How to Transition from GMO Farming and Ranching to Permaculture

Nicholas Burtner lays out a plan of change and transition that a GMO farmer or rancher can take to gain back control of his or her land from GMO farming. Enjoy.

Nicholas Burtner

Nicholas is a permaculture practitioner, advocate, consultant, teacher and speaker. After a greater calling in 2011, permaculture found Nicholas and since has filled him with an endless passion that has led him to many travels, learning, spreading, and practicing permaculture and natural living ever since. Apart from consulting and designing properties across a large arena of different climates and bio-regions, Nicholas has attended internships at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia under the leadership of Geoff and Nadia Lawton. He also obtained a permaculture design certification from Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison. Nicholas has also attended the Earthship Academy for natural and recycled building construction in Toas, NM under the guidance of Michael Reynolds. After very worthwhile learning, and on the ground experiences, Nicholas opened Working With Nature Permaculture Learning, Research, and Healing Center in late 2012 which is now School of Permaculture. The school has both an urban and a rural demonstration / educational site which offer hands on experience as well as class room learning. School of Permaculture’s website offers permaculture related tips, videos, and articles on a mostly daily basis.


  1. Great concept. I grew up on a conventional GMO grain farm – of which my brother has taken over its operation. He is mildly interested in transitioning out of GMO/monoculture, but the major barriers are not addressed here. The major barriers include existing GMO infrastructure debt and the additional infrastructure costs associated with a change in systems. On one hand the old system has grain bins, tractors, combines, and planters that would need to be liquidated (sometimes easier said than done – especially for stationary items like grain bins). On the other hand you have the costs associated with putting a new system in place – primarily reshaping the land (earthworks), but also product investment (fruit/nut trees, livestock, livestock watering and housing systems). If you have renters that have the ability to reshape the land for you – great! But that sounds a whole lot easier said than done – especially depending on the willing renters in your particular area.

    1. Thanks Mike,
      Your feedback is appreciated. Let me start by saying there is no perfect transition solution presented and every site/farm/ranch is going to have it’s own intrinsic and unique set of issues and circumstances.

      A benefit of this model is its moldability. If any of the factors presented will not work for whatever reasons we take it out. And if different scenarios call for additions of techniques and/or strategies, such as pigs, aquaculture, or a new farm to fork strategy then it is added.

      Two items I could recommend from your feedback:
      1. Don’t start with the installation of the whole property. Continue doing business as prior but do set aside 5-10 acres and bring on a passionate pair of permaculturists who can manage that transition area and let them build a business from it and give them a good percentage of net profit. Without trying too hard, just annuals with tlc in hoop houses yield $40k a hectare pretty easily right off the bat. Add the other systems every season/in stages to fill in the remainder of the property. Continue to do this until you slowly transition into the next 5-10 acres and so on, or until you are happy with what is coming in and potentially leave the rest of your land in fallow indefinitely.

      2. An equal emphasis as technique and strategy here is the invisible financial structures. If not even more importantly actually. You must build your Local Growers and Buyers Exchange (LGBE) because those systems are hardly in place anywhere. Make connections and ties to your actual buyers. Modulize every category of point of sale, ie. Farm to restaurant, farm to csa and coop, farm to caterer, farm to farmers market, and so on. We actually have the land systems down, it’s these invisible structures that will be a bit unique and need the most infrastructure (and that will cost much less capital input) that our focus should shift to.

      I never said this was going to be ridiculously easy, but if you want to take control back of your land/life and want to build your local economy as well as your top soil along with your personal well being then these things are paramount in importance.

      Keep em coming…

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