Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Principles of Permaculture

“When the needs of a system are not met from within the system, we pay the price in energy consumption and pollution. We can no longer afford the true cost of our agriculture. It is killing our world, and it will kill us.” 
-- Bill Mollison

The first time I was ever introduced to Bill Mollison’s Permaculture, I was sitting in the backyard of a couple’s house, drinking unsweetened green tea, and watching the most adorable child playing shyly by herself while her mother talked to me about their mission.

These were the proud owners of Gray’s Garden, a business my hosts had started by planting and maintaining organic gardens on residential and commercial properties. They had a farm in their small backyard, and wanted to expand to a larger area in Colorado, which they eventually did (they are no longer in the Orlando area).

Every aspect of their lifestyle appealed to me, and I wanted to know more about it. They told me to look up Bill Mollison’s course books and I’ve been thrilled with every page of his Introduction to Permaculture.

Permaculture is both a philosophy and a type of land design. It includes systems thinking, or thinking of life as a whole and complex system of parts that are interconnected. This kind of design promotes sustainability and respect for our integration with the land and its resources.

The threefold ethic of Permaculture: “Care of the earth, care of people, and dispersal of surplus time, money, and materials towards these ends.”

All living things have value to those who study Permaculture, and our American culture would do well to realize its relationship with all things is interconnected and that connection cannot be ignored. If you care for all other living things as you care about yourself, you will live by the principle of doing no harm.

Our current lifestyle is too detrimental to the environment, and if we learn from alternative systems like Permaculture, we can help to save and repair the damage we have done before its too late to turn back.

The Basic Principles for Permaculture Design are as follows:

  • Location: Every element of a landscape’s design should be placed in relation to something else, and they will mutually assist each other. Ex: Plant trees to provide shade and food for animals.

  • Each element should be a multitasker: (Permaculture would not approve of what my significant other calls a “uni-tasker” or something that performs only one function).

  • There should be two or more back-up plans to serve your basic needs: Similar to having a hybrid car, when one resource runs low or out, you should have another to replace it in order to provide things like food, water, shelter, and fire. (I personally love this idea, and we’ll get into how to apply it more in later posts).

  • Efficient energy planning: Such as zoning, or planting/building things in relation to how much we use them or how often we need to tend to them. You would plant a vegetable/herb garden closer than an orchard, because orchards do not produce as often as vegetable/herb gardens.

  • Use regenerative biological resources rather than fossil fuels: For example, it is better to use other plants or less harmful methods to ward off insects than to use pesticides. You can also do companion planting for natural pest control, too.

  • Energy recycling: Energy should be a closed-loop system, where nothing goes to waste. Grow a tree, burn the wood and branches for heat, collect the ashes and use them in your compost to enrich the soil. Another scenario would be: grow food, eat the food, compost the scraps, regrow any seeds.

  • Implementing natural plant succession: There are ways we can use our plants currently growing in an area to aid with preparing the soil for planting - such as using fallen leaves in compost and letting it naturally break down the nutrients.

  • Crop diversity: Planting multiple plants next to each other can assist in cultivating an environment that is mutually beneficial in a functional disorder. It is also wise to be selective about plants and their relation to other plants, as some can be harmful to each others’ growth.

  • Define borders in order to control the land: Whether you are building a fence to keep out animals, or a spiral-shaped compost, you have defined a barrier to better help you manage the land.

The above are very simplified descriptions of complex concepts. You can read about Permaculture more in-depth here or check out Bill Mollison’s books. There are several great resources about this craft, and its applications are endless.

Permaculture, permaculture tree, edible knowledge, the principles of permaculture

Here are a few things anyone can do right now to introduce Permaculture into their food lifestyle:

  • Plant your own garden - it’s a plan for the future, even in cities. There’s a lot of possibility for urban gardens if you look into it.
  • Compost your food scraps.
  • Find new and creative ways to reuse materials to make other useful things - and reduce any habits of buying new things all the time (embrace the re-purposed and recycled).
  • Share this blog to help others learn about the different ways American culture can change to become more self-reliant and responsible with their food choices.
  • Tell your friends about what you are learning and come up with ideas in your area for how to make your little part of the Earth a better place. (This spreads community as well!)

Is there anyone else out there studying Permaculture? What are your thoughts on this method for sustainability? Leave a comment below!

Also, check out my new Community page on Google Plus titled “Food Forests of America” for a larger discussion about building food forests and developing projects. We’ll probably be talking more about Permaculture design too!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Go Wild for Local Food Foraging!

The other day I was walking in a local park, enjoying the great outdoors with my family, when I stumbled upon something I had only ever seen up north at my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania. I had found a wild blackberry bush in Florida! My mother and I picked the two ripest berries off of the bush, and tasted them. They were a little sour because they were small, but still that familiar delicious, juicy taste. And this experience made me curious - I wondered, what else can I still find to eat just by walking around?

There are actually some great resources I found while investigating wild, free food in my area. One of them was Falling Fruit, a foraging map of the entire world. This map lists various locations where you can find a tree, a bush, or any free source of food available for the picking! There are some places that are more plentiful than others, however I certainly recommend you check it out and see what is nearby your hometown!

arugula, wild edible plants, food foraging, edible weeds
Another opportunity for foraging could actually be growing at your feet - Weeds! (Not to be confused with the drug). Weeds are often seen as unwanted plants we never intended to grow, and often they can take energy away from other plants growing in your garden. However, some weeds are starting to become household staples, such as arugula or lamb’s quarters.

An interesting assessment, according to Jo Robinson from New York Times, some weeds may actually have more phytonutrients than our modern farmed foods. If this is the case, then it may in fact be in your best health’s interest to start adding these wild edibles to your salads and dishes. It’s something to consider the next time you see a dandelion lying around your lawn or garden!

I also wanted to mention a certain food forest that has been in the media recently. Seattle is taking a lead role in sustainability by planting a food forest for surrounding communities to enjoy and pick from. It is designed based on the principles of permaculture, (which I will discuss more in our next post!)

Local food forests are a great idea, just as much as a community garden, and all states and cities in America could learn from this real dedication to community, and to a better and more equal distribution of our natural resources.

A question I pose to those considering creating a food forest, and for anyone interested in this kind of project is: How do you control people from picking the bounty and selling them for profit? This question has been troubling me lately, and I honestly don’t have an answer for it, other than maybe morality’s guilt. Therefore, dear readers, I would be open for some feedback if you have any thoughts on this!

Lastly, unbeknownst to most Americans, there are several invasive species currently growing in our fields, rivers, oceans, and forests and other natural areas that are destructive to our native wildlife. It is actually surprising how much we are spending a year ($137 billion!!!) on controlling these plants and animals, when we could actually be eating some of them instead!

  • Wild boar
  • Autumn-Olive/Autumnberry
  • Prickly Lettuce
  • Asian Claims
  • Garlic Mustard Plant
  • Chinese Mitten Crabs
  • Burbot
  • Watercress
  • Lionfish
  • Fennel
  • Himalayan Blackberry (which is probably what I found in the park)

*Caution: Some invasive species other than those listed here are poisonous, and cannot be eaten.

Lionfish, invasive species, how to solve the invasive species problem

I noticed Lionfish was on the list of the edible species. Such a beautiful fish, however my brother once told me he learned about them in the Caribbean and truth be told: they have known predator! Nothing is eating them, and therefore they are multiplying and dangerous to the ecosystem.

In order to address this problem, some chefs in the Caribbean islands have started to offer Lionfish on their menus. There are contests for Lionfish recipes, and it is helping reduce the population. This is something we need to be doing for all edible invasive species if possible - get creative with their destruction and eat our way back to a balanced environment. This solution can also help reduce hunger issues - and supports a lifestyle connected to nature and helping maintain the order of things, without going overboard. We don’t want to make these creatures extinct, we just want to reduce their power.

Do you have any experience with edible wild plants or foraging? Leave a comment below! Also, you can now follow me on Twitter @EdibleKnowledge to stay updated on sustainable food news and other tips for a better American food culture.