Episode #62: Whole Systems Design with Ben Falk

In this interview with Ben Falk of Whole Systems design we discuss permaculture design, plant guilds, permaculture as an animal rights strategy, nitrogen use efficiency, energy descent, and the use of forests as a an energy source.

Links below:

Whole Systems Design

Future Scenarios

The Omnivore’s Delusion (article by Blake Hurst)

Death on a Factory Farm (HBO Documentary)



Episode #62: Whole Systems Design with Ben Falk — 3 Comments

  1. Dude Frank, you spent too much time on the Hurst article, and then the HBO CAFO video, without really doing either one justice, and then dumping off a question to Falk, which he fumbles, because he hasn’t read or seen either one.

    On the Hurst article in particular, I don’t know why you would bring it up. It’s written by a man who knows no creative alternative to his ways, and appears to be lying outright about a few things. Maybe some of his criticisms of Pollan are correct — I’m no fan of Pollan, because he doesn’t practice what he preaches, and seems to know nothing about Mollison and gang, though they’re staring him in the face. But Hurst’s ideas about nitrogen, “feeding the world”, and monocropping are easy to pick apart. No effort needed, no podcast time needed. It’s telling that he doesn’t reveal the financial structure of his farm business: he’s probably mortgaged his land to buy equipment which requires arbitrary planting patterns and commercial seed, and makes a small profit on selling his cash crops by claiming government subsidies, and has a few side ventures based on the same extension-office mindset. This is not something to discuss with Ben Falk, who hadn’t even read the article.

    Hurst says it’s absurd to think food scraps and humanure from urban areas should be trucked to the countryside. First of all, what do you think half of existing santitation authorities do right now? Exactly that — they sell the solids. And there is a lot of “countryside” within 10 miles of an urban center. It’s not far to go. Second, how does he think the food gets from his farm to the urban centers? By truck, from distibution points. Those same trucks could be fitted to return humus to the countryside, because they are otherwise driving to the countryside _empty_. The individual farmers could pick up humus from the local silo or other convenient drop spot — so they carry something back with them to their land, when they would otherwise be hauling nothing. Doh! There’s too many ways to pick apart his shallow thinking on this issue.

    Hurst says his turkeys drowned in the rain. I’ve called three extension offices and searched online for this answer: all have said it’s a myth. Young turkeys of the breed Hurst is referring to will sometimes panic in a storm, and/or gaze at the sky because of a reflex, but none of the agents I spoke to, and no website, reports a single death by drowning in rain. Regardless, he’s growing an over-domesticated breed which can’t fend for itself, and apparently was trying to raise a forest-dwelling species under the open sky in a muddy yard. I can see how a normal reader might eat this shit up, but it doens’t take much to fact check. Go ask Joel Salatin how to raise a bird.

    Hurst says his fields aren’t “black” like Pollan suggested. Pollan could easily have been using the word “black” loosely, as most soil would look black from an airplane against, say, snow. But he could also have been flying over a region where exposed soil actually is nearly black — chernozem, across the northern prairie. There are no major chernozem deposits in Missouri where Hurst is. How was Hurst’s soil EVER “black” due to tillage technique, past or present?

    The dude’s a bum, and yet you presented this article like it was meritorius in some way.

    This resulted in a vacuous discussion with Falk — where he spent most of his time speculating in a painfully vague way about the trajectory of large human systems, fossil fuel, climate. I would have much rather heard more about his personal life, business, and accomplishments as a permaculture designer. Not a dorm-room style conversation about “the world” and how it should be, trying impossibly to give due dilegence to all the multifaceted factors of the issue in 10 minutes. KMO is always leading this sort of discussion, but at least with him it has a sedative hypnotic effect and he’s got a hour to pack it all in. You just lose valuable airtime with intelligent people when you get into doomer territory!

    Once you finally asked Falk directly about his own work (at the end of the show) — not about permaculture generally, or about world trends — he went off on his own for several minutes of excellent listening: dispensing useful, actionable information. That’s what I want. Creative strategies for nonviolent resistance, crafts and business skills I can replicate.

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