We must develop as much self-sufficiency as we reasonably can at the national level, meaning far less trade, and at the household level, but most importantly at the neigh­bourhood, suburban, town and local regional level. Obviously in a world of severely limited energy resources the distances over which resources, goods and workers travel must be minimised, and this means we must develop mostly small scale local economies. We need to convert our presently barren suburbs and dying country towns into thriving economies which produce most of what they need from local resources and local labour.

The domestic or household economy already accounts for about half the real national output, although this is ignored by conventional economics which only counts dollar costs. Households can again become significant producers of vegeta­bles, fruit, poultry, preserves, fish (from tanks and ponds), repairs, furniture, clothing, education, health care, entertainment and leisure services, and community support.

Neighbourhoods would contain many small enterprises such as the local bakery. Some of these could be decentralised branches of existing firms, enabling most of us to get to work by bicycle or on foot. Much of our honey, eggs, crockery, vegetables, herbs, furniture, fruit, nuts and meat (e. g., rabbits, fish and poultry) production could come from households, backyard businesses and small firms. Much output could come from craft and hobby production. It is much more satisfying to produce most things in craft ways than in industrial factories, but it would make sense to retain some larger mass production factories and sources of materials, such as mines, steel works and railways.

Almost all food could come from within a few hundred metres of where we live, most of it from within existing towns and suburbs. The sources would be, a) intensive home gardens, b) community gardens and cooperatives, such as poultry, orchard and fish groups, c) many small market gardens and farms located within and close to sub­urbs and towns, d) extensive development of commons, especially for production of “free” community fruit, nuts, fish, poultry, animal grazing, herbs, clay, bamboo and timber.

The scope for food self-sufficiency within households is extremely high. It takes 0.5 ha, 5,000 square metres, to feed one North American via agribusiness with a very high cost in fossil fuels and soil erosion. However Blazey (1999, p. 18) documents the capacity for a family of three to feed itself from less than one backyard, with almost no cost in energy, fertilizer or pesticides, via intensive home gardening, high yield seeds, multi-cropping, nutrient recycling, and mostly consumption of plant foods. Jeavons (2002) gives a similar account. In a localised agriculture all wastes can be returned to the soil. This along with use of nitrogen fixing and deep rooted plants can eliminate the need for importation of fertilizers. Blazey’s figures derive from actual trials at the Diggers Seeds’ site in Heronswood, Victoria. His approach yields 500 kg of vegetable food p. a. from a 42 square metre plot, a rate of food production that is almost 1000 times as great as for standard beef production.

Most of our neighbourhood could become a Permaculture jungle, an “edible land­scape” crammed with long-lived, largely self-maintaining productive plants. Much food production would involve little or no fuel use, ploughing, packaging, storage, pesticides, freezing, marketing, insurance, transport or waste disposal. Having food produced close to where people live would enable nutrients to be recycled back to the soil through animal pens, ponds, compost heaps, composting toilets and garbage gas units.

There would be research into finding what useful plants from all around the world thrive in our local conditions, and into the development of foods, materials and chemicals from these. Synthetics would be derived primarily from plant materials.

Meat consumption would be greatly reduced as we moved to more plant foods, but many small animals such as poultry, rabbits and fish would be kept in small pens spread throughout our settlements. The animals could be fed largely on kitchen and garden scraps, and by free ranging on commons, while providing manure and adding to the aesthetic and leisure resources of our settlements. Some wool, milk and leather could come from sheep and goats grazing meadows within our settlements. There would be small-scale dairies, grain and timber producing areas close by.

The commons would be of great economic and social value. These include the community owned and operated woodlots, bamboo patches, herb gardens, orchards, ponds, meadows, sheds, halls, theatres, tools, machinery, tractors, workshops, libraries, leisure centres, windmills, water wheels, bicycles and vehicles. The com­mon lands can be located in parks, beside railway lines, on old factory sites, and especially on the many roads that will be dug up when they are no longer needed. These commons would provide many free goods and would be maintained by voluntary working bees and committees. Because there will be far less need for transport we could greatly increase the land area available in cities for community facilities by digging up many roads and parking lots.

We should convert one house on each block into a neighbourhood centre, including a workshop, recycling store, meeting place, arts and crafts rooms, surplus exchange and library.

Settlement design will focus on these basically Permaculture principles, such as the intensive use of space, complex, self-maintaining ecosystems, nutrient recycling, local water harvesting, stacking and use of all available niches, multiple cropping and overlapping functions e. g., poultry provide meat, eggs, feathers, pest control, cultivation, fertilizer and leisure resources. These techniques will enable huge reductions in the present land area and energy costs of food provision and of many materials and services.

It will not be necessary for many people to be involved in agriculture. Providing food now takes perhaps one-fifth of work time, when transport, packaging, market­ing and retailing are added to the farm work. That’s about eight hours a week per worker. Intensive home gardening requires about four person-hours per week per household (Blazey, 1999). Averaged across the town and including small farm work, food production would probably require well below the present amount of “work” time. The difference derives from the far greater productivity of home and small farm production, and the elimination of much intermediary work, such as transport, tractor and fertilizer production, marketing and packaging.

Many materials can come from within these settlements and close by, including leather, oils, dyes, timber, chemicals, medicines, earth and clay, reeds and rushes for baskets, bamboo and energy crops. Some of these would be input crops for local firms but many would be freely available from commons for craft production.

One of the most important ways in which we would be highly self-sufficient would be in finance. Firstly The Simpler Way requires little capital. It will not be an expand­ing economy and most enterprises will be very small. Virtually all neighbourhoods have all the capital they need to develop those premises, stores, energy sources etc. that would meet their basic needs. This does not happen when our savings are put into conventional banks. Our capital is borrowed by distant corporations, often for unde­sirable purposes, and it is therefore not used to improve our neighbourhoods.

We would form town banks from which our savings would only be lent to firms and projects that would improve our town. These banks could charge “negative” interest, or make grants for socially desirable ventures. We will couple the banks with “business incubators” which provide assistance to small firms, such as access to accountants, computers and advice from panels of the town’s most experienced business people. Having the bank and the incubator will give us the power to establish in our town the enterprises and industries it needs, as distinct from being at the whim of distant corporations and foreign investors who will only set up in our town if that will maximize their global profits. In any case they will not set up firms to produce what we need. We can therefore take control of our own development and make sure that it is determined by what will benefit the town, cut its imports, mini­mize ecological impacts, eliminate waste and provide livelihoods.

These many and diverse structures, firms and activities will make our locality into a leisure-rich environment. Most suburbs at present are leisure-deserts. The alterna­tive neighbourhood would be full of familiar people, small businesses, industries, farms, lakes, common projects, artists, ornaments, animals, gardens, forests, wind­mills and waterwheels, and therefore full of interesting things to do, observe or participate in. Consequently people would be far less inclined to travel on weekends and holidays, and this in turn would greatly reduce per capita energy consumption. This shows how the solution to many problems will mostly involve carrots rather than sticks. For instance we will reduce travel not by penalties but by eliminating the need for most of it, by ensuring that work and leisure sites are close to where we live.

This high level of domestic and local economic self-sufficiency will cut travel, transport and packaging costs, and the need to build freeways, ships and airports etc. It will also enable our communities to become secure from devastation by distant economic forces, such as depressions, interest rate rises, trade wars, capital flight, and exchange rate changes and devaluations.

Local self-sufficiency means we will be highly dependent on our region and our community, and the significance of this for several important themes cannot be exag­gerated. Because most of our food, energy, materials, leisure activity, artistic experi­ence and community will come via the soils, forests, people, ecosystems and social systems close around us, we will all recognise the extreme importance of keeping these in good shape. If we do not do this our water catchments, energy systems, working bees and committees will not function well, and then we will have to pay dearly for goods and services brought in from further away. This will force us to think constantly about the maintenance of our ecological, technical and social sys­tems. This will be the main reason why we will treat our ecosystems well – because if we don’t we will soon be sorry.

Updated: October 27, 2015 — 12:08 pm