Day two has been full of continuing the discussion from setting up the context yesterday and building off this to cover the ethics, principles and methods that inform permaculture design. The most challenging part of this course is that I feel like I’m constantly drinking from a fire hose and there is just so much information to grasp. I have a feeling much of this will really settle in after the conclusion of the course when I am out practicing what I’ve learned. It’s really neat to be able to see connections from when I worked in Central America on eco lodges and permaculture farms and understanding the theory behind a lot of it. A few of the practical design considerations that I found particularly relevant follow-

  • -Place every element in relationship to another so they assist each other – beneficial mutualism
  • -Each element performs many functions
  • -Each critical element is supported by many elements (i.e. fail safes)
  • -Use bio-resources over fossil fuels (when possible)
  • -Recycle energy onsite – both fuel and human
  • -Use and accelerate natural plant succession to establish favorable sites and soils
  • -Use diverse and beneficial species for production, interactive system
  • -Use edge and natural patterns for best effect

Permaculture isn’t meant to be a quick fix kind of deal. This is a commitment like a marriage that takes years to mature. Once mature though, a well designed system bears fruits for years and years to come, maybe even for 2,000 years or more. Practicing permaculture is a much-needed lesson in patience because it does take some time for things to mature. The tough part about this is that it is completely at odds with our current speed obsessed society, but maybe it’s just what we need to slow down and smell the roses.

We saw many examples of people employing permaculture principles in different ways. The one that stood out to me the most was the Dervaes Family Urban Homestead. The Dervaes family hails from the suburbs of the concrete jungle known as Los Angeles and they are growing 6,000 pounds of organic food on a meager 1/10 acre of land. They grow more than enough food to feed themselves so they share the excess with local restaurants, earning $20,000/year. I know not everyone has the same climate and situation as the Dervaes, but what they’ve managed to do in their tiny suburban yard is remarkable and we could all do something like this too.

I started playing around with some numbers to see what this would look like at scale in terms of land usage. There’s a lot of people and companies (i.e. Monsanto) who claim we can’t possibly feed the world on organic food and it’s simply not practical. In the United States, there are approximately 1 billion acres of land being used for agriculture under the current system. Experts predict that the global population is going to increase to 9.2 billion people by 2050. So, scaling up the Dervaes ratio of 4 people, 6,000 pounds of food, on .1 acres, we would need 230 million acres to produce enough food for 9.2 billion people. This is a rudimentary calculation and I don’t claim any precision here, but it gives some perspective and shows that we most definitely can feed the world organically and using permaculture techniques it would be infinitely more efficient. If we were all to employ some strategies the Dervaes have, we could potentially feed the entire projected 2050 global population on 23% of the agricultural land currently in use in the USA. Even if my calculations are off by more than 100%, this is still ridiculous.

The notion that we can’t feed the world on organic food is an outright lie, don’t believe it. The next time someone tells you it’s not possible, tell them about the Dervaes family and invite them to wonder about what’s truly possibly.

My favorite principle of permaculture is that the yield is theoretically unlimited. It is constrained only by the imagination and prowess of the designer.