Permaculture: the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be
sustainable and self-sufficient.
I’d like to start out with a bit about myself for context: I’m young woman just beginning her lifelong path in food production. Most of my training in agriculture has been through WWOOFing and interning on permaculture farms, so in a sense, it’s mostly all I know. When I began to work on more conventional organic farms it was shocking for me to see how hard people were working just to keep things alive, when I’d previously seen beautiful, food producing systems largely maintaining themselves. This juxtaposition is where the importance of permaculture really hit me. Working with whole systems inspired me so much I decided to devote my entire life to them. Treating nature like a machine that could be broken down into separate parts, analyzed, and “fixed”, had the opposite effect. This drastic contrast between farming methods inspired an obsessive quest to answer this nagging question: “why do most people plant this way?”
Traditional organic agriculture does not tend to address the elephant in the garden: what we’re doing isn’t sustainable for us or the planet’s biota, even if we’re growing organically. We cannot allow the Earth to grow the ecosystems she fights for daily with our current models. To paraphrase Mark Shepard, author of the book Restoration Agriculture, we have to clear cut nature in order to cultivate our annual crops. We’re dependent upon a method of farming that has been passed down to us for generations, and while I absolutely recognize the importance in celebrating tradition, being able to recognize when traditions no longer serve our current needs is crucial. We can honor the back-breaking work of our ancestors by discontinuing those patterns for our descendents. Breaking the old methods is where permaculture comes in: a relationship and design philosophy based upon 3 major principles: Care for the Earth, Care for the People, and Sharing the Wealth. A practitioner of permaculture strives for a creative relationship with efficiency, diversity, and adaptability in all aspects of life.
Our planet is a closed loop. We’re not importing fertilizers from other terrestrial bodies (yet, anyway). Our water is recycled, our nutrients too. By realizing that closed loops are not only possible, but necessary, we can slowly break free of our dependence on fossil fuels and the industries that are causing massive chaos to the Earth’s flora and fauna. By using permaculture philosophy and methodologies, the possibilities for sustainability seem endless: we can grow our own fertilizers and manures locally, catch our own water, reorganize our land to be most efficient for our work lives, utilize our weeds and scraps to feed our animals, use gravity to our advantage for water and food, use the by-products of already existing agricultural industries (i.e. hops, shells, husks, wood chips, manure, etc.) as mulches to preserve and grow our topsoil, restore our water tables, and sequester carbon out of the atmosphere. We can work less over time with systems that get better each year. We can live in the garden of Eden, diversify our profits, heal our wounded ecosystems, and eat highly nutritious, gorgeous food to boot! The list could go on and on…
Using the 3 main principles of permaculture we can aspire to have ecological footprints that are carbon negative whilst also taking care of ourselves and one another. Our very existence on this planet can go from highly extractive and consumption based to regenerative and healing. Not just on farms, but in all areas of human habitation. Permaculture is a lifestyle philosophy – not so much a collection of farming methods as many practitioners would have us believe. Herb spirals are groovy – but adaptability and deep rooted understanding of appropriate actions and timing for specific sites is even groovier. Toby Hemenway has famously called this “Pattern Literacy” – being able to observe, understand, and recreate patterns in nature that clearly work for you and the land beneath you.
So why permaculture? Because 1 in every 9 people globally (that’s 795 million people!) don’t have enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle, despite the “green revolution”. Because approximately one-third of the carbon released into the atmosphere is due to poor forestry and agricultural practices. Because, in the United States alone, 50 billion gallons of water go towards agricultural production each day. Our water tables are struggling to keep up with our demand. The permaculture movement strives to help people reconnect with the patterns our ancestors practiced that have allowed us to exist on this planet for 200,000 years. Our climate is shifting and people are fleeing war-torn countries that have been exhausted of their fertility and water. Permaculture offers us refuge from broken systems. We can recreate a more sustainable, efficient world full of life and food if we simply take a step back and reevaluate our current models and replace them with big-picture, self-sustaining systems.
When Eve infamously accepted the apple in the Garden of Eden, it is written that God then commanded Adam and Eve leave the garden – the garden where no work was needed and people could eat freely from the trees. When we broke our connection to nature we were banished to a life of backbreaking work. But we can return to the garden of Eden once we simply choose to make it priority. Here at Fiddle Farms – we’ve done just that. Stay tuned as we continue to transition to a no-till, permaculture based market farm. Much more to come on the specific methods we’re using to return our little plot of land into a modern “Garden of Eden”!