Friday, December 15, 2006


It's easy to discuss the feasibility or impossibility of local, small-scale sustainable horticulture or permaculture, vernacular architecture, and low-consumption, high-quality-of-life-living. These people aren't just talking--they're doing and they're sharing their adventure (and what they've learned) with the rest of us. This is truly critical if we are to leverage our "one time shot" (of the availability of unsustainable, high-tech communication) to develop a truly sustainable, high-quality-of-life culture:

Ran Prieur
: Ran is developing a permaculture homestead on a few acres in rural Washington, complete with plans for a cob cottage.

Lichenology: Zane is building a sustainable homestead in rural British Columbia.

Farmlet: Kevin & Rebecca are building a permaculture settlement in New Zealand

Farmer Scrub: Norris is building an urban permaculture oasis on a standard house lot in Portland, Oregon.

Please post other examples of this kind of ideologically-focused experimentation in creating self sufficiency in the comments--I plan to provide some of my personal plans on this topic soon.

On another note, take a look at this excellent essay from Rob at Transition Culture about "The Tuscan Way of Surviving Collapse." It's something that is near to my heart--I've written about future sustainability modeled after the Tuscan system--and it is valuable as a bridge between the kind of personal examples of the "practitioners" listed above with creating a fully sustainable society.


Anonymous said...

All commendable efforts, but much of this has already been done. The sad thing about a culture with no real elders is that the young folks get caught up in reinventing the wheel. Anyone here old enough to remember Helen & Scott Nearing?

Anonymous said...

All commendable efforts, but much of this has already been done. The sad thing about a culture with no real elders is that the young folks get caught up in reinventing the wheel. Anyone here old enough to remember Helen & Scott Nearing?

zane said...

I agree it is sad that we do not value the role of elders and mentors in our society, but we have to figure some things out again, one way or another.

As one of the aforementioned practitioners, I wish I had an old homesteader elder to turn for advice and support. Happily, I am finding that, in different ways, I already have that.

Our neighbours have been very generous with us, even if they have moved onto more "comfortable" lifestyles (giving us their ringer washers and wood cook stoves). I also have an old friend in the Kootenays who has been homesteading there for thirty years--he emails me lots of good advice, about firewood, tomatoes, bears, and other matters. Then there are books and the internet. One thing my too-long formal education has given me is the ability to learn from reading and from diagrams, and there are lots of great resources out there.

Finally, though, we always seem to learn things by trial and error--by trying something and getting it wrong. The good thing is, short of serious accidents, it is a fun and engaging process. Whoever invented the wheel the first time likely had a great time.

We are in a tough place in the life of the world, and we do need to figure this out. Thanks to Jeff and others for the theory and the thinking that supports a wider vision of the kind of world we can create.

Jason Godesky said...

We'd originally hoped to have more practical things to share when we started Anthropik--start with theory, and move into practical things. What we found as we started learning primitive skills is that there's very little to write about them. Much more important is how to think like an animist in the first place, so we started emphasizing that. We recently started our first permaculture project in the Allegheny National Forest, and we're looking to purchase some land up there in the near future, so hopefully we'll have more practical things that are worth sharing in the new year.

Jeff Vail said...

I'm looking forward to reading about it--I agree with your comment about the importance of "thinking about it." Right now, what I have most to contribute (if only to my self) is in the realm of theory. However, I'm a fan of your notion of anchoring a hunter-gatherer existence in a horticultural home base. It's both something that I think potentially adds to resiliency, and that will facilitate transition. In time, it's my goal to chronicle my own moves in this direction...

chris said...

We have a small farm in Western Wisconsin where we are working towards a sustainable horticultural system. We opted to start this venture with another couple because we felt that community would be an essential aspect of that system. It is slow going for us right now. My wife and I still work in the city part time, and we've had two babies pop on the scene in the last year and a half. We do have a blog (, but its been rather dominated by the little-ones recently. They tend to take over many things, I'm finding out.
Moving from theory to practice is extremely difficult, but rewarding. We've found that it is important to move slowly. I'm an idealist, so I find this frustrating. I'd much rather blink the perfect permaculture sytem into existence. It takes a long time to get to know the land and the people who live there.
It is fun now to see progress after three years of ownership and two of actually living here. For example, we had an open house last night and many of our neighbors stayed late into the night reconnecting with each other and getting to know us. Many expressed that they remembered a time when gatherings like this were more common and were glad to be "getting together" again. This afternoon one of my neighbors is coming over with a bow and is going to give me a lesson. He's excited about sharing his love with his new "city-folk neighbors" and I'm more than happy to pick his brain and learn some primitive hunting skills.
So though its a slow and often frustrating process for me, I couldn't imagine going back. Especially now that I have a child, I can't see raising him any other place. The daycare-school-college-job-retirement gig is not for him, or for me. My guess is that that gig won't be available much longer anyway, so I'd like to give him a head start on another path.
Thanks again Jeff for all the inspiring ideas and thought-through analasys. Also, congrats on your new arrival. She's beautiful.


Frank Black said...

All our elders were pushed out to sea on an ice flow because we thought we had moved beyond them. Why learn anything practical when we were going to join George Jetson in the button-pushing era? We are starting to realize that we might be in deep trouble. We're thinking of turning in George Jetson's skills for Fred Flinstone's. Now that my cartoon metaphors are exhausted, I would like to say that we have the eldership of Ran, Zane, Kevin, Rebecca and Norris to which we can look forward. I know that anything that Jason and Giuli put their minds to will be fascinating. Since I've come on to the field so late in the game, I'm starting small and working my way up. Small-scale/sustainable agriculture, small-scale/sustainable energy production, etc. Give me ten years and by then I'll at least have a plan. ;)

Theo_musher said...


I was commenting and then it got really long so I just made my response into a blog entry:


Stone Free said...

Wanna keep my story short as I plan on somewhat reluctantly joining the blogosphere to share my experiences with y'all soon... Basically I'm a 20 year old guy originally from NY but in Durham, NC by way of Argentina (thought I was going to expatriate and live the life of a humble granjero) and Oregon (thought I was going to synergize into the noble effort of creating everlasting world and community peace and regeneration by joining an ecovillage/homestead scene). However, I've put away all my delusions of living the good life out in the country, and have instead opted to slug it out in the city with my fellow brethren.

So yeah, here we're basically on the model of what Norris is doing, with an old house on a 1/5 acre lot that we're fixing up and trying to turn into a productive permaculture landscape. My brother and I just started an edible landscaping business in September which has done reasonably well, though we plan on expanding big time in Spring to get as much food in the grown in Durham as possible for when the shit starts hittin the proverbial fan. Also, our friends who own and live in the front side of the house are working on a book for chelsea green soon, I suppose somewhat akin to the integral urban house, basically about taking what you've got and making it a hell of alot more energy independent in all ways. One is a restoration carpenter by trade and the other is a solar installer/ electrician.

So yeah were basically trying to get things moving on all fronts in the city, doing things like getting involved with community gardens ( and just trying to get people a little more conscious of where there bread is buttered. Our friends also have a 10 acre place in the country with a sweet cob house that we are also holding onto as insurance, i.e: fleeing Durham if there are any FEMA immunization camps going on...kidding...sort of ;-).

But yeah, just wanted to introduce myself a little and explain our efforts. I think there are many out there either starting to do this or who really want to do it, and it's time for us all to just put our collective energy into what jeff calls the "one last shot", so I've got to get off the damned computer and haul some compost around!

Rory said...

We are approaching the “problem” from two angles. First, we have established a tri-fold tribal business, ala Daniel Quinn. A tribemate recently purchased a 130 year old plantation home, here in Lafayette, Louisiana. We run a bed and breakfast, mostly for touring musicians, as well as a recording studio, and a non-profit record label. We also do film work, i.e. weddings, movies, music videos, etc. We all reside and work out of the home. At this point, nothing is profitable enough to quit our day jobs, but things are looking good, and soon , we can leave wage slavery behind, hopefully forever. These comprise our “in case civilization doesn’t collapse” plans.

Our second approach is to begin a wholesale transferal of the site into a sustainable location. We have been onsite for the requisite year proscribed by T. Hemenway observing and cataloging the local flora and fauna. In January, we will begin permaculturing (is that a verb?) the site in earnest. We plan to apply for state and federal grants for solar power, too. We hope to get variances for grey water, and to dig a well, too.

I would also like to mention something a friend said. "For every person you hear from about sustainable ventures or living tribally, there are 50 more living in intentional communities who don't say shit".

Sean said...

Geoff Lawton begins his tour of USA at the End of April here in the NYC area (first 2-week PDC in the Catskills).

Here in NYC where no space is available for meaningful self-reliance, we will be looking for partnerships in the country. I hope to pool families into a mutual support network. This will be an urban/rural economic alliance to help leverage projects outside the city.

So far, we see the most participation coming in from Ishmael readers, permies, and "peak oil" advocates. Contact semaley at yahoo to participate. We will have a foraging potluck on Sat 12/23 in Manhattan.

I am also happy to connect folks with projects as they emerge. We have one current project up in the Catskills at a Methodist Camp (of all places needing a partnership like this). Skills include permaculture design with a licensed architect on-site.

Kurt L said...

Some friends of mine and I have an ongoing journey of discovery going on in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. We're raising ducks, milking a cow, getting to know the neighbors, and trying to get down to a fairly low energy impact. We post some stories on a blog:

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