Permie Peter Bane discusses permaculture as a philosophy and form of knowledge that enables self-sufficiency. He suggests that permaculture has worked through grassroots education and self-education. Capitalism has hollowed out the home as a site of production, and permaculture aims to re-establish the home as an economic unit; it’s about returning to (or moving forward to) subsistence: the ability to derive food/heat/water/etc and relate to your neighbours. Permaculture can tap into biology in a more sophisticated way [than traditional peoples]. These are many old arts, he says, that have been “recollected” from traditional peoples and “our own” history, combined with modern science and engineering insights, and empirical work and experimentation.
Food and animals have been globalized, but it hasn’t been intentional. Permaculture wants to be more intentional about these combinations and find new plants/animals to exploit.
He discusses some basic permaculture strategies and the attempt to mimic forest ecosystems in our agriculture. He argues that contemporary agriculture is basically about cultivating domesticated weeds, which require constant disturbance. What’s needed is more perennial agriculture, less disturbance.
He suggests that moving to permaculture at a large scale would require lots more gardeners/farmers, and suggests that unemployed people (“surplus labour”) could be funnelled into farming. 1/6 or 1/7 people need to be farming/gardening so that the rest of us can eat.
More of us can implement permaculture now: “we” have plumbing, arable land, and can be gardening our landscapes to grow more food. He argues that we need more forests to capture carbon and prevent climate change from spiraling out of control. We still have access to fossil fuels now, and we should use it for strategic interventions: earthworks, ponds/lakes, sustainable buildings, renewable energy infrastructure (like greenhouses).
He spends the last 1/3 describing his own suburban farm and what they’ve been working on there.
This article makes a distinction between ongoing homesteading for survival among poor and marginalized communities, and hipster homesteading that has now become cool. Kirby argues that hipster homesteading not only ignores and erases these histories; “The mainstream appropriation of poor skills might sell books, but it might also be detrimental to the people who do depend on these skills for survival. Simply put, the appropriation of poor skills by the mainstream can end up further marginalizing already marginalized populations who still rely on those skills.” There are some sharp critiques of hipster homesteaders in this article, but it’s not clear what the implications are, other than the idea that we should “examine our practices” and acknowledge “the idea that poor and immigrant populations might be directly involved in the broader homesteading movement, to the benefit of everyone involved”
In contrast to previous homesteading practiced by poor people, Kirby explains that contemporary urban homesteading is often “practiced by single [privileged] people and single families.” Kirby documents an extreme case of co-optation, in which the Urban Homestead Project has copyrighted ‘urban homesteading.’ She also points to destruction of ecosystems by wildcrafters and foragers, and the appropriation and commodification of homesteading skills.
Another problem Kirby cites is that “Rising costs from the commodification of poor skills can also leave poor people who still rely on these skills further marginalized,” such as designer chicken coops. More broadly, she argues that increased demand will lead to skyrocketing prices, placing essentials out of reach of poor people who have been relying on them.
In terms of policy, she points to government attempts to regulate the ‘wrong’ kind of homesteading, policing forms of subsistence that don’t look pretty or gentrified. She contrasts Denise Morrison, who relied on her garden for subsistence and medicine, to hipster homesteaders. Morrison’s garden was destroyed for looking untidy, while “the cool kids are lauded for their revolutionary interest in a gentrified version of subsistence farming.”