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teacher-in-training, introduces us to the principles and practice of permanent [agrijculture.
Permaculture is not organic gardening, and I am not a gardener. What I am is a permaculture practitioner who uses organic gardening, and many other tools, to design systems that work to water, feed, warm, house, and provide community, not to mention: make a garden. So if permaculture isn't just gardening, then what is it? Permaculture is not the rain that falls, nor the roof that collects it or the catchment systems that stores it. Permaculture design is the relationship between these things. Permaculture is the match maker, creating passionate love affairs between rain and plants, humans and animals, and ultimately achieving systems that produce enough natural resources to provide for their own maintenance and reproduction. Imagine a ball that drops, hitting a lever that turns a wheel pulling on a string attached to a light bulb. Each step creates the necessary conditions for consequent steps which eventually will turn on the light bulb. Similar to well set-up dominoes. We can learn the skills to design whole systems that are
(Above) Front yard.
(Right) A backyard graywater filtration system that takes the sink, shower and machine water from the house, passes the water through a strainer, and then filters it through this man -rnade wetland bedded in 4 bathtubs that irrigates the gardens directly. Those irrigated beds produce 10-20% more than the nongraywatered beds.
focused on goals and fixing problems at the source, instead of focusing on the symptoms. With the light bulb qlowlnq-over your head you might have realized that practicing permaculture is not all that difficult. In fact, you probably are practicing it already and don't realize it. Why? Because the knowledge contained under the umbrella of permaculture is not new; it combines
the ancient and traditional knowledge of growing food with the modern science of ecology and new technology. Work in permaculture is selfevaluating: either it works or it doesn't. The beauty of this movement is that, if you can learn from your errors, you can learn to design systems that work. You don't have to wait for a committee to stamp your certificate or a teacher to baptize your understanding through tests. Permaculture is a way of looking at the systems that sustain us, and designing them to have built-in endurance and sustainability to gain the highest output from the lowest input. It is not just the organic garden: the garden is just a piece of the bigger picture. A picture that includes the local climate, site topography, water access and drainage, capacity
«Wealth is a deep understanding ,ofthe natural world."
beneficial connections and yields, When Mollison asked an elderly Greek woman in a' vineyard why she planted roses among' her grapes, she replied: "Because the rose is the doctor of the. grapes. If you don't plant roses, the grapes get iii." Accustomed to science, this answer did not sit well with Mollison. He began to research and found that the rose produces a certain root chemical that the grape root uptakes, which in-turn repels the white fly (a pest for grapes). The story is the same from both Mollison and the woman's perspectives: the grapes grow in community with the roses. However, the understanding behind the story changed. This story is where permaculture can
of the land and its users, where income is produced to finance the whole process and a host of other items. It is looking at the pieces of life and designing systems that produce the basic necessities needed to sustain and provide joy while creating rich, wealthy lives. , Bill Mollison, a disgruntled and highly motivated biologist, culminated a true "aha" moment with student David Holmgren in 1978 when they set out the seminal work Permaculture One, Coined as a combination of the words permanent and agriculture, and then permanent and culture, permaculture from its textual origins is about creating a world were we can live indefinitely. In this work, Mollison and Holmgren articulated their thoughts on sustainable living through a positive
action movement in which anyone could be involved. The publication helped to create the first texts for the personal' educational keystone of the movement: the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDq, Any keeners out there will be able to findPDC courses being offered in online and hands-on formats. Contrary to the parental adage "do what I say, not what I do," Mollison urges those interested to watch and see what is really happening. In a way, that's how permaculture started. Working in wildlife relocation, Mollison realized that a forest needs no watering, weeding, fertilizing or other "outside care," The forest is self-perpetuating. Mimicking the ecological principles he observed in the forest, he conceptualized that he could "make a system" that could produce food for human consumption. In essence, a food forest. This self-described "revelation" was understanding that there are beneficial interactions between living and non-living components. As people, we can assemble those components together to
((I think it's pointless asking questions like 'Will humanity 'survive?' It's purely up to people ~ if they want to, they can, if they don't want to, , .th eywon 't ." It
- Bill Mollisorj
Visible through this window in the south side of a cob building is a frost peach growing on Vancouver Island. Peaches are not typically grown on Vancouver Island, but this tree is thriving because the heat absorbed by the structure and microclimate. EARTH CARE
Humanity has withdrawn so much of the natural capital from the earth's savings account that we are no longer living off the surplus interest; we are now eating into the capital itself. We're living on the savings, and they're running.low: it's a lot like college without the getting-moreeducated bit. From the north to south pole, to the tip of Mt. Everest and the bottom of the ocean, our environment is degraded and degrading at an alarming rate (imagine 1,000,000 fire alarms going off in a closed phone booth and you're close to how serious the situation is). Synthesized chemicals at toxic levels can be found in every
be understood: in nature, organisms work in relation with one another. And using our common sense we can observe these interactions, work out the common sense or scientific understanding of what is happening, and reassemble the principle behind the interaction to create systems that feed, clothe, house, warm, and provide us with community. Now in its fourth decade, the perrnaculture movement has spread --_,. .... -----------
"The Earth is a living, . breathing entity. Without ongoing care and nurturing there will be consequences too big to ignore."
Me (frustrated but respecting my elder): "Right, I 'understand that, but in this micro-climate, what would be good to propagate-" Him (cutting me off again): "Soil." Me (realizing there might be something he's trying to tell me): "Okay, so you're saying I should grow ..." Him (finitely stating): "Soil." At present, our greatest threat to humanity is not climate change (though that affects soil loss), nor pollution (this does affect soil loss), nor deforestation (now, ,that really affects soil loss). Our greatest threat is ... soil loss. Without healthy ecosystems, soil is destroyed. Without soil, there is no food and, without food, the chairs around our '.. global table become vacant. And it gets rather lonely sitting by oneself.
"If people want some guidance, I say, . Ik h I [ust 00 at w at peop e really do.' Don't listen to them that much. And h C oose your friends from people who fYou like what they do - even though 'I k ou mig htn tie what they say."
- Bill Mollison
like wildfire, creating a global grassroots community. Global in scope and adoption, permaculture has been able to specialize to meet specific needs. As permaculture is not an ideology, but rather an idea, it can. chanqe and adapt to any situation. In Haiti, permaculture .. practitioners were on the ground shortly after the earthquake, providing -" safe drinking water and human sanitation with a fraction of the budget of other aid organizations with twice the results. These efforts have grown from solid ethical building blocks that help guide the intentions of practitioners. These ethics, in order of priority and importance, are: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share.
environment, in newborn children, and even in pollen (121 herbicides, fungicides and insecticides at last count); these are the very building blocks that support life. Think of it this way: if you-were hospitalized and depending on a medical life-support system, would you jiggle the plug, poke holes in the feeding tubes or pour toxic waste in the IV bag? Not unless you're Keith Richards or a cockroach, and even then I think they'd both think twice about it ... at least the cockroach would. Earth Care is the top priority. Earth Care is our top priority. As a curmudgeon'iy 63 year old farmer from Manitoba advised, after I asked what I should grow on a certain piece of land ...
"I cannot save the world alone. It will take at least three of us." - Bill Mollison
Me, myself and I. Okay, and you too. And you can join, and ... well heck, let's invite everyone to the party. After ensuring that our lifesupport system is tended to, we turn to each other realizing that if the entire human species is on a planet with finite resources then we in . all affect and
«We are sufficient to do everything possible to heal this Earth. We don't have to suppose we need oil, or governments, or anything. We can do it." - Bill Mollison '
In a Closed system, the actions of one are felt by many, detrimental or beneficial alike. In permaculture, and I.ife, everyone has something of value to bring to the party. In a scarce economy, resilient employees embody the same strategy that ecology demonstrates: an organism that places itself in the most service to the whole, survives. We can see how helping friends and family survive supports our personal survival, and we may evolve a matured ethic that sees all humankind as friends and family and thus life itself as our ally. People care then turns into species care and we too have the "aha" moment that Sister Sledge had: "We are family." Care, People Care and Fair Share) guide us to devise methods of applying them to our gardens, land, economies and nature. We can see permaculture as "the mechanism of mature ethical behaviour, or how to act to sustain the earth" and our existence on it. Well, if this hasn't blown your mind yet then strap in for round two ... how to go about applying and practicing intentional permaculture. From the prime directive and the ethics we spiral outwards to principles, strategies and, finally, techniques. These three are the holy trinity of permaculture in action. permaculture teachers' training session, the facilitator (a longtime perrnaculture practitioner and teacher) stated that she knew of over 372 principles related to the movement. 372? Yup, 372. And by the time you start practicing permaculture, I'm sure you'll have come up with a few more, or remember one that your grandma used to use. My Ukrainian-Baba
Remember kindergarden? No, not the dirt eating (which thankfully we don't have to resort to ... yet), but the idea of sharing. Well, sharing is back in style, sharing is the new khaki. With a new twist, fair share is also about abundance. Surplus is created either through an extraordinary amount of effort, which turns into a deficit of time and energy, or by limiting consumption. By conserving resources and setting limits to consumption, we can set our best course for survival to include others while creating the conditions to further the two ethics above.
A greenhouse with southfacing glass and a north cob wall to retain heat.
The three sisters. PRINCIPLES
Photo credit: Abri Beluga
THE PRIME DIRECTIVE OF PERMACULTURE
Under the prime directive of <permaculture, the three ethics (Earth
«The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of 'our children."
Principles are beneficial as there are no penalties for error, only learning from errors, thereby leading to new ideas and methods. Now, here's where the idea of permaculture being opensource really gets going:
used to bellow from the top of the stairs when my brother and I were rough-housing: "Smarten up or I'll throw you out, one by each!" The humour (or maybe it's the genius) of this maxim lies in the translation to English: those parts that do not work with the overriding ecological principles at play (like my Baba's patience, or the ability of the earth to absorb the pollution we are producing) are "thrown out, one by each." As you move further down-this rabbit hole you'll find many principles. However, I found permaculture best sampled like a good buffet, in
SO, WHAT IS PERMACULTURE?
Perhaps the definition is: "it's sustainability, distilled, served straight up." Or maybe it is just understanding that silver bullet solutions are best left to werewolves, proving that silver bullets are as fictitious as their intended fantasy targets. Catch-all solutions like pesticides and magic pills always have unintended side effects: it's best to address the problem at its source. As Geoff Lawton (the architect behind the Youtube video "Greening the Desert" -- worth the time to watch) says, "All life's problems can be solved in the garden." Maybe permaculture is all about organic gardening ... however, you'd well to discard the definitions
out there and continue to garden, add in a sprinkle of permaculture, and be fruitful and mulch apply.
is an elfvironmental educator, professional communicator faCilitator and edi~or. An O.U.R. Ecovillage resident on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, ]avan continues to expand his knowledge and passion for sustainability through permaculture as a deSigner and teacher-in-training.
. mtOln corporate .1 on h0 prinCIples ulture permac. door garden at
into the 1U n:M.agazine.colll. urbanGarde .
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