Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Two

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter Two: Who Am I To Farm? in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


.3% of all Americans and 2.2% of Canadians make their primary income from farming, the smallest proportion in the history in either nation: “No other societies have made our basic connection to the earth and garnering a sustenance such a marginal specialty.” (Of course, as he notes, many of our farmers — “Mexicans, Jamaicans, Salvadorans, Haitians and other dispossessed farmers from the South” — are not acknowledged officially.)

Bane talks about some of my favourite people, Helen and Scott Nearing, on pp. 16-17, citing their 1954 book Living the Good Life: “After Scott, who was trained as an engineer and an economist, was blacklisted from academia following World War I for his socialist and antiwar views, the couple retired to the Vermont frontier [and later the Maine midcoast], reduced their consumption of industrial goods and adopted a vegetarian diet based on homegrown food. They built their own house from local materials and disciplined themselves to divide their days equally between ‘bread labor’ (work for sustenance), intellectual pursuits, and socializing. Working six weeks a year in the later winter to make maple syrup and sugar afforded them enough cash income to pay taxes and even to travel.”

Post World War II suburbs: Appeals to millions who had left the countryside for war and jobs but who still felt the pull of pastoral life: “Men continued to enact, in mechanical and often neurotic ways, the ritual of making hay as they cut their lawns into perfect green squares every weekend. Women organized ice cream socials and birthday parties like the collective celebrations of harvest that had ennobled the hard lives of their ancestors. Children were the real crop here.”

lawnmower made from Legos, on a fenced lawn, at Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA, July 2016

Suburbs grew to be dominant habitat for North American societies: “City centers and their surrounding neighborhoods, under assault by highway builders, redlining, and white flight born of racism, hollowed as their outer fringes spread. … The traditional household pattern of life eroded as millions of women moved into the workforce in the 1970s and beyond, largely to compensate for falling incomes and inflating costs of living. While energy concerns and economic hardship during the 1970s put a temporary brake on the expansion of suburban housing, military Keynesianism under Reagan combined with loose banking laws led to a glut of suburban housing and office developments occupying the new niches created by the federally funded interstate highway system. Flight from center cities, which had begun as a backlash against racial integration in the 1960s and 1970s, accelerated. A generation of sprawl had begun whose end we viewed in 2008 and 2009 as the so-called ‘sub-prime mortgage crisis.'”

house in suburban neighbourhood in Salem, Virginia, April 2011

North American suburbia is ripe for garden farms — the terrain is good (flat to rolling), the compact locations around centers of populations is ideal, there are already extensive water and road networks and lots of labour and other resources all nearby.

urban community garden plots in Jamaica Plain, MA, April 2014



Featured image is spouse putting up the bamboo-fishing line fence around our main vegetable garden, May 2014.

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