Sunday, January 30, 2011

The stars will continue to shine

Click to expand
Risa's in bed today, fighting off something strep-ish, related to some dental work that is going forward. Supposedly, she's editing Book II of her post-apoc for print publication, but she's distracted by the goings-on in the Middle East and the possible link between those and food shortages and between food shortages and what Stony Run's all about. So she's been fantasizing about how she thinks everyone's yard should look -- drawing on her touchpad again (crudely) with Paint. If you want to see how this sort of thing looks when drawn by an expert, see Aaron Newton's blog. Better yet, take the class he's offering with Sharon Astyk (see same post).

The diagram echoes similar images in books with "self-sufficient" in the title. No, she doesn't think self-sufficiency is all that possible, and thinks resilience is a better term. Other things being equal, the more you can take care of yourself sustainably, the more everybody else doesn't have to decide whether to take care of you. She likes this concept at any scale: personal, family, extended family, peer group, neighborhood, community, region, nation, continent -- and recognizes that minerals and mineral-based products have their place in the scheme of things -- but thinks the main thing to be more resilient in is access to food and water.

To which end, she's always recommending rural or small town over urban, ownership over rental, free and clear over debt: your own patch of arable land, with enough water, and scaled to get by without oil-intensive machinery if necessary. On a foundation of working-class subsistence farming, any locality is much more resistant to the Four Horsemen than it might otherwise be. Large urban centers, dependent upon massive transportation networks carrying the produce of industrial-scale farming, fishing, mining, and production worldwide, are more vulnerable.

In the drawing above, she's visualizing a half-acre's worth of resiliency. She'd say something about Permaculture at this point, but has noticed that when she says "permaculture," those to whom she's speaking think "hippie" -- and that's where the conversation grinds to a halt. This happens in her head, too, alas. So instead, she'll just say that the activities on this site are "diversified." If you do like the word "permaculture," just re-draw Risa's diagram with lots of really curvy lines instead of straight ones and you're all set.

Yes, it's aimed at a suburban "western" readership and of little use to people in "developing" nations. Yes, it all comes to naught if things happen fast. She's aware it's an interim fantasy. Etc. But for the sake of discussion, bear with us a bit here, please.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living [Book]
For futher information, you could do worse than to start with Carla. ==>

Here are the labels for the image:

a -- house. Consider energy audit, retrofit, passive solar, wood, composting toilet, greywater. Points if the house emphasizes access to visiting, music-making, board games, reading and such over having a 60-inch flat screen TV. Extra points for access to non-electric lighting, just in case. Double points if there's something you can do in here for a living. Be able to cook. Be able to cook solar. Be able to cook on wood. Be able to preserve foods -- especially without a freezer.
b. -- garage. (Roofs, and walls, are white here for a reason. You might not have air conditioning. If you can, develop water catchment from these as well.)  Practice a skill here, such as candlemaking or ironmongering. Big points for being a doctor, veterinarian, or dentist.
c. -- well house. If they don't allow wells where you are, move. Otherwise, perhaps, be surreptitious. If possible put it on its own separate circuit, with a freeze-proof hydrant nearby, in case of house fire. Add supplementary non-electric pump.
d. -- Potting shed/toolshed. Cold frames, hoophouses or greenhouse in this vicinity a plus.
e. -- barn. A little shed will do. This one is for two milk goats plus poultry. YMMV.
f. -- garden beds, polycultural. Tomatoes and lettuce are nice, but think beans, potatoes, squash, corn, kale. Things to live on.
g. -- orchard. Semi-dwarf fruits, nuts. Start now; nuts are a long time coming.
h. -- "chicken moat." Poultry live in the orchard and mostly not in the garden or your play space. They eat bugs that like your orchard and bugs that are migrating toward your garden. Points if you run vining crops along the fences.
i. -- goats. Fence well; they love young fruit and nut trees.
j. -- vehicle access. A pickup will be necessary in the near term; if you live to see the return of horse carts, you'll still want to get things to your barn and potting shed.
k. -- path to potting shed and barn should withstand heavy rains; if you slip and break a leg, well there you are.
l. -- shade trees to hang out under on breaks in summer, reading a book maybe. Remember books? Bonus if the trees are "standard" size fruit/nut trees.
m. -- your play space. Toss an old Frisbee; they don't need batteries and will be with us forever. Add a garden swing.

The Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency [Book]If you're young and ambitious, and have room, put in a vineyard, a cross-fenced pasture, assorted fields, fish pond, and woodlot. Bees are nice, too. Here's some discussion of managing a larger place ==>

If you're old like Risa, don't bother; you can only do so much, and after sixty, what you can do diminishes steadily, like the orchestral chord at the end of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony. And that's if you're healthy. So then convert some of the raised beds into berry patches and grape arbors accordingly, reduce the flocks, spend more time sitting in the swing at point "l" (shade trees), and tell stories to the grandkids. Then try for a graceful exit, leaving the place better than you found it -- for descendants if they're interested. If they're not, don't trouble yourself about it; the stars will continue to shine.


  1. God Bless you, Risa, you have just described my own dream.

    My goal is to be a good steward of the little 6 acres I have been given to manage - to make this place a safe place to grow, to live, to be ... for my children, or their children, or the children of whoever comes here after we are gone.

    Should I be given the gift of "a graceful exit, leaving the place better than I found it", I will consider myself truly blessed.

  2. Anonymous10:32 AM

    Great list.

    An addition: area/activity appropriate fencing.
    Deer, rabbits, chickens all need to go in the right place at the right time
    Local conditions:
    Snow height, soils, availability of fencing materials etc

  3. AJC, you are the cat's meow.

    Anon, as a matter of fact, the fences shown incorporate this, but I forgot to say so! Thank you. The property boundary at our own place is deer fenced. The garden and yard are chicken fenced. And when we wish to exclude the ducks from the garden, it is duck fence. Each fence about half the height of the other. Other rules will apply elsewhere, such as that some places would need better shelterbelting and snow-related adaptations.

  4. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Well, I have about half of this in place ... and -well- is a good place to start, since ours is polluted and doesn't have an optional non-electric pump. Got to get a filter or deeper well dug, also get the chimbley cleaned and get the wood stove back online ... continue to dig out beds ... get going on that greenhouse ... think about goats and ducks ... Getting older, I like to reflect that Scott Nearing was well -over- fifty when he started his sustainable farm experiment (he liked to spend his spare hours quarrying his own rock for the foundation of his sheds and for stone fences) so it's not too late for me! Lonni

  5. I was thinking of you -- I guess we're as young as we feel ... ;)

  6. Excellent post. And you make it all sound so do-able. We have a long way to go and I wish we'd been able to start when we were younger. As it is, we're content to be on the path. I have to admit that I never associated permaculture with hippies. Perhaps that's because back in the day, when yours truly was a one, the word "permaculture" wasn't around yet! At least not that we knew about it. :)


Stony Run Farm: Life on One Acre

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