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Gaia's Garden, SECOND EDITION: First Impressions

Posts: 175
Location: Suwon, South Korea
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I just received my copy of the new edition of Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway.  I have the old one, published in 2000, but heard that the new edition has been revised and expanded.  The original was inspiring and filled a void in translating some of the more esoteric and wider-perspective works of Mollison and Holmgren to the American experience.  It both fueled the imagination and convinced the reader that s/he could actually apply the permaculture principles systematically and successfully.  That takes a talented writer. 

The new edition features a new introduction, some new and revised useful appendices, and a new chapter called, Permaculture Gardening in the City. 

This chapter attempts to revision Permaculture for the urban dweller.  It's full of interesting and worthwhile insights, as you'd expect.  But in some ways, it seems a stretch.  For instance, Hemenway applies the zone system to a typical neighborhood.  Since Neighbor A doesn't have a large enough yard to grow more than, say, a peach tree, s/he trades peaches for the apples grown by Neighbor B and plums grown by Neighbor C.  Thus, Neighbors B and C are Neighbor A's Zone 2.

This seems a bit naive and idealistic to me.  I don't know about your neighbors, but if you live among the Desperate Housewives of Wisteria Drive, for instance, then good luck.  More often than not you'll find that Neighbor B's cat is pawing through your marigolds and you're not about to share any of your persimmons with them.  And Neighbor C doesn't want to share any of their walnuts with you because of that loud party you had last week.  And Neighbor D is a lousy gardener who ruined the gooseberries, etc.  Personally, I wouldn't want to be dependent on my neighbors for my food supply.

And if that's not bad enough, he's got Walmart in Zone 3!  Come on, Toby!  Walmart?  Where's the permaculture in that?  If you've got to put Walmart in your Zone 3 in order for the zone system to make any sense in the city, then I'd say just give up.  (Out of curiosity, I wonder where Victoria's Secret goes?)

Anyway, once Toby gets back on the rails, he crafts a very interesting and useful new chapter, which may well be worth the price of the new book alone.  There really are some useful new insights here which I'll try to post about later.
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Thanks for the review of the book. 

I was kind of surprised to read your comment about working with your neighbors/community in urban setting as being naive or idealistic.  I agree it can be challenging, and you may have neighbors who aren't on board, but what about your community? 

I spend a lot of time growing food on my little city lot, and no matter how hard I try, it's not enough to sustain my husband and I throughout the year.  I think if we want to truly transition to a sustainable lifestyle we need each other.

Sure, my neighbors on the north don't really care about growing food, but I trade my honey for goats milk from my neighbor down the street.  My neighbor on the south helps out in my p-patch plot in exchange for a share of the produce, another lady I don't even know offers u-pick plums from her trees every year.  The p-patches donate tons of fresh produce to local food banks every year.  Is it really naive to think we can make something like this work for us on a bigger scale?   

I know I can't grow, harvest, and cook all the food I need alone, and I sure depend on those unknown people on some far away farm to provide me with food.  So why not enlist willing people in your neighborhood and make it happen?  The internet is the perfect tool to connect people.  I live in Seattle and there are Sustainable Neighborhood Networks popping up everywhere. I really think it's possible to produce a good portion of our food in the city if we work together.  Sure you may have to start small depending on where you are and the people you're surrounded by, but plant the seed.  Anything is possible.  At the end of WWII 40% of American produce came from peoples gardens, there is nothing stopping us from making that happen again. 

As for the Wal-Mart in zone 3... I'm definitely confused there, will have to check it out. 

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Location: Suwon, South Korea
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Well, is seems clear that neighborhoods can be placed on a continuum, for sure -- from yours, let's say, to mine.  Which is most typical is, of course, arguable.

Regardless of the neighbors, though, how much of your food supply are you willing to turn over to them?  To what extent can you trust your community/country/economic system to provide for you?  Yes, we "should" be able to depend on our neighbors/community/governments, perhaps, but can we really?

I, personally, would like to be as self-reliant as is practicable while still enjoying voluntary exchanges to the extent possible, and while not allowing my ability to provide for myself atrophy.  While speaking for myself in this regard, I've come to know many, many others who are attracted to the permaculture concept as a means of enabling this to occur.  Therefore, I don't see how putting neighbors in one of my zones is more helpful than harmful.  I am aware that some people see permaculture as a way to meet people and make friends, and build a surrogate family, and I have no problem with that; it is simply not MY focus.

Hememway suggests that in an urban environment dependence on neighbors must compensate for the lack of space needed to be fully self reliant in terms of food.  But again that depends on the characteristics of the neighborhoood.  And even in the most restrictive of environments, I think we can do a lot more alone than was once thought.  (See what the Dervais family has done, for instance, as detailed on YouTube and their website.)
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