Permaculture tends to attract passionate, active people who are dead-set on living more responsibly, in tune with the planet. By and large, we are an energetic, self-motivated crowd. Principally, we like the idea of self-reliance but embrace the notion of interactive, ecologically-minded communities. We are not people who sit on the sidelines, waiting for others to solve the world’s problems, but rather we are those putting our stake in the ground and going for it.
With all of that, we are also a bunch that tend to be hard on ourselves and, I dare say, each other regarding what exactly it is we are and aren’t doing in our practices. It’s a shame that in taking such positive steps forward, we sometimes become distracted by our immediate shortcomings and/or failings. We want to be further along that road to self-sufficiency, but the fact of the matter is converting to an idealized version of a permaculture lifestyle can be a lengthy process.
I’ve heard others speak about a new fourth ethic (actually, there are quite a few theories about this) being something along the lines of forgiving ourselves as we transition, and these days I’m finding real comfort in this mindset. While I certainly don’t want to advocate complacency, at times, having a little patience with one’s self (and others, of course) is much more relevant than getting everything right, right at the start. Some leniency can mean the difference between giving up and reaching long-term goals, the really important ones.
The Permaculture Way
In permaculture, we observe first and design accordingly. We implement change slowly with a purposeful hand and an eye towards efficiency, ecology, and permanence. We work this way to minimize large, damaging mistakes. We do it to make our more conscious means of living a pleasure rather than one consumed with sacrifice, both on our parts and the environment. To the point, when designing a permaculture lifestyle, just as with the home and garden, it’s important to remember this mode of thinking.
While all of us would like to grow all the food we eat, to only eat organically, and to have 100% of our energy come from renewable sources, very few of us are anywhere close to this, and even fewer of us start from a place where these goals are near to our current reality. Transitioning from the status quo into clean-running permaculture machines is simple in a lot of ways but also something that requires patience, planning, and well-timed changes.
Small increments are more apt to create large, lasting, and positive transformations. Sure, eating primarily what we can produce at home is a worthy objective, but if we try to do that in the first month, or even the first year, our production system would most likely fail us and lead to starvation (for the really hard-headed) or giving up. Renewable energy sources are great, but perhaps before going there, the more pertinent move would be to lessen our energy uses, learning to limit our reliance on electricity and petroleum to do things that don’t necessarily require them: opening a can, drying clothing, going to the store, etc. It’s a lot easier (and affordable) to start improving ethical eating habits by slowly reducing the negative patterns, taking on one or two at a time rather than suddenly and completely altering what’s for dinner. And, on it goes.
All That’s in the Way
On a personal level, I’ve recently found myself in need of gentle self-assessment. I’ve gone from nearly three years of living largely off-grid, volunteering on farms, and being able to do things closer to nature to living in an apartment in a town, as I do now. While my new job—farmers market coordinator for an organic farm—is certainly in keeping with the lifestyle I’m after, transitioning into an urban existence, one that I agree with, is proving to be slower and, at times, more challenging than I’d previously conceived.
I’d envisioned small edible gardens hugging the sidewalk of my apartment building, ferments bubbling away in the kitchen, and a nursery of seedlings on the go, but nearly a month in, I’ve got no plants in the ground and one failing ginger bug. There are reasons. My budget is limited at the moment. My time to piddle is less. I haven’t been able to find some of the materials I need. And, “real” life has gotten in the way.
After so much work towards a more sustainable existence, taking somewhat necessary steps backwards have been hard to stomach. I’m once again having to find my way into permaculture. However, this time it’s perhaps less exciting, as I have the knowledge (so that adventure of discovery has waned) to do what I want, but I haven’t had the wherewithal—the schedule, the funds, the materials. In this way, I am acutely aware of where I’m not, which can sometimes feel debilitating.
Somehow Finding a Way
But, I’m learning to be an easier on myself as I settle in to my new life. I’m appreciating what is happening as I’d like: nearly all of my produce is now organic—haven’t found local fruits that I know are grown organically—and nearly all of my food is grown locally, with perhaps a few imported grains thrown in the mix. I’m working at an organic farm, learning new techniques and playing a vital role in the local community. I walk to work (no petroleum), a beautiful journey along colonial streets with views of volcanoes. I’m networking with several gardening and green projects.
What’s more is that, as all of the kinks and coils of urban living are sorting themselves out, my imagination is actively thinking about putting in the gardens at my apartment. And, in addition to the ginger bug, I’ll soon be setting up a fermentation station with kombucha, hot sauce, ginger beer, sourdough, and sauerkraut. I actually stopped writing this article to go take clippings from nearby plants—cranberry hibiscus, Chaya, mint, peppermint, basil—and have started them rooting, and I’ve potted several herbs that I took clippings from a few weeks ago. The garden has begun!
I know that I’m currently a long way off from a homestead. I want a composting toilet and a water catchment system, but I don’t even have compost bin at home yet (I take it to work). But, there are plans for worm buckets in the upcoming apartment garden. So, I’m moving in the right direction, and I’m trying to do so in a deliberate way that makes sense for me. In the meantime, I’m learning to forgive myself for all that I see that needs changing and acknowledge that I am observing, planning, and getting there step by step. How else can it ever happen?
Now, I must admit that I was inspired to write this after listening to an amazing podcast with Ethan Hughes.
Feature Photo: New Sprouts of Malabar Spinach (Emma Gallagher)