I first heard about Permaculture around 2000. I actually got the idea when I was thinking about planting my first fruit trees, and getting my first chickens – and the loop between the chickens eating the fruit and the poop being fertilizer sprang into my mind. As I went around telling everyone about this, I was pointed to permaculture and Bill Mollison’s “Introduction to Permaculture”. I think I photocopied half the book. I tried some of the ideas, mostly with rather indifferent success, and I didn’t think about it too much.
I finally took the official PDC (permaculture design course) last year, in 2005. This did change my perspective quite a lot.
Since then, I’ve had some seemingly endless discussions about what permaculture actually is. It’s kind of like arguing with myself before I took the course . Some things about permaculture, or at least the culture surrounding permaculture, really bothers a lot of people. And some of the techniques sound great, but it’s unclear how practical they really are if you just want to feed yourself and others. And I can understand all this, since these same thing used to bother me. Now I can ignore the sillier suggestions, and ignore the “culture”, and just apply permaculture and use the skills, in as many ways as I can.
Permaculture is a way of looking at the problems and working on solutions that are nature-derived and inspired (water flows downhilll, bugs eat plants); rather than the rather deterministic, authoritarian way that is embedded in our culture (the water will flow where I want it, or else! Kill all the bugs, no matter what the cost!). There is a simple ethic; and some principles (between 10 and 50, depending on who you listen to) that are useful thinking points (like each element should perform multiple functions, or edges are the most diverse and productive parts). That’s what I use of permaculture. There are also any number of ideas and techniques, and many people seem to associate these techniques with Permaculture and insist these techniques are the by-all and end-all of it. But if that was all, well, they are fine and grand ideas but they must take quite a bit of tuning to get the technique actually working right.
It’s been a year since my course, I was helping with registration for the 2006 course that’s started, which has got me thinking about what differences the course might have actually made, on the ground. Most things are about the same, frankly – the biggest change was involvement in community, we met a number of interesting people who have similar interests, which is wonderful. I started a website for the local permaculture group (the siskiyou permaculture resources group): http://www.sprg.info; and a yahoo mailing list (sprg). I’ve tried a few more techniques, with indifferent success 🙂 Planted a lot of trees and plants in hedgerows. I feel more strongly about eating diverse plants and that weeds may be edible too. More encouraged to leave areas wild, rather than neatening everything up. I examine and care about various individual weeds. Some has been validation and deeper understanding of why some of the things we’re doing already is good. The most useful part has been in thinking about the layout issues – deciding where to put the garden, where to put rainwater cachement tanks, how to handle drainage ditches, is easier with some design criteria.
And I’m more aware of this particular place, of Fairweather Farm, as an entirely unique place, not like any place described in any book, so I should observe carefully and consider what I see and experience as more important than what I read in books or find on the web. Who knows our soil, who knows the wind here, who really understand how dry it gets in summer? Even other parts of Ashland are quite different in soil and water and wind. We all have to observe our own gardens, and learn from them, there is no book or teacher that can replace that.