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Obtain A Yield [Agriculture
Posted on April 29, 2015 @ 07:48:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The third of 12 Permaculture Principles is to "Obtain A Yield". In previous blogs I discussed the first principle Observe & Interact and the second principle Catch & Store Energy.

The imperative to "Obtain A Yield" is probably obvious to most people visiting this site, but there are many subtleties.

For example, you might create a beautiful garden and feel you have obtained a yield simply from the beauty of it. That is certainly one yield. From a practical perspective, however, you have not obtained much of a yield if you are not also going to eat some of the food produced by that garden. Many people do not obtain a proper food yield from their garden. They might not know how to cook or prepare the food in a way that makes them want to eat it on a regular basis, they might not know to preserve their food for storage, they might not be able to handle the abundance the garden produces in a certain window of time, they might be too busy to harvest, or they may simply be too lazy to harvest when the fun of planting and watching them grow is over. In order to obtain a yield you need to be able to manage the abundance that nature provides (i.e., catch and store energy) so that you can subsequently obtain a yield from that storage. Obtaining a yield requires managing the full cycle properly.

Yield is also more general than money but certainly includes it as one of the valued outputs of a production system. If you do not obtain a yield that is sufficient to maintain and improve your system then that system will not be in existence for very long. The need to obtain a yield is basic to that system's continued existence. The yield of the system can be money, social capital, natural capital, fitness, beauty, etc... So when designing a farm or garden we should be conscious of the need to obtain a yield from that landscape, the types of yields we might be looking for, the and the full cycle required to obtain these yields.

I was recently listening to lectures from Bill Mollison's 1983 Permaculture Design Course. Parts of it are hard to follow and a bit boring to me, however, there are parts that blow your mind with possibilities for obtaining yields. Raising Anacondas for meat, farming snails, Chinampa systems, and "City as Farm" are some non-standard examples he discussed that come to mind. Bill (the co-founder of Permaculture) talks about many different production systems and the various yields they can deliver.

The "City as Farm" system is quite interesting. He discusses the case of a fellow from Melbourne, Australia who made a business out of getting people in the city to grow chestnuts for him for a price of $ 3.00 per lb. This fellow noticed that there were many chestnut trees in the city that were not obtaining a food yield for their owners. Some chestnut trees can be very productive, producing as much as 1500 lbs of nuts on one tree. So he contracted with these home owners to buy their chestnuts at a price of $3.00 a lb from them and enough home owners agreed to do so that he had a viable business. This chap went even further and also started to propagate chestnut trees and gave away the grafted chestnut trees to home owners who would agree to grow the trees in an organic way. He offered them a guaranteed commitment to taking their product (if he was still in business). So he had a plan for how he would grow his business further by giving away propagation material to his growers and creating harvest contracts. The "City as Farm" follows a pattern that Bill Mollison called the "Gleanings Model". You start by gleaning what is available in your city in some abundance that is not being utilized. You then form a company to organize people to supply you with that resource. You then figure out how to reproduce the resource and give the knowledge or propagative material away to the same or different people to produce more of the resource. In this way you can have a "City as Farm" for many different types of products. The urban farmer Curtis Stone (blogged about him in Lean Urban Farming) is using a gleanings model to obtain underutilized yards from home owners to grow his food crops. I don't think he is educating or assisting those home owners to grow crops themselves, but that might be a future avenue of growth for him if he has sufficient market for the produce.

Another part of the "Gleanings Model" is that people can make a "living" by supplying you with the resource. If someone has a couple of chestnut trees and collects 2000 lbs of chestnuts, then that is $6000 in the families pocket. That money will pay family bills for a few weeks or a few months depending on your lifestyle, but the important point is that you are making a "living" of that tree for a non-trival amount of time and that will make you want to participate. The "City As Farm" is capable of offering many "livings" to many people and you could measure the yield of the system by the number of "livings" it produces.

In conclusion, once we have applied the principle of catching and storing energy, we are ready to draw down the value on those storages in the form of various yields. We can model this situation with "Stock and Flow" type diagrams where various inputs contribute to the formation of storages and various yields come from those storages as the value is drawn down. In the vineyard example below the inputs contribute to building up vineyard storages from which various yields can be derived. The width of the pipe leading into the storage represents the amount of work invested while the width of the pipe leading from the storage represents the amount of that type of yield. Because my vineyard is still young, my grape berry yield is not expected to be largest yield this year, instead the greater yields will come from the vineyard as an attraction for guests to stay at my farm accommodations and also the health and fitness that vineyard work promotes. This is a starting point for an analysis of vineyard yield and I expect it to evolve over time.

I'll leave the last word on obtaining a yield to Bill Mollison who advises:

The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited (or only limited by the imagination and information of the designer).

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