Social media can be a useful tool to pick your head up to the larger issues going on. If you have it tuned well you can see ample evidence of people who are getting things done and growing healthy food, seemingly easily. These can be great inspirations both big and small.
But online inspiration does not grow your family food or give you the satisfying taste of actually doing something important. It may even deepen an emptiness that can only be cured, by doing.
It really doesn’t matter where you live as everyone has their challenges. Get up, get out, and plant something worth your time and attention. One need not become a farmer with a bit of finesse and thought. A little focus here and timed “elbow grease” there will yield what you need.
The word Permaculture probably comes out of my mouth at least once a day. It has been this way for a good number of years now, but as of late it has started coming back a bit more into my vocabulary. As I have been modeling a number of businesses to determine where I can provide the biggest impact and value, Permaculture is always in the theme.
How it all Started
While this isn’t really a history lesson in Permaculture, a bit of background is in order. Permaculture is an ethics based design science that creates integrated whole systems for human lives on the earth. After having seen a number of different disciplines in my days, it is clear that permaculture really encompasses a number of different disciplines from biology, architecture to engineering. Permaculture was first coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison in Australia with his research assistant David Holmgren. Since then permaculture has passed from person to person via teachers who have received a Permaculture Design Certificate, certified from the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia.
Idea Adoption Curve
In order to understand where Permaculture is at, we really must talk about the Idea Adoption Curve also known as the Diffusion of Innovations. Boiled down, it is the rate at which an idea is adopted by a culture. First starting with the innovators who create the original idea, it is picked up by early adopters. These early adopters are individuals who see value in the idea long before anybody else by being the first consumers. In order to get to where the majority of people accept an idea, early adopters need to jump on board so the majority doesn’t look so “crazy” when they have finally adopted what others in the group already have.
Permaculture Early Adopters
Permaculture has already long had its early adopters. As old as permaculture is (going on 40 years old), those who were instrumental in working out kinks and implementing the ideas have been touting permaculture for decades. There have been many projects over the years, a few of which gained some notoriety such as the Greening the Desert series, and the Loess Plateau project in China. (Not necessarily Permaculture but using the principles of ecological restoration).
The internet has really kicked permaculture into gear, coming from word of mouth, to videos of actual sites that are changing paradigms everywhere.
Today: Early Majority
Having been around this movement going on 5 years now, it is very clear that Permaculture is into the early majority stage. By no means would I ever consider myself an early adopter, so much so that growing anything or getting involved with natural systems could not have been further from what I thought I would be getting into as I grew older. As you grow older and get exposed to different things, in my case war torn countries and real world poverty, you start to see larger patterns in life, driving me towards healthy productive systems.
In the last 5 years there have been many developments in Permaculture for me personally and a number of people. Everything from gaining its own conference, meetup groups, online design courses, and a complete explosion of online videos. It is kind of incredible seeing how quickly this movement is moving, which indicates to me that it is out of the early adoption phase and well on into early majority adoption.
In fact, looking at the most famous farmers in the world, the Salatins starts to show this. We had an event with Daniel Salatin of Polyface Farms back in December, and the number of “nods” he gave to permaculture was quite noteworthy. You can find a number of videos with ol’ pappy Joel Salatin speaking about permaculture at length as it is something that he has had to face with his growing crowds, and cannot pay homage to the freight train of permaculture. Can’t really get away from it, it would seem.
Permaculture in Southeastern Louisiana
Having moved to southeast Louisiana near Covington we very quickly started meeting people who had heard of permaculture. Just about any young farmer we came across at the farmers market had heard of permaculture on some level. Whether or not they practiced permaculture design is another story, but at least knowing that it exists is interesting. A few years later have passed now and I have met quite a number of people and know of many more who are interested in permaculture in the area, and even a few permaculture meetup groups.
The first day we started bringing trees to the farmers market we met a lady who not only was interested in permaculture, but wanted to start a local meetup group here on the Northshore. And thus, the two of us created the North Shore Permaculture Meetup Group. The group is small at the moment but all things start small and with a bit of effort grow much larger.
My wife stated recently even that more people have heard of Permaculture than southern apple tree. Such a very sad situation for southern cultivation that I am doing my part in turning around.
Permaculture even has its own large conferences now! Permaculture Voices is a conference in California that has occurred for the last 3 years in a row, bringing out big names from all over the world of permaculture and ecological restoration, from Paul Staments and Joel Salatin to survivalists like Jack Spirko. I attended the second year’s conference and man was it a great event packed with incredibly intelligent people who are dedicated towards building their own lives using permaculture ethics. I met a vast array of permaculturists from across the country and realized, “hey there is something big going on here….”
What a Permaculture Majority Will Look Like
So having said all this, what is more interesting is the question of what will it look like in a few short years time, when permaculture begins to roll out of early majority and into late majority status. What exactly will it look like? Here are some hypotheses based on how I see things continually moving forward.
More individuals, businesses, and even governments looking at improving natural systems
Development of larger and more recognized systems of permanent edible ecology
Even more out of the box thinking and design work
More hatred from the early adopters who are no longer personally served by the movement.
I feel I need to comment on the last bullet. It turns out that as ideas become more adopted, those who originally adopted them (the early adopters) start to resent what has happened to the movement. It seems to be just the way it is regardless of the idea being adopted. This can be seen in the souring of former apple fan boys who have effectively died with their leader. Recently I noticed people commenting on facebook about the marketing going on by well known permaculturists and permaculture advocates. On and on, the whining and complaints went about how things used to be purely word of mouth and other such irrelevant information. This kind of behavior is very shrug worthy and shouldn’t get anybody too bothered. In reality, the more people that begin to take on permaculture and accept the ideas of it, the better off we will be and those who were only into it because it was “hip and cool” will move onto being more “hip and cool” about something else. A population that is more attuned to fixing many of the resource issues we have is certainly ok by me.
After all it is quite clear we have drained much of the natural resources throughout the United States and are only keeping our food systems afloat via mined inputs. Not exactly sustainable, but a statement of the times of a weak determination to do the hard and right things. Time for some changes…
Conclusion: What about the Laggards
The laggards are the remaining individuals who are the most stubborn. These tend to be the older parts of the population who are stuck in their ways believing that their way is right. The older I get, the more that I see that this becomes the case, regardless of reasoning or generation. What exactly will it look like if permaculture continues on reaching eventually the oldest and most stubborn?
At first thought it is likely that the entire food system will have to look different. For the majority of individuals to know and use the word permaculture would mean that many people have consciously started to look into alternative food and resource systems. The profitability of massive agricultural companies, will be long gone if such a large number of people are on their way towards something better.
For my family personally, the amount of food we consume that comes from conventional agricultural systems is down to very very few things. The worst we may eat is rice from time to time that is produced here in Louisiana. In general if it isn’t something we produce, we can buy at the farmers market, we don’t really eat it. The exception to that is cheese because apparently the “dairy state” of Louisiana hasn’t gotten on board with making good cheese. One day….. one day.
At this point, I honestly think that the growth in permaculture has approached escape velocity.
I have not yet written on the topic of the wholesale disappearance of southern culture in the last 100+ years but it’s starting to take a toll on me personally, of which I’ll be getting out as I continue on. The disappearance and continued extinction of the south’s most valuable agriculture treasures, it’s trees has become the biggest “obsession” of my life as I become more and more inundated with a reality that is so completely encompassing yet so oblivious to so many. “What extinction and what southern culture are you speaking about?” You may be wondering. I am referring to the continued extinction of decades and centuries of hard work of producing trees that produce food for humans and animals throughout the southeast.
Yes, I am well aware that in many localities across the nation have had similar fates to the rise of factory farming and global agriculture, however, the south seems to have lost the most. I am currently not aware of if anybody has done the work on quantifying just how many productive species have been lost, or the amount of acreage that has now been converted over, but what I do know is that the delegation of food cultivation to the Midwest through corn and soy production and tree crops to the Pacific Northwest has left the South completely without real permanent tree crop production, or even the knowledge of.
“Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture”: A Southern Culture Artifact
There are more people by the day who have read the book “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” by J. Russel Smith written in the early 20th century. This book is held up as documented proof of sustainable agriculture at it’s finest and the best possible solutions for producing it. I can certainly understand why, as it is one of the most belabored and long winded volumes available containing a shockingly large amount of anecdotal testimony on the subject of the value of trees that produce food for both human and animal consumption. There is no doubt that this book has it all.
But what may be illuding people who have read the book, is that the entire book is a reference to culture created throughout the southeast. Nowhere else. What may further shock those who have read this book, is that this culture is just about completely gone. The book focuses around the development and finding of the most productive cultivars of naturally occurring trees throughout the southeast. The persimmon, the pecan, the mulberry, and more.
Most people who live in the Southeast have never seen, a persimmon or a mulberry. Heck most people have never even HEARD of persimmons, yet depending on where you live, may be growing right next door. While many of these native trees still barely live on (with fewer and fewer tracts of land to call home), the cultivars and the improved varieties that required many man hours to find and/or create, are evaporting into thin air, leaving the current south with minimal options for developing their own permenant food scapes.
Hicks Everbearing Mulberry
I did something this morning that I know I shouldn’t have, but did it anyway. And that was visiting the ultimate time killer, facebook. On there I was greeted by a post by Eliza Greenman about the “Hick’s Everbearing Mulberry”. I had never heard of this variety so I read on. Apparently this variety of mulberry produces a continual heavy crop of mulberries for months on end and originated in the south. This tree was used for the purposes of hog fodder (my #1 favorite system) and could fatten up summer hogs in no time.
Quick google searches lead me absolutely nowhere. Further reading of the post made it quite clear that this gods gift to man variety may be down to just a handful of trees in a single location, completely absence and devoid from cultivation throughout the southeast. If I can get my hands on such a variety, I would replicate it beyond all belief and return it to it’s rightful status as a well known southern favorite.
Just another point to drive me further.
Southern Apples: Where are you?
My work with southern apples has shown me just how much we have lost in the south. Lee Calhoun the author of the amazing book “Old Southern Apples” believes that over 80% of all apples from the south have now gone extinct. Extinct being, not a single tree left of that variety, and therefore the work and time to develop those apples, is no longer recoverable. While those may be gone, the reality is the rest have gone into complete niche obscurity to the point where the southeast is completely ignorant that people not that long ago grew unique apple varieties for the south, and relied upon them.
The public has sadly become so ignorant about southern apples that the only apples that anybody has ever heard in the south are two from Israel, one from the bahamas, New Zealand and Australia.
Seriously? That is really what is remaining of the legacy of the south’s agriculture?
I am sure there are more communities throughout the south that have heard of apples growing in the south, particularly throughout Appalachia, however, to say that these are the only places would be just completely and totally mistaken. Take for instance the Dula Beauty apple from Lenior County, North Carolina. If you have ever been out to eastern North Carolina you will get very familiar with the coastal plains of the south, which is an extremely inhospitable place typically for growing trees.
It can often be seen that I focus on the southern apple. But I must say that the apple is one but many of my focuses, as I am concerned with returning permanent culture to the southeast. All of these trees and their heavenly cultivars are at risk, and when we need them more than ever, I would like to salvage what I can and make available.
What about Citrus?
“What about citrus?” You might be saying. Sure there is the citrus industry here, but a quick look in history will show the lack of permanence of this type of agriculture as just in the 20th century alone entire farms were wiped out at least 3 times due to freezes. When will the next one be? I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t far away, mother nature is always ready to pounce. I do find it very odd that people are continually fascinated with trees that are marginally hardy enough to survive in any given area, which can be seen by the obsession people have here about buying citrus trees. For “industry” I suppose that is the boom bust speaking and for home owners having what is “forbidden” and “unique” perhaps is the tantalizing factor. I certainly have fallen into that trap, losing at least 4 Key Limes in one year. (They were cheaply discounted, give me a break).
Now with the outbreaks of major debilitating diseases such as citrus greening these monocultured orchards are now highly in question. Yet again. Why not use what has worked historically instead of pandering to the US’s obsession with drinking a sugary yellow beverage.
Permanent Food Systems of the South
I could go on and on about different species that have been lost or are becoming increasingly difficult to find, but I’ll save those for other posts. Lastly I’ll state that this topic has enthralled me to the point where I am taking action on it to reverse this trend. I see the writing on the walls everywhere that the south, which used to contain plentiful agriculture and food, has been reduced to a veritable food desert and is really one bad year away from being in a very nasty place (millions of people, no food). I am in the process of writing a book about this very subject that I am currently titling “Permanent Food Systems of the South”.
If there was ever a time now to move with action to protect the assets and valuables that will provide us food forever, now is the time.
I find myself often educating people that apples used to been grown throughout the entire southeast. There are numerous apple varieties from areas that are the absolute opposite of where you’d expect apples to be growing. Although I’d say at this point it’s probably fewer everyday. Having said this I understand that it is certainly part of the territory when you are trail blazing that you’ll come across so many confused and at times skeptical people. It is more often the case that people share what others have said about something rather than taking a risk themselves.
This is why normally I don’t let others’ concerns worry me because rarely if ever does it come from experience, just what others say and think. Having said that, even though I don’t say it out loud, sometimes I stop and wonder with some concern whether or not our apple project may not work out as well as I envision it.
In my moments of doubt, out of the nebulous blue will facts bubble up to the surface that stop me dead in my tracks and reignite the fire contained inside. One such fact is that the Reverend Morgan apple exists.
O’ Praise be to da Reverend Morgan Apple
Never heard of the Reverend Morgan apple? Here is apple hunter extraordinaire Lee Calhoun’s write up on the Reverend Morgan apple in Old Southern Apples.
This southern apple is not old, but its quality and adaptability to warmer areas of the South make it worthy of preservation. It originated in 1972 in Houston, Texas (Zone 9) and is named for Rev. Herman T. Morgan (b. 1894), the Methodist minister who first grew this apple. It is believed to be a seedling of Granny Smith and seems to be resistant to several apple diseases.
One thing I know people would say regardless of background, is that Houston, Texas is not “apple growing country”. Simply and without any further evidence needed, is that belief shown to be completely incorrect. What seems to be the case, is that when many think of whether something can or can’t grow somewhere, is whether the conditions are conducive for a large mass produced commercial operation of a monoculture product, such as apples, like you might see in the Pacific Northwest. Context is key, and for most people whether or not that fact is true, is irrelevant to most people’s lives.
The Reverend Morgan apple teaches us a very valuable lesson that nothing in life is set in stone, and that it’s only through our efforts and that of nature will something exist. A good example is that apples have been grown throughout the mountains of North Carolina (no surprises here) ANDit’s coastal eastern swamps, where nothing else grows. There has never been a better time to turn around the loss of the southern apple than today. What amazing prospects of growth, it has nowhere to go but up! This is why I am growing over 130 apple varieties right now and will begin a breeding program as soon as reasonably viable and can be worked into all of the crazy we have going on.
The next time I get the question asked “Can the apple be grown here?”
I will reply emphatically….
How I Came to Know of Reverend Morgan
The first I had heard of the Reverend Morgan apple was poking around on Big Horse Creek’s website some years ago. I was searching for apples by state and eventually searched for Texas and low and behold the Reverend Morgan showed up. “An apple from Houston?!” I said. Incredible to think about, but looking back it showed my ignorance of the power of natural selection and the connection’s humans have with it. (We have immense powers to create and facilitate nature)
I looked deeper and deeper for this apple and came across a number of different websites that either had it for scion or carried it at some point in time. While I was able to secure a single tree a year ago, as I have sought enough material to do something with it became harder and harder. This year alone I had a scion order in for three different locations and all of them turned me down which means sadly I will be unable to bring any to market. That may knee cap some of our work at Bonnie Blue Farms and Nursery but that’s only for a year. We have three young trees that we are growing out and will propagating off of this year giving us boat loads of this fruit for 2017 and beyond.