Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Permaculture- it's not just about dirt and gardening

Spontaneous permaculture talks. I mean- what else could be more titillating? Do we live on the wild side or what?

You may be asking (as I did): 'What the eff is permaculture?'

Well... honestly if the talk were any indication, besides something that radical hippies/hipsters (hey, not that I'm not a tree hugger myself, I just happen to own a fridge) buy into, permaculture has something to do with agriculture. Permanent Agriculture is a term that has grown into, over time, "Permaculture".

Clear right? (Let's just say that the presenter wasn't the best at clearly defining topic and explaining the "what" in "What is permaculture").

Ok, so it's actually a lot more than simply a closed loop, sustainable agricultural system... which is what I originally thought permaculture to be. A quick search on wiki reveals that modern permaculture is:

...a system design tool. It is a way of:
  1. looking at a whole system or problem;
  2. observing how the parts relate;
  3. planning to mend sick systems by applying ideas learned from long-term sustainable working systems;
  4. seeing connections between key parts.... (wiki source)
(interested? More info on permaculture at Permaculture Principles)

A friend of mine had informed me that morning that the talk was occurring at a tiny bookstore-cafe two seconds from where we live (The Trident). As we'd never been there before, and hey I like ecological topics, we decided to attend. First of all, being type A, it was a little stressful to discover that the time was a little fouffy, no one (even the staff at Trident) really knew when it was starting and seating was haphazardly assigned. I had a few deep breath moments.

The presenter was an experienced and obviously passionate farmer, Alex. He had a beautifully hand drawn "Permaculture Flower" taped up against the book shelves and I could still see the soil beneath his fingers. Although there were a few key aspects of his presentation that were a bit wonky (ridiculously poor organizational and explanation skills and some obvious biases against all government and traditional educational settings, and several conspiracy theories thrown in for good measure), Alex reminded me of a few key and inspirational Eco-Musts.

Firstly, to my surprise, he did not in fact begin talking about soil, plants or compost- but Peak Oil. Nothing new here- oil sequestered by the sun for millions of years is a finite resource, we're chewing through it at something like 80-something million barrels a day and have passed the point of the peak amount of oil available on our planet. It is something to consider, because unless we start investing in something else for energy, our fuel costs will just continue to skyrocket in the long term.

As I sat there, surrounded by large framed glasses wearing, huge beard and "trying to look authentically like a trucker hat even though I obviously have never lived outside the city my entire life" wearing early twenty somethings who chimed in at the end how "parents are the WORSE man", I kinda felt a bit out of touch. Ya know, I have visual evidence of me hugging a ginormous tree in Stanley Park (Vancouver BC), and truly have grown up in rural Nova Scotia where I'd come home regularly to a new deer gutted and hung up in my grandpy's barn to be shared with everyone, but I kept having moments of "please give me something practical and useful hear" instead of Mr. Alex's passionate advice to build a rocket stove or a root cellar.

I kept picturing Andrew and I attempting to cook grilled cheeses in a brick makeshift stove with the fire started by the twigs we gathered and an increasingly large black burned area in our living room floor. I figured it would be 5 minutes before our neighbours would call the fire station... and we'd get evicted.

After the first hour I had a harder time tracking his jumping bean train of thought and connecting all the dots. I found myself gazing lovingly at the beautiful Permaculture Flower.

Now this flower has some interesting community and life implications. 

It looks an awful lot like a pagan diagram. The spiral, the connection with nature and the ethical concept that we're here to care for our planet as stewards.  I wondered on the Goddess or probably pagan roots and connections. There is definitely something spiritual connected here.

At 9pm my face was so red, my heart and mind a bit heavy after such a long, disjointed and impassioned speech (we'd been there since 6:30pm), that I was very much happy to go. Even though I really wanted to directly challenge a few of his statements (that university brainwashes you, that parents and the baby boomers know nothing about conservation, that environmental organizations really don't do squat, that urban gardening is a waste of time, that cooperation and community has been lost in rural and urban settings alike...), I just got up and left. The thing is though, I'm fairly certain he would have listened respectfully and been a great conversation partner.

Ahh well- the following post on cooperation and community: why it's important to begin thinking about and how to start one in your living area, were worth the entirety of that 2+hour talk. :) That and it was so moving to see someone completely passionate and caring share his thoughts and ideas.

The one book I've read that mentions permaculture? The Earth Path by Starhawk. An amazing book btw that teaches you how to make seedbombs. Oh yeah.

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. "As I sat there, surrounded by large framed glasses wearing, huge beard and "trying to look authentically like a trucker hat even though I obviously have never lived outside the city my entire life" wearing early twenty somethings..."


  2. Hi - Usually I'm all dull and boring and read blogs via my Reader (Google Reader), but I actually dropped by, and just wanted to comment how AWESOME the backdrop and header look! :-)

    Must drop by more often, and quit my lazy addiction to the Reader!

  3. I love it! As the "parent" who knows nothing, yet has been composting, cleaning with green products, urban gardening and recycling since long before it was cool, I appreciate you sticking up for us "oldsters" in your post. University may have brainwashed me, but hey, it gave me the opportunity to become a teacher and educate another generation about the environment and permaculture. Sometimes us old fogies do have something worthwhile to share....(I'm only 41, but early twenty somethings make me feel a hundred).

  4. Sorry to hear that the talk wasn't all that inspiring. Perhaps you're better off reading a book on the subject, such as the one written by the man who coined the term, Bill Mollison.

    P.S. About this hipsters, is it just me or are they increasing in numbers? Seems like there's more every time I go downtown.

  5. Here is a great permaculture website. Geoff Lawton is a student of Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture.


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