John Kaisner The Natural Farmer – Who We Are

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Jagannath K - The Natural Farmer

John Kaisner is an American-born Natural Farmer and Permaculture Designer/Teacher. Although he began his career in the U.S., he has now lived and worked as an Architect and Permaculturist, outside of the U.S. and its Territories, for more than 12 years. He speaks English, French and Italian.

After working for 4 years as a volunteer throughout India, John and his wife purchased land in the Mediterranean climate of Sicily. It is here that they intend to raise a family, near his wife’s native village of Salice. This land is currently being transformed into their Permaculture Training/Demonstration Site. The aim of this site is to combine Permaculture and Natural Farming in ways that don’t yet exist on the planet – for the benefit of all.

John strongly believes in the 3rd Ethic of Permaculture: Return of Surplus, which is why he curates two separate YouTube channels – John Kaisner The Natural Farmer, and John Kaisner Permaculture. Each of these channels provides free content to viewers interested in broadening their understanding of sustainable farming practices. John believes that donating his time in this way is one of the most effective ways he can show appreciation for all of the blessings in his life. The viewer-based community which has sprung up around these channels is truly inspirational. The members pool information in a way which is far superior to anything that one single teacher could hope to provide. It is, to use a well-known Permaculture phrase, the “edge effect” in action – across communities, across race and religion, across the globe.

The Site on Sicily is in its initial stages. They have completed most of the site’s Earthworks, and have now planted a Food Forest containing more than 70 fruit and nut trees, support species, roots, ground cover, bushes, vines, etc. As Permaculture design is not currently followed in the area where they live, a Food Forest such as this can prove an effective tool in teaching Nature’s design principles. Most farmers are wary to change. The profession is fraught with misunderstanding. However, a well-executed demonstration site, such as this, can have a lasting impact on its visitors – young and old.

Many subscribers have expressed interest in Permaculture Courses, as well as Work-Stay opportunities on the land in Sicily. Stay tuned here for details regarding these and other opportunities to come….

 

Villa Libertà

Letter to the local paper

Some of you may remember a video I made about the nearby Aeolian Island of Panarea. link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oov5vQ2ahQ

In this video I featured a Permaculture demonstration site named Villa Libertà, which was created by my friends Derek and Jehnny. Recently their site has come under scrutiny. This prompted them to ask me to write a letter on their behalf. They were happy with the content, and suggested that it might be useful to diffuse the message on a broader platform than the local paper, which is why I’ve chosen to share the letter here – in order to use it as a tool for education and demonstration.

As Permaculturists, we have an important role to play in our communities. We are all familiar with Permaculture as a means for healing the environment, but it is equally powerful as an agent for social change. So here’s the letter…

Dear _________

Water is Life.

Recently it was brought to my attention that the property known as Villa Libertà on the Aeolian Island of Panarea has come under scrutiny. On the surface, this scrutiny may seem justified. However, as a Permaculture designer and teacher, as well as a resident of Sicily, I would make a few points that may help to justify Derek and Jehnny’s intervention.

There is no new water. Though one could argue that the melting of the polar ice caps is releasing otherwise solidified quantities of water into our oceans, we are basically operating with the same supply of water that existed on the planet at the time of the dinosaurs. The only difficulty is, the Earth is now host to 7.6 billion residents. Our relationship with this precious resource must be adapted to ever more rapidly changing circumstances.

The planet is drying out. At a time when the concept of Global Warming has finally been accepted by nearly every major government on this planet, a more apt and accurate approach to our current condition would be to call it “Global Desertification”.

Panarea is located less than 500 kilometers from North Africa, and the subsequent Sahara Desert, which is the driest region on the planet. Desertification is literally at Panarea’s back door.

Deserts are growing. They’re called the silent killer. They are at the heart of the European immigration crisis, as they are the leading cause of African land grabs, population displacement, and war. At this writing, 15,908 hectares of once arable land have been transformed into desert this year (http://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/degradation_and_destruction_of_ecosystems/interesting_desert_facts). In addition, great populations across the planet, once considered safe within the confines of cities are now finding themselves with severe shortages of this precious resource. Here is a link to the article entitled “The 11 cities most likely to run out of drinking water – like Cape Town” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-42982959). Therefore all solutions which may help end this surreptitious killer should be welcomed with open arms by any country who considers itself an advocate of reversing climate change.

At present the population of Panarea, and thus its booming tourism business, is wholly dependent on the weekly shipments of potable water from Naples, 300 km away. Docked at the local port the ships deposit millions of liters of water into the community cistern. The water is then pumped uphill into the cisterns of the residents, restaurants, businesses, and government offices. If this supply of water were to be interrupted for any reason, the island would quickly be rendered completely uninhabitable. But they are not alone. Most popular destination islands across the globe operate in exactly the same manner, which is why these islands, which function as valuable microcosms, hold the design key to our planet’s future.

Enter Villa Libertà.

Villa Libertà is not reliant on this water. It is located on an uninhabited zone of the island, where the water pipes do not reach. Yet the owners, Derek and Jehnny are able to successfully grown fruit trees, raise bees and donkeys, and cultivate gardens (hydroponic and terrestral) in an otherwise desolate location. How are they able to do these things with no access to the imported water shipments each week? The answer is Permaculture.

Villa Libertà is a Permaculture demonstration site, which means it holds the answer to how we are to live on a planet which is being overtaken by desert. Created in Australia in the 1980’s, Permaculture (which derives its name from Permanent Agriculture) is a sustainable design methodology whose aim is to teach us how to fix the environmental problems we’ve created.

Derek and Jehnny harvest all the water they use from rainfall. The water is stored in a collection of cisterns, then fed via gravity or solar-powered pumps as needed. The result is water sustainability. This makes Villa Libertà an indispensable learning site for generations to come.

So to return to the issue at hand…
It’s easy to misinterpret the things we see each day. What might appear to one person an eyesore or an encroachment on the landscape, might actually prove to be the solution to an ever more serious global crisis. I believe this is the case with Villa Libertà. Rather than attempting to eliminate it, the local government of Panarea should nurture its development, see it for the demonstration site that it is, and integrate found solutions into the island’s existing infrastructure.

Water is life.

Please see this for the invitation that it is. An invitation for change and for life.

Sincerely,

John Kaisner
Cartesiano, Sicily

Hold On To Your Vision

So…

Rather than lecture or teach or do any of the things that I normally seem to do on the channel, I’d like to simply share some thoughts. They may be somewhat unorganized, but bear with me.

Most of the world has no understanding of Permaculture or Natural Farming.

This became clear to me when we began our site, here in Sicily.

We as Permaculture designers use strategies which are generations old. However, many of these strategies are unknown to the generations still living. The impact of technology in farming has been so profound that it has all but eliminated common sense and time saving techniques. In the past, rain was harvested at the high point of the land. From that height it was allowed to flow down via gravity to the land below.

Now people just buy an electric pump.

The poetry of the farm is dead.

So it should come as no surprise that we feel alone in our quest.

That was certainly the case for me when we moved here.

I do not want to be negative. Nor do I want to discourage you as Permaculture designers. However, I need to caution you of the fact that the road you are walking can be isolating.

There just aren’t that many people doing this stuff.

It’s lonely in the beginning.

People won’t get it.

And you may feel very, very alone.

But don’t give up.

Hold on to your vision.

Over time, as the plants begin to grow, it gets less lonely.

The plants keep you company. The living things with which you fill your space. They become your friends and companions.

The animals too!

It’s been that way for me.

Where there was once a blank slate, life springs into action.

And when the plants come, the people begin to see. Because then it’s not only you who is talking, but also Nature. She does the convincing for you. Her expression is undeniable. And those who once doubted, begin to see.

But you must stay the course for any of this to come true.

Or else it won’t.

Life will just be filled with more electric pumps.

So don’t give up.

John

John Kaisner The Natural Farmer – 1:1 Farming

By the end of this article, you should feel confident about creating a self-supporting farm/garden….

1:1 Farming definition:
A mode of farming in which all inputs necessary for sustaining and evolving a farm are acquired from within the bounds of the farm itself.

About Sustainability…
Depending on who you ask, it is said that it takes 4-7 years for a typical solar panel to produce more energy in its functioning than was consumed by its manufacture. I’m speaking of energy here, not financial cost.

solar-panels-homepageWhat does this mean, exactly?

It means that the energy required to manufacture, assemble, transport and install a typical solar panel (PV) will not be offset by the energy produced by that solar panel – from collecting the sun’s rays and converting them into electricity – for 4-7 years. Those are the energetic inputs and outputs of a solar panel.

Does this mean we should not use solar? Of course not.

What it does mean is that we need to be aware of the bigger energetic picture in all that we do.

This is how a discussion on Sustainable Farming can begin – by looking at what we create through the eyes of an energy accountant – an energy audit – like a balance sheet.

Energy in, Energy out.

I’ll cut to the chase – I don’t believe in in and outpurchasing a lot of inputs from outside of the farming area. If your farming area is a balcony or a rooftop then, of course, you have no choice really but to bring in a lot of inputs from outside of your area. I’m speaking here of areas which are at least 1/10 of an acre or more. With an area of 1/10 of an acre, we should be able to design a system which requires almost no external inputs.

I’ll explain why.

Our planet is solar-powered.

Remove the sun, earth-moon-sun-alignment-5-may-2012-11-35-pm-edt-gravitational-pull-increases-sun-spots-and-earthquakes-possible-tsunamisand life ceases to exist.

The same sun’s energy that we enjoy here on earth is also present on the surface of the moon, yet the moon is unable to convert the sun’s energy into life, as the earth does.

Why is that?

Have you ever thought about it?

The answer to this question holds the key to providing your farm with the inputs it needs – from within the bounds of your farming area.

The mmoon_blue-mountains_01oon does not convert solar energy in the same way as the earth because it lacks sufficient living organisms (plus the fact that the moon has no protective atmosphere and therefore no rain).

It is the living organisms of a system that convert energy into life, whether that energy comes from the sun, the rain, the wind, the animals, etc.

So how does this relate to your farm?

There is a saying in Permaculture. Call it a design principle. It basically says that yield is limitless – that the only limit to yield is the designer’s imagination. It says that there is always another root, another vine, another opportunity to catch rain or condensation, another surface that can be utilized, another waste converted, etc in a system. It challenges designers to look at their surroundings with fresh eyes, to imitate Nature in her design, and to maximize yield in new and creative ways (and then share those ways on YouTube! ha )

As applied to the farm, this means that I can design my system in such a way as to:
1. Catch and reuse all the water I need
2. Harvest the maximum amount of solar energy possible in the living organisms I design into the system (non-living means as well, ie solar panels)
3. Grow all the food necessary for any animals in my system
4. Plant and harvest all necessary products for pest control
5. Grow my fencing and structural materials
6. Give back to the soil by growing all necessary mulching/composting materials, as well as cycling back all waste material
7. Feed myself and my loved ones with what is grown

…in addition, if things are going very well, then I might

8. Give or trade the surplus of our system for additional products with neighbors or friends or even local businesses

…and if things are REALLY going well, then I might

9. Sell my surplus to Consumers (Farmer’s Market, CSA, etc)

This is basically how Permaculture proposes we proceed on this path of self-sufficiency and resiliency.

At this point I need to clarify that proportion and balancecows become paramount to the design guidelines listed above. Obviously I will be unable to provide all necessary food and inputs for say 12 cows on 1/10 of an acre, but I could provide what is necessary for 6 guinea pigs – also an excellent source of fertilizer for the garden. This may seem like a silly example, the 12 cows, but I have seen such situations cause havoc in certain cultures throughout the planet.

In addition, I must say that I would certainly not refuse free cow manure from a neighboring offer, should the situation arise. However, I try and stay aware of the fact that this input might not last forever, and avoid becoming too dependent on its presence.

The temptation of course
is to focus directly on step 9, quit our day jobs, and try to earn a living directly from our system.

Although this is certainly how professional farmers have lived for Millennia, and it may be an immediate possibility for some, it is not something that I advise trying immediately. It may cost you dearly in time and money. Instead I would suggest following the slow and steady path as outlined above, and then document and share with others exactly what steps you took to arrive at success.

Finally, I would like to examine one additional subject regarding 1:1 Farming, and that is money .

In the Industrial Farming world, much attention is given to quantity of yield. The boasting rights of the proud farmer are centered on how many, say, bushels of corn he can produce on a single acre of land. With the advent of hybridized seeds in the 1950’s, and more recently with the development of GMO strains – which are able to grow abnormally close to one another –  these farmers often reach yields of 220 bushels/acre, even more (in 1940 the average yield of corn in the U.S. was 30 bushels/acre).

This all seems terrific, no?

The truth is that most corn farmers today (in the U.S.) are not earning a living. The production has skyrocketed, but so have the expenses involved in farming. A farmer can earn a million dollars from the yield of his land, but if he is spending a million and one dollars on inputs, then he is going backwards.

However, a 1:1 farmer who carries with him an awareness of sustainability, and who is mindful to harvest all of the needs of the farm from within the farm itself – without spending precious money at the farm supply center – will find himself/herself with an additional yield which is much appreciated but seldom discussed. And that is freedom.