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Guest Post: Convincing the masses to make the best of a bad situation

applesI signed up to my new locality’s local newspaper a few weeks ago. Figured that if I was to integrate well into the community, I might as well learn as much about it as possible. Lo and behold, the first edition that I received had a very interesting letter to the editor. This is the story of how I responded.

The letter that caught my eye that evening was of a local gentleman who bemoaned the fact that a 200 acre lot of the forest bordering his rural road had been clear-cut, subsequently not replanted, and that the now-empty plots were an eyesore to the area. The reader was calling for a local government intervention, AKA a bylaw, requiring landowners to replant their clear-cut areas within a short amount of time. While this is a noble idea, there are 2 problems with it that he had failed to mention:

1) Landowners have property rights, and a bylaw restricting their rights would be both unpopular and unjust. It is of poor judgement, and a slippery slope, to want to impose your rules on someone else’s property, and does not contribute to the feeling of community. Some of the most reviled jurisdictions in the world are over-regulated, and in order to grow, a community has to be accepting of people from all walks of life.

2)Landowners usually have a sense of pride in their possession, and thus it is highly likely that those who do not replant are unable to replant, for various reasons. When those reasons are financial, the likelihood is that the landowner who clear-cut his land to make a bit of money, at today’s prices, probably has very little financial ability to pay to get it replanted in the first place. Or to pay a fine for not replanting…

So what does one do in the face of fixing eyesores, repairing strained relationships, and strengthening communities? I wrote a letter to the editor, and suggested partnerships.

Now, I kept this very simple, and used basic, “not quite permaculture” ideas to get my point across. People like the words “money, “profits”, and “plump retirement accounts”. Call me cynical, but I’m of the camp where those choice words will “infect more brains”, as Paul Wheaton would say. We might not be enthralled with the idea, but paper currency makes the world go round, and if I can get more people interested in building a better world by appealing to their greed, so be it.

I started by mentioning how little it actually costs to replant an acre of land. Using the prices found online that a local nursery charges per tree, I calculated that roughly $11,000 per acre is about what one would pay to replant with year old seedlings, at a rate of 1 tree per 4 square feet. If one only uses tree seeds to replant the area at the same rate, the cost drops to $500. Keep in mind that if using seedlings, 1 tree for 4 square feet is a quite dense planting, and that the cost is probably lower if planting a monoculture, but very likely comparable in the event of using a polyculture of trees.

Then, I went further, and suggested that perhaps talking to the owner of the land, and going into business with that person, could be a very profitable venture. I can see investments, productive tree crops, and other business ventures possible in this case. A landowner and tree cultivator relationship. Here’s how.

Using numbers gathered from a google search, I calculated that 50 Black Walnut trees harvested at 25 years old would yield approximately $20,000 worth of timber, in today’s dollars. Estimate around 200 trees per acre (monoculture numbers), and that’s a $80,000 harvest. Over that 200ac property, we’re talking $16 million before costs and losses. With a startup cost for a property that size which could be as low as $100k, we are talking investments which could potentially be sextupling (x6) every year! Better than investing in the stock market by a wide margin…

Change the plan a bit… Instead of Black Walnuts, what about a plantation of Oak trees? Assuming lower planting densities for production and size of mature tree, an acre of just mature white oak trees can produce 25 tons of acorns per year (100 tree/ac producing a “lowball figure” of 50,000 acorns/tree/year). At current organic acorn flour prices around $44/kilos, and inputing losses, labour costs, machinery costs, etc, it is not unreasonable to assume an average net profit north of $50k PER ACRE of mature oak plantation forest each year!

And yes, this is a monoculture, and it would only produce this massive amount after 12-15 years of growth and patience. In the meantime, in order to start cashflow immediately, animals can be grazed, fruit tree and bushes, as well as medicinal or caloric cash crops can be planted so as to produce before the canopy closes up. Same can be done with the Black Walnut. Lower final harvest numbers, better overall yield. Win-win-win.

Mind-boggling numbers, I know. I concluded my letter by mentioning that when it comes to being good neighbours, one must think outside the box, that problems are never fixed when you bring in government and impose your will on others.

I added my contact information at the end, hoping to have initiated the spark in someone to start this kind of business. The newspaper jumbled my e-mail, which I had to send a correction for, and to this date, I haven’t gotten a bite. Dare to dream.

The author, Adrien Quenneville, is a Permaculture Designer.


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