A Permaculture Code to Live By in an Uncertain World

Maddy Harland
Saturday, 19th April 2014

Maddy visits Charles Dowding's new garden and is inspired by the year round abundance. She also shares David Holmgren's code to live by that will insulate you from economic crisis.

At the beginning of spring I look out over the garden and see our no dig veggie beds, weed free and mulched with home-made compost, the fruit trees pruned, and new trees planted to add to the forest garden. The snowdrops have pushed through the frost and the birdsong has intensified telling me the birds are nest building. As I watch the natural world regenerate in this wonderful seasonal cycle, I feel inspiration and hope rising within me like sap.

Recently, my eldest daughter and I walked in the woods and visited a special beech tree that is over 300 hundred years old. Its branches were pollarded long ago, possibly to mark a field boundary, and now its huge limbs reach up beyond the canopy into the sky. We have been visiting this tree for 27 years, longer than both our daughters' lives. Someone carved a heart on the trunk years ago and we named it The Heart Tree, but that too is disappearing under new bark. My daughter told me that whenever she walks in the woods she visits the tree. I like to think of this continuity, of the values Tim and I may have engendered in our children. However far they travel in the world, they still come home to this special tree. We must celebrate its calm presence whilst it is still standing. Many ancient giants have fallen due to an unusually wet and stormy winter brought to us across the Atlantic by an oscillating jet stream.

The weather has made me think a lot about my garden and the food we grow. It is hard to predict the last frosts, the hail in spring that destroys fruit tree blossom, or a wet summer as in 2012 that rotted crops in the ground. In response, I have started to grow as much as I can under glass and we are developing microclimates in the forest garden whilst still leaving enough space for as much light as possible. Food forests are wonderful but we have to be careful so far from the Equator not to weaken our trees and shrubs by cramming too many together in naive optimism.

We don't only grow perennials - much though I love the diversity we can achieve, the fabulous blossom, the resilience of established edible perennials and the experience of foraging in our own wilderness - we like annuals too. Hence our visit to Charles Dowding's organic no dig market garden (see Maddy's article in PM79). There is no better learning than to observe a truly experienced gardener (or farmer). They know what works through years of observation, trial and error. Charles inspired me and encouraged us to plant more annual varieties as well as perennials, experiment with at least two new crops every year, and be prepared to be challenged by the weather.

In a rapidly changing world, resilience occupies my mind ... David Holmgren, the co-founder of permaculture, has been raising unpalatable questions in his recent paper 'Crash on Demand – Welcome to the Brow Tech Future' (2013). It is an update on his book, Future Scenarios (2009) and his paper 'Oil vs Money – Battle for Control of the World' (2009). It has sparked an online debate that has engaged many commentators in the permaculture, transition and environmental activism movements. Is David a 'Collapsnik' actively encouraging a crash to avert an even greater global disaster, namely runaway climate change? Or is he simply commentating on what that crash may look like if it occurs, and how positive environmental movements (like permaculture and transition) can engage others in constructive resilience building strategies?

David MacLeod wrote (on www.resilience.org) a useful appraisal of the debate and a summary of David's underlying philosophy. This first appeared in Permaculture One (1978), was concluded in his essay 'Energy and Permaculture' (1998), and appears again in this recent paper. So where do we start? Here is David's code to live by:

* Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (in that order).
Grow a garden and eat what it produces.
Avoid imported resources where possible.
Use labour and skill in preference to materials and technology.
Design, build and purchase for durability and repairability.
Use resources for their greatest potential use (e.g. electricity for tools and lighting, food scraps for animal feed).
Use renewable resources wherever possible even if local environ-mental costs appear higher (e.g. wood rather than electricity for fuel and timber rather than steel for construction).
Use non-renewable and embodied energies primarily to establish sustainable systems (e.g. passive solar housing, food gardens, water storage, forests).
When using high technology (e.g. computers) avoid using state of the art equipment.
Avoid debt and long-distance commuting.
Reduce taxation by earning less.
Develop a home-based lifestyle, be domestically responsible.

I do not anticipate with pleasure the chaos and suffering an economic crash will bring to ordinary people's lives. I doubt David does either. What I appreciate is David's thoughtful capacity to project into the future and offer a code to live by for a positive and unifying response.

Further Resources

Video: Creating a Productive No Dig Garden in Under a Year with Charles Dowding

Responding to Crisis: regenerative agriculture and other solutions

Read The Song of the Earth edited by Maddy Harland & Will Keepin

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hearthstone |
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 17:56
In my opinion, all the well meant suggestions about what to do in the face of the coming crises (and in pursuing Permaculture, or any other sustainable life style) will have only a negligible, unnoticeable effect--most people in the world cannot afford to even think about sustainability. Following these suggestions would not save many either--there would be too many armed hungry people around. No better world can ever arise, unless it is collectively known what such a "better world" should look, be like. Although most people in the world cannot at present start living a Permaculture life-style, all people can start thinking about what the ideal, sane world should/could look like. When most people in the world would have a vision of an ideal, sustainable world on mind, this would greatly help to live through any crises the world is facing. More at www.ModelEarth.Org . Thanks, Hearthstone.
Iain Bagnall |
Sun, 28/09/2014 - 19:00
A few months late, this reply, I know, but still... Interesting link Hearthstone, with some salient ideas, but it seems very theoretical, suggesting that we need to collectively come up with a new model for living. That is precisely what Permaculture is, and there are millions of people across the world who are already working to create that better world. But your suggestion seems to be that instead of actually preparing for the coming changes, we think about how we might want to prepare? A lot of what you cover appears to overlap with ideas already well-established within Permaculture. I advise you to study Permaculture more deeply - you will find that it goes way beyond this short article, encompasses an incredibly broad range of worldviews and cultural learnings, and facilititates real change through its ethics and principles.