Applying permaculture beyond the garden

Permaculture columnist Nicole Vopser explains how she has been using the principles of nature to act more effectively in caring for the Earth

For anyone who read my last column, they would have seen the picture of my medicine garden being slowly developed and ready for planting with herbs. Now, only a few months on, the beds are filled with flowers, leaves and roots all carrying healing properties ready for harvest when needed.

For me, this is what makes permaculture different to other forms of social and environmental work – one of the main principles is to obtain a yield, that is to ensure you’re getting truly useful rewards for what you’re doing. Seeing the results of your efforts through design and implementation really keeps the heart beating in a world of what feels like many uphill battles when working for social and environmental justice.

I’ve been trying to work with my ‘radical edges’ recently and explore how permaculture can be applied to resistance work, such as campaign design.

Campaigns have often been described as “unfinished revolutions” and sometimes organising around one specific issue is necessary. In Somerset’s case, what has surfaced is hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. This is a controversial method of extracting natural gas, which has all sorts of recorded environmental and public health effects.

With one of the main ethics of permaculture being ‘earth care’, the importance of taking action to prevent harm to human and nonhuman communities cannot be underestimated.

In working with groups and individuals across Somerset we have started the Frack Free Somerset coalition, and I’ve realised once again on my learning journey that permaculture design can be applied to all areas of life.

Through the process of design – of observing, surveying, analysing and most importantly applying the principles of nature to our work – we can increase our effectiveness, multiply our yields and develop resilience in anything we apply ourselves to. In the case of our campaign this has meant looking at our spectrum of allies, sharing energy and resources by working as a county-wide coalition, and looking carefully at the power sectors at play.

For any growers out there, this column would not be complete without mention of the weather we’ve had this summer. For me this has been a testament to permaculture, with the privilege of a bit more space and the ability to plant perennials such as trees and nettles, as well as the creation of wildlife areas, our garden has been pretty resilient. Some crops craving the warmth haven’t done as well this season, however the slug-fest littering national garden magazines is something we’ve been without.

Through working with the garden as an ecosystem, it is not a case of too many slugs, just a case of too few birds, toads and other slug eating critters. With healthy, fertile soil, lots of diversity and other design interventions, we can buffer the weather as best we can. Perhaps as monocultures fail, people will soon be turning to permaculture on a big scale to find more resilient ways of feeding ourselves.

Read it and don’t weep.

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