Stefan Sobkowiak – Beyond Organic

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This two hour interview makes for an important addition to the knowledge shared in the Permaculture Orchard film. In it Stefan talks about the next piece of the puzzle, soon to be released from Miracle Farm.

The podcast which has just come online, would have gone longer if Stefan hadn’t excused himself to join a scheduled conversation with John Allan of APW and myself. We needed to talk about the Masterclass Stefan will be leading at Unitec Auckland next year, as part of the Beyond Organic NZ Tour.

For New Zealanders the survivalist concepts that are promoted in the lead-in may seem foreign, and you can of course skip them and jump to 8m:40sec, or you may wind up asking, what’s happening in the USA? There will always be a multitude of responses to the increasing uncertainty and rapid change that is underway across the world – as we each experience it. [thank you Chris for your thoughtful reply to my choice of words here].

Now, onto the 2-hour interview with Stefan Sobkowiak and Jack Spirko on The Survival Podcast.

Up front we hear about Stefan’s background and having a Masters degree in both Biology and Landscape design, before learning what got him inspired to set up a Permaculture Orchard. We find a man with a deep desire to maximise the positive impact he can have on the world around him, and as the minutes turn into hours, we start to appreciate the gifts he’s offering.

20 mins – A discussion quickly ensued about the differences between a more closed-canopy food forest model and Stefan’s commercial, open-spaced, orchard style approach. Species, cultivars and varieties got their proper airtime – to help people understand some of the different ways to propagate and design a productive orchard with built-in diversity. In Stefan’s orchard you will not find two trees of the same species next to each other, and there will always be a Nitrogen fixing tree next to every fruiting tree. This is described in detail in the ground-breaking Permaculture Orchard film.

39 mins – Jack brings up Stefan’s critique of organics, something he came to after he had converted a conventional apple orchard to organics, a process that started 20 years ago. Only later, and just seven years ago, did he rip out almost every tree in order to plant a multi-cultivar, multi-layered, Stuart Hill and Bill Mollison inspired orchard.

Six years on and the result is showing great promise. The integrated eco-system that is “Miracle Farm“situated in Quebec at 45 degrees North is now producing an abundance of commercial crops using trees, shrubs and ground cover plants in a system that is free of chemical inputs.

40 mins – The conversation moves on to the importance of diversity in a system that is designed to evolve and change. Stefan describes some of the layers of the system with trees producing apples, pears, plums, cherries and more. Below that he’s harvesting blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry and edible honey-suckle. At the shrub layer you’ll find raspberries and rhubarb, surrounded by over 100 (species of) ground cover plants throughout the orchard.

Stefan is even experimenting with perennial wheats and ryes. The next orchard block will learn from observing what works, and then from the diversity of stock that is available, he will propagate from the best, to create another block in the orchard with a little less diversity, but with good producers.

50 mins – This is where one of my favourite subjects kicked in – the enterprise opportunity of Nurseries. Imagine that in an area of less than 200SqM (70 x 30 feet) you can be growing 1,000 apple trees. If you wanted to buy these, in Canada they would cost you between $20,000 and $40,000. If you want to stock an orchard, you’ll need about 1,100 trees/Hectare (450/acre). This hints at another aspect of Stefan’s brilliance. He is currently working on a document that will detail the costs of putting in a permaculture orchard along with projections on the potential return. This will be available in a couple of weeks in French, and then soon after in English. This is a business plan for a turnkey operation building on the abundance of nature. It will even include details of time needed to complete each part of the implementation and how it’s done. Be sure to signup to receive updates and you’ll be informed as soon as this is available. Be sure to signup to receive updates and you’ll be informed as soon as this is available.

67 mins: One of the biggest contributions Stefan has made to the Permaculture Orchard model is using the fact that the fruit of every tree ripens based on a predictable number of growing degree days. Stefan is designing his orchard where rows are combined according to their harvest date. Three ten-day windows per month make for logical harvesting patterns, on the membership picking days. An important point to understand, is that even if starting a new orchard, you can still be profitable in the first year by harvesting from annual crops: plants, animals, birds and eggs. The farm you-pick/pick-your-own/supermarket-aisle model is part of the economic foundations. Stefan describes that as people come to harvest, they will be picking multiple fruits and vegetables as they work their way down each row. Stefan and Jack take delight in pointing to opportunities for obtaining a premium price for the abundance of produce and there’s a wonderful chicken story in there, that had me in fits of laughter.

84 mins: Training vs pruning as part of the economics of the design. It takes as much time to train a tree as it takes to prune it, but you’ll only have to train it a few times in its lifetime. In the process you will reduce the pruning workload. A well trained tree can reduce the pruning workload by as much as 80% so that one person can now prune a hectare (2.5 acres) in a day. This training process is explained in some detail in the film.

Some numbers to consider.

If you buy all your plant material (and hire out all the planting and infrastructure installation) it’ll cost you about $10/SqM ($1/Sq ft). If you propagate it yourself, you can expect it to cost you around $1.50/SqM (15c/Sq ft). After year 7 – from the perennials alone – you can expect a return of $10/SqM each year, and by this time in the development one person can take care of around 0.4 – 0.8 Hectare (1-2 acres). 1 Hectare = 10,000 SqM.

If you are want to be part of the month long New Zealand tour that is being organised between Mar 9 and Apr 9 2015, signup here for updates. Like the Orchard this tour will include a wide and diverse range of events to choose from.

Jack and Stefan conclude the interview with these important links: – where you can get the film

Thanks Stefan, for the editorial check.

5 thoughts on “Stefan Sobkowiak – Beyond Organic

    Chris said:
    August 31, 2014 at 4:51 am

    I just wanted to explain why it is about survival so you can understand us and not think we are some crazies.

    The premise is simple, the word survive means to keep living and ist means you are a master.

    In America, many of our families for generations prided themselves in being resilient by being able to have the things in life necessary to get by should an emergency occur or so you could save up money by having food put away. Remember the Great Depression emphasized this style of life here.

    In the modern age where everything is disposable many families stopped being resilient. This is movement back to resilience, to being prepared for the normal life emergencies such as losing a job, someone getting sick or injured all the way up to something major like a tornado or an earthquake.

    This is not some I have a knife and can get by in the wild. Not long ago, most people in my country had gardens, fruit trees and hunted. No one had pills for every ailment but people knew ways to help people get better.

    We just want to see more of those aspects in our lives. We want a sustainable world, not one where you become dependent on everything in your life from others.

    It was a great interview!


      jmsinnz said:
      August 31, 2014 at 9:22 am

      Thank you for that Chris, I appreciate the reframing of the name survivalist, and the more I listen to people like Jack Spirko the more I appreciate the clear intention to get stuff done, be real and practical and don’t be afraid to try things out on a path of continuous learning.


    Enterprise opportunities « Beyond Organic NZ Tour said:
    October 25, 2014 at 5:51 am

    […] 60mins If you’ve got some entrepreneurial spirit you may see opportunities, as Stefan shares his numbers and points at the abundance. I would point to the 50mins mark in the podcast with Jack Spirkow. […]


    […] 60mins If you’ve got some entrepreneurial spirit you may see opportunities, as Stefan shares his numbers and points at the abundance. I’ll point you to the 50mins mark in the podcast with Jack Spirkow. […]


    […] 60mins If you’ve got some entrepreneurial spirit you may see opportunities, as Stefan shares more numbers. For more like this, head over to the 50mins mark in the podcast with Jack Spirkow. […]


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