Living a life that is in tune with Earth’s cycles requires a certain amount of downsizing and simplifying your lifestyle to start with. Reducing your needs to bare minimum first is a mentality shift not accomplished easily by many.
It is not easy.
If you are living a “city” life with a mortgage and demanding day job, have kids relying on you etc. etc. it is even harder. Plus our “stress” sources and “life load” like a hardship, family problems, losing loved ones, the debt we cannot pay are all contributing to our modern slavery.
Making money out of permaculture is a subject talked a lot in the social media, and they usually concentrate on farm produce and selling it on markets. My idea of making money is slightly different that I want to use a more “permacultury” approach and use other aspects of it to come up with “products” that you can sell (not just fruit and vegetables but also services too).
Of course, the aim “to make money” is a misnomer in permaculture; the aim would rather be “to reduce the need for money” and “establish systems to produce what you need” be it food, water, money, children, friends, society, happy life; abundance in all aspects.
One thing is for sure that you don’t accomplish things I’ve listed above overnight. There are steps and handicaps along the way, and your desire to fulfil your dreams should be alive all the time.
As we are not concentrating on one single system in permaculture design, we cannot rely on one single sellable item to make money. The more streams you can derive income the better. First of all, you need a prototype like producing enough meat, fish, vegetable, grains and fruit for your entire family and see how much effort required. And that my friend, comes with planning.
An excellent plan to produce and process everything you and your family need is your first step into a self-sustainable life. You are the apprentice of the land. The land will teach you how to establish systems to support one another and build resiliency as a feature and not an accidental outcome.
If you don’t saw the seeds today, you will not have anything to harvest tomorrow. And in between, there are the water shortages, seasonal problems, hail, flood, wildlife damage, slugs, birds, poisons sprayed next door, sabotage, banks, disease outbreaks, timing etc. as risks that you should be managing.
At this post, I am not going to talk about how you can manage all these different products but rather how you can establish and connect different products just like companion planting so that they support each other and provide streams of income. You might want to serve for your family and friends first and weight yourself if you can do this at larger scales.
The desire to earn money does not make you a money lover. We are not trying to be filthy rich either, although that would have solved many problems, just earning enough to live the life we choose. Today, even if you own land without any debt, you pay land tax and rates for the privilege of holding that land. On top, there are the water, electricity, telephone, internet services that you have to pay if you choose to connect to the grid. So before even you start earning money from your land, you are in red.
Let’s provide shelter and some food for ourselves and our family first.
There are short term and long term things you can do for you and your family.
Firstly make sure the shelter (house, tent, underground bunker etc.) is sound, stable and insulated and has enough accommodation for the members of the family. Everybody’s plan, capability, resources are different, and you can only do as much as your resources. It is time to be creative. Insulation can be a double glazed window or a sweater from a second shop; whatever keeps you warm on cold days and nights.
Second, start with a close by area with good soil and put some vegetable seeds in as well as some tree seedlings. You may not have any of those but you can start collecting them now, and when the time has come they will be ready.
Listing resources on the land is also another job. Finding a use to those resources is another.
If you have taken a PDC course, you already know that observation and planning are taught way in the beginning and listing the resources you have will help you to finalise your plan. You will be like a juggler trying to use, convert, reuse, store, support the energies that are entering and exiting your land.
- A cow converting grass to fertiliser,
- Pruning saved for biochar
- Herbaceous plant waste turns into compost
- Humanure and pee converts to fertiliser
- Gray water feeds into reed beds creating organic material
- Beehive provides pollination and honey to make alcohol
- Existing pond creates habitat for bugs and in turn feeds the fish which is food for us
- Biodiverse trees and shrubs giving fruit at different times
You might want to draw a diagram like the one below to identify how you can use, convert, reuse, store, support the energies you have.
You need to get the flow right first and scale up from there. The flow you’ve designed needs to burn into your daily routines and should become second nature.
Earning money requires a good sense of how to run a business. If you add permaculture principles to “running a business”, you can then “possibly” do it ethically too. A while back I have written an article for the PRI about the 15 key points of a commercial permaculture farm. Please have a read of that article as well.
Once you have listed the resources, you can then look into the areas where you will gain the most productive outcome with a little bit of support. For example, selling to high-end restaurants may bring in more income than selling at farmers market. Using a push bike with a trailer would save money on fuel. Asking chefs to come to your garden to pick what they want, would be more beneficial as you don’t pull, wash, package and transport the produce. You can time-stack your apples by growing different apple types that ripen throughout the season, and you will have apples to eat for most of the season, and you are not inundated with products that you don’t know what to do with. Growing oriental medicinal plants and selling them to traditional Chinese medicine practitioners would be more beneficial then growing tomatoes. Instead of growing corn, you can maybe grow barramundi. Growing perennials may be more useful in the long run than annuals. Berries have a short shelf life but pears can stay longer, or you can turn the berries to jam and extend the shelf life.
There is one disadvantage of doing polyculture that you won’t have enough of a single product to lure wholesalers, but that may be a good thing. Wholesalers may reduce your time you spend at the farmer’s market stall but with a reduced income. Finding the niche, selling direct to consumers would still be better.
We looked at tangible products you can sell, but there are also things like talks, training, courses, consultation, design, farm management kind of jobs where you derive income. If you are known in the community as well as social media, you can advertise yourself and organise events to teach people and grow your business from there. The only problem is you are the only one in this venture, and you can’t clone yourself; well you can, but that will cost money :-), so you have to make sure you are not burning yourself under the load.
With permaculture, you may not be spending time on growing food but for distribution, marketing and paperwork.
I give talks, organise workshops and consult people. I don’t earn much money but things like worm farms, compost bins are what I need and earn. When I do earn money, I buy stuff like root pouches, tools, books from local people and shops, so the money I’ve ethically earned from my work goes to some other ethical products.
All in all, establishing a profitable system takes time. We are talking about 3 to 5 years. And there is the preliminary analysis and design phase which should be taken seriously as all your money earning activities will be relying on it.
On the other hand, you can look into establishing a farming business like an orchard, silvopasture, agroforestry, hydroponics, aquaponics etc. and try to implement permaculture principles to it as much as you can. So you are making money while applying permaculture ethics to it.