“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”
~ Gautama Buddha
This past weekend (July 27 and 28, 2013) I had the privilege to attend to the “Urban Permaculture” presentation by Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden
The event was organized by Brewery Creek Garden and attended by about 56 people, mostly from Vancouver, although I could recognize at least two Village Vancouver http://www.villagevancouver.ca/ members (Randy and Ann) and three Village Surrey members (Courtney, Helena and myself).
The location could not have been more perfect: the beautiful VanDusen Botanical Gardens . Although the VanDusen were designed in 1966 and opened to the public in 1975 and never mentioned the term “Permaculture” as their philosophy, the entire design, including their sustainable new building: http://vancouver.ca/vandusen/capitalproject/philosophy.htm seem to be based on many Permaculture principles such as multiple functions, optimizing edges, collaboration with succession, use of renewable resources and value of diversity, among others.
We started Saturday with an introduction of Permaculture, where its three ethics where presented:
“Care for the Earth” – “Care for the People” – “Return the Surplus” (or share the surplus)
Hemenway explained how until recently in history, humans designed with two goals in mind: that it worked well (engineering/technology) and/or that it would be beautiful (aesthetics), but they never asked whether it would be ethical or morally right to build or bring it to life: this is a new concept that has rarely been used by those who have the power of designing any systems in their hands: be this a garden, a building, a business model, a product or a process. This is why we have been “designing” things that are dangerous, eroding, polluting, toxic and plan wrong: we designed the atomic bomb (and threw it over innocent civilians), we designed a whole culture sustained by fossil fuels who are killing the only planet we have and its species, we designed foods that make people sick, lifestyles that make people unhappy and unsatisfied, and so on…
Permaculture introduces Earth care, People care and the Return the Surplus as ethical foundations to determine whether a design would be worth creating. Is it good for the Earth and its inhabitants? Is it good for people and future generations? Does it allow for surplus to be returned and shared (or, in other words, does it create abundance and promotes compassion?)
We also reviewed the meaning of the word “sustainable” and agreed that sustainability is the breaking point between degenerative and regenerative systems: being just in the middle of these two is not enough, as so much has already been destroyed. Our current global systems have experienced so much stress and loss, that in order to “balance” them again we have to work more on the “regenerative” side.
It is not a matter of “sustain” what we currently have, but of asking first if what we want to “sustain” is worth sustaining (i.e., do we want to sustain a car-based society and way of life, in the case that is possible? Do we want to sustain consumerism, people’s exploitation so a selected group can live well?). It is also a matter of “repairing” and “regenerating” (i.e. Build soil; create carbon sinks or areas friendly to pollinators to attract beneficial insects) and making ethical choices about what is worth sustaining…
Hemenway also presented his 14 Permaculture Principles, which can also be found in his book “Gaia’s Garden” and differ a bit from the 12 Permaculture Principles by David Holmgren http://permacultureprinciples.com/ . I particularly like to explore both approaches as I find value in each. Many other Permaculturists have proposed their own “principles list”…but most convey the same foundational messages about designing with ethics and caring in mind.
We finished the morning with an exercise to know each other better and reviewed the principles selecting two we liked most and two we had trouble with. Our group selected “Observe” and “Use small scale, intensive systems” as the ones we liked most and “get a yield” and “optimizing edges” as the ones that most challenged us.
Some great resources were provided to study further:
Other learning moments from Saturday morning were:
The last learning was that the better a system is designed, the least work we will have to do: a good designed system should provide for most of its elements needs: i.e. grey water may irrigate plants, compost and livestock may provide fertilizer, trees may provide shade and light spots will ensure enough sun for those plants who most need it.
In the afternoon we reviewed methods we could use to design:
We used a comparison with our current system and how a “Permaculture” based system may work in our kitchen:
Learning moments and resources from Saturday afternoon:
Dignity Village: also in Oregon, a series of buildings and projects created for homeless people:
Books: “The Resilient Gardener” by Carol Deppe:
End of day one feeling: encouraging, engaging, motivated, happy, thankful and part of a wonderful community.
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
~ Albert Schweitzer