26 Sep 2009, 11:56pm

notes from my permaculture course, part 1

(i am taking a permaculture design course that meets one weekend a month; it started last weekend.)

toby started class by talking about the “learning pyramid,” which looks like this:

so i am typing up these notes and thoughts in order to sorta teach them, and also ’cause i am really excited about these ideas, and also ’cause my handwritten notes tend to be sorta messy and command-f doesn’t work in my notebook. here we go.

permaculture = ancient ideas reassembled

brief history: australian bill mollison was doing field ecology in tazmania and thought to himself, “what would it take for human ecosystems to have the productivity/lushness/resilience of this ecosystem?”

(if you leave a forest for two months, it looks the same when you go back.
if you leave your garden for two months… disaster!)

sun + rain nourish a forest, sun + rain destroy houses and bare ground. these energies need to power themselves into an ecosystem. they can be destructive or productive forces. permaculture is an attempt to mimic natural systems to make the default condition abundance instead of poverty, emptiness, erosion, discord.

was “permanent agriculture” — now “permanent culture” — gotta change all of it for any of it to be sustainable. what nature teaches us works not only in gardens but in energy, businesses, schools, etc.

everyone is a “designer” when they make small + large choices. you can apply permaculture design principles in all of this designing, on a large scale and on a small scale.

the starting point is always OBSERVATION (the magic word!)
observation of nature, of indigenous people, etc.

a couple decades ago, the whole earth review published a list of questions so readers could test how well they knew their environment. questions like:
–trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.
–how many days until the moon is full?
–what’s the primary soil type in your area?
–how many inches of rain fell last year?
–what were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that was here before europeans?
–name five edible native plants.
–where does your garbage go?
–name five resident birds.
–name five migratory birds.
–what primary geologic events of processes formed the landscape?
–point north.
and so forth. the folks in the class did a very impressive job answering many of these questions!

apparently lots of people wrote into the magazine complaining that the questions were really hard for urbanites to answer, so they published an urban edition:
–what mafia clan is responsible for your garbage pickup?
–what is the hardest part of your city to reach by public transit, and how many times must you transfer to get there?
–what special interest groups influence local politicians?
–what time do your neighbors go to bed?
–point to the nearest espresso machine.

i really liked this second list and the way it validated the urban environment as an environment worthy of observing and understanding. just a reminder that, oh, this stuff (permaculture, observation, etc) isn’t just for back-to-the-landers or whatever.

then we were asked: “what is permaculture?” some answers:

–putting things together that benefit each other
–an intuitive and logical response to the world
–a framework for designing systems with minimal input requirements
–an up-and-coming language for sustainability movements
–(a way of) facilitating systems of interrelationships guided by natural processes and natural systems
–a way to design human systems by mimicking natural systems
–permanent culture: a closed system rather than (one based on) things consumed and then discarded
–a system design methodology that takes into account the whole life cycle of its elements
–fostering abundance
–a way of living that nurtures and provides for all life on earth
–”a system that flows, grows, and learned how to know as it goes”
–(an attempt to) describe underlying natural systems to allow humans to live consciously within them
–not manipulating and controlling, but instead moving within + participating in the flow…

“permaculture is about everything” says toby, so we’re not gonna be masters on any particular aspect of design. we are learning the design methodology and principles. so that every project/decision is not solved/answered by a cookie cutter solution (like, “oh it’s a permaculture garden so it’s gotta have keyhole beds”).

next, we were asked, “what do we need to have/be doing/be changing in order to have a sustainable society?” LOTS of answers to this one. here are some:
–protecting and building topsoil
–fewer people
–learning to work together
–bringing food production back into the city
–decentralized infrastructure
–understanding the relationship between surplus and waste
–telling more + better stories (this makes me think of joseph campbell and go “hmmm…”)
–increasing wilderness
–actually living in community
–ore people skills
–reaching out to people who wouldn’t normally be attracted to the aesthetics of the community (this one got a lot of assenting nods and noises and “mmm”)
–educating children to share these values and connect to nature
–fostering community involvement, including children, people with children, the elderly, etc
–less flakiness
–appreciating connectivity between the self + the planet — interconnection
–do something about decision-making and the political and legal systems
–making sustainable technologies available to the masses (rather than limited to people with money/resources)
–making info available to the masses!
–educating ourselves/learning to differentiate between true sustainability and marketing
–respecting boundaries
–entertaining the thought that not everyone wants to be exactly like you
–practicing non-judgment of self and others
–avoiding the paralysis of analysis
–stopping to contemplate
–selling the concept that sustainability = major quality of life improvement (rather than sacrifice)
–being conscious of referring to sustainability as a “movement,” ’cause not everyone wants to join a movement
–accepting limitations (from the margins of my notes: limits are what create patterns and the beauty in the pattern–accepting and embracing these adds to beauty and makes design easier!) (much more on patterns later)
–more celebrations

toby said that the first time he asked a class to make a list like this, he expected to get a list of technical solutions (i.e., renewable energy etc). but instead, this is a list of ethical considerations.

the ancient greeks allowed for 3 pursuits in life:
pursuit of the beautiful,
pursuit of the true, and
pursuit of the good.

the pursuit of the beautiful is ART.
the pursuit of the true is SCIENCE.
the pursuit of the good is the piece that has been missing from our culture, lately, perhaps. this is PERMACULTURE. permaculture approaches design with an ethical grounding.

the 3 ethics of permaculture:
1) care for the earth
2) care for people
3) share the surplus
(these are generally presented as a venn diagram, with permaculture being their intersection in the middle. the idea is that they reinforce each other. caring for the earth means more abundance for the people. creative people + happy earth = surplus. reinvest that surplus in the system that created it to feed the earth + the people…)

permaculture means moving from a model of scarcity (of resources, etc) to a model of abundance. it’s a “design approach for decision-making to arrive at sustainable solutions.” if x y z (greywater systems, food forestry, whatever) is a tool for sustainability, then permaculture is the toolbox to help you figure out what to use when. again–no cookie cutter solutions–not all techniques will work for all projects.

also, permaculture is not just about growing food and you don’t have to grow food to be a permaculturist–you just have to solve your food needs in an ethical, sustainable way (as sustainable as it gets in this culture). after all, not everyone wants to be a farmer–which means they can give farmers their livelihood! self-sufficiency is not what it’s all about–we are interdependent.

here is another model for understanding permaculture:

(image found through google image search)

this is the “permaculture flower.” the labels on the petals are not set in stone–the examples toby gave are things like “food,” “shelter,” “water,” “health,” “energy,” “livelihood,” “waste,” etc–an inventory of needs. the spiral outward is suggesting that you can solve these needs in small-scale immediate ways and in bigger ways… i.e. for me… my family… my community… the world (or something like that).

another student pointed out that some First Peoples have, instead of a hierarchy of needs, a circle of needs. none is more important than the other. if you have no community, why eat?

we have to let go of the idea of the solution–you can’t stop with the solution. it’s dynamic, in flux and in transition. we have to be humble enough to adapt and find new solutions. constant evaluation (and observation!).

to be continued!

I like the idea of thinking about a need to fill “the good” in modern lives. in fact, I would like to steal it (in the context of a different kind of social good) in an application I’m writing now for financial aid, if that is ok with you.

all of this is “stolen” from my permaculture teacher and classmates, so go right ahead. :)

This is a very informative presentation!
I especially like your equation of permaculture as a way of practicing peace.

I will share this!




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