By Alfred Decker, Permaculture Designer, Teacher, and Consultant
“Take your time. Observe. Cultivate a critical mind. Reflect. Learn.”
- Karel Schelfhout, the founder of BioTabs and co-author of The Organic Grow Book. -
How can the following suggestions help us to turn the vicious cycle of unsustainability into a virtuous one? Let’s break it down with the help of some Permaculture design principles:
Take your time connects with the principle, “Use Small and Slow Solutions.”
Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes. Scientific studies demonstrate that smaller-scale gardens can produce up to four times more than large fields per square metre. A couple of sayings that go along with this principle are, “Slow and steady wins the race,” and “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
Observe connects with the principle, “Observe and Interact.”
By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. One of the great crimes of the 20th century was the imposition of an agricultural system that worked well at first in the temperate climate of North America but became a disaster more quickly for the rest of the world.
The Green Revolution, based on a system of heavy machinery and a package of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and later genetically-engineered seeds, initially boosted crop yield but in the last 50 years has showed it’s true costs: loss of topsoil, contaminated soil and water, damage to wildlife, and a total disruption of traditional farming and culture.
The human costs are huge: over 200,000 indebted farmers in India committed suicide in the first three decades of the Green Revolution, many of them by deliberately drinking the pesticides that they went into debt to buy. Only by observing and interacting with nature can we find a way out of this mess, and agro-ecology and Permaculture design have demonstrated how to do this.
Cultivate a critical mind connects with the principle, “Permaculture is information and imagination-intensive.”
Permaculture promotes both environmental and mental sustainability.
“Information is the most portable and flexible investment we can make in our lives; it represents the knowledge, experience, ideas and experimentation of thousands of people before us”
- Mollison -
The way to be effective using permaculture design is to educate and practice the theory behind it. Quality of produce over quantity is the way that the agricultural process should be viewed.
Reflect and Learn connect with the principle, “Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.”
When we reflect on a system, whether it be social, ecological, or agricultural, there is feedback that we can receive and use in order to improve that system. One goal for the systems we design is a high level of self-regulation: that they require minimal external inputs.
Compare a food forest with a typical field of corn in the Midwest of the U.S. A food forest, also called a forest garden, is a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature.
Food forests are three-dimensional designs, with life-extending in all directions – up, down, and out. Once it is in function, a food forest does not require irrigation, fertilisers, or pest/disease control. By contrast, that field of corn needs a high level of irrigation, massive inputs of fertilisers to grow the crop because the soil is dead, and frequent and intense spraying of pesticides and fungicides to keep critters and disease at bay.
A new emerging practice consistent with the Organic Growing Mindset is called “Regenerative Agriculture.” Featured in the Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground, “RegenAg” can put carbon into the soil while producing healthy, delicious food and providing meaningful work for an increasingly unemployed population.
By regenerating the world’s soils that have been damaged by agriculture we could put enough carbon in the ground to dramatically brake or even reverse Climate Chaos.
We have the information and technological skills to do this, all that is required to do is “change the chip” as we say here in Spain…and change the Industrial Mindset to the Organic Growing Mindset.