Permaculture Farming & Lindsay Stevenson

April 13, 2017 | Adam Morris | 22:04 | 0 Comments



Welcome to Episode 2 of the People Helping People Podcast.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Lindsay Stevenson, who delightfully discussed her passion for permaculture farming… and her motivations on why she wants to leave her profession as a medical doctor to start her own farm.  I am really excited to present this conversation: I learned a lot about the environmental threat to our oceans, as well as some inspiring possibilities through permaculture farming.  I invite you to listen along, enjoy!

Read Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Adam: welcome to the people helping people podcast where we are exploring social change culture, cool projects, making a difference, and basically people helping people make awesome stuff happen. This is your host, Adam Morris, and today we are speaking with Lindsay Stevenson, a medical doctor for British Glanbia who is passionate about permaculture farming.
[00:00:28] I had never even heard of permaculture farming before I met Lindsey or even understood the environmental threat to our oceans. So perhaps we could dive right in. And Lindsay, you could tell us how this all began.
[00:00:38] Lindsay: It's been a really long time and I struggled with the idea of ocean acidification and the predictions related to that.
[00:00:46] So they're, they're very depressing if you'd ever look at them. There's all these things hitting the oceans from all sides. The worst case scenario and the way we were heading there is some change in the carbon crisis a little bit, but where we were heading about a year ago. Was a prediction that in 50 years there would be no fish in the ocean except for jellyfish and algae because the levels of acidification are so bad, and that was just one of four big threats hitting the ocean.
[00:01:14] There's, there's still problems with like the dead zones from the nitrogen runoff from all the fertilizers and that kind of thing. Cause what happens is you get these algal blooms all at once. They consume all the oxygen in an area and you get this water that has no oxygen in it whatsoever. So everything dies all at once.
[00:01:33] And I say the consistency of the water actually changes. They said it's a weird thing when you just run your hand through this water, this ocean water. It doesn't. It does. Yeah. You can feel that it's difference. Crazy. So there's these dead zones and the dead zones have been like the Gulf of Mexico has been pretty bad for dead zones because the Mississippi runs in there, and so they had all these areas that they knew, but then there's these dead zones happening other places in the ocean,
[00:01:58] Adam: and it comes from farming.
[00:02:00] Lindsay: It comes from the fertilizers that are used in farming and then like the overfishing and the plastics in the ocean. That's all hitting. So the oceans, like the predictions for the oceans are really dire. They're really bad. I didn't know that. Yeah, they call it the evil twin of global warming, but in my opinion, it's actually the more concerning because life is, life has existed on the globe without anything living on land.
[00:02:26] But we've never seen life exist without the ocean because I used to actually wake me up at night. You know, this sort of anxiety that say, grabs you in the middle of the night and you wake without even knowing why. I'm a family doc now, as you know. And so the residency that I went through, it was pretty traumatic in a way, like they really put you into situations way before you're ready for them, and it's people's lives on the line.
[00:02:49] And it was really tough. So coming out of that, I've had a period of healing where like I went to being like, okay, I can't do this job to working one day a week. And then it went to like two days a week. And then I got to the point that I was working, I feel comfortable there for five years and, but then I just realized my life was stagnant.
[00:03:06] Like nothing was happening. It was sort of this environmental crisis in my mind with our government. I mean. We had just elected in the liberals, and that was supposed to be this big windfall for the environment. They were going to change all these policies that the conservatives are completely ignoring.
[00:03:23] The environment really is a problem, and they released the same carbon targets at the conservatives who released. The liberals did. They didn't change a thing. They're not going to avoid the ocean acidification levels. So I had this meltdown at a bar with a friend, and I said to her, you know, like. Nobody cares enough to change to this like nothing is going to change.
[00:03:45] And she said, what do you mean nobody cares? You care. I care where somebody, and I realized it really hit home that I wasn't actually reacting against. The government not doing anything or other people not doing anything. I was reacting against myself not doing anything. So I went home that day and I just started researching like, what?
[00:04:11] What can we do. What captures carbon. I done sort of searches before, but this was the first time that I'd stumbled across farming as a solution, and it's knew that all this soil science is discovering how much carbon is captured in the soil and how much damage our traditional farming, w w it's actually not traditional farming.
[00:04:33] Our new monocropping, so probably for only 102 hundred years that we've been doing this, these monocrop farms. Okay. And part of that's actually come from settling. If you go to the UK or whatever, do they still do quite traditional farming? The era of a small plots, rotating crops, saw that all this sort of stuff that they've been doing for centuries and that's kept their soil in good stead and then they came to the new world in there.
[00:05:01] Look at all this amazing soil, which of course had built up over thousands of years and never been depleted by farming, and I just raped it. They just took every little bit of nutrition out of that soil because for every crop you ship off, you sip off the chemicals that were in that soil, right? Like you're shipping off the magnesium and the calcium and everything, and if you never put it back in.
[00:05:27] Yeah. And Australia was the biggest one for this. Cause the Australian econ system, their soils grew up there slowly over years and they had like very little, their thing was actually calcium in there. So they had very, very little, and then they just depleted everything that was there in a short period of time.
[00:05:43] So Australia has been way ahead of the curve in getting these better farming techniques in cause they've, um, they've sort of run into the . That end of their soil became a necessity for them. And so they've, they've kind of launched some of these permaculture ideas. And so the monocropping you take away the soil, but then when you add onto that fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides, you're actually destroying this ecosystem that exists within the soil as well as taking out the nutrients.
[00:06:14] If you think of it like a forest so that the roots are like the big trees. They're the ones that are going to give your main stability to the ground. They're going to dig deep. They're going to bring up the biggest, most of the chemicals. They secrete these little acids that break down rocks and bring in some rare nutrients into the soil and then around them grow like these little colonies of bacteria and stuff that add carbon and the building blocks to help grow more things.
[00:06:42] And then the fungus comes in and they, they're like, um, these micro structures, they have these fine little structures that separate the soil. And then you have the bigger, like, thugs that things directions and aerate the soil. And it's just a really amazing ecosystem of things that feed each other. Um.
[00:07:02] And they build up even building up like ability to store massive amounts of water. They make this one material called Hamas, which is a, it's just a sort of a low E fluffy soil and it holds a massive amount of water. So, and that's going to be what protects everything from drought. And the soil health is huge, and it's built on all these little pieces.
[00:07:26] If you take a a funky side and you get rid of the, the fine filaments of the fungus. That soil collapses a little bit and then, and then you take a pesticide and you kill the bugs and that soil collapses even more. And then you rotate your crops and you tear up the roots and the soil doesn't have much going for it anymore.
[00:07:48] And you get this. It's tiny little layer of, uh, of soil on the top and nothing much underneath it. And so to keep plants going, people start dumping all these fertilizers on top to just try and get enough nutrients that the plants can grow. And because the soil can't even hold water very well, it runs off as fast as you can dump it into the water systems and runs downstream.
[00:08:14] And. It makes the dead zones, like we talked about
[00:08:17] Adam: with organic farming, I always had thought it was just, Hey, we're not using pesticides, but it sounds like that's not the case at all.
[00:08:25] Lindsay: Yeah, well that you, I think you're right. That's organic farming. And the new one that they're talking about now though, is permaculture, and that's the one that's where they're actually affecting this complex ecosystem of the soil.
[00:08:38] And they're, they're trying not to disturb it. It's farming while keeping the soil as stable as you can and without ripping roots out, and also recognizing that plants feed each other. So you've plant nitrogen fixers next to plants that need nitrogen. You plant the three sisters or something. They all traditional earth American one where the corn stock grows and a, it needs nitrogen and beans wind up the cornstalk, which needs structure and they feed nitrogen to the corn.
[00:09:07] And then he put a squash on the bottom, which shades the, the, the, um, lower roots of the corn and the beans and provides. It protects the water and provides shade. So that's mostly the three sisters that feed each other. And there's all these, I mean, that's just one example of plants growing in harmony. So permaculture is, it's mixing props.
[00:09:30] It's not using organics, it's protecting the soils ecosystem. You can actually design the architecture of a lion. So the it needs very little input from you to grow and ever. It's funny you're eating like there's a lot of design in the beginning to get things growing in a way that supports food and sorts life.
[00:09:50] But reading these permaculture blogs, it seems like the maintenance for these farms is often just keeping away the animals that eat it. The air. And they can put out four times as much food per acre as the monocrop industrial farm . And then as far as carbon capture is just, it's just monumental. It's huge compared to those other farms.
[00:10:12] So they say if you were to take a cover crop and you were to plant it on one of these monocrop farms that has the tiny thin soil we talked about, and a cover crop, it's going to generate, you know, maybe a foot, half a foot depending on the crop. Of soil underneath probably, but it can be as much as one year's worth of an average person's carbon emissions per acre.
[00:10:34] And that's just a cover crop. So imagine doing a deep rooted tree with the roots that go down. And the tree on top of it is huge carbon capture. So there's one site, they claim that if we just farm all our land properly, we could burn as much fossil fuel as we want. So farming relate to their mind is the key for our carbon crisis.
[00:10:59] So this is
[00:10:59] Adam: a step further than organic farming.
[00:11:03] Lindsay: Yeah. Organic farming still could be monocrop that's still organic. It's just really organic. Farming is not wanting to use pesticides or fungicides, which is great, but I think the permaculture sorta takes it further in. Letting plants feed each other and try not to just start the soil as much as as organic farming might.
[00:11:23] They may still till that could be a common practice.
[00:11:26] Adam: I read that about organic, that sometimes they have a lot of carbon in the soil, but they're not sure how much of that is coming from manure and other natural fertilizers that they're using as opposed to the tilling methods that they are
[00:11:37] Lindsay: using. It's true, and because they're, they're not tanning what's there, they often have to add a lot of compost on top, whereas the protocol you have to compost initially probably when you're, when you're starting it, when things are established, they, they might not need that much added on top of them.
[00:11:55] So
[00:11:55] Adam: what's holding people back from just doing this everywhere? It sounds like you get a lot more crops, which you'd probably want.
[00:12:02] Lindsay: It does take more labor, like a family that has a permaculture farmers, probably farming. If they had a big one, 10 acres, that's because attractor can't do your job. You, you're going to have a, a tree right next to a Berry Bush right next to your tomatoes.
[00:12:20] You need to individually pick these things as far as I know.
[00:12:24] Adam: So you can't use the big machines.
[00:12:26] Lindsay: Yeah. You can't use the big machines. You can't use your drones to do some of your work too. It sounds like some of these factory farms are pretty impressive with their technology, but may not be very good for our environment nonetheless,
[00:12:40] Adam: and they need a robotic permaculture drones that don't spit on a bad chemicals.
[00:12:46] Lindsay: Maybe that's the way of the future. I don't know that we're there yet though.
[00:12:49] Adam: Like so permaculture is really maintaining the soil structure and all these different components in it, and that's what makes it different from organic farming or conventional farming.
[00:12:59] Lindsay: That's my understanding.
[00:13:01] Adam: When I last spoke to you had this plan of, Hey, okay, you're going to start an organic farm.
[00:13:05] Lindsay: Well, right now I'm at the step of learning enough to be able to do this farm. I'm hoping to get some experience. So the summer, there's a, uh, permaculture Institute in orcas Island that does a few courses. So I'm hoping to take some courses down there and then after that, hopefully buy some land. But there's actually one of our big problems now in BC is the price of farmland has started to skyrocket.
[00:13:27] Unfortunately, we're getting all this stuff. Foreign investors that are coming in and buying foreign land, cause I figured out it's cheaper. It's going to be a big problem for the people that want permaculture farms. Because like we were talking about, you're looking at somewhere between one to 10 acres and that's exactly the land that's got a crazy amount in price.
[00:13:45] You're looking at soft some places in Langley now, which is one of our places, right near Vancouver that's got some of the best soil in the province being $3 million for a plot. That's five acres. It's, it's insane. That's crazy. Most places that are a hundred plus acres. That's the way we've kind of divided up our farms with the old model, so that that's always a challenge for somebody trying to get a smaller farm going.
[00:14:09] What I might end up looking at when it gets to that point is doing a partnership with other people interested in doing permaculture farming where you each get a section of the land. No.
[00:14:22] Adam: What do you think some of your biggest challenges are going to be.
[00:14:25] Lindsay: I'm not sure. I, I feel in a lot of ways that I don't know what I'm getting into.
[00:14:30] It will be a challenge to see if I even enjoy it. Oh, yeah. That would be something if I get into this and I go, I don't really like arming at all. Well, it
[00:14:37] Adam: sounds like you have something good to fall back on if it doesn't work out.
[00:14:40] Lindsay: Yeah. But, uh, I think the way that, like, the actual land ownership works, like we were talking about.
[00:14:47] If you actually can form a partnership, there may be some petitioning the government to actually allow some of these bigger farms to break apart into the smaller ones because I think lots of people want to own their own land. The idea of being part of some collective where you have to make agreements is not as agreeable as having your own thought that you can do whatever you want with.
[00:15:07] I won't be surprised at some point if I get into some political actions to to change some zoning for farming.
[00:15:14] Adam: Yeah. That's quite a shift though, from being a doctor. What got you into being a doctor in the first place?
[00:15:20] Lindsay: I did a lot of travel growing up overseas and saw a lot of people that were quite destitute and felt very privileged, pretty much lived like a princess and ex-pat in a foreign country, stay at the nicest places, and we had maids and drivers and all this sort of things.
[00:15:37] So I realized how fortunate I was and I felt a desire to give back. And I love science and medicine seemed to be a fit. No, that's cool.
[00:15:48] Adam: I know.
[00:15:49] Lindsay: It seems like this is almost
[00:15:50] Adam: in line with that same thing though. You know you, you want to give back, and if that's the biggest environmental threat, then that's huge.
[00:15:57] Lindsay: I think I came to the point where I felt that helping someone sinus infection was not such a big deal when we were facing death of the whole oceans. I'm sure that person is very grateful that they don't have a sinus infection anyway. I would rather that every species of fish in the ocean survive. I'd like to contribute to that, even if it's in a small way.
[00:16:20] Sort of one of those things, if you, if I look back in my life 80 years from now and the oceans were dead and I said I did nothing. Could I live with that? And I don't know that I could.
[00:16:31] Adam: It seems very frustrating politically too, cause I can imagine in politics you're often answering to people who have immediate financial problems and you know, they're saying, Hey, I don't have a job.
[00:16:41] So I think environment gets pushed aside very quickly because you don't see that, Hey, this is actually huge.
[00:16:49] Lindsay: Yeah. I feel though that's the big companies arguing that point. I feel sorta what's happening with our land and how it's being bought by these, you know, foreign investors for crazy amounts to build mansions on my dude.
[00:17:00] They're not even farming it, and then maybe they will lease it out for some sort of new kind of serfdom type farming with it's friends of mine that are doing that. Leasing Outland and farming. They have no assets and barely any money.
[00:17:14] Adam: Then we do that in
[00:17:15] Lindsay: the dark ages. Yeah, yeah. And there's this huge potential for jobs, like you're talking about probably, I don't know, five, six people working on five acres of farmland, and you'd need that for how many acres to sustain our population.
[00:17:34] That's the number of jobs that these mano crop farms are supplying is nothing. There's like four farmers managing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bakers. So that argument, there's no jobs to be had by switching to more of an environmental policy. Is, is empty. And I'm just talking about one sector, nevermind the number of jobs that would be generated in wind energy or solar energy or all that sort of stuff.
[00:18:01] If you stopped. The oil patch, like there'd be, there'd be a ton and you're just sifting jobs over. But these big corporate diets are pointing the few jobs that are going to be lost if their corporation goes down and saying, you need to keep us going, but we don't.
[00:18:16] Adam: And if you're running a big company, then your bonus and your job is tied to, is my company making more money?
[00:18:22] So your incentives aren't there to say, well. My company should make less money so we can do this other great thing for the
[00:18:28] Lindsay: environment. Yeah.
[00:18:30] Adam: How are the finances with permacultural farming? Like does it make money? Does it, can it compete?
[00:18:36] Lindsay: I think it depends on the person's model, how well they've been doing.
[00:18:39] I think you're more likely to be successful if you direct supply to for restaurant. Yeah. Or something where you're producing the final product rather than just selling straight to a market. I think that's a very valid question I'm going to have to explore. But what's interesting is most of these people that love permaculture and love plants don't really care about money.
[00:19:02] So it can be hard to get a straight answer. You know, what's the potential income in this? And we would also never hit be suggestive on just like being close to their plants, close to nature, and not really caring about what they're making. And there is a reality that life is cheap if you grow all your own food too.
[00:19:19] So money becomes actually less of an issue because you have the resources that you need. You're just, you're selling enough to pay the taxes on your land and ultimately you may not need that much more. So it's kind of a shift in our mindset like, did do, did we ever need to be millionaires anyways or did we just have to have enough food in our stomachs that we can go to sleep at night?
[00:19:42] It's amazing how many people I talk to and I tell them that I'm going to go farm. And so many people are like, Oh, that sounds amazing. I want to, I want to quit my job and come join you. And I've had really successful, like high up there, engineers, multimillion dollar business owners, lawyers, every so many people say, Oh, that just sounds amazing.
[00:20:07] That sounds perfect, that people want it. There's this real, real burning for a more genuine life, more connected to nature. On that
[00:20:17] Adam: note, I'd like I met you at, you know, serving on a POS pasta course. What
[00:20:22] Lindsay: effect has the pasta had on your life. I had a, I had a friend that went to a retreat and he talked about how amazing it was and I was ready for a spiritual journey.
[00:20:32] So I just went to it cause it was the only intense course I knew of that really made you sit in silence for 10 days. And it is amazing. I mean. Being inescapably with yourself for 10 days straight. It just brings up so much and brings out so much goodness like the sort of being here now and paying attention.
[00:20:55] And to be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure that it needs to be pasta. I think just the, the attentiveness and the listening and the prayerfulness of being with what is, I think that's has made the biggest difference in my life. But I do appreciate the discipline that the pasta has to offer. So, and I feel like the times when I've been most disciplined in my life have been the times that I've, I've grown the most.
[00:21:20] Because you actually allow yourself that space and that awareness to come in touch with something deeper within yourself. So
[00:21:27] Adam: maybe one final question. What would an ideal world look like to you?
[00:21:32] Lindsay: A world without self defensiveness and world, or people are just open and embracing of all things around them.
[00:21:40] So if ultimately, if the men were. Uh, going to explode tomorrow. I think a world where people were, were open to that and loving towards everything around them, even for that one day would be fine by me. Thank you so much. Yeah, thank you. Adam.


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