Permaculturist? Thats a word, right?
I've been meaning to right this for some time but I only get to hang out (this is my first post) in the wee hours before my three littles wake up. I wanted to share my organic growth toward permaculture as a part precautionary tail, part thank you to Paul, and part reaching out to see if others have similar experiences. Just stacking functions ; )
I've always had an interest in green living despite the fact I was raised on prepared foods in a very disposable and chemical dependent family. My convictions grew in college while I was pursuing my degree in biology. My favorite books from the library were about natural building and animal husbandry. I started recycling, learned how to cook whole foods, rarely used my car, and I even started a garden at my parents because my small apartment porch was completely shaded all year round. It was the garden that catalyzed my discovery of permaculture. I started researching organic gardening. I knew in the very core of my being that there had to be a way to grow food without chemicals and excessive supplements that was not as backbreaking as everyone made it out to be. As a biologist it just seemed so simple to think that you simply needed the right habitat for a plant to excel and neighboring habitat that supported enough diversity to not allow pest to gather in excess. I found a book which outlined the basics of permaculture and sang its praises. I was thrilled! This was what I had been looking for... except for all the spiritual/political/encouraging civil disobedience part.
Have a mentioned I'm your typical church going Christian? Although I totally support permaculture promoting peace and community I'm really not interested in them telling me how I should do it. How can I put this? I love the earth and I want to be a good steward but sometimes I feel like parts of the permaculture world worship it. Other people can worship whatever they want, but I'm going to worship the God that made the earth. I want to feel like I don't have to buy into the ethics to get to the practices of permaculture.
Ahem- so I found several other books about permaculture but they had even less practice and more social aspects then the last. Which was fine, I just gleaned the useful bits and skipped the rest. But nothing had a clear cut system a novice gardener could use so I ended up adopting Brett L. Markham's system from Mini Farming. It utilized organic growing methods, companion planting, crop rotation, succession planting and a lot of other good information I still find very useful.
Permaculture still intrigued me so when a classmate spearheaded a community garden project on campus designed with permaculture I was really excited to ask the girl at the kiosk about it. She was excited to tell me she had recently attended a PDC in South America. When I asked about permaculture and what it was, well to be frank, I got a really airhead response. "It's like about how systems work together to create something sustainable" I'm pretty sure she rattled off a few of the permaculture principles and talked about beds that "work with the earths natural contours" even after I had explained my garden resided in a small, flat, and square location. Curvy beds made no sense to me at the time because no one had explained using edge. In a square city plot, it just seemed like wasted space. It was after this conversation I wrote off permaculture. They have a few great ideas, I thought, but I can't find any systematic way of implementing it (oh how foolish I was) and it seems a bunch of new-age folks. Too bad.
I'm laughing as I think about it.
Fast forward three years another garden and two moves later.
We had moved to our repossessed homestead on 3.5 acres in southwest Washington. I was getting ready to work on the house (it was missing a few things like plumbing, electrical, doors, and insulation) I was looking for a podcast to listen to about homesteading and found Paul's podcast on rich soil. I think the first one I listened to was his chicken 2.0 and it was awesome! Then I listened to a few others and discovered a flavor of permaculture I could really sink my teeth into. Forget the ethics, lets save the world through sustainable agriculture and green building. YES!! The most important thing was it directed me to further research and I found out permaculture IS a system. I just had to find the right resources. I laugh now thinking how many times my troubleshooting had led me to permies all the while I'm thinking, "permaculture really has good ideas, too bad it isn't more systematic and only for hippies." I love hippies I'm just not really one myself.
So can I make a few suggestions? When introducing permaculture to joe blow from the suburbs skip the ethics, talk about specific benefits: water conservation, healthy eating, monetary savings, soil conservation, etc. etc. Then connect those benefits with practical action they can take. Next, emphasize how permaculture recognizes progression. Just like a progression to a forest their first try won't look like the end game, their yard/farm/garden will improve with time. In fact tell them its important! I know from painful first hand experience what its like to do too much too soon just to find out its not what you wanted anyway.
Anyway, this is now reeeaaaallly long, sorry. I'm excited to write not just read. You all are great and help more than you know!
Permaculture was originally designed to be able to work with or beside or without just about any spirituality. Thus the Ethics. They provide a starting point for those without a faith tradition, or who are stuck in a dysfuntional one. The Ethics are compatible with most traditions, although they might be placed in a different order or have others added to them. Permaculturists tend to adapt to whatever culture they are working in, and also gravitate to people who are open-minded to change...in a word, progressives. So this explains why in the culturally diverse West, "new agers" and such like often predominate. But it is a very good point that permaculture needs to not make itself an enemy of mainstream religion so as to readily penetrate the mainstream. When I used to live in Georgia I would always say that we need to work with the churches in order to make permaculture really take hold in the South. Aside from the invisible structure issues at stake, churches also control a good deal of open land in the towns and cities....land that I've begun to increasingly see being used for gardening