Permaculture and Local Sustainability

Editor’s Note: I put this newspaper piece up just to get all of you permaculture event attendees thinking about easy ways to leverage the impact of the event — i.e. why not do a short write-up on it and see if you can’t get it published in your local rag. Most local newspapers are keen to get free content, and so permaculture can get free advertising, for the benefit of all. Just a thought….

First published in Mt Shasta Herald, California, Nov 7, 2012

Last month, after meeting activists and hearing of amazing projects at the 2012 Northern California Bay Area Permaculture Convergence, I decided to also participate in the week long Advanced Permaculture intensive on Watershed Design, Earthworks and Food Forests. Even though I have attended courses in permaculture, aquaponics, optical surveying, GIS and photo interpretation, and forest ecology over the past 4 years, this week-long immersion with international permaculture designer and teacher Geoff Lawton caused a pronounced deepening in me. I “groked” a whole different way of thinking and seeing landscapes.

Most of our big problems today are due to our resource needs. How do we move toward a “functional ecology economy” rather than the unsustainable “production/consumption ecology” that is currently consuming nature and compromising our very lives and existence as a species? As Geoff points out, “once we turn around and orient towards living resources and sensible [input-output] energy audits, then we all go into an earth repair mode, which is a design priority direction.” Without this reorientation, how can we possibly call ourselves civilized or developed?

Permaculture is an elegant, practical design system based on observing the way natural systems work, flow and interact. As designers, we notice the connectivity of the elements in natural systems and use those observations to create interdependent systems that provide for the needs of people while constantly regenerating and enriching the soil, land, natural systems and communities in which we live, work and play.

According to Geoff, a working knowledge of natural systems creates positive people. Permaculture is an ethical, site-specific design system. It is based on combining knowledge from local indigenous wisdom and global systems and site-specific observation. Designers use a set of permaculture principles to create systems that care for the earth, care for people and return surplus to both. Permaculture design is a way of moving beyond “sustainable” to “regenerative.”

It is not just about farming and gardening. As Lawton so eloquently said, Permaculture design balances “water harvesting, soil creation, the supply of useful living resources, energy systems, waste systems, local economics and people systems to create a permanent culture.” Permaculture “Permies” design systems “that allow you to feel comfortable with infinity and understand how to act globally, think globally and how to take a position anywhere on the planet and have a positive influence, a positive direction to act.”

For most permaculturalists, it all starts with water. Where there is water there is life. Even in our local community there are opportunities to capture rainwater, reuse greywater, create “water wiggle ways” and swales that slow, spread and sink water into the ground resulting in re-hydration of the soils. There is no such thing as a level property. There are always transitions that provide opportunities and challenges.

Permaculturalists are also fascinated by “edge” — where two or more microclimates meet. Edges provide sources of rich biodiversity, experimentation and discovery.

Permaculture is one of the most fascinating concepts to emerge from our environmental crisis. And, we are just scratching the surface of the possibilities and potential.

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