Category Permaculture Principles
“You can’t work on an empty stomach.”
Any gardener is keenly aware of the end product they intend to harvest at the end of any season. Only a generation or so ago, it was commonplace for a family to supplement the food on their table quite heavily from their own gardens, particularly during time of war—you may be familiar with the “Victory Gardens” during the World Wars, or may even have parents or grandparents who did this. The yield from a garden is very simple: stretch the food budget, add vitamins and minerals to the diet, eat well. The ‘gazintas’ in this scenario are also pretty easy to see—a good gardener, after all, is a soil-tender, right? We know what the soil is to start with, and we augment with other essential nutrients for the plants to thrive. We give the plants enough water and light, and some sort of protection from predators. All are elements of the formula for ‘gardening’. The formula for larger-scale, or market gardening/farming is much the same—the desired yield in this case is one or more steps up—have enough harvest to sell to the public and obtain a yield in cash or trade. In permaculture, regardless of what system we are designing, our first desired yield must always be to provide for our own essential needs. Thus, if one gardens, one ought to expect a yield equivalent to a substantial portion of our food supply—75% at least, to have a resounding impact, both on household budget as well as the local market. Whether we choose to grow it ourselves or support a local farm or garden, our food supply needs to be the very top priority. The greatest possible impact on both our health and the health of the planet means the highest possible proportion of our food must be unpackaged and unshipped. Even so, in practice, I have observed that many people, having taken one or even more permaculture courses, may make a few minor changes in their lifestyle, but for all intents and purposes, go back to ‘business as usual’—slap a coat of paint on it, cover it with a band-aid. The most common post-PDC* scenario I have witnessed is the ‘fired-up activist’, who goes forth, waving his or her newly-stoked passion for the planet in anyone’s face they see, while stuffing their own with junk food–chemical-laden packaged products purchased at ‘big box’ stores.
They may attend many permie-style gatherings where seeds and plants and growing tips are exchanged, but the essential lifestyle and #1 priority is still a J.O.B. ‘to pay the bills’, and everything else comes second. The ‘second generation’ may still be dependent upon some parental input, financially, therefore have less debt and more personal freedom, but also far less experience actually putting food on the table. So, then, what is the desired yield of a PDC graduate? How can we expect any freshly coined permaculture designer to provide for their own needs, without going back to a J.O.B.?
Simple, really: teach them to fish. Or some other sustainable means of subsistence—whether it be growing food, creating some useful product, or teaching what they know and do best. The best teachers are the doers—those who have and do actually ‘walk the walk’—
Those Who Can, Do—Those Who Can Do More, Teach.
Thus the yield is far greater then 1 + 1 = 2, this is potential exponential growth—this is Fibonacci-style yield: 1+1+2+3+5+8+13+21+34. This is the process of nature, of natural patterns. When we keep things to ourselves, when the harvest is hoarded, ultimately we end up sitting on a huge pile of dung—ok, compost, maybe, but even that becomes useless if not utilized to nourish the soil and grow more plants. Does this mean that everyone must be a teacher? No—but those who do need to be acutely aware of the outcomes of their classes—the harvest from each and every student having basked in their light. This means that those who teach permaculture also need to be taking some responsibility for the skills which the students leave the class with, regardless of the tools they came in holding—by the time they walk out, they should have a fully-stocked toolbox. In our current economic climate, this toolbox must contain true ‘tools of the trade’, which means economic survival skills—a mindset for the self-employed. Those who graduate with a PDC had better be self-motivated and disciplined enough to get up in the morning and ‘feed the children’ or they will be hungry and the cupboards will be bare.
One of my absolute favorite highlights at the IPCC 11 (International Permaculture convergence) in Cuba last fall was one of the sessions, in which a young man (far too young for such wisdom, thought I), stood up and said: “I like to think in terms of yields—when I attend a class and might have otherwise been disappointed by the content, I look instead at what other outcomes there may have been. Often, the yield is patience.” The entire conference and convergence was just this sort of lesson for many, and most of all, a chance to break free of ethnocentricities. Sharing a ‘harvest’ in group sessions is how we become aware of the differences in perception. Everyone perceives things differently—four people may attend the same lecture and come away with four different observations. One of the most powerful tools any culture has is the arts, because of this factor of insight—have you ever shared a popular song interpretation with a group of friends? Try “Hotel California” sometime. Sharing these perceptions with others is also a crucial part of the creative learning process—case in point, recently we began poetry potlucks at the ‘Casa Seranita’ eCo-house, and these evenings have been not only entertaining, but certainly have helped simmer my own creative juices. Being in a group of people willing to bare their souls and expose their vulnerability doesn’t hurt, either—but that is for another post—for now, let us feast on this bountiful harvest! For the whole series of Permaculture Principles: Permaculture Principles: Unplugging
- 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
*PDC: Permaculture Design Course
©Loretta Buckner, We Grow From Here, Inc. (No part of this may be reproduced without express permission of the creator.)