Permaculture Part 1

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From this month, I’m planning to upload one post a month that ventures more into detail about some of the ideas I’ve been thinking about. These posts will probably be difficult for kids to follow but come back to it when you’re a little older. I will be uploading more child friendly, or more like young adult friendly contents in between so do subscribe and check back again for future posts.

My first post will be about Permaculture. It’s an abbreviation for permanent agriculture (or permanent culture in more recent times) and it’s something that I’ve been studying for the last 5 years or so and feel quite passionate about.

Permaculture Principles

The central idea is that nature is capable of sustaining itself indefinitely and if we study how they do this, we can incorporate aspects of it with our current technological and scientific understanding to create a more sustainable way of life. In its simplest form, it’s a set of design principles inspired by nature to make our lives more efficient. As my teacher Aranja used to ask us, ‘What would nature do?’

The amazing thing is that these design principles could be applied not only to agriculture but to any context you could throw at it, whether it be an office, your house, company structure or building your own camper van. (For the ease of explanation, I’ve limited my examples below to agriculture)

To give you a better idea, by understanding how the water flows through the land, you could design an efficient gravity fed water system, know where to install micro-hydro electrics or where best to slow down and capture the water. By combining this knowledge with the general wind direction and knowing the movement of the sun, you can pinpoint where to plant your fruit and nut trees or edible plants so that they can grow to its maximum capacity. Or by knowing your soil type, functions of mycelium and properties of certain plants, you can cultivate and fertilise your soil with minimum effort and no artificial chemicals.

The idea that really got me excited was the concept of designing a system so well that you don’t need to do much when it’s completed. Of course, in the establishment phase, you’ll need to put effort and time into it. You may need to water your trees frequently and protect your plants from frost, add compost and tweak multitude of factors and the yield may not be much. But as the eco-system evolves to full maturity, and if done correctly, you should only need to place the minimum effort and time to get the maximum output.

With layers of good compost, established ground cover and grey water piped strategically, the soil may retain enough humidity all year round that you may not need to water your plants. The trees and bushes may have grown big enough to provide wind and frost protection and nut and fruit trees provide glut at harvest times without having to endlessly feed it. The maturing hedgerows may provide wide variety of berries throughout the year and by planting multiple companion plants, you’ve created a biologically diverse eco-system where the need for pest control may have diminished. The fast growing willow planted next to your composting toilets eats up all your waste and provide you with fire wood or basket making material.

The Hurdles

These ideas on paper seems absolutely incredible. The limited number of working examples I’ve seen shows promise and there are a few videos online that displays incredible results. Check these excellent videos made by a friend for a really good intro to British permaculture scene. But somehow, so far, they’ve all lacked substance that absolutely convinces me that this could be the solution to many of the problems we may face in the coming decades. If permaculture is to have any significant impact on our future survival and prosperity as species, we need to convince a large proportion of the population to shift towards a more sustainable way of life. I am, therefore, pretty certain that there are a few significant hurdles that we must lower or abolish altogether. I speculate that the three points I’ve laid out below will have the most measurable impact but do let me know if you can think of other big ones.

1. Scalability – a larger community feasibility study possibly based on the Dunbar’s number, followed by establishing closely networked and interlinked villages of similar size (more detail in the following paragraphs).

2. Land ownership – entry affordability, long term lease covering a lifetime or outright ownership and ease of transfer of ownership. (in part 2)

3. Aesthetics – transferable, easily digestible aesthetics similar to what most people are used to. (also in part 2)

First obvious problem that pops out is that most of the projects I’ve seen so far are small scale, single family or a community of 30 or so members. All working extremely hard for a meagre standard of life in most ‘normal people’s’ views, often reliant on free volunteer WWOOFERS and lacking in diversity of age, profession, class, race and world views.

I imagine an experiment in creating a village of 150, living as a co-operative with permaculture principles, would be able to produce an abundance of supplies – enough to export outside of the village to create significant external income and pay taxes. With the food supply secured, plenty of free time and efficient eco-housing providing truly affordable and comfortable living, some forms of specialisation would take place. Butchers, tailors, cheese mongers, shoe makers, electricians, tool makers, instrument makers, artists and musicians could trade with internal currency backed by something of real intrinsic value like gold or land. A network of similar villages could create another level of resilience and specialisation where each unit has enough buffer against catastrophes but freely trade and share knowledge to create a web of sustainable development.

I have yet to see or hear anything of this magnitude, but I would imagine that a successful long term experiment of this scale, with freedom to move and to engage at different levels would lower the barrier of entry significantly and entice more people in. In short, what I see myself rooting for is a looser secular co-operative of a village size, operating and networking with the rest of the society but with highly independent and resilient systems that are affordable, diverse and efficient.

More to follow in part 2!


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