneficial micro-organisms. The aphids, then, act as a mechanism for transferring sugars, which a plant can produce in abundance, to micro-organisms which provide nutrients or disease protection for the plants.
3) Plants transpire water from their leaves almost continually.  Even under dry conditions, they are losing water.  The larger a plant's leaf surface area, the more water it is losing.  Many plants have no mechanism for dealing with extremely dry conditions.  When faced with drought, such plants have a better chance of survival if they have a small leaf surface area.  Herbivory prior to and during drought  (Herbivory is, in fact, intense during droughts) may remove enough plant material to allow the plant to survive.

The above are just a few of many mechanisms by which herbivores can "help" their host plants.  Most of the hypothetical mechanisms discussed in the scientific literature would only be operative over the long run; they would have little impact on agricultural systems that are disturbed on a yearly basis.  Permaculture systems provide the long-term stability needed to develop effective mutualisms between herbivores and plants.

Maynard Kaufman

Meeting the Expectations of the Land:  Essays in Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship, edited by Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry and Bruce Colman.  San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984, 250 pp. $12.50.

Issues related to a sustainable agriculture have been discussed in several books recently.  Most of these have grown out of academic colloquies.  This one was edited and written mainly by non-academic writers and many of its articles are refreshing for the breadth of their vision.  They reflect the deeper understanding we have come to expect from creative agricultural thinkers like Wendell Berry and innovative agricultural researchers like Wes Jackson, who is working to discover and develop perennial grain crops at The Land Institute in Kansas.

Like most anthologies, however. Meeting the Expectations of the Land is a mixed bag, even though we are told that all but two of its articles were written specifically for this occasion.  Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson and some other contributors to this book emphasize the fact that sustainable agriculture requires not just better agronomic techniques but also deeper shifts in cultural values. Four of the essays extol Amish farming practices and the preface by Bruce Colman assures us that the example of the Amish can help us meet the expectations of the land in the creation of a sustainable agriculture.

Bruce Colman also asserted that "this new agriculture is not a subsistence oriented, back-to-the-land movement" but that it is a change in "the commercial, market-oriented, city-supporting agriculture on which most of us depend." (p.x). This implies reforms in agricultural practices apart from fundamental changes in the urban-industrial economy which provides the context of production agriculture. Some of the articles seem to assume this superficial reformist position, but it really violates the contention in Wes Jackson's earlier book (New Roots for Agriculture) that he and Wendell Berry were concerned about the problem of agriculture rather than the problems in agriculture.  When a significant percentage of people in a society no longer live on the land, agriculture emerges to meet their food needs.  In our society much of the food is produced by a farm population which is only about 3% of the total, something made possible only by the substitution of fossil fuels for human labor which made the system more productive.  But this development threatens the sustainability of the food production system because fossil fuels will become scarce and expensive and because their use has led to agricultural practices which impact more severely on the ecological system that supports agriculture.

We will eventually have to face up to the possibility  that a sustainable food production system may not be possible within the context of urban-industrial civilization.  Wes Jackson sees this clearly when he suggests that "sustainability" for both agriculture and culture will not be achieved in a "high-energy culture" (p. xv).  Jackson explains why in the final chapter of the book.  He argues that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of energy passing through a system and the amount of biological or cultural information which sustains it. A large field of corn requires vastly more fossil fuel energy than the prairie it replaced which was sustained by its biological information.  As farmers simplify an ecosystem and its biological information degreases they must either put more energy through the system, as in conventional agribusiness, or they must substitute their cultural information for the biological information which was lost, as the Amish farmers, for example, do.

Amish farmers do raise a variety of field,  garden and livestock crops and depend largely on horses for traction power.  But their economic viability is also made possible by the simple, frugal life which is demanded by their religion as they keep themselves separate from the world, and by their high degree of self-sufficiency-- production for household use.  Both of these factors reduce their need for large cash incomes, and in these ways the Amish are exemplary small-scale farmers who embody the cultural information needed for a sustainable agriculture.

We must conclude that, contrary to Bruce Colman, the new agriculture will involve a higher proportion of production for subsistence and, if there are to be more small farms, as most articles in the book propose, there will have to be a back-to-the-land movement.  And, since Amish religion is intellectually binding and restrictive, it is fortunate that a voluntary simplicity movement is emerging in other moral contexts and that production for household use is also increasing. This latter fact is discussed in Dana Jackson's contribution to the book, "The Sustainable Garden."  The phenomenon of backyard gardens in America, currently producing crops roughly equal in value to the corn produced in the vast cornfields of America, i.e., 15 to 20 billion dollars a year, is probably the least recognized and most significant movement toward a sustainable agriculture in our time.


A Summary of the 1985 Annual Meeting.  Michael Phillips, Secratary, and Mark Thomas, Treasurer:

1.  As of November 3, 1985, there is a balance of $1595.75 with $805 to be disbursed for payments of the drain fee and farm insurance.

2.  Committee appointments:
Lease Committee: Swan Huntoon, Jon Towne, Mike Phillips
Permaculture Committee: Jon Towne and Maynard Kaufman
Editorial and Research Committee: Sally Kaufman, Swan Huntoon, MaryAnne Mather, Bobbi Martindale, Ruth Agius.

3.  Farm Report:  1986 Needs.  Jon Towne and Bobbi Martindale

a.  Farm expenditures-Lime, turkey manure, tree seedlings, barn constrction, elm tree removal, manure spreader and corn planter.
b.  Farm house - roof repair, brick work for wood stove, carpeting for dining room and living room, kitchen floor covering, greenhouse.
c.  Books on freshwater aquaculture, wildlife and plants, seeds and woods.
(Editor: if anyone has any of these items he/she would like to donate, especially under the house category of books - agricultural, naturalist, ecological etc., please contact Jon and Bobbi.)

4.  Lease Committee.  Swan Huntoon recommended the lease be simplified by eliminating the food inventory and many of the tools, especially hand tools.  The equipment values should be revised.  Jon suggested considering a 5-year lease at the next meeting.

5.  Permaculture Workshop Report.  Jon and Bobbi.  Plans for additional workshops must include an increased effort to attract women.  The facilities were too crowded; separate quarters are needed to house the workshop director.  Financial statement: Fees received $1,620.  Expenses $1,790.58.  Final cost of the workshop to MLT $170.58.

6.  Future Enterprises:  a) Book compiling permaculture writing; b) MLT brochure; c) Conference on Green politics; d) Spring country skills workshop; e) Fall permaculture workshop; f) Grant to facilitate permaculture plans.

Academic stars: Lisa Phillips has returned to school to work on her master's degree. She was awarded a Western Fellowship for her work in Earth Science with an emphasis on hydrology.  Ken Dahlberg has three books out within a few months that he has written or edited.  They are Environment and the Global Arena, Natural Resources and People, and New Directions for Agriculture and Agricultural Research.

Thank you for the T shirt orders.  I trust by now those of you who ordered have received your shirts. And for those procrastinators who have not sent your donations to MLT—start the New Year right and get the checks in the mail, $5.00 or more per person.  Thanks to all of you who did mail your checks!

The next MLT meeting will be Sunday January 26, at Ken Dahlberg's, 4326 Bronson Boulevard, Kalamazoo.  The meeting will be at 3:00 p.m. followed by a potluck supper at 5:00.  All are welcome.

Sally Kaufman, Editor

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