Permaculture … when I first became interested in it, I knew the term was short for permanent agriculture and sensed that it had to do with seeing the possibilities and opportunities for growing food everywhere and filling the world with food!
Having just finished the first day of a 12-day course, I've learned a "proper" definition. Permaculture is an integrative, holistic design system, based in science and ethics and derived from Nature, that creates regenerative, sustainable human habitat. It's about a lot more than food and can be applied to many of our human endeavours.
I'm in a wonderful class of young people with a sprinkling of oldsters like me (when did I grow up?). Those in their mid-years who are working hard to raise their families probably couldn't afford the time or the money. We sort of discussed the fact that this "sandwich" generation is missing, and how much harder it's going to be for us to create transformation when they, through no fault of their own, have their noses to the grindstone.
So what is it about permaculture that I think can lead to transformation?
Well, you know that I'm a huge proponent of food security, and teaching people how to grow food before they have to. Permaculture is a systematic way to get down to doing that. It has the potential to take the willynilliness out of community learning for food security. It's based on three ethics:
- Earth care (the Earth provides us with everything we need, so we need to think beyond "sustainable" to "regenerative")
- People care (we need to take care of the people in our community, to create resilience)
- Fair share (we need to set limits on our consumption, then redistribute the surplus)
Permaculture has its own set of common sense principles, many of which aren't that common. The first, for example, is "observe and interact." But how many of us take time on any given day to simply observe what's going on around us, let alone observe how Nature already does something that works? Another is "produce no waste." Ha ha ha ha ha! Waste has come to be the definition of the word "human," it seems. Homo wasteful. But as green design guru Bill McDonough points out, in the natural world, there is no waste. Waste = food. The "waste" (abundance or surplus) from one process is food for another. There are several others.
The people in this course recognize that all is not well with the world. They don't seem to understand the gravity of the situation (the disappearing summer sea ice in the Arctic, for example), so they don't have the sense of urgency that I feel. But I think it's going to be a fun learning journey … getting my hands (and feet) in the soil will be a good thing. And we all know that if it ain't fun, it just ain't sustainable. It's probably not regenerative, either. Time for class!