Thank you for expanding on what you meant. There's some really important points here which I do think need to be stressed. I've been involved or interested in the permaculture world of theory for some years now and am currently at the stage of putting it into practice. I'm totally with you on the points made between book learning and actually doing.
We can't even manage to reward farmers who attempt to grow field to plate "conventional" food. So now we're going to leap from no basic food delivery system to organic\biodynamic\permaculture systems because it makes us feel warm and cozy.
No slam intended. But the gap between book-web knowlege of agriculture and the reality is wide and growing rapidly as the number of farmers shrinks due to an aging farmer population and a lack of replacements in the ag community.
Sometimes slams that bring up reality from the perspective of someone who actually lives it aren't such a bad thing.
I do think it's important though to separate what I'd say the majority of the actual work in the area is actually doing. There is very little out there relating to larger scale food production at the level that your at.
While there are are examples from around the world of what I would call actual permaculture 'farms' where research is being done they are isolated and only at the beginning stages.
This is particularly true in the North American context.
Most larger community wide examples, which do appear to be positive so far, are found in other parts of the world Asia, Africa and to some extent South America. While it is possible to take what it is learned from other places to a point, context matters. Context is actually one of the basic principles.
There are still questions on within the community itself about reality based applications at a larger scale or beyond just singular entities. I'd say its still at the figuring out stage and not any where near the point where people should be advocating a widespread change or as you put it 'telling farmers what to do' from a theoretical or policy level, especially if they haven't done it at that level themselves.
While I do think that there could be merit at the larger scale, it's strength right now is most definitely at a smaller scale. As Gram swaraj pointed out it is about more then just producing food. In a nutshell it's basically a set of principles that help in the creating and designing more sustainable systems in whatever current living environment one might find themselves in. Energy use, ecological building, material use and systems, pretty much everything that one might label 'green' is a part of it. Food isn't the only focus. I think it gets mislabeled, as much by activists themselves, as simply a way or technique for growing food. It's not. Someone practicing using permaculture principles might use bio-dynamic or other organic techniques in the food growing part of it but 'permaculture' is not a technique in and of itself.
Crystal Watersa subdivsion in Australia is an example of it being more then just about food.
There also are no hard and fast rules. What works one place would fail in another. What I do on my two acres is quite different then if it was 100 or 500+. What my sister does on her urban lot is different.
This is why people can be paid to write articles about permaculture, do studies on organic farming for the government, and work in whatever facet of food production they choose... but few ever grow a crop, or a series of crops, to learn what is really one of the most complex trades in North American business culture.
The progressive movement's emphasis on sustainable agriculture is a good first step. But... get the fuck out on the land and see if reality intrudes on your permaculture. Don't tell me and my fellow farmers what we should be doing. Most of us are just trying to get by at this point. And some of us have already given up the fight.[/QB]
I totally agree with you on these points and I think this speaks as much to a wider disconnect between food producers and food/sustainability activists then just relating to permaculture and it's related subjects. An issue that has been brought up on babble on a number of occasions.
An example of that disconnect that I have come across time and time again, that maybe you can relate to Farmpunk, is this idea that current farmers don't already use basic ecological principles (which permaculture principles are based on) in farming and are clueless about them. That somehow the current system has completely taken away any "real" understanding of the reality of how nature works. Cripes if they didn't know already, nothing would grow year after year.
I've witnessed a couple of pretty arrogant conversations between activists and an actual farmers along these lines, which I found appalling so perhaps I do have some understanding of where you're coming from on the issue of being "told what to do."
The guy was pontificating about the ecological cycle where 'waste equals food' and how farmers need to get back to that understanding blah blah and I thought 'No shit sherlock, I think they got that principle covered' Puns intended.
I have met very few farmers that don't care about the land, or environmental issues or don't want to improve any given situation on those fronts but there are other factors at play and sheer survival, especially at the farm family level is a huge one.
In my opinion those issues should be the focus of any activist that is truly concerned about creating a more sustainable food system regardless of whether the farmer is being 'good' (by whatever standard) and practicing organic or whatnot. If we as a society as a whole keep losing those, then we truly will be left with an even more corporatized and unsustainable food system where profit rules no matter what.
The issue which you brought up about getting a younger generation into farming is also an important one. Something that you probably know more intricate details about then I do.
I have seen it at play though. My Grandfather was a farmer and when he wanted to retire there was no one in the family to take over so he ended up selling off the land to the farmer across the street. When that farmer retired, there was no one to take over and his land and it was bought by a corporation based out of Austria. The houses and barns on the surrounding that were also bought out were all torn down, so no one actually lives on the land. The person that does the farming doesn't actually own anything, he's hired by the company. He is a young guy, who loves the work and said that he would love to have his own piece, but simply cannot afford it.
Last year a pretty serious environmental issue cropped up which I think is indicative as what can happen when there's no one really around tending or stewarding full time. The company that owned the surrounding land rented out the patch or ground pad of what used to be the farm next door to another company that used it to store things. That company finished whatever they were doing and left a whole lot of junk behind including a large tank that was used to store oil. It was then rented out a few more times and yet nobody paid attention to the potential problem.
The tank rusted out an several thousand gallons of oil leaked out the bottom and into the surrounding fields. It was only discovered when my mom happened to take a walk way downstream and saw a couple of patches of oil in the water and called the township to report it.
The oil from the tank had gone straight down into the weeping tiles and made it's way through a couple of acres into the water system.
Luckily it was caught before it made it's way that far downstream. The damage was significant. They figured that the oil had been slowly leaking for months and it took several weeks to clean it up and it included digging up at least a couple of acres of the field and replacing the weeping tile. I have no what longterm damage was done to the field nor if it's something that can be totally cleaned up.
If Mom hadn't decided to take a walk that day it could have been much worse as the creek, flowed through several hundred acres of farmland into a river and then directly into the lake, smack dab in the middle of a public beach.
Last I heard they're still arguing about whose fault it is and who should be responsible for paying the costs.
My husband and I ran into the affordability problem a couple of years ago when we were looking for a place. A hobby farm by farming standards, but still with an eye on learning the biz and potentially looking into something bigger later on.
We found one place, 100 acres, cheap by fullscale farm status because it was more marginal land but getting into the mortgage was totally undoable. Monthly payments on the total cost wouldn't have been a problem the base income was there, it was the money down. Basically what the mortgage guy said was that over the past couple of years things had really changed. Any company would only finance up to five acres and wanted 30-40% down on the rest. Why? Because agriculture based property was just to risky, the business too risky. We tried every avenue that we could find and so did the broker, including exploring private deals with the landowner who did really want to sell to us but nothing worked out.
If that was the case for us I can't imagine the difficulties of a young farmer or family who just wants to start out in purchasing a 400,000 dollar (that's the average where I am) property plus having to have the money for all the upfront costs for actually doing it. Unless you come into it 'monied' it entails getting indebted up the yahoo and only if you already have the credit in the first place and some sort of alternative income already.
I have heard of some programs trying to address what seems to me at least to be big problem, but it's mostly complaints about how they really don't help that much.
I think this speaks to your call to get onto the land to do it, instead of just theorizing. Through my travels I have come across many activists or progressive who would want too, mostly young and of course with great ideals. Some have even seriously looked into but there are so many barriers to actually doing it in a big way. Most I know that would like to do it end up settling on something smaller, if anything at all and dream or hope that they can create the possibility in the future.
To me at least it does seem that both farmers and progressives are on the same side with similar end goals but there is still much to figure out about how to actually reach them without it being an us and them scenario.
Anyways, I did get to rambling, but these issues are something that I do really want to work on. Just trying to figure out how exactly.