HeenanDoherty Charter

“...HeenanDoherty's Charter is to provide the potential for people to be informed about the regenerative economy, whether it involves their work in agriculture, land management, corporate life, domestic services, manufacturing or other activities that are within the domain of humans…”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

'Off the Contour' #5 - An Inaugural RegenAG Year to Remember


We have come to the end of what has been a tremendously successful year with the inaugural RegenAG Workshop Series coming to a close in Mudgee recently. It is with great pride and gratitude that I write this knowing of all the great information and knowledge that all of us have both shared and gained this year and best of all the solid friendships that been made as a result of our putting this whole thing together. It has been estimated that some 5000 of the total 143 000 odd farmers in Australia practice some Regenerative Agriculture on their holdings.

The 2010 RegenAG Workshop Series has had over 850 people come to the various courses and another 1300 or so come to the evening and afternoon seminars, and from what we can see, many of these folks are new to RegenAG. And so with that we have perhaps added to the 'lunatic' chorus of people who, with their families, communities and landscapes are working towards a more regenerative future.

For Lisa and I the biggest buzz we have got has been the reinforcement of the pathway we laid (way!) back in 1993 when we set our path in our Permaculture business to get to work on agricultural landscapes. This year's RegenAG series has not only shown that we are on the right trail but that we have an ever increasing legion of great friends and colleagues who are also motoring along this journey as well.

Now the RegenAG team are taking a huge deep breath after what has also been for us a very busy year of organising and convening with lots of behind the scenes actions that I feel needs acknowledgment.

First of all to Free Range Permaculture's Georgie & Kym for their huge efforts this year in putting together all of the Farm Ready applications and for all the phone calls and liaisons to media, politicians and various organisations cajoling them to get on the RegenAG train. That they did this whilst nursing a couple of young children (Jack & Dylan) and were still able to co-convene the 10th Australian Permaculture Convergence, co-launch the ground breaking Trust Nature FNQ Mareeba Composting Initiative and manage a successful 15 day Permaculture Design Course in all of this is a remarkable effort. Their attendance numbers were the lowest of any of the RegenAG courses, but their evening talk with Joel in Brisbane at the Northey St City Farm was attended by over 500 and set the RegenAG record of attendance. Certainly the course numbers made their 2010 RegenAG journey a somewhat challenging one, they and all of us have learnt a lot about our respective markets and reinforces the view we have of local adaptability in all that we do. Thanks also to Kathy and John Collis of Weatherby Station where the 2010 RegenAG FNQ courses were held and also to the team at the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group for their sponsorship and broad support of this years series.

Secondly to the team at Milkwood Permaculture, especially Kirsten & Nick for being beacons of professionalism and for raising the bar as far as event management is concerned. When you walk into a room that these guys have set up it really looks prepared and farm-chic schmick along with having all of the backroom stuff taken care of as well! As parents (of young Ashar) they too are also juggling this all with a set of seemingly serial workshops, courses, internships, blogging/videos/tweets/facebook/buzz etc (!!). All whilst renovating their family farm and building their beautiful new home which makes Milkwood's efforts over 2010 all the more remarkable. Kirsten & Nick have also done a great deal of work in working Google's magic by getting RegenAG out there in the Google Ad sphere which is a special skill in itself. Thanks also goes to Julia for assisting Kirsten & Nick behind the scenes, taking calls and arranging bookings. Also to June & Karl Ritar for opening up their farm 'Kirwin' (and shearing shed!) to RegenAG's efforts plus Sue & Jim Bradley for all of their support during every course Milkwood puts on. Milkwood's brigade of Interns also need acknowledgment for their various contributions in making things go smoothly. Milkwood's RegenAG efforts this year were also sponsored by Ylad Living Soils which is very much appreciated.

Then there is Fusion Farm's Ben Falloon, who has also done a most remarkable job in putting together the fabulous RegenAG website but has also with his father Stan and mum Robin transformed their family farm 'Taranaki' into a working RegenAG 'laboratory' with all of the RegenAG 'bits' in place and a whole lot more. Again Ben has done an enormous amount of behind the scene's wizardry, whether it be managing through the complexities of the website, taking the mastery of Google Ad's to a new level or using his graphic's skills to design ads and posters that have made the whole RegenAG effort so much more successful than it otherwise would have been. See what happens when you put a marketing degree and a farmer together! Ben has done this all with the support of his partner Nina and their beautiful darling daughter Maya who is more often than not either on her dad's knee or his hip as he goes about working Taranaki or RegenAG. Also thanks go to Robin Falloon for her work in supporting Ben & Nina, managing the book sales and registrations, and for her beautiful smile which raises every spirit. Stan Falloon deserves special mention for his work, along with Ben, in building into Taranaki the various Keyline systems plus the beautiful shed extension that has become a great multi-use venue. Stan's kind words of support to each course are also worthy of mention as they serve to encourage all of us to pursue this work and to do so smiling. Finally thanks also go to our new RegenAG UK conveners in the great wife and husband team of Eliza Pearson & Ned RocknRoll who provided us all with a lot of support and work in making the our Keyline and Joel's workshops at Taranaki so successful and smooth running.

Over the 'ditch' in Aotearoa/New Zealand RegenAG also kicked off, albeit after a bit of a brittle start. Thanks must go to Lisa Talbot for kicking things off over there and for supporting the convenership transition to the Soil & Health Association's Marion Thomson and Mangarara Station's visionary graziers Rachel & Greg Hart and their children George, Bill & Emma. Nearly 400 people attended the 'Local Farms & Community' seminars and course under their organisation and this was a remarkable feat given their coming relatively late to the convenership (plus no FarmReady scheme!) and is a tribute to their strength of organisation and networking. We look forward to building on this success into 2011 and beyond.

Our great friend Costa Georgiadis also has been a fantastic champion of RegenAG over 2010 whether it be his active participation in the various workshops but also in working with us as an M.C. at our Mudgee and Brisbane seminars. Bravo Costa!! Also thanks go out to Kylie Kwong for her M.C. efforts in Sydney along with her local food advocacy work; Rob and Emma at Food Connect for their support along with other organisations like Slow Food Canberra, Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, Watershed Landcare, The Food Fossickers, Bendigo Sustainability Group, Bendigo Wholefoods and the City of Greater Bendigo.

We would also like to acknowledge the early support of the team at the Mulloon Insitute in helping us with some of our initial planning and for generously hosting our strategy session earlier in the year which laid the path for the successes of the RegenAG series.

Thanks must also go to the Australian Federal Government Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries for their fantastic 'FarmReady' scheme of which so many of you have been beneficiaries of. Without this kind of support many primary producers wouldn't have been able to participate in the RegenAG courses and we thank the FarmReady team for their help this year and hope that this world-leading initiative gains even greater budget support in the years to come, such that it can run year round and increase its capacity to extend that support through a whole year. That the scheme was fully subscribed by November this year, only some 5 months into the financial year suggests that the scheme either needs to qualify a set of courses for a financial year or needs more funding such that it can run a full year. We are disappointed that organisations such as RegenAG won't be able to conduct FarmReady supported courses in the 1st half of 2010 as we were looking forward to preparing producers for following year with a whole range of more in-depth follow-up courses following those of this year. Doing so would involve a creative dialogue with organisations such as RegenAG and we invite RegenAG course participants to provide their feedback to the team at FarmReady (along with Minister Ludwig and their local members) around how they can make this scheme all the more effective.

On a personal note and on behalf of all of the RegenAG community would also like to thank my beautiful darling wife Lisa Heenan for all of the support she has given all of us this year and in those past whether its shadow-writing my emails or creating a Facebook buzz or having a kind supportive word or three to all of us when things aren't going so well and most of all for her extreme endurance in what has been a long, long road since we started out on all of this nearly 20 years ago as a couple of dreamy kids in love with each other and our planet and its farming landscapes. Our family's Holistic Goal is '...To maintain creative, intergenerational family & community lives built around regenerative & profitable production, management & educational systems...' and RegenAG is the manifestation of this and we are so very grateful to have the friendship and support of the other RegenAG conveners on this path.

Of course the series was a great success ultimately not just because of the organisers but also because of the quality people who lead each of the workshops.

Really big thanks go to Kirk and Tamara Gadzia for their opening salvo in the RegenAG series that, as intended, really set the scene and it was great to have someone with Kirk's great experience and wisdom lead us out with the added bonus of Tamara sharing her knowledge around riparian restoration. Kirk and Tamara are a special couple who touched us all personally with warmth and good advice.

Thanks also go out to Paul Taylor who has been a great support to both us and soil organisms across the planet for some time now and should be recognised for this. It was Paul who came up with the great slogan that RegenAG appropriated over 2010 of '...go to the shed, not the shop...' and in so many ways this sums up the RegenAG effort.

My great friend and colleague Eugenio Gras who travelled all the way from Mexico also deserves great thanks, not just for participating but also for his introducing us to the whole ethic and practice of understanding how to bring together 'campesino technology' and western agriculture. This has brought many to the point where they now have the immediate tools to get off of the fertility drugs of the 'pharming' industry, thereby reducing their exposure now and into the future. For this we are very grateful to Eugenio, his partner Steffi and the whole team at COAS in Latin America.

Also big thanks goes to the whole Salatin family and the team at Polyface Farms for providing us with the privilege of hosting Joel over the last month. Right back in October 2008 Joel and I started our conversation that led us to doing the 'Carbon Farming' & 'Carbon Economy' workshops in the US in 2009 and this year's RegenAG series here in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. Joel's 1st reactions to my requests were '....This is a big assignment, teacher...' and thanked me for '...for being innovative and pushing old buzzards like me into new thermals...' Well I think it is clear that it is we who have been taught how to be more innovative and learnt the practical, often comedic means by which to profitably capture the thermals as a result of Joel's renaissance agriculture.

So what for 2011. Well after a small hiatus, albeit interspersed with the festive season, the directors of RegenAG Ltd. will be gathering in Bendigo around the 4th of January 2011 for a planning and strategy meeting which will deal with the some of the following:
  • 2011/12 RegenAG series design
  • FarmReady liaisons and feedback
  • RegenAG UK launch
  • RegenAG expansion into South Australia, Western Australia, SE QLD and Tasmania and other markets
  • RegenAG participant support and liaisons with other orgs.
  • RegenAG convenership contracts & modelling
  • RegenAG venue standards
We are formalising our agenda over the coming weeks and invite feedback and submissions from all 2010 RegenAG participants and interested parties in helping us make our organisation support all of us working towards more Regenerative Agricultural systems do so better and more effectively whilst maintaining our integrity and quality. As part of this I have trademarked RegenAG® for our non-profit RegenAG Ltd. to protect and further develop this now quite valuable and respected brand. We want to specifically hear your ideas about:
  • Possible convening relationships
  • Ideas for courses, workshops & seminars
  • Ways we can serve you better
In the meantime we are already in talks with people like Paul Stamets, Bill Zeedyk, Brock Dolman, Abe Collins & Colin Seis and are keen to get folks like Will Allen, Wes Jackson and other leading lights to be involved with RegenAG in the coming years.

Finally I would like to acknowledge and give deep thanks to all of you who have supported RegenAG with your involvement and participation this year. We couldn't have achieved what we have without you and want to commit to you that we will continue to maintain the integrity of our charter in delivering quality outcomes for our families, communities and landscapes.

All the very best and we hope you have an enjoyable festive season and a buoyant and regenerative new year wherever you may be.

Yours and Growing,

Darren J. Doherty
RegenAG Originator & Director

Saturday, October 30, 2010

'Off the Contour' #4 - A Permaculturalists Retrospective Version II

'Off the Contour' #4 'A Permaculturalists Retrospective Version II'


This article was stimulated by the nice piece that emerging Permaculture Designer Nick Huggins put together promoting Permaculture Design practice and the course that he has designed to go with this...I have a few pointers around my own experience with all of this...some of which was shared with the good folks who attended our recent (August 2010) 'GIS/Watershed Analysis for Permaculture' workshop. I also penned an article on some of this topic for the wonderful Spanish magazine 'EcoHabitar'. Also following my meeting with Nick at APC10 I was able to hear his fantastic vision for ‘Permaculture Business World i
' as a networking concept and so this piece in some way also responds to this call as well though I look forward to Nick outlining his proposal further.

I also wanted to take the opportunity to discuss the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) as presented by myself now some 38 times (up to September 2010) since my 1st co-training with Janet Millington & Bill Mollison in Tasmania in 2001. This is particularly appropriate now that ‘The Permaculture Institute’ (TPI) Teacher Registration is no longer and whilst the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) are looking at having a teacher registration process put into place, this has been explained to me as ‘not a replacement of the TPI teacher register ii’ due to a lack of resources to support it. With the TPI system many of us were quietly critical of the lack of facilitated dialogue between the Registered Teachers nor any ability for this faculty to engage effectively with the TPI as one would expect as professionals. This was despite repeated representations to TPI otherwise. I have spelt my feelings on this matter in the various forums including on the PRI forums so I don’t need to regurgitate anything there.

After nearly 40 PDC’s

For the last couple of years I have decided to put the ‘design’ back into the Permaculture Design Courses (no longer Certified as I am not a ‘Registered Teacher’ anymore!). I was growing very bored with the whole format of the course, not helped by the fact I did 6 or so PDC’s in 2007, particularly as I was using the familiar ‘day to a subject, major design exercise at the end of the course’ format that many of us PDC graduates have endured. Much like design becomes automatic after a while, so does teaching to an extent. Bill Mollison said to me once that ‘after a few hundred designs you'll become bored with it iii’ and after over 1300 I am yet to find that to be the case though with teaching it can be if you don’t keep reinvigorating your format and delivery.

I found myself speaking automatically and ‘parroting’ the same old verse. I don’t think that our students picked up on this necessarily as I am a pro and worked in Permaculture design, development and management for over 8 years before I started teaching, but nonetheless I felt something needed to change. So the ratio of projector/voice time to practicum has changed considerably to where now we have a 50:50 approach of talk:practicum, and assessable practicum at that. Being a design course most of the practicum’s are design exercises and we have found this to be very successful in equipping participants with greater skill in design upon graduation.

Where in most PDC’s people get but one opportunity at the end of a PDC to do a design and then get assessed, and often ‘softly’ the results are designs that are more often than not overdesigned, poorly illustrated/graphics, poorly presented, unrealistic proposals of what I call ‘Permaculture Dreaming’. In my opinion and experience this set’s people up with unrealistic expectations of what can be practically achieved post PDC, especially immediately post PDC. We have by no means got this perfect but at we are working towards what is the antithesis of the ‘2 week single design exercise chalk & talkathon’. It certainly doesn’t hurt for experienced PDC teachers to go and do another PDC with another teacher (s) to freshen their approach and gather new ‘material’ and methods to teach what is my opinion becoming a more and more challenging course to teach.

Why increasingly challenging? In my opinion and experience the main reason is that as the PDC gets more and more mainstream folks coming along we are finding less and less capability and ecoliteracy and so, at least in our participatory course environment (perhaps not so in a less participatory course where you just sit and listen and maybe get the guts to ask a question occasionally perhaps embarrassingly exposing your lack of knowledge!) we are having to spend a lot of time both during class and especially in breaks and after class explaining very basic, key issues around ecology that people just don’t get and that in the time allocated are difficult to otherwise get across: Photosynthesis by plants and phototrophic bacteria for example!

We had a student once who had just done a 4-year Environmental Science degree (US) and declared that despite this she felt ‘useless’ as her degree was largely academic. We then went on to advertise our PDC’s with the slogan, ‘Want to become more useful? Then do a Permaculture Design Course!’ Dr. Tim Flannery pointed out in his most recent tome ‘Here on Earth iv’, that in the Agrarian age humans have lost brain size and capacity due to more sedentary behaviours which don’t rely on as keen a use of the full range of our senses. Those industrialists who amortised Adam Smith’s ‘Division of Labour v’ really put the reductionist nail in the coffin then as far as human capacity and capability is concerned.

This perhaps points to the importance of us almost requiring the prospective PDC students either do an Introduction to Permaculture short course or that we use the time following enrolment to give people the appropriate reading and instruction using the multimedia we now have available so widely.

With the dilution of time comes a simplification of the material such that I am seeing many PDC graduates coming away from some courses taking often disintegrated ‘grabs’ of design approaches with ‘one size fits all’ strategies, for want of a better word as carte blanche is by no means good nor effective design practice and I strongly believe the wrong message for people to take home about Permaculture. We need to strengthen the understanding of the processes of decision making around the Permaculture Ethics and Principles not dilute them such that they fall foul of oversimplification lacking due diligence and process. For those yet to do a PDC it is important that they speak to this and demand that the PDC bar is raised.

In this commentary I am of course referring to PDC’s being delivered to literate folks of developed countries as the PDC for illiterate or underdeveloped countries/locations has a whole measure of other issues not discussed in this piece.

Integration of Holistic Management® Decision Making into the Permaculture ‘Toolkit’

I have come to a strong point that you have to start somewhere in building practical reality into Permaculture design. Our idea was to bring into the whole PDC process from the outset the Holistic Management® Model for decision making. This puts in place a decision making framework from the get go that has worked for many people for some 30 years now and has resulted in over 30 million acres on the planet being under Holistic Management.

While we were at it we have also included in with the Mollisonian and Holmgrenian Permaculture Ethics & Principles discussion, principles and ethics developed by respected designers and ecologists such as Sim Van der Ryn, Art Ludwig, Dr. John Todd, Lynn Margulis, Kirk Gadzia & William McDonough among others. Bill Mollison himself stated around this, ‘I broke through when I started to think that if I took all the principles of environmental science and made them into directives that tell you what to do, then we've got a way to go. Luckily, Kenneth Watts at the University of California at Davis, had just put out a little book on the principles of environmental science so Kenneth had listed all those principles and rules that people had thought they'd discovered and I took each one in turn and changed it into a directive vi

In a subsequent article I will provide this list of principles as I believe that they are most useful and inform the PDC student of the world of ecological design outside of that of Permaculture as is important in my opinion and experience.

It is clear that ever since we opened our PDC (and Keyline Farming, Carbon Farming + Carbon Economy courses) with an explanation of Holistic Management principles that we are reducing the incidence of ‘Permaculture Dreaming’ though not holding back the creative forces that define the design and management outcomes of sound Permaculture planning. As Holmgren put it, ‘Integrate not Segregate vii ’ and in doing so continue the incremental evolution of Permaculture thinking and action.

Changing the PDC Subject Order

Nothing is static and in many ways now that the TPI Teacher Registration program is over I have more freedom to develop our PDC accordingly. Not that the old format is broken by any means. In fact it wasn’t until I started teaching the whole PDC that I understood the genius of the ‘animal’ I was dealing with and the whole ecology of the PDC itself, which as with any ecology is an on-going process. We still run day to a subject and go for 16 days if we can (around 95 hours with 14 days of subjects {according to the Chapters of Permaculture: A Designers Manual viii}, 1 day off and ½ a day for goodbyes, final design presentations, ‘certificate of completion’ ceremonies, ‘where to nows’ etc.).

We have changed the order a little though again this was influenced by my seeing all of these student’s design’s come through where there was no financial basis to them, nor were good aquaculture systems included either and most pragmatically no quality of life considered. This was a function of the order of subjects not being supportive of these two very important subjects: 13. Aquaculture & 14. The Strategies of an Alternative Nation. So now we go with the following order:

Day 1 – Introduction

Day 2 – Concepts & Themes in Design
Day 3 – Methods of Design
Day 4 – Pattern Understanding
Day 5 – Climatic Factors
Day 6 – Trees & Their Energy Transactions
Day 7 – Soils
Day 8 – Water
Day 9 – Earthworks & Earth Resources
Day 10 – Aquaculture
Day 11 - Strategies for An Alternative Nation
Day 12 – Humid Tropics
Day 13 – Drylands
Day 14 – Cold Humid

Stimulated in part by Mark Shepard, Wayne Weisman and Bill Wilson of MidWest Permaculture ix in the USA on our most recent course we started a Google® Group where a month ahead of the PDC we asked registrants to introduce themselves and make some statements around their expectations and list of outcomes they would like to vision for Gaia. We also asked people to assemble plans of their own place such that we could use these potentially through the course as design exercises. This is especially valuable where on a course like ours we are trying to generate a lot of design experience and might have up to 30 odd bright minds eager to ply their ideas and concepts as part of an experiential design process. Furthermore therein lies the opportunity for students to practice both being a client and a consultant as for many either of these roles is new territory.

Emerging Permaculture educators such as Ethan Roland, Greg Landau (USA) and Grifen Hope (Chile/NZ) are also leading the way in using internet communications in creative ways to broaden the scope of learning opportunities allowing cross-continental participation of Permaculture luminaries such as David Holmgren, Geoff Lawton & Bill Mollison along with the likes of myself on their PDC’s. I can certainly see in the future the potential of a completely multi-media PDC, though for mine nothing will ever replace the residential PDC, and yet this now time-honoured format will become increasingly difficult in a world where cheap energy is a thing of the past, especially if more localized PDC participation does not increase.

A New ‘Work’s Pattern’

When we started out in 1993 I used to do all of my designs by hand and did so until I discovered MapInfo Professional when doing my Whole Farm Planning Certificate at the University of Melbourne in 1995. This was a revelation to me as at that stage we were doing around 20 designs a year and then after buying this software (for about $1000 at the time with the help of my former colleagues in Will Dalgliesh and Joy Finch) we were able to step this up to 1-2 designs a week. We were still doing rather long winded, though very descriptive and thorough reports for clients as well, these taking the lion share of the time. In some special situations the latter are required but in most of our jobs it was clear that clients were only flicking through these tomes and that the long days and late nights assembling them were clearly a waste of time and effort. What they really wanted, and we were happy to oblige, was a ‘shopping list’, code for a ‘Bill of Quantities’ or ‘BOQ’.

We learned pretty quickly that the problems with developing effective and accurate BOQ that we had when designing broader scale landscapes carried on from doing hand-drawn to computer generated plans still existed...this cost us a lot on quotes and gave us considerable angst as we were generating a lot of work and throughput over this period (1995-1997). The shit nearly hit the fan on a couple of large installations and so we bit the bullet and got a surveyor to join our team full-time (as a sub-contractor as with all of our team as I don’t believe in ‘employees’ as it does not denote self-reliance in my opinion or experience).

Why did this happen? The main reason is that the base maps you are working with consider the world as being on a horizontal plane (ie. completely flat) and on larger installations this distorts the measurement of areas and lines enough to throw your figures way out. Total Station surveyed projects take this error out altogether as plans are 3D and overcome as best we can the 'map is not the territory' epithet that otherwise will come to plague you down the track. As many Permaculture trainers don’t do broadscale design and installation work they don’t know of this and therefore don’t necessarily move beyond David Holmgren’s aphorism, ‘the map is not the territory’ in their advice to students.

Another hindrance in all of this is the base topographic data that most people source and base their concept and ultimately their detail designs on have 10, 20 or 50m contours. These are ok for assessing basic landscape patterning but for serious detail design these are just not accurate enough. This is because of the process of generating the contours used stereoscopes and photogrammetry. Photogrammetry has come a long way since the old Army Survey Corp (here in Australia) and their equivalents in other countries developed the bulk of the data that we use today. But even most digital topo data these days is simply a digitized version of this data rather than newly developed topo data using the latest computerized photogrammetry technology, which is quite good by comparison.

Our approach therefore is to use the overlay the government topo data onto aerial photo data to do digital concept sketches, from this then advise our surveyors to conduct <0.5m>
The pros/cons of using GIS (and some higher end 3D CAD) software versus ‘Drawing/Graphics’ packages is as follows:

GIS Pros:

• Scale is easy to apply

• Map is geographically registered and as such uses commonly used map coordinate systems
• Handle’s 3D data and provides accurate distance and area measurement
• Easily replicable legends
• Industry standard symbol and line styles
• Ability to develop ‘queries’ of data sets
• Ease of creating multiple layers

GIS Cons:

• More utile packages are relatively expensive

• May require some short training prior to use
• Packages may be increasingly complex
• Potential for ‘Paralysis by Analysis’

Graphics Software Pros:

• Often free or bundled with printers, cameras and other devices

• Generally easy to use with familiar cross platform tools and language
• Easy to start off working straight away on a design without geographic registration etc.

Graphics Software Cons:

• Scale is not necessarily available or practical

• Geographic registration not available (linked to scale)
• Doesn’t maintain scale from software such as Google Earth
• Doesn’t work in with GPS data

Streamlining Permaculture Design Reporting

As mentioned before, on producing reports we found that despite our best literary efforts clients tended not to respect the effort we put into these very well thought out and thorough tomes and therefore we were spending way too much time on writing reports costing us valuable time that could have been more productively spent keeping up with all of the work we had piling up and with my young family. So I went full circle and developed an MS Excel-based BOQ model that has now become what we call our ‘Workbook’. This also followed the process we call 'Our Work's Pattern' (circa 1997) and since then has been expanded considerably. The ‘Workbook’ is available as an open source document upon request and will soon be placed on the RegenAG website. The ‘Work’s Pattern’ document is also available upon request, though it is now somewhat antiquated it may provide some insight into some of the processes professional Permaculturalists go through in their workings with clients.

Adaptation of the ‘Bullseye’

Many people have started using our ‘Workbook’ and adapt it for their own purposes, which is as we had intended. We are now working on adding a range of new analysis tools based on the work of our good friend, colleague and mentor, Holistic Management Certified Educator, Kirk Gadzia x. Our lithological analysis tables up to then had been based on the Australian standards for land survey, which are still appropriate though do not question the appropriateness of a specific category of condition against the goal of the project. Furthermore being in a tabular proforma layout, unlike the ‘Bullseye’ these are not in a graphical layout and so are not as easy to read, nor assess readily whereas the ‘Bullseye’ charts allow one to make immediate assessments of the situation due to their graphic layout.

At our most recent PDC on the Atherton Tablelands (September 2010) we had our students complete a design exercise on Day 3 (‘Methods of Design’) where they had to adapt the ‘Bullseye’ platform to other ‘Domains of Permaculture xi’, which turned out to be very useful, and an approach I would like to broaden following this intra-PDC ‘Action Research xii’.

Rediscovering Holistic Management

In 1993 I was 1st exposed to the term Holistic Management and with all of my new post PDC bravado (and relative youthful 24 years of age) I had an animated discussion with a young grazier in George King at a party at St Arnaud in Central Victoria. He had just done a HM course and was gung ho about it and I had just done my PDC and was equally as gung ho about Permaculture and let’s just say we agreed to disagree. A couple of years later and I attended my 2nd PDC as a student this time with some 75 others at Tagari Farm at Tyalgum with Bill Mollison, Peter Wade & Tim Winton and again HM came up, this time with Bill Mollison himself. I found a copy of Holistic Resource Management xiii (coincidentally released in 1988) in Bill’s extensive library and so in a quiet moment I asked what he thought about HM. Bill told me that ‘…cattle were the main problem in Africa and this doesn’t work… xiv’. Respecting Bill’s opinion I left HM at that and it wasn’t until nearly 12 years later that HM came around again, this time in the US during our world tour which exposed us to our now good friend and business associate, master grazier and carbon farmer Abe Collins.

Abe is an amazing grazier whose focus is soil building with cattle production being a tool towards this process. Abe brought into sharp focus the integration of Keyline Design and HM, having had his flat Vermont property designed remotely by famed Keyline Designer Ken Yeomans (son of the late, great P.A. Yeomans). Abe had developed it according to the plan and it’s a fantastic layout. We had a 3 day Keyline Design Course there as part of our 2007 World Tour and so we immediately brought the ‘wholes’ together. Abe was running his herd at the equivalent of 1 million lbs per acre, which is effectively one cow for every 3m2, pretty well as tight a stocking density as it gets and moving them 6-10 times a day with amazing results in terms of land and livestock health and performance. He gave me a copy of the Holistic Management Handbook xv and straight away I bought a copy of Holistic Management: Frameworks for Decision Making xvi, which I ended up reading first.

The next part of this ‘whole’ process was to connect these dots in California with our good friends and clients, John Wick and Peggy Rathmann on their 650 acre Nicasio ranch. My consultancy with them was around creating a Keyline plan that included a grazing layout. Their intention was to increase the number of perennial native grasses on their holding and so in doing we brought Abe into the consult where he developed with Peggy and John a HM Grazing Plan. John and I immediately talked about the big picture around the globe’s broken down carbon cycle and he agreed with me that the best way to tackle this problem was to put the recalcitrant atmospheric carbon back in the soil and that farmers were incentivised to do so, but that we needed top down strategy with a farmer-centred bottoms-up approach.

And so we brought in Abe and we teamed up to facilitate a meeting that included the Marin County Ag Commissioner and other representatives, UC Rangeland Management Directors, United States National Parks Service staff, the Marin Organic CEO and a few others. Here was my 1st experience of using HM-derived conflict resolution tools, though in this case we were not resolving any conflicts rather we were determining the development of a carbon farming project.

Following a short presentation by Abe and myself on the various soil building and regenerative agriculture techniques, we then gave each participant an A5 card asking onto which they were to write the answers to the following question, ‘..What would be the best possible outcome of increasing soil carbon in the world?’ which they then in turn had to read out. This gave a wide range of responses that ranged from the wistful to the more academic. Mine was something like, ‘…that we would have to start burning fossil fuels again!…’. The next question was, ‘…What would be the worst possible outcome if we failed to prevent global warming?’. This time the faces were downward looking and those who did answer were pretty graphic with those not answering saying later that ‘…they couldn’t because it brought back memories of nuclear war drills etc.’

What was the whole point of this process?

This whole process ultimately resulted with John’s (and his local collaborators) establishment of the ‘Marin Carbon Project’, a 5 year US$2.3 million research project across Marin and Petaluma county grazing property’s in which UC Davis Geophysicist, Professor Whendee Silver was put in charge, and from all accounts is doing a great job to help reveal the potential of seasonal Mediterranean grasslands to sequester atmospheric carbon.

Including Holistic Management Processes in our Family Permaculture Business

It was interesting to hear from Geoff Lawton once of how following his first PDC in 1983 that he and his wife of the time suffered what he termed a ‘Permaculture Divorce xvii ’ and that following this he has tried to enable couples into his various courses such that they don’t suffer a similar fate. Its interesting that this might occur though unfortunately Geoff is not alone with this experience, certainly we can only look at our own experience where I went off to my 1st PDC in 1993, leaving my wife, Lisa Heenan our then infant daughter Isaebella at home with me returning full of the energy that follows a PDC whilst Lisa was at home fending for herself with a new born child. As anyone who is lucky enough to know Lisa would know, she is not backwards in coming forward: being the youngest of a family of 12 children ensures that! This was one of my 1st experiences at the art of what Lisa calls ‘the renegotiation of the contract’.

With the development of our young business we spent a lot of time negotiating our marital contract along with that of our business profile. It is one of the great features of owning your own business that you can meld its profile around the personal life you are trying to develop in concert with this. Permaculture per se, didn’t offer us any solutions to provide us with, not that what Permaculture is perhaps about doing: it is after all not a design system that deals with life skills as such, though of course these are implied in the Ethics (especially the 2nd ethic) and with creativity can be extricated from the Principles.

In 1996 Geoff Lawton contacted me and asked if I cover him on a PDC he scheduled in Patagonia in the Argentinian Andes. Of course this sounded amazing and with this I also was asked to do a PDC in Wisconsin a couple of weeks after this. Lisa and I thought it would be tough month but worth it so I could gain experience in different climates etc. So off I trapsed on the long journey over the southern pacific where I landed in Buenos Aires, then catching a 18 hour bus ride across the Pampas to the sleepy mining town of Zapala, a 4 hour pick up ride heading north and then a 4 hour journey in a tractor pulled trailer up into the mountains arriving ultimately at the remote and very spectacular 110,000 acre Estancia Ranquilco. No phones and no communications and only 7 students! So the promised remuneration was not forthcoming and in the short term Lisa was stuck at home minding our children not knowing where the hell I was or if I was dead or alive. I finally got word out to her after a week or so that all was well and then when I finally got to a phone myself after nearly 3 weeks I called a very distressed and angry wife, even moreso when mortgages were due and I was coming home virtually empty handed. It didn’t end there.

After a couple of days at home I then did a stint at the local PDC here in Bendigo before boarding another plane back across the pacific and the US to the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point. I start the course and again I only have 7 students, which is fine for intimacy but crap for the course budget so again we take a hit…I ultimately hit home and again its time to renegotiate our contract!

This time we resolved the following family rules:

1. That any jobs over 10 days would require (at our discretion) that our whole family were supported to join me and fed and accommodated for the duration

2. That a 50% deposit of the full course fee be deposited 10 days before the commencement of the course
3. That we would negotiate within our family a work strategy (culminating in our 2007/9 world tours and RegenAG Ltd.) such that our effectiveness and energy efficiency was as high as practical

Lisa and I attended a 3 day Holistic Management workshop that we’d organized as part of our ‘Carbon Economy Course’ in 2009 led by the wonderful Kirk Gadzia at ‘Orella Ranch’ on the California coast just north of Santa Barbara along with the ranch owners and our good friends Mark, Guner & Heidi Tautrim and farmers from that part of the world. This provided us with an opportunity to ‘stocktake’ what our goals, aspirations and better still exposed us to the HM ‘Testing decisions’ and led to the development of our Holistic Goal. This whole process changed many of our behaviours and foci from what they were before and really, things have been a lot clearer than they ever have been.

Following the end of this tour we headed home and then headed to New Zealand for a short break before our annual PDC at Rainbow Valley Farm. We purposely designed to use this break to not only take a breather but also to revise our family goals and what ultimately became our Holistic Goal. Our children were involved in this process as ‘Decision Makers’ and accordingly felt more included in the direction of our ‘ship’ than they had been before. From this we set up some new ‘family rules’, some directives to act, strategies for dealing with the world, intergenerational policies (i.e. principles of family succession) in a relative painless and productive way. The latter point is particularly important to me having suffered considerably according to the succession processes in my mother’s family and the fate of what was our family farm xviii.

Heenan:Doherty Holistic Goal

'…to maintain creative & intergenerational family lives built around regenerative & profitable production, management & educational systems...’

Top 10 Outcomes

1. Produce stable environments with sound watersheds
2. Restore profitability via integrated and regenerative agricultural development & management
3. Increase wildlife species, numbers within species and stability of populations
4. Improve water, soil, vegetation resources of cities, industry, agriculture and nature
5. Re-establish and regenerate riverine & riparian areas
6. Prevent waste of financial, human & natural resources
7. Entrench Holistic Management Decision Making Frameworks & Permaculture Design Ethics & Principles with the education system, communities & organisations
8. Develop viable decentralised energy production systems
9. Restore local, regional and global water and mineral cycles
10. Provide value to our collaborators, course participants, clients & community


At the very recently completed 10th Australasian Permaculture Convergence (Kuranda, Queensland, Australia September 2010) it was clear from talking to many (particularly recent) PDC graduates that they are wanting a lot more after the PDC. The PDC is clearly the great introduction to the thinking involved with Permaculture Design, but is by no means the end of the learning especially as, in my opinion and observation, humans become less and less capable and ecoliterate as time goes by. Unfortunately this condition is not just reserved for the ever-increasing urban populations but those remaining and diminishing agrarians as well.

This only increases the necessity for us to provide the experiential post-PDC training that organisations such as PRI and RegenAG provides as we gear ourselves up for the enormous challenges that confront us. Accredited Permaculture Training® (APT) vitally fills this space as well though needs to expand its reach to be more effective, and in time I am sure it will. The outreach of Gaia University further broadens the post-PDC brush with its Bachelor and Masters programs, though again is in its relative infancy as an organization.

We are looking to fill some of these vital niches with our own programs as delivered by RegenAG and Australia Felix Permaculture and its great that experienced professionals relatively new to Permaculture such as Nick Huggins are also looking at doing the same.

Doing so efficiently and cost/time effectively is our great challenge and this extends to those emerging Permaculture professionals heading out to help with the task of what I have labeled as the ‘Great Retrofit’. The paradigm by which this occurs needs to be open & inclusive, adaptive & duly diligent and modeled on Gaia’s economy, though within the laws of the land and lore of the people.

i. Pers. Comm., Nick Huggins, 2010
ii. Pers. Comm., Geoff Lawton, 2010
iii. Pers. Comm., Bill Mollison, 1996

iv. Flannery, T. Here on Earth – An Argument for Hope, Text, 2010

v. Smith, A, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 1, Oxford, 1993
vi. Seeds of Change Newsletter, Scott Vlaun Interview with Bill Mollison, 2001, http://www.seedsofchange.com/cutting_edge/interview.aspx
vii. Holmgren, D, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren Design Services, 2002
viii. Mollison, B, Permaculture: A Designers Manual, Tagari, 1988
ix. MidWest Permaculture operate the 1st half of their PDC online through a series of streamed ‘Webinars’ reducing the amount of actual contact or ‘face to face’ time required
x. Gadzia, K. & Graham, T., Bullseye: Targeting your Rangeland Health Objectives, Quivira Coalition, 2009
xi. ibid, Holmgren, 2002
xii. ibid, Holmgren, 2002
xiii. Savory, A, Holistic Resource Management: A model for a healthy planet, Island, 1988
ixv.Pers.Comm., Bill Mollison, 2006
xv. Savory, A, Holistic Management Handbook, Island, 2001
xvi. Savory, A, Holistic Management: Frameworks for Decision Making, Island, 1998
xvii. Pers. Comm., Geoff Lawton, 2006
xviii. Doherty, D. J. ‘Challenge of capability, community & caring: Aphorisms & a grandson's journey towards a permanent culture', 2º Encuentro Internacional Amigos de los Árboles - 'Más Árboles ante el Cambio Climático' - Institución Cultural El Brocense, Cáceres, Extremadura, España, June 2010

'Off the Contour' #3 - Cold Turkey Rice & Mangos in Mexico ++'

'Off the Contour' # 3 - 'Cold Turkey Rice & Mangos in Mexico ++'

Ing. Jorge Alaya Menendez is the pioneer of Rice cultivation on the Yucatan Peninsula and the largest rice grower in Mexico. Near the picturesque village of Palisades on the Usumacinta River (the largest river in Mexico) Valley he and his son Jorge Alaya Filijrana and family manage over 10,000ha (‘Pancho Villa’ & ‘Laguna Blanca’) of now organic rice, highly diverse wetlands & savannahs & water buffalo. Jorge Snr. started off with 500ha twenty years or so ago and has grown his farm along with substantial water reticulation infrastructure to manage the extraordinary annual flood flows in this region.

This region of the peninsula is fringed by the ubiquitous Karst landscapes on which the famous Mayan civilisation was founded. The region receives between 1000-1800mm a year over a few months and then is dry for the remainder of the year apart from the occasional shower. The Usumacinta River valley is largely (and fortunately!) undeveloped though it has a long history of both legal and illegal piracy, with various mobs from the colonial Europeans to the modern day exploitationalists of minerals and logs. On a bush plane flight (Jorge pilots his own 1974 plane) across to Palisades to visit Jorge's extended family we flew over Fidel Castro's guerrilla training camp (used prior to his invasion of Cuba) and airstrip now consumed by the jungle of this pretty rampant area.

Jorge Snr. wished to have us start the process to enable the regions’ agriculture and communities manage the future especially as concerns ‘Peak Everything’ and what changes in landscape management and community engagment/structure might help develop the transitory adaptive and mitigative strategies such that they develop the future they want to be involved with as opposed to what is applied, forced and appropriated by those outside of this beautiful, yet still relatively impoverished part of the world.

Of course the challenge that confronts me, one of the few ‘Broadacre Permaculturalists’ of the world is that in many ways, as Toby Hemenway put it, ‘Broadacre Permaculture’ is an oxymoron. And whilst I agree with Toby, I also understand as a pragmatist that without broadacre agriculture many people would run out of food very quickly. It is a system that is largely dependant on fossil carbon, is unrealistically large, has enormous distribution and waste issues, is very polluting and yet it feeds many people on this planet. Obviously food shocks in past caused by war especially have encouraged or rather forced people to practice garden agriculture, but this has largely been a temporary phenomena when the ‘status quo’ is returned. Of greatest issue in my opinion and observation these two things.

1. That agriculture is perhaps the most pervasive and damaging land-use performed by any species in the time of the planet
2. That regenerative agricultural land-use has the great potential to be restore much of ‘nature’s infrastructure’ (Kennedy 2010) and in doing so ‘fix global warming’ (Yeomans 2007)

Another part of this consultancy was a visit to civil construction engineer and close friend of Jorge Senior, Ing. Almendro Toledo’s 2000ha ‘Cayul’, the 4000ha ‘Santa Rosa’, properties near the famous Santa Rosa Mayan Ruins, about an hour from Campeche, plus ‘Oxcal’, a 2000ha holding that was recently laser leveled/canalled about 15km up the plain (and 10m above) from ‘Laguna Blanca’. This landscape is made up of small, densely forested low relief limestone hills and broad, flat plains and basically no creeks as the classic karst landscape is highly permeable, such that even after a 100mm+ rainfall over 4 hours there is very little puddling and next to no run off: it all permeates down to the limestone aquifer some 10-20m below.

Almendro has cleared the plains of this property using a machine he sourced from Viet Nam that was used by the US military during their time there to clear jungle. Therefore the property has a mosaic of these very biodiverse hills in a somewhat lobular layout with the cropped plains in between.

Almendro grows about 540ha of conventional (small spray irrigated) Mangos (about 100.000 trees) and 700ha of crops (300 flood irrigated) and 400ha dryland), mostly maize & soya (both GM). A US management firm currently manages the entire system, though this is to be reviewed following our consultancy, especially since Almendro is keen to also take his land in the RegenAG direction.

One of the main reasons for my being invited to this consultancy at Almendro’s was to develop a Keyline-based water-harvesting plan on ‘Santa Rosa’ & ‘Cayul’. Higher level analysis, followed with that on the ground soon revealed that building Keyline type water harvesting structures were not appropriate on this site, so permeable are the soils in their current state. To store water in dams is also difficult as the clays are not suitable and there is no run off to service them. So we go back to the real intention of Keyline: build soil carbon and store rainwater where it falls. The costs of overcoming this is simply too much to justify when abundant and relatively shallow groundwater exists in this case and with the volumes of irrigation water currently required is so great that storages would need to be massive. After the wettest year for many years there are no flowing creeks in this area and no signs anywhere of runoff.

Then of course there is the issue with extraction of the groundwater and the energy and infrastructure it demands. This is currently connected to the electricity grid that is in this part of the world is supplied using natural gas. Obviously this is not part of the future and yet the electrical motors and pumps doing the pumping are quite efficient, relatively easy to service and maintain and so we determined to keep them ‘alive’.

Some of our key recommendations for Almendro were as follows:

1. Mango’s:
1. Establish a range of cover crops (particularly Arachis pintoi)under the trees and use higher density and planned grazing using the farm’s sheep in the interrow.
2. Adjust the pruning regime 3. Continue with Soil Food Web analysis and commence applications of the recommendations
4. Commence BioFertiliser and Forest Micro-organisms production/multiplication and applications
5. Cease use of all artificial fertilisers and crop protection chemicals
6. Use Keyline SuperPlow in the interrow every alternate row at the commencement of the growing season

2. Cropping Areas

1. Continue with Soil Food Web analysis and commence applications of the recommendations
2. Commence BioFertiliser and Forest Micro-organisms production/multiplication and applications
3. Cease use of all artificial fertilisers and crop protection chemicals
4. Use Keyline SuperPlow in the interrow at the commencement of the growing season and the process of sowing the respective crops
5. Commence feasibility study at ‘Oxcan’ with the following treatments:
* Treatment 1
o Keyline SuperPlowing
o BioFertiliser & Soil Food Web Applications
o Pasture Sowing
* Treatment 2
o As for Treatment 1 but no Pasture Sowing
* Treatment 3
o Control – Cut hay only
* Analysis
o Soil Analysis (by SAGARPA) @ start & finish of season – Mineral, Soil Organic Carbon (<1.3m), start="3" type="1">
  • Energy Crops
    1. Calculate the volume of feedstock required to power pumps and various diesel powered machinery using oils processed on-farm from Elaeis guineensis & Glycine max along with ethanol produced using Saccharum spp. Together with the feasibility of establishing a plant to process these plant products and ultimately produce biodiesel, and include potentially the products of neighbouring farms to do the same.
    2. Establish plantings of Elaeis guineensis with an understory of Jatropha curcas along road verges as a productive amenity species which requires the ready access to harvest that these areas provide.
    3. Whilst waiting for Elaeis guineensis production allocate a portion of Glycine max crops to produce fuel oil.

    Like many conventional farmers and as a trained Agronomic Engineer, Jorge Snr. has farmed using the full array of agricultural technology up to now. Son Jorge has been farming his 200ha family parcel organically for some years now and led his father to work with Eugenio Gras & Jairo Restrepo of COAS (www.coas.com.mx) as part of his conversion to regenerative agriculture. After a 12 month trial on 200ha Jorge Snr. is convinced that the COAS techniques of farm-produced BioFertiliser is the only way to go and it will reduce his costs (including not using ag chemicals) by around 80% with only a 10-20% loss of yield in the 1st year.

    The family has also developed a private rice mill that can process over 20,000 tonnes of rice per year. They are keen to market their rice to the Mexican market and in doing so enable consumers here access to a premium nutrient dense product at a price that matches or is below the heavily subsidised US rice that is 'marketed' in Mexico every year, and in doing so undercuts the locally produced rice. Going ‘cold turkey’ on what I call 'Pharming' saves significant costs and our consultancy will only continue to keep the price of their rice low whilst enabling Jorge to achieve his company and community foundation goals which certainly fit with what I call Regenerative Agriculture.

    The main part of this consultancy, conducted by Eugenio Gras (MX) & Darren J Doherty (www.permaculture.biz - AU) with Jorge is to develop the farm so that it will:

    1. Design Placement of a series of dams & aqueducts to deliver water by gravity storing mostly floodwaters
    2. Develop lock and valve system along aqueducts to allow shared access along with other landholders
    3. Design education program for Holistic Management training of ‘Laguna Blanca’, ‘Pancho Villa’ & Rice Mill owners, management and staff
    4. Design education program for Permaculture program for prospective residents of new villages
    5. Energy:
      1. Whole energy strategy for ‘Laguna Blanca’, ‘Pancho Villa’ & Rice Mill
        1. Biomass
        2. Biofuels
        3. Co-generation i.e. pyrolysis, syngas, electricity
        4. Hydro
        5. Hydraulic rams
    6. Forestry & Tree Crops:
      1. Biofuels
      2. Diversification & food security
      3. Amenity plantings using multi-purpose species
      4. Integration into channel, dam wall & slope, roadside & cropping areas
    7. Biodiversity:
      1. ID prime areas
      2. ID criteria for classification
      3. Research options for accreditation
      4. Corridor planning
    8. Machinery:
      1. SuperPlow
      2. Tree & crop mounders
        1. Rotovator
        2. Disc
      3. Non-chemical weeders
      4. ‘Rodale’ roller
      5. Front hitch assembly (3PL - for ‘Rodale’ roller)
      6. Compost tea unit
    9. Nutrient Management
      1. Biofertiliser facilities/expansion
      2. Composting facilities
      3. Rock minerals processing
    10. Research options for Equity/Profit Sharing, Enterprise Participation, Land Trusts and Foundation/Non-Profit structures
    11. Designs:
      1. Plan views
      2. Cross sections
      3. Schematics/Flow diagrams
    12. Pasture:
      1. HM plan to include cropping phases
      2. Stock supply arrangements
      3. Stock handling facilities
      4. HM planning to place pasture planning ahead of cropping
    13. Payments for Ecosystem Services
      1. Establish baselines
      2. ID Markets – associate with EIMA, NSS, Sierra Gorda, SAGARPA, SEMARNAT, Universities, PhD’s
      3. Aggregation structures for local and regional farmers
    14. Financial Planning:
      1. Broad discussion and planning
      2. HM based approach – part of Kirk’s work
      3. Involve SAGARPA & FIRA
      4. PES
      5. Return of Profits
    15. Research & Development (R&D)
      1. Raised Beds, PES, Rice Weeding, SuperPlow Use, Rotations
      2. Create standards for field based research to minimise risk I.e. Testing on 5% of field
      3. Apply field based scientific standards to research plots (involve SAGARPA, Universities, PhD’s in this)
    It is very uncommon for Mexican landowners to live on their farms. Part of this is cultural, as it is common in Spain and Italy for farmers to not live on their parcels, but rather that they live in the frequent small villages that are fringed by the agricultural parcels that these folk transport to daily.

    Another important factor in all of this is the so-called ‘Narco Wars’, which since 2006 have really escalated such that there are parts of Mexico that you just don’t go with cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez having higher levels of violence than Baghdad, Iraq during the height of the conflict there. Official figures of murders are over 15000 and word on the street is that this may be higher than 30000 per annum. My close friend and colleague Eugenio Gras told me that when he hosted David Holmgren here in 2006, David noted that the social collapse is likely to rise as fossil fuel independence dwindles. Mexico became a net importer of oil in 2007/8 and the result, according to David’s assessment is increasing in its severity.

    Locally most of the blame for the narco wars is leveled against the US, who are the consumer of the bulk of the narcotics and suppliers of the ever increasingly sophisticated arsenal of weaponry that the cashed up narcos have at their disposal, so much so that they are much better technologically equipped than the paramilitarised police and other armed forces against whom they are often pitched. One could suggest that this is a similar ‘business model’ similar to that practiced in the 1980’s etc with various Latin American regimes where guns and drugs and incredible violence play out with horrific consequences. Whatever the result in Latin America, US narcotic users and weapons manufacturers are absolutely complicit in the very sorry state of affairs.

    Back on the farm this whole business also contributes to the reasoning why ‘Patron’ landholders do not reside in on their farms, and travel to and from their heavily fortified urban domiciles in daylight hours only. Kidnapping of landholders is not uncommon as they are relatively easy targets for gaining cash for organized crime in this country. In some states of Mexico it is ‘safer’ than others according to the levels of corruption and who is controlling what. According to some it is often asked of local ‘Dons’ to get the local police in line, so involved are they in these events. This is a place that is at once so amazingly diverse, productive and beautiful in people and landscapes, and yet has this despicable undercurrent of activity that is truly gut wrenching.

    Our advice, with respect to the constant threat of kidnapping has been to look at the causes of this rather than just repel against the effects. Certainly there are causes that are outside of the immediate circles of influence of the landholders but then there are others that are right there to be handled. One of those is the nature and culture of the relationships held between the landholders and their workers and the communities around them. This is by no means easy for many of the entrenched attitudes and paradigms are thoroughly entrenched. An example of this was asked just the other day in which I was asked by a Mexican landholder if indigenous Australians were ‘…good workers...’ I have had this same veiled question (and others more pointed!) asked by white South African, Zimbabwean and US farm owners over my time as well, fuelled by their belief system that suggests that the colonized are ‘lazy bludgers’, though that you ‘might get a good one’ from time to time!

    Dealing with this kind of attitude is difficult, especially when you are a guest in someone’s house and country, though I can’t stand by and let this kind of thing fly when it grates against by stomach to hear and witness any kind of racial vilification. What to do then? By demonstration is the best means and this is bore witness by people like Jorge Snr. (who are in the absolute minority) where he friendlily fraternizes with his workers, is demonstrably embedded in the lives, lives modestly with them on his farm, as opposed to being aloof and adversarial, smiles instead of snarls and in general follows the Permaculture principle of positivism and primary activism.

    The cultural dynamics of this region are similar to those of other parts of Mexico in which landholders European-descent operate in a state of ‘baronial feudalism’ (Holmgren 2002), in which these sometimes very vast estates are owned by the ruling classes and are primarily operated by indigenous Mexican employees. As a person raised in a family where the patriarch (my maternal grandfather Frank B. Dole) stated that ‘to profit was to steal’ and that ‘he was to the left of Trotsky’ this form of patronage is rather challenging, but then many things in this world are the more you understand and travel. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’ come to mind, as do issues of cross-cultural appropriation etc. However once the boundaries of civility are crossed I am not backwards in coming forward with alternatives to the dominant paradigm, lest I would also ‘sit pretty’ on conventional agriculture, the most pervasive and damaging human activity, in fact of any species at any time in the Gaia’s history. Certainly a regenerative agriculture cannot continue to function without a regenerative culture and this system of ownership is clearly not regenerative.
    Certainly there is still a long way to go and Jorge is very interested in bringing people back to what is ultimately their territory and we are working this through using the Holistic Goal process and other methods developed within the Holistic Management (HM) movement. The colonial epoch has caused many peoples dislocation from their homelands which further contributes to the ethical issue that all people deserve basic access to clean air, water and soil + shelter, food and energy over which they have appropriate domain and ideally within the limits of growth and ultimately Permaculture Ethics and Principles. This will involve engaging in a range of sessions with the owner, managers, workers etc. such that they can develop the Holistic Goal for this operation as they are the decision makers for this project and their individual statements to the key components of Holistic Goal formation, ‘Quality of Life’, ‘Forms of Production’ & ‘Future Resource Base’ becomes the collective statement against which decisions regarding this enterprises’ operations are questioned. The HM Model for Decision Making will also be applied such that this paradigm changing process of human decision making is hopefully transformed, and at the very least openly questioned. We have to do something!

    Much of this has to do with applying a much more inclusive and participatory approach to decision making, as well as changing the make up of land ownership/stewardship, along with enterprise equity & participation plus community engagement in education and support. Certainly there are a range of options on the table in this case and we are starting the process of ‘top down thinking with bottom up action’ and beginning the conversation mindful of the current sensitivities, whilst pondering the challenges that lie ahead in transitioning a society with declining fossil carbon.

    Over our 8 day trip here we have been able to solve all of the issues of primary concern as the land (and production systems) is by comparison to its people relatively straight forward and are now working on the detail to move to development, which by record, intent & attitude Jorge, Almendro and families and community are more than capable to achieve and what's more are very keen to invest their capital & future in.

    Off the Contour #2 - 'Livestock & the Veganosphere'

    'Off the Contour' #2 - 'Livestock & the Veganosphere'

    My attention was piqued by the 'Going Vego'
    article penned by Nicole Murphy in the 'Food Fossickers' column (page
    16) in the widely distributed Bendigo Weekly (#669) last week around
    water use per kg of meat production plus a few other livestock
    management claims as I found it containing some common misconceptions in
    my opinion and experience. I felt that this would be a good opportunity
    to have this discussion within this edition of 'Off the Contour'. I
    have written to the author and the paper though I imagine that this
    would be too long a response to run in the 'Letters to the Editor'
    column though I felt something needed to be said.

    1. Many figures quoted by the Vegan/Vegetarian lobby against livestock
    production are based on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO's or
    Feedlots) where energy and water use per kg of production are clearly
    cheap energy dependent, wholly degenerative and an insult to Gaia. This
    recent article outlines some of these discrepancies (http://lifestyletom.com/path/rao10925687616ros/roin59012433570) and there are many more around that also counter these views when looking at more holistic management systems.

    2. In Holistic Management (HM) Planned Grazing-based native perennial
    grasslands not only is carbon sequestered at an incredibly high rate,
    but methane is also sequestered by methanotrophic bacteria who utilise
    methane as their sole energy source (Jones 2010). Listening to all of
    the noise from the 'Veganosphere' livestock production is promoted as
    being a large contributor to greenhouse emissions, which is fair enough
    in artificially fertilised, high energy systems (high input pastoral
    systems or CAFO's) but quite the opposite for the aforementioned HM
    systems which is now well acknowledged including by folks like Dr Tim
    Flannery (http://www.quarterlyessay.com/issue/now-or-never-sustainable-future-australia) and many others such as Dr Christine Jones (http://permaculture.org.au/2010/07/22/soil-carbon-can-it-save-agriculture’s-bacon/).

    3. I would also suggest to you the following scenario in that the average
    cow on dry pasture drinks between 40-80 litres of water per day. If that
    cow is destined for slaughter when it reaches a weight of 250kg+
    (obviously we would like more than this but as an example) and this
    might take up to 400 days from birth to achieve in a HM system as
    described. That equates to some 16000-32000 litres of water over that
    time though of course for perhaps 6 months of that time it is having a
    reduced intake before being weaned, though its mother is obviously
    drinking closer to 60-80 litres/day depending on the season etc.
    Therefore that means that we are looking at between 64-128 litres per kg
    (not 50-100000 litre/kg) of production on land that is sequestering
    perhaps 10t/carbon hectare (actually 36.7 tonnes CO2/ha as it takes 3.67
    tonnes CO2 for plants to exudate 1 tonnes of carbon through their
    roots) without any of the damaging tillage that vegetable production
    requires, moreso in organic production where tillage is often used in
    place of herbicides to control weeds. Every 1% of Carbon increase in the
    top 30cm of soil results in some 146,000 litres of extra water held
    within the soil (Jones 2007) which is of course a situation not
    encountered when you oxidise the carbon (tillage and high N

    4. With regards to the issues around our consuming the livestock
    equivalents of children and teenagers, this is part of the abundance
    that nature has provided to us and needs to occur lest we aren't as
    producers able to manage our populations. Were we not to have this
    production method then we would have declines in the genetic quality of
    our herds and mobs, we would have significant overgrazing issues which
    obviously is not appropriate. Certainly the HM approach is to encourage
    methods of production where animals have a happy and enjoyable, natural
    grass and milk fed life joined to their mothers for the appropriate
    period (and this includes dairy production!) and humanely have one bad
    day that according to best practice (such as recommended by the
    wonderful Dr. Temple Grandin) is effectively unbeknown to them at that point.

    I would also add that the terms of trade forced on producers are such
    that veal production is a somewhat cynical outcome of cheap milk prices.
    How is this so? Dairy herds are now mostly Friesian or Friesian
    Holstein though some herds (especially now with the A2 milk fad) are
    Jerseys, Guernsey's with some Shorthorns etc. A function of low milk
    prices is that it is uneconomic for producers to have calves run with
    the milking herd as it is too costly to have them drink their mothers
    milk. So as a result most cows are either joined or impregnated with
    beef breeds so as to increase the ultimate carcass weight and
    performance of vealers and these vealers are fed on a range of
    supplements along with reconstituted milk products which were often
    produced on slowly irrigated (anaerobic) pastures in drylands using
    massive inputs of capital, fertilisers and pharmaceuticals and then
    trucked to the milk factory where piped in natural gas is used to then
    dehydrate this milk and then sell it back to the farmer with all of the
    extras added such that is now a 'complete feed'! Smart farming indeed
    and one that is ultimately propped up by the cheap oil and fossil fuel
    economy and will therefore be temporary. Take away the cheap energy and
    the calves will be joined to their mothers again and we'll have real
    veal again which is basically the beef version of lamb.

    A good friend of ours has for many years kept his calves with their
    mothers and milks once a day instead of the usual two times a day. It
    'costs' him some $1200 in milk per head but then he markets the vealers
    for $2500/head as milk-fed organic veal direct to restaurants. This he
    does not just for economic reasons but also for holistic livestock
    health reasons in that happy mothers are healthier mothers and so are
    calves. Any producer knows exactly what I mean by this. With every
    mammal (by very definition!) there is an enormous bond that occurs
    through suckling and removing that opportunity is not just against the
    natural order it also effects the behavioural and physical health of the
    animals concerned. Why is it that these livestock need a whole
    livestock pharmaceutical industry to keep them healthy? Some serious
    systemic questions needing to be answered there and these will be
    ultimately borne out when the end of cheap energy looms large and

    5. I am of the strong opinion that some people are not suited to meat
    consumption and that in most cases people overconsume livestock products
    (an exception being HM Raw Milk products) which obviously creates
    pressure points regarding production. It is up to the individual as to
    what they put in their mouth though they should be aware of the power
    they wield in making the choice of what goes in there, particularly
    around the support they provide to different production, processing and
    marketing methods!

    I am also of the strong opinion and have borne witness to the fact that
    in rangeland systems livestock are an essential component having
    coevolved with these systems such that rangeland health declines where
    livestock are either poorly managed (overgrazing or understocking with
    low density grazing) or removed from these systems to the point where
    desertification occurs as a result. The controversial absence of the
    larger megafauna here in Australia has fueled debate around the
    suitability of hooved ungulates in this country. Flannery and others,
    including myself, advocate in fact that heavier livestock are actually
    suited to the Australian landscape, particularly our extensive
    rangelands where just 50 000 or so years ago (a short time in
    evolutionary history) very large animals such as the hippo-sized 2500+
    kg Diprotodon (giant wombat) ranged, a beast some 5-10 times larger than
    these apparently damaging cows and other livestock of Asia Minor. The
    misunderstanding stems from the method of grazing not the animal grazing
    as clearly grasses and therefore grasslands are dependent on animals.
    Its all about the time an animal spends in one place grazing and the
    herd density in which it finds itself, which in nature is controlled by
    the presence of predators and that grazing animals won't feed on grasses
    fouled with their manure or urine. In HM practice we use grazing
    planning, biological monitoring, electric fencing and a variety of
    droving practices.

    6. Finally for now 'Two Tooth' is actually not a lamb, let alone young
    lamb. In fact a two tooth is when the now adolescent sheep gets its
    first two permanent (adult) teeth. There is the old saying that relates
    to this, '...trying to pass off two tooth for lamb...' just as there is
    another saying of '...trying to pass off two tooth or mutton for
    lamb/two tooth....'

    So I think in total it would be great if Nicole followed up on this
    article with some facts, and please use the resources available to check
    those I have put forward. Very much appreciate your work and its great
    that you are bringing localised food production & marketing to the
    fore, along with highlighting some of the loathesome and degenerative
    agricultural practices that are unfortunately the dominant paradigm.

    Off the Contour #1 - 'A Regenerative Plenary'

    ‘Off The Contour’ #1, 'A Regenerative Plenary'

    It has become clearer over the last few years that we have to do something about the way in which we continue as a species on this amazing planet. With that comes the need to develop some whole new understandings around our participation in what Allan Savory has described as 'key industries’[i], especially agriculture.

    I am certainly not the first to identify that we need to do something, indeed this call to act comes from a long and somewhat exemplary lineage of agrarian practitioners and philosophers going back as far as Marcus Porcius Cato[ii] to Thomas Jefferson & Louis Bromfield and the man described as ‘Australia’s greatest patriot’,[iii] P.A. Yeomans among many others.

    What is perhaps different and distinctive is that right now we have a set of extraordinary circumstances before us, the likes of which humans have never had to face. These are namely anthropogenic climate change, rampant finite fossil and mineral resource extraction, unabated pollution, degenerative land management and depletive, dependent cultures that lack resilience when times get tough.

    Professor Albert Bartlett suggested that ‘…the greatest failing of the human race is its inability to understand the exponential function…’[iv] and he is exactly right in that most humans fail to comprehend the natural limits and boundaries of extractive behaviors and as such we have reached the age of ‘Peak Everything’[v] where we humans now have less than 1 hectare per person of arable land[vi][vii]with suggestions of continued population growth that will see this figure reduce considerably over the 20-40 years.

    Many of you are primary producers and some of you will live in towns and cities and on the fringes of both with perhaps a common thread being an appreciation of the land, the production systems, the species supported and the people fed and clothed as a result. Being a primary producer or ‘solar economist’[viii] is an essential role, like I mentioned before a ‘key industry’ in society lest most people would starve and many landscapes would cease to function to their capacity.

    HeenanDoherty was formed as a response to those issues included above and really is about enabling a transitory approach to what I like to call the development of a regenerative economy. We are not going to pretend that we know what this will look like, or that we have all of the answers, those times are still before us, However what is staring us so starkly in the face is incredibly daunting and for some[ix] too great a task for humanity to deal with. I don’t share that view as I am one of many who have seen too many examples of humanity’s great ability to adapt to adversities and do so in what I would call a regenerative capacity.

    So how does one compare something that is sustainable to something that is regenerative. Put simply sustainability refers to something where inputs equals outputs. Regenerative systems work on the principle that inputs are less than outputs and where these ‘residues’ increase ‘nature’s infrastructure’,[x] and by doing so augment the resilience and capacity of our systems to continue ad infinitum.

    A regenerative economy encompasses the practice of acting within a framework whereby communities of people work with the communities of nature such that we realise the potential of all using means that are not merely sustainable, but like nature, are regenerative. Natural systems are regenerative as they get better over time using the available resources not worse or barely staying the same. Nature is at times quite volatile though in general is much more entrepreneurial and successful at the regenerative economy than we humans have been. It is therefore time that ‘we regain our place in nature’[xi] before the full force of nature’s volatility falls upon us.

    Our charter within HeenanDoherty is to provide the potential for people to be informed about the regenerative economy, whether it involves their work in agriculture, land management, corporate life, domestic services, manufacturing or other activities that are within the domain of humans. Its also about supporting people to make informed decisions by providing a range of opportunities to understand what they can do to develop more regenerative systems and lives no matter what they do or where they are.

    HeenanDoherty's focus is on Agriculture as we understand that it is the world’s most pervasive industry and is by far the human activity that works on the greatest land area. Regenerative agriculture has the potential to buy us the time we need to sequester much of the recalcitrant atmospheric carbon[xii] such that we can develop the transition to what we might call the ‘new soil economy.’[xiii] In other words a regenerative economy where ever deepening and thriving topsoil is the residue of our human activities as opposed to the prevailing situation of quite the opposite.

    In each year’s HeenanDoherty Regenerative Agriculture & Living workshop series across the globe we have assembled a stellar cast of very experienced trainers to help producers and consumers get a practical, profitable and pragmatic understanding of how to start the transition to a regenerative future for all. We are really looking forward to sharing this wonderful opportunity with you and your families.

    All the very best and I look forward to seeing you during any of the upcoming series.

    Darren J. Doherty

    [i] Savory, Allan, Creating a Sustainable Civilisation, Holistic Management International, 1993

    [ii] Cato, Marcus Porcius, D’Agricultura, 160BC

    [iii] Mollison, Bill, pers. comm., 1995

    [iv] Bartlett, Albert, Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101, University of Colorado, 1969

    [v] Heinburg, Richard, Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, 2007

    [vi] Population of World on 22.7.2010 is 6,857,458,891, www.census gov

    [vii] 6.8 Million hectares of Arable Land in the world, World Development Indicators Database, World Bank, 2010

    [viii] Collins, Abe, pers. comm., 2007

    [ix] Andrews, Peter, pers. comm., 2010

    [x] Kennedy, Robert F. Jnr., pers. comm., 2010

    [xi] Holmgren, David, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, 2002

    [xii] Lal, Rattan, The Potential for Soil Carbon Sequestration, International Food Policy Research Institute, 2009

    [xiii] Collins, Abe, pers. comm., 2007