by Kareen Erbe
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Appropriate technology and permaculture design go hand in hand. Remember that permaculture is a design approach that meets our food, energy, shelter and other needs. Through appropriate technology, we are engineering ways in which to meet those needs in the simplest, most locally based ways possible.
The ecological crises that we are facing today is very much related to the fact that our economy, our agriculture, and our technologies are out of scale with what the planet can support. When entities are out of scale, natural patterns in the landscape are disrupted. In fact, it is our advances in technology that have led to a lot of that destruction. For example, combine harvesters have allowed us to cultivate large monocultures that have led to soil erosion and topsoil depletion.
Advances in cell phones and computers, coupled with consumerism and a global economy, have not only mined the earth of natural resources, but have created tons of electronic waste that fill our landfills.
Understanding and using appropriate technology is about bringing things back into scale and applying the permaculture principle of using small and slow solutions.
As mentioned in the video, appropriate technology is technology that is suited to the social and economic conditions of a particular region in which it is to be applied, is ecologically sound, and promotes self-reliance on the part of those using it. It is:
Often labor-intensive but energy efficient.
Reducing our consumption first.
Before you think of applying appropriate technologies, think first about reducing your consumption. Though it’s heartening to see advances in alternative energy, such as solar and wind, it seems like many of these advances are designed to meet society’s current needs, without addressing our overconsumption.
For example, people choose to put solar panels on their roofs to power their TVs, dryers, multiple appliances, and possibly even multiple cars.
While it may be a step in the right direction, alternative energy technology often prevents us from taking a good look at our consumption. What’s more, these technologies contain a lot of embodied energy. From the extraction of the base materials to the manufacturing and the shipping, the energy involved in producing a product like a solar panel or a wind turbine is substantial.
Chances are that if you live in a developed nation, you are likely consuming at a level that is not sustainable for the rest of the planet. The challenge is not to find an energy source that will support that lifestyle, the solution first lies in our willingness to reduce our consumption.
Then, we can look at appropriate technologies to meet our reduced needs.
The most obvious way to reduce consumption is through growing your own food. Reducing our transportation miles from farm to table immediately reduces our impact.
Household strategies for reducing consumption.Simple strategies in your home can go a long way. For example, though we have a permaculture homestead, we do live in a conventional home. However, before putting solar panels on our roof, which is perfectly aspected for that technology and in a climate where it makes sense, I am going to look at ways to reduce our energy use first.
This is what we have done so far:
In the coming years, our plan is to attach a greenhouse to the front of the house. This will not only provide passive solar heating, which is key in our cold climate, but serves the additional function of growing more food and extending our short growing season. Only after we’ve added a greenhouse, will I then consider solar panels. However, I’ll evaluate our energy bills at that point, balancing the expense of the panels and their embodied energy versus the energy produced.
Again, using small and slow solutions that take minimal resources is your primary goal. Below is a checklist for easily reducing your household consumption in a conventional home.
Checklist for easily reducing household energy consumption in a conventional home.
Appropriate Technology For Cooking and Food Storage
Heating your home, cooking and food storage are some of the most consumptive ways in which we use energy. According to the aforementioned report, lighting and other appliances (e.g. toasters, ovens, blenders) comprise 30% of energy consumption in a home, and refrigeration accounts for 5%. In my video, I cover one simple and easy appropriate technology for cooking and food storage that you can start using within minutes, and touch briefly on several other technologies to consider.
Here is a link to the photo album on Facebook that I reference in the video. This will take you through the step-by-step process of building a cob oven.
Here’s some activities you could do to use what you’ve learned:
Make a blanket box for your household and cook something with it. If you need a reminder on how to make a blanket box, go back to the Appropriate Technology For Cooking and Food Storage video in this module. Make a note of how long it took your meal to cook and how much energy you saved.
Invite your friends over to share a blanket box meal and get them to commit to doing the same! During the dinner, share ways in which you will be using appropriate technology and reducing consumption around your home. Ask them to commit to one action.
This material is excerpted from the Appropriate Technology module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Kareen Erbe.
Kareen Erbe is the owner of Broken Ground, a permaculture business in Bozeman, Montana, USA, that teaches people how to grow their own food and become more self-reliant. She has taught hundreds of students through her workshops, both live and online, and offers consultations and permaculture design services. She and her family live on a ¾ acre suburban homestead with large kitchen gardens, a food forest of fruit trees and berry bushes, a greenhouse, a pond, beehives as well as chickens and ducks. Kareen is a regular contributor to Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine and can be reached through her website brokengroundpermaculture.com. She also has an online course platform at brokenground.teachable.com.
Further reading on this topic
Bubel, Nancy and Mike. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 1991.
Kerr, Barbara. The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers. Self-published. 1991. - A 79 page book with plans/diagrams for solar cookers. Here is a link to the text of the book and info about purchasing.
#appropriatetechnologyforcookingandfoodstorage #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #blanketbox #reduceconsumption
by Mandy Merklein
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
We love food. Let's make sure it doesn't get wasted! Let's look at how gardening cuts down on waste and ways to eliminate waste while gardening.
By growing your own food, you can cut down immensely on many forms of waste. This is true throughout the whole cycle from seed to plate and back into the garden. What waste can be avoided by simply growing tea herbs and sprouts on a windowsill or in the garden?
Here are just a few ways gardening reduces waste:
Here are some more ways to reduce waste in your food system:
Take a look at your garden set up and think about ways you could be closing the loop to create no waste. Create a repurposing project such as using toilet paper rolls to grow your starters. Make a worm bin or compost for organic waste, i.e. food scraps etc. Invite friends/family to help. Document. Extend the idea of repurposing and not wasting into other areas of your life.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Waste, There's No Such Thing As Waste module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Mandy Merklein.
Mandy Merklein studied permaculture for her thesis in environmental studies at Wells College. She has worked as a field biologist and environmental consultant in the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, Pacific Northwest, South Pacific, South America and Europe. She currently lives in Mallorca, Spain. Mandy received her PDC from Darren Doherty, and her teaching certification from Rosemary Morrow. She is a founding and active member of Permacultura Mediterranea (PermaMed.org), Youth in Permaculture, Gaia Youth, Community and Ecology Resources LLC, and Escola Kumar, a permaculture education demonstration site, where she lives, practices, and shares permaculture with her family, friends and students.
Further reading on this topic:
Harland, Maddy. Fertile Edges. Permanent Publications- 2017. Harland is co-founder and editor of Permaculture International magazine. This book covers a wide range of topics including regenerative culture, earth restoration and social permaculture.
Shiva, Vanadana. Seed Sovereignty, Food Security. Women in the Vanguard of the Fight against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture: North Atlantic Books. 2016. An anthology of women writers on protecting seed biodiversity and food.
#waste #compost #repurpose #sharetheharvest #permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #zerowastepermaculturegarden
Most of the challenges we face in the world today, including climate change, diminishing resources, loss of biodiversity, food and water shortages, are the result of the wasteful practices of our modern society. Clever technologies conveniently remove the burden of dealing with the consequences of waste by distancing us from them, at least temporally. But invariably the impacts just cycle back somewhere or sometime else, often dumped on future generations. Tossed plastics don’t just disappear in the dump, the carbon dioxide from our industry and cars reaches out to the poles, waste cycles back to us, because we are part of a closed system, a beautifully complex web of connecting and cycling feedback loops. The impact of wastefulness goes beyond the material costs, something more profound is lost; the gift of wisdom that comes from insight that these feedback cycles offered us, an awareness of the value of our interconnection.
More and more people are joining a movement for a different kind of society, one based on the same ethics that guide permaculture; care for the people, the earth and future generations. People are claiming back their lives from mindless consumerism, debt, and wastefulness, to a life of awareness, self reliance, community and enjoying quality time. Taking practical personal steps, can be empowering in our own lives and lead to wider community level change, that ultimately leads to a profound cultural shift. In many communities such change is already in motion.
Towards a Zero Waste Lifestyle
Here are Twelve+ Rs to help guide you on your way to cutting down on waste and moving towards a zero waste lifestyle. It may seem a simple goal, but it can be eye opening, and have surprising repercussions in all aspects of your life. While acting in your own life, you will be joining with other people all around the world, participating in becoming part of the positive solution to the bigger global challenges facing all of us.
Refuse: To cut down on waste-simply refuse to receive unnecessary items (even if they are free) or buy stuff that is not reusable, compostable or recyclable. Say no to plastic bottles, and bags, to package goods, to unnecessary items like junk mail, and stuff with high embedded costs. What we don’t take we don’t waste. There are movements like the Voluntary Simplicity Movement and Minimalism that aspire to cut back on waste. As the name implies the Zero Waste Movement takes it one step further-reducing waste to particularly zero.
Reduce: We can reduce what we do bring into our lives. Declutter. Conserve. Simply buy, own, and use less; water, fossil fuel based energy, chemicals, appliances, and stuff in general, etc. Lift the burden of stuff off your back and livelihood. Reduce what you thought you needed to own, clean, maintain, and replace. Step lightly into a new life where you accumulate less stuff and appreciate what you have.
Repair: Fix things rather than tossing them and buying new ones. Buy things you can fix. For example Fairphones is making phones with parts that can be replaced when broken so the whole device does not need to be tossed. People are coming together in “repair cafes”, where they can share repair skills so items can be fixed and reused.
Reuse: Buy second hand when you can: clothes, furniture, appliances… everything. When you are done with something, give it a new home rather than throwing it away or even recycling it. When you buy, buy things that are well made and will last, that can be reused for generations. I still wear my dads old shirts that are about 30 years old and my 25 year old bike still works great. Antique furniture is cool and valuable and can often be found inexpensively at swap sales and flea markets — IKEA just doesn’t make things like that now.
Plus, used items can be passed on with a story of care and respect. Reuse is not limited to stuff. For example greywater can often be reused through a simple design to water trees. Using your imagination and permaculture design many items can be creatively reused multiple times.
Repurpose and Upcycling: Here is where people get really creative; turn pallets into furniture, a cigar box into a guitar, cut wine and beer bottles in half to make drinking glasses. There is a whole movement of reusing spent cooking oil to run cars. If you like crocheting, you can take 500 plastic bags like my sister Nina did, and crochet them into a bigger, stronger, better bag. People are building whole houses with “junk”, using everything from tires to plastic bottles (check out the earthship movement). You can make beautiful art, musical instruments, new clothes from old ones, old clothes into other useful stuff, (felting old sweaters into blankets). The examples are endless. Be creative, have friends help, throw an upcycling party.
Regenerate: Compost organic waste in worm bins, backyard compost piles or through community composting programs to regenerate soils. Your organic waste problems become the solution. When you do buy, try to buy items that are compostable such as paper packaging rather than plastic. Buy clothes made from organic cotton, bamboo, or wool rather than polyester. Consider what items are made of, and choose biodegradable wherever possible.
Recycling: Is what you do, only if you can’t do the other R’s. It’s a last resort and it has to be done right otherwise it’s just “wishful” recycling. If we toss recyclables improperly into the bin like people do with garbage that’s what it might become. You may need to wash off food, separate by type, and bring things you want to recycle to certain drop sites. If you do buy, buy things made from recycled materials. Our plastic bucket is made from recycled plastic, the paper I print on is recycled paper. Buying recycled products reduces the extraction of more raw materials and helps close the loop for materials that are non biodegradable like plastics.
Rethink: Is there another way to get this item rather than buying it, even if its recycled? Could I borrow it? Lend it? Swap it? Share it ? Communal ownership of tools, bikes, cars, land, homes, boats, washing machines and more.. is an example of rethinking consumerism. Here is another opportunity for creativity and building community. Our reliance on brain numbing convenience has really taken a lot of creatively and fun out of collaborating and sharing. And it’s not limited to stuff; transportation, services, work, projects, meals…all these activities, when shared, can build relationship webs of interdependence that create vibrant and caring communities.
Redesign and reinvest: Innovators and regenerative product designers that are inspired by natural cycles have created a circular economy movement in which long-lasting product design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling are encouraged and rewarded. Taking it even further economists such as Kate Raworth, in her book “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist”, suggests we redesign our economy so it is based on earth and people care instead of one based on endless growth where costs are externalized. We can support these movements politically and as investors and consumers. Reinvest your money in your community and where your values are. More and more people are turning to alternative value base currencies.
Resource and resilience: Reduce your waste resource footprint and create a more resilient lifestyle by growing and making your own resources. Growing some of your own food and herbs, even in small quantities, will lower your waste footprint. What you can’t grow resource locally at farmer markets, thereby reducing waste from transport and packaging. You can also resource your own toothpaste, shampoo and cleaning products using a few simple organic ingredients that are biodegradable and need no packaging. (The Internet has loads of recipes. I can pretty much take care of all of these with a kit of vinegar, baking soda, white clay, citrus peels, olive oil, and a bit of homemade soap).
Relax, reflect, and recharge: Wastefulness is often the result of a rushed, over-extended lifestyle. Slow down. Take time to remember do things the way you want to, smell the flowers, play, reach out to friends, and act with care. It is indeed a shame to waste life’s gifts of time, opportunities, and people.
Recognize, revere, and reward: The opposite of being wasteful, could be described as recognizing and appreciating what life offers us. The twelve +Rs can become a part of our daily practice that reflects and builds on our values to cherish life. From this orientation we are simply less likely to make choices that lead to waste. And more likely to recognize and enjoy what we have, in our lives, communities and the world. Our collective actions can reclaim a shared reverence for life. Acting together we can co-create deeply rewarding feedback loops.
Want to learn more and join a vibrant community on this path? The Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course, created by 40 international and expert co-facilitators offers a unique, meaningful, and in depth learning experience for people wanting to take part in creating a more resilient and sustainable future, click on this link for the complete information.
#waste #repurpose #minimalism #zerowastemovement #permaculture #zerowastelifestyle #permaculturewomen
Water is the most essential element to life on earth. Take a moment and really let that sink in. Do your everyday practices demonstrate a reverence for this finite resource? The permaculture design process can help you protect and care for the water in your life and community.
It can also ease the irrigation burden in your food-producing systems.
When you’ve managed water well, whether in your home, garden, or community, other elements in the system will come alive. Now that’s powerful.
Water: The Most Revered Element on Earth?
For many of us, clean water comes directly from a tap in an instant. Because of this, it’s easy to forget how finite this resource is, and how our practices regarding water may be unsustainable.
Upon further inspection, one realizes there is not a single organism on earth that can live without it. Good thing we’re living on the Blue Planet, right?
Well, the truth may shock you. It turns out that only .5% (!) of all water on earth is freshwater, available to us. Much of the rest is locked in ice or deep in the earth’s crust. In other words, our most precious and important resource is amazingly finite.
For this reason, most native peoples have traditionally honored this element’s sacredness. When your life is closely entwined with — and dependent on — access to clean water, you protect it, rejoice, and give thanks for its presence.
Modern civilization on the other hand, has become disconnected to water’s sacredness due in large part to the convenience of modern systems.
Less than 200 years ago, modern indoor plumbing hit the scene. This highly engineered system brings water efficiently to each household. However, it also sends away water that was used only once faster than it came.
When people become intrigued by permaculture design, they usually expect to learn how to apply permaculture principles to a landscape. In truth, when we cultivate a relationship with water, our actions can benefit much more than a single landscape. While our gardens may be more resilient and robust with permaculture design, so, too, can our local watershed and ecology.
Permaculture design allows us to think about our place within the system as a whole. In this article we’ll check out ways to become better stewards of water in all areas of life.
Looking in the Mirror: Personal Water Use
Part of the permaculture design process is looking to see where resources are being lost or wasted.
The average American uses 1200 gallons of water per day. In the U.S. alone, vast underground aquifers that have taken more than 2 million years to develop, are depleting faster than they can be replenished. This is largely because of consumer habits and a lack of reverence for water.
Are you wondering what you can do to better care for this wasted resource in your personal life? From eating organic food to eschewing packaged foods, these 10 tips can help.
In the western world especially, we must find ways to respect and conserve this vital resource, as if our lives depended on it, because they do!
Closing the Loop in the Home Water Cycle
The typical pathway for water in a municipal system is this: Clean water is pumped into the home. It’s used only once before it is whisked away again to the municipal treatment plant for cleaning. This is a very energy intensive cycle to filtrate, pump, and collect waste water that so quickly enters and leaves the home.
An ecological home water cycle, on the other hand, seeks to retain and recycle water onsite whenever possible. For example, greywater — the used water from sinks, showers, and washing machines — can potentially be used in the landscape.
While this might seem unsanitary, in fact, soil organisms are pretty efficient at filtering and sanitizing. Utilizing greywater onsite is quite possibly the next frontier — after recycling and composting — for reducing household waste.
Seeking out ways to utilize greywater helps us to be more mindful of both water use and water cleanliness. When I know water is headed for my garden rather than to the municipal treatment plant, I’m more mindful of what I add to the water.
If you would like to explore ways to take advantage of greywater to connect the inside of your home with your landscape, or other sustainable water topics, check out the wealth of information and ideas at GreywaterAction.org.
Take advantage of these water opportunities so you can conserve water, reduce pollution and the strain on sewer systems, add fertility to the garden, and create a dynamic, living water cycle within the home that is integrated with the landscape.
Let’s look outside and see how you can design a landscape that respects and cares for water.
What’s Your Local Watershed Got To Do With It?
It is essential to know where a landscape is situated within its local watershed in order to apply permaculture design to the site. A single landscape is just one part of a larger system, and our goal is to support regenerative ecosystems as a whole.
Understanding how water moves throughout a watershed helps you to visualize where water is being wasted in the landscape. Armed with this knowledge, you can find appropriate ways to manage it.
Try this exercise:
Look at the water that comes in and out of a landscape.
Where does it come from?
Is the source clean or polluted?
When it leaves a site, where does it go?
When you think about your landscape as part of a whole watershed, you can look for ways to conserve water and maintain water purity.
Permaculture Water Design
Conserving Water in the Productive Landscape
Observe where water is being lost or wasted in a garden. Armed with this knowledge, you can look for smart ways to make the system more robust and interconnected. Sometimes the solution is as straightforward as building soil, mulching appropriately, or routing a downspout so that it discharges in the garden as passive irrigation.
Other times, the solution is more involved. For example, earthworks are man-made structures that change the topography of the land in order to direct and manage water. On some sites, the goal will be to redirect excess water, while on other sites earthworks encourage infiltration.
The permaculture design process can help you assess a landscape for its particular qualities and find ways to manage water appropriately.
The water that falls or collects on a site is a precious resource. In a permaculture water design, the aim is to use water as many times as possible before it passes out of the system and to send only clean water into your local watershed.
Seek Out Native and Local Water Wisdom
Dr. Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu was working as a consultant for the World Bank in Washington, D.C. One day, she overheard her boss complaining about an irrigation project that had cost millions of dollars to build. The solution in the Republic of Niger was falling far short of its intended goals to bring irrigation to crops. Of course, irrigation is essential for agriculture in this region that is 75% parched desert.
Meanwhile, a traditional irrigation method in the region, called tassa, demonstrated glowing results. Plots of land growing millet using the tassamethod were 98% more productive than plots of land not using the method. That’s an incredible increase in productivity using a hand-dug technique! Watch Dr. Ezeanya-Esiobu’s TED Talk here.
These results are encouraging, but not surprising. After all, native techniques tend to be low-tech, low-cost, and work with the land to produce a lasting and water-wise solution.
You might find yourself aghast at the wastefulness and over-engineering of the World Bank solution and its disconnect with the local ecology and people. It’s easy to judge that which is removed from our own experience. As such, when we circle back to our own bioregion of the world, we must be vigilant about solutions that are disconnected from the qualities and needs of a landscape or community.
Remember the over-engineered municipal water system that sends filtered water all the way to your home to be used only once before being disposed of as waste? Learn to discover where resources are being lost and seek out specific strategies that match the needs of a site. Why invent the wheel when there may be an appropriate, low-tech solution right under your nose?
Design with water in mind, and you’ll observe a powerful, integrated system (whether in your home, garden, or community) come to life.
Would you like to learn more?
Read more of my writing about creating regenerative food-producing systems on my website, TenthAcreFarm.com.
I'm also on the faculty for the Women’s Permaculture Guild Online Permaculture Design Course. In this one-of-a-kind, self-paced course, you’ll learn from 40 of the world’s sought-after permaculture teachers and designers. If you’ve enjoyed this article, then you’ll enjoy the module I teach about water, as well as the module I co-teach about earthworks.
#permaculturewaterdesign #greywater #designwithwater #waterconservation #permaculturewomen
FREE permaculture courses online
Tiny classes delivered to your inbox every week for a year to guide you step by step through designing your ecological life and landscape.
Join the #freepermaculture public discussion group
Writers! Let's Crosspollinate!
We'd love to feature your article here and/or swap guest posts with you.
FREE Permaculture Coloring Book!
FREE Permaculture coloring book when you subscribe to our (monthly) email list.
We'll send you the info.