by Sandra Bartram and Cheri McCabe
We must be stewards, druids of the future because we can only achieve peace through food security, and we can only have food security with healthy ecosystems that exist both upon the soil and within it.
At this time of year it is hard to get motivated to leave our gardens, but the intensive three-day Permaculture Convergence in Frelighsburg, Quebec, Canada did just that. Standing in my garden on the morning of departure, surrounded by vegetables and flowers in full bloom, I asked myself, "Why leave my personal Garden of Eden when I can turn on my computer and read all about permaculture on the Internet?" But this attitude vanished as soon as I arrived at Oneka Farm. After setting up my tent, I stood upon the hillside and surveyed the valley below. As the sun set, I looked south to the lake highlighted against the rolling, darkening hills. I heard voices in the distance as over six hundred people gathered for the opening circle. I made my way across the field to join them. Gatherings such as these have the power to reach deep into our ancient ancestry and bring forward such festive celebrations of our lives and identities. We can become connected by a spirituality that is impossible to replicate by modern technological networking.
The "down-to-earth" theme of the Convergence provided the perfect foundation for its symbolic flower. Each petal of the flower represented a theme: nature, habitat, health, technology, economy, education and governance. Permaculture principles were applied to each of these topics and woven together. The practice of permaculture takes principles from the natural world and seeks to replicate them in food systems and, on a larger scale, within societies as a whole. The immutable truth that protection and conservation of natural resources ought to be our most valued long-term asset is emphasized. Permaculture is about sustainable systems built upon the concept of regeneration without depletion. It is about the understanding that we humans are as integral a component of nature as are the trees and animals around us and that we do not occupy a space that is in any way "above" any other life form on this planet. We must act as stewards, druids of the future. The ultimate underlying message is that it is time to get back to the Earth and practice a level of sustainability that includes social, economic and environmental solutions based upon the foundations for life: healthy soils, pure water and clean air.
Proof that these contagious ideas are changing our cultural perceptions permeated the entire weekend. I was astonished by the range of experts and the number of presentations. Speakers had converged from across the continent to include well-known personalities along with people who were just breaking onto the permaculture landscape. Scheduled events included PowerPoint presentations, hands-on workshops and tours of working farms successfully implementing permaculture principles. The only disappointment was that it was physically impossible to attend all the events. The joy of discovering new concepts and practices, the clarification of others and the inherent value of face-to-face networking with like-minded people can never be achieved through Google.
Concrete examples of the precept, "practice what you preach" were everywhere. First, the heavenly vegetarian cuisine provided by chef Maxime was unbeatable, from nutritious breakfasts to the most amazingly delectable dinners. The soups were delicious beyond description. To accompany this environmentally low-impact menu was a washing station where we all washed the dishes and silverware so graciously provided for us. A large compost bucket was made available for peels and cores. No paper plates, no plastic cutlery and no waste! Other examples of change practiced at this convergence included composting toilets and compost-heated showers. The amazingly diverse and creative program, the hard work of organizers, volunteers, kitchen staff and the people of Oneka Farm were deeply appreciated by all.
The participant-generated Saturday night talent show exemplified the inclusive spirit and the remarkable talents of individuals, strengthening the sense of community. It was by us all, for us all. Seldom is such a sense of unity created at professional performances where the entertainers generally don’t double as the audience members. This participant-based theme continued into Sunday morning when we all gathered to form an open circle to plan the schedule for the day. Anyone who wished was encouraged to present suggestions, and from the resulting pool of ideas an amazing schedule of presentations and talks was generated.
The inclusivity, energy and intensity of a convergence serve to galvanize a commitment not only to apply permaculture principles to our farms and gardens but also to allow them to infiltrate our entire existence. Experiencing a permaculture convergence is a priceless treasure. We came away with the knowledge and inspiration to recharge and strengthen our resolve to live according to permaculture philosophies. Like mycelium running in the soil, our roots are interconnected and interwoven with threads of values that grow into ideas to guide our daily living. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of these transformational events do not hesitate to grab it and to abandon yourself to an unforgettable experience that will change your life.