Permanent agriculture. What does this mean? A farm that never stops producing? Well, in short; yes. Permaculture involves designing and then building relationships that allow our agriculture to fully sustain us, while improving and simplifying our lives, and at the same time rebuild and repair the damage that has been done to our Mother Earth. Essentially, it is the acceptance and practice to appropriately live in this world as physical beings.
Permaculture helps us to find our role in the interconnected web of life on Earth, and allows us to make the most minimal impact possible, while fostering the growth of plant life and other beings that are essential to our survival and to that of the Natural Hierarchy we have on Earth. To fully understand what our role is to come in the healing of our planet, we must go back to the most effective and essential life form of all and learn from them: mushrooms.
Mushrooms, or as a more complete term; mycelial, are the computing power of our Natural existence. You see, plants grow in communities, where they establish a symbiotic relationship with one another. The tree’s leaves fall, giving moisture to the ground and compost for the many scattered bushes, flowers, and other plant life surrounding the tree. Mushrooms are the connecting factor between all living things, including our decomposing bodies once we leave them. They are the fruiting body of mycelium, which connects everything in nature and shares the information and resources needed to help the entire plant “guild” flourish or simply to survive.
Mycelium allow water resources to be shared between plant life, along with plant food, and information that the mycelium receive regarding changes in climate, season, or otherwise. They are literally the “Internet” of the plant world, allowing a steady line of communication between living things. If we are to fully harness the power of permaculture, then we must mimic the mycelium; sharing resources and information freely, allowing them to flow wherever they are needed, without hoarding or poverty existing.
It is no secret that we are entering a time of radical change in our climate and living situation here on Earth. We are approaching what is known as the 6th Cataclysm of Earth. This essentially means a mass extinction of most living species. This one, however, is the first to be caused by life existing here: Humans. This sounds depressing, and it should; but there is hope.
After each major cataclysm we have had on Earth, mycelium has been the benevolent force that was in charge of restoring the soil, and fostering new life to spring up. That is why it is crucial for us as Humans to learn as much as we can about how mycelium operate, and to bring those principles into our own lives as quickly as possible, in order to avert, or at least survive the coming cataclysm. The first step to our survival is going to be improving our relationship with plants; essentially taking the best ideas of the plant world, and incorporating them into our own lives, while realizing that plants are sentient beings and should be treated exactly how we treat each other (as those we love).
Ego vs Cooperation
This is where mankind has suffered greatly in recent history. Our ego has separated us from all living things and given us a superiority complex. We feel that because we are the only beings able to build things, use technology, and communicate through speech that we are the most evolved here on Earth. This is just simply not the truth. Every living thing possesses some characteristics or traits that are unique to them, and therefore offer us a learning lesson. There are some important principles we can implement that will help us to eliminate ego from our lives and start to live cooperatively.
First of all, we need to give credit when it is due. Appreciation of unique talents is the key to fostering individual growth among all beings, which raises the vibration of life as a whole to a higher plane. This will help us to eliminate the feeling that anything can be “mine” and allows for free sharing without worry of loss. When we reach this level of cooperation, we will be leaps and bounds closer to full equality and therefore harmony among human beings and between other living beings as well.
One of the most important things to remember is that we live in a closed loop system. That means that nothing that is created comes from thin air, and therefore it always goes somewhere. We cannot just eliminate the waste we produce, therefore there is no such thing as “trash.” Everything we bring into this world must be recycled or reused if possible. We need to move past the paradigm of relying upon centralized garbage and sewage services and start utilizing every single resource we have (yes that even includes our own bodily waste).
When we accept that nothing we use ever just goes away, we realize that our health as individuals comes from the health of our soils, and those nutrients are passed onto us by the plants who grow here. If we are throwing away our waste, it is ultimately going into the ocean, which in turn evaporates and carries waste products through rain clouds and hence precipitation into our soils, which poisons us and damages the soil. This is what living in a closed loop looks like, and it is inescapable. Our inability to remember the nature of this cycle has brought us to the brink of disaster that we now stand upon.
So, now you are probably wondering where the hope lies for us to survive this seemingly imminent chain of events. Well, it is going to come from opening our eyes to the solutions that are already on the table, and utilizing them to their fullest advantage, in order to reverse the process we have started and begin repairing our Earth.
Arguably our most precious resource, water is wasted by the millions of gallons every day. Every 5 minute shower uses approximately 35 gallons of water, and we are letting all of that just go into our drains which gets carried to sewage plants or straight to the sea. When you stop to think that probably at least 50% of our population (most likely even more) showers daily, the math becomes staggering.
In California especially, but really in all regions, we are overusing and therefore wasting water that we could use to grow our food and enrich our soils. Ideally, our water budget should be perfectly in line with what falls from the sky, since that is nature’s bounty she is providing to us. Obviously, we are nowhere even close to that milestone. So the question becomes: how do we solve this first and extremely crucial step towards permaculture?
The answer is of course the process of rainwater collection. Using rooftop cisterns, we can slow the water’s movement, spread it to precisely the place it is needed, and then sink it into the ground. There, the mycelial will hold it for dispersal to the proper plant life that needs it. When humans can start doing this on a large scale, we can begin to restore the hydrological cycle that our planet relies upon. Rain falls, seeps into the ground, makes its way to the streams, which feed into the rivers, and those pour into the ocean. Then the cycle starts over as the atmosphere evaporates the ocean water, carrying it over our heads and purifying it, then dropping it down upon us once again.
As our climate becomes increasingly arid from the consumption of natural resources, we are seeing more and more deserts springing up; places where there is a shortage of resources to be shared amongst wild life, so living beings are sparse at best. Still, these deserts can provide for us if we just realize where to look. Olives are one such gift from Mother Earth that require very little irrigation, are vastly abundant when they are allowed to grow, and act as medicine for us as humans. Date palms are another desert offering. Pomegranates are another. The lesson here is, resources should be honored as sacred, and nature will always find a way to provide its children with the means to survive.
One supreme example is the recent discovery of a particular fungus that has been growing in the Amazon that has the ability to consume polyurethane products in a vacuum, without harmful byproducts. This is just nature’s way of showing us that she is always in charge, and will always find a way to heal herself regardless of how much we hurt her and destroy her surface. Everything we create still comes from Mother Earth, and she will take it back no matter what condition. The trick is, to give it back to her in a way that fosters, not hinders, her growth.
The next step towards permaculture we must take as humans is to provide for ourselves in a natural and sustainable way. What are our essentials to survival, you may ask? It can fairly easily be accepted that all humans need to survive are Food, Clothing, Social Interaction, and Shelter.
Our shelters in this current paradigm are without a doubt one of our most wasteful practices. Excesses of wood are cut down to provide the framing and siding of homes, as well as much of our furniture. The opposite of this process is known as natural building. We need to accept that we do not have to be extractive in our building practices (currently 97% of virgin forests in CA and the US have been cut down).
Beyond our buildings, most of our manmade creations are built with what is called “planned obsolescence,” which is the knowledge that what we are producing can and will fail and therefore will need to be replaced. This has further been perpetuated by the systems we are experiencing through the Industrial Complex of our society: Big Pharma, Big Building, and Big Agriculture are securing the lion’s share of our natural resources and using them as quickly as possible to build their customer base and profits, rather than restoring and repairing what we have taken from the Earth.
Looking beyond the rut we are stuck in, we see that the Earth has provided another solution to us for shelter; Strawbail Buildings are one example. Using ancient alchemy, we know how to use straw for insulation, clay for shape, sand for weight and filler, and water as the catalyst for bringing these elements together (which evaporates as the ingredients mix together) to create what is known as the Cob brick. This gives us a natural plaster that gives us insulation and thermal mass, allows for passive solar heating, and is a light and easy to use product.
Utilizing Our Waste
Now for the fun stuff: playing with our waste. Most people view composting as something that must be done on an organic farm and nowhere else. Rather, it is a language; a relationship with our waste that allows us to fully utilize what passes through our bodies and is left over from plants that we use in order to foster healthier growth of our plant life and development of our soil.
There are three sources for compostable materials at our disposal (pardon the pun), that are mostly underused at this point. The first, and most obvious, is kitchen scraps. Organic plant matter that is unused in our processes of cooking can be broken down through various methods to provide us with a food for our soil that is unmatched. The second, and slightly less obvious, is our yard waste. Most of us have a yard waste can that we put out once a week with all our lawn shavings, excess leaves, and weeds we have pulled. Little do we realize that these scraps can be used just as our kitchen scraps are; to create a food that will make our soil much healthier. Finally, the source of waste we would probably never think to use; our fecal matter.
This final waste product requires further explanation. Our bodily waste becomes toxic when mixed with water; essentially creating sewage. This is a waste (literally)! Instead of ‘dumping’ the leftovers of the food used by our body, we can collect it, process it, and use it as another tool for improving the quality of our soil. We call this product ‘humanure,’ and it is in fact the richest thing you could bring to the desert in order to foster growth of plant life. An easy way to do this is to have a collection barrel filled halfway with straw (to reduce weight), and cover each visit with sawdust, which covers the smell and prevents flies. When you have a system in place, you can create new receptacles that fit your needs (i.e. egg-shaped buildings that create toroidal fields and push air flow out the top). This form of compost should be kept separate from your kitchen and lawn compost, as it does still contain some pathogens (unless your diet is completely devoid of any animal products or inorganic material).
There are actually many different methods of composting the previously mentioned materials at our disposal. The first is known as Bokashi, and it is a form of fermentation that provides picked food, which our soils love. A second, and recently quite popular method, is known as vermicomposting, which is fantastic for kitchen scraps. This form uses worms as the catalyst for change of our materials into usable food for our soil. The third method is known as pile, or hot composting. The name says it all; the pile gets hot, which introduces more biology in the form of bacteria, which allows for extremely nutrient-rich soil. This is a quicker process, so it allows for quicker introduction into the garden, but is much more hands on and skill-based. Hot composting is great for humanure and kitchen scraps. There is also cold composting which takes much longer (close to 2 years), and it does not eliminate pathogens or weed seeds. This can still be a valuable method when others aren’t available to you. Finally, there is the Hugelkultur method, which is essentially a long trench near the roots of the plants you are growing, where you plant the compostable products straight into the dirt and allow the soil and plants to break it down together. Again, this process is slightly slower, but perhaps the most natural. Avoid using humanure for this method, however, as it can still contain harmful pathogens that get passed to you through the plant life.
Now that we’ve collected our water for more appropriate dispersal, build our shelter using natural methods, and enriched our soils through the use of compost while eliminating any waste products in our life, we can begin to focus on what is most essential to our bodies: nutrition.
Nutrition is so much more than what we eat. It is realizing that food is our medicine. Herbs give us the nutrients we are lacking when the soil isn’t healthy, while we have our plant allies; mushrooms, that help in the breakdown of our foods and store some of the most essential energy sources that our bodies need. Seeds like chia give us protein, fiber, hydration, energy, they detoxify us, and they help us to feel full. There are products like raw honey, basil, and adaptogen herbs, which give us energy when needed, or help us to feel drowsy when our body needs rest.
Beyond recognizing the benefits of eating well, we must realize that food is an integral part of our culture. Food brings us together, helps us to appreciate the cycling of the seasons and the surplus or scarcity of products we need, and one of the easiest ways for us as humans to share love with each other. When a meal is consciously made; considering all the life forms that went into the dishes, where they came from, how they were treated and harvested, and what they provide to our bodies, we can literally feel the love that has been put into that food. That gives us an abundance of love and helps to spread love throughout our lives and unto others we may meet.
The final note I’d like to make on nutrition is simply to avoid packaged foods. Not only do the packages provide little to no recycling purpose, but additives and preservatives are not easily processed by our bodies and inhibit healthy digestion. Ideally, our diets would consist entirely of plants we ourselves have grown, which would provide all the protein, carbohydrates, fat, sugar, and other essential nutrients that our bodies need to operate at optimum condition.
In conclusion, permaculture is about creating small successes that build momentum towards living sustainably and eventually restoratively. We cannot just hope to maintain our current level of resources and treatment of Earth; we need to actively do our part in restoring our planet by minimizing our impact through the consumption of natural resources and dumping of waste products into our clean and usable food and water sources. It is about creating systems that make our lives easier and allow us to fully incorporate everything we use in our daily lives. It is about appreciating nature, learning from her, and mimicking her best practices in our own lives to become more in tune with all living beings. It is about fostering growth and spreading love between ourselves and among all living beings. And most of all, permaculture is about making food, not war. Namaste loved ones, and eat well.