The quick review: I enjoyed this book and think it’s a worthwhile addition to anyone’s library if you are looking to design a homestead, or small farm, around permaculture. I learned quite a bit about what to look for in a home, and how to heat it, in cool and damp climates, as well as how to site and secure the home for food and water. It doesn’t cover the breadth of knowledge one might gain from a PDC, but for a cover price of $40, there’s a great deal of value here. Where I think this really shines is in the experimental, and experiential, accounts from Mr. Falk’s work operating and researching, at his homestead, the Whole Systems Research Farm, and his experience and education as a landscape designer.
That’s the short version. If you want to stay with me, here’s the long one.
Ben Falk’s book is an exemplary addition to the permaculture literature. Though I have some quibbles stemming from my own perspective on permaculture, they don’t detract from the overall quality of the contents.
Though this book is divided into sequential chapters, I found there are two main divisions between the contents and the style in which it is written. The first, covering the first third of the book, provides the core concepts and principles in a technical, rather dry, fashion. This foundation provides the necessary understanding the importance of the techniques found in the last two thirds.
This first section, being the most technical, is where Ben’s work as a designer stands out. The precise information in these 78 pages, covering the first two chapters, is quite thorough, but leads me to think of a textbook. However, because it is punctuated with sidebars, drawings, and other pieces to break up the visual structure, this is not difficult to work through.
Chapter 1 provides the foundation for understanding Ben’s thoughts on regeneration, resiliency, and permaculture, as well as an introduction to the overall Whole Systems Research Farm, and some of the pattern language he uses, with 5 points presented. Chapter 2 is all about design, the design process, and site establishment. Here he also expands on the first 5 points, with another 70 to consider. The more I work with permaculture, I find pattern languages to be an excellent supplement to the ethics and principles, with a great deal of potential for someone to expand upon and integrate into other material.
In the second section I identified, Ben’s tone and presentation really opens up and becomes very very accessible. Here his voice becomes more like the person I interviewed, and less of a teacher lecturing to a class. You read about his successes, failures, and where additional research needs to occur.
Two nights in a row my wife came and found me at 2 o’clock in the morning to tell me to come to bed, because I’d stayed up after tucking my children in to “read for an hour” and instead got wrapped up in the narrative wound into the explanations of the various techniques. The dry tone of the first section disappeared and became a page turner I didn’t want to put down.
These later chapters cover water and earthworks, fertility harvesting and cycling, food crops, adaptive fuel and shelter, and resilience and regeneration for the long haul. That ends the main body, with 7 short appendices that follow, which focus on resiliency, useful tools and materials, resources, as well as vocabulary and concepts.
Throughout, Ben’s expertise as a designer is evident, especially in the planning process for design. Where the books starts to lose focus, Ben is clear these are areas where his personal knowledge needs additional expansion.
Overall, I like Ben Falk from my interview with him, and his book. I’m glad that he’s receiving the recognition afforded to him by others interested in him in this field. He has a perspective and voice all his own, separating him clearly from other authors on permacutlure in particular, and sustainability as a whole in general. Though not as versed as a storyteller as, say, Peter Bane, Ben’s approach is considerably more technical, reminding me favorably of David Holmgren. I think that latter comparison speaks for itself, both in regards to Ben’s understanding of the material and what he is contributing to the permaculture community.
Would I recommend buying this book? Yes. Because I’m going to be buying another copy. Had I read it before agreeing to give it away to a listener, it wouldn’t be leaving my bookshelf to be mailed to someone else, complete with my own highlights, and notes scribbled in the margins. But, alas, a promise is a promise.
If you’d like my copy of The Resilient Farm and Homestead, email:
contest [at] thepermaculturepodcast [dot] com. Please include “Ben Falk” in the subject line. I’ll leave this drawing open until August 14th, 2013. At that time a winner will be randomly selected and contacted so I can send this to them.
Before I wrap this review up, there is one point I’d like to expand on that I mentioned in the interview with Bob Theis. One of my ongoing struggles with permaculture is who has access to the tools and materials required to implement many of the ideas found within the literature and information. When I first received Ben’s book and opened it up, I fell to section talking about copper gutters and slate roofing, both of which are expensive options, and thought to myself, “Who can afford this?” “Who does this help?” Part of my perspective is wanting to make permaculture more accessible and feasible to a broad swath of society. That section of people who want to make a better world, but haven’t found a way that is positive and hopeful enough, but doesn’t take already invested resources. I found myself a bit upset in some ways to open to those pages and, out of context, be presented with another book that seemed focused on the people who can afford this the most, but need it the least.
However, as I continued to read, I was reminded that permaculture in the United States, and other areas of the Global North, is still pioneering the way forward. Those who have the time, money, and energy to invest in their home and landscapes, who choose to implement permaculture and buy products that don’t wear out as quickly, even if they do cost more, are investing in the future when those of us who can make those choices. In turn, we find are able to provide working systems of what we wish to accomplish, while also learning how to reduce the cost for others moving forward. As each of us improves our own lot, we become the leaders who can help others improve theirs. That’s a pretty powerful place to work from once you settle into it. I’m glad to have found that moment of personal outrage, and the paradigm shift that came from reading The Resilient Farm and Homestead.