Permaculture: A Quiet Revolution

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Permaculture: A Quiet Revolution

On the eighth International Permaculture Convergence over 200 permaculture design course graduates and their mentors have gathered in Brazil.

Together, they unite 43 countries in the common goal of preparing for and mitigating our looming global crisis. Their strategy's clear: Create sustainability now through self-reliance.

The eighth International Permaculture Convergence, a journey called IPC8, spans across rural and urban Brazil, focusing on four education centers, thriving permaculture communities designed for the creation of clean energy.

Part of the permaculture design system is a practice called zoning, the correct placement of things to afford minimal energy input and maximum output. Permaculture is design. It's not just organic. It's design, and if the design element isn't there, it may be green, it may be organic, may be environmentally sound, but it isn't permaculture.

Beginning where the most input is required, the home is zone zero. If you have all the materials, in eight days, you can lift the house up. You can also attach a greenhouse to it if you need to cool the house down and use that moisture, or you could attach a glass house to heat it up.

If in permaculture we can provide really good models of all the systems that we've developed, and build good houses that are energy-efficient, that use renewable energies, that have really good sanitation systems, biological systems that are part of the overall design, we can really cut back on a lot of resource use. If we provide that to business as a way that they can continue to make money, but that they can look at it in a different way, we've gone a long way to turn around what is a problem into something that's beneficial.

Around the home lies zone one, an area set aside for the growth of vegetables, herbs, and medicinal plants. But, absolutely nothing would grow for a long time until we can manage to convince the ants to occupy other areas of the place. This is what all is about, to get good soil areas that ants will not bother, and then you can grow small amounts of food in small spaces and then build from that. If you try large scale, almost always the ants will win, and you're going to feel like they're working against you.

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22 Comments / User Reviews

  1. brianrose87

    I took a Permaculture Certification Course with Scott Pittman at the Lama Foundation in 2011. Although it helped solidify my knowledge I must stress it is not necessary. It is much more useful and less carbon intensive to join a local permaculture of master gardening group on your area. The local group will have tremendous knowledge on what plant species work in your local region, which is indispensable knowledge.

    I wanted to see if it was truly possible to grow 100% of your own food, with minimal external inputs. Basically, I asked myself, is it truly possible to create a self sustaining food forest ecosystem on a standard quarter acre residential plot?

    In order to accomplish this I moved from MN to FL after obtaining my B.S. in Biology from the University of MN in 2010. I lived frugally, saving enough to put a down payment on a house in late 2011; I was rather fortunate that in that exact month the housing market bottomed and I locked in a great interest rate.

    Its been less than 2 years, and I've turned my quarter acre, urban grass lot into a food forest containing mango, pomegranate, moringa, white sapote, feijoa, papaya, grapefruit, fig, passionfruit, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, ice cream java banana, kumquat, loquat, orange, grumichama, carissa, podocarpa, jaboticaba, muscadine grape, cattley guava, avocado (type A and B), pineapple, and jujube. I also have created a tiered vegetable garden with standard heirloom plants.

    To save money I purchased my fruit trees at a young age, so most won't produce for another 1-2 years. I also get 25% of my caloric intake from my yard, which was just a grass lot 1 1/2 years ago.

    I don't want to pretend that this is simple and easy. It cost ~$1500 using the most frugal methods (young plants, free cardboard and free city mulch, etc.).It is front loaded with tremendous amounts of time and physical labor. I've spent hundreds of hours in planning (which is essential, don't rush into it; measure twice cut once) and implementation, but every month the work load has steadily decreased. 3 years from now the fruit trees will have deep taproots and provide enough shade to be mostly self-sustaining.

    I am not there yet, but its clear that it is possible to produce 100% of your own food, on a standard quarter acre lot, using ecological principles and pragmatic planning. Gardening is constant, never ending labor, growing a self-sustaining food forest is front-loaded with work, but allows for significant hammock time once established.

  2. Luyang Han

    I went through the lengthy discussion about designs and sustainability, but really, the problem is not only techniques how we can build things efficient and sustainable, it is more about politics in general. A true sustainable society must, by physical laws, have 0 population increase and 0 economical increase averaged in long term. It is up to the people to decide whether to implement a social structure with 0 increase, or subject themselves to nature's scourge to force the society into 0 increase.

  3. brianrose87

    Our current system requires economic growth, this is true. No matter our contribution at an individual level economic growth with render our effort moot.

    Its important, however, to focus on what you CAN effect. Our current system of requiring growth is something that even the president couldn't change. The opposite of economic growth is recession, and good luck getting re-elected if you propose going into permanent recession (otherwise known as a depression).

    Focusing on futility will have significant negative mental implications. There's a fine line between accepting the reality of a situation, and allowing that reality to burden your every thought.

  4. DigiWongaDude

    You deserve a big pat on the back. Have you considered how you could achieve the same in less time with a bigger budget and more hands to help? If so, you have the makings of a school. You've done the hard work, made the investment and gained the wisdom. Perhaps you should not underestimate the value and potential of what you have achieved! Great post.

  5. DigiWongaDude

    My area of 'experiment' has to been to rely less on getting energy from the grid. I too am fortunate to have a location, and frugal means and I have access to a small private forest.

    I had to learn how to use a chainsaw and wield and maintain an axe, and I only use fallen trees. In this way I have cleaned up the area greatly and allowed for new growth to spring up. This has encouraged birds, squirrels, pheasants and deer at the top of the chain to flourish before my eyes.

    By using wood to fuel heating only (not cooking), one family will use approximately 4-5, medium sized, fully grown trees per year. Quite a lot! But what a luxury to have unlimited fuel. These days, who doesn't cringe at turning up the heating using grid energy? The work itself got easier and easier, once I got a system in to place (and a proper sharp axe!). I had to build storage areas and make access paths for transportation which was nothing more than a wheelbarrow! I got fit, built up some muscles and had a lot of pride standing back and saying 'man make fire!'

    With all our fancy technology and fast paced life, it's been inspiring to learn that the 'simple' practice and process of heating water is still so central to our well being - we make fire, we heat water, we make electricity (from heated water) far have we been able to come from those three steps?

    I'm not suggesting this is sustainable, nor for all. Not at all. It's been a personal experiment to utilise available resources to improve the environment and understand the real value/cost of energy.

  6. brianrose87

    I have many decades ahead of me to do just that, and its a superb idea. I'm trying not to rush through the process from learning to teaching too quickly.

    At times my mind compels me to do more NOW, as the world certainly needs it. I use that urge to reflect on how the mind is never satisfied, nothing is enough in the mind's world view.

    I know someday I will look back, and wish I could re-live this phase; my first major project, and more importantly, the one that proved it isn't just a fanciful dream. This is not only possible, but relatively easy.

    Honestly, looking out my back porch and seeing the constant growth and evolution is calming and peaceful. Like its taking on its own life without my input. Just a year ago they were all twigs, now I have shrubs, and in a few short years a canopy of trees.

    I hope to create some kind of institute of free knowledge at some juncture using my house for workshops and such. For now, I haven't given it much thought as I see it as a mere distraction. Once the time comes I will focus my energy on that, but for now I don't want a mind divided between the present and the future.

  7. DigiWongaDude

    I completely get that and agree. Enjoy the fruits of your labour.

  8. oQ

    Lawns should be what rugs are to a living room, a portion of the floor. The rest of the grounds that surrounds a house should be a garden of food.

  9. Jerry Brooks

    Interesting and reasonable conclusions

  10. zack morris

    they livin like the omish/menonite

  11. Chad Butler

    0 increase means less beautiful children to watch grow up and help humanity become farmers again!
    love, co create and then get our hands back in the soil!

  12. Jack1952

    A great post. It would seem, however, the move to Florida was essential to your permaculture project. How doable is this in the climate of southern Ontario and would one need more land to accomplish those same goals? Not being able to grow crops in the winter would be a limiting factor in the effectiveness of such an endeavour.

    I believe I've said it before on TDF. If people spent as much time and money growing fruits and vegetables in their back yard as they do growing grass, flowers and decorative trees, it would be amazing how healthy the average diet would improve. Although, you have presented a massive effort, you have shown that even a minimal effort can have a beneficial effect.

  13. brianrose87

    You need something that will last the winter without spoiling. Walnuts and butternuts grow well in Ontario, yield prodigious amounts, and should last 6 months in a pantry, 1 yr in the fridge or cellar.

    For summer eats you can plant most any stone fruit (peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, cherry) and, of course, apples. What I did was created a chart that showed what months different cultivars produce fruit. Then, I whittled down which cultivars to plant based on what overlapped the least, giving 12 months of harvest as a result.

    Plant dwarf perennial ryegrass as a ground cover for easy maintenance.

    It won't be nearly as easy, but its possible. I always tell my more Northerly friends that not being able to grow 100% of your food is no reason to grow 0% of your food.

  14. Jack1952

    What you describe sounds like the farm I grew up on in the fifties. We bought the farm, 92 acres in 1952. Around the property there were over a dozen apple trees of various types, pears, plums, currants, raspberries, butternuts. rhubarb, asparagus and stinging nettles...things that grew with little of no care at all. I met a woman who had grown up on that farm during the depression and she told me that these were important food sources at the time. The stinging nettles surprised me. We thought of them as a nuisance but she told me that they would eat it like spinach in the spring. I remember that they seem to grow on all the farms in the neighbourhood around the out buildings. It never occured to me until then that it was planted on purpose. This all grew in about a two acre area around the farmhouse. Farming started change from a way of life to a business in the sixties and speciality became the norm. Now all the farms where I grew up are dormant, underused or becoming housing developements. Rather sad.

  15. Jack1952

    The biggest thing holding us back is the will to do it. If I walk up and down the streets of my small town, I see very little in the way of even the beginnings of sustainability. Why do the work when those products are so readily available in the local supermarket? We hear about the world wide food shortage but for us in the industrialized world and the way we see it, it just isn't true. I know people who would rather drive to the local coffee shop for takeout coffee to take home and drink, than brew their own at home. It is our lifestyle and most of us like it, even though we complain all the time. Time and time again, I've seen people cut down fruit trees because of the mess they leave on the lawn. It's a way of thinking completely foreign to most of us.

  16. systems1000

    0 increase also means millions of less throw away children as well.We can,t seem to have our cake and eat it to. For automation will not be going away anytime soon,perhaps untill it finally implodes.

  17. Chad Butler

    I think a piece of what I wrote got edited out! Sorry it was about Cuba during the late 90's and there power of community film, fantastic story , So the farmer thing came right out of that one!
    As for the Children well I guess with love, everything grows and we'll want that to continue, regardless of sad facts, numbers, theories, systems and economics.. it generally all works out in the end anyway, even long after we are gone, the children can keep carrying our positive message forward, like we can now by watching great permaculture films, feeling inspired and doing more gardening!

  18. systems1000

    Your probably right.Optimism Can move mountains.

  19. kbeslic

    modest and intelligent ppl ... like the doc very much

  20. Tobias MacRobie

    Overpopulation is the source of the "human problems" in sustainable living. Plain and simple. What is a food shortage, but too many people needing food? What is a water shortage, other than too many people needing water? What is a beautiful child, if the provisions for that child are "sustenance" only, and what happens when at minimal rations, we still want to have more "beloved" children? Will I cal my starving children someone else's problem? Are "other" people eating more than their share, or did I just simply place an extra burden on a system of resources by introducing a child with a lifetime of resource needs?

    It's overpopulation. Sustainability is relative only to that.

  21. cyberfrank

    interesting and encouraging doc!

  22. Craig_Hubley

    Viewing the single family home as the basis of permaculture transformation has some problems, but... certainly without that we don't learn what we need to manage other types of habitats. We waste so much heat and water and nutrient from "conventional" heating, sewer and other systems that it's idiotic to claim there's any water or energy shortage.

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