by Taj Scicluna.
The Scale of Permanence for Site Assessment and Analysis is an excellent tool that allows us to bring the ecological web of design together succinctly in a step by step process.
get the PDF version of this article:
Firstly, for Assessment, use each topic of the Scale of Permanence to create overlays for your Base Map, and go through these onsite to draw diagrams and observations on the page, whilst recording information on your design process worksheet.
For example, on your Climate overlay you may map the sun, the shade, the prevailing wind, etc. (You may also need to do research for this to fill the gaps). On your design process worksheet you may write what month is the hottest, when the first frosts are, how cold it gets, growing degree days etc. This information may come from a primary source, such as a local person who has experience with the landscape and history of the site, or secondary source, such as data analysis online from weather stations etc.
Remember if you do not know the ‘answers’ you can look things up later, just remain curious. It’s great to write all the questions that come into your head and you can try and research them later if needed.
The Analysis can start when you are Assessing the site, however be mindful of the difference. Assessment is based on Observation, where as Analysis is answering the ‘How and Why’.
The Difference between Observation and Analysis:
Definition: Noticing or Perceiving. Permaculture Assessment Context: Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) is growing here.
Definition: Separating a material or abstract entity into its constituent elements; studying the nature of something or of determining its essential features and their relations. Permaculture Analysis Context: Yellow Dock indicates clay soils high in iron, and wet boggy areas where water accumulates.
Analysis is answering why (… does it do that? Is it growing here? Etc.) and how (… where does it come from? What effects it? Etc.)
We can start to ask questions about how what we are observing relates to the larger picture, what components it is influencing and what components it will effect in the future.
From here we can start to use Methods of Design, such as Relative Location based on the Needs Analysis of the components which the client wants on their site.
The task of a Permaculture Designer is to marry the needs of the landscape (as documented in the Site Assessment and Analysis) and the Client context (as documented in the client questionnaire and methods of design exercises) to create a synergy between the two, so humans can function as part of the ecological system.
Below gives you an idea of how you may use the Scale of Permanence for Analysis.
Questions to Ask:
Questions to Ask:
Questions to Ask:
Analysis Tools & Resources
4. Culture, Economics, Political, Social, Legal, Spiritual
Questions to Ask:
Analysis Tools & Resources
Questions to Ask
Questions to Ask:
Analysis Tools & Resources:
Questions to Ask:
Questions to Ask:
Analysis Tools & Resources:
9. Soil (fertility and management)
Questions to Ask:
Analysis Tools & Resources:
Questions to Ask:
Download PDF version here
On urban permaculture, eco-activism and co-creation of space with non-human animals — a conversation with Becky Ellis
by Gosia Rokicka.
A conversation about urban permaculture, social justice and space for non-human animals with Becky Ellis.
You’re a permaculture practitioner and teacher and at the same time a city dweller. What would you say to people who see permaculture as a land-based design system for growing food and sustainable living on a large scale?
I would say that permaculture is a way to design your life, a way of thinking about how you want to live in balance with non-human nature and with other people as well. It doesn’t require owning private property. While doing my own Permaculture Design Course I lived in a co-op with a communal space and for the following few years I was renting apartments so I didn’t have access to my own piece of land. I got involved in a lot of community projects instead, including a community garden which had certain rules that got in the way of some of the permaculture practices I wanted to do. But learning how to work with other people and how to convince them that some things are worth changing constitutes a part of social permaculture. I was also volunteering for gardening projects for children where I tried to incorporate as much permaculture as possible and it turned out that many people were really interested in the stuff I was so passionate about. Some things I’ve done over the past few years were not related to gardening, such as Mantis Arts & Eco Festival which I put together in my neighborhood, but I still consider them a part of permaculture — bringing people together, helping them to connect and be in community with each other.
The Permaculture Women Guild’s online PDC you’re currently involved in has additional modules on social and emotional permaculture which are not common in other PDCs (both in person and online). Do you reckon this is something women in particular bring to permaculture?
I think women are definitely raised to have more skills for this kind of interpersonal work with other people. We also tend to take on more of the burden it entails — in our relationships, workplaces, communities.
But knowing how to work cooperatively with others is actually a valuable and important skill. I don’t think our biology has anything to do with it but definitely there is something about the way women are raised in most cultures. Social permaculture is something all people need to practice, especially in an urban setting. Even if you have your own backyard most of your surroundings, even if privately owned, are visible to other people.
Speaking of visible… You’ve written about your neighbors worried your “hippie ways” would devalue their properties and about the fact you’re not allowed to keep chickens in your suburban backyard in London, Canada. Do by-laws make it more difficult to practice sustainable living in some places around the world? Are we heading towards the “war on lawns”?
Some people in North American cities are really attached to lawns and to the lawn aesthetic. I think to them it’s more than just an aesthetic. It’s tied to issues of race and class, so challenging it can be really complicated, especially in predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods where such aesthetic can be a part of someone’s identity. There is a really interesting book on that subject, “Lawn People”, written by Paul Robbins, a geographer.
For some, having a well kept, visually attractive lawn can be an expression of what they think a good neighbor and a good citizen is. Disrupting this aesthetic can be contentious but it’s important as it highlights the issue of neighborhood segregation.
And neighborhoods in North America are very segregated by class and also by race.
Another thing worth mentioning is suburban mentality — everybody seems to be self-enclosed in their life. “I’ve got my backyard, maybe even a pool in it, I can get everywhere in my car, I don’t need to go out into the community and do stuff with other people”. I see it as a negative thing — in North America we don’t really know how to work together with other people in a cooperative way.
Urban permaculture is promoting community projects in spaces that are public or open to the public. It can be messy, there can be disagreements but working through that is a really important part of learning how to live together with other people. Some big cities like Toronto, Montreal or New York City have diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. But suburbia are harder to reach in that way.
That may come from the fact that in crowded cities people live close to each other, in apartments and townhouses so they are more likely to go out and actually want to share activities with their neighbors.
Absolutely. They also move around by means of walking and biking. But the further out from the center you go, the more people are using their cars. There is this movement to get people on their bicycles more but it requires a shift in attitude. If the only cyclists that are seen are those that do it for fitness reasons, everyday people won’t get inspired.
We need to see more people doing things as a part of a different way of living with other people and with the world. Probably there are some significant cultural attitudes and ideas that prevent people from doing that and also by-laws that seem to be more prevalent in North America than for example in Europe.
There are some communities in Canada where the rules of housing development ban outdoor clotheslines. It’s just this weird idea what belongs in a city and what doesn’t. I think a great aspect of the PDC I’ve done and also the Permaculture Women Guild’s PDC is the part about activism. We can’t change ridiculous by-laws on our own so it’s crucial to know how to get together with other people to work towards a cause.
And another great aspect of the online PDC is that the teachers live in quite a few different countries so it’s a good opportunity to learn how permaculture can adapt to various conditions — no only climate-wise but also society-wise.
People in our society right now are lacking imagination — we can’t see how the world could look like from a different perspective and how we could build it and live in it collectively.
Dystopian visions usually concentrate on quite a grim future but what I love about permaculture is the idea that people don’t necessarily have to be disastrous for the environment.
There are positive ways in which we can engage with non-human nature. As Arundhati Roy wrote: “Another world is possible”. It’s great to see how people live in other places in the world because sometimes North America feels like it’s the center of the universe. The fact that our continent is a superpower that overshadows the world is problematic, so it’s particularly important for us here to be able to imagine different ways of living — and getting there through social movements.
Even if those other places and different perspectives belong to some parts of the world that seem to be completely detached from us — or us from them, I guess? You’ve written about Zone 5 seen as a wilderness from a social rather than environmental perspective. Can you tell us more about it?
One of co-teachers on my PDC, Rain Crowe, came up with the idea of Zone 5 as the wild we have a responsibility towards, whether we visit it or not. And if you are a North American, you would certainly impact those parts of the world you would probably never see. They are a part of your everyday life. In capitalism we are in relationships with people all the time — even if we’re drinking coffee for example. There were people who grew it and people who picked it and people who were involved in the whole process of production and sale. There were animals that were involved in the development of the plant itself. All of this has become invisible in our consumerist society but to me it’s important to highlight these relationships, to make people think about Zone 5. We are a global international community and we have responsibilities to each other: to people and to non-human animals as well.
Animals seem to be quite an important part of your life and work: your Ph.D. thesis is about honeybees, recently you took part in the Minding Animals conference.
I grew up on a small family farm. When I was 15 I moved to a city and have been living in cities since then but I always felt connected to the different animals that lived on the farm with us — both wild and domestic. Early on in my life, at about 11, I became a vegetarian, partly because I did feel a real connection to the animals. I particularly bonded with lambs who quite early were going away to a slaughterhouse.
When I started doing permaculture I wanted to incorporate animals into my design but as a vegetarian on a mostly vegan diet I wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t involve harm or exploitation. And then animals came into my academic life as well. My Ph.D. in geography was meant to pertain to a completely different subject but as I have honeybees and I garden in a way to cater for other pollinators, my supervisor suggested switching to bees because for a Ph.D. you have to be completely obsessed with the topic to stay with it for years.
At the time when I re-entered academia the area of critical animal studies was gaining momentum. It aims to bring together animal activism and academic theory to think differently about the way we live alongside non-human animals.
There are some challenges to be tackled, I touched on one of them in my article about backyard hens.
There are animals that have lived with humans for thousands of years. We have very dramatically altered their genetics and we co-evolved with them in many ways. Chickens are a good example of that and to a certain extent honeybees, although honeybees can go feral without people quite fine. Dogs are another obvious example. We can live in community with these animals benefiting and enriching each other’s lives. I don’t eat animal products but I don’t see why chickens wouldn’t enjoy living alongside a human who provides them with nutritious food and safety from predators, while in return the chickens would help to break down compost and eat some of the insects and slugs which people don’t necessarily want in their gardens in large quantities.
I know not every animal rights activist or vegan would be won over by this idea but that’s how I feel, especially with bees. There are ways to create some really fantastic habitats for bees where they can thrive and flourish. Climate change is a reality and native wild bees are really going to suffer as a result. They need people to create habitats and places for them to forage. On the other hand, we can get honey from honeybees in a way that is not harmful to them. The movement for gentle beekeeping is growing. There are many ways we can live with non-human animals in mutually beneficial ways and that include wild animals. I’m not sure exactly what wild animals visit London, England…
In London, Ontario we’ve got skunks and raccoons. Many people, even those who are into organic gardening, spend a lot of their time going about how to keep animals away, maybe even by killing them — how to get rid of the animals instead of how to live with them. But permaculture spaces are wonderful opportunities to live in relationship with other animals — the domesticated and the wild ones as well. Some of them really thrive in cities, alongside humans.
I like the concept of co-creation with the animals. I try to start to break down this idea that I own my outdoor space and that it’s only mine. Other animals live there and it’s their space too.
We have skunks under our deck. It’s their home, they live with me and we co-create our space together.
In my urban backyard I’m not growing all the food for my family. I understand farmers might have different struggles but in my case I’m happy to share with any animal that visits my backyard. Some of them, like native pollinators, really do need help and cities are actually sanctuaries for them because North American countryside is full of monocrop fields of corn and soy. Honeybees are unhealthy in America, but beekeepers manage the population. But solitary bees are in decline. They have a special relationship with specific plants or they don’t go very far from their nests to get food so monocrops are terrible for them. Cities with their diversity of native perennial and annual plants, trees and shrubs in people’s backyards come really useful, especially for native bees. All the honeybees in North America are non-native.
I’m originally from Poland and in Poland more and more boars are coming into cities to look for food.
We’ve got coyotes here. They thrive in cities but people see them as scary. They don’t really pose a risk to humans but they do to cats and small dogs so people get really upset with them. But this is their home too! And in order to have a balanced healthy ecosystem we need predators like coyotes and wasps. People keep complaining about shrews and moles and voles… Foxes are their natural predators so if you wish the population of rodents was kept under control, create a safe space for these predator animals. Foxes sometimes can make a den in your backyard — for a mama fox it could be safer to stay close to humans than out in the wild where coyotes may prey on her babies. My neighbors try to get rid of the skunks, while I hope “my” skunk will have babies this year. It’s hard to convince people to have that kind of a different relationship with non-human animals but I keep trying.
People seem to be happier to care for endangered species, such as hedgehogs for example in Europe, than for those they see as vermin.
I absolutely agree and I think humans really have to learn how to live with non-human nature in a way that’s not completely destructive but they seem to be resistant to this knowledge. Again: this is about these strange concepts what belongs in the city and what doesn’t and what private property really means.
We put up fences to mark what’s ours and what we want to keep out but it doesn’t work for non-human nature.
But I see a glimpse of change in attitude: theoretically front yards are private but in a way they are a pseudo-public space. Sometimes you can even engage with your neighbors over what they don’t like in your front yard! In mine we put up a little free library. In the spring we put seeds in there as well. There is a bus stop just outside so we built a bench where people can sit and relax while waiting for a bus. They use it a lot! There are many ways to break down boundaries that have been put up.
That brings us to another issue: in North America we are a settler society, created out of violent colonialism, which continues in many ways in Canada and the United States. So the whole idea of property ownership here is… problematic at least. I’ve been trying to get people to think differently about being a steward of land rather than its owner. In cities some people say: “I don’t have a piece of land, I can’t do anything” but that’s not true. Think about your local park: it’s yours. It belongs to people in the neighborhood as a collective. This is what makes permaculture quite revolutionary in cities. There could also be a link to movements against racism and injustice. You don’t need to own a backyard in the city. And even if you do, you should also engage in other community undertakings because this is a really impactful way to make a huge difference. This is permaculture activism.
#urbanpermaculture #foodnotlawns #permaculturewomen
Becky Ellis teaches the Urban Permaculture module in the Permaculture Women’s Guild online permaculture design course. Learn more from her there or catch up with her at her website, www.permacultureforthepeople.org.
by Gosia Rokicka.
A conversation with Rowen White about seed stewardship, permaculture and her Native American heritage.
You are a Seed Keeper — that’s a pretty cool job title. Can you tell us more about what you do?
I come from a place called Akwesasne, which is an indigenous Mohawk community near the Canadian border. Traditionally, we are an agricultural nation so caring for seeds and for the Earth in general aligns with our cultural values and has been handed down from one generation to the next over millennia. There’s a lineage of people cultivating relationship to their food and to the Mother Earth. We have quite a number of heritage and traditional varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, tobacco and other plants that have been specifically handed down through many generations over the last several thousand years as a part of our traditional food ways. I have the great honor of being one of the seed keepers of the Mohawk people which means that, together with others, I am making sure that the seeds stay alive and healthy and that they’re given freely within our community, as well as passed down to the next generations.
Sounds like a true passion.
It is a real passion. Due to the impacts of colonization and acculturation many of native North American food systems have been dismantled and unfortunately, they are not a part of our everyday life anymore. As a teenager I didn’t really have access to a lot of the traditional foods and to the cultural memory that goes with them. As a young woman I became interested in traditional farming and wanted to learn more about where our food comes from and to create more sovereignty and freedom through cultivation. That’s how I opened this Pandora’s box of the world of heirloom seeds… and wow!
It turns out that not only do seeds have this incredible diversity — a prism of different colors and shapes and sizes and places where they grow best and communities that they come from — but that they also carry stories and beautiful lineages of relationships.
For Mohawk people agriculture was historically at the center of our culture and I was very curious why it no longer was a significant part of my life and how I could reengage and restore that relationship and connection to the land. So I began to ask people, gather seeds and learn more and more about my responsibility to care for them. It led me on a 20-year-long path to being a seed keeper. Being an educator and a mentor constitutes a central part of this role. I am helping people who are in a similar situation I was 20 years ago — curious but not having access to knowledge or seeds. I am passing this knowledge I received from the elders and mentors of mine within the community because I honor the importance of keeping these traditional seeds alive together with the cultural memory that is attached to them.
It is. I run a seed co-operative. We have a 10-acre farm that focuses on stewardship of seeds and education of people about seed care and growing food in holistic ways. I am also the national program coordinator for the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network — a program of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, which works with a number of different tribal communities to create seed libraries and banks and also to build mentorship networks to leverage resources around policy for protecting our seeds against biopiracy, biocolonialism and patenting. I travel all over North America to see tribal communities and facilitate workshops and conversations around how communities are creating these resources in their lives. So that’s my work in a nutshell. It’s complex and multilayered but it’s also a beautiful path to follow. The seeds have guided me well along my path.
So would you say that seed keeping could be seen as a decolonization
To me decolonization is the foundation of the seed sovereignty movement. But I also like to put a positive spin on it: it’s re-indigenising.
We are claiming back our traditions and rehydrating those original agreements that we had with the plants and with our ancestors but also with our descendants. It doesn’t happen only in Native American nations. Across the globe communities start to recognize the importance of durable, resilient, local food systems. Local engagement has been growing the incredible momentum in the last several decades. The Seed Freedom Movement is a part of it because we recognize that we cannot have a durable and resilient local food system if we don’t have locally adapted seeds that are a part of it. Seeds are the foundation of agriculture but they also encode a memory of the land, the climate, the weather, as well as people’s cultural values, aesthetics and stories. And now people of all generations are coming together to recognize the importance of seed heritage, to create new ways to counteract the globalization and industrialization of our food systems, to resist monocultures. At the heart of what I do is the creation of the seed literacy. Even if you’re not a farmer or a gardener, seed is a vitally important thing in your life because we all eat.
Among Mohawk people the women were traditionally responsible for seed keeping. Is it still the case within this modern growing movement?
Historically in most cultures — although I can confidently talk only about the Mohawks — seeds were considered feminine. It relates to our own reproductive system — it’s the woman who carries the seed. If you look botanically, it’s the female part of the plant that is creating the seed, so this is a feminine expression of the plant’s life cycle. In our tradition and in many cultures and traditions across the globe seeds have traditionally been considered a feminine aspect of the agricultural system and largely it’s been the responsibility of women to care for them.
In your writing you are using this beautiful word — rematriation.
We’ve been using it in a lot of different contexts. Primarily it’s about restoring the feminine back into our lives through our food systems and recognizing that many of the industrial global food systems are very patriarchal, so it’s about creating that balance. Our traditional knowledge wasn’t about women being more powerful than men or the other way round. The point was to maintain that egalitarian balance between the masculine and the feminine.
Rematriation in relation to seeds is about bringing the seeds back home into their original context and into their communities of origin. Speaking more broadly, rematriation is about restoring that feminine energy back into our lives and our communities.
I learned of the word through a man named Martin Prechtel. In my latest blog post I quote a piece from his book “The Unlikely Peace of Cuchamaquic” — he speaks very eloquently about the idea of rematriation, about that holy feminine being restored back into our lives. Among native peoples we talk a lot about repatriation of things back into our communities. So in this case we decided to use a more feminine word. It’s inspired by the work of Martin Prechtel but also by the legacy and lineage within indigenous communities.
Is it relatively easy to engage young people in such work?
For many years there had been this generation gap. Older people were keeping traditions and seeds alive but younger ones didn’t engage, didn’t see it as relevant. But now I’m witnessing a resurgence of the movement among the younger folks in tribal and farming communities but also in a more mainstream culture. People are waking up to the fact that the monocropped way of life and industrialization of everything is damaging not only to the nature but also to our relationship with the world. Young people these days are inheriting a world that is deeply troubled. In a way they know they have to do something and they are enraged. Stewarding seeds is such a powerful, beautiful and inspiring path to follow. It’s a hopeful form of activism. It’s very tangible and it creates something positive to work for instead of working against something else.
We have to be good future ancestors and responsible descendants, so it’s our responsibility to care for the seeds to make sure that younger generations and future generations that we might not know yet have them.
I have a teenage daughter who’s been growing up on a seed farm so this way of eating is her life from day one. She has a great passion for the culinary arts. She wants to be a chef. There’s a spectrum of ways in which young people can engage in this kind of work. If you’re interested in farming or gardening, that’s great but you might as well be a chef, an artist, an activist, a public speaker. There are many different ways to contribute. A lot of our work in the seed sovereignty movement evolves around inclusivity — how we can acknowledge the gifts that different people can bring to the table and how to make sure that a well-rounded resilient food system has many people contributing in various creative ways so it’s not only about growing food.
You also say that seeds are living beings and our relatives. Can you unpack it a bit for people who haven’t grown up within a Native American community and may have a problem with relating to it?
Sure. All of us — and that includes everyone who is reading it now — descend from a lineage of people who had a very intimate relationship with plants. It’s just in the last couple of hundred years of human history we’ve been looking at seeds and food in general as a commodity as opposed to something that was an integral part of our life that we shared. It used to be a commons, a collective inheritance. A long time ago our ancestors — mine, yours, everyone else’s — made agreements with plants that they would take care of each other. There is this intimacy, there are familial relationships that are encoded in creation stories that are held within many different ancestries and bloodlines.
So when I say that seeds are sacred because they are living relatives, I mean it wholeheartedly. That’s how I view seeds and that’s how pretty much all of humanity saw seeds up to a certain point.
Then it started to get industrialized and commodified and our collective view of what seeds represented has changed. I like to remind people that 200 years ago in the United States and in Europe there were no seed companies. People shared and traded seeds instead. I like to tell people to think deeply about their relationship with their food and with the seeds that make this food. If you trace back different cultural lineages, you’ll see that plants and seeds played significant roles in cosmologies and worldviews. In the Mohawk creation story such foods as corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and strawberries figure prominently. They grew from the body of the daughter of the original woman as a gift to her sons. These foods would then sustain them for the rest of their time here on Earth and they literally grew from her flesh and bones. So in our cosmology we see them as our relatives. We have an agreement with them that they would nourish us every day but we have to give back. That’s a reciprocal relationship.
So now, in North America but also globally, we need to rethink and rewrite the narrative of our relationship with food and seed. At the moment there is a dominant narrative in the Western world that sees plants as dead inanimate objects that we just grow, harvest, mechanize and exploit. But that dominant narrative is really just a shallow facade around a much deeper relationship that humans have had with plants for a lot longer. So in our educational seed co-operative Sierra Seeds we challenge that dominant narrative.
This is a radically different view to the one held by mainstream agricultural companies. You are promoting it now not only through Sierra Seeds in the US — recently you joined the faculty of over 40 women who teach the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course where you run a module on seed keeping. It is not a regular part of the PDC curriculum, is it?
It isn’t indeed. Permaculture is a fantastic curriculum and a beautiful pedagogy — a wonderful system of knowledge that has been distilled down from a much larger traditional ecological body of knowledge originating all around the world and I think many of us within the movement acknowledge that. There is a very particular curriculum of 72 hours of teaching that accompanies the PDC and seed stewardship isn’t a part of it but then… how can it not be a part of it? Seed stewardship should be an integral part of every farmer’s garden and it was — until a hundred or two hundred years ago. So when we’re talking about permaculture and creating holistic food systems, the seed has an inherent place within it. People need to know how to steward seed and how to cultivate seed that’s regionally adapted to a very specific place and to their own unique low input permaculture system. So I approached the creators of this course and said: “Hey, what if we include a module on holistic seed stewardship?”.
The seed is the beginning. It’s so vitally important to the foundation of all food systems but at the same time most seeds available now aren’t adapted to low input polyculture or permaculture systems.
They have been bred and selected for monoculture in a very different farming system. That’s why I think that for people who are meant to obtain a certificate in permaculture design it’s important not to forget about saving seeds. I feel super thrilled to contribute to this course and hold a little corner of that space to really honor the seeds and all that they give us.
One more thing… I’m sure that everyone who got to this point of our conversation feels like me. I buy the majority of my vegetables from a local farming co-operative so the veggies I eat are local, culturally appropriate and organic. But as a city dweller with a small garden I throw away most of these really good seeds and now I feel super-bad. Any advice for folks like me?
The beautiful thing about this growing seed sovereignty movement is that there are many different community projects and initiatives that are springing up wherever people come together to think creatively about how we can develop more access to good seeds within our communities. So in a lot of places, especially in urban environments, there are seed libraries and seed exchange — places where people help to facilitate the distribution and collection of these seeds. So I would recommend that folks, who don’t have a lot of capacity in their life to do a lot of seed stewardship in their own garden or allotment, connect with the wider community. Seed libraries are popping up — it’s worth to look for a local one and share your surplus of seeds there.
The beauty of a seed is that it multiplies exponentially. It is a wonderful example of the natural abundance of the Earth and I think it is also a beautiful expression of the gift economy. Even keepers like myself always have more seeds than we need. It inspires me to be generous and to give seeds outside of my own home farm. The seeds teach us to be generous and to share our abundance with other people and this is really the true nature of things. We live in a society where the dominant narrative is based on scarcity and austerity, so we need to start paying attention to seeds because they remind us of the inherent generosity of the Earth and of our own inherently generous nature.
#seedstewardship #permaculturewomen #seedsaving #decolonization
To find out more about Rowen and the projects she’s involved in, have a look at the Sierra Seeds website. Rowen is also one of the tutors in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Certificate course.
by Heather Jo Flores.
Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural toxins than industrial farming, making lawns the largest (and most toxic) agricultural sector in the United States, so grow food, not lawns.
Growing food at home is hardly a new idea. But in this culture, where more people know how to take the perfect selfie than how to grow a potato, urban agriculture has become a form of activism. The slogan “Food Not Lawns” is spreading like wildfire.
Here are some reasons why to grow food not lawns:
Lawns are the largest agricultural sector, covering more than 40 million acres of land and consuming more than 800 million gallons of fuel each year in the U.S. alone, according to Duke environmental professor William Chameides. The cost of organic produce is prohibitive for many families. Growing their own gives them access. Eating fresh produce improves health and increases vitality. Gardening brings a family closer together and sharing surplus produce, seeds and plants builds community with neighbors and fellow gardeners. Growing food creates a sense of empowerment and gives gardeners the feeling that they have control over their food supply.
These are just some of the ideas that sparked the Food Not Lawns movement. I started the original Food Not Lawns organization in 1999 in Eugene, Oregon. Three of us who cooked for the local Food Not Bombs chapter started calling ourselves Food Not Lawns and hosting workshops in our garden. Our vision was to share seeds and plants with our neighborhood, to promote local awareness about food security and to learn about permaculture, sustainability and organic gardening.
Within two years the project had expanded to include dozens of gardens around the neighborhood, and Food Not Lawns was rewarded with a Neighborhood Development Grant from the city of Eugene. From there, Food Not Lawns continued to blossom. Now, 16 years later, Food Not Lawns is an International network with more than 50 local chapters.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that I get from people who want to turn their lawns into gardens:
How do I get rid of the grass to grow food not lawns?
There are a few options, each with pros and cons:
Sheet mulching is a technique where you cover the grass with cardboard and then pile on organic matter — straw, leaves, food scraps, soil. It’s basically like building a wide, short compost pile all over the yard. The top layer is covered with fine mulch and then nursery plants and seeds can be planted directly into the mulch. This is the preferred method of most permaculture aficionados, as it is the least harmful to soil communities and can be a quick way to build up garden soil for growing food. However, sheet mulching can pose multiple problems.
If you have the kind of grass that spreads through underground rhizomes, there is a good chance those roots won’t die under the mulch, and will eventually create a hard-pack of thick roots that your plants won’t be able to penetrate. Also, the piles of un-composted materials can tie up nutrients and make it hard for your veggies to thrive.
Garden boxes, aka raised beds.
This can be a great way to build gardens quickly, while still maintaining paths and patches of your lawn. Spread a layer of landscape cloth or cardboard on the ground to suppress the grass, and then build boxes in any shape on top. Fill with organic garden soil and you’re ready to plant. This is a great technique for people who have back problems and prefer to garden in beds that are up off the ground. Problems with garden boxes include the continued growth of grass rhizomes, as I mentioned above with sheet mulching. Also, the soil in the boxes gets stale over time and will need to be replaced and/or amended. Garden boxes also tend to decay and fall apart over time, and will need to be repaired.
Roto-tilling (or hand-digging).
By far the most effective way for permanently removing your lawn is to dig off the top layer of grass and then till up the soil underneath. This presents a blank slate for designing your garden layout, and new plants will be able to send deep roots into the ground. Tilling can be problematic, however, if you have lots of rocks or toxic soil. Tilling also disrupts micro-communities in the soil, so it’s important to mulch over the new beds with good organic matter. Once you’ve tilled and established a garden, you probably won’t need to till again as long as you maintain the garden and keep the remnants of grass roots from re-establishing themselves.
Does it have to be in the front yard?
Of course not! In my opinion, the transformation to grow food not lawns is always a good thing. However, growing food in the front yard becomes a statement to your community, telling them that you value homegrown food. Front yard gardens invite community dialogue, and bring fellow gardeners in the neighborhood out of the woodwork. Front yard gardens can also provoke complaints from the neighbors, however, so follow these four basic guidelines to help ensure those neighborly reactions are positive:
1. Be creative. Spend some time designing a garden that is beautiful and unique. Get some books on edible ornamentals and create a landscape people will see as a work of art.
2. Be consistent. Don’t let the front yard get overgrown and unsightly. Keep up with weeding, mulching and pruning. Be ruthless with dead and diseased plants. If your energy for gardening wanes, scale back your plans and only grow what you can maintain.
3. Be charitable. Offer surplus produce, plants and seeds to your neighbors. Invite them to share in the harvest and offer to help them with their garden ideas. Neighbors who value you as a friend are much less likely to cause problems.
4. Be considerate. Understand that not everyone in your neighborhood will be as excited about growing food as you are. Don’t leave piles of soil or cardboard in the driveway for weeks on end. Consider their needs and they will consider yours.
I’m overwhelmed! Do I have to rip out the whole lawn?
Not at all. In fact I recommend starting small. Remove a section of the lawn and plant a little bit of food or a herb spiral. Or remove the lawn around the edges and plant an edible hedge of raspberries and currants. Or just carve out a few circular spots and plant some peaches and figs. These small changes will provide a delicious inspiration for you and your neighbors, and when the time is right to take out the rest of the lawn, you’ll be ready!
p.s. You’re invited to be a part of a whole new kind of online permaculture course, taught by more than 40 women from 13 countries.
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Heather Jo Flores is the author of Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, and a co-founder of the original Food Not Lawns organization in Eugene, Oregon in 1999. She lives in Spain, where she spends her time managing a Mediterranean Food Forest and teaching online workshops for women writers. http://www.heatherjoflores.com
#freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growfoodnotlawns #frontyardgardens
by Marit Parker
Is rewilding a way of off-setting normal life?
Rewilding has become a bit of a buzzword recently. It seems to have caught people’s imaginations. However, it might surprise you to learn that, in many rural areas, rewilding can be quite controversial. In this article, I hope to explore why rewilding has become a “thing,” explain why it might be problematic, and who knows? Perhaps I can suggest an alternative way forward.
When people talk about rewilding, they are usually thinking about somewhere remote and far away. But these are not empty spaces. There are already communities here: of plants, animals, and people. However, rewilding projects rarely seem to consider who or what is already there, nor ask what impact the “rewilding” actions will have on existing (often fragile) ecosystems.
Rewilding and biodiversity in the UK
In Britain, upland areas of Wales and Scotland are popular for rewilding, but the sites for rewilding projects often seem to be chosen by people who are unaware of their existing biodiversity. Phrases such as “degraded ecologies” and “green deserts” are used, yet the uplands of Britain contain large areas of blanket bog. These wetland habitats have protected status, because they are home to unique ecosystems.
Blanket bogs consist of peat which can be several feet deep. It acts as a sponge for both rain and carbon. They take thousands of years to form, especially to the depths found on British uplands. This means it is thousands of years since these areas were forested. The names of different aspects of the landscape reflect this, such as Moel Hebog, a mountain in Snowdonia whose name means Bald Hill of the Hawk.
Rewilding projects generally involve planting trees. In this case, “rewilding” means destroying the bog to plant a forest. Nature doesn’t stand still, so reforesting those peat bogs means losing species that have evolved to fill this rare niche.
Before trees can be planted on peat bogs, the bogs have to be drained. This means rainwater is no longer held there. Instead, heavy rainfall rushes straight down into the rivers, often resulting in flooding downstream. This is why there has been severe flooding in the lower reaches of the Severn Valley, for example.
Destruction of peat bogs also releases carbon into the atmosphere. Peat bogs are considered to be the most efficient carbon sink on earth, storing up to 30% of the planet’s carbon despite covering only 3% of the surface.
Reforesting peat bogs also means disturbing the soil. Our knowledge of the soils beneath our feet is limited, but one thing researchers are discovering is that fungi play an important role in soil ecology. Any soil disturbance damages fungi, whose mycelium may stretch for miles. A recent study in Sweden suggests that fungi may be far more important than trees in terms of storing carbon.
It may also come as a surprise to many people to learn that maintaining peat bogs is best done by mixed grazing of native sheep and cattle. Ensuring that this is an economical option for farmers is the simplest way of protecting upland habitats and their capacity for storing water and carbon.
Rewilding and people
Places earmarked for rewilding often have a strong local culture as people depend on each other to survive and make a living in harsh conditions. Their skills, experience and expertise in managing the land may span back generations and this is reflected in the local language or dialect and in the culture, all of which are often deeply intertwined with the climate and terrain. These are resilient communities — yet at the same time they are fragile, because the loss of one or two people can have a big impact on the whole community.
In both Wales and Scotland many feel that rewilding is a continuation of colonialism. There is a long history in both nations of the mountainous landscapes being used as a playground for the rich and for resource extraction, be it slate, water, coal or more recently, renewable energy. Rewilding can be seen as yet another grand idea imposed on the land and on the people with little thought or consideration for local opinions or concerns. Promises of economic benefits through tourism may be greeted with dismay: the lack of affordable housing due to a combination of second homes, holiday cottages and low paid seasonal work means tourism has already resulted in significant rates of homelessness in rural areas, and in the loss of young people to cities.
Including local people and their views in discussions about rewilding means thinking not just about other people’s perspectives but also about how we see other people. Much has been written about the “othering” of people who are different from “us”. We tend to see people who are different from us as either scary or exotic, or simply not see them at all.
In rewilding debates, the opinions of local people are often dismissed or simply ignored. The assumption that local knowledge and expertise is irrelevant is familiar within a history of colonisation: the name “Wales” comes from a Saxon word meaning foreigner or barbarian, with connotations of inferiority and “otherness”.
What I find intriguing is how rewilding effectively labels nature as “other”. Some wild things, such as sharks, are scary, and some, such as plankton, are invisible, but rewilding seems to be exciting and exotic.
The problem with this way of seeing the world is that we forget that humans are part of nature. And if humans are part of nature, then where we live and what we make are also part of nature. High rise office blocks may be ugly and power stations are undoubtedly polluting, but they are not in a separate bubble: they are made from and are still part of the earth.
But why does this matter?
The danger is that labelling certain areas as wild allows unlimited development everywhere else: off-setting nature, instead of carbon. Believing that a place is being restored to its ‘pristine’ wild state means that, in the city, life can carry on as usual.
Is rewilding simply a way of off-setting normal life?
If so, it is not really beneficial; it’s a convenient package that masks the real problem.
Is this why rewilding is popular?
These scenarios suggest that rewilding may actually reinforce the idea that humans are separate from nature and not part of the wild.
Cities feel very different from the countryside but is this because nature is absent, or because we are distracted by other things?
What if, instead of trying to recreate an idealised pre-human landscape, we start seeing cities as habitats and ecosystems in the same way as we see mountains and forests?
Trees are an important part of the cityscape, and each tree supports a whole ecosystem. But glued to smartphones, we forget to notice even our human neighbours, so what chance does a caterpillar or ladybird have, much less a spider? Yet many creatures have evolved to live alongside us in cities and inside our homes.
We can spend days unaware of the sunshine, the rain and the changing seasons, yet the air we breathe, the water we drink, even the sand in the concrete and glass are all part of this earth. A teaspoon of soil can contain more living creatures than the total number of humans alive today. Our own bodies contain even more: we carry whole ecosystems with us on our skin and in our digestive systems wherever we go!
Are we obsessed with rewilding places far away from us because we are so separated from our own natural-ness and wild-ness that we do not see human spaces as places where nature exists?
If humans are as much part of the natural world as every other creature, then human cities are also as much a part of nature as anthills or seabird colonies. What if we look again at how we see cities, and how we see our place within cities?
The Welsh word for habitat is cynefin (pronounced cunn-e-vinn, with a short e as in nest), but it means much more than that: it’s a place you know intimately, a place that you feel safe in. It’s a place you care for and look after because it nurtures you: it’s your home, and the foundation and source of your life.
Rewilding and food
Arguments for rewilding also seem to ignore the whole question of food. Like it or not, cattle and sheep are grown for food. If the hills are cleared for rewilding, what will people eat instead? This is a serious question, because the lowlands are already in use for both arable and livestock farming. While some advocate growing only fruit and vegetables, it’s important to be aware that large scale arable and horticultural farms generally offer far less in terms of biodiversity than permanent pasture. It does puzzle me why upland areas are chosen for rewilding, rather than arable areas where huge fields have been created, and the hedges and shelter belts that used to edge smaller fields have been lost.
Another factor that needs to be considered is what can be grown, because in the UK’s temperate climate, growing sufficient protein from plants alone is not straightforward. Most vegetarians and vegans rely on imported soya and other pulses, some of which is grown in what was rainforest. Un-wilding one part of the world to re-wild another part makes little sense.
Vandana Shiva says that instead of seeing nature as something wild and separate, we need to see it as essential for life. She suggests that making sure the food we eat is grown in ways that don’t damage nature — or us — is a way of reconnecting with nature. This connection becomes more immediate if we grow some of our food ourselves. This might seem impossible for those living in densely populated areas, but in this free mini-class Becky Ellis suggests a number of ways of finding space to grow things in cities.
Instead of convincing ourselves that modern life can be offset by segregating nature and keeping it safe, and at a safe distance, and segregating food-growing so it’s tidied away and unseen, why not ask ourselves what the real difference is between cities and places we think need rewilding?
The main things people notice when they come to the countryside are the quiet, the clean air, and the different pace of life. Instead of trying to preserve parts of the countryside and return them to an arbitrary point in time and evolution, is it not better to tackle the noise and air pollution and the frenetic pace of life in cities?
For example, what would happen if we stopped always looking for new stuff? What would happen if we questioned the endless need for more economic growth, and for profit at any cost? What would happen if we refused to accept work environments with inflexible schedules that erode our well-being, and increase our separation from each other and from the outdoors?
There is a phrase in Welsh, dod at fy nghoed, which means “to reach to a balanced state of mind,” but it translates literally as “to come to my trees,” suggesting that to be well, we need to be connected to the natural world.
Perhaps if we become aware that the wild, the natural world, is all around us, even in towns and cities and on industrial estates, we will start to realise that these are habitats too; that humans and all we do, for good or ill, are part of an integrated, interconnected ecosystem. And perhaps, we will become more connected, or re-connected, to our own wild-ness, our own habitat, our cynefin.
Because perhaps it’s not nature that needs rewilding, but us.
Marit Parker is a hill farmer in South Wales.
by Klaudia von Gool.
By observing and analysing our microclimate we can use permaculture design strategies to modify it.
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Climate will vary more locally through human structures, topography, altitude, vegetation and water masses. This is called microclimate. By observing and analysing our microclimate we can use permaculture design strategies to modify it.
Let's look at some of these factors in more detail.
Topography is the shape of the landscape and includes aspect and slope. Hills, mountains and valleys affect how wind moves through a landscape, as the wind moves around hills, speeds up near the top of hills, and funnels through valleys.
Aspect, the direction land faces, affects the amount of sunlight on a site. For example, a south facing site in the Northern Hemisphere will be a sunny site and can produce more biomass/vegetation.
Slope, the gradient or steepness in the land, will affect wind speed; this increases towards the top of a slope. Turbulence will be experienced just past the top of a slope. This is important information when situating wind turbines, as they work more efficiently without turbulence.
Cold air will sink and move down the slope. Accordingly, the slope will impact thermal zones, and a cold sink may occur just above structures or vegetation lower down the slope or in slightly depressed areas. In colder areas this can create a frost pocket.
Altitude. Temperature decreases with higher altitudes. We also find higher wind speeds and more moisture, because of rain or other precipitation at higher altitudes.
Studying existing vegetation can give us clues to rainfall, wind strength and direction and soil fertility. A way to discover the prevailing wind in our local landscape is by observing trees.
This picture shows how the wind has shaped the trees, restricting growth on the side that the wind blows from, so that there's more growth on the other side.
As well as trees being affected by wind, trees themselves can also affect the wind in the landscape and other microclimate factors. For example, in temperate climates it is cooler and less windy in a forest while it's hot outside of it, as trees provide shade and a more moist microclimate and act as a windbreak. At night it stays warmer in a forest compared to out in the open, as the trees create shade from the wind and trap warmth. This does depend on the season and vegetation/leaf cover.
On a larger scale trees contribute to the creation of rain through evapotranspiration.
Urban environments create warmer microclimates through the "heat island effect," as concrete absorbs more heat than the surrounding countryside. In general it is warmer in the centre of a city.
The hard surface of buildings, roads and straight lines of streets also create a wind tunnel effect, where wind speeds up. Tall buildings can create wind turbulence. Buildings can create a rain shadow, so there is a drier and a wetter side.
Microclimate and niche.
Microclimates are directly connected to ecological niches, where organisms occupy a space where they can thrive optimally. Creating, or being aware of having, a variety of microclimates, means you can have a wide variety of niches for more diverse planting, keeping animals, and thus increasing yields.
Microclimates and Permaculture Design
We can make modifications to a microclimate to reduce and direct wind flow, as wind has a growth limiting effect on vegetation. On a windy site, planting windbreaks and shelterbelts is one of the earliest modifications needed. These create more sheltered areas and can direct the flow of air, including cold air coming downhill. Using plants to reduce wind is more effective than solid structures, which create more turbulence. In addition, we can choose species for multiple functions, which again creates more yields.
We can modify our local climate or microclimate by adding water storage, which can modify temperature fluctuations. On a larger scale, we can introduce lakes or ponds to modify heat and to add light reflection. On a smaller scale, adding water storage inside a greenhouse or polytunnel will help buffer extremes of temperature.
In hot climates, planting trees and adding vegetation gives a cooling effect. This is as a result of shade and evaporation, which creates cooling.
We can modify climate and microclimate through buildings, like adding a greenhouse. When we place a dwelling to the North of a greenhouse (in the Northern Hemisphere) we can make use of surplus heat and protect plants. We can paint walls white in darker, shadier areas to direct in more light and improve growth and ripening by reflecting light. Dark walls reduce frost risk by keeping warmer.
We can use thermal mass like rocks or stone walls to absorb heat and plant more tender plants close up to it. We can also use the cooler temperature of the Earth, whilst it’s warmer at the surface, to create a root cellar for food storage into the Earth, without energy based refrigeration.
In cooler climates, you can create sun traps. These designs are sun-facing and wind-still, creating shelter from cold and destructive winds by capturing maximum sunlight all day. In the Victorian era in the UK, walled gardens were built on large estates to create microclimates for tender crops. Fruit trees were trained up against the walls in fan or espalier shapes.
Hot beds are created by placing small glass frames on top of piles of manure, which generated heat as they rotted down. This is a form of season extension.
Start making some notations on a basic sketch map of your design area. Notice how microclimates and permaculture design work with both intentional and unintentional design. Note other microclimate factors: buildings/structures, landform, altitude, aspect, slope, larger vegetation; sketch these onto your map.
Make a very basic notation of the microclimates with colours or symbols.
Note areas that are driest, wetter, windiest, most wind-sheltered, where it might be warmest in the morning and evening, and anywhere that would be cool all day.
What different needs and opportunities are associated with these microclimates?
This material is excerpted from the Climates, Biogeography and Microclimates module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Klaudia von Gool.
Klaudia draws on over 20 years experience and study to express her lifelong passion for the environment through facilitating people care and social design programs across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. She’s an Environmental Scientist, Consultant, Parent, Mentor, Coach, Permaculture Teacher and Designer and student of healthy intact cultures and indigenous wisdom. Using her many practical and ceremonial skills, her work focuses across land-based, community and inner sustainability in order to fully activate the human potential in service of life, culture repair and rebuilding the village.
Further information on this topic:
Cloud catchers. In an arid climate in Peru the people are harvesting fog for water as a low tech method of irrigating crops.
Regenerative Agriculture, Beyond Sustainability.
An inspiring film about regenerative agriculture. For the microclimate relevant part, watch from 12:35 to see the story of one farm, known as 'Dry Lands', that was destroyed by its previous owner. When the new owner replanted, he found that slowly the temperature on the land dropped, the climate changed, soil 'grew' as he added organic matter from vigorous pruning, water was retained, drought conditions were reversed and water started to run in the streams year-round.
#microclimates #ecologicalniches #freepermaculture #permaculturedesign #permaculturewomen #microclimatesandpermaculturedesign
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