The anthropologist in me is always fascinated by alternate ways of seeing and doing. A writing assignment on waste management a few years ago was something of a turning point for me, as it brought home just how destructive our lifestyle of excess and waste is. It kickstarted a desire to tread a little lighter; to learn how to do things a bit differently.Since then, I’ve stumbled upon minimalism, the zero waste movement, urban farming, permaculture – whole new worlds are being opened up. These schools of thought all feed into each other, offering alternatives to our consumer-mad society, and I’m dabbling in them all as I figure out what resonates, what sticks, and what’ll get us closer to living just a bit greener and wilder in our sliver of suburbia.
In her food forest in the heart of the suburbs, Saskia Schelling of Urban Farmstead grows an abundance of fruit and veggies; it’s a thriving model of permaculture. Here she sheds some light on what permaculture is:
What is permaculture?
“For me that’s like asking ‘What is Life?’ The term Permaculture – Permanent Agriculture or Permanent Culture – was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, then later taken on by Geoff Lawton and others.
Permaculture is a highly effective way to design for a future of abundance, not just of food, but in every sense of the word. It’s often defined as ‘the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems and human living environments, which have the diversity, stability, and the strength of natural eco-systems.’
What this means is that permaculture design mimics nature in every sense – the natural laws, the organising principles and the patterns and interconnections that naturally occur in ecosystems.
Permaculture isn’t just about growing great organic veggies – although of course it does encompass these things. Neither is it a ‘plug and paste’ solution (ie one solution fits all environments).
The power of observation
The permaculture principles, one of which is Observation, need to be applied to each and every site. You need to observe the soil ph, the natural biomes, the plants, azimuths, contours, people, land uses, natural vegetation, and insects.
Part of the beauty is that the actual design and solutions appear out of the process. If you follow all the design steps systematically, the design seems to present itself miraculously. The layers and layers of ‘data’ gathered through observation are overlaid and this, together with the visions and wishes of the stakeholders, informs the mainframe design.
For example, after mapping and observation, it’ll become obvious that a soggy, marshy part of a property is not the best place to erect a house – instead, it may be the perfect place to build a dam perhaps, or plant water-loving plants.
Nothing in isolation
Permaculture also takes into account the economic, social and environmental aspects of a habitat. It’s principles can be used to shift stale or stagnant working environments into healthy, vibrant, flowing, productive ones. It serves as a basis from which to make holistic, viable decisions, whether in corporate or private arenas.
The are three permaculture ethics which are key to healthy interactions with the earth and with each other. They are Care for the land; Care for the people; and Share the Surplus.”