We Grow From Here's Blog

A Community Garden Project

Use Edges and Value the Marginal


Category            Permaculture Principles

‘Don’t think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path’

This was just too good not to share, from “Essence of Permaculture”, Holmgren:

Eastern spiritual traditions and martial arts regard peripheral vision as a critical sense that connects us to the world quite differently to focused vision.  Whatever is the object of our attention, we need to remember that it is at the edge of anything – system or medium, that the most interesting events take place; design that sees edge as an opportunity rather than a problem is more likely to be successful and adaptable. In the process, we discard the negative connotations associated with the word “marginal” in order to see the value in elements that only peripherally contribute to a function or system.in rural development work, the focus on staple crops, prime agricultural land and clearly articulated aims and values within communities frequently leads to undervaluing, ignorance and destruction of wild species, marginal spaces, along with the less visible needs of women, the disadvantaged and the landless.”

Oh, those edges…I’ve looked at edges from both sides now…and whether the margins be brambled forest or concrete jungle, this is indeed where the juicy stuff happens.  The mere mention of ‘weeds’ is enough to cause many a stalwart, upright human to bend and resemble our knuckle-dragging cousins.  Is this genetic?  I suppose I’ve been a hippie too long, because I see nothing wrong with a few green things ‘out of place’, and in fact I prefer wild overgrowth to manicured lawn.  And yes, the dirt beneath my broken fingernails is somewhat permanent–that is a fact.  The lack thereof might be more of an indication that something is out of whack.

In Early American Literature we learned that the woods represented ‘the dark side’—the wild and untamed was no-man’s land to the first European settlers in the ‘New World’.  Little did they know that the indigenous people already inhabiting the land had management systems in place, which were quickly encroached upon by the order-seeking Old Worlders.  To those who crave order, natural systems are messy and undesirable, and the ones who thrive in those untidy systems would likely be categorized as ‘marginal’, (just as ‘those dirty hippies’ and ‘Anarchists’ are labeled now).   Our society revels in drawing lines between the ‘middle’ and the edge—exemplified in the massive variety of television programming highlighting the fringe, from cop show, ‘real’ or fictional, to reality programming focusing on everything from hoarders to gun-toting survivalists.

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.



Who is on the fringe in your world?  Is it Auntie Mabel, of crazy cat lady fame?  Or is it the homeless guy holding the “will work for food” sign on the corner?  In the Florida Bay area we have an entire county of those marginal, fringy types—once a retirement destination, now land of the lost, haven for illicit drug trade—the highway lined with strip malls and strippers—a nutrient-rich soup, for some things.  Many of those who subscribe to permaculture principles would consider themselves as marginal, on a conventional scale, however even those on the fringe have a fringe—the possibilities for edge are everywhere.  And, as any proper queen (edge players, every one) can tell you—you just can’t have too much fringe or froth.  Therein lies one excellent example of ‘edge’ in our world—that of the gender unconventional.  The entire country if not continent has willingly divided on lines of conservative and not-so, based on a book of rules written for a culture thousands of years past.  This is not how species adapt, mind you, but it has proven very effective for filling the coffers of the few, because the way to wealth lies in creating conflict and supplying the war.

Any battleground, however, also grows lots of edges—think of all of the marginal people created by PTSD and war wounds—families torn apart scatter and create new alliances elsewhere.   Those who grew up, as I and my sister did, military brats, moved from place to place without any opportunity to put down solid roots—nothing but edge in our childhood.  This leads to a strong core, adaptability, and also extreme estrangement of any sense of community, outside of family and perhaps others in the same boat.  We’re all marginal, and we have an uncanny ability to find one another in the world—brats like me, and we’re all ‘outsiders’ to some degree.

Like Hester Prynne, heroine of The Scarlet Letter, me might heed the advice of the narrator:

”The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude!  These had been her teachers — stern and wild ones — and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”

To truly understand and appreciate the marginal, we must walk, and think, and exist for a time, outside the boundaries of what we were raised to be…to believe—that is how to embrace diversity, and value the marginal.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Read the Series:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change


© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Loretta Buckner and WeGrowFromHere.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


2 thoughts on “Use Edges and Value the Marginal

  1. This is a very moving meditation on “the marginal–” I’ve actually read it several times. Thank you.

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