This permaculture principle might seem like a no-brainer... make sure you are producing something, right? That's what we all do when we go to work each day... obtain a yield in the form of our paychecks. Well, BP could say the same thing about pumping oil in the Gulf (and elsewhere), so the real difference in this third principle comes when we look at it in the light of the fundamental mission of permaculture: "Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share".
Now, while being urged to obtain a yield, we also need to examine our methods. What do they do to the earth? Are people being nurtured? Are they being treated fairly? Are our yields, while benefiting people, gotten at the expense of other species? We can all start to think of many examples which fail the test.
Perhaps this third principle is the most zen of all the 12 principles of permaculture. The more we examine this idea of obtaining a yield, the more questions raised. However, that should not stop us from working productively and making the most of the great gift of life we have. Perhaps you will start this spring by working in the garden... if you are fortunate, you will soon have a smile on your face as you bite into a completely ripe and juicy peach or tomato. Notice that you have two yields here: nutrition and pleasure. If there are more fruits than you can eat, maybe you will can or dry some, or maybe you will sell some at your local farmers market, or perhaps donate them to a local homeless shelter's kitchen. Now, you have created a third yield... stored energy or shared energy. Obtaining multiple yields from one input is an ongoing permacultural goal!
Those of my readers who know me through my fiber life will realize that I produce a LOT of fiber goods every year... truth is, I have a hard time just sitting still and work with my hands in lots of ways. As I have been living with this third principle of obtaining a yield this spring, I have looked at my stash, the objects I have created, and even my spinning wheel, wondering if I am producing a yield that fits within the idea of "Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share". I finished a vest and completely made a sweater so far in 2010, as well as a beautiful shoulder shawl from a gift of yarn. I even ordered some sustainably handcrafted buttons, made from downed branches for that sweater, with my limited purchasing power going directly to a craftsman (who lived a very long ways away and had to mail me a packet with those buttons). Perhaps if I had been more patient, I could have crafted those buttons myself, or obtained them locally, but I did feel that I was applying the 'people care' portion of permaculture in knitting the sweater myself and helping someone else maintain a small craft business.
I have been spinning on a half-fleece I obtained a few years ago from a local shepherdess (Sharon has the other half). While we both felt very happy that Anna, who raised the sheep, lived halfway between the two of us here in the Sierras, we still had to ship the fleece to a wool mill a few hundred miles away to have it cleaned and processed and shipped back to us because we work at jobs to fill that need for cash rather than stay home and card our own wool. It would have been wonderful to be able to go to a local wool mill, but the demand isn't there now. However, another small business yielded a profit from customers like us, and manages to stay in business for small yarn producers. Do we need to be producing our own yarn? That's an interesting question.... I find it more ethical to make a garment I want than to buy goods shipped halfway around the world, where they were made by people receiving very low wages so that I can afford to purchase those goods on my medium-range salary. While I would be rich in most of the world from the annual income I have, I am not that far above the 'poverty' line here in the US and purchasing high quality new clothing is often beyond my means. Also, making things provides two yields: something I can wear, use or give away and the enjoyment I experience while I am creating. That third yield sometimes comes when I teach others how to make the same item, or entertain them with my descriptions.
That half-fleece is slowly yielding a lot of yarn yardage, and as I ponder what I will do with that yarn, I am having the chance to look at my wardrobe with new eyes... do I need a sweater? Does someone else in my family? What else will we all need over the next few years? If I go out and rampantly purchase items to fill my need/desire to create, am I overusing my 'share' of the resources? So far, my spinning has been slow enough that I haven't had to worry too much... I usually end up with enough yardage to create a hat or a pair of mitts, or some other small item, which we can use in winter. I am improving quite a bit, though, and am producing more through less effort. This is an example of 'obtaining a yield', much the same way that nurturing your soil will begin to result in producing bumper crops of veggies! While I can 'put by' veggies for later, I might actually reach my home's capacity to absorb knitted items; I don't quilt much these days because I already have quite a few around here that I made over the years. I doubt I will stop either endeavor, fiber or food, but I might need to look at new outlets for the items I produce and that could be a very good thing. It could help me have something to barter!
The Great Recession has caused a severe slump in jobs in my region. Applying this principle of 'obtaining a yield' has led me to look for the creative solutions that people are trying out to sustain themselves since their old jobs have vanished. I saw many shops close up while the yarn shop was located in downtown Grass Valley; we relocated to a less expensive location, and others were able to start new endeavors in shops that were vacated, especially when some of the landlords began lowering their rents rather than have empty buildings. If those endeavors meet the needs of enough of the people, they will likely survive this downturn. Some will not, and they might be ideas whose time is either past or has yet to come. Some of the people I know without jobs have turned to new avenues of creativity, including selling crafts through outlets such as Etsy. Some I have read about are learning new skills or completing their education. My DD will finish her BA in Early Childhood Education in November, opting to complete college when she lost her job a year ago. Others are volunteering, filling a need even though they are not getting paid. These people inspire me to hope that something good will spring forth out of a very difficult and dark time.
I would love to hear how this third principle of permaculture resonates with you. I hope you will leave me a comment!