BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Lisa Johnson Phillips
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.
A PERMACULTURE MODEL
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.
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
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. Z.one 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.
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
-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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
BUSINESS AND OTHER NOTES
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
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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