“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
~ Francis of Assisi, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi
“Permaculture gives people a place to be a part of the solution” ~ Rosemary Morrow (one of the oldest and wisest Permaculture grandmothers, works with refugee camps, war-torn communities and people in developing countries)
“But, how do you ‘do’ Permaculture living in the city?” that was my colleague and good friend John’s question…and the question that reflects my own everyday struggle and the one that started this blog in the first place: if you don’t have access to land, if you have lived a somewhat “mainstream” life, if you have a family, a mortgage and a full time job and are stuck in the city or the suburbs, how do you “do” Permaculture?
With all the pressure, hopes and frustration already put into the upcoming COP21 Paris where a real EDAP (Energy Descent Action Plan) may be started (or may not) and calls from all places to do our own to support this important cause (beyond reducing emissions), this conversation should be part of every true Permaculturist, social justice and environmental activist and anybody who truly cares about life in this planet…
With almost 80% of people stuck in cities, that’s our future, at least for a long while…there is not enough arable land in this planet for each one of us to move away from the grid and grow our own food, and many of us consider we have a responsibility towards all those who live around us…so community needs to be part of the solution, not going away from it all!
Let’s first take a look at some good definitions of what Permaculture is:
“Permaculture is the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing appropriate technology and community development. It offers a practical, creative approach to the problems of diminishing resources and threatened life support systems now facing the world. Permaculture integrates people into Nature’s design. A permaculture design provides us with shelter, food, water, income, community and aesthetic and spiritual fulfillment within a balanced and healthy biological community.” Simon Henderson, Cortez IS, BC
“Permaculture is Applied Science and Ecology; Ethical design of human systems for a sustainable future. It offers practical solutions to the global environmental and cultural crises we now face. ~ Dan Hemenway
“Permaculture is a world-wide movement of designers, teachers, & grassroots activists working to restore damaged ecosystems & human communities. Permaculture derives practical techniques & principles from the study of natural systems & applies them to earth repair & care”. ~ Anon
We could continue forever because there are as many Permaculture definitions as permaculturists. What’s more important is to understand some basic concepts that, if not present, then it is not Permaculture:
This last one is an important one, because a Permaculture project is never a one-size-fits-all formula: Permaculture is based in deep observation; and if we have to drive far, leave our jobs and families or communities and/or bring costly materials from outside, then we are not applying Permaculture!
It is super easy to “do” Permaculture when we are young, healthy, single and have access to land. Better if we have a supportive partner or friends and some funds to start investing in tools, land and to go by while we are building our cob house, sowing our seeds and raising our chickens.
The trick is how to transition to a more ethical, healthier, sustainable, resilient and responsible life as individuals, households and communities when we are middle-age or elderly, not-so-healthy, have a not so aware or supportive family, carry debts and mortgages and have no choice to access land, tools or even supportive neighbours and by-laws that may allow for food gardens, chickens and rain water harvesting…
The reality is that it is challenging, sometimes painful…and there are many times where we say to ourselves: “I give up, this is not working!”…
These are the times when I look at my messy balcony and deck and even messier small backyard…when I realize I haven’t been to my community garden for four weeks, or I have much more garbage to take to the curbside than I was planning, or I need to buy at Walmart…
And then I realize the fourth “Permaculture ethic”: Transition…
Transition (not to be confused with the other Permaculture-child, the Transition Movement) means “using what we have around” and that includes accepting us as we are and with what we’ve got, wherever we are in life…if we wait (or wish) for the time where the mortgage is paid off, the children grow up or we have enough money to buy land, then we will probably become frustrated and old.
Where to start:
Finally, remember that we can choose either to be part of the problem, or part of the solution. Not all of us would be able to (or should be able to) go back to the land and get off the grid, so if we chose (or have no other option) to stay here, we better make good choices from how we want to live the rest of our lives…
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ~ Dr. Seuss, The Lorax