Wednesday, November 11, 2015


We haven't talked much about zones at Stony Run Farm. Basically, the farther you have to go to get up from your rock in the cave or easy chair in your house and do something to water, feed, clothe, shelter, or remunerate yourself and yours, the higher the zone number. If you are well organized your lower-numbered zones are those closer to where you get up, and are those more frequently visited. If you are having to commute ten hours a week to work forty or more hours a week thirty miles away from your bed, you're, to that extent, not doing permaculture, because you're mostly in Zone 5, the least efficient and least ecological place to be spending the bulk of your time. Getting there and back literally costs the earth

So your livelihood is most permacultural when it is most on the premises, and within reach -- say you're a knifemaker and the knifemaking workshop is on your premises (or in your village), in or near Zone 0 or 1. Walking to work is both efficient (expends little energy or capitalization) and resilient (needs little energy expenditure or capitalization). 

We two worked for the last thirty years in libraries and now live on our pensions, so we are in our inner permaculture zones much more of the time than we used to be. This is privilege, and it's been expensive to the earth for us to do it this way -- most of those sixty combined years of commuting were via automobile -- but we're here now, and our apologies will not do much for either you or us. Given the way society's infrastructures and opportunities are laid out, it was kinda what we could do.


Zone 0 is usually the house, then Zone 1 is the kitchen garden, Zone 2 is the crop garden, Zone 3 is the orchard and henyard, Zone 4 is pasture,  and Zone 5, in an ideal world, is just the wilderness beyond your village, but in the world I live in, it's the city twelve miles away, with its libraries that needed managing.

Here's a satellite view of our acre. The house is in the middle and, clockwise from top, the driveway, orchard, garden, sheds, creek, pasture, and woodlot. Those white dots in the orchard/poultry moat at the far right are Ancona ducks and a goose.

Here's the same satellite view with zones imposed on it. Because I forgot about Zone 0, let's think of my easy chair, where I'm sitting with a Macbook, as Zone 0. The house with its nearest garden beds is Zone 1, the gardens and sheds are Zone 2, the orchard/henyard is Zone 3, the pasture and wood lot are Zone 4, and the wide world not included in the photo is Zone 5.

I think the arrangement came out much as a permaculture designer would have come up with for us, which is to say that more or less concentric zones based on number of steps facilitating frequency of visits is just common sense. Most of the farms around here are in fact zoned correctly already.

What's bad is that they all have that driveway with multiple fossil-fuel powered vehicles in it, just as ours does.

The real take home lesson from the zone exercise is that most people in most of the "developed" world spend most of their work life in Zone 5 somewhere, requiring some kind of commute and often extra travel as well, which is a lot of where the excess carbon that is now killing us is coming from.

Also, instead of making, borrowing, repurposing, etc., the things we use in zones 0-4, we buy them, which also requires a lot of zooming about in trains, planes, trucks, automobiles and ships.

As well, in Zones 0-4, we like to import energy in the form of electrons (Macbook here) from various sources, including coal in most places, or in the form of gasoline or diesel for our tractors and such -- replacement slaves.

When you're pouring gasoline into the fuel tank of a lawnmower, there are a lot of zoomings embodied in the creation and acquisition of that lawnmower and the liquid slaves acquired to spin its rotary blade.

So it's nice to draw up a Permaculture plan and put zones on it and go onto Facebook and show lovely photos of one's lovely garden, orchard/henyard, pasture and woodlot.

But for the sake of any possible future, please give some thought to how you will avoid doing as we at Stony Run have done -- trading excessively with Zone 5 to get currency and the liquid or electrical slaves it buys. The more you can spend time in Zones 0-4 doing by hand not just the "look I have a garden" trope, but your actual livelihood, the more like Permaculture what you're doing will actually be.

That's of course, a plea to energy descend toward subsistence, and I'm aware that a) it's hard and b) opposed -- sometimes violently -- by the Powers That Be, who want to keep you in Zone 5 for reasons, the main one being that somebody somewhere sometime declared themselves owners of the coal, oil, and gas in the ground and have organized a game where you must use it and must pay them for it.

This is an old strategy, and is related to the Enclosure of the Commons.

Fight back. Please:

You will notice the zone chart up at the top of this post regards Zone 0 as "house or settlement." This is key. Village life is the key to post-urban post-carbon intensive life, if there is to be one. Your livelihood may not be found in or near the house but if it is within walking or bicycling distance (and you actually walk or bike) it will certainly count for something.

For eight years (when we lived closer in) I biked to the library where I worked, and often stopped in an abandoned orchard on the way home to forage. I like to think those years redeemed me in some small way. Not sure what, but there it is.

Here are some of the things we tried to do over the years to walk our talk (when not commuting or working off-site).

They were small efforts compared to what doing without the cars, refrigerator, water heater, freezer and dryer would have been (as we did for part of the Seventies), but ... something.

For an exercise, if you like, look around your own site, with these zones and principles in mind, and see if you can a) do at least what we did with our site, b) improve on what we did, c) do without the immense carbon footprint embodied in how we did what we did, and d) find a way to make a livelihood within the inner zones, either on the premises or within something approximating a village (community).

This is what it will take, I think, to truly honor Earth Share, People Care, Fair Share

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