An Inspirational Tale
- This turned up on a Permaculture list... tickles my anarchistic
sensibilities tremendously - Rex
August 24, 2001 By Reuters
RAMINGSTEIN, Austria -- In the coldest part of Austria, a farmer is
turning conventional wisdom on its head by growing a veritable
Garden of Eden full of tropical plants in the open on his steep Alpine
Amid average annual temperatures of a mere 39.5 Fahrenheit, Sepp
Holzer grows everything from apricots to eucalyptus, figs to kiwi fruit,
peaches to wheat at an altitude of between 3,300 and 4,900 feet.
Once branded a fool, fined and threatened with imprisonment for
defying Austrian regulations that dictate what is planted where, he is
now feted worldwide for creating the only functioning "permaculture"
farm in Europe. Permaculture, an abbreviation of permanent culture,
is the development of agricultural ecosystems which are complete
"Once planted, I do absolutely nothing," Holzer told Reuters. "It really
is just nature working for itself -- no weeding, no pruning, no
watering, no fertilizer, no pesticides."
His 110 acres of land in the mountainous Lungau region in the
province of Salzburg are classed by European Union directives as unfit
for agricultural cultivation due to the steep gradient and poor soil.
When Holzer inherited the farm - then 44.5 acres - 39 years ago, it
was only used for the grazing of the family's cows and sheep. He
carved terraces out of the steep inclines - like the ancient Incas and
Maya of South and Central America - to stop erosion and trap rainfall.
He rejected the use of pesticides and fertilizers, which he considered
poisonous, and the concept of monoculture - the cultivation of just
one plant type over an expanse of land - because he believed it
sapped the soil of all nutrients. Instead he began growing a host of
timber and fruit trees, shrubs and grasses all mixed up together.
"Everyone said I was mad and I had to pay numerous fines because
the authorities said that it was illegal to plant such a combination,"
Holzer said. "When I bought this patch of land off a farmer, it was not
fit for the cows and sheep grazing on it. People scoffed that I was
neglecting my land -- but now they come to harvest cherries from
June to October." "This is the worst type of soil, which just goes to
prove that there is no bad soil, just bad farmers," he added.
PROOF IS IN EATING OF PUDDING
Most of the plants Holzer and his wife Vroni grow at his
"Krameterhof" holding are not meant to flourish in Alpine conditions,
according to experts. In winter, the temperature can fall to below
minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit and a blanket of snow lingers into May.
Snow can even fall in the height of summer. Holzer said he found
agricultural textbooks and his own years at agricultural college
virtually useless. "I followed their advice initially, but my trees started
dying off. I then realized that I had to eradicate from my memory all
that I'd learned at college," he said.
Enlightenment came one winter during one of Holzer's routine
moonlight strolls, when he noticed that the only apricot tree faring
well in the harsh winter conditions was one he had forgotten to cut
back according to ministerial regulations. Unlike the pruned trees
whose main lower branches snapped off under the weight of snow,
the "neglected" tree's branches were intact. Their unrestricted length
had allowed them to droop with the tips touching the ground for
support while the snow slid off, Holzer found. Allowing natural
vegetation to grow around the trunk provided further support and
nourishment for the tree. "If people would only realize that if one
leads a life in cooperation with nature and not against it, then nobody
in the world need die of starvation," he said.
LET NATURE TAKE ITS OWN COURSE
Holzer's philosophy is that nature knows best and needs negligible
interference from Man. "We're born into paradise, but are destroying
its foundation, the soil. The soil can look after itself, there's no need
for Man to tamper with it." Giant stone slabs pepper the landscape
and serve as incubators by absorbing the sunlight and giving off
warmth. The trees do their part as well in keeping the ground warm.
Fallen foliage helps keep frost from reaching the roots. Tree stumps
dot the plantations to regulate irrigation. Like a sponge they soak up
water and later distribute it. Animals too have a role in the Holzer
ecosystem. Scavenging pigs till the soil in place of a tractor, while
grass snakes were reintroduced to keep voracious slugs and mice in
check. Holzer is modest about his achievement which has led to
projects in more than 40 countries and lectures on "the elimination of
poverty in agriculture." He has rejected suggestions that he should
have his method of permaculture patented. "I would consider that as
theft from nature. It's not my possession, I got it from nature and
have an obligation to pass this knowledge on," the bearded 59-year-
INSPIRATIONAL, BUT ECONOMICALLY VIABLE?
Holzer says his method of organic farming produces a much higher
quality of crops than conventional farming, and at a fraction of the
cost and effort. He says his rare strain of grain contains 12 times the
goodness of conventionally grown grain and as a result fetches a
price 100 times higher. His success means that he no longer lives
directly off the crops in his sprawling garden, or the rare fish in his
Alpine ponds and lakes. People pay to pick their own fruit from his
land, experts visit to study "Holzer Permaculture," and the man
himself regularly holds seminars when not in a far-off country such as
Colombia solving chronic problems of the soil. And only one thing has
so far stumped the man with green fingers. "Bananas," he said with a
shrug of his burly frame. "They froze. It's no surprise as they need an
average temperature of 30 degrees. But I'm still working on it."
Copyright 2001, Reuters
- Sepp's also got a website:
--- Rex Teague <DibbleGardens@...> wrote:
> This turned up on a Permaculture list... tickles my__________________________________________________
> sensibilities tremendously - Rex
> August 24, 2001 By Reuters
> RAMINGSTEIN, Austria -- In the coldest part of
> Austria, a farmer is
> turning conventional wisdom on its head by growing a
> Garden of Eden full of tropical plants in the open
> on his steep Alpine
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>Sepp's also got a website:yeah, but it's written all funny. cain't read a durned bit of it.
that story is too amazing for words. thanks for posting, rex!
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- On 6 Sep 01, emily groff wrote:
>Stephen Canner wrote:http://babelfish.altavista.com produces a rough translation.
> yeah, but it's written all funny. cain't read a durned bit of it.
> that story is too amazing for words. thanks for posting, rex!Another website has come up in the discussion elsewhere:
Plus a spin by someone closer to the action... goto:
and search on: vesovnik
> Emily Groff
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- Dear All, I'm very pleased to have discovered a group dedicated to
the discussion of Fukuoka...especially as I will soon be taking over
the stewardship of several hectares. I live in the South of France,
and am, not surprisingly, surrounded by vineyards. Some of the land I
will be using are old vineyards themselves, soils exhausted and
compacted and I'd like to use my oppurtunity to show what can be done
with such land to try to show the local farmers the difference
between diversity and monoculture. I have no experience in farming
and would hope that there are people on this list with the practical
experience to help make my hopes realise. I have read 'One Straw
Revolution' but hope I can learn some more practical help from this
list and 'The Natural Way of Farming' that I've already ordered, but
has not yet arrived - perhaps it is out of print?
I tried to follow the Rex's link to the permaculture list at Franklin
but couldn't find anything under vesovnik, but have appended a
response by georg parlow on the pc list that casts some light on Sepp
Holzer (perhaps this is the email you had in mind Rex?).
...as i am one of the main pc activists here in austria (founding
the national pc association), i am double-minded about sepp holzer. i
it that he is able to get all the media exposure and the
receives part of the attention. however, i am wary about the fact,
my opinion it is not permaculture what he is doing, and i am afraid
sooner or later this will show and discredit permaculture.
sepp holzer is a genius in his way. he really knows his turf (in the
litteral sense of the meaning), he successfully threw out everything
learned about agriculture (also no book about organic farming,
etc. has ever spoiled his approach until 1997, when eva vesovnik
farm and said "but this is permaculture you are doing!" - he might
read something since, mainly so he knows what words to use for
reasons), he goes and boldly tries every idea he has, and he is a
sepps strongest assets (besides his marketing skills) are the intimate
knowledge of the farm he grew up on, to pay attention to his
warm air currents and all sorts of things he observes and notices
come up with the most creative explanations for his observances, and
ahead with action based on his observances and explanations.
all this could make him a great permaculturist. now let me explain
think it is not permaculture, what he is doing there:
care for the earth? honestly i am not sure about that. the natural
vegetation of the region is almost pure pine. sepp digs in 10 meter
"bad pine monoculture" with the bulldozer, turns them into
beds", plants tiny fruit trees on them, and sows them with jerusalem
artichokes, radishes and (voluntary) stinging nettle. naturally the
rampant on the exessive nutrients and the radishes are fist-big,
which is "a
prove for the superiority of permaculture".
2 or 3 years ago he had a landslide above his farmhouse, and 1 foot
in all rooms. the landslide was caused by a broken dam of his design
doing - there isnt any design, really, and never was. there is only
ideas applied - some great idaes, some meaningless, some stupid ones -
unfortunately sepp holzer isnt into small experiments - he seems to
things and knows how to operate his bulldozer.
care for the people? sharing of the surplus? thumbs down. besides his
family, the only person he cares for seems to be his lawyer -
nearly everyone i have heard of who has had any closer dealings with
been sued or at least threatened with a suit (if he hears about my
about him i will certainly get sued). in wintertime he is said to
the old austrian farmers-tradition of going to court with his
have not heard so far of him ever moving an eyelash without asking
it. while i know of functioning pc systems that really give away
wheelbarrows of food for free (e.g. peter bird on W.A.), if sepp says
"people come to pick my cherries" you can be sure that they pay for
it - big
time. if permaculture is about subsistance life, and subsistance
local and regional cooperation, sepp holzer is as far from it as you
please note that this is my private opinion as an individual, and not
position of the austrian permaculture association.
--- In fukuoka_farming@y..., "Rex Teague" <DibbleGardens@b...> wrote:
> On 6 Sep 01, emily groff wrote:
> >Stephen Canner wrote:
> > >http://www.krameterhof.at/
> > yeah, but it's written all funny. cain't read a durned bit of it.
> http://babelfish.altavista.com produces a rough translation.
> > that story is too amazing for words. thanks for posting, rex!
> Another website has come up in the discussion elsewhere:
> Plus a spin by someone closer to the action... goto:
> and search on: vesovnik
> Cheers... Rex
> > -----
> > Emily Groff
> > www.geocities.com/emily_rain/
> > _________________________________________________________________
> > your FREE download of MSN Explorer at
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