Fertile Ground: Want to Fix the World? Practice Permaculture.

a green permaculture wheel with seven sections: food, shelter, ethics, climate, water, and soilWith everything from mindless consumerism to car emissions wreaking havoc on the earth, we know full well that humans do more harm to the environment than good. In fact, it seems that human existence sucks the life out of the planet. (Some existences are more damaging than others, of course). So what is an ecofeminist-minded activist with a penchant for guilt and a need to heal to do? The answer can be permaculture. 

 Permaculture, a term coined by Bill Mollison in Australia, is an ecological approach to healing the earth by working with nature rather than against it. It does more than just help to stop destruction of earthly goods; it actually helps to heal the Earth and reverse devastating human-inflicted effects. It works to mimic natural systems that appear in the wild, but does more than just encourage us to plant trees for food forests and harvest rainwater; social permaculture between humans is every bit as important, and in fact is a crucial element that a permaculture-strung society needs to thrive.

The permaculture ethics are, in no particular order: 

*Care for the Earth

*Care for People

*Redistribute surplus to one’s needs (seeds, money, land, etc.)

Permaculture is about making systems work not only for us, but for everything around us. Simple ideas in permaculture include planting perennial vegetables and fruits, planting food-bearing trees (fruit and nut) with natural plants around them, doing container gardening if you do not have land, and creating function and stability in everything you make, do, and save, including water (de-paving a driveway, for instance, would allow rainwater to permeate the earth and recharge an aquifer). It is a holistic approach to nurturing the natural world and wildlife, creating good instead of perpetuating the bad. 

Helping to nurture environmental systems can reveal what healthy, well-functioning human relationships should look like as well, which is known as “social permaculture.” A basic part of social permaculture includes web-like communication strategies, as opposed to other top-down models of human communication, like hierarchies. Since the holistic, organic growing of food is part of permaculture, we can look at it and apply it to social interaction; the idea of spraying chemicals and killing all bugs, including beneficial ones, to decrease bite marks on arugula plants shows how we treat conflict and tough, uncomfortable situations. Basic human instinct is to obliterate the problem and oppress the situation; it’s easier that way. But a holistic, permacultural approach means accepting conflict, and treating it rationally without personal, violent attacks. The bigger picture then becomes more clear. Social permaculture says it is not just about you, the solitary human, it is about the web of human life, wildlife, and nature. Ethics underpin permaculture’s principles. If ethics come before profit, or someone’s job, problems can be solved and balanced and live harmoniously in a just way. For instance, would poisonous DDT have been allowed on the market as a plant spray, which resulted in health problems, if the scientists who created it had put their ethics first? 

Like ecofeminism, permaculture shows us a model where everything works harmoniously. We must start from the ground and build up from there.

If you’re interested in learning more about permaculture, there are design certificates you can get from programs all over the country (and world). Most programs last about two weeks and are expensive, coming in at about $2,000; luckily, there are many great books, online sources, and YouTube videos you can get a great education from and simply teach yourself with. Share any resources you have to recommend in the comments!

Previously:  Food Banks, Nutrition Access and the Romney Delusion, Five Films for the Ecofeminist in You


by Alison Parker
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

...mimic natural systems that

<blockquote>...mimic natural systems that appear in the wild...</blockquote>

So, what constitutes "natural?" What "systems" are you talking about? Where and what is "the wild?" And what about this idea of "basic human instinct?" Humans have a universal "instinct" to act "against nature?"

I am an ecologically-minded feminist, but I want to challenge and interrogate the constructed dichotomy of "natural" versus "unnatural," and the fundamental assumption that humans somehow exist and behave outside of and in opposition to nature.

And I really want to link to Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto": http://www.egs.edu/faculty/donna-haraway/articles/donna-haraway-a-cyborg...

mimic natural systems

I believe I understand what you are getting at Caroline Narby. It can be argued that that because humans are a natural organism then what we (humans) do is natural. This would in fact be true. It is also true that an infectious bacteria is natural and in some instances they kill off their host (food source) by overwhelming it which ultimately results in its own demise due to loss of food source.

Are humans somewhat like the bacteria described above? The natural outcome is death of humans, if not the planet. Or are we naturally different? I don't know. While I'm playing in my mind with these thoughts I will grow food in a permaculture designed system.

"...mimic natural systems that appear in the wild..." This is in reference to a woodland situation, or desert situation, or prairie, even an apartment that is neglected with dirty dishes in the sink. In other words . . . things grow. Anywhere. Everywhere. Whatever situation. All that is needed is the right conditions.

So if one sees mushrooms growing and likes mushrooms, "seed" the area that is conducive to mushroom growing with the mushroom spores you want to eat. In other words mimic the natural system that appears in the wild.

Even if the natural system is behind the toilet.

Okay. I jest. But not completely all in jest. Some of us permies would see the conditions (behind the toilet) as the perfect place to put a particular food plant. Of course it might be a series of recycled bottles in a hydroponic set-up on the wall using a solar panel out the window on the 20th floor to power the pump.

And that would be natural.

Hydroponics and Permaculture

Great piece - I think we need a complete rehaul of our food system, but I fear it will only come at the expense of a lot of money and lives...we (humans) typically don't do things until the last minute, so I think we'll keep using non-permaculture based techniques for far too long :(


If you can get this idea into young children, we may have a chance. Just plant the seed.
Thanks for the site.

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