As New Localism Takes Root - Nurturing (and Vigilance) Required to Succeed

Food for Thought

(from Transcript of a Permaculture Design Course -


"... I think we can say that many tree species fulfill all our requirements for food. These are equivalent to foods that we would otherwise grow as row crops. This is particularly true of the tropics. We didn't design it this way. Any group that tries to sustain life in the tropics has to stick with trees that are all deep-rooted perennial systems. It is there that the nutrients cycle. This gets less true as we go toward cool, temperate, humid lands, where soil itself might hold much nutrient.

Nevertheless, if we look very closely at the total available food equivalence in trees, for example, we find that it is possible to go directly to that tree and eat its flowers and leaves. It is a salad tree. As you go toward the tropics, those trees start to proliferate, so that the necessity for 'green crop' is much less in the tropics; a few other trees are high value greenforage crop for man. The mulberry feeds many insects as well as silkworms and fish. Silkworm manure is good manure. Much conversion can be done from mulberry into agriculture. Fish feed directly on the mulberries that you plant beside the ponds. We should look amongst the trees and see how many of this type of green leaf trees would properly form a close-in trimmed or governed hedgerow for leaf production--a modest amount of it in northern climates, but in warmer climates, an immodest amount.

The drumstick tree, the old , is just a common hedgerow around the annual gardens throughout the tropics. Eat the flowers, leaves, and the fruits. So blind are we that we don't often see these trees as a part of other people's gardens. We would see them as a hedgerow, rather than as an integral part of the garden.

Why did we neglect plants that produce all our food needs -- the trees -- in favor of clearing? Why did we ever start wheat in these quantities when we had forests that would out produce any wheat crop at those equivalencies -- food as good, if not better, than wheat?

I'll tell you why. There have been two great factors responsible for the assault on the trees. One great loss of forest has been for war, particularly in the era of wooden vessels, which believe me, didn't end at least until the Second World War, during which vast numbers of wooden vessels were rammed and sunk. Moreover, we had a wooden airplane precursor, the Mosquito bomber. Most of the highly selected forests of Europe went out as armadas before the Industrial Revolution. It was in the early part of the Industrial Revolution that we cut trees for charcoal. That caused great loss of forest everywhere the Industrial Revolution reached. The tree, whatever its yield, was ignored for the fact that it produced charcoal. It was only when the supply of trees caved in that people started making a transfer to coal. Eventually, of course, petrol came. Petrol came along because of the urgent need to find fuel to continue the Industrial Revolution..."


" T.F.: ... there is a very important and a very valid point in the issue of food production playing a central role in the economy. If we think about it, pretty much everyone agrees that small scale gardening is a much more area-productive way of growing food than industrial agriculture, so it may seem quite strange we ever gave it up in the first place. However, this is of course closely linked to the widespread ideology of treating food production as a lowly, primitive and rather unimportant activity. If we take the number of people immediately involved in food production on the land as a negative indicator for "development", without ever questioning this, then we are bound to end up with a lot of very serious problems.

Concerning self-sufficiency, it seems to pay great dividends to develop a sense for deliberate obstructionist regulations that force one to participate in the "money economy", i.e. offer your labour on the market, rather than becoming self-sufficient to a high degree. In fact, there are re-occurring patterns across times and peoples where self-sufficient village economies have been deliberately destroyed by a set of strategies with uncanny similarity throughout the ages. The plot usually involves introducing a demand in the population for the invading economy's currency through laws which force people to pay for something essential -- of course in the new currency. This will, over time, replace the original "device for trade and exchange" in a culture (and in fact, pretty much every culture has some kind of "money") with the new, exogenic money, for which that culture would not have had much use before. The implementation details of this strategy vary: When the British turned Sierra Leone into a colony, they imposed a "hut tax", hence forcing Africans to work in order to obtain British currency. As a consequence, Chief Bai Bureh started the "Hut tax war" in 1898. In India, the British forbade the Indians to both produce and trade salt among themselves, effectively enslaving them by forcing them to buy salt from them. One of the major achievements of Gandhi was to abolish the salt laws through a campaign of civil disobedience starting with the "Great Salt March". Similarly, one of the first new regulations in Iraq introduced by the U.S. after defeating Saddam Hussein al Tikrit was to force Iraqi farmers to buy seed, rather than using their own. (Paul Bremer's infamous "Order 81".) In Bavaria and other parts of Germany, many people remember how after World War II, regulations and laws concerning water usage forced farmers to give up their own wells and pay for water instead. I've heard (so far unconfirmed) rumors that there have been laws (and maybe still are) in France which prevent one from generating one's own electricity. (More information on this would be welcome!)"