The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Horticulturalist society

Jared Diamond calls it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” Bill Mollison says that it can “destroy whole landscapes.” Are they describing nuclear energy? Suburbia? Coal mining? No. They are talking about agriculture.

Kale about to bloomThus begins Toby Hemenway's thought-provoking article "Is Sustainable Agriculture an Oxymoron?"  Those of you who were intrigued (or irritated) by my post that people worked only 3 hours per day before the Industrial Revolution should take a look at Hemenway's article.

Anthropologist Yehudi Cohen broke societies down into five categories, the relevant three being foragers (hunter-gatherers), horticulturalists (gardeners), and agriculturalists (farmers.)  Based on historical and anthropological data, Hemenway comes to the conclusion that agricultural societies are inherently unsustainable, but he doesn't make the leap several of you made upon reading my previous post that the only solution is to return to a hunter-gatherer existence.  Instead, we can meet in the middle as horticulturalists:

Horticulturists use polycultures, tree crops, perennials, and limited tillage, and have an intimate relationship with diverse species of plants and animals. This sounds like permaculture, doesn’t it?

Mark and I have been going back and forth for years about whether we are farmers or gardeners.  On the one hand, we are serious enough about our endeavor that we consider ourselves farmers.  On the other hand, we don't use tractors or sell our excess --- two signs that we're merely gardeners.  Maybe I should start calling us horticulturalists?

Thanks to Vester for passing on this intriguing article!  I'd love to hear from anyone with an anthropology background who could suggest a bit of reading material for me to bone up on traditional horticultural societies.

Check out our homemade chicken waterer, Mark's solution to the problem of chicken waterers that spill and fill with poop.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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