Regenerative Agriculture as it is taught by the pioneers like Mark Sheppard, Gabe Brown, Peter Andrews is very much like Hinayana Natural Farming of Fukuoka-San. You first need to fix the land up to the point that it can support the species living on it. The steps you are going to take and implementations depending on your climate and locality are the preliminary work towards a sustainable agriculture system. The aim is to regenerate what was missing and depending on the severity of resources that are lacking; this may take longer as most of the inputs need to be taken from outside the system.
On an interview with NZ radio, Stefan Sobkowiak said that true sustainability is very hard to achieve as he stated that sustainability means continuity of a system without any external inputs. He is right. The size of the system is essential here as it needs to regulate itself and create its own patterns and cycles to haul the nutrients indefinitely within it. If you create a 1-acre food forest, it may not be sustainable as you still need to carry inputs from outside, but if you create a 10-acre food forest the patterns and cycles will establish without you noticing, and nutrients will travel in between the models.
When the size is big enough, and the natural patterns start occurring by themselves as Mother Nature dictates, the system you built will start becoming sustainable, and the nutrient flows will be established without the care of humans. A real sustainable system is very much like Mahayana Natural Farming of Fukuoka-San. Would this sustainability be disturbed if you start selling produce? Depending on the number of nutrients going out of the system; yes it will be disrupted because you are diverting the nutrients to somewhere else rather than to be used in the order.
Would this sustainability be disturbed if you spray chemicals and use unnatural fertilisers? I guess I don’t need to answer that question.
It seems like the “size“ of the system is essential if we want to build a truly sustainable system and of course rather than selling the produce and losing nutrients, we are eating them and doing humanure composting. So, to reach the Mahayana level, you need to walk through the Hinayana for a truly sustainable life.
Unless you are clearing some forest (and I hope you are not) all the land available to us is degraded, eroded, lost, dried and raped. Without fixing this land to support life again you cannot build a sustainable system, heck, you may never be able to achieve it in your lifetime; instead, it will be a legacy to next generation if we can teach them enough.
One thing for sure though. Everybody’s Mahayana level will be different, and you are responsible for finding your own way of farming to get there as Fukuoka-San also realised in his first overseas visit to the US in 1979. Keeping the foundation intact, you have to make changes on your implementation depending on the severity of the degradation and local constraints without losing the site of Mahayana level sustainable living. I am always a firm believer of not taking the examples of an author literally but changing them to suit the locality. Because no matter how hard the author tried to establish a universal system, all the cases will be limited to what he/she implemented in their farm. Like Mark Sheppard’s food forest consists of chestnut trees and grapes growing on them. If you apply his style in North Australia, you have to replace chestnut with mango and grape with dragon fruit. The principle is the same, but the implementation is local.
True sustainability is a strongly localised phenomena. A sustainable system that works in South Africa will not function in East Germany. We as the permaculture designers will find out the niche to establish the same system following the principles firmly but replacing the DNA within it. Also reading from many diverse permaculture authors from all over the world will give us that wisdom too. Given that climate crisis is showing itself strongly year after year, rains become unreliable, heat waves are killing plants and animals, cold waves, tornadoes, typhoons and tsunamis are happening all around the globe, we have to think dynamically and change our ways to suit the ever-changing climate within advance planning and implementation. My permaculture teacher is growing pecan nuts in a cold mountain climate thinking that in 15 years when the temperatures rise enough, the pecan trees will be at the fruiting age. This is forward planning according to changing conditions and some educated estimations.
Another example is Joseph Lofthouse who is creating a mix of landrace seeds to withstand the ever-changing growing conditions and climate. I partially do this by storing the seeds in the soil as a seed bank. I always sprinkle different seeds on my raised beds, and they germinate when it is their turn to germinate. I throw in the soft tomatoes on the soil. They come up next year, and I distribute or thin them accordingly.
Thinking outside the box, a natural disturbance like a flood as in Natural Sequence Farming may be replicated with animals to provide nutrients to a field. If the flood is a way of replenishing nutrients in the soil, you can do the same with animals.
As I have said before when the nutrients are flowing outside of the system, it is not a truly sustainable system. The only thing that can flow outside and will not affect the sustainability feature of our system is the knowledge or wisdom. Knowledge actually grows even bigger when flown out of our system like an avalanche. If you have reached Mahayana and think that you are living a good life inside your system without sharing the knowledge, you are not Mahayana at all. You might have “time” now to teach. Fukuoka-San said that if you don’t have time to write poetry and compose songs, why are you doing modern agriculture. Once you are at the Mahayana level, you will have time for extra curriculum activities one of them being is teaching.
Teaching is also an opportunity for learning. While you are transferring your knowledge, you spark the minds with new information, and they may create further questions which you’ve never heard before. Everybody’s life experience, skills and situations are different and consequently their understanding too. If permaculture’s first principle is “to observe”, you have to observe your students with an intention to learn from them.
I hope we can get to Mahayana level sooner than later as the governments and politicians will do nothing about it.