Almost ten years ago I wrote my first article for Positive News, as a teenager on work experience.
In that time, life has been such a learning curve in finding effective ways to work for social change. What I am coming to realise is that in this past decade, it has been the grassroots work going on quietly in the background that is really sowing the seeds for sustainability.
Projects emerging around the world are practically responding to the social and environmental challenges of our time. Many of these projects, be they edible playgrounds or community orchards, are being organised on permaculture principles.
Permaculture is hard to strictly define due to the diversity of its manifestations across the planet. It is the shorthand for both ‘permanent agriculture’ and ‘permanent culture,’ as coined by two Australian ecologists in the 1970s. Informed by studies of nature-based peoples and ecological principles, it is a design system that works with the unique attributes of particular places. Landscapes are consciously designed so that they can meet the needs of human communities in a low-impact way.
For the past two years permaculture has been playing an ever more prominent and positive role in my life. My family and I have recently become the caretakers of a wonderful corner of land in Somerset; 4 acres filled with an old orchard, woodland, a field and stream, raised beds, greenhouses and a polytunnel. Most days I feel like a whistling Snow White surrounded by wildlife.
Everyday I’m given opportunities to put permaculture into practice, part of which is simply letting nature do her own thing and using those processes to our benefit. In recently mulching the neglected beds in our polytunnel, I felt like my role was more like an event organiser – just setting the scene so the bugs could move in and have a massive welcoming party at our place.
By layering down cardboard, comfrey, compost and all manner of other organic matter, all the beneficial micro-organisms were invited for a feast. In return for doing what they do best we will be gifted with healthy soil to grow healthy food. This is the essence of permaculture: beneficial relationships.
Permaculture principles also help us deal with the now, not only design for the future. One of my present favourites is using ‘small and slow solutions’, on the premise that our efforts should be at a manageable, human-scale. So when I stand in the garden of our new home, looking at the dilapidated raised beds and mountains of opportunistic plants (weeds), I take a deep breath and remember ‘small and slow,’ knowing that it will take time to grow and shape into the abundant, productive ecosystem that it has the potential to become.
I am at the beginning of my apprenticeship as a permaculture designer, as part of undertaking a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. I had my first tutorial last week and set out what I would like to achieve over the next two years. This column will chart how successful I am in creating a livelihood, being of service to the land and my community, and will reveal if I really do gain the skills and confidence I desire to practice permaculture on a broader scale.
I will also be writing a dedicated permaculture blog for the new Positive News website (launching later in the spring) and hopefully bringing readers one step closer to the grassroots change happening worldwide. News and events will be featured, as well as living examples of pioneering projects and inspiring people.
If you have suggestions for articles or would like me to cover an event or project you are organising, please email: [email protected]