August 27, 2006 07:17 AM - Warren McLaren, Sydney
We do go on a bit about local food around here. But there is nothing more local than your own home grown food. Permaculture is one powerful method for cultivating a sustainable supply of your own food needs, be from your own balcony, backyard or barrio (neighbourhood). We recently ran a story on a permaculture project in a city ‘hood, but you might like a tad more on just what it is: “Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” Now if that sounds a little too New Agey for you, think of it as William McDonough’s Cradle-to-Cradle concept, but applied to food. In nature there is no waste, the end life of one entity provides the the beginning for another. Think of it as Biomimicry for food. Watch and learn how nature makes food, and design a system to replicate that. But Permaculture is much older than either of those two esteemed concepts. It was developed in the 1970's by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren on the southern Australian island state of Tasmania. They created a technique of farming that duplicates natural relationships and patterns. They discovered that the most productive land is at the edge of two ecosystems, such as riverbanks, coasts, where forests meet grasslands, etc.
Their design sets out to create different agricultural ‘zones’, so that many productive edges are formed. But permaculture in imitating the complexity of natural systems, right down to how night air moves, defies simple explanation. So one way to get a sense of its effectiveness is to watch a little online movie, in which permaculture designer, Geoff Lawton, converts 10 acres of Jordanian desert into a lush productive garden. See how in just four months he was able to train local farmers to cultivate fruiting figs, pomegranates and guavas from what was once considered a salt riddled wasteland. If that inspires you, check the ::Permaculture Research Institute for design courses around the world. Another list of current courses in North America and elsewhere can also be found at Permaculture.net.