Why not Abundance?

It’s starting to feel like the ’30s in Spain:

Outmaneuvering the police, hundreds of jobless farmworkers charged through a hole in a fence and turned the manicured gardens of a vacant estate here in Spain’s agricultural heartland into a lively fairground of protest this week. … “We’re here to denounce a social class who leaves such places to waste,” said Diego Cañamero, the leader of the Andalusian Union of Workers, addressing the demonstrators who had occupied the property, the Palacio de Moratalla. …. [T]he owner, the Duke [!!] of Segorbe, lives in Andalusia’s capital, Seville, about 60 miles away. … Agricultural subsidies are criticized by many here as favoring landed interests, paying them not to grow crops when nearly a third of the work force in Andalusia is unemployed. … “Nobody lives here now, but the sprinklers are functioning and keeping the lawns beautifully green,” [a 50-year-old jobless farm laborer] observed. “Just imagine how many farming wages you could pay instead of using the money to water empty gardens.”

Or cut out the “job creator,” wages, and just… grow food. But after the farmworkers have seized the land, euthanized the rentier Duke, and put an end to an artificial scarcity of work and food — hey, kidding! — how should they cultivate it?

Spoiler alert for the video: NC readers know I’m very much taken with the idea of edible landscapes, food forests, and permaculture generally, so “permaculture” would be my answer!

So, herewith, a tour of Geoff Lawton’s Zaytuna Farm in Australia:

From the page at the Zaytuna farm’s site that accompanies the video:

In true permaculture style, Geoff laid out a mainframe design that would take nature’s own restoration process, and significantly speed it up, starting with the all-important aspects of water harvesting, storage and infiltration. A large dam was created (later to become ‘Paradise’, both by name and nature) with the first swale attached, and the first straw bale buildings went up alongside. More earthworks and initial plantings took place until June 2003, when Geoff left the site to its own devices, virtually abandoned, as he worked internationally for over three years. Site establishment didn’t resume until August 2006, and my first visit to the site was in 2008.

Arriving on the farm last month (April 2012), and winding my way down the driveway towards Geoff and Nadia’s straw bale home in the centre of the property, the first thing that struck me was the leap in biomass. In a carefully orchestrated development and migration of productivity, food forests that had been compact and immature were now not only reaching climax, but their borders were being greatly enlarged — the many plants and trees spawning siblings and spreading, with the help of positive human, and animal, interventions, like a corridor of abundance across the site.

A “corridor of abundance”… I like the sound of that. Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to replace the Duke’s lawn* with an edible landscape? Why not?

NOTE * And by “lawn,’ I mean “friggin’ lawn.”

NOTE Lawton’s first sentence: “These systems are extremely stable.” I like the sound of that, too. The trick will be to bootstrap such systems into existence, globally.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Garrett Pace

    Slum Lords

    by John Updike

    The superrich make lousy neighbors—
    they buy a house and tear it down
    and build another, twice as big, and leave.
    They’re never there; they own so many
    other houses, each demands a visit.
    Entire neighborhoods called fashionable,
    bustling with servants and masters, such as
    Louisburg Square in Boston or Bel Air in L.A.,
    are districts now like Wall Street after dark
    or Tombstone once the silver boom went bust.
    The essence of superrich is absence.
    They like to demonstrate they can afford
    to be elsewhere. Don’t let them in.
    Their riches form a kind of poverty.

    1. Dubious

      Right, building skyscrapers and using thousands of tons of glass, plastic and metal is soooooo sustainable.

      You sound like shill for equipment makers. Let me guess, you have financing available to build your pie in the sky

      A handful of seeds saved for free from last year, some leaves and grass cuttings in a compost heap and a pitchfork and shovel don’t require financing.

      1. TK421

        If using that glass and steel to make a building that basically runs itself prevents the need for glass and steel to make tractors and harvesters that burn tons of fuel each year, then yes it is a good idea. Resources are going to be consumed, no matter what; we can consume them in an intelligent way or in a foolish way.

  2. Goin' South

    Re: 30s Spain–

    Viva communismo libertario! (the old CNT cry)

    George Orwell on Barcelona in ’36:

    “But it (the revolution) lasted long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it. However much one cursed at the time, one realized afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word “comrade” stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality.”

  3. William

    To learn more about the fascinating worlds that permaculturists are building and living, go to permies.com. Be sure to check out the many youtube videos.

  4. Stephen Gardner

    This time the necessary changes won’t be impeded by a Soviet boogy man waiting in the wings to be used by the elites to scare the gullible. The elites have chosen their boogy man, he is Muslim not red so the ruling class may have painted themselves into a corner.

    1. Susan the other

      Thanks to Lambert for another vid on Geoff Lawton. I woke up depressed and spent too much time on Jesse’s Cafe watching Nazi horrors and listening to the always gloomy Chris Hedges. And I started thinking we simply do not know how to change. We always resort to some instinctual form of fascism as if it is our only 3rd act which can make sense of the 2 act mess we just finished. And then a video on permaculture which was better than a benediction. I especially noted the different tone of language among the chickens and ducks. They weren’t hysterical at all.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        This again is the issue of “adequate emotion” — in this case, depression (if we separate out clinical from situational), as opposed to “dispassion” on the previous thread. I’m sure other stances are possible. Not to go all Polyanna.

        Hedges is IMNSHO a better diagnositician and a surgeon or healer.

  5. JGordon

    Lately I have been really depressed about how far out of touch with reality financial news has become, and NC is only marginally less out of touch than outlets like CNBC.

    But thanks to the Greening the Desert and the Food Forest videos I found linked here on NC I became inspired to learn about permaculture. Before I was very worried about the future, but now I feel confident that when the global market economy inevitably does go down the drain, not only will I survive but the quality of my life will improve dramatically. Thanks NC!

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      There’s that word “depression” again…. Again, I’ll say, heavily caveating with IMNHSO, and that, like Stuart Smalley, I’m “not a licensed therapist,” that the thing to do is take one step in any direction at all and try to keep moving.

      One direction to move is out in the garden; I’ve started sitting outside in the garden I planted, because the WiFi goes out that far, and it’s an incredible lift to the spirit. So would putting a begonia in the window and watering it be.

      Other directions are any form of civic engagement at all, from a letter to the editor on up. (And LTEs really do get read; they are important.)

      1. JGordon

        Civic engagement is pointless in a collapsing system. The only thing it causes is unnecessary stress and anger.

        A better solution is to just acknowledge reality, that the financial system and the global industrial economy that it relies on are doomed, and write it off as a lost cause. After that, you can start working towards goals that will actually improve the lives of the people around you–i.e, studying permaculture, making friends in your community, and learning to live and interact with people in ways that don’t require money.

        Thanks to the things that I’ve been doing after being inspired by Nakedcapitalism and people like Dmitry Orlov, now when I contemplate the imminent collapse of the global industrial economy I no longer feel helpless, or that life will end when it’s over. Out of all the tens of thousands of years of human history, the market economy is a recent artifact of the past few hundred. When it’s gone we will just be going back to the normal state of things–and the people who choose to survive will regain their dignity and learn to live like human beings again, rather than insatiable, voracious animals the market economy tends to turn them into. It’s something everyone should look forward to.

  6. JTFaraday

    ““Nobody lives here now, but the sprinklers are functioning and keeping the lawns beautifully green,” [a 50-year-old jobless farm laborer] observed. “Just imagine how many farming wages you could pay instead of using the money to water empty gardens.”

    Or cut out the “job creator,” wages, and just… grow food.”

    Indeed, if things are that bad in Spain– and you can take over unutilized land– there’s no need to wait for someone to add the stupid wages. Just do it.

    I think we have a hard time even beginning to think about how the conceptual tyranny of “the job” may be inhibiting our capacity to think.

    Meanwhile, the more fortunate get to sneer at the unemployed predicament just because–9 or more times out of 10– they got lucky.

    I seem to recall seeing a conservative defense of just precisely this strategy elsewhere on this site this weekend:

  7. Crazy Horse

    I’ve posted my thoughts about Homesteading as a response to foreclosed and vacant houses to a number of different forums with absolutely no one responding to the idea. Of course the Man will squash any individual attempt to occupy and improve an abandoned home, but he would have much more difficulty if a thousand families did it simultaneously and backed up their actions with an armed self defense militia.

    The same principle holds for recapturing the suburbs and making them more food self sufficient. Start with illegal gardens in the front lawn space, and they will soon be legal and near universal like they are in Port Townsend Washington. Then sell the Ford Excursion,buy a rusted out Suburu and use the capital saved to build a passive/active solar greenhouse in the back yard. 3,000 square feet of area devoted to an aquaponics system will produce enough vegetables and fish protein to satisfy the majority of the food requirements for a family of three and use 10% the water needed for permaculture farming. Once you have mastered the care and feeding of the system, add another 1500 sq. ft to raise duckweed algae to feed the fish, and you have a nearly complete ecosystem that will sustain your family through a lot of turmoil. Share your knowledge with your neighbors, and with them recapture the Commons by tearing down unsalvageable abandoned homes, create farm and greenhouse land, and build a sustainable tribal community with its own food source and the will to defend it for the benefit of the community.

    Sorry folks, as primitive as it sounds, that is the best bomb shelter around for the post carbon, ice-free-Arctic age we will be living in within a few decades. If you don’t believe me, just fly into a place like Mexico City or Los Angeles and tell me how that maze is going to be sustained with corn ethanol and solar panels 30 or 40 years from now.

    1. Ms G

      Great ideas, but what if you don’t own any land to carry them out (except for being able to get food from the “illegal” gardens on somebody else’s or public property — which I am all in favor of.)

      I’ve always dreamt of having a patch of earth to garden and grow veggies and herbs in . . . but all I have is my urban fire escape and that’s going to be gone soon — tenancy is precarious.

      1. Crazy Horse

        One of the fundamental delusions of our species is that we “own” the planet. At a local level the notion of ownership of land is equally delusional, and usually leads to an attitude of exploitation rather than stewardship. In point of fact we cannot own land— only be stewards of it until we are planted below its surface. Until we understand that, we will continue to be a cancer upon the face of the Earth, the cause of a massive species extinction and the most rapid climate alteration the planet has seen since it was last impacted by a giant meteorite.

  8. bluntobj

    Couple of things:

    Creating a dam. Full stop. Many states assert their right to even the water that runs into your rain barrel, much less flowing water on your land. Recall the story of the Oregon guy who went to jail for diverting and storing runoff water behind earthen damns on his property on water that fell on his property. If you don’t already have such a structure on your property thats grandfathered in, no water for you.

    Animal based rehabilitaive practices. These are the best practices to restore soils. Cows/pigs/chickens raised on grass with no grain actually rebuild the land they graze. However, there’s an outright war going on against animal protein (the latest addition is a UN report that says people will become vegetarians due to the wastefulness of animal protein production), waged by large agribusiness and food processors. Researching local food movement pioneers like Joel Salatin reveal the depth of the regulatory war going on right now.


    When you get right down to it, the main enemy of permaculture is regulations. From water use to zoning, use of animals to distribution, selling the food, and farm subsidies, the main problem is government bureacracy, not elitism.

    As a farm rehabilitationist I loved the permaculture video, but most of what is shown would land you stiff fines or even a prison sentence in the US, depending on your locale.

  9. Dr. Brian Oblivion

    Not having read Animal Farm since high school and that it was overshadowed by Orwell’s other widely read work, 1984, I had forgotten how powerful and relevant it was and still is. An allegorical examination of non-democratic (totalitarian states) and their tendency to co-opt any revolutionary breaks with the past that gave rise to a new order? If it helps you to sleep at night to think so.

    I reread it recently and it contains so much that is relevant to the present day. Apparently so did the introduction that Orwell wrote at the time for Animal Farm. I have yet to read it however. It was suppressed or perhaps overlooked for decades.

    Working for a debt collection operation sounds not all that different to the shrinking array of soul diminishing opportunities available for debt and wage slaves to choose from and submit to. Submitting to temporary wage slavery for the benefit of those who benefited most from the anti-social enclosure movements that ushered in the new age of capital for capital’s sake quickly transitioned to permanent wage slavery at falling rates, more hours, greater dehumanization for those selling their lives for nothing in blocks of non-refundable submission to totalitarian organizations granted rights promised but never really granted for living social creatures, with lifespans and privileges not even considered for those toiling under their heel.

    If not for my clearly anti-social if not downright sociopathic absentee (slumlord) feudal lord, I would never have whored myself out for pennies to earn nearly a thousand dollars a month just to shower on a distant disembodied monster with no consideration for my plight or my having been alive at some point. Having paid a small bribe for a scrap of paper that entitles him to full ownership and authority over property thousands of miles away to extract non-productive and onerous sums from me and others like me not nearly so rapacious or so eager to exploit others not motivated by the same empty and selfish and bottomless hunger to stuff everything within reach down his worthless gullet.

    If you want to own and exploit property, fucking live there, asshole. I have it on good authority that somewhere down the line, the original owner neither saw the deed nor was he ever paid before being driven off or simply slaughtered for existing.

    Only distance and specialization/compartmentalizing the gross bits of our vulgar civilized society can they be obscured enough to pretend the injustice and perverse pathology underlying everything around us even approaches what could otherwise be possible, in a world where perhaps slobbering greed in itself wasn’t the greatest of virtues.

    I’d find so much more personal and interpersonal satisfaction to overflowing and would work on greater and more rewarding projects for my benefit and for those around me without the constant demands for undeserved tribute, the flaccid and pitifully exaggerated threats, the endless downpour of three day pay or vacate (either or, really?), the outsized and injust poverty penalties, etc. There are too many horrors and injustices going on in the world around each of us, but the worst of all, the one that injures and enslaves me more than any of the other bastards that demand dispatching than my own private rentier.

    As far as I am concerned, paraphrasing Richard H. Kirk and Stephen Mallinder, Hell’s Home. It doesn’t get much more (im)personal and threatening than that.

    Thanks go out for all the expired food delivered to foodbanks across the country. But if not for my slumlord, who never rests and never tires of threatening my temporary illusion of security is asshole number one. Without him, I would easily survive on a few hours of prostituting myself out to pay for the few things I actually desire or require to live a fulfilled and happy life. Nearly a half century has gone by with each decade darker than the last. I really doubt some great reward will be coming my way for doing my part in the master slave game that was foisted upon me.

    Perhaps the nuclear war that so many lusted for but that never came to pass would have led to a brighter day than the darkness that promises to rape and suffocate any simple dreams I once may have had.

    And this is the best of all possible worlds. Don’t make laugh. If not for all the warm and very real human lives out there intermingled with the wolves in charge, I’d sooner see it all burn than to acknowledge its legitimacy and grant it my consent. Rome never fell and man never threw off his chains. He probably never will.

    Having paid more in rent to the property I inhabit month-to-month than my absentee slumlord probably ever will it’s clear to all but the most deeply indoctrinated that there is no justice here and freedom is only obtainable if one can loot enough from others to purchase it.

    The rotting carcass has long since begun to stink.

    At least there’s Naked Capitalism.

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