On the Farm
Do We Need Farms?
This may seem a crazy question, suggesting as it does that we could feed and clothe
ourselves entirely from back gardens and smallholdings. But we could do just that if we
Gardens are much more productive than farms. Research suggests that the average do-
mestic vegetable plot in Britain yields three and a half times as much per square metre as
the average farm, due to the extra attention that can be given to smaller areas. Applying the
principles of permaculture design, especially those of stacking and multiple yields, can in-
crease the productivity of the land even more.
The present strategy of large-scale mechanised farms, with only 1% of the population
working on the land, is only possible thanks to the subsidy of grossly under priced fossil
fuels. Imagine the last half billion years of Earth's history compressed into one year. It is
now midnight on 31st December. Oil has been laid down continuously since about May. We
discovered it three seconds ago and in another three seconds we will have used it all up.
Whatever may be uncertain about the future, one thing is sure: we cannot go on as we are.
A permacultural vision of the future would include a far greater proportion of people
growing at least some of their own food. Many of them would grow all of it and work part
time for their other needs, some would grow a surplus for sale and others would grow noth-
ing at all. There is no one model that fits everybody. But nobody will have to put in long and
boring hours of labour to get their food, as permaculture replaces endless labour with skilful
This would enable most of the land now used for food production to be returned to its
natural state, which in Britain is woodland. Some of this would supply us with timber and
other produce, some would be pure wilderness, but all would provide us with two things that
the world is becoming critically short of: wholesome air and clean water.