Permaculture Farming – For The Future
Ever wondered what happened to the BBC's 'A Farm For The Future' film makers, Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green? Well, they are testing out their research into permaculture on a farm scale. Permaculture magazine has persuaded them to keep us all regularly posted on their findings.
To call this just another blog about sustainable living and ecological food production would be essentially correct. What makes this slightly different is that we have 160 acres, a crumbling infrastructure, no money and, on a practical level, are inexperienced. What we do have are many theories, some wild ideas and a lot of ambition... in fact, some might say we're full of it.
Some are born into farming, some acquire farms and others have farming thrust upon them... between the two of us we cover all of those. So who are we? Well, as much as we'd like to remain anonymous, our lovely hosts at Permaculture magazine won't let us. So (in no particular order), we are Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green.
The move to fulltime farming is a fairly recent and major change in our lives but it was not one we undertook on a whim. As documentary film makers for the BBC we got to travel the world having grand adventures and were reasonably well paid for the privilege. Other than enduring the general stress and shallowness of media life, things were pretty good. So why the change?
Changing Our Lives
In 2007 we were planning a film about dolphins or something when someone sent us a link to a lecture by Prof. Albert Bartlett. An hour or so later our lives were heading in a very different direction. Before, the idea of watching an octogenarian academic explain the implications of the exponential function for over an hour would have seemed strange to us; but afterwards, the idea of changing our lives based on what he said seemed perfectly rational. That brilliant old codger had really shaken us awake with his simple arithmetic.
What we had been alerted to were essentially the limits to growth and the realization that they were coming in our lifetimes. Flying the globe and filming wildlife for pretty TV programs suddenly seemed to have a less than rosy future... so we planned our escape.
We figured that in a time of escalating energy costs - and resulting economic turmoil – society could survive without expensive nature documentaries. Food, on the other hand, is something that will always be in demand. For us the choice was simple – return to the family farm and learn how to be farmers.
Like most people who learn of peak oil et al, we had an overwhelming desire to tell everyone about it and warn all our friends. If you've felt the same, I'm sure you've also discovered you rapidly become unpopular at dinner parties. To avoid losing all our friends we decided the best thing was to make one last film for the BBC and hope that it could work as a basic introduction to the subject for anyone wanting to listen. 'A Farm for the Future' was a 'transitional' film in many respects; making it allowed us to spend a whole year looking at the challenges we would face in taking on an inefficient and oil-dependent farm.
Permaculture – 'unadulterated sensibleness '
When we started the production we were rather fixated on the scale of the problems ahead but as the filming went on we became progressively more optimistic about the potential solutions. We hadn't even heard of permaculture at the beginning but, by the end, its sheer unadulterated sensibleness had elevated permaculture (and it ecological friends) clearly into the 'most likely to succeed' position. The big problem as ever is how to get farming from where it is now to where it needs to be – that can't be done with a video camera.
So here we are; covered in mud and smelling faintly of dung.
When we left television, most of our colleagues thought we were mad (sad to say many of them have since lost their jobs), now we're on the farm with our new ideas of ecologically sound food production, most farmers think we're mad. Generally we can live with that but we do have one (or two) small problems; an ageing father and an ageing uncle who still hold full power of veto on any changes we want to make on the farm and – putting it very mildly – they don't like change!
We think the way the farm works requires a major rethink if it is to survive these interesting times but the Old Boys (as they will henceforth be called) disagree. They still think red diesel and synthetic fertilizer will be around forever, they're not interested in soil compaction, they think trees (although pretty) are the enemy of productivity and, to them, the hedge-flail is the best thing since sliced bread (curiously, sliced bread isn't something they agree with).
Farm scale permaculture is almost unheard of in the UK but we're convinced it will work. We'd love to throw ourselves into the challenge acre at a time but we clearly have a few years of frustration ahead of us as we scrabble around conducting experiments in field corners and hedgerows. That said, every new experiment will be exciting and hopefully as the results accumulate we will be building a master plan for the future.
On the agenda this year are: pastured poultry, worm seeding, mycorrhizal pasture restoration, tree fodder, medicinal livestock herbage, big-time composting, honey, timber framing for the unskilled, compost teas, some weird trees, the dung beetle campaign, cobbing, primitive sheep breeding, wind-powered water management, sheepdog training, hedgerow booze, squabbing pigeons, hugel beds (thanks Sepp!), weed eating, building soil carbon, fox economics, a snail farm, the treebog, edible roofs, permasculpture, mushroom growing, lots of stuff made from bits of bicycles, learning to scavenge....etc etc. And, of course, a few ranting diatribes about the Old Boys.
Permaculture magazine online will be posting regular articles from Rebecca and Tim - watch this space!
Read Rebecca's article about the challenges to conventional farming and how permaculture can help overcome them in Permaculture magazine 60 downloadable HERE. (Print version has now sold out.) Please subscribe!
My wife Nancy and I own two city lots,in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA our properties "face" one another across our street. because we are along a riverway, our home only has one other home adjacent. Stretching out to the East and running up river to the South are over 100 acres that will never be developed, so it is as close to country living as one can get in the city.
Our rental is a two family and our home is just 660 square feet. We had over three dozen perennial edible plants at last count and produce well over 200 pounds of food each year for very little effort. We also have reduced our mowing by well over 70%, saving precious fuel and money.
It is wonderful to hear of your work and I would love to have more contact with you about what you are trying and how it is working for you. I will follow your exploits and give aways with a keen eye and hope to one day make your aquaintence. six years ago nancy and I started a not-for-profit that plants native trees across Northeast Wisconsin that has planted over sixty thousand trees that are transformiong over two hundred acres across the Western Great Lakes region. we offer ECO-Tours to travellers and locals alike that provide educational opportunities to learn about sustainability, living more lightly on the planet and transforming the landscape from a desolate wasteland to a thriving ecosystem, with benefits.
Blessed Be and namaste' Tony C. "Saladman" Saladino
Be great to have video updates on youtube too!
I can't helping thinking that whilst the opportunity to do farm scale permaculture must be quite an exciting challenge, that perhaps what you should actually do is invite a load of people to come and share you land with you and split it into a collections of small holdings.
This report will provide some food for thought:
"Small is Successful - examines eight smallholdings with land-based businesses on 10 acres or less. The smallholdings demonstrate that economically viable and highly sustainable land based livelihoods can be created on holdings of this size. While the incomes generated would be described as modest, none of the smallholdings receive subsidies, and the income we have examined does not include money from non-agricultural activities, such as any courses, consultancy work or B&Bs that the smallholders also provide. By comparison, English farms lost an average of £19,000 in agricultural activities last year, remaining in business largely due to subsidies from the Single Payment Scheme"
Full report here:
I will be following this with great interest, as I have recently bought a small quinta (smallholding in Central Portugal) and despite increasing interest in permaculture, there seems to be limited info on farm scale permaculture. (mainly because most people dont have farms to try permaculture on!) So it will be nice to see your experiments, and perhaps when I sort out a better internet connection at home (currently living in a van with limited electricity, soon moving into a yurt), I will get my own smallholding permaculture blog up and running and we can connect!
I have finished a Farm Scale Permaculture Course
which also includes a Diploma of Organic Production. It is in Australia in the state of New South Wales. It is called National Environment Centre, a certified Organic farm offering a two year internship to both local and oversea students/people. This is the rural campus of Riverina TAFE. www.rit.tafensw.edu.au
I had the great fortune to learn under the teacher there, Gerard Lawry, who has designed his own farm on the Permaculture system.
His web site is www.eaglerise.com.au
I look forward to following this blog!
Here in northeastern North America, I've been working with colleagues to bring permaculture to the conventional & organic farming community.
Here's a slideshow of some of our best thinking so far:
Have you tried any of these polycultures on your farm?
Just a quick note to say that you so much for taking the time to read our first blog.
We're a bit scared to how this will go- well if we're no good you guys can always boo us off :)
And thank you kindly for the lovely comments.
Some great links to Gerard Lawry and also to Appleseed permaculture.
We will try our best (but can't promise) to make small films, alas now we're farming its hard to find the time to pick up a camera.
As for the idea of breaking the farm into smallholdings, it's an idea we've chatted about at great length but right now its just not possible. Partly, as we said, we have the old boys to consider but also planning regs as they stand would simply not allow anyone else to live on the land.
Well I hope some of you will enjoy our antics - we'd best start writing :)
Very best wishes and until the next time
Tim and Rebecca
I am from India...not a farmer...do not have a land yet..but I am greatly interested in Natural Farming and Permaculture. I am very happy to know you both have got involved in this venture and would like follow up on your progress. Please keep updating your blog. It would have been great, if you had a social networking website link ..it helps in getting our friends and contacts get awareness and create interest in them in Sustainable living.
I agree, please keep updating the blog - will be very interesting to see how things progress...
It does seem that splitting the farm up to form a co-operative community would be the best idea from a permaculture point of view...its true though that living on the land is a problem. I did a uni dissertation a few years ago about people living and working on the land in eco-communities..this issue came up a lot for several groups. Do you know about the work that Simon Fairlie and The Land is Ours is doing? They campaign for the rights of smallholders and people who want to live and work on the land
I dont know what to do about the old lads though! Sounds like rising oil prices will maybe change their minds after a while..
Great to find this blog of your story and the challenges. I've just come across your documentary film "A Farm for the Future" online so it's great to be able to have the images fresh in mind and this recent update. So what happens now in the beginning of summer for you?
I'm beginning the 21st year of creating a permaculture farm in the drier climate of Burra, South Australia, and starting with a barren and bare 55 acres. We don't call it woodland, but there's been lots' of native tree planting and direct seeding of trees & bushes so now there's much more tree cover.
Starting from scratch is tough in the farming business, so off farm income keeps up the funds to continue the investment and work.
We're in a Transition group locally and would love to be able to share your story and show the documentary film so how do we purchase a copy?
Keep on with the good work
As Kunamara says, I would also like to show the DVD. Any chance of producing one?
Many thanks m.dwyer6 [at] gmail.com
If Rebecca could please contact me, it would be greatly appreciated. I am organizing the 2012 Sustainable Local Food and Farm Conference in Grass Valley, California set for January 21st. Current committed speakers include Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman. If you are available, I would love to see if you would speak at our event. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
The New World Agriculture and Ecology Group at Cornell hosted a screening and panel discussion of your film "A Farm for the Future" last year. We donated the DVD copy we purchased from the BBC to Mann Library so anyone in the US can request it through their local or university library through interlibrary loan for home or classroom use. I think any groups wanting to host a public screening might still need to contact the BBC for permission.
Video of our panel discussion featuring farmers, academics and activists can be found here:
I'm so excited to have found this blog, I'll share it with our e-list (250 members) and the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association.
You probably get this all the time and I don't see why you would possibly be willing to take me, but maybe you are crazy enough to do it if you want to do farm scale permaculture.
I'm an American who married an English girl living in Korea as an English teacher who knows about our environmental situation and I am looking to become an herbalist and a farmer.
I have strong ties to an organic farmer in Korea and I want to help all the good people and learn in turn.
I have a strong back, a good work ethic, and I don't complain.
Eventually, I will have saved enough money teaching and working on seasonal farms to buy land and build my house and permaculture farm.
But right now I'm too poor and the best place to be helping the good people. We all need to join forces.
greg.a.sandford at gmail.com
Hello Rebecca and Tim,
I hope you get to read this.
I'm what you would term an 'old boyl'!
Cutting to the nitty gritty, which is where I am at, which also happens to be synchronized with where you are at, though in a far harsher environment... A warm hello from Mountain Home, Idaho.
The acres we own are a barren brittle landscape but far more than that, these acres are on the edge of a population of 11,000 who are completely dependent on fossil fuel.
My recent meeting with our local USA agricultural department called my concerns jokingly 'a hobby farm', and I am still trying to fathom why?
Nuff said... in short there is no help for brittle landscapes, no advice readily available, no wisdom on how to feed the populace from natives in a sustainable system... so I am fumbling along with only your inspirational documentary to keep me going, and the dogged determination of common sense given to me from my British grandparents.
Creativity is the source of life.
Your documentary is inspirational and uplifting. Like the biodiversity in an ecosystem, it keeps me going!
My biggest problem at the moment is everyone complaining about the weeds! and I am getting tired of trying to explain the need to let nature take it's course.
In this harsh environment where everything has been killed through modern agriculture, and where modern agricultural technologies have infected brains as well as the land, it is tough going... but as you say, I am the old boy, and have the ultimate power. With windbreaks, chickens, highland cattle, forethought, intelligent design, and time, I know as times get harder what I have planted will feed people... Permaculture is the wonderful future that awaits, and I wish I could be around to see it's fruition.
Thank you for a 'beyond words' documentary that touch so many lives, and will in the future feed so many more.
A truly heartfelt, and sincere, big 'Thank you'.
You are both already blessed...
Keep ur peckers up!
Hi guys, I've just registered on the site as I've found some interestnig things. I am doing my thesis about Permaculture. If you don't mind I'm attaching the email I am sending all around to gather information. Any help will be more than welcome. I'll be really greatfull if you could help me out.
So here's the email:
I am Pau Segura, student of Forestry Engineering at Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (Spain). I am writing my final thesis and the topic is Permaculture. I have been searching on the net for all the information I needed to do a proper introduction and now I would like to make a research on how is Permaculture working on different places around the world. The aim is to show as many examples as possible in order to prove that Permaculture is a factible way of covering basic human needs respecting and improving the environment where it is applied, no matter what kind of soil and climate.
I would be very greatfull if you could send me all the information you were able to such as:
·Time since the beginning of your project until now
·Amount of money spent (aprox.) to get it started and if possible total amount until now
·Information about the climate, soil, rainfall, etc. where the project is taking place
·Species, plants and animals, grown in the area
·Map, pictures to show different organization of the areas
·Total production related to surface, amount of animals, etc. (Kg, kg/ha or pounds)
·Number of people living in the house, area, village?
Any other information you could provide would be more than welcome. Hopefully we can promote Permaculture, and spread it all around, specially nowadays when the necessity of change is becoming completely necessary.
Thanks in advance for your time and looking forward to hearing from you soon.