Monday, September 21, 2009

Question of the Week...

(Hokkaido Squash...stores extremely well)

I received this from Julia, who sent me a comment
on my permaculture design page. Im keeping those pages
free of comments, so I thought Id cover her question here.

Here it goes:

Hi, I have spent a lot of time in Vermont studying permaculture. We are in zone 4 up in Burlington and my parents own land in New Hampshire in zone 5. Anyway, I have been weening myself off of cooked foods for a couple years now, but last winter my partner and I lived in a yurt on our friends' homestead in which they had a root cellar, so I made a whole bunch of kimchis and sauerkraut and pickled over $100 of produce from the last of the 2008 season's farmers markets. We'll still have a bunch going into this winter, but I have a few questions about permaculture and eating raw.

Permaculture has taught me that we can grow great fruits in the northern climates such as hardy kiwis and pawpaws and all sorts of berries, but how do you eat these raw through the off-season? Furthermore, do you have any advice on a northern permaculturist raw foodie can eat locally through the off-season? I guess you spend a lot of time in New York, so you have easy access to a variety of raw foods at any time, but have you been thinking about what a raw food diet would look like living off the land year-round in Minnesota?

Thanks for your time and your inspirational blog! I'd love to see the designs if you could post a large picture of them. (Maybe it's here somewhere and I just haven't found it.) Take care!


What an awesome question, something pertaining to our soon-to-be future
and what we can do to make it as smooth of a transition as possible.

Lets start with this:
Imagine that its the year 1900.
No refrigerators, no freezers, no dehydrators. How did people eat
through the long winters? What methods did they use?

Obviously fermentation is a key. Koreans eat fresh cabbage one
month out of the year, the rest - fermented. They store massive barrels
in the ground and pull kimchi from it throughout the year.
Funny how they had no SARS outbreak like their neighbors.

Ive thought about this intensively this past year.
I hold no illusions that our society will soon be going through
a "power down" and everything around us that we take for granted
will not be as it is now. How will we feed ourselves in the winter?
How will we keep warm? How the hell will we be happy?

Well...happiness aside, this is about making to springtime.
I realized that something we take for granted (the fridge for example)
has only been around for maybe 70 years or so.
Even electricity...widespread use started in the 1930s.

Until then, it (electricity) was kept mostly in cities and for the wealthy.
That is going to happen again. Sorry. I wish it werent the case,
but cheap energy is over and we will soon have to deal with it.
Unless you can invest in a personal energy source, you will have
to come up with more ingenious (and ancient ways) of doing things.

So what did they do? They canned, they dried food, they fermented.
They grew food that didnt need refridgeration to stay edible,
and they built root-cellars to protect those that did.
With new technology, we can grow plants in well-insulated greenhouses
12 months of the year, but still, this will just give us some salads.
More nutrition is needed.
Animal products anyone?
Raw vegetarianism?

I don't think vegans could survive on their own in a temperate climate
unless they were VERY good at preserving food.

(onions...again, store very well. Garlic and shallots too.)

Personally, I would have two female goats, and as many chickens
or ducks or guinea fowl as I could comfortably fit in my greenhouses,
which would be about 8 or 10. My poor greenhouse would reek, but
I wouldnt go hungry. Still, its a matter of putting up food for THEM
for the winter. Growing or buying alfalfa hay and stocking
it up in a waterproof area is absolutely essential.
These things are just so foreign to most of us.

I want to live in a northern climate when I get older (like 30!).
I think the cold weather will soon weed out the "weaklings" and
those who cant stay warm because of the rising energy costs
and the fact that 99% of people live in really poorly-insulated homes.

My area in MN may soon be deserted because people just cant stay alive there
without cheap energy, and I strongly suspect that anyone living in
zone 5 or colder will find the same to be true.

Here is another key. NUTS. LOTS OF NUTS.

I just ordered two almond trees that will go in my
soon-to-be-built 10x20 rectangular greenhouse.

Im going to order as many hazelnuts as I can get, and make a thick hedge
across the front of the property. Nuts store well, and provide many calories
compared to leafy greens. Sure, the fat might make you a little sleepy,
BUT YOURE ALIVE! How wonderful!

Learn more about hybrid hazels HERE.

Our diets are a luxury. Make no mistake about it. We can actually
pick and choose what we want, while 75% of the rest of the world
would gladly take whatever fell from a UN. plane.

But, with conscious planning, our diets can be free and totally
self-sustainable. But the key is in planting foods that store well.

I like the ideas of food forests and agro-forestry because
so little work is involved once the trees are planted.
I feel bad for all those fools who till up their poor soil every
year so they can plant annuals again. Such a waste of time
and the fight against nature is just so 20th century.
Nature loves what? Perennial Polycultures.

Chairman Mao tore down fruit orchards and mandated that the
whole country plant wheat to feed the Chinese people.
That murdering idiot had no clue about soil health and sustainability, and because
wheat couldnt thrive in those climates, massive starvation occured.
If he would have ordered a mass planting of fruit and nut trees,
a very different story could have taken hold.

If one can head towards vegetarianism instead of veganism,
a much more realistic plan can take hold.
You can milk your goats or your mini-jersey cow,
harvest your eggs every morning, and be pretty well off.
You dont have to cook anything if you don't want to.
I eat raw dairy and raw eggs all the time, and Im fine.

Vegans will have to fight harder to preserve nutrient-dense
food in the northern climates,
and I think after hunger were to take hold, they would
find their convictions to be much more wobbly.

Look into the earthship model of building.
Walls made of rammed-earth that is 3ft thick.
Build it into the side of a hill for extra insulation.

Quite possibly you could grow tropicals will little extra
heating if you had animals or a wood-heated stove inside,
so an April-fruiting guava would be a VERY welcomed site
after a long Vermont winter.

But all of this is based on the fact that you have NO ONE
else to depend upon for food. This is like some end-of civilization
scenario that many collapsitarians dream of.

Likely, there will be local networks to order food from,
and even stocking up on nuts or dried fruit from a neighbor will be possible.

If it gets so bad to the point where we have no one else to
depend upon for food, well...heaven help us.

Some would say that we are foolish to be permaculturists
in zone 5 or colder. I strongly disagree. Native Americans
did very well here, and as long as we arent attached to the
opulent lifestyles of middle class America, we should hopefully be ok.

It will take hard work and lots of human intellect, but we will thrive.
Plant winter apples that store through the spring, plant as
many hybrid hazels and hybrid chestnuts as you can,
keep learning fermentation and dehydration techniques,
and youll be sitting pretty when April comes around.

PLEASE...keep me posted. Love hearing about others
taking these projects on. Here is to YOUR and OUR freedom!