Many of us are dreaming of a post-pandemic paradise. Now is a good time to reflect, plan, and act. Now is the call to build our resilience.
We sit in isolation with an air of uncertainty, wringing our hands after washing them often. The call of nature is muffled with indecision. There is smoke in the air again and seawater rises further. The environment suffers quietly in her sickly crisis.
We mourn the last era and wonder what a new normal will be. Although it is a good time to practice mindfulness, it is also an opportunity to picture a better future.
A great way to ‘live in the now’ is to work on our observation skills. But, when you’re done with being in the now, become one of those who actively created the new era. Start building resilience by developing practical skills and system thinking.
Permaculture prepping is all about providing options, flexibility and skills to respond and adapt. Skills, know-how, healthy minds and strong relationships along a good dose of optimism keeps people healthy. Both Now, and in the future.
Linda Woodrow is famous for her how-to books on growing food and her invention of the chicken dome. But, recently she explored the future living with the effects of the climate crisis, beyond pandemics and the destruction of ‘life as normal’. The novel is engaging and the characters loving. There is much to learn along the futuristic journey.
Look Forward, Step Back and Plan
Permaculture envisions the future of the whole community, not just an individual space. By asking “what does success look like?” The Permaculture design has a clear goal and adapts to changes as it works to meet the goal.
In a similar way, Transition engineers apply the science of climate change to envisage a variety of future scenarios, then they step back to plan ways to get to the best future.
Building resilience starts within individuals and then radiates throughout a community through healthy networks. Indivudals become empowered, skilled and supportive. The first step is questioning and checking – Is our existence threatened? Is this how I want to live? Sparked by awareness, we build skills and confidence. Eventually, we develop experience that supports others.
Systems Thinking – Learning From Nature
A vital part of Permaculture is systems thinking. Systems thinking is essential for understanding the complex, interrelated crises now unfolding and what they mean for our similarly complex communities.
A community that adapts to builds resilience. Beyond the circular plan-do-check-act, Permaculture response has the power to spiral. It can grow into something bigger. Fuelled by living systems, our efforts can support a revolution. The Permaculture Design process cycles then spirals. First, we Check what we have. Then we Yearn for something better. Next we Create a design. Then, Learn how to implement the plan. Then the plan can Evolve.
Todays challenges are global and complex. Adaptation is only part of a healthy response. The adaption needs to be transformative and sustainable.
Permaculture seeks a sustainable culture. Transformed cultural practices allow a new normal to evolve. In the same way that hygiene practices were developed, cultural habits need to become sustainable. Simple practices then become accepted as the new normal. Enduring, simple practices include composting, growing food, harvesting rain-water. More highly-skilled practices include the art of conflict resolution.
Dream of a better future. Step back to see what is working and what is not. But best of all, get skilled to be a valuable part of the next era.
Professor Stuart Hill, agricultural and soil ecologist, and social-ecologist challenges us all to restore our inner landscape. Stuart reminds us of our formative years. At first, we live with open eyes and a passion to live from the ‘inside-out’. But with conditioning, we learn to live from the ‘outside-in’. He challenges us to regain our spontaneity, curiosity, and honesty. Then we become ourselves and get comfortable with being different. Peaceful diversity enriches us, our relationships, and the world.
We start life with spontaneity, and our curiosity enables us to appreciate context and environment. And so, we begin to conform. Bit by bit, we learn to live from the outside-in. Over time, our inner child learns to please other people and conform to society.
Cultural conditioning, however, prevents awareness. And it blocks our ability to be ‘present in the moment’, and gives away our power. Ultimately, we risk accepting compromises to our ethics and values. ‘Most people will be in denial of this’. states Stuart.
When we recover our spontaneity and curiousity, we are freed.
Prof Stuart B. Hill
Becoming Different Enriches the World
Children around the world are conditioned. They learn to conform. In earnest, the adults aim to keep them safe and well, and help them develop skills. But, it is damaging to their inner landscape. Slowly, the child’s inner landscape becomes patterned. Their responses become habitual. The child begins to seek to please the teacher rather than seek the truth. However, by restoring curiousity, we rediscover our passions.
Openness allows us to be different. And these differences create a robust tapestry of cultures, expertise, history, and knowledge.
Understanding and incorporating differences in people helps us to form better teams. Better still, this diversity of approaches and ideas enriches Permaculture design, teaching, and practice.
Power of Collaboration
Stuart urges the Permaculture designers to collaborate more. Designers, clients, and members of the community working together are more effective and their legacy endures. He encourages us to find out what is close to the client’s heart. By kindling the client’s passion, the permaculture design is nurtured and evolves. With joy, the users engage and build competence.
Focus On Your ‘Exceptional’
Stuart also explores the idea of systems thinking. He argues that anything that is happening in one place in the world is also happening all over. “You will find 20% nasty, evil stuff, 10% really good stuff and the rest is compensatory”. He challenges Permaculture to focus on the 10% really good stuff in order to keep thriving. “All of us have to be awake, attentive, thinking, reflective, and avoid being judgemental”. In fact, we need to forgive the errors of others and not let these turn you away from their gems of insights.
Why Not Worship Gurus
Furthermore, when we search for the top 10% of leaders, we may inadvertently elevate them to guru status. But the problem, according to Stuart, with worshiping ‘gurus’ is that people try to imitate the high level of competence of the guru. Instead, what we really need to uncover is the learning journey taken by the guru. Then, we might discover how they focused on their own 10%. And best of all, how they resisted compromising their values.
Learning about the stages of development of great thinkers, through listening to their background stories, leads us to develop our own story. Nurturing our curiosity, we discover what is interesting to us. We find our own ‘exceptional’.
“Work to your own agenda, not someone else’s”
About Stuart B. Hill
Professor Stuart B. Hill is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at Western Sydney University. At WSU he taught units on Qualitative Research Methodology, Social Ecology Research, Transformative Learning, Leadership and Change, and Sustainability, Leadership and Change (he retired in 2009 and is now an Emeritus Professor in their School of Education).http://stuartbhill.com/
Every day a tree goes to work. It flexes and grows, repairs and renews. It draws nutrients to the top, distributes water to the leaves, and when the season is right, it flowers and fruits. Lucky for humanity, the fruit is just the cherry on top. Let’s celebrate how forests serve to keep humanity happy.
Undercover, the roots help collect nutrients, keep a grip on soil and rocks, search for new territory, negotiate pathways, and often exchange benefits with other roots and fungi. The roots even whisper to other like-minded tree roots.
Up above, the treetops are busy attracting pollinators and friendly fertilisers (birds and mammals), deflecting damaging wind, keeping warm, and sheltering their young saplings. Impressively, a tree can regulate the temperature around itself by regulating the moisture content in its trunk. This is an additional feat on top of the great thermal mass quality of wood.
A tree is a busy organism but it is never alone. Every tree belongs to a community of forest organisms. Even in death, the tree decomposes and recomposes itself through its relationship with forest organisms.
Oblivious of their importance to humanity, the tree absorbs CO2 and releases life-giving Oxygen. But surprisingly, recent research shows that many trees, worldwide have hit their limit and are now shouting a warning.
There are some highly specialised. ‘Super-trees‘ powers ranged from diesel nuts, leaves that can burn whilst wet, abundant fruit, or communities of creatures. Occasionally a tree can be big enough to shelter a family, provide timber that never rots, live for thousands of years, support kilometers of fungi underground, or hold steep slopes of mighty mountains. Many trees communicate for miles underground.
There are at least 10 types of trees that humanity depends upon. The yield is potentially limitless due to the capacity for the exponential growth of a forest. They provide fuel, food, oils, forage, structural, conservation, carbon sequestration, soil management, animal barriers, and fungal & microbial habitat.
Energy from trees
Fuel from trees comes in many forms. You can choose from solid fuel (wood) and flammable leaves, bark, oil and ‘diesel’ nuts. Solid fuel comes from windfalls (cones from nut pines, fallen wood) or harvest cuts (thinning, or felling). David Holmgren writes that solid fuels are the most useful energy resource globally because: we can plan for their harvest, they are easy to cut, require little training to use, convert easily to energy, hard to steal or vandalise, and renew themselves. Some timber ie. Eucalyptus leaves will even burn wet. Diesel and Petroleum treesburn like candles.
The Brazilian tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii commonly known as Capaiba (Tupi Indian word cupa-yba), a legume, is called the diesel tree. The tree is tapped sustainably like maple syrup. More powerful n-Heptane is distilled from the oil of Pittosporum resiniferum. Another form of fuel is BioGas from coppiced tree material via composting for methane collection.
Food and Alcohol on Tap
More than 80% of the world’s food species came from the rainforest. The permaculture food forest diversifies the yeild. It usually mixes fruit and nut trees. Because, unlike the commercial orchard, the permaculture fruits do not all have to ripen at once to go to market. In fact, it is handy to have a longer period of harvest. This extend the season and avoid gluts. In addition, the food forest trees have a variety of roles. Strong food trees support vine crops. Whereas short-lived trees act as nurse young canopy trees. Tall evergreens huddle as wind-breaks. While a deciduous pear gently shades the balcony.
Oils from Forests
There is a myriad of herbal, medicinal, culinary, and cosmetic oils from trees. Most famously Frankincense and Myrrh. Common oils today include Pine, Eucalyptus, Olive, Teatree, and Neem.
Out on the Forest Farm
Forests for animal forage and fodder are all but forgotten by modern farming. Many varieties excellent, nutritious fodder for animals. Forming living fences, hedges, they shelter as well as feed farm animals. In return, the cattle and sheep fertilise the fodder trees. In addition, forest shrubbery and leaf litter filter any excess nitrogen. Forage Examples include: Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) and Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush),
Animal barrier systems such as hedges are stronger, longer-lasting, and more durable than fences. Hedges might look chaotic, but the borders can be trimmed. The chaos can have boundaries. Hedges permit small creatures to pass underneath and larger animals/people and cars to stay out.
Many trees were big enough to shelter a traveller. Even Plato wrote about trees too big to put his arms around. Good old fashioned lumber (wood for building) is still in business. Valued attributes include flexibility, lightweight, thermal mass and pliability. Traditional buildings in Japan use wood to build earthquake-safe housing. Wood has more to offer. Recently, an 18 storey Skyscraper was built out of engineered wood in Norway.
Big Network, Big Potential
There are kilometers of fungi in just a cup of soil. These Fungi & Microbe powerhouses can convert sugars into energy sources more readily than machines. Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world.
Indirect Benefits To Humanity
Conservation/Wildlife Habitat The preservation of habitat makes good economic sense as much as an ethical sense. If nothing more, we can keep healthy forests as a bank of diverse genetic material because most of it we have not yet recognised it’s full value to us. Machines might be able to create clean air, water, soil, and find nutrients but our prosperity still depends upon nature’s bank of genetic diversity.
CarbonSequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. Long living trees are excellent guardians of carbon. Many trees live thousands of years (including olives) however, clonal colonies of trees have the potential to be immortal. Pando, an 80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspen, is the oldest known clonal tree.
Forests Build Their Own World
Forests create and protect soil. Trees will halt erosion by holding banks of steep slopes and trapping centuries of organic matter. They even create their own rain by trapping moisture with the leaves seed the clouds by releasing fungi and other particles. Best of all, forests can create a beneficial micro-climate.
Energise Your Future
Last century, humans used wood to make steam, to turn pistons that turned wheels on tracks to move people from station to station. Before that, we would grow grain to feed to horses that pulled the wagons of cut trees we used to heat our homes and cook food. These technologies still work, that in the future the technologies will be cleaner and more efficient.
Today, we use a lot of electricity. one of the biggest challenges for the conversion to natural energy use is finding a form that is compatible with the system we already have. Nicole Foss talks about our limitations due to the current dependence on particular forms of energy. At the moment, mankind is dependent on either electricity from an aging grid network and on liquid fuel or gas for transport. Biogas and other energy transition technologies allow us to convert existing equipment such as gas cookers and tractors.
Forests are facing three big threats. The first threat comes land clearing, the second from global warming and thirdly, increasing public fear of fire.
Making space for nature begins with making space for trees. Understanding the different products and services that forests offer and using trees to fit well with the urban space will create healthier cities. “Traditionally human settlement has set about to conquer nature and exclude other species. It is time to realise that part of our ecological happiness comes from other species.” Evolutionary biologist Prof Menno Schilthuizen
What Can One Do?
People have the power to increase urban forests because ownership of most of the open spaces is actually in private hands. We learn from nature by reconnecting, getting involved in citizen nature projects, and building the ability to observe. Ultimately, we begin to partner with nature.
Do we need a reason to reforest the earth? Perhaps we should do it simply because we can.
Permaculture mimics nature. By observing how nature faces challenges, we design for smarter and efficient uses of her resources.
Community gardens are a fantastic way to enrich community health, food security, and forge positive relationships. They also empower, upskill, and foster inclusivity. Through the act of shared care, we develop social skills and pioneer gentle conflict resolution. But don’t think you have to work with your formal community. You can set up a garden on your street that serves the community passively. Even your street garden can peacefully offer free flowers, food, and entertainment.
All around the world, from remote towns to highly-populated cities hide buzzing pockets of community gardens. Permaculture design thinking enriching these structures by applying both physical design tools as well as the principle of care of people. Overall, the best approach for community projects like these is to always act with kindness.
10 Tips for Starting a Successful Community Garden
Successful community gardens usually have a small, but committed team. Long before you start designing the growing space, build a supportive social network of like-minded folk. Luckily, there are many old hands and spades of advice from community garden associations.
Discover the diversity of skills in your team. Some people will have skills in marketing, fundraising, or seed-saving and composting. By learning from one another, skills are transferred to others and this reduces the risk of burn-out whilst increasing the resilience of the whole group.
Remember to keep everyone well informed so they have the chance to contribute, and celebrate the milestones.
Community gardens can take on many different shapes but all need access to sunlight and water. Now that you have the support to make this dream a reality, brainstorm what you want it to look like. How big will the grow space be? How will inputs and harvests be handled? Where will infrastructure like communal gatherings, classes, shed and facilities work best? Gathering this information will help to build your group design.
Check the Paperwork
Paperwork isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. You’ll want protection in case someone gets injured while in the garden or distributing food. Look for insurance options provided by parent organisations.
If you don’t want to do all the start-up paperwork, join a nearby community garden that would benefit with your support.
Put Down Roots
Find a Space
Finding the physical space for the community garden might be the most challenging step. Thankfully, you can start a garden in all sorts of environments, from backyards to abandoned lots. Not all community gardens are formally contracted. Some are on private land, generously supplied by a friendly benefactor. Some may be simply on a space owned by a small group of neighbours with a common boundary.
On the other hand, if you plan to lease the space, opt for a contract that runs at least three years. Because many plant varieties take several years to establish. You don’t want all of your hard work to go to waste if you have to relocate in a hurry.
However, don’t despair, relocatable gardens are also possible as long as you factor this into the design.
Now that you and your team have a vision, it’s time to enlist help from your community! Reach out to schools, hospitals, clubs, and other organizations to see if anyone is interested in getting involved. In addition, be sure to list the benefits and potential member requirements.
Permaculture Design Boosts Plans
Plan and Design
Firstly, design to optimise the space for shared resources. Instead of everyone having separate plots, separate goals, aim for healthy conversations, and a shared vision.
Community gardens that share the work and harvest have a far greater total yield. Shared spaces build conversations and deeper cultural understanding.
Then, consult the users in the development of the design. Productive designs fit the landscape shape to make use of gravity and natural resources. Moreso, adaptable design encourages ownership and expertise from the users.
Set Meaningful Goals Rather than Olympic Dreams
What do you want to achieve from this venture? What role will the community play in creating resilience in your area? Listening to the concerns of the project members, the wider community and surrounding neighbours fulfills both permaculture ethics to care for people and care for the environment.
Community gardens are often started by passionate individuals hoping to create a beautiful growing space. However, relationships will grow further by inviting people to enjoy the garden, even if they’re not interested in growing anything. So, keep the space flexible. Design for flexibility to support a range of uses. Open the community garden to complementary programs such as outdoor yoga, children’s camps, music performances, or poetry readings. The design for adaptability broadens the yield.
“The Yield Is Truly Unlimited” Graham Bell
Connect With Partners
If we calculate the potential of a project in merely energy terms, the potential yield may look quite limited. But actually, the yield is not just measurable in kilojoules. In truth, a garden yield is not the simple sum of the energy-in subtracted from the energy-out. In fact, biology has explosive potential.
Graham Bell stresses that our yield is unlimited because life has exponential growth.
As a result, the yield from a community garden has the potential to be far greater than the effort invested.
And the social implications are immeasurable.
Furthermore, partnering with local businesses and organizations helps to magnify the yield potential. For example, a local business could regularly supply high-value organic waste (such as coffee grinds from nearby restaurants). Eventually, the community garden requires fewer inputs and the partnering business builds a powerful awareness of the value of their waste. The business owners may decide to use their waste to make an onsite garden.
As a consequence, success grows beyond the walls of the community garden.
Establish New Community Ties
Share your message all around the local area. Let people know there’s a local space where they can grow food and friendships. You may be surprised by how many people want to get involved. If you’re lucky enough to have too much food on your hands, find ways to donate leftovers to vulnerable people.
In the end, community gardens provide healthy food and healthy physical activities. They also offer security and self-reliance in uncertain times. Best of all, these social connections nurture our mental health.
Text Coauthored by Emily Folk
Thanks to contributions from Emily who is passionate about environmental sustainability. More of her work can be found on her site, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter for her latest updates.