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Interview Talking Paleo and Permaculture with Jack Spirko Creator of the The Survival Podcast

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Gary Collins:  All right, I’m here with Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast.  Thanks for being on today Jack.

Jack Spirko:  Hi Gary.  I’m glad to be here man.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, we’re going to be talking about a little bit of permaculture today.  I think it’s good for my followers and listeners.  Jack has kind of an interesting background as well, as how he got into what he does.  And if you could Jack, could you just briefly explain The Survival Podcast and what you do?

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.  Back in 2008 I was in corporate America so to speak.  I was a business owner then too, but I was a business owner of respectable mainstream businesses, three to be exact.  And I had an office up in Frisco, Texas, and I actually picked up a client for our web design firm that wanted a podcast, and my design team was like, “Well we can do all the site and everything.  We don’t know how to do a podcast.”  I said, “Well I’ll figure that out.”  So I started doing a podcast in my car and I’ve always been big on self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and in 2008 I also knew that the financial crash was coming.  So I started doing a show called The Survival Podcast based on these principals, and I ended up loving it a hell of a lot more than I liked being a respectable business owner.  So about two years into it, I sold out my interest in those companies to my partners and walked away to do this full time, and now we talk about everything from growing your own food, diet, health and nutrition to guns and gear.  You name it, we discuss it from wilderness survival to urban survival, but we do it a lot differently than the others out there.  People hear survival and they think of like doomsday preppers.  We are the antithesis of doomsday preppers.  In fact, I’ve had to use a few four-letter words with the producers of that show to get them to go away and not bother me anymore.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, and I think that’s important for people to understand too because I was pretty naïve in that world as well.  I didn’t understand that there was kind of a division, and it is a fine line as far as the preppers and doomsday preppers are not associated with survivalists and self-sufficiency people.  It’s kind of a divide between the two philosophies.

Jack Spirko:  Gary, honestly I know some of the people that have been on “Doomsday Prepperes” show and you would never get the impression of them if you met them in real life that you do from that show.  It’s non-reality TV like a bunch of other non-reality thing.  I mean that show starts out with a person going, “I’m Tom and I’m preparing for a coronal mass ejection from the sun.”  Tom’s no preparing for a CME.  Tom is probably a practical preparedness guy, but to get on the show he’s kind of been suckered into playing their game.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  There are people like that, and I know some of those people too that are just, you know, a few cards short of a deck and then some.  When I started doing this there was nothing in the preparedness industry that was really that big yet, and, you know, apparently my timing was good, as it’s gotten big and people are riding the wave I guess and making whatever they can out of it.  But what we’re trying to do is far more holistic.  That’s why I found you doing some research on Primal and Paleo nutrition because I’m a Paleo success story myself, and when I found you I realized we synch very well.  We’ve talked about that, and I think that preparedness is not just about having stuff, but smarts and skills and your health as well.  If you don’t have your wealth, I mean you’re not going to ride out the zombie apocalypse if you’re on statins and high blood pressure meds.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.  Yeah, and I think that’s what made it interesting because you had Sally Fallon on your show and that’s how you found me.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  And, but I think – well yeah that’s a topic, we’ll probably talk about that on another show some other day.

Jack Spirko:  We’ll do that some other day.

Gary Collins:  That’s a show in itself.  I’ve been dealing with that for a while.  But I would, I’d like to introduce your success story on the Paleo diet, and how you found it and what caused that and where you went, just real briefly because we’re going to get into permaculture as well.

Jack Spirko:  Sure.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah, I can do the 30 second version or so.

Gary Collins:  Great.

Jack Spirko:  I was what I call dangerous fat.  And what I mean by dangerous fat isn’t what most people think of like, you know, when you’re in a wheelchair and you can’t breathe.  Dangerous fat to me is when you’re walking around at my height, which is 5’11” and close to 300 pounds and you can go elk hunting with somebody else and they’re sucking wind and you’re heading up the hill, because you have now convinced yourself that it’s okay and it’s not.  I’ve just always been a person that’s relatively healthy and able to carry weight pretty well.  And if you looked at me, you would have said, “That’s a fat 250 pound guy,” where at 250 I actually don’t look that fat at all.  So I had all that going on where I’d gotten a little heavier than I’d wanted to be and I tried the low carb approach, you know, moderate fat, high protein approach and it worked very well for me.  So I knew I was predisposed for that to work well.  And one day, you know, when I finally had just gotten The Survival Podcast at the point of success and had spent years of client entertainment and really gotten out of shape, and all of the sudden I’m doing all this permaculture stuff and I’ve got this place up in the mountains and I’m doing all these other things and running with the dog, and I’m going, you know, “You’re just not healthy anymore.”  So I initially went back to just the low carb approach and I had a couple of guests that had mentioned Rob Wolf.  I looked up his books.  I pretty much agreed with everything except the lean cuts thing because I knew fat didn’t do me any harm.  So for about 60 days I followed his book to the letter except I was doing a lot more fat than he would probably recommend, and then I weaned off it a little bit.  But I went from 295 pounds in one year down to about 210 and I’m a little more lax now, but even with that I’ve lost another around 5 pounds.  So I’m about 205 today at 5’11” and some people would see that as heavy.  With my frame, I mean I’ve played high school football, I was 195 pounds.

Gary Collins:  Oh yeah.

Jack Spirko:  So I’m within 10 pounds of my 17-year-old football weight.  So I’m pretty stoked about Paleo.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.  Yeah, and I think what you lost was the last five pounds, what, with my book right?

Jack Spirko:  Yeah, that’s what it was. (Laughing)

Gary Collins:  Just kidding, but I think it’s a great story.

Jack Spirko:  I do love your book The Primal Power Method Change Your Body. Change Your Life (this book is no longer available it has been replace by The Simple Life Guide To Optimal Health).  In fact, I wrote an article about all of this and you and I had just met.  And I read like the first page of your book and I was like 50% done with my article and I had to put your book away before I finished my article.  Once I finished my article, I was able to go back and read your book.  Because I’m like there’s way too much in synch here that I don’t need to like have this in my head while I’m writing my article because I’m going to end up lifting your material.

Gary Collins:  We definitely think a lot alike.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  I’m the same way. When I wrote all my material, I didn’t read certain authors purposely because I didn’t want to have it influence what I was trying to say.

Jack Spirko:  Correct.  Correct.

Gary Collins:  And it did.  I mean, people read my book and they go, “God Gary, it sounds like you’re talking right next to me.  It’s a little creepy but I like it.”  And I go, “Well I wrote it in first person too as opposed to third person, mostly.”  So it has a different feel to it, but yeah, I’m glad you enjoyed it.  The thing that I want to introduce too is that you’re real big into permaculture.

Jack Spirko:  Right.

Gary Collins:  I think it’s very important in what I teach in the movement of self-sufficiency and just being healthy in general.  So explain to people who may not know what permaculture really is.

Jack Spirko:  Well, you know, back when I started the show I had just heard of it, and I come from a family where we gardened, we had chickens and we had some geese and stuff like that when I grew up.  And you’d plant a fruit tree here and there, and when I first heard of permaculture and it was permanent agriculture basically is how it was explained to me, I figured well, okay, so my garden is agriculture and planting trees and vines is permaculture, and that’s kind of what I thought it was.  But being the student of things I am and kind of with the mechanics troubleshooting mind, I dug into it and it turned into a five-year journey that’s probably going to go on until I die of understanding how natural systems work in taking my troubleshooting mentality into that.  Permaculture is best described as a system of design that obeys three ethics: care of the earth, care of people and return of the surplus to the end of the first two.  And coming from a position of, that the ethical, the only ethical decision we can make today is take responsibility for ourselves and for our children.  And that’s kind of, like you, how does that help me grow a tree?  But the reality is when we look at it that way, everything that we eat and we consume and everything with real value in this world comes from the earth.  And if we don’t have earth, we’re done.  I mean try to grow some food on the moon and see how well that works out for you.  But environmentalism can get just kind of wacky, right?

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko - The Survival Podcast
Jack Spirko – The Survival Podcast

Jack Spirko:  People are harmed in the name of protecting the environment.  Well the people care ethic in there is basically saying, “Well you got to protect the earth, but you also have to look out after people.”  And then a return of surplus is about making sure that system’s closed loop so that it’s actually sustainable.  So modern agriculture is the antithesis of this right now.  So a farmer harvests his grain, all he’s really interested in is the corn.  All the salads and everything goes elsewhere.  Or people have these CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) and the cows stand in their own crap until they can’t deal with it anymore and they haul it off somewhere.  Where in a permaculture system, these additional surplus items need to be returned back into the system so manure is used for fertility, extra bio mass is used for fertility, and we’re not planting gardens.  We’re not even planting trees.  We’re not even planting forests.  What we’re planting and what we’re managing are ecosystems.  So for instance, this week, starting Wednesday evening, I’m going to have students showing up, I’ve got about 30 people showing up at my house, and they’ll be camping here.  We’ve got an excavator out there right now that was just delivered, and we’re going to be planting a food forest.  And in that forest we’ll plant – and this is about a three quarter acre strip is all the land this is – about 40 long-term trees, you know, with fruits, nuts, things like that.

Jack Spirko:  But we’ll also plant about 280 supporting trees, right.  These are trees that are designed just to support the system and get it off the ground.  Five years into that, about 90% of those support trees will be dead.  They’ll be gone, because we’ll cut them every year in the fall about head height and put them to the ground.  It’s called coppicing.  And all that biomass will go to the ground and build soil.  And after about five years, about nine out of ten of those trees will finally go, “I can’t do this anymore.  I’m done,” and you’ve just advantaged it to the advantage of the trees you want to produce for you.  So what happens is they go to the ground and die.  Fungus takes over.  You’re building that soil, and all you’ve done is taken what normally would have happened in nature and take 100 years to occur, and through a management and control process and taking that material and putting it back to the ground and speeding up the cycle, condense that down in five to ten years.  It doesn’t mean the trees will be as big as they would be in 100 years.  What it means is the system will be as advanced and evolved and mature and as stable as it would take nature 100 years to do.  We can do that in five to ten years, and that’s one, that’s the big thing.  So people that hear that, they go, “Well that’s permaculture.”  That’s one tiny sliver.  That’s one tiny sliver of this design science.  It’s one technique.  Permaculture is like a wardrobe and if you were going to a formal affair, you’d put on a black tie.  If you were going to go to the gym, you’d wear workout clothing.  So permaculture is about having all of these techniques and understanding they’re interrelationships and maybe let them choose the right technique for whatever you want to accomplish.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, and that’s why you and me get along so well is I’m a holistic health guy and obviously permaculture fits right into that.

Jack Spirko:  Correct.

Gary Collins:  But what I find interesting is people in my genre know nothing about permaculture.  That’s why I like that you’re doing this and I plan to go out and actually go to one of your workshops and learn it because I’m no expert by any stretch at all.  I know how to plant, you know, and grow a garden, but that is my extent of knowledge in the area.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  As I said, I’m no expert and I’m always looking to enhance my skills.  Now is this workshop that you do, is that open to the general public or just your followers?  How does that work?

Jack Spirko:  Well the way it works is they usually do sell out.  So what I’ll do is I have a program called My Member Support Brigade, which are people that actually support my show through a paid membership.  Now everybody can get my show for free.  There’s just certain benefits that come with being Members Brigade members.  And the only thing I do is when I have a new workshop, I let those folks have like a couple days where they get first crack at the available seats because I can only take maybe 25 to 30 people depending on what we’re doing because they’re all on my three acres.  So they get first crack at it.  Once that little first crack is over, then it opens to anybody that wants to come.  And generally we don’t sell out to members, but we get real close.  We’ll sell 20 of 25 seats in three days and then a few more will trickle in and we’ve always had to cap them.  I’ll warn anybody that comes though, it’ll rain.  I’m 100% now for rain during my workshops.  Last week it was a 0% chance of rain this weekend.  Now it’s 70% chance, so it will rain on us again, so I’ll keep my 100% rating.  But they’re great events.  I mean my biggest compliment I’ve received from a student was, we have a private email list that we let students on where they can talk to each other, get to know each other before the event.  And one said, “This is very new to me.  I don’t know if I’m going to be able to learn enough and if I’m going to get a lot out of it, but you know hopefully I will.”  And one of the other students that had been to a previous event and that was coming back, he goes, “If they do an event on paint drying I’m going,” because the camaraderie, being around the likeminded people is like almost more valuable to people than the education.  And we do cool stuff.  We do a barter blanket where people trade stuff with each other.  They learn a lot about themselves from that.  We drink quite a few adult beverages.  Everybody gets to hang out with the livestock and the dogs and things like that and, you know, the thing with permaculture, like the animals are a huge part of that as well.  Like we’re running geese and chickens.  We’ll probably start running some dorper sheep next year.  And those animals tie right into everything that we’re doing.  So it’s something that I think people, you know, you say you’re not an expert and I say I’m not an expert and I don’t think I ever will call myself an expert in it.  It’s an evolving thing, and a lot of it is we’re rediscovering all of the stuff that we lost in the last 200 years when we, you know, kind of consigned ourselves over to modern productivity.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, and it’s the cycle life is kind of how I look at permaculture.  It’s just the natural cycle of life.  Things grow, they die, they go back into the earth, things re-grow again.

Jack Spirko:  Correct.  But what we’ve lost, right, so we can, we can do that with a cornfield and we can even, you know…

Gary Collins:  Yeah, that’s true.  That’s true.

Jack Spirko:  …like plow the corn back into the ground and that would be better than putting just the plant back into the ground and you just take the grain, and that would be better, but you’ve never seen anything natural that looks like a cornfield or a bean field or a wheat field or a pepper patch.  Nature never grows one thing.  And the biggest lesson you get from permaculture is how screwed up that is.  Think about it this way: you and I are human beings, so if we went somewhere where there was just a limited amount of food for people, we would be kind of bumping into each other to get that limited amount of food, and we’d also need oxygen.  So if we were in an oxygen-deprived room, one of us is probably going to do better than the other one because we need the same amount of oxygen.  We need the same temperature, so we would, you and I would end up, if this room had drastically different temperatures and one corner was 70 degrees, we’d end up over there, not because we like each other.  Because, you know, if it’s 14 degrees in the other corner, we don’t want to be there.  When you plant something like a cornfield or a beet field or anything that’s all one thing, every root is at the exact same layer in the soil looking for the exact same nutrients, the exact same acidity or alkalinity, the exact same nutrients and above ground, everything’s at the same height after the same solar energy, subject to the same pests.  So they’re both competing for and affected negatively by the exact same things at the exact same time.  Well you’re going to end up with depleted soil at least for what you’re trying to grow, and you’re going to end up with pest problems.  You look at a forest, and you take a little ten by ten square area and you might find 100 different species in there.  So that’s nature’s model.  So permaculture is it’s everything you said, but it’s also understanding we have to have the diversity to create these interspecies relationships because we’ve learned things like plants actually communicate through fungal hyphae, which is insane.

Gary Collins:  Absolutely, yeah.

Jack Spirko:  But a plant that like basically gets attacked and it’s weak, it will send out certain distressors that will run through that fungal network, and other plants that are of the same species will do things like change their ph, so that they turn off their attractiveness to a pest or they’re more resistant to it, and that one kind of becomes a sacrifice.  But if the fungal, fungus is dead in the soil, you’re trying to make a phone call to me and the lines are down.  And we’re just beginning to understand dirt, let alone the ecosystems as a whole.

Gary Collins:  Well yeah, that’s a good point too, and I found a really good article on how plants use fungus to communicate.  It was mind-boggling.  It was amazing.  Not only that, but understanding the bacteria too that we used to eat with our hands and we used to get dirt on our hands and our food all the time, and those different strains of bacteria that we’d actually pick up from the dirt that would end up in our gut, which today we call probiotics.

Jack Spirko:  Correct.  Correct.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.  Yeah, so that’s interesting how you tie all that in because it all fits together.

Jack Spirko:  And the only other objection as a Paleo, or Primal guy, you’ll love this, right.  So the only objection people ever have is, “How do I grow a great big field of wheat?”  And the answer is you don’t.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, you don’t.

Jack Spirko:  Right?  There’s a place for some grains and things like that, especially as animal feed, but you don’t grow that system anymore.  You don’t have the giant field of combine going down it.  And if you are actually a permaculturist, practicing permaculture instead of a vegan hippie that’s co-opted the concept, you’re going to end up with a diet that’s very Paleo Primal in nature.  People say, “Well how much rice can I eat?”  I’m like, “All you can grow in your backyard man.”

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  You know?

Gary Collins:  Good luck with that.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah, right.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  “How much wheat can I have?”  All you can grow.  And the truth is you probably can because you’re not going to grow that much, especially if you’re doing this integrated species model.  In fact, you probably will find yourself going, “That’s not worth doing.”  I mean about the only grain around here is I buy sacks of barley to sprout it for my chickens.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  And I grow sorghum too, but it’s for them, it’s not for me.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.  Yeah, and that’s why I can’t wait to get out there and learn because like I said, I’m no expert in this at all.  So this is going to be very helpful not only just to understand for me, but I think to all of my followers because we’re, everyone’s very interested in kind of the self-reliance movement, and this is a huge part of it.

Jack Spirko:  It really is, and I think what turns people off is a lot of times if you look at permaculture, there is, I’d say the most vocal group of permaculturists are the hippie segment.  And to be fair, there’s, to me, there’s two very distinctive kinds of hippies.  There’s productive hippies, which are great.  And then there’s, I’ve learned now that the hippie community has their own word for the hippies that we don’t like because they don’t like them either.  They’re called drainbows, because they’re like a rainbow hippie but they’re a drainbow, they drain their own community’s resources, but they’re always the most vocal.  So a person hears this permaculture thing that already sounds kind of hippieish; then you pull up some guy that’s talking about social justice and they’re just like, “I don’t want anything to do with that…I thought this was about food.”  But it is about food.  And the founder of this thing is a guy named Bill Mollison.  He founded this thing back in the 70’s and he’s like this crazy old man warrior guy that grew up as a hunter in Tasmania and, you know, you’ve got this hippie segment going.  It’s all about veganism and the guy that founded it’s like, one of my favorite quotes by him is “There’s no such thing as a vegetarian.  There are only repressed carnivores.”

Gary Collins:  That is great I love that quote.

Jack Spirko:  And that’s the guy that founded this thing.  So I think when people find out about him or his number one protégé, a guy named Jeff Lawton and learn the true science of the design patterns, that they realize it applies equally to all people and it doesn’t just apply to growing food.  It applies to running a business.  I run my business based on the same principals that I’ll grow a food forest or a garden or raise my pastured poultry with.  Based on the concept that everything that’s produced in abundance in my business is returned back to it and back to the community that’s part of it, and notice I didn’t say it’s returned to some poor person out in St. Louis who didn’t work this day and they need some free money.  My surplus is returned to the community that’s active, right.  So, you know, or – and we do good stuff too man.  Like we’ve seen people kind of get on the wrong side of the banner or whatever and we’ll rally behind them.  But the real ethic there is that the people that are in my audience, and you’ve already seen how responsive they are and how welcoming they are when you were a guest on my show, it’s because they know, they absolutely know, they may not like everything I say but they absolutely know that I’m not ever going to violate my ethics toward them and that my ethics even if you don’t agree with them are transparent.  And that’s very, as much a permaculture principal as how to grow a cherry tree, because again, it’s a design science.  So I can take, it’s like saying, “Well what is engineering?”  Well I can use engineering to build an airplane, I could use it to build a bridge, I can use it to design a car, design a house.  So permaculture is basically a social engineering concept, but not the government doing it for you.  It’s about every individual being empowered to design what they want around their lives, and it’s just an amazing thing and if your mind opens to it, all the sudden you start seeing all these connections, and then patterns.  That’s where, like you realize nobody’s original.  Like everything’s a repeat of something else or some other time in history, and then you start realizing, “Well that’s not actually a bad thing.  Now how do we harness pattern A and pattern B and join them together?”

Gary Collins:  How long ago did you start doing this, because it’s not something you can just do overnight?

Jack Spirko:  No.  I started the show five and a half years ago, and I’d say it was almost the same time that I started digging into it, and I would say a good four and a half years as a serious practitioner and student.  And that’s a long time, especially for a person with my informational and appetite in my aptitude.  I mean it was probably equivalent to going to school for something for eight years at this point or more.  And I still feel like I, there’s so much I don’t know.  But I’m totally cool with that because that makes it exciting, and some of the things that are going to happen on my property, people are like, “Well what’s going to happen when you do this?”  I don’t know.  And I’m totally okay with not knowing because the only way I’m going to find out is to do it and I’m going to base it on things that I’ve done or others have done successfully in the past, but if it doesn’t happen to work in this little micro climate or something, so be it.  Then I know that.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.  And I think that’s important as well is understanding that you may have a plan but nature has its own plan, and you’re going to find out what that plan is.  And being flexible with that and going, “Okay, you know, I planted an apple tree.  It didn’t grow.  But look at my, you know, look my peach tree.”

Jack Spirko:  Correct.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  And that’s one of the things we have to do right, so let’s say I was going to try something a bit marginal.  Let’s say I was going to try to get an olive tree to grow in my climate, which I’m going to do.  And that could happen but maybe not.  And there’s about four varieties that might pull that off, so I’ll plant them all.  And at some places I’ll plant two varieties too close to each other, and whichever one does better lives, and the other one, I’ll kill that sucker, right.  And that’s okay that that one dies.  And I think that that’s very different than the agricultural mindset is if one seed doesn’t germinate that’s bad.  Where with permaculture we plant so much of so much variety that nature tells us, “Well I favor this” or “I favor that.”  And then we say, “Okay, now I know what you want.  Let’s run with that.”

Gary Collins:  And once you get going and you’re pretty far into it obviously, is it kind of self-sustaining or is there a lot of, you know, work that goes along with it everyday?  Is it very time consuming?  Do you see it that way?

Jack Spirko:  For me right now it is because I’m, as I call myself with this whole thing, like a masochist, like I always want to do something else.  We had this place up in Arkansas that was up in the granite cliffs and people were like, “You can’t grow anything there,” and in like a year and a half they knew it.  I just had it blowing up, and I’m like, “Yeah, you know what, now let’s move back to Texas.”  So then we moved back to Texas and I get this great big flat three acre rectangle that just looks beautiful and it has just a little bit of slope to it and it’s going to be easy to work with and of course it only has in some places a foot of topsoil before you hit this white slab limestone, in some places less than that.  So I’m at a point now where I’m taking a property that I’ve only been on since January and starting with a clean slate, and even with everything I know there’s a lot of work that goes into it.  And my wife’s a little exasperated now because we’re into this a second time, but what I was explaining to her yesterday is, “Sure, but once we’re into like the middle of the second year, you’re going to be looking for something to do.”  I mean when we establish a food forest, we plant all those trees, we go in and prune the tops off in the fall.  That’s it.  The only thing you do other than that is harvest.

Gary Collins:  Wow!

Jack Spirko:  And observe, right?  So it depends on what you’re doing.  If you’re trying to do this in an urban environment and there’s some amazing urban permaculture out there, but you’re going to, because you’re going to want more per square foot of result, you’re going to have to do more maintenance.  Now it’s nothing compared to a typical garden, but you’re going to have to do a little more.  You’re going to have to pay a little more attention.  You could have a little bit of acreage, two, three, four acres, and you set up these mainstream, these mainframe systems, and those systems require very little maintenance, and the way we think about this is in what we call zones.  So zone 0 is your house.  It’s where you live.  Zone 1 is like you step outside your door you’re in zone 1 and that’s your intensively managed stuff.  That’s your stuff that’s fragile or needs to be planted every year, needs to be irrigated, needs to be looked after or that you use a lot.  Like I wouldn’t plant my herb garden in the back of my yard.  I’m making soup, I want parsley, I stick my head out the door, even in the cold, and I’ve got parsley.  Zone 2, you get a little bit more rough.  Zone 3 is where you do the traditional cropping but smaller blocks than you would in traditional agriculture.  That might be where I grow my sorghum for my chickens.  Zone 4 is my full-on food forest.

Gary Collins:  Okay.

Jack Spirko:  And these zones get bigger as we go.  You use more and more land as you do less and less work because you can’t put the time in.  Zone 5, which is the last zone, is a place where you kind of let that place go back to wilderness.  And in an urban environment, everything’s really zone 1, but on, you know, a three acre property, you know, you have the significant part of it is designed to emulate that natural system.  You work really hard on it for a year, a little bit less the second year, and by the third year as it starts to really go into productivity, you’re just, you’re just the gentle hand guiding the system through, and this is a lot like the native Americans who lived in this country.  We think of the forest when we got here, originally arrived her from Europe as being just virgin untouched timber, but they weren’t.  They were intensively managed, but we couldn’t tell because the systems were so mature, the things the Native peoples were doing, little bits of burnout here, a little pruning here, a little management here, were completely transparent to us.  We didn’t see it as work because we had lived by the plow.  So we didn’t understand what they were doing, and some systems that were, they weren’t really, where we didn’t go in and clear-cut everything, they’re only now starting to fall apart and we’re only now figuring out, there’s places out where you are in California by San Bernardino where the Monzanito and things like that that are native out there, were managed by the Native peoples and these guilds as we call them, these interplanted relationships of trees have been so stable for so long, they’re just now starting to not do well.

Gary Collins:  Oh okay.

Jack Spirko:  And they’re going back into this, these records from 200 years ago, the last Native peoples that managed them, and going, “Oh they were doing these little bitty things.”  In fact, Gary, there is a food forest in Morocco.  Date palm, pomegranate, things like that, it’s 2,000 years old in the middle of the desert.

Gary Collins:  Wow!

Jack Spirko:  And it is managed by the community that lives there as a community forest and the people do a few hours of work here and there on it and for 2,000 years it’s stable.  So the more work you put on the front end, the less work you do on the backend, or as we used to say in the Army, “The more you sweat in peace time, the less you bleed in war.”
Gary Collins:    Yeah, and I think that’s important to understand as well, is that we’re so used to trying to organize nature and put it in a place that it’s not necessary meant to go.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  And I like the philosophy of, no, you start it and you let it do its own thing.  And then you just manage it.

Jack Spirko:  You manage it.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, that’s the best word, manage instead of organize and force.

Jack Spirko:  And we’ve been lied to, right?  So we’ve been told that human beings are not natural.  Well of course we are.  We’re from here.  We’re native to earth.  We’re part of these natural systems.  What’s happened is we’ve gone so far with technology, we no longer behave naturally.  But it’s a natural thing for a being like a human that can understand their own nature and understand that if you can take too much from something, to look at a tree and go, “That is a good tree.  It produces good things, so I’m going to make sure I don’t cut all those down.  And I’m going to take from that tree.  And gee, now that I’ve figured out that if I plant this piece of the tree, it’ll work…” The concept of permaculture completely natural human behavior, as long as we’re not sitting in cubicles and watching 157 channels of the Kardashians.  Right?  It’s a complete – so…

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  …human being is actually necessary in my opinion for a healthy forest.  We really are.  And if you look where the forest is still healthy, it’s the places where not only have we not tore it apart or its had time to come back; it’s the place where indigenous cultures exist within the forest.  If you remove those indigenous cultures and we don’t use our intellect to go in there and surplant what they’re no longer doing, even when you let a forest go, you get regrowth.  It’s not productive.  Then you end up with basically what I call the rotting carcass of the forest.  Right now pine beetles and ash boars are destroying huge strands of trees.  Well when does a fly lay eggs on a piece of meat and have maggots decompose it?  When the meat’s dead.  It doesn’t lay it on your arm.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  Right?  You’re walking around with maggots in your arm, you’ve got a problem.  That part of your body’s rotting and gangrenous, right?

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  So when you see natural systems going in and taking out a whole species, that’s nature correcting an imbalance.  Instead of worrying about the fact that these pine beetles are killing these pine trees, we should understand that’s a natural progression and think about what comes next, and managing that.  But instead, we’ll do nothing because we think that the green thing to do.  More pine trees will come back and in 50 years the pine beetles will begin to kill them again.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.  If we’re explaining it to someone trying to start, what would you give them as the best advice? It seems pretty daunting even to a guy like me.  For someone trying to begin, how would they take that first step?

Jack Spirko:  I think that probably the best thing you could do, if you can make the time and have the money to do it is take what’s called a PDC course or a permaculture design certification, and that’s a two week long course that’s 72 hours of study and begins at the very beginning and runs through all of the things you need to know to be a really equipped designer.  And that would be best, in the best case scenario.  Not everybody has the time or the money to do that.  I would say that if you get yourself a good book, Gaia’s Garden is a pretty good one.  There’s some political elements to it.  Just take that and let it go or get a copy of Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mullison who’s the founder.  Get on YouTube and just start searching permaculture and watching videos and trying things.  Learn by doing, and start down that path.  Get over to my site, go to the, there’s a tag cloud.  Click on permaculture, and I would say that probably if you do that, go all the way to my earliest episodes when I didn’t know that much and then follow those episodes through.  I have a whole series on YouTube on a white board where I’m going through a lot of techniques.  That’s a good resource.  The one thing I’ll caution you with with YouTube: the YouTube, as you know Gary, anybody can put anything on YouTube and call it anything they want.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  Not everybody that says what they’re doing is permaculture is and not everybody that says what they’re doing, even if it is, doesn’t mean they’re doing it right.  So you’ve got to use some decoding and common sense there.  But I would say the best thing would be a permaculture design certification.  There’s also some DVD’s by Jeff Lawton, and what I’ll do is I’ll send you the links to those.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, that would be great.

Jack Spirko:  And you can put them with your blog post on this, that there’s one on urban permaculture, there’s one on soils and there’s one called An Introduction to Permaculture, and those three DVD’s will light you on fire with a desire to know more.

Gary Collins:  That would be great, because a lot of people obviously live in urban areas and they think that “Oh I can’t do that.  I live in an apartment, I can’t grow anything,” and it’s like, no, no, no, no.

Jack Spirko:  Some of the most productive systems are urban systems.  There is one gentleman in Australia.  I can’t remember the name of his site right now, but he has a backyard with 600 square feet.  He has over 120 species of productive plants.

Gary Collins:  Wow!

Jack Spirko:  And it kind of boggles your mind, you go, “How?”  And he has one area that’s like as big as your desk probably that has three full size apple trees in it.  But as soon as that apple tree gets higher than he can reach, he prunes it.  And basically they get stunted like a big bonsai tree.  And in those urban environments, you know, those small yards, you can very intensively manage those with just a little bit of work and the more diversity you put in there and the longer that system’s in place, the more fertile it becomes.  It’s the antithesis of agriculture where the more you do something, the more inputs you need and the least, less fertility you have.  With permaculture anything that’s in surplus is going back to the ground.  And that’s building fertility the way the forest does.  But it does seem daunting, but anybody out there that’s interested, I’m telling you, if you start the walk, it will change not only how you grow your own food and how you create your own security and safety and life, it will change how you analyze and think of all things.  If you want to be a successful businessperson in what I call the modern age, there’s probably not a better business education than permaculture.

Gary Collins:  Well yeah, and I think for people who follow me and you as well, that makes perfectly good sense.  I mean just what you said, because I teach, you know, you want to eat organic fruits and vegetables as much as you can.  Don’t eat CAFO meat.  But if you grow it yourself, well first of all you don’t have to find it.

Jack Spirko:  Yep.

Gary Collins:  It’s in your back, it’s right there.

Jack Spirko:  Yep.

Gary Collins:  And second of all, it’s free for the most part.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  It grows itself.  And there’s nothing better than that, than being healthy, saving money and learning something along the way.

Jack Spirko:  Absolutely.  And I’ll tell you, organic actually comes pretty far down the list for me, and what it tell people to choose.  I say number one, if you can, produce it yourself.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  Number two, I don’t care if it’s organic.  Get it from a local producer that doesn’t use pesticides and urbasides.  Number three, if you cant’ do that, now go organic.  And after that, if you have to buy some stuff out of the mainstream, fine.  But that’s kind of the way that I hand it down.  I’d rather buy from a local farmer down the road that I know is putting his cows on pasture, I can see where they’re at.  I don’t care if he’s go an organic certification.  I know, it’s second only to me doing it myself.  And that builds relationships too.  Like so the guy I buy beef from, if we ever get into a really bad economy and things become harder to obtain, I might have to pay more, but I know that I’m going to be at the front of the line to be able to do business with him when some guy that just figured out that that’s available is trying to get to the front of that line.  So, you know, I say it is a long walk, but it’s worth every step.

Gary Collins:  Well and that’s, and you just proved a good point that even if you do not want to go this route and you think it’s too daunting, at least find someone who does and make a relationship with them, and that’s where bartering came from.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  I mean historically not everyone was a farmer.  Pretty close though.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  A lot of people grew food because you wanted to eat.  But you would either do that or become a blacksmith or have a trade where you could trade with that farmer in order to get that food and that trust was built because a farmer doesn’t want to kill you with his food, and just like the blacksmith doesn’t want to give him a bad product to work his farm, because then he can’t get food.

Jack Spirko:  Correct.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  And then that’s the community that we’ve lost in a world where everything’s made in Taiwan and here the next day or China and here the next day.  And I think that society is realizing that it’s broke and it’s beginning to rebuild itself.  I think that’s why, you know, Primal/Paleo eating is so white hot now as a subject because it works and because people realize how sick we are and how devalued our food system is.  And I think that’s why preparedness is a hot industry.  It’s not because of what Nat Geo’s doing.  Nat Geo is doing that because it is popular and because it is hot.  What’s making people look at this, this is like – you know, remember the 60’s and 70’s back to the land movement, but it was just a hippie thing then?

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  This is like the back to the land movement for real.  Like Gen X has grown up and has realized all the shit that they’ve kicked their ass all their lives working for is very hollow.  And Gen Y is looking at Gen X and going, “Yeah, we got that figured out buddy.”  And the millennials are, you know, just kind of like, “Where’s our future?” and all of those groups are fueling this, and I mean when I go to permaculture classes, the people that come here out of my audience, generally they’re older folks.  They’re in their 30’s and 40’s.  But when I go to more traditional classes, there’s always young people there, they’re always excited.  And it’s pretty encouraging and I think it’s because it feels good to be human, right.  I mean that’s, you know…

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  …that’s part of why you do what you do because it is a human thing to be healthy.  It’s not a human thing to be unhealthy.  That’s not how we were designed to be.  All these autoimmune diseases we have today, it’s not like, you know, just like 50 years ago everybody’s body went, “You know what I’ll do today, even though we’ve never done this for 10,000 years, I’m going to start attacking myself.”  Right?

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  I mean that’s not normal.  We’re not, we’re not behaving normally and when we start to do it, it feels really good.  And not just health-wise, but emotionally we feel better.  Spiritually we feel better.  Whatever it is, however you describe it, it gets better all around.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.  And that’s what I, what I preach.  I tell people, you know, it’s not just about eating.  It’s all encompassing.  That’s why we call it holistic, you know.  Holistic nutrition or holistic living.  It’s bringing in all the pieces of mind, body and soul, and taking yourself in a different direction and not, me and another person had a talk about this, but not disconnecting yourself.  That’s not what it’s all about.

Jack Spirko:  Correct.

Gary Collins:  You want to stay connected with society.  You want to understand politics to a certain point even though they’re brutal.  But, yeah, you just don’t want to remove yourself completely from everything and say, “Okay, I’m going to isolate myself.  I’m going to live my own little life in my own little area.”  I mean don’t get me wrong; some people do that and it’s great.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  But I don’t encourage that.

Jack Spirko:  Yeah.

Gary Collins:  That’s not what I’m teaching and what I’m all about.  Just like you, it’s community.  Let’s all get along.  Let’s do the right thing.  Let’s be healthy, and that’s the way it is, so…

Jack Spirko:  And the only thing I’d add to that is I’m very much a libertarian voluntarious, so it’s the community of your choosing.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  I’m not saying you got to get along with everybody, but…

Gary Collins:  I hear you.

Jack Spirko:  …if you can’t find anybody you get along with, guess what the common denominator in that equation is?  It’s not everybody else, right, it’s you.

Gary Collins:  Yeah, it’s you.  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  And I’ve found very few people out there that can’t find some group of people to get along with, and that’s really, you know, at the heart of it and you do have to get along with some people that you’d prefer not to, but you know, build liberty in your own life is what I say all the time.  And that’s why I love the permaculture thing.  If you think about it, if I was going to teach wilderness survival, you said, “Jack, I’ve got this new place, you know, that you’ve just got and I want you to come out here and do a wilderness survival course,” I’m going to be like, “Fine, I can do that.”  And I come out there and I’d say, “Okay, what we’re going to learn about first is your five survival needs – food, water, shelter, security and fire,” right.  Well let me turn fire into energy and now it applies to modern life, right.  So fire is your energy source.  And let me add health and sanitation to that, right, because we have to get rid of our waste and we have to stay healthy.  So now I’ve got six needs.  Permaculture can provide largely for all of those six needs.  So if you’re, you’re your wants, but if your needs are provided for, you feel very secure.  When you feel secure, you’re able to reach your full potential, whether it be with athletics, whether it be in business, whether it be with charity, whether it be philanthropy, whether it be with educating others.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  It is the lack of security that contributes to all of the anxiety that people have in life.  And I’m not saying if you do this, all the sudden the world will turn into streets of gold for you because it won’t. But having that fundamental security – I know where I’m going to eat, I know I can cloth myself, I know I can feed myself, I know that I’m healthy, I know that I can deal with whatever comes my way – you’ll be a more full realized human being.  And then when you add something like a good diet to that, well it magnifies the effect because if you had a client who hated his job Gary, just hated it, like he wanted to kill everybody around him and he could not stand where he worked and he loathed himself because of where he worked, if you had him working out everyday and eating well everyday, you’ll get a marked improvement but he’ll never be who he’s trying to become.  And you would have to say, “Dude, I know this sucks, but you got to get, you got to quit that job.”

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  And if you have to change careers, you have to do it.  If you have to walk away from some toxic people in your life, you’re going to have to do it, and I can only take you so far unless you’re willing to take that step.  That’s what I’m trying to say.

Gary Collins:  Yeah.

Jack Spirko:  There’s people in this world who are so miserable only a drastic change is going to, is going to really work for them.  But if they make the change and they add the health and nutrition, the vitality to it, then it’s unbelievable.

Gary Collins:  Well and I think by adding all that, it exposes you to groups that you will be more likely to get along with.  I’ve noticed that since I’ve transitioned.  I’ve found a whole group of people that I never knew existed.  And that’s my circle, and that’s where I get along, and it’s great.  It’s, you know, you’re happy and you can talk to people who have the same beliefs and – not completely.  You never want everyone to agree with everything you say or do.  But I think that’s what it exposes you to.  It gets you that group.  You can find those people.  So yeah, that’s what I mean.  It’s a little more to it than just eating and being healthy and that’s what I think we’re both about.  It’s that whole picture and bringing it all together.  But with that, I really appreciate you coming on Jack and I’d like to have you on again, and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of questions.

Jack Spirko:  Sure man.  Just hit me up on Skype, and like I said, you’re welcome back on my show anytime you want to come on.  We book real far out, and if anybody out there in your audience says some stuff they’d like to discuss in self-sufficiency, my guest book is open to consideration but we’re not going to be taking more guests until the 1st of the year because we’re booked into February, but dude, I’ll work you in.

Gary Collins:  I appreciate it, yeah.  And anytime you want to do anything with me, you know you’ve got an open invitation anytime and once I get up to my 20 acres in Washington, you’re going to have to fly up and give me some lessons on some stuff at some point, so…  I mean…

Jack Spirko:  No problem man.

Gary Collins:  …I’ll fly you up, heck for that…

Jack Spirko:    Okay.

Gary Collins:  But yeah, I appreciate it and where can everyone go to see all of your work as far as not only, not just for permaculture but your website and your podcast and all of that?

Jack Spirko:  Sure.  It’s one of two places depending on where in the country you’re from.  It’s either or for some of you in the south it’s  It’s actually spelled the same way but I find that people pronounce the and the differently, and if I say it both ways nobody goes to because that’s not me.  I had to use the “the”.  Somebody’s sitting on that domain and I can’t get it.  So  Those of you that are on like your Androids or you iPhones or whatever, you don’t want to type all that out or just in general, if you go to TSPC for The Survival Podcast, it’ll redirect you to the site.  You can get to my YouTube channel there.  You can get to my daily show.  We did episode 1,251 today to give you an idea of the amount of material that’s available there. The show is about an hour a day, goes all the way back to 2008 and if you go listen to those early shows, you can hear me screaming at people to get their money out of the stock market.  So we are definitely more than just permaculture, and I made some pretty good friends in that first year because of that.

Gary Collins:  Excellent.  Excellent.  Again, I appreciate it, and look forward to having you on again.

Jack Spirko:  All right Gary.

Gary Collins:  All right.  Take it easy Jack.


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