Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Business Opportunities With Small Batch Garden

Small Batch Garden’s Anticipated Crop Needs for 2013

Eyebright Elixir has been one of our most promising products this season!

Small Batch Garden is a north Georgia herbal health and household products company that is run on permaculture principles, and with a steady eye toward relocalizing economies.  Toward that end we are looking for bioregional producers of the bulk herbs we use regularly, top bar beeswax, and to help establish a bioregional essential oils distillery.  Below is listed our anticipated needs for the 2013 season, and the prices we are willing to pay for those products.  I have also included the price we are currently paying for the products from Oregon, to demonstrate our commitment to supporting more sustainable local production.  All herbs must be dried and processed to market quality.  Please contact Tripp or Jessica Tibbetts at 706-273-1752 or trippticket@gmail.com.

Dry bulk herb (est need)             Current price ($/lb)          2013 price ($/lb)

Lavender flowers (10-25 lbs)      17                                           25

Calendula flowers (10-25 lbs)     23                                           30      

Chamomile flowers (10-25 lbs)  10                                           15

Comfrey leaf (10-25 lbs)              10                                           15

Peppermint  leaf (10-15 lbs)       10                                           15

Eyebright (5-10 lbs)                      14                                           20

Goldenseal (5-10 lbs)                  18                                           30

Raspberry Leaf (5-10 lbs)           8                                              10

Cornflowers (5-10 lbs)                40                                           50

Rose Hips (5-10 lbs)                    8                                              12


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Business in Contractionary Times

We humans did just fine before the Industrial Revolution, whether we were members of an agricultural, horticultural, or foraging society.  The move to agriculture from foraging or horticulture wasn’t, and still isn’t, a self-evidently desirable adaptation.  Many people, even today, know all about farming and choose not to join the movement.  The Kung! bush people of Africa, when asked why they don’t adopt farming practices, famously reply “why should we farm when there are so many mongongo nuts?”  And they have a good point.  Why toil from sun-up to sun-down to produce a surplus of a few high-calorie crops when you can eat a wide variety of foods offered freely by Nature? (And please don’t say to have more free time!) It’s been estimated, from prehistoric midden analysis, that the Cherokee people, indigenous to the southeastern United States where I live, utilized over 200 plant species regularly in their diet.  By contrast, the modern farming world derives 2/3 of its calories from just 3 crops: rice, corn, and wheat, with rice feeding fully half of humanity.  Efficient, considering our energetic reality at the moment, but about as far from resilient as we can get (think Irish potato famine). 

We tend to think that farming brought an end to hunger, but famine was unknown before agriculture.  Consider a diet based on over 200 species of plants, plus the occasional animal meat, insects, and a variety of wild mushrooms: how could one possibly go hungry with so many options??  No, it’s highly unlikely that foragers had access to as many gross calories as we do today, but nutrient density in their food was probably far superior to ours, and obesity was largely absent, as was the tooth decay I mentioned in an earlier post.  Foragers were healthy, nearly across the board I would wager, trim, fit, and with the absence of social hierarchy, probably a lot more relaxed than we are.  By contrast, Americans are pudgy, pasty, and neurotic.  Yes, let’s definitely keep doing this…
The way I see it agriculture relies on expansion.  Expansion of land use, expansion of markets, expansion of population, and expansion of the money supply.  Let me point out that the expansion of the money supply is the only one of these that can continue indefinitely (theoretically), and that’s because the money we’re talking about isn’t actual wealth, it’s fiat currency.  It doesn’t have any stand-alone value.  If it were backed by gold, or silver, or mongongo nuts, there would be hard limits to it as well.  But there is only so much land on offer, so many markets to infiltrate, and so many humans that the Earth can support.  If a commodity or process is declared “infinite,” or virtually so, one can almost bet that the limits to that commodity or process are near at hand.  If there were really still plenty, no one would be talking about the vast quantities remaining.  Ever heard anyone mention “peak sand?”  Why not?  We use it to make glass every day.

Agriculture is the embodiment of growth.  It has had a successful 10,000 year run, from (largely accidental) inception to (teeth gnashing) breaking point, and has been the most influential movement ever known in Earth’s history.  But expansion and growth are over now.  In a recent post we talked about the serious decline in EROEI figures for our favorite energy technologies over the past 80 years, and we now know that the time has come for us to slowly divorce ourselves from fossil fuels in favor of higher returns (like from firewood!).  That’s just what biological populations do.  Continuing to use an energy source whose EROEI is less than half that of a stone-age technology like firewood suggests to me that the industrial world has been officially, and in every other way, mentally enslaved by fossil fuels.  The divorce is unlikely to be pretty, or easy.  But the divorce must proceed nonetheless.  It WILL proceed, too, whether we like it or not, at least at globally-meaningful levels. 
In order to maximize our transition potential – potential that will hopefully be redirected into more useful strategies once we “fess up to the guvnah” about our situation – we will employ a host of other technologies as their EROEIs become more competitive with oil.  What we thinking people must do to help guide this process in the least wasteful way is boycott green-washed false starts, like ethanol and nuclear, and throw our support behind energy transitions that might actually be useful to us, like new hydro projects (away from the migration routes of diadramous fish naturally) and wind power, where applicable.  The EROEI for photovoltaic solar, spiffy as it is, is so low that it should only be employed in small amounts, and only where there is no better option.  At Small Batch we have a whole 11.8 watts of PV solar employed to drive a box fan, and we’ll probably never have much more than that.  Not that we weren’t thinking about it at one point, but we know better now.  Acquiescing to hard facts, and adapting our thought patterns to the new data, will be critical as we proceed within an energy descent context.  In other words, behavioral innovation is the most useful new technology in our arsenal.  Anti-climactic as that might be…

With this new worldview we should be able to outline some useful patterns for approaching business activity and the making of “money” for our sustenance.  We hit on it two posts back, but I’ll work through this facet of life in a bit more detail this week.  And I’ll start by making the suggestion that we need to change the way we think about “money” itself.  “Income” is a very natural word.  Ecosystems themselves make income, in the form of various earth energies like sunlight and wind, water moving through and across the landscape, inorganic nutrients eroding downhill, and animal manures collecting in the leaf litter.  A healthy ecosystem has no qualms about taking energy and nutrients from a weaker one, but it doesn’t involve “money” in the process.  In a non-expansionary future, money is likely to follow highly nonsensical patterns, cause a lot of anguish, and delude lots of people.  Getting used to thinking about income as something largely separate from “money” might be a useful new perspective to gain.
Real income, by contrast, is something almost anyone can increase at any time.  Land or access to land, fertility/biomass, water retention structures, trees and plants in general, medicinal herbs, education, etc, can all be thought of as real, money-independent income.  And most Americans, at this point, are still so blind to this idea that they will happily bag up their wealth and set it on the curb for you to pick up in the fall.  I can’t help but chuckle every time I take a shipment of biomass like wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, manure, straw, and spoiled hay, free of charge, from some dupe who thinks he’s dumping his “trash” on me.  It’s hilarious really.  Land is probably the hardest of these to come by, but land in the U.S. right now is fairly cheap – it’s hard to say if the value of land will start increasing again – and there is generally plenty of excess energy in the typical American household economy being used for non-essentials that could be redirected into something more important during critical times.  This is that time.  Trees, herbs, fruiting plants, education, water retention, etc, can generally be acquired at will.  I’m always happy to give away, or sell cheaply, comfrey starts, strawberry daughters, and scion wood.  Find people doing these things and you’ll find inexpensive starts for your own project.

From a larger business perspective, the industries that run our daily life are quite large at this point, generally interstate outfits, if not international.  That's what works best when energy is basically too cheap to meter.  But, coupled with declining real incomes, today's energy costs are starting to hit people hard already, and "local" is perhaps the biggest buzz word to hit the market in decades.  You can see it everywhere, from tiny upstarts like Small Batch Garden to large multi-national corporations, the word local is making a come-back.

In our case, we are paralleling the local organic food model with local organic simple medicines and household products.  Think of us as a tiny Burt's Bees.  We make herbal bugspray, linen waters, lip balm, skin and muscle creams, an eye health oil rub, and will soon be offering bulk herbs and teas, essential oils, and old homestead liquid soaps made from rainwater and wood ash.  It's what my wife and I love doing.  And I believe that the business world in general is opening up graciously to relocalizing businesses.  Working in the farmers market and festival scene, I'm seeing new local versions of cured meat companies, dairies, doughnuts, orchards, bakeries, honey, print stock, sewn goods, mobile wood-fired pizza, popsicles, plants, handmade pots, and organic soil conditioners, etc, etc, just waiting to take hold in a more local economy.
I see the business world as wide-open right now, if one can muddle through the uncertain transition.  A part-time job doing something crappy, that famous "underemployment" sector of the economy so popular just now, might be just enough to support a budding local business of your own design as we head into the economic transition from huge structures to small.  Family support is an extra special bonus in that endeavor, and one we've been fortunate enough to have access to as well. 
I don't want to pretend that we are over the hump and in a position to be giving financial advice.  We're not.  But Small Batch is growing steadily, slipping into retail outlet after retail outlet, seeing bigger profits at farmers markets every month, and expanding our product offerings organically, incrementally, as we have the time and money.  I think this is due to having a trained eye on where the world is headed.  But whatever it is you enjoy doing, or are at least good at doing, will probably be open to a more local version in the years ahead.  Just because Coca-Cola is who they are doesn't mean that a decent living couldn't be made making and selling soft drinks at local markets, and Coca-Cola's success in the growth world does not guarantee them success in the contractionary one.  Matter of fact, the psychology of previous investment is likely to get in the way of mammoth organizations like that soon.  Businesses like your tiny soft drink company and Small Batch Garden are like the little proto-mammals scurrying around the feet of the dinosaurs as the giant asteroid cruises in, largely unnoticed (both the asteroid and the proto-mammals).  Now is probably not a good time to be a dinosaur.
And consensus is not something we should be concerned about just now either.  Natural selection is driven by having a wide variety of options from which to choose.  Some options are adaptive, some are not, but we won't know which is which until they've been tried.  Even Nature doesn't know yet.  Consensus is useful during periods of constance, like the constant energetic reality we've all known for the past century or so, but once that driver of consistency no longer applies, we need options more than anything else.  Right now we need the nuts to try something different, even if it's only for difference's sake.  It certainly helps to have some knowledge about how the future may go - we can pretty much rest assured that energy will be harder to come by from here on out - and, with careful consideration, that knowledge will help us know where to turn for an income.  The lower energy future will be one of necessities - food, water, medicine, shelter, as well as art and entertainment of some sort, but I believe these needs can still form a rich cloth of existence around us, especially if we apply our remaining fossil fuel-derived affluence to the task of relocalizing our activity to a smaller scale.
They say that for every two jobs WalMart brings to a community three are lost.  Perhaps it would be good to keep that idea in mind as we lament the decline of globalism.  We haven't found Utopia in fossil fueled excess, so we are probably unlikely to find it in the day-to-day grind of energy descent, but as far as work goes, there should be no shortage in a more local future.
Cheers, friends.
Tripp out.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Preservation of Knowledge?

It's difficult to lay down any sort of meaningful time frame for energy descent. After all peak energy per capita is already 33 years in the rear view, so these forces have been moving for some time already. Judging how peak oil will affect the pace and intensity of the energy descent already well underway is problematic for a host of reasons, not the least of which are the scope and complexity of the global system. But one figure that might give us a tangible date to work with comes from German reinsurance giant Munich Re: Munich Re claim that, at the present rate of increase, the cost of recovery from natural disasters will exceed Earth's gross domestic product by 2060. 2060 is within the 50 year time frame presented in the last post, and one should logically assume that our civilization will not (cannot) follow a linear progression to this kind of total financial and ecosystem collapse. Something, and probably several somethings, will have to give well before a date like that rolls around.

So to claim that the world will be starkly different 50 years from now seems like a gimme to this Georgia boy. Do we still have time to plant and grow fruit trees to a productive size?  Probably.  But I think we can safely assume that non-essential functions will start to give way fairly soon.  The printing and distribution of books, for example, may take a back seat one day in the not-too-distant future to the production of firewood.  When people are too cold to enjoy a good book things will change, and we are, after all, working with a finite and already over-allocated energy budget.  The substantial energy required to cut all that firewood, and the wood itself, will have to come from somewhere.  One thing that is very safe to assume is that we will not be adding new demands to our time/energy/budgets.  Not a net addition anyway.
The preservation of knowledge, though, seems like a worthy thing to spend time on as we inch toward that day when the printing presses get a lot quieter. My wife and I have been steadily building a library for our children for the past several years, buying high-quality printings of classic literature and of course tons of permaculture and self-reliance related literature.
 This is an awesome recent yard sale score - 47 Franklin Press leather-bound, gold-leaf classics for $25.  I honestly don't know how useful a second copy (or the first for that matter) of Moby Dick will be in a deindustrial subsistence future, but then maybe "useful" shouldn't always be the main judgement criterion, especially when applied to literature.  What might be most useful where we live is a dehumidifier!

This is our beautiful neighborhood - moderate climate, relatively healthy forests, reliable rainfall, chattering creeks, and book-eating mold and mildew!  How in the world will we keep all those great books intact without the drying effects of AC?  Certainly brings up some big questions about the shape of literacy in the future.  Humidity destroys electronics, too, so that nifty little Kindle is probably just as doomed.  Surely it's no accident that the bulk of civilized literature that emerged from the Dark Ages was preserved in the dry desert air of the Middle East.  But European monks did pretty well, too, and if we want to keep all those pages in readable condition we'll have to work it out.  Any advice on the matter would be appreciated.  We have plenty of anti-fungal herbal oils around - that's part of our business after all - but the application methods are unknown to me at this point.  High quality printings, in book sleeves as often as possible, should get a lot farther down the road, but I think it's safe to assume that a deindustrial future will be a future of compromised literacy.  Probably a natural trajectory though.  Book literacy is really only necessary in a culture that requires it.  Masanobu Fukuoka was a good example of a civilized visionary who didn't buy the argument that the merit of literacy was self-evident.  For my part in this play, however, I'm going to do what I can to keep my descendents in books.

On the other hand, pattern literacy is likely to be a much more useful kind of intelligence in an energy descent future.  The black Australian aborigines are a good example: as a group they notoriously register the lowest IQ scores of any demographic set on Earth.  But they have an ability to map terrain and food sources in four dimensions, in their heads and in their unique art, that westerners can't even imagine.  Is this sort of pattern intelligence inferior to book intelligence?  Probably only to people with book intelligence...and they are the ones writing IQ tests.
Energy descent will undoubtedly challenge our most cherished assumptions.  Unlike oil, open-mindedness is nowhere near its peak.
Cheers, friends.
Tripp out.