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Produce No Waste

Category            Permaculture Principles

“Waste not, want not”, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

Today I drove through the aftermath of what has been referred to already as a five-hundred year event.  While this country’s West coast is in the midst of drought conditions, here in the Southeast, this winter has brought unprecedented severe cold weather in areas completely unprepared for freezing snow and ice.  All along route 95 heading North of Savannah the shoulders were littered with tree limbs downed by icy winds.  The first words that occurred to me, of course, were “mulch!” and “hugelkultur”, but I highly doubt that this is what the average motorist in the region might be thinking.  This is, however, the permaculture mindset:  “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”…and then compost the remaining lemon rind, or soak in vinegar for cleaning solution.

North of Savannah on US 95, hundreds of trees downed by '500 year' freezing weather

North of Savannah on US 95, hundreds of trees downed by ‘500 year’ freezing weather

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If there were one quintessential concept I feel is most important for those who wish to embrace permaculture, it is this one:  “produce no waste”.  Seems simple, yet, as we saw in “Use and value renewable resources and services,” these concepts have not exactly been adopted by the masses, yet.  ‘Frugality’ does appear to be something of a dirty word in our culture, where the entire economy is driven by waste and consumerism, and yet I believe this one principle is the fast track to getting the whole of systems theory.  Start small.

For me, it began with water—Florida being in such dire straits with our sensitive and easily depleted aquifer (because, you know, it’s so much more important to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into strip mining for phosphates which we don’t even use here), I personally feel that this is THE issue to address—hopefully before salt water begins to infiltrate.  As I embarked upon my first experiments with graywater and gardening, I wanted to ensure that the impact of growing food onsite would not be to deepen my water footprint, leaving behind a muddier mess.  So, I looked into all kinds of retrofit systems—for toilet flushing, for diverting graywater—and ended up with the simplest solution:  rather than going to the trouble and expense of installing something which may or may not have an impact, why not simply experiment with one simple step at a time?  In this case, it was flushing the toilet with clean, fresh water—I mean, whoever thought that one up was simply insane anyway!  The easiest way to do this, for me, was to stopper the tub while showering, and use a small bucket to transfer the water to the toilet.  Soon, I developed a system around this, saving ice tea bottles which I filled and left at the ready—the remainder I carried out to the garden for hand-watering.  For two years I did this—literally practicing Zen-like “Chop Wood, Carry Water”.  I think two years is a solid time frame to calculate impact, and indeed it was quite the impression.  Even though I had also installed an array of perennial trees and bushes in this same time frame, as well as a few annual food sources—my water consumption and thus the bill dove to a fraction of my former near-average usage.  The real ‘tells’ were my bills after having guests in the house—a stay of less than one week for two family members tripled the bill for the entire two-month period over one holiday!

Just.  One.  Thing.

Pick it—whether it’s water, or plastic, or maybe starting a compost pile or worm bin—choose ONE thing to focus on, and do it—give it at least a month, preferably six weeks, and see what happens.  Play mad scientist and keep a log, formulate a hypothesis, have fun with it—just be certain to look at all of the potential impacts—did removing or adding this one thing cause you undue stress?  Did it lighten the load, did you find yourself overwhelmed?  In the first year or so of my water experiment I did find myself frustrated from time to time, particularly when I’d left a tub full of water and needed to take a shower in a hurry.  Over time, I learned to plan ahead and redistributing the liquid immediately became part of the routine.  There is one essential component, by the way:  routine.  It takes six weeks to form a habit, so just imagine–after practicing so many habits which have negative impacts on our planet—only six weeks to completely turn it around and make a better choice.  Imagine if just two people stopped using fresh water to flush the toilet after reading this post, and they each told two of their friends, who told two of their friends, who told…

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that it does not take a total mind-shift to make a huge impact.  I can be a tad bit obsessive, it’s true, but I choose my obsessions carefully, for greatest impact.  It actually bothers me now to flush a toilet the ‘normal’ way, and I did simplify the process a year or so ago, by purchasing a simple sump pump to run the leftovers outside to the garden—no more ‘chop wood, carry water’…well, I take that back, there is the wood story—but that’s for another post.

So, if you come to visit me one day, you won’t need to ask why the water to the toilet tank is turned off, or what those jugs of water on the floor are for!

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.

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Unplugging: No Longer Going Along for the Ride (or: “My Year of Permaculture Immersion”)

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (Albert Einstein)

This post comes from several events which occurred last year: beginning with a three-month stint of ‘walking the walk’ which meant unplugging from internet, cable, and house phone, through the process of learning and witnessing consensus decision-making in action at the IPCC in Cuba, and ending with layers upon layers of un-composted (raw) material—both literally and figuratively (a common theme in my life, you may have already noticed).

In January, I had been attempting to switch from one mega-company to another for what I then perceived to be essential services: phone, internet, and cable. Granted, I rarely watched t.v. at that point—but I had my favorite channels or shows which I would record on DVR to watch when I had time, but having an internet connection seemed inevitable and quite necessary to the ongoing requirements of a real estate broker. The house phone was a number I had kept from when my mother was still alive (she died in 2001), and which she had for over twenty years—from the time we moved to Florida in 1977. That was, in fact, the hardest aspect to let go of—I remember thinking that someone might call that number, looking for her perhaps—someone who wasn’t trying to sell her something. It never happened—not in the 13 years I had the number in my name.

So, I took the plunge—vowing to remain unplugged for as long as it took to prove to myself how unnecessary these seeming ‘conveniences’ really were. That period of time turned out to be three months. The very first thing I noticed was palpable—when the signal was stopped, there was true silence in my home for the first time since I’d moved there ten years before. It was as if some background noise—a buzz—a sound I’d been so accustomed to I no longer noticed it at all–was suddenly cut off–and only in its absence was the former presence recognized. This was rather unnerving.

The next phenomena which became immediately obvious was in my first chosen public venue for accessing the internet, a necessary evil to remain in business: The Library. Those once-hallowed halls of infinite knowledge, sacred palace of hushed tones and reverential awe…not so quiet anymore. People talk there—a lot, and not in whispers. I had my favorite spots—places where I could plug in my laptop to both power and internet if required, yet the constant and persistent chatter of the other patrons—conversations in normal voice tone, games and even Skype calls on surrounding computers, and parents scolding children—all proved to be more than I could handle on some days. More than once I found myself on my laptop in the parking lot, with a thread WiFi connection from inside the building keeping me connected.

Flash forward to something a young man —wise beyond his years, attending a workshop at the International Permaculture Convergence in Cuba said, regarding ‘yield’ and expectations: “…when I attend a class and do not get what I expected in terms of subject matter—I look to what other yields there may have been…often that yield may be patience.” Oh yes, this is one unexpected yield which permaculture as a culture on the whole produces in great quantity!

Flash back to my first PDC (Permaculture Design Course), which I completed either just prior to or even during my ‘unplugging’—this was my first experience with an immersion course in permaculture, therefore I was unsure whether the level of, or more correctly complete lack of organization, was in fact not an intentional outcome of the design. There is after all, quite a lot of discussion in the community regarding chaos and order and patterns…but, as it turned out, those involved in this particular course were fully cognizant of the lack of structure, and barely held onto what little there was in order to complete the required 72 hours. There were moments of clarity, to be sure, but an overall or underlying structure was completely absent. Here is where my personal interest in the responsibility of the teacher to the student outcomes became a high priority—several of the students already having a fairly high degree of knowledge in the subject matter have since pursued the creation of improved class and curriculum design as a result of the chaos in that class. Which brings us to the subject of integrity—a multi-faceted jewel of a word, to be sure—it is in the persistent, focused search and recognition of this singular concept which cuts to the very core of permaculture.

in·teg·ri·ty

inˈtegritē/

noun

  1. 1.

    the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

    “he is known to be a man of integrity”

    synonyms: honestyprobityrectitudehonor, good character, principle(s),ethics, morals, righteousnessmoralityvirtuedecency, fairness,scrupulousness, sinceritytruthfulness, trustworthiness More
  2. 2.

    the state of being whole and undivided.

    “upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty”

    synonyms: unityunificationcoherencecohesiontogethernesssolidarity
    “the integrity of the federation”

At the very core of Permaculture are its ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share (or return of surplus). The entire system is taught as a structure-based design system, based on nature and organic process, but based on structure it is. One of the most basic qualities of any structure, organic or non- is INTEGRITY. Structural integrity refers to the nature of being whole, while ethical integrity is that of being morally sound, or also ‘whole’. The whole of permaculture design systems is often depicted as a flower—each overlapping petal the various branches of system design throughout culture (it’s not ‘just gardening’, you see). The backdrop, or canvas of the entire system concept is, however, the principles:

  • Observe and interact
  • Catch and store energy
  • Obtain a yield
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  • Use and value renewable resources and services
  • Produce no waste
  • Design from patterns to details
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Use small and slow solutions
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use edges and value the marginal
  • Creatively use and respond to change

We will begin covering each one of these principles in depth once a week for the next 12 weeks, so please be certain to subscribe to this blog if this material interests you!

Back to consensus, and Cuba, and composting—I have yet to write my actual blog post on my Cuba experience, partly because of time factors with the holidays, but also in great part because I know that I still have some composting to do (thus the ‘raw’). It was a big experience, and one that I feel deserves time and reflection before attempting to put it into words. In fact, I do believe that would be a great way to start on the principles, with “observe and interact”. The mass consensus demonstration fits well under “apply self-regulation and accept feedback”, so we will cover it in more detail in that post—for now, let me say that it does work—I have witnessed a consensus model in action, and on a very large scale, and it worked. Was everyone entirely happy with the outcome? Perhaps not, but they accepted it as the best solution—and that is the important factor right there. This is what we strive for in permaculture—the highest yield, the best environment for not only the majority, but for everyone.

And that, my friends, is what permaculture, and regenerative systems design is all about!


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The Lowest Common Denominator

low·est common denominator (lst)

n.

1. See least common denominator.

2.

a. The most basic, least sophisticated level of taste, sensibility, or opinion among a group of people.

b. The group having such taste, sensibility, or opinion: “The press can resist the standard of the lowest common denominator, the rationalization that all news is fit to print that has appeared anywhere else” (Edward M. Kennedy).

least common denominator

n. Abbr. lcd

The least common multiple of the denominators of a set of fractions: The least common denominator of 1/3 and 1/4 is 12. Also called lowest common denominator.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural Dictionary

lowest common denominator definition

 

The smallest number that can be divided evenly into two other numbers ( see common denominator). When fractions with different denominators are added together, their denominators have to be made the same; thus, fractions with denominators of nine and twelve have thirty-six as a lowest common denominator. Seventy-two and 108 are also common denominators for fractions with denominators of nine and twelve, but thirty-six is the lowest.

Note : The term lowest common denominator  is often used to indicate a lowering of quality resulting from a desire to find common ground for many people: “This fall’s TV programming finds the lowest common denominator of taste.”

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

See, this is not what I think of when I use the term “lowest common denominator”—not, at least, the social reference of “least sophisticated”, or “lowering of quality”—what I think of is quite the opposite, in fact. To me, if applied particularly to education, it refers to common ground—to the place where everyone meets in the middle–the place of origin or space where a cultural pattern may begin, like the zero point field, or a sacred numeric pattern such as the Fibonacci Sequence. Once the common ground has been established, the potential for exponential growth is enhanced, also exponentially. This could begin at ‘one’, at ‘zero’, or endless other possibilities, because ‘community’ begins with 1+1.

In nature, this would be termed a “guild”—plant groupings which enhance the survival and abundance of one another. In the plant kingdom, ‘weeds’ have a function—they may shelter the soil from sunlight, creating a space where other plants can gain a foothold, or they may even have more specific functions, such as enabling nutrient availability for other plants. You can tell a great deal about any soil by the types of weeds springing up, as each individual seed sprouts from its own optimum conditions.

Guilds also function in the same way for people, and communities are where guilds begin. The first step in recognizing potential guild members in the human community could very well be by looking to the ‘weeds’—the people who just don’t seem to ‘fit in’, the ones we tend to disparage, shun, ban—the crabgrass of humanity. Many of society’s weeds are homeless, addicted, or mentally ill—others are simply non-conformist.

Many of those drawn to permaculture might be considered ‘weeds’ in society or current en vogue culture—our yards may stick out like sore thumbs amidst the neatly manicured suburbia which surrounds us, or we may not dress or behave the same as our family or the ‘norm’. We choose lifestyles based on a different scale of values than many of our neighbors, often opting to shun popularly accepted practices, whether it be eating animal products, driving a gas-fueled vehicle, shopping at Wal-Mart, or attending a church.

As in nature, we can choose how we deal with ‘weeds’…what the study of natural systems teaches is that everything has a purpose, and that if we become soil-tenders, stewards of the earth rather than ‘weeders’—a lovely rhythm emerges. Instead of spending our lives stooped over, pulling ‘weeds’, we can re-define what it is they really are and what their purpose is—we actually see them, and appreciate what they do, rather than focusing on the ‘eyesore’. This is why the first rule of permaculture is ‘observe’—this is an essential part of the process and cannot be skipped or skimped. Part of observation is acceptance without judgment, which goes against the grain of our culture—the society which taught us that rows are good, and conformity was reinforced more than creativity.

As with anything, if we are to find the lowest common denominator in our community or guild, we must first observe our own selves—what do we see as our ‘part’, where do we fit in, and what happens if we don’t feel accepted, respected, or honored? If we tend our own emotional soil, if we compost feelings and choose to communicate from the heart, relationships with other people become less about unmet needs and more about truth. Sounds pretty high-minded, right? It’s true, though—study the work of Marshall Rosenberg, who pioneered NVC (non-violent communication) and you will find just the tools needed for turning anger, depression, guilt and shame into delightfully rich compost to nurture all of our relationships! It begins at home…and, like most things in permaculture, it begins with slowing down.

The way that we assist in creating land systems which are not only sustainable but regenerative is by slowing the flow of water through the landscape, utilizing and maximizing every single drop—torrent to flow, flow to trickle, trickle to soak. The way that we can remain connected to our own feelings and emotions, thus more able to relate to others, is also by slowing down—composting feelings, rather than throwing them off or protecting ourselves behind walls. Relating and connecting with needs—those which are met or unmet, is also crucial in any inter-connected activity. We are, after all, in a body for only one reason: our bodies are communication devices, so that we are capable of connecting with others on this planet. The choices that we make, the guilds in which we participate, whether seemingly by choice or not, will make all the difference in whether or not we thrive, just as our botanical friends, so choose wisely!

Consider this—observe your activity in groups, and whether or not the ‘lowest common denominator’ of those groups is nothing more than proximity and a single interest, such as, for instance, my sailing club—we are people who are interested in sailing in the immediate region of Tampa Bay, more specifically North Pinellas County. The range of participants in this group can be extremely broad, if we then choose to observe other social factors, such as marital/parental status, profession, or spiritual practices. Thus, some common ground may be found between individuals within the larger group, but not on the whole. Therefore, it is not conducive to the future of the group as a whole to focus attention on activities other than “proximity” and “sailing”. Doing so creates fragmentation and eventually erosion, just as in any guild in nature—planting an apple tree in a banana guild would not lead to fruition or any advantage to the whole.

Another example—a Toastmasters group I participated in for many years, and was even president of at one point—once the group began focusing on one or two members’ areas of outside interest, the club simply disintegrated, its members disenfranchised, and within a very short period of time, when considering the overall length of time the club was active. If the focus of the club had remained on the goal of Toastmasters, which is twofold: public speaking and leadership, the club might have continued.

The internet has allowed us access to something never before in the history of the world—to step outside of the common ground of place, to expand our guilds beyond the scope of proximity into the entire planet. Social media venues such as Facebook can help to at the very least connect with a larger audience, which can then bring us closer to those we are most likely to build real soil with—because that is what we are, as stewards of the Earth: soil builders. Use these tools wisely, as ‘appropriate use of technology’, and your guilds will flourish. Become focused on self-centered or ego-based pursuits, and the guild will wither and die. What we learn as permaculturists is not to be so hasty to ‘pull the weeds’ – instead, we observe, and in the process of slowing down, enhancing the soil with the rich organic matter of non-judgment, we grow healthy, regenerative people systems—what I like to call “true guilds’.

In one of my favorite interviews with Geoff Lawton and his mentor and friend Bill Mollison, Lawton asks: “…how do we know…when what we are doing is the right thing?” Mollison’s answer:

“Because resources will gather around you, many of them people.”

 

©Loretta Buckner 2013

 

 


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TONS OF FUN

“Our painful experiences become compost in which the seeds of wisdom grow.” Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo

– See more at: http://jenniferhadley.com/2013/06/freedom-activation/#sthash.Lw3LnRsI.dpuf

So, (sow?) it’s been weeks since I’ve written a blog post, and much has happened—large flurries of activity seem to blow through my life like the tornadoes they resemble. I have sat down, several times, and started to write about this or that, but simply could not get past the idea to put it to words. Perhaps not enough sun, too little fertilizer (seem to generally have plenty of that, many might say), but these seeds of inspiration just did not bring forth anything of substance.

Until today, that is—today, with the sunny rain outside, the functional AC indoors, when I read the quote above: there it was. That’s right, folks—all that time we’ve spent in the dark, dank mush-room feeding on the rot tossed to us—it’s all going to pay off, in spades. Like “Daisyhead Maisy” we shall sprout lovely blooms of pain to delight and inspire others…if I read this correctly.

(Oh no, you might rightly be thinking—this is not a happy fluffy post after all—she’s going toThe Dark Side.

But not for long, the sun keeps peaking in and out of the clouds and I cannot keep my head in the muck for long when there is Vitamin D to absorb, dirt to dig, water to flow or follow. All of these well-intentioned self-help gurus constantly force me to look at some of the cold, hard facts of intentional creation—namely: “Be careful what you ask for,” and “Be VERY specific”. Which is my somewhat awkward segway into the “tons of fun” title…my task this morning, yesterday afternoon, and two days before: loading and unloading (literally) tons of bricks. This comes on the heels of the ton (again, 2000 lbs—I counted) of potatoes I spent another three days labor on. And what kind of baby, might you ask, will several tons of labor produce?

Good question—we’ll get back to that one later.

I expect this may sprout some potato plants when all is said and done, but most certainly some nasty, stinky compost until I manage to get enough ‘brown’ added to the mix (once I’ve removed all of the bags, that is…). I did also score some nice pallets with this particular delivery, which I needed for rain barrel stands—one of the next projects to be tackled at Mi Casa. Which leads me again to The Dark Side, because at this point it does not appear that I can hold this particular project together any longer, not without much more significant help, like someone living there fulltime. Problem is, no one seems to be willing to share the space, (people are funny that way—wanting ‘privacy’…oh, don’t get me started—I may go there), which is basically what needs to happen, so I am forced to look for ‘traditional’ tenants again, at least for the short term.

There are, however, so many other worthy projects and plans in the works! The spirit of ‘Mi Casa’ may be carried forward with a larger-scale, more farm-oriented property in Bushnell fondly referred to as “The BSF”. This scope of this project is hundreds of acres of land which are slated for small farm business incubation, much of which may be livestock based—apparently that’s what our government feels is most worthy of financial aid and attention. To ‘Big Ag’—if it don’t have hooves or teeth, it better be grown in the large-scale mono-crop methods we now know have led to disastrous results for our environment. See, to conventional minds, “Farmer” means rows and tractors and chemicals…or pigs and cattle and chickens. Which is why those of us who have the “Permaculture” mindset might benefit greatly by partnering with those who grow livestock—if that is where the monetary value is given, that is what would be called “the edge” of the current system. We play in the edge—this is where the greatest growth lies (so sayeth my mentor Geoff Lawton). This place is a lovely place to begin, as we found when we herded our happy long-haired selves up there last week:

Imagine living in a place like this…where time and space blend in the symphony of nature…

~ * ~

Before we get too heavy into philosophy or politics, let’s divert back to the initial tonnage…the bricks.


That’s a lot of bricks…and yes, I counted them—I’m anal that way (and it really helps when you’re planning out designs)—it’s 2,402, to be exact. Pink Floyd would be proud of my walls! Not being so much a wall person in the garden however, these shall become pathways and edges…you’ll see. A big “thank you” to Pepe Slamdunk for the donation—along with some pots and a couple of rain barrels… the garden is beginning to look quite spiffy!

This one looks right at home, don’t you think?

We’re going to be hosting some official tours very soon, once some of the newest acquisitions have been planted and situated, so come visit, why don’t you?