(Perma)Culture and Sanity

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Permaculture and Connections

Small World

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

John Muir

Fundamentally, Permaculture is about making connections.

At its most basic level, Permaculture is about reviving old connections with Earth, family, community and Nature (these are all one, as becoming connected ultimately tells us).

It is about creating new connections that encompass technologies sanely used, that encompass communities which extend to the far reaches of a planet made smaller and smaller by communication, travel and commerce.

We're Sorry, You Have Been Disconnected...

We in the 'developed world' have lost the connections between ourselves and the food we eat, the clothing we wear...between ourselves and our immediate neighbors, even the members of our own families.

We have lost the extended family, we have lost the larger, local community structures which used to support us after we had grown beyond our individual families...we have lost the connections between ourselves and Nature and the other plant and animal beings who share this World with us.

This we know: the Earth does not belong to mankind... mankind belongs to the Earth.

This we know: All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.

All things are connected.

Chief Seattle

Most tragically, we have lost—or hidden under distractions—so many of the connections between the parts of ourselves that make us alive, vital and present...between our intellectual and emotional understandings, between our practical and spiritual or inner lives, between what we believe and what we have been told.

Boxed Set

We ride in boxes from the boxes we live in to the boxes we work in, then back to the boxes we call home where we give our attention away to the box that brings us the 'vast wasteland' of television, whence we absorb the newest versions of the mental boxes that we are expected to live within.

We have killed so much of what is special about ourselves because what is special about ourselves does not survive in boxes.

Suzuki Roshi's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Beginner's Mind

Permaculture, on the other hand, tells us that we do not know enough about the world to try and put it into boxes.

It tells us that Nature itself cannot live or prosper in a box, and that to survive we must step out of the mental and emotional boxes we've imposed on ourselves and begin to interact with the world around us with 'beginner's Mind' as if we do not already know everything there is to know.

Permaculture insists we stop trying to impose our flawed version of 'order' upon Nature, that we look with a beginner's eyes and see the connections that already exist before attempting to force our wants into place. We then seek humbly and peacefully to integrate our needs into existing natural connections and yields—feeding, clothing and housing ourselves without harming the myriad cyclical connections already operating in their own right in a place.

Problems Live in Our Heads—Not Outside

In creating a permaculture design we first try and see whatever 'excesses' or 'problems' we find as unused yields. Then we harvest the unused yield (e.g., take the manure from the stables to the fields)—or find some other species to do it for us.

For instance, though we may not eat grasshoppers, we can still see them as a free, bountiful yield of chicken feed instead of simply as an 'infestation.' We can emulate the West Texas farmer who, finding his farm 'infested' with grubs, let go of farming and instead raises chickens and eggs—feeding his large free-range flock with grubs daily dug up with his tractor and disk attachment for the cost of a cup or two of diesel.

"First, Do No Harm"

Later in the permaculture design process, after we have recognized and learned to respect the boundaries of pre-existing natural processes, we allow ourselves to consider adding new elements and processes useful specifically to humans.

Any new elements we add—whether cows or pastures, orchards or individual trees, buildings, chickens, roads, etc.—must contribute to, or at least not interfere with, any processes already in place.

Cleaner Water, More Fish!

Mixes of Fish Work Better Than Monocultures

By Adding Fish Species We Both Diversify and Increase Yields.

This injunction against interfering with existing processes effectively prohibits using biotoxins, destroying large areas of wilderness, etc. We can, however, add complementary elements profitably and without violence toward the environment.

For instance, if we add catfish to existing populations of trout and bluegills, the catfish clean the water and make more oxygen available. This is because catfish consume fallen carcasses, feces, leaves, etc. that would otherwise build up, consuming excessive oxygen during decomposition and creating harmful waste by-products.

This natural behavior of catfish means more trout and bluegills can be grown under better conditions, resulting in higher fish production and a healthier pond—even before the added catfish yield is included.

Permaculture Favors Biology Over Technology

If we were stuck in the idea of imposing 'order' (our version of it) instead of cooperation, we might have added expensive, energy-consuming bio-filters to clean the pond. However, instead of the added yield (catfish) with little or no extra work, we'd have an expensive, artificial 'solution' requiring mechanical upkeep, human supervision and expensive, ever more-costly energy inputs.

Instead of introducing equipment, energy and maintenance costs with bio-filters, catfish take advantage of an already-desirable animal's natural behaviors to add a new, productive biological element to our pond that works for us.

The catfish add to the already existing processes in a synergistic, health-promoting manner, doing the work of the bio-filters but with little or no expense or work—except for the work of harvesting the extra, free fish!

Let Chickens Eat Your Bugs

Chickens Best Control For Primary Apple Tree Pest.

Chicken, Pigs and Fruits 'For Free'

As another example, fruit trees can be planted in pastures without hurting grazing, since at or below 20% canopy coverage by the trees, grass production is maintained or even increased (again giving an additional yield 'for free'). Chickens can also be added, again without interfering significantly with existing pasture, and actually raising fruit quality and yield by manuring and controlling pests.

Further, pigs can (and used to) be let into fruit tree-containing pastures during late summer to clean up fallen and damaged fruits left on the ground. J. Russell Smith's seminal book Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture states that one mature oak or mulberry tree will add 100 pounds to the weight of a juvenile pig eating its annual fruit drop. In fact in the early 1900's a single mature oak tree added the equivalent of an acre of extra land to the cost of a piece of grazing land.

Use Your Mind to Emulate Nature—Not 'Outsmart' Her

By seeing—and using—wastes, 'pollution' (accumulations of unused wastes) and unused niches as potential resources for some other element, systems evolve that mimic natural ecosystems. Health and hygiene increase because wastes (manure and urine, leaf and fruit fall, etc.) do not accumulate, and yields increase because each added element adds its own wastes, behaviors, products and by-products which then become resources in themselves.

Ideally, by scheduling and relative placement (e.g. pigs in pastures during fruitfall instead of in pens, chickens in orchards instead of chicken yards, etc.), elements relying on other elements' wastes have ready access and can even do the work of gathering the wastes, saving the farmer work and giving her more time for designing and leisure activities.

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Reprinted from (Perma) Culture and Sanity Website