“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”-Bill Mollison
We have all seen the words sustainability and permaculture in the news a lot, at least if you pay attention to articles on agriculture, GMO seeds, Monsanto, global warming, and green technology. I can sniff out an article on these topics from 1,000 miles away. I swear, I really can.
Growing thousands of acres of GMO corn, or any single crop, is called monoculture: planting the same crop on the same soil using the same methods year after year after year, depending on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to get as much out of that land as possible for the least amount of money and human effort. Sugar cane, soy, canola, corn, wheat, cotton, tea, and tobacco are all cash crops that are monocultures (the opposite of biodiversity). The soil is not replenished with organic matter, not fed, and allowed to rest as in organic farming. The crops do not complement other crops, fruit trees, berry bushes, water plants, butterflies, and bees. And we can all see that these are farmed by corporations, not family farmers who also raise cattle, grow hay in fields, keep chickens, turn the manure into crops, and so on.
In organic farming, insects actually survive (they aren’t all bad, you know), the soil is replenished with manure and compost, plants are fertilized with fish emulsion and dried blood meal. The land is allowed to rest every few years. Crops are rotated, companion planted, and the soil is a living thing.
Permaculture is a new term being bandied about, consisting of structures, garden beds, orchards, homes and land that encourage green living, growing your own food, with a slower, local economy, decentralized (meaning it stays in the community and doesn’t end up in some CEO’s bonus check).
According to the Permaculture Institute, “permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how to design natural homes and abundant food production systems, regenerate degraded landscapes and ecosystems, develop ethical economies and communities, and much more. As an ecological design system, permaculture focuses on the interconnections between things more than individual parts.”
I know this sounds nebulous. And I know it sounds really hippie-dippy, but deep down it makes so much sense.
When I turned my ugly flower bed into a terraced vegetable garden I was practicing permaculture. When I added two raised beds, a bean teepee and doubled the size of my front garden, I was practicing permaculture. Taking my kitchen scraps, adding them to shredded leaves and weeds in a pile behind the former goat house is a part of permaculture (and those pallets stacked up near my compost pile would definitely be considered permaculture if I built that two-section compost bin). I am trying to embrace the concept of permaculture on my property as I walk it and search for wild edibles, think about whether I can and should attempt to grow cranberries near the bog, or go forward with planting cattails at the edge of the pond (because they are a great food source and provide shelter for creatures that do not hang out at our pond at present). Choosing to grow heirlooms vs. hybrids is practicing permaculture. The idea that I might be able to trade some of my organic pear preserves or garlic for something my family needs but does not produce is practicing permaculture. Although I don’t plan to add chickens back to my family food production plan, I might be able to trade for eggs this summer. I am allowing wildflowers, wild herbs, and even indigo to grow down at the pond.
Collecting rainwater, composting, replacing invasive shrubs with something that might make the bees and butterflies happy, planting to reduce erosion, and restore the watershed is practicing permaculture.
Did I pique your interest? You’re sitting on the edge of your seat. Admit it! Take a few minutes to visit the Permaculture Institute to see how you can adopt some of the practices permaculture advocates.
I would be happy if all of my friends stopped buying anything made by Scott (lawn and garden junk), stopping paying the lawn truck to come spray nitrogen-rich, herbicide sprays on their lawns (causing algae bloom in nearby waterways, ponds and lakes, and killing birds), and allowed dandelions to grow in their lawns. Can you imagine a world full of those pretty yellow flowers that can be used to make jelly and wine, bees buzzing around sipping nectar and carrying pollen on their legs? How happy it would be!