I was asked to write a small text about how I comprehend permaculture. In that perspective, I will not try to give a definition of what permaculture is. It is commonly understood that permaculture has as many definitions as there are practitioners. Alongside the basic principles which give us the way of understanding what permaculture consists of, I consider that there is one primary concept: the synergy.
In the agricultural field, what makes the difference between permaculture and other ways of farming is the fact that you will be brought to make connections between all the elements of your environment. Because of that, permaculture cannot be just about agriculture. All the facets of your life are concerned. Fundamentally, the philosophy is to create –or more humbly manage- a system in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
In that sense, the zoning aspect in permaculture’s designs is a very powerful medium through which you can understand visually the relationships between all the elements of the system. For that reason, the design is the first step towards permaculture. Of course, it requires a sizeable dose of observation and knowledge but–in my view-it is also an exercise which can help you grasp the relationships between elements, and start thinking of how you can make those parts fit together in a more effective way.
I remember the day I was asked to make a design in Cabiokid. At this time, I did not quite understand the point considering that I did not have any piece of land. When Bert suggested presenting a permaculture human being, I found the exercise really difficult. I guess that was his way to help me figure out another zone in the design: the individual at the very heart of the system. The task was then to question to what extent we are willing to make changes in order to live in a more sustainable way?
This question already provided a partial answer. Indeed, the starting point is to accept that change does not come from above, like a radical break from public policies. More specifically, I think the logic is less aimed towards attacking directly the big structures of society, than revolutionizing our own way of living. A permaculture human being, as a consequence, is someone aware of his environment and of his own capacities to positively impact it.
First of all, I think it is about identifying what we can do on a daily basis. There are a lot of small gestures that can be put into practise easily. Reducing our water and electricity consumption, buying food from a local market, starting to grow vegetables, etc, are just few examples.
Each strategy depends on the person, the rest of the answer is necessarily personal.
As I was still a student living in an urban area, my personal strategy was to ‘reconnect with Nature’ through observation rather than pure analysis.
I spent years in a university studying the global food economy, but there was an urgent need of hands-on practice. With this in mind, after graduation I got involved in different organic farms as a Woofer where I started to learn slowly about farming (planting, harvesting, animal care, plant disease). In the two years since I made this decision, I have been woofing and working in this field, and I have made connections with people going through the same process. For example, I became an active member of the permaculture association, ‘les Permapinpins’.
I cannot say that I am an accomplished permaculture human being or that one even exists, because there is always something to learn and to work on. For now I am trying to improve my practice as much as possible.
Overall, I feel it is important to remember Permaculture’s philosophy: When you work with nature rather than against it, you end up using minimum effort whilst gaining maximum results.
We usually imagine farming as an exhaustive and routine activity. But on the contrary, when you protect and manage biodiversity -polyculture, livestock- while letting place for wild untouched nature, zone 5, you can benefit from the interactions of all the elements on your land.
Furthermore, as an example of such philosophy, let me recount how I got employed in the organic farm ‘La ferme du Pin’ this year. Hubert and Louisette -the owners- fought to keep their centenarian hedgerows and undergrowth when the French government set up the agricultural land consolidation during the 60’s. These hedgerows have multiple functions:
- They provide shelter from the wind and reduce the erosion. In others words, they improve the quality of the soil and protect the fields.
- They provide shelter for small animals. These animals are also ‘working for you’ as they control population outbreak of animal pests in farm fields. For example, the ermine can eat 3 to 8 voles a day during population outbreak.
- You can collect fuelwood and building materials from the hedgerows.
- Furthermore, they host plenty of small wild fruits, mushrooms and phytotherapeutic plants you can pick. Hubert and Louisette have so many of it; they opened their doors to organic peasants who make herbal tea mixes.
- Last but not least, they offer you a beautiful landscape and a place where you can relax and get some fresh air during summer time. I can’t finish without mentioning the gorgeous dead tree of their undergrowth; it looks like the White Tree of Gondor.
Featured image by Cholita Dantes
Photos by Cholita Dantes