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Use Small and Slow Solutions

Category            Permaculture Principles

‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall’ …‘Slow and steady wins the race’

David and Goliath, the Tortoise and the Hare…our fables, myths, and legends are loaded with this one, simple lesson, which is really all about focus.  If ‘the problem is the solution’, often the perspective needs to be shifted from the external to the internal, or at the very least—to ourselves.

This one is purely simple—to make a difference, take responsibility.  Start with yourself.  Start small.

    • You want to start a garden, don’t know where to begin, and have no space?  Sprout some seeds.  Learn about the process of growing through sprouting some buckwheat, alfalfa, or mung beans—it’s quite easy, and there are dozens of websites, blogs, Youtube videos, books, and other sources to get you started.  Sprouting requires very little room, few resources, and very little capital.  You will see immediate health benefits in addition to learning something about plants.  Start sprouting.
      • Once you’ve mastered sprouting, maybe you still want to get into some dirt.  Start composting—a worm bin does not require a lot of space, although outdoor storage is advisable, in my humble opinion.  With one design element, you have suddenly integrated several important concepts—you are removing food scraps from the wastestream, and creating some terrific soil amendments for your garden—whether that garden is in containers or in the ground.  Once you’ve managed to keep some worms alive for a while, you will have also learned quite a bit about how some natural cycles work, and how important balance is to all cycles—remember the ‘wheel of life’.  Life is like a bicycle wheel…when it’s on the bike, you can actually get somewhere.
    • Don’t have the time to garden?  First of all, think twice on that one, as Mollison says:  “…everything gardens”.  Wherever it is we are choosing to focus our energy is where we are gardening, however not all gardens come with dirt or green things.  Take a moment to examine your life—where is your garden?  Is it your family?  Your job?  Your social life?  What is the output of this system—what are you harvesting?  Is it beneficial to you…to others…to the planet?  We reap what we sow…be aware of what you plant.
      • Not everyone has the desire or inclination to grow their own food, and it is not necessary to do so, although it is a good idea to know exactly where your food comes from, what’s really in it, and what it took to get it to your fork.  If you don’t know, find out—ask questions, read labels—seek local sources for the bulk of what you buy—that is far more important than growing your own food.  The impact of where we spend our dollars has far more resounding effect on our environment than any other single thing—this is how we vote.  All you have to do is take a good look at what is in your garbage—your ‘wastestream’, to know who and what you are voting for.
    • Perhaps you would like to garden, but don’t have any space, in which case there are several options available—first being the fact that it doesn’t have to take a lot of space.  Take a look at what these guys have done:  Urban Permaculture.  You can grow enough vegetables and herbs for a small family on a balcony, in containers.  Of course, the space must have adequate sunlight, so not everyone has the right living space to grow food at home.
      • So, join a local community garden—they are springing up all over, as are lists to help you find them.  Ask your local extension service—they are great sources of information on local events and spaces.  Still can’t find one?  Start one—(that’s what I did), or create an exchange service, where those who have space but don’t have the inclination to garden will exchange the space for a portion of the produce.  LocallyGrown.net is a great resource for finding some of these places as well.

These are just a few ideas to get you started, the point is to start—something.  One thing at a time—just one, with commitment.
forkIn my past I was always known as the child whose ‘eyes are bigger than her stomach,’ (although, I must say I went to took great pains to dis-prove that, literally), the one who ‘bites off more than she can chew’.  What I discovered, however, is that it really is possible, if you are patient and especially if you do not listen to the voices who judge and criticize—it is very attainable to accomplish huge things, when you take it one step at a time.  Elephant in the room?  Take small bites, chew carefully, remain focused on the outcome, rather than the task(s) at hand—if you don’t know how to get there, keep taking small steps until you do——the road will become clearer the further you travel.

Perhaps the biggest change will come

When we don’t have to change much at all.

When maniacs holler “grow, grow, grow”

We can choose to be small.

The key word may be “little,”

We only have to change a little bit.

Eat a little food, drink a little drink,

And only have to shit a little shit.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, and only have to shit a little shit.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, and only have to shit a little shit.

Early in the morning I first see the sun

I say a little prayer for the world.

I hope all the children live a long, long time,

Yes, every little boy and little girl.

I hope they learn to laugh at the way

Some wicked old words do seem to change,

‘Cause that’s what life’s all about:

To arrange an

d rearrange and rearrange.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange.

Words and Music by Pete Seeger (1997)

Read the Series:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

© 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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Design from Patterns to Details

Category            Permaculture Principles

“Can’t see the forest for the trees” (Essence of Permaculture, David Holmgren)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

(‘Jabberwocky’, Lewis Carroll)

Poetry utilizes some of the intrinsic patterns of humanity—we have used meter and rhyme long before written communication, because of the repetition of pattern as a mnemonic device.  Nursery rhymes were created, not only as amusements for children, but they also contain historical data as well as common-sense remedies of the day, such as the “vinegar and brown paper” headache remedy in “Jack and Jill”.  Oral traditions were used, most famously, by the early Polynesian sailors, who passed down navigation devices in songs, which were likely sung enroute from one island to another in the middle of vast oceans of water devoid of land reference.  Even the nonsensical Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is understandable, because of its regular meter and rhyme, thus transcending language—a feat any parent is likely to relate to, as we sing silliness to our infants, dogs and cats.

moonphases Patterns are everywhere in our world, readily apparent in natural systems, such as the phases of the moon, tides, seasons, and weather patterns.   The Fibonacci sequence, known in nature as “the Golden Spiral” or ratio, is present in all patterns of growth, from florets to pinecones to conch shells, as well as proportions of the human body.  Anyone who wishes to design in alignment with natural systems must, then, not only recognize and understand patterns, but also learn to apply them in both concept and practice.  Once the outline is in place, only then do we move into connecting the dots and filling in the details—to plan a garden by first choosing the elements contained within it would only be undertaken by an amateur—a true designer would begin only after a thorough site analysis.

shamrockspiral

Exponential growth is also something innate in natural systems—Gaia’s credo is “go big or go home”, which is illustrated by the unfolding of a rose, the widening arc of the spiral, the waxing of the moon.  This is not the kind of growth exemplified by our capitalistic society—an overpowering and ultimately unwieldy growth better termed as ‘cancer’.   No, the ideal natural system design would include instead not only increasing yields, but also an automatic replacement of the designer for true regenerative quality.  In nature, the pattern swells and then dies, to repeat again—over and over, each component eventually becoming a part of a future incarnation.

Nature also designs for optimization—phyllotaxis is a study of the order of leaves on a stem, the pattern being one which allows the greatest exposure to the sun and nutrients.  Similarly, the branching patterns of many plants also exhibit this type of order.

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Rather than launching into yet another ode to ‘sacred geometry’, let’s take the opportunity to apply principle #1:  Observe and Interact.  In nature, as in mathematics, growth follows certain patterns as often because of another simple factor:  growth with constraints—as Donald E. Simonek points out:  “This reveals the simple secret of spirals in nature. They often result from growth with constraints. As the nautilus grows, the open end of its shell increases in diameter, at a nearly constant rate. It is constrained to curve around the existing shell. The result is a spiral curve, something close to a logarithmic spiral, which is a Fibonacci spiral.”  In nature, there are no straight lines, no measurable, accurate, finite absolutes (well, perhaps temperature, but we’ll see about that)—everything in natural design is curved, like the planet we live on.  Grids were invented by the Romans to assist in controlling those they conquered—it being much easier to sight down a row of evenly-spaced straight streets–curved landscapes hide many activities from line of sight.  However, as we have already noted, regularity and patterns are intrinsic to our nature as humans, we are comforted by the existence of structure, whether it be visible or not.

Here’s where things get juicy in the permaculture world, because when we start talking about “growth with constraints”, well, try Googling that.  What comes up?  Article after article about economy and finance.  There’s another pattern for you—unrestrained growth leads to collapse, which is what we are witnessing right now.  The natural outcome of collapse is chaos—a scary, unrelenting absence of all which seemed to make sense in our formerly well-ordered world.  Even so, we know that order does come from chaos, it just may not do so in the time frame we prefer.

Another random-sort of thought which came to me, being a wordsmith, is the very subtle difference between “constraint” and “restraint”—to wit:

ConvsReIt would appear that the essential difference between the two words has to do with the existence of a ‘thing’ or a ‘force’, as in a device in the case of restraint, as opposed to a rule or law or force, as in constraint.   To me, being visual, I see a constraint as in natural forces—the growth of a shell in a spiral shape, for instance, or the way a river flows—never straight, but always on an “S” shaped curving pattern.  ‘Restraint’, on the other hand, I think of as a safety belt, or being held back by other people from falling or fighting.

These might be seemingly unimportant details, but when we talk about systems design, it is vital to get both the ‘big picture’—the pattern—as well as the details, right.  This is where communication, and thus the correct word or description or definition, comes in like a Tsunami—get it wrong: devastation and chaos.  Get it right, however, and you’ve not only designed a system pleasing to the client, yourself and the community, but you’ve also prepared for those pesky 100-500 year events—like the ones we are now witnessing with alarming frequency.  This does not mean we have to get it ‘right’ the first time—as we move from pattern to details, this is where the magic happens–this is where creativity and willingness to fail is an asset.  This is also where it is most beneficial to work in collaboration, in community—one the pattern is established, the more diversity invited into the mix, the better.

In people systems, as well as in nature—this is where things tend to get messy.  This is where the ‘weeds’ crop up everywhere, and we must take a step back and re-define what we think of as ‘weeds’.  This is where I find myself with my eCo-housing project “Casa Seranita”, in fact—seemingly overnight, it appears to have become a frat house, but that is only when perceiving from the ‘old paradigm’ perspective.  Yes, it is a mess, and things must be tidied, both for the benefit of the residents as well as staying below the code enforcement radar—but in that chaos lies some really interesting pioneer growth.  Or, so I hope, anyway!  This could very well become the perfect Segway to Principle #8:  “Integrate rather than Segregate”.

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Who is “We”?

maypop01-24-13(*) Who is “We”?
There is something truly daunting about the blank page, as well as something else purely inviting, as if it begs to be filled with scribbles or these regimental symbols we call “words”.
It is 4:14AM. Sleep has been erratic, at best, since “The Great Shift” in December last. I am in the Vata stage of life now as well, which means my energy is shifting from primarily fire to air and water.
I thought a few words of introduction would be appropriate, because, while “We” is indicative of multiple people, and in fact I have been that in this life, the writer of this blog is one person: Me.
Some facts which have brought me to this point, and particularly, to this “permaculture” thing:
• My father’s family have been farmers in this country for over two hundred years. I know this, because until this past century, pretty much everyone did, in fact, grow at least some of their own food—it was necessary for survival. I’ve always been a little confused when, in Permie circles someone poses the question: “Can we grow enough food to sustain us?” (Meaning, of course, in our own backyards.) Of course we can—how do you think our ancestors brought us to here? But, back to the family—the Buckners were in fact a prolific bunch, who bred their children by the dozens to work in the fields…at least, that’s how my father tells it. (They did breed in nines, but I’ll tell that story another time.)
• In 1978, also known as “The Last Great Recession”, this same father, a bit ahead of the curve some might say, was living on what was then the family farm: 160+ acres in Siler City, NC. Along with organic farming—something unheard of in that region at that time–he was also attempting to sell solar heating products (water tanks), and synthetic fuel. Are we noticing any patterns here? Let me help: recession: recession; fuel shortage: fuel shortage; alternative energy and chemical free food growing: we’ll get to that in just a moment.
This is the part where I go into more detail regarding my involvement: my sister and I each went to NC to help—we were teenagers, fairly typical–full of romantic ideas and not terribly in touch with the realities of what goes into putting food on the table, even though we may have known a little more than the average American even then. She–my sister that is–was far more responsible than I: she took on the role of learning to cook and can and such things. I attempted to grow controlled substances and got a job at the local convenience store. (Rebellion has always been my forte.) I did learn about the market economy, however—I will never forget my father telling me that a cantaloupe was priced according to how many other cantaloupes were also for sale that day, and that this was known as “supply and demand”, regardless whether they were pale and tasteless.
• Leap forward thirty years (we’ll skip the garden which actually did quite well when my daughter was pre-school—I had tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers, herbs—many of which I’m sure grew out of simple ignorance of the fact that they weren’t supposed to grow well in this climate).
As most people are aware, the real estate market began to tip and tank in 2006, shortly after I shifted from accounting and finance, becoming a real estate broker (emphasis on the first syllable). It seemed like a safe bet at the time—in 1998 I had noted that the homes in Orange County, CA, were virtually identical to those in Pinellas County, Florida, the regions also quite similar, and yet the prices of these tiny suburban block homes were three times the price in the OC. When I returned to Florida in 2000, I began investing in real estate, and watched my wee rental portfolio climb in value for the next six years.
I don’t think I have to tell you how the rest of this story goes—suffice to say that depression was a big part of my reality by 2010. Everything I had worked for, from nothing, for ten years, was worth just that. With the knowledge that my property was not even really “my” property, now that the bank truly owned more of it than I did, the only thing I could do was make the best use of it that I could think of:
I planted a garden.
I might not make enough money to pay the mortgage, but I can eat what I grow on the land. Thus, “We Grow From Here” came out of the process of removing my own head from my… I mean the sand.
(*) A note about post date/time: Several weeks ago, after having spent two months attempting to switch from Bright House to Verizon, I chose to unplug instead, just to see exactly how important having a house phone, internet and TV really are. In short: I don’t miss them, and now I am writing (more!) blog posts offline, and posting once or twice a week, from the library or some charming, locally owned coffee shop, such as I am today, at Eco-Bean in Tarpon Springs!