Changing the Face of Farming: Update #2 4

Yesterday we hit our benchmark of $5000.

Thanks so much to everyone for all your support –  and it’s not over!

US Permaculture Farms (sample Aug 2012)

There is now enough money to get started, as I continue to seek the funding that will get us to completion. This project will go forward.

All donations going forward allow me to include more farms in the project, toward the ultimate goal, and full sample, of fifty farms. Let’s see what we can do in the 18 days left.

I’d like to continue to use these updates to talk about not just the fund raising (while it’s happening) but also about the research itself. So, where are we at in the process, and what have we learned so far? First – where we are. The project has four phases.

1. Identify possible permaculture farms – through internet searchers, email list queries, snowball referrals, and this. This has been going on since the summer.

2. Administer a short preliminary survey of all farms / potential research sites, to assess (a) level of influence by permaculture, and (b) scale of production. I’m looking for strong influence, because sometimes permaculture is one buzzword among many – and I’m interested in the farms that strongly identify with permaculture itself. And I’m looking for a strong production element, across a variety of farm sizes – because sometimes the word ‘farm’ gets applied to an educational project… or to a bed and breakfast!

3. Field research, and 4. Analysis and write-up.

Phase 1 is about ready to wrap up, and Phase 2 will probably finish with the year. (Yes, the phases are overlapping. You didn’t think these would be neat linear process did you?) So far I’ve only done any analysis on 75-90 responses to the (very) short preliminary survey. Without getting too deeply into it, here are some interesting patterns in this early analysis.

These are not hobby farmers.

65% of farmers surveyed do not have another major occupation. This is a higher proportion of full-time:part time farmers than the national average – which is about 50%.

Permaculture farmers are earning their living on relatively small plots of land.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise – but it does run against the grain of what you might expect based on the previous figure. Are permaculture farmers doing more with less? It’s tempting to jump to conclusions here – and I know some of you will anyway – but I’ll refrain.

Almost 1 in 5 permaculture farms are in an urban/peri-urban setting.

This figure shows the distribution of (surveyed) permaculture farms by rural/urban setting. In a very widely cited figure (originally from the USDA – maybe), 15% of global food production takes place in urban areas – which includes peri-urban areas  (aka suburbs and sprawl). While I don’t, this moment, have a figure for the US, I think it’s safe to assume that our domestic proportion of urban production is  much lower. These figure suggest that the distribution in the more permaculture sector more closely resembles the global average. Note that I’m counting farms, and the global figure is counting total production, so this is just suggestive – not a rigorous comparison. That’s ok – we’re still very much in the well isn’t that interesting stage.

That’s all for now! These figures are really just pointers – a little bit of course-grained data, that can point us toward interesting questions to answer later. At the same time, I have to confess: this is pretty exciting. We know things that we didn’t know before. As I say in the video – I didn’t think that their were enough permaculture farms in the US to learn anything significant from.

So the first watershed moment of this project has been the opportunity to prove myself wrong. That’s one of the things I appreciate about the scientific community – as opposed to religion, and too often politics. We can seek out evidence to test our assumptions and theories, and find that evidence, and change our views – and like it. That’s a gift – and one that I think we can have more of in the permaculture movement.

Thanks to all for your support. Please give what you can, and help spread the word.

What do you think?

Is the permaculture community vulnerable to self-confirming assumptions and theories?

Do we exclude evidence that doesn’t fit with out worldview?

Do these preliminary findings confirm or conflict with your own expectations?

Let me know in the comments.

  • Darshan Ahluwalia

    Can you provide a link to the map, rather than just a plain JPEG? I want to click on the farms and see the names, particularly the ones that are around me that I may know! Good luck with your work. I look forward to following your research.

    • RafterSass

      Hi Darshan – thanks for your comment and your interest. The project isn’t at a phase where it’s appropriate to share detailed location information. I will want to secure permission from each farm before putting them in a public listing like that. Hope that’s not too disappointing – and thanks for your patience.

      • I second Darshan’s praise and request – such a networking tool would be most meaningful. I am also grateful for your care with privacy issues. Way to go!

      • RafterSass

        That’s great to hear, Georg. That’s actually part of the plan, for later in the project. Right now, there is no funding for it – so I would be choosing between creating and maintaining that functionality, and actually doing the research. 😉 I have a grant preproposal in currently that would fund that part of the project, and will be writing more.

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