Permaculture Without Animals?
Not all permaculturists or permaculture projects are vegan, and I’ve often been asked whether a completely animal-free permaculture is even actually possible. My response is, of course not, and neither would it be desirable. For example, how would we fence out the earthworms that build our soil and maintain its fertility, or the bees that pollinate our fruit trees and vegetables, and why ever would we wish to? In fact, we actively design in features that are intended to attract wildlife: Ponds for frogs, toads and dragonflies, and flowering plants to bring in the ladybirds and hoverflies that keep populations of potential pests like slugs and aphids in check, and are essential to maintaining healthy productive ecosystems. What we don’t include are those ‘system components’ that we believe perpetuate exploitative relationships with our non-human earth co-citizens, such as pigs, goats and chickens, whose primary function is the production of meat, milk and eggs.
The Naturewise forest garden in north London is one example of an edible landscape that is ostensibly ‘stock free’, although in actuality members of several of the Kingdoms of Nature work together here for mutual benefit. Deep rooted comfrey plants mine nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous from the subsoil, making them available to fruit trees and bushes. Birds and bees buzz around the canopy layer, whilst insects and arthropods patrol the undergrowth and leaf litter, checking and balancing pest populations and playing their role in the cycles of growth and decay. Fungi and bacteria continue the process. These break down dead matter into rich humus and minerals that are exchanged with plant roots via associations with mycorrhizal soil networks in return for sugars and carbohydrates manufactured by photosynthesis. Based on the structure of natural woodland, the forest garden is a complex web of which humans too are an integral part. Aside from a bounty of apples, pears, figs, grapes, strawberries, currants and edible leaves, one of the most important yields of this mini-woodland is the sense of community that the space offers to the volunteers that spend time here. And being situated in a school playground it also acts as an open air classroom where children of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds are able to interact with nature, an opportunity that is often all too rare in the inner city.