Full cycle homestead

In the thread on Ag: villain or boon companion, PaleoGardener pointed out that in the Rodale study where organic agriculture fields improved over the 30 year period studied, that this happened with imported manure (and possibly other inputs).

Lierre Keith has made the same point, she said she created amazing soil on her farm in MA (?) but it took massive importation of leaf mold and manure from other places… robbing their soil.

So I have been wondering if anyone has tried to develop a full cycle homestead… in the sense of – what would it take it to feed one person year round, and keep the soil regenerating from inputs on the site? Jeavons has tried something similar, he only inputs compost, but I am not sure if he did not jump start things in the beginning. In any case, his 8,000 sq ft (beds and walkways) means you mostly eat beans.

What would it take to feed a human omnivorous and varied diet year round with only local inputs: humanure, compost, and say chicken and rabbit poop. Would that be enough? How much land would be needed?

There are islands in the Pacific where such cultivation has gone on for hundreds of years. So it must be possible, and not be that hard, at least in the tropical areas. Of course they do get mother nature’s fertilizer delivered gratis (volcanic ash). What would it take to do in more moderate climes?

And while I am at it, how much land, and what kind of strategies, would it take to feed a human who wished to emulate the ancient “best practice” and get say 50% of her food from cultivation, and 50% from foraging? Which veers off into permaculture. I am trying to imagine it all…

I think this question has crucial importance for us in figuring out how to live sustainably on the land, post-civilization. By local inputs, do you mean recycling what comes from the land (i.e. animals living on the land poop back onto the land), or do you mean importing resources from close by (i.e. the neighborhood cow farmer)? I think that even if the importing happens close by, it still isn’t sustainable, because it still creates a net loss of nutrients for the place that the resources are coming from - unless the circle is closed by nutrients going back from point B to point A somehow, like hay going to feed the cattle or something.

Personally, I think the way forward requires abandoning the notion of living permanently in one particular spot, and making that spot provide all of one’s food. Permaculture could technically allow this, but it has to be done exactly right to be sustainable in one place forever, and eventually, post-civ, we will have to abandon all the aspects of permaculture that require industrial technologies (at least what can’t be scavenged) and (one-way) importation of resources. I think it just makes way more sense - life would be easier - if people moved around the landbase, either seasonally or periodically as resources get used up. In many places, the land just can’t support humans living in one spot forever, no matter what we do (absent industrial civilization, of course).

In general I think many aspects of permaculture would be useful, particularly the ones that can be applied to the wider landbase to increase its biodiversity and fecundity. Looking at hunter-gatherer cultures, there is no dividing line between cultivation (horticultural practices of various kinds) and foraging - they are one and the same. As the people travel the landscape, they not only gather from the land but also practice many horticultural techniques, like pruning, weeding, burning, dividing bulbs, etc. Their interaction with the land is reciprocal - a true relationship.

By applying low-intensity, low-tech permacultural techniques over a broader landscape, we could not only make the entire landbase more food-producing, but we would also help to fulfill the responsibility we pretty much all share, of healing the earth.

How much land for a person? That depends on how much sun and rain the land gets and when it rains and how much frost the site gets… etc. This can vary widely. It will take more land to start and less as you improve the land. Annuals and tall grasses can produce more biomass than most trees. I have gotten quite a deep pile of mulch just from cutting down the tall native grasses during the dry season that I and my brother planted. It was happily composting in place before my brother spread it some over potato plants. The grasses that we cut down are now resprouting from the roots, since the rains have come early this year. (For reference, the species in question are Creeping Wild Rye (Elymus triticoides) and Giant Wild Rye (E. condensatus))