in my personal unschooling adventure, as in, my own studies on what is most salient to me right now, i have been absolutely smitten with permaculture. i’m immersed in the literature currently, have joined a permie internet forum, and have been networking with people locally who have used the p word within earshot of me. completely geeking out. and although i haven’t even finished the basic textbooks and still feel kind of fuzzy on just exactly how to define permaculture, i’m ready to start to formulate what i think it is, and put the pieces together into a working definition for myself. since this concept/discipline/thing has been so hard for me to wrap my mind around, in spite of my delving head first into it, i’m guessing there are a lot of people who have no clue what the p word is all about, which is one reason i’m sharing it here.
here are the basics: permaculture is care for the earth, care for people, sharing of the surplus, and an emphasis on cooperation and optimism.
it’s interdisciplinary, it is aimed at designing sustainable human habitats. i think it started out as “permanent agriculture”, but quickly expanded to “permanent culture” due to the realization that sustainable human environments are about much more than food production. some of the things permaculture design focuses on are: sustainable food production (organic/local/perennial food forest guilds using no-till cultivation methods vs monoculture machine-intensive row crop agrobusiness using subsidized fossil fuels to distribute, um, the “product”); energy efficient building/living- capturing and storing renewable sources of energy, reducing energy consumption via smart design as well as mindfulness of what our needs really are; recycling, reusing, gleaning, making use of the waste outputs as inputs for other elements in the design; wastewater treatment, greywater recycling, dealing with humanure (blackwater) sustainably; taking care of the land- the earth is our home and our mother and we are in the role of stewards; and the people part of the system- we need social justice and a decent economy as part of the design, too.
(psst. it’s not just us. i just had to educate my spell check that permaculture, greywater, and humanure are all legitimate words…)
each of these elements has needs, and each of them performs its role, providing its gifts to the rest of the system. looking at these outputs as resources helps close the loops that are currently leaking like crazy. one chicken’s poop is another vegetable’s treasure, in other words. vegetable scraps make chickens happy, by their turn, and the cycle becomes a cycle again, instead of linear and unsustainable (buy fertilizer from “somewhere else” to grow veggies; throw veggie scraps in the garbage and send them “away”). designing the system to balance out the inputs and outputs both reduces the waste going out of the system, and increases the abundance of the good, tasty outputs.
why have closed loops? here’s where the schooner comes in. the first time i ever heard the words “greywater” and “blackwater”, i was 19 years old on a semester at sea. it was the first time it really entered my awareness, just exactly what it means to have finite resources in a closed system. (for a piece of knowledge so essential for survival, i would propose that people ought to be aware of it at a much earlier age!) when you drive your schooner out into the deep blue sea, you only have what you’ve brought with you (that’s what it means to have a closed system- nothing coming into or going out of it). you can only pack what the ship can hold. our 500 gallons of freshwater, several hundred gallons of diesel fuel, storage tanks (whatever their finite capacity was) for grey and blackwater, storage space for garbage and “recycling”, food that we could carry and that wouldn’t spoil before we could eat it- that all had to last us (all 34 of us) for the duration of whatever leg of the voyage we were on. (when the voyage ended and we were on or close to land, we ceased being a closed system again, could pump out our wastes, and refuel with new inputs, if they were within reach). it really hit home on one leg when we thought we were going to be able to fill up our nearly empty freshwater tanks at our last stop in the bahamas, only to find out we were headed out for a 6 day trip back to the mainland u.s. with faintly brackish (3 ppm salt) water. in which case, whatever tang we had on hand (and that didn’t even mask the saltiness) was all we had on hand to attempt to make it palatable!
as big as the earth may seem, we can think of her as a schooner. a big one, with lots and lots of capacity, but a closed system nonetheless, and without the option of coming into port. once we run out of our finite resources, there is not going to be a way for us to swing by the moon or mars and pick up some more, nor can we feasibly send our garbage “away”. what to do? i am starting at home, treating my home as a place where all the needs, inputs and outputs are going to have to be handled from within that closed system, and i am working on creating a space where that is the reality. outward from there to the neighborhood and community level. apparently what i’ve been attempting to do is permaculture design! it’s nice to have some terminology.
it’s a discipline with amazing amounts of uncharted territory. it’s a super big picture mind bender, and perfect for an unschooler. it covers just about everything that matters for me. it feels like a new home sweet home for my brain, where even my wacky law of attraction approach to life is part of the program. earth, people, abundance, interconnectedness, sustainability…
does any of this ring true for you? are you hip to the p?