Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Permaculture Movement Grows From Underground

This is an interesting article from The New York Times "In The Garden" section.

The Permaculture Movement Grows From Underground
(photo of author and his daughter planting seeds - by Sara Jorde for The New York Time)
(click here for a link to the original article)

As a way to save the world, digging a ditch next to a hillock of sheep dung would seem to be a modest start. Granted, the ditch was not just a ditch. It was meant to be a “swale,” an earthwork for slowing the flow of water down a slope on a hobby farm in western Wisconsin.

And the trenchers, far from being day laborers, had paid $1,300 to $1,500 for the privilege of working their spades on a cement-skied Tuesday morning in late June.

Fourteen of us had assembled to learn permaculture, a simple system for designing sustainable human settlements, restoring soil, planting year-round food landscapes, conserving water, redirecting the waste stream, forming more companionable communities and, if everything went according to plan, turning the earth’s looming resource crisis into a new age of happiness.

It was going to have to be a pretty awesome ditch.

That was the sense I took away from auditing four days of a weeklong Permaculture Design Certificate course led by Wayne Weiseman, 58, the director of the Permaculture Project, in Carbondale, Ill.
The movement’s founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, coined the term permaculture in the mid-1970s, as a portmanteau of permanent agriculture and permanent culture.

In practice, permaculture is a growing and influential movement that runs deep beneath sustainable farming and urban food gardening. You can find permaculturists setting up worm trays and bee boxes, aquaponics ponds and chicken roosts, composting toilets and rain barrels, solar panels and earth houses.
Truly, permaculture contains enough badges of eco-merit to fill a Girl Scout sash. Permies (yes, they use that term) like to experiment with fermentation, mushrooming, foraging (also known as wildcrafting) and herbal medicine.

Yet permaculture aims to be more than the sum of those practices, said David Cody, 39, who teaches the system and creates urban food gardens in San Francisco.

“It’s an ecological theory of everything,” Mr. Cody said. “Here’s a planet Earth operating manual. Do you want to go along for a ride with us?”

It’s hard to say just how many have climbed aboard the mother ship. In San Francisco, Mr. Cody saw more than 1,500 volunteers turn out in 2010 to create Hayes Valley Farm, a pop-up food garden near the site of a collapsed freeway ramp.

“I like to say it was the largest sheet-mulching project ever done in the world,” said Mr. Cody, who designed the garden following the permaculture principles and directed the process of covering the ground with a cardboard weed barrier and organic material.

“We sheet-mulched about an acre and a half,” he said. “That’s something like 80,000 pounds of cardboard diverted from the waste stream.”

In the last four years, Mr. Cody has helped train 250 students through the Urban Permaculture Institute in San Francisco.

Scott Pittman, 71, who directs the national Permaculture Institute from a farmstead outside Santa Fe, N.M., estimates that 100,000 to 150,000 students have completed the certificate course since the philosophy was developed in Tasmania over three decades ago. “In the U.S., I would say we represent 40,000 to 50,000 of that number,” he said.

But then pemaculture has no membership rolls or census-takers. By intention, “it has been, for all of the years I’ve been involved, a pretty decentralized movement,” Mr. Pittman said. The message seems to get out in its own fashion, without publicists. Mr. Mollison, for example, has been permaculture’s leading figure since the late 1970s, and his books have hundreds of thousands of copies. Yet his name has apparently never warranted a mention in this newspaper.

Permaculture, Mr. Pittman said, is “guided by the curriculum and a sense of ethics, and that’s pretty much it.”

The ethic of permaculture is the movement’s Nicene Creed, or golden rule: care of the earth; care of people; and a return of surplus time, energy and money, to the cause of bettering the earth and its people.

In its effort to be universal, permaculture espouses no religion or spiritual element. Still, joining the movement seems to strike many of its practitioners as a kind of conversion experience.

MR. Pittman first encountered Mr. Mollison and his teachings at a weekend seminar in New Mexico in 1985. As a system, permaculture impressed him as panoptic and transformational. “It shook my world,” Mr. Pittman said.

Almost on the spot, he decided to drop his work and follow Mr. Mollison to the next stop on his teaching tour: Katmandu, Nepal. Soon after, he began to lead courses alongside Mr. Mollison, in cities and backwaters around the globe.

Mr. Mollison hasn’t toured the United States in almost 15 years. At 83, Mr. Mollison has “kind of faded into semi-retirement in Tasmania,” Mr. Pittman said.

Yet in recent years, Mr. Mollison’s ideas seem to have bubbled up from underground, into the mainstream. “I just trained the Oklahoma National Guard,” Mr. Pittman said. “If that’s any kind of benchmark.” The troops, he said, plan to apply permaculture to farming and infrastructure projects in rural Afghanistan.

It’s a system, permaculturists contend, that can work anywhere. In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Claudia Joseph, 53, has used the precepts of permaculture to develop new food gardens at the Old Stone House. (Its original 1699 Dutch edifice was a locus of the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War.) “It’s a huge breakthrough,” she said. “To go from a swatch of grass to 1,000 blueberry bushes.”

The parks department recently bulldozed two of her gardens in an overhaul of the playground in the surrounding Washington Park. But in a few protected spots, Ms. Joseph, an environmental educator and consultant who lives two blocks away, has already started on an edible food forest.

This “guild” of complementary plants is the opposite of annual row-crop agriculture, with its dead or degraded soil and its constant demand for labor and fertilizer. Permaculture landscapes, which mimic the ecology of the area, are meant to be vertical, dense and self-perpetuating. Once the work of the original planting is done, Mr. Mollison jokes in one of his videos, “the designer turns into the recliner.”

At the lowest level of a food forest, then, are subterranean crops like sweet potatoes and carrots. On the floor of the landscape, mushrooms can grow on felled logs or wood chips. Herbs go on the next level, along with “delicious black cap raspberries,” Ms. Joseph said.

Other shrubs, like inkberry, winterberry and elderberry, are attractive to butterflies and birds. They’re an integral part of the system, too.

But more likely to appeal to the children who attend the nearby William Alexander Middle School is a Newtown Pippin apple tree, “a variety first grown in Queens,” Ms. Joseph said.

Ruling the forest’s heights are the 40 large pin oaks already in the park, whose abundance of acorns will make a banquet for squirrels. Permaculture also looks favorably on high-quality bushmeat. But Ms. Joseph will be leaving that harvest well enough alone.

With its focus on close planting and human-scale projects, permaculture is ideally suited to a small suburban yard or a patio garden. But most of the students I met in Wisconsin had their own 1,000-blueberry-bush visions and ideas on how permaculture could help fulfill them.

Kellie Anderson, a 27-year-old rolfer, lived for five months in a giant sequoia tree named Keyandoora. (At the time, she was protesting a logging plan in Humboldt County, Calif.) After the workshop, Ms. Anderson said, she planned to inhabit a 1986 diesel school bus that she and her boyfriend were in the process of converting into a camper. But fortune seems to have taken her instead to Sanibel Island, Fla., where she is now helping to plan a sustainable-housing community.

Kris Beck, 48, a founder of an energy-efficiency tech company, had a notion to build a sanctuary with a megalithic stone circle (think Stonehenge) on her family’s old Wisconsin dairy farm, along the Mississippi River bluffs.

Bruce Feldman, 60, who spent two decades as an English teacher overseas, experienced the collapse of the baht in Thailand (he was being paid in that currency), and an earthquake in Japan, in 1995, that left him wandering the streets for four days. These events, Mr. Feldman said, “got me thinking that I should start preparing for my own future,” ideally, a four- or five-acre self-reliant homestead in the Ozarks of Arkansas.

The site of the workshop was a permaculture Shangri-La unto itself: 60 acres of rolling pasture and woodlands, a few miles from the Buffalo River in Wisconsin. In 2004, Jeff Rabkin and his wife, Susan Scofield, bought this Amish farm for $125,000.

The original plan was to lease out the fields and build a cordwood cabin as a weekend home. Instead, under the influence of permaculture, Mr. Rabkin became seized with the idea of stewarding the property himself. To this end, he and a permaculture buddy, Victor Suarez, 44, bought a small flock of sheep and planted 300 fruit and nut trees.

During the work week, Mr. Rabkin, 49, and Ms. Scofield, 48, run a marketing and public relations firm in Minneapolis. That background is apparent in the catchy name they gave the place: Crazy Rooster Farm and Amish Telephone Booth.

But the Amish telephone booth is no gimmick. The couple installed a phone line in the shed next to their farmhouse, and their neighbors roll up in buggies to make calls.

While Amish visitors mill around in Mr. Rabkin’s yard, they may strike a deal to sell him three steer and two heifers, or 20 black-locust fence posts. Like a coneflower patch draws honeybees, Mr. Rabkin said, “I like to say that the telephone attracts beneficial wildlife — our Amish neighbors — which is what permaculture tells us to do.”

Ms. Scofield collected asparagus, beets and raw milk from neighboring farms to feed the permies. The occasional Amish visitor, like Thomas Zook, who delivered a bucketful of new potatoes in the middle of a downpour, gave a glimpse of what low-impact living might look like, taken to an extreme.

Mr. Zook’s father, Jonas Zook, even dropped in to watch a video about pond management, but walked out after a minute or two. After marathon days of PowerPoint presentations, I wouldn’t have minded joining him. For all its exhilarating ideals, permaculture is a movement grounded in “zones,” “patterns” and “functions.”

Labs, as it were, took place in the toolshed. On the first day, Mr. Weiseman demonstrated how to create biochar, or partly burned charcoal, in a primitive “rocket” stove, a device he assembled out of a piece of ductwork and a paint can.

Helpful mineral elements attach themselves to the unique molecular structure of biochar, Mr. Weiseman explained. Mixed with compost, it makes a top-dressing for trees.

Next, he started bubbling compost tea with an aquarium pump in a plastic bucket. (“Even petroleum has a place in permaculture,” he said. “The five-gallon bucket is the greatest application of petroleum in the world.”) He wrapped a clump of standard compost in a cloth like a hobo’s bandanna pack and dunked it in water. Next, he added molasses to feed the brew.

After a couple of days, we would fling this brownish broth over the kitchen garden to enrich the soil with beneficial bacteria.

That was the concept, anyway. A week after the workshop, I ran these theories past Jeff Gillman, 41, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota and an author of four books about gardening practices and the environment.

He professed to be “a believer in the whole concept of permaculture.” But he dismissed the compost tea as “lunacy.” Scattering a few foreign microbes into a sea of soil, he said, was like parachuting 10,000 people across the breadth of the Sahara. They would not survive.

Normal compost, the solid stuff from a backyard bin, “should already contain all the microbes that are beneficial to the soil,” he said. And if it doesn’t, “beneficial microbes move in very, very quickly.”

With biochar, Mr. Gillman admitted to a bit of bafflement. “Charcoal, in general, is not in and of itself harmful to soil,” he explained. “It helps to hold on to nutrients. But having said that, it boggles my mind why you would take a perfectly good block of wood that you could use as compost or mulch, and burn it.”

In a broad sense, though, permaculture is not about the scientific method or textbook agronomy.

“I don’t know that anyone has ever done a double-blind study of permaculture,” said Mr. Pittman of the national Permaculture Institute. “Most people in permaculture are not that interested in doing those kinds of studies. They’re more interested in demonstrating it. You can see the difference in species diversity and yield just by looking at the system.”

As Mr. Weiseman observed, permaculture may be a “leap of faith.” But not leaping might have its own consequences.

Beginning with Mr. Mollison, permaculturists have forecast a near future of resource scarcity. “Not just peak oil,” Mr. Weiseman said, “but peak water, peak soil.”

And the news, with its drumbeat of economic decline and ecological catastrophe, feeds the prophecies. In this dystopia to come, permaculture won’t be a lifestyle choice, but a necessity.

“We know what’s right,” Mr. Weiseman said. “We know what’s best. We feel this thing in our bones and in our heart. And then we don’t do anything about it. Or we do. And I did. And it’s bearing fruit.”

But preparing for doomsday in San Francisco, Mr. Cody said, is not what draws a crowd of busy souls to shovel horse manure on a drizzly Saturday morning. To the 12 central tenets of permaculture, then, Mr. Cody added a 13th: “If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.”

In other words, why mourn the eventual demise of our office blocks and factory farms, when there’s a feast to be made, right now, in your own backyard?

Monday, January 30, 2012

New Plant Index Page!

Quick post to let you know I updated my slowly growing Plant Index listing with a new page... and a new illustration I did over the weekend.  My goal is to make searching for plant information even easier.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Permaculture Garden at UMass

Here is a great couple of videos on a Permaculture project that was started at the University of Massachusetts. They designed and created a Permaculture Garden just outside the dining hall on campus.

Very well done video that focuses more on the why of the project. It deals with the motivation and excitement of the project. Unfortunately, it doesn't go into a whole lot of detail... the stuff that I really like, but it is a fun video either way.

There are only two parts so far.  The third is yet to be published!

For more information about this project:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Permaculture Succession

This tiny apple seedling...

...will one day become a large tree, but it can take a decade.

When most of us think about landscape design, we think about what goes where. We think about three dimensions. Height. Width. Depth. The X-Y-Z axis... Will this plant "work" here or there? I think I will plant this shrub next to this tree for a specific benefit.

A few of us will think about seasonal changes... This deciduous tree will lose its leaves in Autumn and let sunlight through in the Winter. These bulbs will come up in early Spring, bloom, and die back before my other perennials really start growing tall enough to over-shadow them.

There are even fewer still who will think about the changes that take place over years or decades. This is the realm of Succussion.

Succession is a well known ecological concept.
We need to remember that Permaculture is about modeling the natural world...
so our designed ecosystems should at the minimum acknowledge succession.

Succession, in a Permaculture or Forest Gardening world, deals with the design of plant community changes and transformations over the fourth dimension... time. This is a massive topic. When we starts to think about it in depth, we can get easily overwhelmed. I just want to introduce the topic today. Future articles will tackle specific aspects of succession, but today, I just want to wrap our minds around the idea of design over years.

Let's just take the planting of a single tree. Let's make it a full-sized, or standard, apple tree. This tree will take up to eight years to begin producing and over a decade to begin producing full crops (yet another reason I need to get my land as soon as possible! but that is another story). In a Permaculture design, especially a Forest Garden, we need to remember that this tree will not be growing on its own in a field by itself. There will be other plants around it. There will be other trees nearby. But this tree when first planted is likely only a few years old and no more than a few feet tall... a spindly twiggy shadow of what it will be in future years.

The most important thing we need to do is plan for the future mature size of this tree. The biggest mistake people make in planting trees in a Forest Garden is to plant trees way too close together. This is done often because they have limited space and want to squeeze as many varieties of plants and trees in as they can, and this temptation is made easier when the trees are so small to begin. The second reason, closely related to the first, is that because the tree is so small in its young stage, it is hard to picture what it will be like when full grown. Its hard to see that one foot sapling black walnut as a towering 100 foot (30 meter) colossal tree.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of schematic sketches of our land. We need to have a rough sketch, at the minimum, even if you are not a great artist, of what the land will look like in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc. We need to keep in mind how things will change, because they will change! This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is what we want!

I've seen too many people get upset that, for instance, a ten year old raspberry patch just isn't producing anymore. They don't want to pull it out, because they are attached to it. But it isn't producing much anymore, and the birds eat what is produced. It then gets straggly and overgrown and frankly, quite ugly looking. Well, raspberries only have about a ten year useful life! What did you expect? Plan for that change!

How about this? Place that raspberry patch surrounding that young apple tree. We will be using that space that will one day be shaded out by that apple tree. We will be protecting that young apple tree by surrounding it with thorny plants to keep the deer away. We will be collecting a yield from that land until the apple tree really starts to produce. The raspberries will just be fading out as part of their normal life cycle just as the apple is coming into its own. We will be motivated to clear out the old raspberries, so we can harvest the apples easier.

This is the concept of succession. Start thinking in the fourth dimension!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Hops

Hops... the favorite vine of brewers!

Common Name: Hops
Scientific Name: Humulus lupulus
Family: Cannabaceae (Hemp Family)

The flower clusters are called cones.

Hops are twining perennial climbers that are fairly drought tolerant. The female plants produce flower cones (also called hops) that are used to provide bitterness and preservation to beer. There are a number of full sized and dwarf varieties, and as a homebrewer of beer I plan to grow quite a few varieties when I finally get the chance.

Humulus lupulus by Kholer

The first documented cultivation of hops was in 736 AD in Hallertau region (part of Bavaria) of Germany. Hops have been growing here ever since, and close to one quarter of the world's hops are now produced in this area. However, in the first century, hops was not a prime beer additive. Over time, in spite of legal battles and elitists' bans on the plant, hops eventually became the primary bittering agent and preservative in beer. It was first grown in the U.S. in 1629.

A hops arbor growing in a well manicured garden.


  • The female plant produces clusters of flowers called Cones or Strobiles. These resemble pale, drooping, green flowers.
  • Only cones from the female plant are used in beer making.
  • Before hops, a wide variety of flowers and herbs were used to bitter the sweet malted barley: marigold, dandelion, burdock, horehound, heather, etc.
  • Most hops are dried before using in beer.
  • The resins in the flowers are what give the distinct qualities to hops. The two main components are alpha and beta acids.
  • Alpha acids are responsible for the antibiotic effect and the bittering flavor in hops.
  • Beta acids are responsible for the aroma - I love this aroma!
  • The "Noble Hops" (Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, and Saaz cultivars, all German) are classic low bitterness, high aroma hops, although some consider two English varieties (Fuggles and East Kent Goldings) to be "Noble" as well.

Do I really need to give more motivation?

Primary Uses:

  • Female "flowers" (Cones) used in beer making

Secondary Uses:

  • Young Spring shoots can be cooked as vegetables, like asparagus, and was a Roman specialty
  • Tea (cones and/or leaves)
  • Medicinal uses - historically used for anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and anti-bacterial agent.
  • has been used in sausages, cereals, non-beer beverages, tobacco, and perfumes.
  • Stems have been thought to produce fiber and paper.
  • Leaves and cones used to produce a brown dye

Yield: Varies greatly on the variety and growing conditions.
Harvesting: Female cones are harvested in autumn.  Bloom to harvest is about 40 days.
Storage: Unless used immediately, drying is the best method for preservation. Once dried, hops can be stored in a sealed bag (as close to vacuum as you can get it) for many months. This can extend the brewing potential of home raised hops.

Resins of the hops flower (the yellow globs) contain the alpha and beta acids.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-5
Chill Requirement: Likely, but none documented that I could find

Plant Type: Large herbaceous vining/climbing plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Vertical Layer (Vining/Climbing)
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.

Pollination: Hops are dioecious (male and female plants). You only need one male vine for a number of female plants if you are interested in propagating from seed; however, this is rarely done.

Flowering: Summer

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 2-3 years
Years to Maximum Bearing: 3-4 years
Years of Useful Life: No good information found

The development of the Hops leaf... becoming more complex with age.

The start of the female flower cluster... known as the female inflorescence.

Size: 15-30 feet (4.5 - 9 meters) tall and wide; some dwarf varieties exist that are about half this size
Roots: Rhizomatous - underground stems that send up shoots and down roots
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast depending on the variety

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Medium moist to dry
pH: prefers fairly neutral soil (6.1 - 7.0)

Special Considerations for Growing: 
Hops has been grown commercially for a long time, so there are some very specific ways in which it is grown to produce maximum yields, make harvesting easier, make treating pests easier, and make the most money... however, if you plant hops in a Forest Garden setting, then you can pretty much plant it is a sunny, well ventilated location with a structure/support to grow, and leave it be!

Martin Crawford, world expert on forest gardening, recommends growing hops on the south side of large, non-fruiting/nut trees like the nitrogen-fixing Alders. This allows nitrogen for the fast growing hops, structure for the hops to climb, but does not inhibit yield of a high production tree. Brilliant!

Propagation:  Root cuttings, division (in Spring), or layering.  Rarely grown from seed as it will not produce true to type... meaning, plants grown from seed will produce plants with very different flower characteristics.  Since the flowers of specific varieties are used to give distinct flavors and aromas to beer, then growers usually want these characteristics preserved... hence the aforementioned propagation methods.

Minimal once established. Some forest gardeners will leave the old stems as a trellis for new growth.

Poisonous to dogs - results in hyperthermia, seizures, and death.
Some people can develop dermatitis (skin irritation) while picking the hops.
Sprawling vigorous growth can overtake some areas if not kept in check or planted with the growth in mind.

Young hops shoots collected in the Spring can be treated and eaten just like asparagus.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Website!

Check out our new site! 

I'm really excited to introduce our new site. It is still a work in progress, and not a whole lot has changed yet. However, over the next few weeks, I will be transitioning away from this Blogger site to my own independent website.

My goal is to provide a seamless transition, but I will likely need to make the changes a bit at a time. No content will be lost, and no existing content will be changed. I hope to make this site more user friendly, more searchable, and more useful for my daily readers as well as those who find this site for the first time.

Please let me know if you have any trouble or if you have any suggestions on how this site can serve you better.



Friday, January 20, 2012

Tour of a Permaculture Garden / Food Forest

Here is a great video (about 40 minutes long) that takes us on a tour of a Permaculture garden / food forest in Portland, Oregon.  This is just a fun walk through of just one Permaculture design.  The host is John Kohler from Growing Your Greens (www.growingyourgreens.com).  John is a good host and quite knowledgeable.

From time to time, I think it is healthy to be reminded of what can be done, what we are working toward. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

50 Disturbing Economic Statistics from 2011...

In a followup to yesterday's article about the 30 Reasons that the U.S. Middle Class is Dying, I wanted to share just one more list of statistics with references.

What are my thoughts about all of this? I believe that 2012 is going to look better than 2011. Maybe things will continue to look good for another few years after that if we are lucky. However, when we really look at what Americans and the U.S. Government are doing and have done, we should realize that we are in trouble. The way we have been acting economically is not sustainable. We as a country have a lot of bad habits, and these numbers and trends and habits are not going to change over night. They are not going to change in a year. Unfortunately, I don't think they are going to change without a major economic catastrophe.

I have no idea what that catastrophe is going to look like, but I fear it will resemble the Great Depression. Other than that, I really have no idea what will happen.  I am not a futurist. I am also not a dooms-dayer. And I really hope it does not happen.  I don't want that for me.  I don't want that for my family.

What I do know is that my goal is to get as good as I can at sustainably raising food for my family. I don't plan on being a hermit and moving to Idaho and living on a compound, but I plan to be as self-sufficient as possible. This is one of many reasons I love Permaculture.

Permaculture provides a common sense approach to being sustainably self-sufficient. Any piece of land can provide the basic needs for a family if designed well.

Take a look at these 50 disturbing economic statistics from 2011, and tell me that Permaculture doesn't start to look like a smart path:

#1 A staggering 48 percent of all Americans are either considered to be "low income" or are living in poverty.
#2 Approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be "low income" or impoverished.
#3 If the number of Americans that "wanted jobs" was the same today as it was back in 2007, the "official" unemployment rate put out by the U.S. government would be up to 11 percent.
#4 The average amount of time that a worker stays unemployed in the United States is now over 40 weeks.
#5 One recent survey found that 77 percent of all U.S. small businesses do not plan to hire any more workers.
#6 There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 even though we have added 30 million extra people to the population since then.
#7 Since December 2007, median household income in the United States has declined by a total of 6.8% once you account for inflation.
#8 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.6 million Americans were self-employed back in December 2006.  Today, that number has shrunk to 14.5 million.
#9 A Gallup poll from earlier this year found that approximately one out of every five Americans that do have a job consider themselves to be underemployed.
#10 According to author Paul Osterman, about 20 percent of all U.S. adults are currently working jobs that pay poverty-level wages.
#11 Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs.  Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.
#12 Back in 1969, 95 percent of all men between the ages of 25 and 54 had a job.  In July, only 81.2 percent of men in that age group had a job.
#13 One recent survey found that one out of every three Americans would not be able to make a mortgage or rent payment next month if they suddenly lost their current job.
#14 The Federal Reserve recently announced that the total net worth of U.S. households declined by 4.1 percent in the 3rd quarter of 2011 alone.
#15 According to a recent study conducted by the BlackRock Investment Institute, the ratio of household debt to personal income in the United States is now154 percent.
#16 As the economy has slowed down, so has the number of marriages.  According to a Pew Research Center analysis, only 51 percent of all Americans that are at least 18 years old are currently married.  Back in 1960, 72 percent of all U.S. adults were married.
#17 The U.S. Postal Service has lost more than 5 billion dollars over the past year.
#18 In Stockton, California home prices have declined 64 percent from where they were at when the housing market peaked.
#19 Nevada has had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation for 59 months in a row.
#20 If you can believe it, the median price of a home in Detroit is now just $6000.
#21 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 percent of all homes in the state of Florida are sitting vacant.  That figure is 63 percent larger than it was just ten years ago.
#22 New home construction in the United States is on pace to set a brand new all-time record low in 2011.
#23 As I have written about previously, 19 percent of all American men between the ages of 25 and 34 are now living with their parents.
#24 Electricity bills in the United States have risen faster than the overall rate of inflation for five years in a row.
#25 According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, health care costs accounted for just 9.5% of all personal consumption back in 1980.  Today they account for approximately 16.3%.
#26 One study found that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt.
#27 If you can believe it, one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards.
#28 The United States spends about 4 dollars on goods and services from China for every one dollar that China spends on goods and services from the United States.
#29 It is being projected that the U.S. trade deficit for 2011 will be 558.2 billion dollars.
#30 The retirement crisis in the United States just continues to get worse.  According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 46 percent of all American workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and 29 percent of all American workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.
#31 Today, one out of every six elderly Americans lives below the federal poverty line.
#32 According to a study that was just released, CEO pay at America's biggest companies rose by 36.5% in just one recent 12 month period.
#33 Today, the "too big to fail" banks are larger than ever.  The total assets of the six largest U.S. banks increased by 39 percent between September 30, 2006 and September 30, 2011.
#34 The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have a net worth that is roughly equal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans combined.
#35 According to an analysis of Census Bureau data done by the Pew Research Center, the median net worth for households led by someone 65 years of age or older is 47 times greater than the median net worth for households led by someone under the age of 35.
#36 If you can believe it, 37 percent of all U.S. households that are led by someone under the age of 35 have a net worth of zero or less than zero.
#37 A higher percentage of Americans is living in extreme poverty (6.7%) than has ever been measured before.
#38 Child homelessness in the United States is now 33 percent higher than it was back in 2007.
#39 Since 2007, the number of children living in poverty in the state of California has increased by 30 percent.
#40 Sadly, child poverty is absolutely exploding all over America.  According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 36.4% of all children that live in Philadelphia are living in poverty, 40.1% of all children that live in Atlanta are living in poverty, 52.6% of all children that live in Cleveland are living in poverty and 53.6% of all children that live in Detroit are living in poverty.
#41 Today, one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.
#42 In 1980, government transfer payments accounted for just 11.7% of all income.  Today, government transfer payments account for more than 18 percent of all income.
#43 A staggering 48.5% of all Americans live in a household that receives some form of government benefits.  Back in 1983, that number was below 30 percent.
#44 Right now, spending by the federal government accounts for about 24 percent of GDP.  Back in 2001, it accounted for just 18 percent.
#45 For fiscal year 2011, the U.S. federal government had a budget deficit of nearly 1.3 trillion dollars.  That was the third year in a row that our budget deficit has topped one trillion dollars.
#46 If Bill Gates gave every single penny of his fortune to the U.S. government, it would only cover the U.S. budget deficit for about 15 days.
#47 Amazingly, the U.S. government has now accumulated a total debt of 15 trillion dollars.  When Barack Obama first took office the national debt was just 10.6 trillion dollars.
#48 If the federal government began right at this moment to repay the U.S. national debt at a rate of one dollar per second, it would take over 440,000 yearsto pay off the national debt.
#49 The U.S. national debt has been increasing by an average of more than 4 billion dollars per day since the beginning of the Obama administration.
#50 During the Obama administration, the U.S. government has accumulated more debt than it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that Bill Clinton took office.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

30 Reasons that the U.S. Middle Class is Dying

Permaculture founder Bill Mollison has said, "The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children." What we have done as a country has truly jeopardized our children's future. This really upsets me and really concerns me at the same time. 
I am not an alarmist, and I rarely comment on economic issues, but I do believe in being aware of our surroundings.  This site has always been about me trying to place information that I think is important in one place so that I can reference it later. As I have done this, I have found that there are a lot of people who have the same interests and concerns as I do. 

Here is a summary of the concerns raised in the 30 Reasons that follows:
  • The number of good jobs continues to decrease.
  • The rate of inflation continues to outpace the rate that our wages are going up.
  • American consumers are going into almost unbelievable amounts of debt.
  • The number of Americans that are considered to be "poor" continues to grow.
  • The number of Americans that are forced to turn to the government for financial assistance continues to go up.

We must remember that nothing occurs in a vacuum. If you are above the middle class, this has the strong potential to drag you down with them. If you are below the middle class, this has the strong potential to knock you to the poverty level. I am very concerned with the future of this country. I am very concerned about what we have done with this great country and what it will mean for our children. 
This list has been floating around the internet for a few weeks or so. To be honest, I am not sure who originally compiled this information, but it is disturbing to say the least.  Each reason has a link to the source of the statistic. If you needed some more reasons to learn how to raise your own food, how to be self-sufficient, how to be sustainable, and how to be prepared in general for tough times, here are thirty:
#1 Today, only 55.3 percent of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 have jobs.
#2 In the United States today, there are 240 million working age people.  Only about 140 million of them are working.
#3 According to CareerBuilder, only 23 percent of American companies plan to hire more employees in 2012.
#4 Since the year 2000, the United States has lost 10% of its middle class jobs.  In the year 2000 there were about 72 million middle class jobs in the United States but today there are only about 65 million middle class jobs.
#5 According to the New York Times, approximately 100 million Americans are either living in poverty or in "the fretful zone just above it".
#6 According to that same article in the New York Times, 34 percent of all elderly Americans are living in poverty or "near poverty", and 39 percent of all children in America are living in poverty or "near poverty".
#7 In 1984, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older was 10 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger.  Today, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older is 47 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger.
#8 Since the year 2000, incomes for U.S. households led by someone between the ages of 25 and 34 have fallen by about 12 percent after you adjust for inflation.
#9 The total value of household real estate in the U.S. has declined from $22.7 trillion in 2006 to $16.2 trillion today.  Most of that wealth has been lost by the middle class.
#10 Many formerly great manufacturing cities are turning into ghost towns.  Since 1950, the population of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has declined by more than 50 percent.  In Dayton, Ohio 18.9 percent of all houses now stand empty.
#11 Since 1971, consumer debt in the United States has increased by a whopping 1700%.
#12 The number of pages of federal tax rules and regulations has increased by 18,000% since 1913.  The wealthy know how to avoid taxes, but most of those in the middle class do not.
#13 The number of Americans that fell into poverty (2.6 million) set a new all-time record last year and extreme poverty (6.7%) is at the highest level ever measured in the United States.
#14 According to one study, between 1969 and 2009 the median wages earned by American men between the ages of 30 and 50 dropped by 27 percent after you account for inflation.
#15 According to U.S. Representative Betty Sutton, America has lost an average of 15 manufacturing facilities a day over the last 10 years.  During 2010 it got even worse.  Last year, an average of 23 manufacturing facilities a day shut down in the United States.
#16 Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs.  Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.
#17 Most Americans are scratching and clawing and doing whatever they can to make a living these days.  Half of all American workers now earn $505 or less per week.
#18 Food prices continue to rise at a very brisk pace.  The price of beef is up 9.8% over the past year, the price of eggs is up 10.2% over the past year and the price of potatoes is up 12% over the past year.
#19 Electricity bills in the United States have risen faster than the overall rate of inflation for five years in a row.
#20 The average American household will have spent a staggering $4,155 on gasoline by the end of 2011.
#21 If inflation was measured the exact same way that it was measured back in 1980, the rate of inflation in the United States would be well over 10 percent.
#22 If the number of Americans considered to be "looking for work" was the same today as it was back in 2007, the "official" unemployment rate put out by the U.S. government would be up to 11 percent.
#23 According to the Student Loan Debt Clock, total student loan debt in the United States will surpass the 1 trillion dollar mark at some point in 2012.  Most of that debt is owed by members of the middle class.
#24 Incredibly, more than one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps at this point.
#25 Since Barack Obama took office, the number of Americans on food stamps has increased by 14.3 million.
#26 In 2010, 42 percent of all single mothers in the United States were on food stamps.
#27 In 1970, 65 percent of all Americans lived in "middle class neighborhoods".  By 2007, only 44 percent of all Americans lived in "middle class neighborhoods".
#28 According to a recent report produced by Pew Charitable Trusts, approximately one out of every three Americans that grew up in a middle class household has slipped down the income ladder.
#29 In the United States today, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined.
#30 The poorest 50 percent of all Americans now collectively own just 2.5% of all the wealth in the United States.