Permaculture & the Quest for Adventure!

Maddy Harland
Tuesday, 2nd December 2014

Sailing and resource management, guerrilla recycling, permaculture in Swaziland and 'new' science... Maddy Harland reviews the subjects covered in the latest issue of Permaculture.

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry takes me beyond the horizon of day-to-day concerns, practicalities and obligations and into the expanded world of dreaming. Permaculture can be earnestly serious, and it does need to be practical, but it is also about dreaming a new world into existence, a world that our waking minds cannot yet fully imagine.

There is much in Permaculture issue 82 that is the stuff of dreams. Joshua Msika's tale of an Atlantic crossing on an engineless boat opens up our archetypal imagination. Stories of voyages are found in all cultures. They are quests for adventure that sharpen our survival wits and make life more visceral. As readers, we live vicariously through them, and they certainly prompt me to live more fully and ensure I have my own adventures. Joshua also shows there is much to learn at sea about preserving food and minimising resource consumption, lessons that are equally relevant on dry land.

Guerilla recycling

I also like the story of Restart parties. I met Janet Gunther at a makers and fixers day and heard her story about founding Restart, a project that gathers together people who fix technology with people who need those techno-fixes. She has a passion for minimising waste from our crazy, built-in-obsolescence society and loves to help people get inside those sleek, sealed units, including our techno-phones and tablets with fragile screens and components, that are not designed to be opened or mended ... and fix them for free. This guerilla recycling is both a challenge to and a protest against our ever changing, resource depleting consumerism. We need more of this creative, uncompromising spirit.

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Restart party in action.

I am also captivated by a story from Africa: Guba, a permaculture project that is thriving in Swaziland, challenges western myths that depict Africa as being solely the province of children with swollen bellies and flies around their eyes. The project teaches practical skills to local people so that they can build resilient communities - water harvesting, eco-building, literacy, food gardens, seed banks, appropriate technology - but perhaps most important is the engendering of confidence, a pride in what is achieved, and the ability to reject the brainwashing that consumer products and imported foods are best. This is a story that is unfolding as much in north London with Restart as it is in rural Swaziland.

Naturally, there is more: John's marvellous DIY self-wicking raised bed from pallets; a hugelkultur garden in Nova Scotia; some practical advice from the indomitable Wade Muggleton, celebrating apple varieties; an urban permaculture project; a guide to more ecological fabrics; strawcraft; people care in action... All uplifting, human, positive – qualities you expect from this magazine.

My contribution is an interview with Professor Tim O'Riordan who stretched my mind with the ideas behind 'new' science. Tim explains that we now live in a world where scientific evidence can no longer claim to be absolute; it is relative, on evidential shifting sands, requiring a conversation with the public. He also points out that Darwin wrote far more about evolution being driven by co-operation, than by competition. Our ecosystems are interconnected webs of life rather than dog-eat-dog pyramids built by predation.

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Seed harvesting and exchanging at Guba.

Unpicking myths

We have shaped our modern societies on a Darwinian myth that has got us into big trouble – ecologically, economically and socially. Unpicking these myths opens the possibility of a very different world – a world that recognises the beauty and delicacy of the Gaian biosphere and seeks to restore and balance ecosystems rather than destroy them. Let's be brave and give voice to a grassroots call for change, away from the insane destruction of the industrial growth society. Let's explore ways of rebalancing, restoring, redistributing, redressing ... I promise you, we will do all we can to continue telling these stories, both practical and inspirational, in this magazine and online. We firmly believe that we can create another, better world out of the ruins of the 21st century, and though we may not have all the details at our disposal, they are waiting in the future to be discovered.

Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture magazine and Permanent Publications.

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