Good response Walter, although I don't entirely agree with you on the one point about permaculture:
...the permaculture activist (quoted several times) mentions that permaculture requires a lot of capital and labor up front. This has been corroborated by myself and others right here in Whatcom County, so I use that "idea tool." Consequently, my model uses plentiful labor (which I have) and very little capital (which I don't have). Permaculture is not applicable as a "system" even though I take elements from it all the time.
I do not see Permaculture as a predetermined/predefined set of techniques that requires a lot of capital and labor up front. The system of permaculture is a set of design principles and ethics that can be applied anywhere, using whatever amount of capital and labor is available, and whatever specific set of techniques make the most sense in that particular situation.
David Holmgren (co-originator of Permaculture concept) defines permaculture as "the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organizing framework for implementing the vision outlined in Permaculture One [Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus, the permaculture vision of permanent (sustainable) agriculture has evolved to one of permanent (sustainable) culture.]"
It is true that many permaculture applications have involved a lot of capital and labor up front. The idea is that as we reach the climax point ("peak") of the fossil fuel era, there is a lot of embedded energy available (capital, fossil fueled machinery, information, etc.) for use to invest in and set up systems that are sustainable long term. For those that have access to those resources, I believe that applying them to permaculture installations of all types constitute the best use of those resources.
For those of us that don't have a lot of capital and labor available up front, we can use the "small and slow solutions" (one of Holmgren's design principles), building our permaculture systems slowly over time.
Seeing the inevitable depletion of fossil fuels as one of the primary "givens" as the permaculture concept was being developed, the permaculture system is intentionally designed for energy descent, which is why Cuba found it useful during their "special period" of dramatically reduced fossil fuel inputs.
It's interesting that the article Laura points to mentions Cuba's crisis as a reason why their solutions are not applicable here. Apparently he doesn't understand "the long emergency" of the peak oil crisis we have (most likely) already entered.
Regarding responses to that article, comment #3 on that page (by M. Jahi Chappell) is worth reading.
We don't have to wrap ourselves around the axle about the Cuban model of urban agriculture. How about a totally free market, private model? Say, South Korea 25 years ago? I haven't been back to check, so I can only speak from that long ago experience, but the Koreans have it figured out. I lived in Seoul for three years, and my work took me all over the country. I was always impressed by the sheer ingenuity of Korean urban agriculture. Any place is a good place to grow food. Squashes trellised up a wall and sprawling over the roof of a car repair place in a particularly seedy part of Seoul. High rise apartment balconies positively shaggy with potted food plants and herbs, crowded among clothes lines, bicycles and momma's hibatchi. The shaggy high rise effect was largely due to growing bitter melon trellised on the balustrades, for granny's high blood pressure. (A traditional diet is high in salt-preserved foods.)
The army compound where I worked housed support functions for the headquarters and brass, thankfully located elsewhere. The maintenace shop had a quarter acre asphalt apron, edged with a six foot wide strip of dirt between the apron and the road. In any army compound in the U.S., this would be six feet of ratty grass, kept obsessively mowed. In Korea, the mechanics and drivers had divvied it up into P-patches. I used to walk around and marvel at how much food they were growing there.
No central planning, no subsidies, no committees, no state pest research institution giving nearly free advice, just a cultural attitude that any scrap of earth, any sunny corner that will hold containers, is good place for growing food, medicinal herbs, feed supplements for the squabs on the roof and the ducks in a pen behind the house.