Discovering resourcefulness

A Permaculture Journey: Throughout the autumn, life has been all about harvesting

My mum and I have been busy in the orchard collecting apples and I have been turning inwards to harvest what I am learning.

As part of undertaking a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design I’ve been trying to get to as many courses as I can to broaden my skills and I recently had the privilege of attending an advanced design course on Regenerative Agriculture.

RegenAG was led by Australian permaculturalist Darren Doherty, who has decades of experience designing broad scale agricultural landscapes across the world. Despite his carnivorous tendencies, which pushed my edges as a vegan, he was a joy to listen to and learn from.

At the start of the course Darren passionately described how we shouldn’t be talking about sustainability – that is preserving resources as they are for future generations – we should be talking about regeneration. So instead of just sustaining or conserving soils, how can we build them? How can we regenerate landscapes or even communities?

Over the week we looked at the tools for achieving this, covering everything from trees to tractor fittings. Darren also talked about the practicality of permaculture and encouraged us to design for systems to be manageable, simple and elegant.

This was a welcome relief. When I look at my smallholding, sometimes all I see is design potential, a multitude of possible plant combinations and a never-ending to-do list. Now I know that I need to design instead for low maintenance and feasibility, making the least change for the greatest effect.

Darren has also worked as a design consultant for many years, which is something I would love to do in the future, and what I liked about his business advice is that he sees Gaia as his primary client. Each work opportunity is a chance to help regenerate the land as well as pay the bills.

Another core consideration of permaculture is how we use energy – not just electricity but also other aspects of what US permaculture designer Ethan Roland describes as the eight forms of capital. These include our material, financial, social, cultural, living, intellectual, experiential and spiritual resources.

Darren asks his clients, “Where are you bleeding?” That is, in which area are your resources being drained? You can apply this thinking to all areas of your life.

At Brook End, where I live, I made a pact with myself not to design any changes for my family’s smallholding until I had lived on the land and observed it for at least a full turning of the year. I wanted to witness the trees change, see where the fruit hangs, which paths we walk most, and what becomes a chore or a bore. In this way, I can see where our energy is being drained. Are we spending too much on compost when we could make more of our own? Are we walking an overly-long path to let out the rescued chickens? By ignoring those weeds for one day too many are we creating more work for ourselves in the long run?

This is the beauty of design. If you start to pay attention to your life and the land and recognise the changes you can make to save time, money and energy, ultimately you will have more time to enjoy it all and witness the magic of a productive garden filled with wild life.