Quakers and Sustainability

About what Quakerism as a way of life and movement can contribute to transition through social turbulence created by energy scarcity, climate change, and social injustice.


Update April 2008: Old 99 Farm

Quakerism has held an attraction for me since I first discovered it in the 70s. I went into the theology, history and practices quite deeply in the 90's and even went to a seminary for three years. That Baptist seminary even granted me credit for a Quaker based program in spiritual direction (we call it nurture). I went on to study pastoral counselling, practised with prison survivors in a nearby prison.

Sometime in 2004 I stumbled on peak oil, permaculture and climate change, more or less at the same time. I became an activist in my town, starting a small relocalization group. I soon realized this was not going to have much impact and I was not myself preparing for the energy descent future I clearly saw unfolding. Not in the future, but now, in real time.

I decided with my wife to move from our comfy car-centric urban 4000 sf home to a downtown neighbourhood, walkable and much smaller. In the course of this the vision shifted. I read David Holmgren's Permaculture: Vision and Pathways, on a train across the continent to Portland in the summer of 2005. I was changing fast, inwardly and outwardly, as the world saw me. My wife did not agree that self-sufficiency was a priority and local food security was going to become an issue. We parted friends on that.

The search for a suitable farm was begun in earnest, and a year and a half later I found the 20 acres where I am now, on the outskirts of Hamilton ON, at the top of the Dundas valley. I hosted a permaculture design charrette in September last year, resulting the conceptual overview of the future design of this property.

So far I am living here alone, family visits from time to time, and I am very happily busy. Livestock is starting to arrive, the garden beds are dug and ready for spring planting. My first crop of maple syrup is in the cellar.

Old 99 Farm is a cityfarm, suburbs are 5 minutes away by car. That is good, because I intend Old 99 to be accessible to people who are also convinced that drastic changes in lifestyle are upon us, both for the good of the planet's other multitude of species and for a semblance of comfort for our selves. Permaculture is a way of designing our environment for stable human settlements without degenerating the natural world. Sustainability is living well within the Earth's limits. A system is sustainable if it generates at least as much energy over its lifetime as it uses. I propose to try and live that way here on Old 99.

I have a small bungalow, soon to be equipped with solar PV emergency back up power, three bedrooms and a basement well suited for a rootcellar. The barn is a 100 year old bankbarn with room for cows, poultry, pigs and the like. The field will soon be pasture for hay and planting in perennial tree crops and vegetables. Permaculture classes and site visits, allotment garden plots and farmgate sales will begin this summer. Eventually I am quite sure people will want to participate in the life of the farm. In the meantime I am making preparations, building infrastructure and learning, learning, learning.

This is all new, we have had at least 50 years of neglect of the virtures of self-sufficiency, frugality, local commerce, and reverence for the earth. Now most of us are going to have to learn it as adults from scratch, books and mentors. I am a new homesteader, new to equipment, livestock, forestry, soil, carpentry, etc. Part of why I'm doing this is that I want to show that it is possible to move down the energy descent pathway and still have a good life. I may encourage others to do the same. My quakerism says its better to inspire than to instruct. Lead by example, serve by doing. We will see how this life project unfolds.

Thank you Douglas for prompting me to get back to this blog. I am documenting a lot, and need to make some more of it public. There is not time for delay, not for our children or ourselves, to learn to live within the earth's limits.