by Marion Nestle
May 13 2016

Weekend reading: Miraculous Abundance [Permaculture]

Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer.  Miraculous Abundance: One quarter acre, two French farmers, and enough food to feed the world.  Foreword by Eliot Coleman.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

This book, more about philosophy than a how-to, describes how two inexperienced beginners succeeded in creating a gorgeous, productive, self-sustaining farm on 1000 square meters of land in Normandy—La Ferme du Bec Hellouin.

They did this by using the techniques of permaculture.  This they define as “a box of smart tools that allows the creation of a lifestyle that respects the earth and its inhabitants—a practical method inspired by nature.”  Later, they explain that it is based on an ethic: “Take care of the earth. Take care of the people.  Equitably share resources.”  As I said, philosophy, not how-to.

You have to read the book to figure out what all this means in practice.  It seems to come down to what I thought of as French Intensive methods.  These use raised beds, rich soil, composting, and thoughtful planting of coordinated crops that support each other’s growth and nutritional needs.  Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya—nine seeds—approach works the same way.   The authors drew on the work of John Jeavons, Eliot Coleman, and many other small-scale sustainable farmers from all over the world to develop their version of these methods.

If the color photographs are any indication, the results are magnificent.   The place is so highly productive that it easily supports the two of them.  The mandala garden alone made we want to get on the next plane just to see how it works in controlling weeds.

The moral: you could do this at home.

  • FosterBoondoggle

    Moral: we should all give up our modern jobs and become agrarian weed pullers again. The world was evidently a much better place when 90% of the population engaged in subsistence farming and life expectancy at birth was 35.

    These urban back-to-nature fantasies are the left’s tiresome equivalent of the right’s bible thumping.

  • disqus_qXWq4bsWnu

    I guess everyone gets something different out of what they read. Permaculture uses methods which encourage diversity and enrich the soil. People have literally turned deserts green and lush using these techniques.

    In my opinion, its less a commandment that “YOU MUST DO THIS”, and more like, look how well the earth does when you follow certain principles.

  • V. Sam

    Hello Marion, I was in a dilemma whether I should read Miraculous Abundance or not. After reading your blog I am very clear that I should read it and I am going to read it very soon. I have grown more respect towards earth and its inhabitants and also inspired to read the book.

  • Your skepticism about GM is only matched by your gullibility about organic food production systems like permaculture. I live 40 minutes from permaculture co-founder David Holmgren’s Melliodora property in Australia. This property and the other permaculture properties I’ve visited don’t match the hype. I wrote about Melliodora here:

    Ultimately, you cannot escape the fact that farm outputs cannot exceed inputs; there is no such thing as “miraculous abundance”. Many folk get all wet-eyed and romantic when they think about “alternative” farming but at the end of the day every farm of whatever type is just another production system producing widgets. Unfortunately our primal connection to the widget we call food often precludes reason.

  • The reality does not match the hype. Permaculturists have some questionable practices and in my country, Australia, they often encourage and spread environmental weeds. That is pretty much the opposite of encouraging diversity as the weeds tend to leave the farm and outcompete native plants, especially the small ones that are easily crowded out.

  • As a certified card-carrying lefty, I find the agricultural romance movements like permaculture extremely depressing. There was a time when the left championed science but nowadays many of my comrades are off with pixies.

  • razorjack

    You are likely more influence by the fact that you are an industry PR astroturfer who is working for the GMO pesticide industry to try and spin public opinion.

  • razorjack

    That is what all the other industry PR astroturfers say too.

  • razorjack

    It takes a pretty shallow thinker to try and spin the idea that permaculture is a bad idea because he lives by one permaculture farm.

    His willingness to cite the bogus GLP just fills in the spin.

    The Genetic Literacy Project is a wholly controlled GMO pesticide industry disinformation astro-turf site. The GLP has a reputation for bad writing, GMO pesticide industry enemy hit pieces, and controlled tightly managed public participation, and lack of ethics. All you will find there is GMO pesticide industry PR based talking points and cherry picked agenda driven GMO pesticide industry junk pseudo-science. Any real science that doesn’t support the GMO pesticide industry agenda will be attacked or ignored. The GLP can not be considered in the same universe with any credible ethical scientific publication.

  • razorjack

    Thank you for the great review. I am going to pick up this book.

  • Ted Miner, do you have a good lawyer? Are you ready to defend your smears against me in court?

  • razorjack

    There is no one with that name posting here.

    What kind of crude intimidation do you think you can get by with here?


  • Rob Bright

    As a well known, pro-GMO spokesperson and activist, your comments are highly suspect and dubious. (Who else but a pro-corporate meat-puppet and Monsanto spokesman falsely criticises such amazing and sustainable agricultural practices?)

  • Rob Bright

    That’s because you’ve mistaken scientism for science, and are in fact, a religious, dogmatic, zealot.

  • Rob Bright

    The fact that you wrote for a well-known, industry-funded, astroturf site whose sole mandate is to protect and defend the agrochemical industry simply solidifies my impression that you are an antiscience, dogmatic, pro-GMO activist.

  • Hmmm, you and your friend Ted Miner are so full of anger.

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