[If you didn’t know, I’m taking a permaculture design course this fall and spring. And as part of the program, I’ll be doing a good amount of writing about the class and my process in it. Once I’m finished, I’ll be accumulating my writings and putting them together in a book, which you can order by visiting my GoFundMe page and helping me raise money to pay for the course. This little essay is a preview of those writings, and a bit of an introduction to the process.]
I’ve spent the past three years working on and learning organic farming. To greater or lesser extents, depending on their operations, organic farmers have a sense that growing food is not the linear, input-leads-to-output industrial task that our conventional agricultural system makes it out to be. Permaculture takes this a step further, seeking to create and nurture food-growing environments within larger ecosystems, minimizing inputs and mimicking nature as much as possible. Permaculture practice views gardens, farms, and landscapes as whole systems of countless interconnected components, which systems themselves are individual components interconnected to the larger world.
It’s this interconnectedness that fascinates me, and which has motivated me to sign up for the course. As an organic farming apprentice, I remember light bulbs going off above my head constantly as I learned about how agricultural systems are complex and intertwined. Soil microbial content affects the health of the veggies? Eggs from pastured chickens taste better than feedlot eggs? Compost is alive? Every bit of information felt like a gift, another strand of the web being revealed to me. The fact that I’ll get to spend the next nine months studying those connections in depth makes me giddy, like a kid at Hannukah: presents every night, and every night a bit more light shed on things as another candle is lit.
I’m also excited to explore the external connections of permaculture to the environment at large as well. Sometimes the new candles lit shed light on disturbing things: we spray our food with carcinogens? we feed cows corn because it’s cheaper, even though it doesn’t work with their metabolisms? agriculture produces more greenhouse gas than almost any other industry? Permaculture can offer tools for halting the environmental destruction that our eating causes, and it can even lead to a restorative agriculture, one that leaves its host ecosystem in better shape than it was. One of my goals for the course is to learn ways we can heal the earth, not destroy it, through our eating.
And, of course, people are intimately connected with our environment, whether we realize it or not. Our industrial food system comes with as many human injustices as environmental ones. Low-wage laborers harvest a lot of our food, farmers and their families get sick from the chemicals they use, the high cost of healthy food leads to unequal access. Holistic agricultural practices must acknowledge these connections, too, and permaculture can offer solutions here as well. Already, military veterans are healing from the horrors of war by nurturing plants and animals. Women are starting their own farm businesses at high rates. And since before the term ‘permaculture’ was even coined, people of color marginalized by our society have created community and fought injustice through growing food. This is perhaps the most exciting prospect of whole-systems agriculture: that it can help us work for justice for those we are in community with.
Most personally, I’m anticipating that this course will impact who I am as a person as well. In the process of making my decision to take this course, I’ve spoken with a number of people who have said that the study of permaculture has changed their lives. I’m trying not to create any specific expectations around it, but I will be open to exploring the web of connections inside my own mind, body, and spirit. And as I can’t help but be a part of the interconnectedness of all things, I can’t help internalizing what I learn, processing it, and expressing it from my own limited perspective. But I hope that perspective will enlarge, and that I will become more aware of who I am, and more of the person I want to be.
Who I am, and more of who I want to be, includes being someone who processes and expresses himself through writing. So that’s the point of the essay project going along with the course – not so much to disseminate the information I learn, but to document my process of learning. I don’t want to cut the web of connectivity off once it reaches inside me; instead I want to share the questions, joys, troubles, knowledge, and experiences that studying this beautiful, complex, messy, and profound web of connections brings. And I hope I’m able to make it interesting and engaging enough so that other people can get something out of it as well. We’ll see if I can pull it off. Regardless, though, this is your invitation to join me as I try.
The class starts August 15, and meets one weekend a month through March. I’ll have updates on this blog throughout, and will also post to my GoFundMe page. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more.