Spring emerges after a cold, snowy and wet winter in our part of the northern hemisphere. Even in January, the green of bluebells and snowdrops began to push out through the snow in the woods and in my garden. My heart lifts as the days become longer and I plan the cycle of planting seeds, cleaning and preparing the greenhouse, adding soft fruit to the forest garden, tidying and planting the raised beds... My mind turns to the original and most basic aspects of permaculture; that of providing some of our own home-grown food wherever we live.
As the season changes, I am slowly reading my way through Peter Bane's marvellous treatise, The Permaculture Handbook, which is entirely devoted to 'garden farming'. Peter, friend and fellow permaculture publisher, writes of a home grown self reliance found through taking responsibility for our own household needs as part of a resilient local economy. His book focuses on North America but is replete with detail, years of painstaking research and his own experimentation. The vision in the book is of towns and suburbs being able to provide a significant proportion of food for themselves and the city. I know that this book will be my companion through the next few months. It is reviewed in full in Permaculture 76.
There are many such examples of garden farming in our recent history. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 with its state-run collective farms in chaos, Peter writes, the peri-urban garden farms were a lifeline for ordinary people, preventing mass hunger. I am not suggesting there will be such a dramatic unravelling in every country, simply that the viability of our economic systems, so dependent on endless growth, is unrealistic and that our industrial food system will flounder. Then modest 'garden farms' will be more than a 'hobby'. Already for some, they make a vital financial contribution to the home budget.
One of the criticisms of permaculture is that it is for people with access to land: for gardeners, smallholders and farmers. What about city people? The team here have been listening and in the last few months we have run some popular online features (just put 'urban' into our search engine on www.permaculture.co.uk) and published two new books, Permaculture in Pots – how to grow food in small urban spaces and Compact Living – how to design small interior space. The emphasis with both is that by working with what we have, we can grow a proportion of our food, redesign our spaces, simplify our lives and not get caught in the beguiling yet destructive meme of buying larger properties, increasing our mortgages and must-have material possessions and trapping ourselves in even more personal debt. Instead, we have authors Juliet Kemp and Michael Guerra's examples of investing time and energy in growing food, living simply and, in Michael's case, taking his family on wonderful adventures all over Europe by train. He is a passionate advocate of small homes. He asks, "Should we cover the planet with oversized houses, fill the space in between with roads for cars that poison everything, and then export our unsustainable lifestyles to places where there isn't even clean water..." Check out a great little film he recently made with his family.
Two other films have really caught my eye recently. One is about guerrilla 'grafters' in California. Tim and I have done a little guerrilla pruning in our own village and harvested the subsequent crop of apples, but how about grafting productive fruiting varieties onto ornamental trees? That's what these guerrillas are doing with just a sharp knife and a little tape. I love this idea. Take a look at their work here for more details.
Finally, I found this fantastic, funny and inspiring talk given by Mary Clear from Incredible Edible Todmorden, a town in West Yorkshire whose inhabitants were worried about climate change, food security in Africa and their children's future. They decided to turn their town in to an edible landscape to make their 'community stronger, educate their children in a different way, create jobs and have fun'. They are ordinary people, not rich, famous or influential, just ordinary... They practise the art of 'propaganda gardening' and from their efforts have sprung social enterprises, school gardens, a permaculture training centre, even 'vegetable tourism'!
If you don't own a computer, nip into your local library with this mag, or ask a friend, and have a look. Mary is an irrepressible force of nature and she's a real tonic for a weary-heart. These ideas - just some of so many - demonstrate that ordinary people, not just a middle class or a wealthy elite, can make a real difference. These ideas alone are not world changing, but they are a burgeoning collective response to poverty, environmental degradation, by becoming more self-reliant and building community resilience... They inspire me to get outside in all my spare time, grow food, help out at my local community orchard, and support my local community project, The Sustainability Centre. The most important message we can take to heart is that we can indeed make a kinder world and that this isn't altruism. It will in fact make us all more resilient and happier.
Read Maddy's series What is Permaculture? Episode 1 starts HERE.
Come and meet Maddy and the PM team at The South Downs Green Fair on Sunday May 12th at The Sustainability Centre, Hampshire, UK. Includes Live Music, Local Food, FREE Kids Activities, Bushcraft, Local Ales, Renewable Technologies, Traditional Crafts, Tipis and Yurts.