Quest For Land – My Advice for Permies and Homesteaders Part 1 of 3

I spent three and a half years looking for the piece of land I have right now. Yesterday, my buddies Tony and Emily were here and talking about their ongoing quest for land. I wanted to write some of our discussion down before I forgot. Since this topic is so massive, I should probably start with the disclaimer that this is all my own crazy, lunatic rant and is probably of no value to anybody but me and the voices in my head.

How many acres?

Decades ago I was obsessed with gardening and outgrew my urban lot. I needed more space. Not only for my horticultural endeavors, but I needed to expand into all sorts of animals. I was sure I would never need more than 20 acres, but 10 acres would be fine. I even had thoughts that if this amount wasn’t enough, then someday I might be able to buy a piece of property next door.


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I was wrong about lots of things. Or, maybe I should say, I changed my mind about lots of things.

Oh by the way, I eat beef. Tony eats beef too. Emily was a vegetarian for 17 years and when she came here she started to eat our meat (my impression was that the root of being a vegetarian had to do with respecting the animal). By the standards of all three of us, beef might possibly be one of the healthiest things to eat.

Plus, one of the greatest tools for improving land is pulsing ruminants through the land. So even if a person is vegan, it would be wise to be a healer of the land with cattle.

And, let’s not forget the deliciousness of milk, butter and cheese.

Cattle are herd animals. So the smallest herd would be about five. And if you worked your magic on a piece of land, you could get it to the point that it could grow enough food to 100% feed five cattle on … about 80 acres. Therefore, the bare minimum for beef/dairy is 80 acres.


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One very painful thing is that 80 acres costs about twice as much as 40 acres. Which costs twice as much as 20 acres. And once you are on the raw land, you need some funds to build your home and all the infrastructure for everything you want to do.

Last night, Emily and Tony pointed out that their math came to the same conclusion. And as they have been visiting a lot of properties, shopping for their perfect piece of land, they are considering properties that are 40 acres with the idea that the smaller size will probably make it so they don’t raise cattle. Of course, when you have everything you ever wanted except for the one thing, then it sorta eats away at you to move to someplace bigger.

Another issue is that most lots that are for sale are surrounded by sprayers. One of the reasons that a permie seeks out their own land is that they want to KNOW the full story of their food. For sure. Utterly and completely. The three of us swapped stories of the people we met that are passionate about organic and yet they still use all sorts of toxic gick in their stuff – it’s as if they don’t know what organic means, let alone the much higher standard of permaculture.

The sprayers think that if their stuff drifts over to your property, you don’t mind because you got a little free help. It’s good for you.

So if you have 40 acres and you are surrounded by sprayers, then you want a lot of trees to act as a buffer between you and the sprayers. You end up creating a sacrifice area. It isn’t a 100% solution, but …. what else are you gonna do? And you left the city to try this in order to KNOW the story of your food, but now your food is tainted. The purity is no longer pure. It’s tainted. So you tell yourself “well, it was just a little. Maybe rather than “better than organic” I’ll be okay with “organic”. But then you might as well have stayed in town and bought the food labeled “organic”.

I’ve met about 30 people that bought land like this – surrounded by sprayers. Or a sprayer on just one border. And about half of them ended up moving.

Plus, if you have to make a sacrifice area, how much of your 40 acres do you give up? There isn’t a clear line about how far the spray comes over. So in your quest to KNOW the story of your food, how much are you willing to have your food tainted.

Wander Lust

Emily has itchy feet. I think one time she told me that the time she spent here was the longest she ever stayed in one spot. And even then, there were big trips in the middle of the stay.

If you have animals, and you are going to spend a week or a month on a trip – somebody else will need to care for the animals. In fact, it could be wise to have not just a “plan B”, but a “plan C” and “plan D” as well.

Emily and Tony have a lot of first hand experience with this. While they were here, Tim’s family went on a trip and a guy …. let’s call him “Emmet” promised to care for Tim’s critters for five days. On day 2, Emmet decided to leave. No emergency – he just felt like a change of scenery. Poof! He’s gone! Emily and Tony, being awesome, stepped in and cared for the critters.

I have lots of stories, but the one that really sticks in my mind was leaving for a three day trip and having to return on the first day because the two people, “plan B” and “plan C” both botched everything.

So, clearly you need “plan B”, “plan C” and “plan D” – and you need them to REALLY know your stuff. And you need extreme confidence that they will do well. You need those people to understand your values. If anything goes sideways, you want these people to KNOW what to do to take GOOD care of the animals.

Your first thought is to develop good relationships with your neighbors. You’ll help them and they’ll help you. It will take some trial and error to find somebody trustworthy *IF* you have a pool of good neighbors.

My experience was not so good in this space. And I have visited with dozens of people that have long tales of woe – most of whom just embraced never traveling.

A lot of permies consider the idea of community. Bring a collection of people together with the same values and work ethic. And maybe the animals can even be owned collectively so anybody can travel whenever they want. This idea lasts no more than a fraction of a second because life has taught them that people are fucking nuts and this can NEVER work. At the same time, there are some people out there that appear to be not crazy. In fact they seem kinda cool. It would be great to get together with those people. And it would be great to have the freedom to leave. But this problem is just way too huge. Okay, more on that later ….

The Price of 80 Acres

80 acres with a creek, southern exposure, deep soil, forest, close to a lovely town and not all that far from a lovely city, nestled into forest service land at the end of a road, … no improvements (house, barn, power, well, roads, fences): a million bucks.

Most people that want to travel this path don’t happen to have a million bucks.

Nobody wants the debt of mortgage, but some people are so passionate about this path that they will consider it. And most lenders won’t touch bare land. In the country, a lot of folks are selling land and will do “owner financing”. You need to put 20% to 35% down (I’ve seen it as low as 10%) and then you have mortgage payments. For a million dollar property, that’s $200,000 down and about $4000 per month. So, for a lot of people, this is also a show stopper.

Okay, so you can find 80 acres for about $120,000 …. no creek, recently logged, some soil, maybe eastern exposure (smells almost like “southern exposure”), and maybe the town doesn’t seem uber cool, but it probably has a kind of “character” that will grow on you ….

(and you can find 80 acres for $65,000: north facing slope, no way to access except by helicopter, and some serious problems you really don’t want to know about)

Most people reading this are probably still thinking that $120,000 is still way out of their league. Suddenly the thought of five acres looks way better. The funny thing is that this property as a five acre plot will be $40,000.

One thing to keep in mind: most raw land does not have owner financing. You can either buy it outright or you don’t buy it.

This giant gob of advice is continued in part 2.

Discuss this more in a thread dedicated to this blog
at permies.com:

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Kickstarter Advice

First, of course, I want to make it clear that I am powerfully keen on kickstarter in general. I like the site. I like the professionalism in the way it is run. And, my favorite part, is how people can come up with a cool product and go into business without groveling to a bank.

I have shared a lot of kickstarters with folks. And for several of those it made the difference in getting funded. The people on the daily-ish email seem to groove on them and it does bring me a big thrill to seem to be in a position to help like this.

And now I’ve done it enough that there have been some things that have fallen a little flat. So I am writing this blog with the idea of sharing with everybody that is also keen on kickstarter stuff and for future kickstarter people to read and end up with a good and decent kickstarter.

1) Get a $1 reward option up there, and make it a significant reward. Not just “thanks”. Maybe an unseen video of yours, or a micro-documentary, or a collection of articles you’ve written, or something like that. The reason this is so important is because the more backers you get, the more likely you are to be listed on the popular list, which is obviously where you want to be. The way to get on the popular list is by getting TONS of backers, not by tons of money.

2) Back some other kickstarters. If someone comes to your page and sees you have backed zero other kickstarters, it sorta makes you look lame and apart from the kickstarter community.

3) Have a clearly stated goal.

4) State your qualifications that might lead me to think you can attain your goal.

5) Show me this is a well-thought-out plan, with details. BE TRANSPARENT. How much of your plan have you accomplished to date?

6) Speaking of transparency, make a damn pie chart and tell us where the money is going!

7) Do you have some kickass rewards? If not, get a bunch of good ones up, and at low prices.

During my last kickstarter I realized that when somebody supports me via kickstarter, they are, effectively, saying “I trust you to provide something awesome. Before there is even one review of the final product. I trust you so much that I will wait six months for this!” And that made me think that rather than provide the product at a fair price, I want to figure out a way to provide the product at a much lower price on kickstarter. Even more than that: I want to put a LOT of extra stuff into the product just for the kickstarter supporters.

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Breakfast With Spiderman

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I got up this morning and made coffee. While the coffee was brewing I sat in the kitchen and processed about 50 emails. Good news! Only three snarky youtube comments while I slept. They were actually pretty borderline. Not quite sure what I want to do about them.

I got caught up in some conversations at the table, so by the time breakfast rolled around I had not made my customary trip to the office to mend some issues that can only be mended at my computer. Like youtube comments.

I thought I would share these three borderline comments to see if people had any good ideas on what to do with them.

The feedback was that I share far too much of the negative stuff I encounter and it is wearing on others. As much as I feel like I share less than 10% of the ick I experience each day, I do see the validity of the point.

About a dozen years ago, a woman I knew asked me to advise her son in how to build a career in software engineering. I visited with the young fella for about three minutes. Three minutes seemed to be the most he could tolerate of me. Apparently, all on his own, just for fun, he once wrote a bit of software. He never finished it. He never shared it with anybody else. But he did have the expectation that software companies should be banging on his door to pay him millions for his obvious genius. Therefore, there was nothing to talk to me about. After all, I had spent decades doing software engineering and if I were raking in the millions then I would drive a better car and live in a better house. So whatever it was that I was doing was flawed, and his plan was clearly superior.

This morning I learned: Accomplishment often comes from hundreds of struggles. And if you intend to accomplish a thousand things, then you need to work through hundreds of thousands of struggles. And permaculture is hundreds of bits and bobs all working together in a symbiotic symphony.

In my very first corporate whore job, I sat at a desk in a sea of desks. I was an accounts payable clerk in an office with 70 other accounts payable clerks. In a building with all of the other accounting offices and executive offices and marketing offices, etc. of a large company. The other desks were rich with personal trinkets to help the clerks feel a little culture and life in their otherwise banal job. I had almost nothing like that. But I did have a tiny piece of paper that I had taped up where I could see it and others could not. On it I wrote “fat, dumb and happy.” I had heard it once as an insult to somebody. But I thought it was a noble goal. One possible interpretation of this is that the pursuit of being attractive, or intellectual pursuit leads away from “happy.” As the weeks and months passed as I read this little note dozens of times per day, I came to the conclusion that apathy was an ingredient that would allow intellectual pursuit. But it had to be a very special flavor of apathy. Something where you could care about a spec of knowledge, but not care about what others thought. But it gets much richer than that. And to this day I still try to refine what that special flavor of apathy smells like so that I can pursue the philosophies I enjoy and simultaneously pursue happiness.

When you see a thing that can be accomplished, you can see a dozen obstacles that will need to be resolved along the way. And during the work involved, a few hundred new obstacles present themselves that you had not considered. So you plow through and make the best of it.

Back to breakfast this morning …. after being asked to shift my sharing ratio toward something more positive, I threw out “I would think it would be really hard to share three meals a day, every day, with spiderman.” Sure, he saved that busload of people, but the guy that caused the bus to go off the road is still out there – and you kinda get the impression he is probably going to do something really rude again.

I was topped when somebody suggested that sharing meals with batman would be even harder. That guy is just so dark.

So, on the bright side …. discussion at permies is great. There are lots of excellent threads from the last 24 hours. Information rich. Lots of healthy discussion. And it would seem like no big deal, except for the stark contrast of the comments at youtube and a lot of the rest of the internet.

I think the problem of being a downer at meals is a real thing. Again, I go back to the value of the potato village and a few other changes in the works for the future here. It seems that people value my presence and comments, and at the same time, I appreciate that that same presence would be difficult to live with long term. So I think the community would be happier if I shared meals about half the time rather than every meal.

Discuss this more in a thread dedicated to this blog
at permies.com:

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Rocket Mass Heaters: The absurdly efficient, ridiculously cheap, surprisingly comfortable way to heat your home.

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My newest kickstarter campaign is finally underway! We are hoping to fund the production of four more DIY DVD’s about Rocket Mass Heaters! Lemme tell ya, hopes are high because it has reached over a 1/3 of its campaign goal with 190 backers in just two days! Wow! If we pull this off, it will be the fifth crowdfunding campaign I have completed. Our ultimate goal is to pull together $42,000 by March 16th, 2015 and infect as many brains with rocket mass heater knowledge as possible! It has already received a screamin’ welcome from heaps of people who are wanting to adopt a sustainable and efficient way to heat their homes, and quite frankly, save the world.

So what’s the big deal? Well, Rocket Mass Heaters are one of the most sustainable and affordable heat sources in the world! This unique system emits less than one tenth of greenhouse gases and only uses one tenth the wood that conventional stoves use! So, that’s the big deal. Freaky cheap heat that doesn’t damage the environment.

Now, for the whole how it works part. Basically, rocket mass heaters are a mix of modern science and knowledge from hundreds of years ago. It begins by creating a bunch of smoke in the barrel, and then burns that smoke so no one has to smell it! Then, the heat is captured from the exhaust, and is then held in a mass to hold the heat for days. If you still have no idea how the heck this works, you can click here.

rocket-mass-heater-diagram

Two years ago I did a kickstarter for DVDs of a rocket mass heater workshop! Interest was far greater than I expected. It raised over five times the minimum goal. MASSIVE! Wow! So my friends and I have carefully collected a lot more footage and we focused on much higher video and sound quality. SO, all we need now, are funds to cover the production costs of putting the DVDs together! It’s expensive stuff.

Viewers will get an insider view of three workshops, one innovators event, and the building of ten different types of Rocket Mass Heaters! The DVDs will cover cob style rocket mass heaters, pebble style rocket mass heaters, shippable cores, and even the rocket mass heater innovators event I hosted out at my land.

tipi-olenka

As more and more people learn how simple, efficient, and eco-friendly the rocket mass heaters are, the faster the world will begin moving, scratch that, sprinting in the right direction towards saving this beautiful earth we inhabit.

So, whattya think? Please visit my Kickstarter campaign by clicking here. Backers can choose from a variety of exclusive, nifty perks as a thank you for helping us out!

If you are short on cashola, you can still be part of this world-changing innovation by sharing the campaign everywhere you can possible think up! Help bring a valuable resource to the good people that want to save the world and heat their home simultaneously!

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The Wheaton Eco-Scale

The time has come for me to more formally define The Wheaton Eco Scale. I have eluded to this rough idea in the past with some numbers I pulled out of my butt. I will now flush those numbers and clearly define these new numbers.

Further, while in the shower this morning, I decided that I am obnoxious and arrogant enough to come up with something and put my name to it. I also give everybody else license to come up with their own scales for whatever they want. I just need to express myself, so I need ….. SOMETHING!

The purpose of the scale is to introduce the idea that three people can be eco, and that one can be more eco than the other two, and one can be less eco than the other two. To show that there ARE levels of eco-ness. Then to talk about the relationships between the different levels, which includes some stuff I see as problematic.

wheaton eco level 0: about 5 billion people
wheaton eco level 1: about a billion people
wheaton eco level 2: about 100 million people
wheaton eco level 3: about 10 million people
wheaton eco level 4: about a million people
wheaton eco level 5: about 100,000 people
wheaton eco level 6: about 10,000 people
wheaton eco level 7: about a thousand people
wheaton eco level 8: about 100 people
wheaton eco level 9: about 10 people
wheaton eco level 10: sepp holzer

Observation 1: most people find folks one or two levels up pretty cool. People three levels up look a bit nutty. People four of five levels up look downright crazy. People six levels up should probably be institutionalized. I find the latter reactions to be inappropriate.

Observations 2: most people find folks one level back are ignorant. Two levels back are assholes. Any further back and they should be shot on sight for the betterment of society as a whole. I find that all of these reactions are inappropriate.

Finally: I can put whoever I want at the spot of eco level 10. I choose the mighty Sepp Holzer and I don’t give a damn if you think somebody else should sit in that spot on my scale!

Here are some possible attributes of people on the scale

Level 1: is thinking about the environment. Bought fluorescent light bulbs. Is trying to do a good job of recycling. Reads an article or two. Buys some organic food. Their power bill is less than average.

Level 2: 30% of purchased food is organic

Level 3: Has an organic garden and 80% of purchased food is organic

Level 4: Grow 40% of their own food. Studying permaculture. Got rid of all fluorescent light bulbs

Level 5: has taken a PDC and/or grows 90% of their own food

Level 6: Living a footprint that is 10 times lighter than average. Maybe living in community. Maybe living in something very small.

Level 7: Permaculture teacher

Level 8: Doing things that are currently improving the world in big ways

Level 9: masanobu fukuoka, Paul Stamets, Art Ludwig, Bill Mollison, Ianto Evans ….

Level 10: the mighty, the glorious, the amazing Sepp Holzer

I think a lot of people would call themselves eco and they are barely at level 1. They think they are eco because they bought fluorescent light bulbs. I think that if a person takes a PDC, they qualify for level 5 if not higher. I think a person that gets 90% or more of their food from their own garden/farm, they qualify for level 5 if not higher.

When somebody is starting down the eco path, many people that are further down the path appear to think that the beginners are fools. And that the people that are further down the path are insane.

The level of zealotry is unnerving! And how angry somebody can be if others do not choose to live their lives in exactly the same fashion …. is vulgar. People at level 2 might someday go to level 3. Or they might always stay at level 2. Or they might even go to level 1. That is not something to get angry about.

Recalling a piece of observation 1, “People three levels up look a bit nutty. People four of five levels up look downright crazy. People six levels up should probably be institutionalized.”

Therefore, if you try to move a person from eco level 0 to eco level 6, they will just think you are crazy. Therefore, when talking to somebody at eco level 0, I think it would be wise to limit the conversation to eco level 1 or eco level 2.

Another thing to think about, because three levels ahead looks crazy, and because 90% of the population is at level zero, that means the only stuff that can be shared on big media is level 1 or level 2 stuff.

Things at level 3 or above could be shared in big media, but it would need to be carefully crafted to be digestable.

I also think there are a lot of middle class, or upper class people that have a major impact on our laws that are brainwashed by the greenwashing, and are SURE that they are eco. But they are not. And then they push for changes that are not of benefit to the planet. So the test is based on one simple little metric so that hopefully, some of these people will come to the conclusion “oh my. I thought I was eco, but I am not eco.” I even wrote about this very concept a while back in a blog that hopefully opened up some people’s eyes. It was called, testing to see whether you’re an eco poser.

Here is me talking about The Wheaton Eco Scale a few years ago:

One path to smooth … in my obnoxious opinion …. is to recognize that “eco” or “community” or “permaculture” is not a boolean value (on/off, yes/no, true/false, in/out) but more of a multi variable spectrum. Some folks are further along a path than others. And there are many paths that intersect. I think things will be much smoother if we accept that “eco” comes in infinite flavors. Some folks are big on fluorescent light bulbs, some are big on candles, some are certain that incandescent lights are the most eco. Some are cool with the dark.

My mission is not to assign everybody a number. My mission is to clarify a problem. I have seen this happen hundreds of times. I think that by showing the scale, people will be more aware of the problem and, hopefully, we will have better progress.

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Hay vs Straw

I need to clear up some misconceptions between hay and straw.   And I need to warn you about some gut wrenching scary stuff about hay and straw – problems that did not exist 50 years ago.

Too often I hear people use the words interchangeably. Even worse, I’ll hear some people say that the only difference is that there are weed seeds in one, but not in the other.

The only difference between hay and straw is the time that they are harvested.

Hay will be greener. It is green growies (grass, clover, alfalfa) cut and dried while green. Hay is usually used as animal food – like feeding cattle in winter.

Hay:
greenhayfin

Straw is the same stuff allowed to go dormant. Grasses will often turn yellow. Most straw comes from grasses that went dormant complete with a big seed heat.

Straw:
strawfin

Grass seed is called “grain”. The grain will be nipped off the top of the seed stalk by a combine leaving the yellow leaves and stalks about two feet tall. What is remaining will be cut and baled. Straw is usually used for bedding for animals. Sometimes the animals will nibble at it.

cowsfin

I want to make something clear.

Both hay and straw can contain seeds.

Both hay and straw can contain weeds.

Both hay and straw can contain weed seeds.

Hay makes a great mulch for plants that like a lot of nitrogen. Straw makes a great mulch for plants that prefer less nitrogen. “Strawberries” get their name from doing so well when mulched with straw.

Consider this a warning: Most hay and straw contain persistent herbicides. If you use hay or straw with persistent herbicides as a mulch, your growies will be stunted or die. Except for grasses (the persistent herbicides are typically broadleaf herbicides that are designed to kill anything but grass).

A long time ago I wrote an article called “Organic Lawn Care for the Cheap and Lazy”. In it I recommend using moldy hay as a fertilizer. In fact, I even claim that moldy hay might very well be the best fertilizer….. IN THE WORLD.

Side note:
Most hay is ready to become compost if you want to go in that direction: just add water and a bit of rich soil. The carbon to nitrogen ratio is nearly perfect!

But …. when it comes to mulch, I would much rather use hay directly than compost it and then use it as a mulch.

Discuss this more in a thread dedicated to this blog
at permies.com:

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The Dark Side of Native Plant Enthusiasm

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Over the last few decades I have met a lot of very lovely people that are freaky enthusiastic about native plants. And as much as they seem to powerfully advocate a positive thing, I must confess that I have now been down this road so many times that when I encounter somebody advocating native plants, my stomach twists into a knot. I will often choose to change the subject in an effort to keep the conversation friendly.

When I first heard of arguments about native plants, I could not comprehend how there could possibly be anything to argue over. What’s wrong with native plants? It turns out that the problem has nothing to do with advocating for native plants, but in advocating against all other plants – not just for oneself, but for all people.

I think that the argument for native plants (or, more accurately, against non-native plants) is that there used to be all these different spots with interesting stuff growing. And with international travel and trade, seeds have been introduced from all over the world such that all places everywhere are losing their botanic distinctiveness. All places everywhere(*) are becoming more homogeneous: the same things are growing everywhere(*). The corollary to that is that a lot of species that used to do well here are being crowded out by species that do even better here. (* = when I say “everywhere” I mean to say all of the similar spots are ending up with all the same things globally. And I could expand for a few dozen pages on improving the accuracy of this statement, but I’m going to leave that for some other day.)

Native to When?

It is my impression that here in Montana, a plant is considered “native” if it was growing here before white people showed up. Although there were some white people popping in around 1743, it seems that we draw the line at 1805, when Lewis and Clark came through.  So, the plants that were here in 1804 are “native,” and the plants that were here in 1806 but not in 1804 are “non-native.”  Crisp and clear.

Native Americans moved a lot of seeds around before white folks got here with their seeds. But I guess the native plant folks are focused on the impact of the Europeans.

I suppose the passion for native plants could be a sort of guilt thing: white people brought a bunch of seed here, and those plants are overwhelming the plants that were already here such that the cool plants that were here before could go extinct without a bit of intervention. So a lot of folks want to repair the problems caused by their ancestors.

Of course, there were plants that showed up before 1743 that were invasive and a nuisance. A great example is the douglas fir tree. White people looooove the douglas fir tree. It’s great for building stuff we like to build. The folks that were living here before 1743 didn’t care for it. They would burn it out. It kept trying to take over land that was currently growing food. Oh, sure, they found uses for it. But they also worked to get rid of it in spaces where it was a bother.

Douglas fir 172 years old
(source)

So maybe there have been some people that think that the date for “native” should have been before the douglas fir tree showed up.

Here is one of my all time least popular videos which happens to be about the problems with native conifers:

Natural Succession

At one point in time there were no douglas fir trees. And then they showed up and sorta wiped out lots of other species of cool stuff. And now they are labeled “native”. No white people involved.

There are similar stories for nearly all plants. Species come and species go. Survival of the fittest. Granted, when human beings with their fancy boats and explorer boots came along, this whole process was dramatically accelerated. But for the moment I want to do a bit of a mental exercise: I want to embrace the spirit of the native plants movement and look at what plants are here in 2014 that would have made it here even if the whole white-people-acceleration thing didn’t happen. After all, this whole succession thing is happening all the time. Birds and other critters help a lot. And it would seem that native american people do some too. And wind?

While we are putting a lot of effort in hating and killing plants just because they were not here by the 1804 deadline, it seems like the decent thing to do is to add plants to that list that would have made it here by now without all this white people influence.

Maybe half the plants that are currently being sprayed because they are non-native would get a note from Science saying “Please don’t kill dandelion anymore, we decided that they would have made it here by now due to wind and birds. So we added it to the “native” list. Thanks!”

DSCN4871

A Diet of Native plants

I’ve met some people that are so passionate about native plants that they insist that anything that is non-native should be removed. When I try to ask what percentage of their diet is from native plants …. well, it takes a while to get a clear answer, but so far the answer appears to be, nearly universally, less than 1%.

I would like to suggest that people living in town with a quarter of an acre, plant a permaculture food system. Native plant people tend to take that same piece of land and plant 100% native species. Which is fine. The problem I have is when they get angry at other folks for not doing the same.

I like to think that if people nurture a permaculture food system on their quarter of an acre, they might, some day, be able to grow half of the food they eat. I think that this might save two acres of farm land that would otherwise need to grow stuff to feed them. That two acres could be left as wild land which, hopefully, will include a lot of native plants.

Here is a video I made of Toby Hemenway talking about native plants – and my favorite part is when he makes this point:

The Pow Wow Grounds in Elmo, Montana

I was invited to the Pow Wow Grounds in Elmo, Montana to give permaculture advice. While giving my advice they told me that they had received advice from a native plants person – the suggestion was, of course, all native plants. I told them that that would certainly be interesting. I told them that the cost for all native plants would be about 1.1 million dollars to set up and $200,000 per year to maintain.

I then proposed that they do permaculture on most of the property and have a small area that would be established and maintained as “common plants growing in this area in 1804.”

I went on to point out that when mullein came to the area, the native americans found 17 different uses for this plant. I would think that for all the plants that arrive through the centuries, native americans found uses and found a way to live with the changes. It would seem that native americans embrace all of nature and do not exercise a bigotry based on some arbitrary date.

My philosophy appeared to be well embraced.

Here is my rather popular video about mullein:

Noxious Weeds

The concept of the “noxious weed” started with the idea of plants that could be toxic to farm animals. Animals know to avoid these plants, but if you fence an animal in and they run out of good food, they will experiment with whatever plants are left. So as long as your animals have plenty of food, there is little value in removing “noxious weeds”.

The term “noxious weeds” was adopted by the government and expanded to include any plant that somebody found annoying. Even native plants. Usually it is plants that do better than the planted monocrop. The theory is that if you claim that plant is threatening your crops, you can make the plant illegal. Then you obliterate it, and force your neighbors to obliterate it and then it won’t be a problem anymore. In theory. Some seeds will wait in the soil for a hundred years before germinating.

Lots and lots of people have added their favorite pet peeve plants to the list.

I once read a list of plants that were a mix of “noxious weeds” and other plants that are legally required to be eliminated. As I read the list I recognized nearly half of the plants as extremely beneficial permaculture plants.

The Herbicide Tie-in

Herbicides are generally recognized as the best way to get rid of unwanted plants. So a lot of native plant organizations receive a lot of love (in the form of actual dollars) from herbicide companies.

Weed boards also get a lot of support from herbicide companies.

The laws against weeds are often lobbied for by herbicide companies.

Granted there are exceptions – but as a general rule of thumb, this is the case. Google it.

I know that whenever I hear of a native plant organization, my first thought is “funded by herbicide companies” or “lipstick on an herbicide company”. Same for weed boards – just looking for an excuse to spray some product. The weird thing is that a lot of these organizations are non profit organizations.

Love the earth by poisoning it.   There is a bit of comedy when non-native people advocate killing the non-natives.

The Never Ending Battle

Getting rid of the non-native plants is a huge task. Billions of dollars? Trillions? And it isn’t something that you would just do one time. It would be something where it would be a massive task and then it would take that much again every ten years to maintain it. It will never end. But as long as the war wages on, herbicide companies will keep making money.

One Person Managing 20,000 Acres vs. 2000 People Managing Ten Acres

I’ve heard that the majestic russian olive tree is no longer allowed to be sold in montana. There is concern that it is displacing native plants. My impression is that it is growing in places that are nearly devoid of any plant life and it basically creates an oasis so other plants (including natives) can get started.

I have talked to three plant experts who are certain that it is good to put russian olive on the noxious list, but I never did understand what they said was the downside – other than “it is not a native plant.” I talked to six other plant experts and they seemed to also be confused.

But my thinking goes like this: It is a tree. If you don’t like it, a chainsaw will fix your problem.

This makes me think that there are some people that are powerful advocates of native plants *AND* they own 20,000 acres *AND* they have paid some enormous amount of money to cut down the russian olives (because they are not native) and the russian olive trees come back. So, naturally, they want to make sure there are no russian olive trees growing within a hundred miles so that they might possibly be able to reduce their non-native-tree-cutting-budget.

After all, if you are one person with ten acres and you don’t like russian olive trees, you can cut them down pretty quickly. You can use the wood for firewood, or to make a hugelkultur for other plants.

So if a person has ten acres, and they like russian olive trees, why is it that they are not allowed to buy a russian olive tree? It is an excellent permaculture tree. The only thing I can think of is this whole thing about owning 20,000 acres and advocating native plants only.

Plant Bigotry

With all due respect to Godwin’s Law: I read something suggesting that the native vs. non-native distinction is a type of bigotry, complete with links to Nazi and aryan stuff. Or racism in general. “Natives only” sounds a bit like “whites only”.

I think folks should have the right to be as bigoted as they like. The thing that gets weird for me is when the government requires bigotry.

Myth: Native plants are better suited to your area

If this were true, why do we have any concern over non-native plants threatening native plants?

Summary

Most native plants are awesome!

Most non-native plants are awesome!

Some native plants are icky.

Some non-native plants are icky.

When I hear people advocating native plants because they are native, I wonder if they are employed by herbicide companies, or if they have bought in to the spin generated by herbicide companies. Either way, it is a bit of a bummer.

I hope that all gardeners and farmers everywhere grow lots of stuff they think is cool. And I hope that one group of farmers/gardeners does not try to impede the joy of other farmers/gardeners.

Discuss this more in a thread dedicated to this blog
at permies.com:

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