Podcast 250 – Review of Sepp Holzer’s visit Part 4

It’s Bill and Paul, back together again to talk some MORE about Sepp’s visit to the United States in the spring of 2013. But first Paul puts in a plug for the Permaculture Voices conference that is going to take place near San Diego in March of 2014. Just about every cool permaculture and permaculture-adjacent superstar is going to be there. Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, Allan Savory, Geoff Lawton, Toby Hemenway, (Paul Wheaton), maybe even Sepp Holzer (that’s not for sure). Paul is not organizing the conference, but he has been in multiple consultations with Diego Footer (who is), and it looks to be very well planned. Bill says that they’re going to try to get Sepp down there for the conference if it is at all feasible–if he’s already in the United States doing teaching or consulting, for example.

Paul says that at the Bozeman Sepp workshop, he was housed with a lot of “pod people,” and the general consensus with them was that things were being presented at too basic a level. Folks with less permaculture experience found it amazing. Paul points out that the Bozeman event was run by Michael Pilarski – Skeeter – and that affects things. Skeeter enjoys all the holding hands/singing songs kind of stuff more than Paul does. Skeeter is a joy, but Paul figures he’s maxed out on singing.

Paul is excited that the Permaculture Voices conference is not likely to have much of that. He loves “grit” and “substance” in a conference. This is going to be a very professionally run conference and as such it’s got a serious price tag. The early bird price is over $800 and the price at the door is likely to be $1400. The early bird money will be used to bring in the speakers and cover all of the many expenses that are bound to multiply. Thus, Paul wants to encourage as many people as possible to buy tickets as soon as possible. The sooner you send them a check, the more support you will provide to Diego and this tremendous event.

Bill notes that more and more “non-traditional permies type people” are becoming interested in permaculture and learning more about these things. He notes that tickets for the Sepp event sold slowly for a while, and then suddenly all the remaining tickets went fast–80% of the tickets sold in 20% of the time. He anticipates the same thing happening with this conference. Paul thinks this event is really going to move permaculture further into the general public consciousness. Also, San Diego in March is a really nice place to be!  Buy your tickets, everyone!  Go to http://www.permaculturevoices.com

Bill wanted to add something about what happened in Minnesota, the fourth stop on the Sepp tour. On one of the days that he got up super early, he took a drive along Lake Superior. Not far out of town, boom, you are in the woods. It seemed to him that living not far from Duluth could be both affordable and sweet. He checked out the real estate deals online and saw some great places at very low prices near Duluth and/or Superior. Yup, it’s cold, but there’s a lot you can do and the lake moderates winter temperatures a bit. So, for those of you dreaming of your own land, consider land near Lake Superior. Paul points out that land in Detroit is super cheap!  Bill says yeah, but I’m talking about land that is very close to vast tracts of actual wilderness–places to hunt deer, catch salmon, etc. That’s what’s special about this land up north.

Bill is up on Flathead Lake, about two hours north of Missoula. Paul asked him what property costs in that area and Bill couldn’t really say–he hasn’t checked recently. He recommends checking out properties on the internet, starting with realtor.com and using Google Earth to get more information. You can get information about terrain and such online. Paul says that in his recent search he’s seen land range from less than $1000/acre to more than $10,000/acre. He saw a 480 acre property for $380,000–this was just bare land, pretty much all rock. Stunningly beautiful, lots of cliffs and trees growing out of little pockets of soil, but not amenable to earth moving, so not good for Paul.

Every property has its own challenges. He recalls a design made for a property on the south side of a lake, thus on a north facing slope. If you try to make a sun scoop here, you’re going to create a frost pocket. You’d have to have a big opening at the bottom to drain the cold air, which moves like “gelatinous goo” according to Paul. Paul notes that “the land hunt” would be a good topic for an entire podcast. Bill remembers how crazy expensive land is in California–he decided it just wasn’t worth it to stay in California.

Paul is pondering the future of his land (that he just bought). He figures there are people out there who have been able to save up like $20,000 and they want to get out there and do the permaculture thing. $20K is just not going to get you very far when it comes to buying property. If you end up on a more expensive piece of land, now you’ve got a mortgage. Also, you’re going to need all these tools, and a vehicle, and, and, and. Paul is open to the idea of sharing pieces of his 200 acres with other people who want to work their own artistry in seeds and soil. He doesn’t want to full-on sell land, but to set up long-term agreements where individuals can lay claim to a 1-2 acre chunk, live there and work there for as long as everyone is happy. You can get more information about this arrangement here on the Deep roots thread at permies.

Bill points out that multiple people could get together to buy a large piece of land, subdivide it, live cheaply on it while still working your “day job.”  Paul notes that this sounds a lot like Rob Roy and his book Mortgage Free where he advocates pretty much that exact same plan. Paul plans to make a podcast with Rob Roy soon.

Rob Roy’s plan is that you keep working your day job, then you buy land and you start with a little shitty shack. You live in that while you build a nicer place–nice, but really small. Then you can move into that and continue to enlarge and improve your place while avoiding a mortgage altogether. Bill reminds Paul that he’s already had a podcast with Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme. If you are interested in this sort of thing, there are multiple sources of good information about this.

Paul wants to let Bill address the question: “Is Sepp Holzer a good teacher?”  Well, first issue is that Sepp doesn’t speak English. This slows everything down and can introduce errors and confusion. Richard told Bill that there are things in German that just can’t be translated into English–idiomatic phrases and the like. Paul recalls the translators saying that Sepp’s dialect of German is far removed from classic German. Richard grew up near Austria and thus he did better than many of the translators.

Paul states that there is no doubt that Sepp is an amazing individual, but is he a good teacher?  Bill says yes–he saw him speaking over and over through the whole tour and he was impressed with the passion and energy of Sepp’s presentations. When asked, Bill says that Geoff Lawton is an amazing communicator and a genius as well. Paul says he’s spent time with both of them and boy is it easier to communicate with a dude who speaks English!  Paul feels like one third of the time that he tries to discuss something difficult with Sepp, it goes badly and leaves him baffled.

Bill says yeah, stuff gets lost in translation, but hydrology is “70% of the battle” and there is nobody on the planet that knows lakes and ponds, waterworks and hydrology like Sepp does. For that alone, it is totally worth your time and money to spend some time with Sepp. Paul perceives a lack of patience on Sepp’s side for waiting for the translators to do their job when english speakers are asking questions. Paul points out that Geoff is doing some pretty big projects now and Bill notes that he seems to be taking a greater interest in waterworks and pond production.

Paul asks again, “But is he a good teacher??” and Bill says that definitely yes, but if you take the time to read his two most recent books before you see him you will get a lot more out of the experience.

Paul says if you have less than 2 acres, get Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden and if you have more than 2 acres (and you’re only going to get one book) get Sepp’s book. Paul also recommends Sepp’s 3-in-1 DVD and Bill likes Sepp’s most recent video. There are some massive massive projects that are in there, also a smaller urban project that is cool. Bill will make sure to post something on permies.com when this video is available for purchase in the United States.

Bill wanted to share one more thing about the Sepp visit. In Dayton, Montana they talked about solar and wind power. The folks at Sage Mountain Center shared with Bill that a wind generator requires a tremendous amount of maintenance. A windmill has a heck of a lot more moving parts to wear out and get out of alignment than a solar panel.

Getting back to the Sepp workshop now:  Sepp probably gave three little speeches about how we call ourselves the land of the free but we are more restricted in what we are allowed to do. He’s able to do so much more in Russia than in America. Bill says that Sepp was still ranting about the possibilities in Bozeman when he was in Minnesota. Bill hopes that they will be able to obtain the necessary permits and bring Sepp back and do the cool things that he wanted to do.

Paul feels like Sepp should have built a little 1/4 acre pond (a size that Paul has learned is not likely to lead to trouble in Montana) just to show the good folks at the workshop how that goes, how to place a dam and seal a pond. In the end, Sepp built some pits, he made the well and he “kind of made some hugelkultur beds.”  Paul says he was “less than charmed” by the hugelkultur. When the workshop people arrived, there were some small hugelkultur beds already made. They were small, just about 2 feet tall.

Side trip: Paul recalls Sepp saying that he pays more than half a million dollars a year in taxes on the Krameterhoff at his first Montana workshop. He regrets not having this on tape, and talks about how Sepp refuses to allow himself to be taped. Bill explains that Sepp had trouble with someone in Europe creating a deceptively edited tape and this is why he doesn’t want to be taped. Paul is pretty sure that somewhere this statement about the big bucks is on tape somewhere. He saw the guy doing the big video shoot of the Bozeman workshop and decided he would like to ask the money question again, so that it will be videotaped for posterity. This time, he just couldn’t get the question through the translation process. Later, Paul was alone with Sepp (and a translator) and he told him “I want to have you on tape talking about this money thing.”  Sepp responded “I don’t want to have that on tape because if I say that a person can earn this much money from a property and then they don’t earn that much money, then they can sue me.”  Paul couldn’t follow this–he doesn’t see the implied promise. He was really frustrated when not long after this Sepp was going on about how “you need to have the courage to say what needs to be said” and at the same time he wouldn’t say the thing about making lots of money from a piece of land using permaculture (that Paul really wants him to be on record saying)!

Paul just got really frustrated with the lack of earthworks at the Bozeman workshop. He has learned that it is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission and he thinks they should have built a small pond (less than 1/4 acre) and put up a big berm to block the view of it from afar. Bill says that if things really are the way Paul presents them that would be cool, but he had heard stories of terribly high fines, daily fines, that continued until you rectified whatever thing the Department of Making You Sad had deemed uncool. Paul says, yes, if you mess up a stream with fish in it then yes, you can be fined $10K a day. This particular creek is seasonal, and the guy upstream already makes it go dry every summer!  The situation is different here.  Paul says he tried to explain this to Sepp multiple times but could not be heard. Bill points out that the source of resistance could have been the land owner, not Sepp. He mentions that maybe she got advice from her lawyer not to build the pond. This sets Paul off in a highly amusing way (if you like that sort of thing, and if you’ve read this far perhaps you do). Sepp was lecturing about the need for the workshop participants to have the courage to change the world. Paul was deeply disappointed that Sepp did not demonstrate any courage in forging ahead with some innovation on that land. He allows that possibly there was a lawyer in the mix, advising everyone to do nothing. No innovation allowed.

Art Ludwig says: make the change that you know is right. If you get fined, pay the fine. Make the change that is needed.

Bill says that Sepp’s frustration was such that he kept talking about Bozeman for the whole rest of the tour. He said “if it was me, I would do this…” multiple times, but he wasn’t actually the land owner.

And, the podcast ends abruptly right there. (Well, abruptly after one and a third hours.)  There will be a part 5, everybody; hang in there.

You can discuss this podcast on this thread at Permies.