Regenerative Agriculture: The Popular Face of Permaculture

“Hippy farms always fail.” These were the words of Chuck Barry, a small-scale organic farmer I met in Montrose, Colorado about ten years ago. Chuck made a comfortable living growing high quality vegetables on two acres in a dry and seasonally cold environment that may be compared with Central Otago high country.

His comment was based on observations of some people going into farming with good intentions but little understanding of the amount of work involved and inadequate business sense. There is popular, quaint, romantic notion among many people about growing food organically. But at the end of the day, when faced with actually doing it, most hippies opt out because it turns out to be just too hard.

On the other end of the spectrum – as we have been hearing recently in the news – many conventional farms also fail. Conventional farming wisdom over the last decade goes something like this: 1) borrow lots of money from the bank; 2) convert to dairy; 3) borrow more money; 4) rely on ever-increasing dairy pay outs; 5) borrow more money; 6) rely on ever-increasing land prices; 7) get rich; 8) what could possibly go wrong?

Well, now we know. Dairy pay outs have fallen through the floor and many farmers are pushed to the wall.

On one hand I feel sorry for those famers who have to sell because of their now un-payable debts. But on the other hand, I question why they bought into the paradigm described above in the first place, which appears to me to be very risky.

Alongside financial debt, many conventional farms also run a large soil debt. We see it every day flowing past our city and out into the Tasman Sea.

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Like financial debt, soil debt is difficult to repay but not impossible. Rebuilding soil fertility while growing food is sometimes called regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture can include organic farming practices, some biodynamic techniques, and holistic range management. All three of these fall within the scope of the eco-design system known as permaculture. I see permaculture as the middle ground between failed hippy farms and failed conventional farms. Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 10.05.45 am

For those who are far right of centre, permaculture may seem like a hippy philosophy, but I would argue that its endurance (40 years and counting) proves it is not. Permaculture farming and land use is practiced around the world in a wide range of climatic conditions from desert to rainforest and in between. It is likely that someone in every country on earth is practicing permaculture in one form or another.

Locally, permaculture is practiced by a small but growing number of people in our community – mostly in the forms of organic and regenerative agriculture. But the scope of permaculture extends far beyond growing food. As a system for eco-design, it is a natural lens through which to view energy-efficient housing, and even the waste management programme for community events that I brought to Whanganui five years ago can be considered an application of permaculture thinking because it takes a holisitic perspective of inputs, outputs, and the human element of waste management. Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 10.05.36 am

While permaculture is only one of many eco-design philosophies, what sets it apart from the others in that it is based in a set of core ethics: care for the earth; care for people; share surplus resources. It is these ethics that are the driving force behind the third annual Whanganui Permaculture Weekend, as dedicated permaculturists in our community share their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm on a wide range of topics.

Thanks to those who have stepped up with offerings next weekend and thanks to Adult and Community Education Aotearoa for working with us to organise Adult Learners Week, which starts Sunday.

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Adult Learners Week – He Tangata Matauranga 2015

6th – 13th September

Whanganui

All events are free thanks in part to support from Adult and Community Education Aotearoa.

Sunday 6th 2-3 PM. Best Heating Options for Your Home, Central Library

Tuesday 8th 5-6 PM. Hot Composting, 223 No.2 Line

Wednesday 9th 4-5 PM. Reducing Heat Loss Through Windows, Gonville Café Library

Friday 11th 4-5 PM. Managing Moisture and Condensation, Gonville Café Library

In conjunction with the Whanganui Permaculture Weekend

Saturday 12th 4:30-5:30 PM. Best Gardening Tools for You. Josephite Retreat Centre, 14 Hillside Tce.

Sunday 13th 4-5 PM. Tomatoes Before Christmas. Wanganui Garden Centre, 95a Gonville Ave.

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Guest Post: Patrick on Drainage and Brewing Beer

As I look out into the paddocks bustling with new life, signs of seasonal sway surround us, the stone fruit trees have started to blossom and put forth new leaves in anticipation of the sunshine to follow. Much like back home in Oregon and Washington the plums, followed closely by the peaches and nectarines usher in the new season, and I can’t wait for warmer days and a reprieve from the soggy weather of winter.   Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 7.51.45 am

We have been working really hard this past week tending to several jobs needed to repair damage caused by the flood, as well as prepping some areas for the planting of food crops. Firstly Kelly and myself went down to the creek and fixed the washed out sections of fence by removing all of the debris that had been collecting over the past few weeks, which by this point had formed a thick mat of dead grass and branches. Then we stood up all of the posts that had been dislodged, one section of fencing even needed to be completely removed from the creek as it had wound itself back into a tangled spool. At one point near the end of clearing the waterway the very soft ground gave way and the creek swallowed me, leaving me hanging from the fence while water rushed into my gum boots and up past my knees. Luckily Kelly was there to laugh at me as I shimmied along the fence and made my way to dry land. It should be noted that these fixes are only temporary so that we can improve the flow of the creek. Also by removing the fencing from the creek we are preventing any further decay that the water will cause to the fencing material. We will be revisiting this project sometime in the next few weeks to perform some more long term fixes, but those will involve cutting the fence in a few places and resetting some of the posts.

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Later in the week we had a new arrival, Matheus from Brasil. The three of us headed out with Nelson where he showed us around some of the less explored areas of his property. Nelson taught us about observing the flow of water over the surface of the land and how to redirect that water by cutting in drains so that the water goes where we want it to go, and not where we don’t want it to go. Near the creek side we cut in a few more drains so that the fence posts wouldn’t be sitting in water, shortening the life of the posts and costing money. We headed back down to the creek side and with the help of Matheus we cleared a large section of gorse to make way for blueberry bushes, a highly valuable food crop that doesn’t mind boggy conditions.

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Also we dug out a large section of fence that had been buried with mud and silt from the flood (this will be an ongoing project), and Kelly rained havoc on the thistle population. We also took stock of the battens required to repair sections of fence where sheep from the neighboring property could squeeze through, this was part of another valuable lesson Nelson taught us about projecting our thoughts into the future in order to create a priority list that is proactive rather than reactive.

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This past week at the Eco School we brewed an all Kiwi IPA, made with New Zealand hops, malted barley, filtered rain water, and some last minute ingenuity. This brew was completely unique to anything I had done in my 7 plus years of home brewing. We started by heating the 13.14 L of mash water to a temperature of 75 C using the rocket stove and a high quality stainless steel bucket. We went ahead and heated 24 L of water in total, 12 in the bucket and 12 in the water jacket of the rocket stove, as this was the full capacity of both vessels. We wanted to get the most out of the energy used, and we would be needing an additional 16.125 L of water for the sparging process. Once our water hit the correct temperature we added a little more than half of the total volume to our mashtun. In this case our mashtun was a 30 L fermenting bucket lined with a bag made from sanitized wind netting, hand stitched the previous night, all nestled in a large box lined with heavy blankets for insulation. While the mash was doing its thing, which takes about an hour, we added approximately 5.5 L of water to the rocket stove and kept stoking the fire until the water reached 77.2 C. After sparging, we had collected a total of 28.4 L of wort, we then split the liquid into two containers and started the one hour boil. We had 5 separate hop additions comprised of Rakau, Motueka, and Riwaka hops all added at different times throughout the boil. After primary fermentation, we will be utilizing a sixth dry hop addition of Riwaka hops, dry hopping during secondary fermentation will add a wonderfully fruity nose to the finished beer. Finally we moved onto the last few steps which are chilling the wort, aerating the wort and pitching the yeast. This is the only stage of brewing in which we want to introduce oxygen into our beer, all steps after this we will be doing our very best to avoid oxidizing our beer. In about two weeks we will be bottling our beer in some bottles generously donated to us by the nice folks at Yeastie Boys Brewing via Beervana. After secondary fermentation completes we will be bottling our brew, the following week will be filled with prayers to Ninkasi (the goddess of fermentation) in hopes that our hard work is rewarded with a tasty, refreshing beverage.

Until next time, Patrick