My observations are that the eco design methodology known as permaculture suffers in two fundamental ways: a confusing name and dogmatic application by inexperienced converts.
The name is the name – no changing it at this point – and there is no antidote for dogma. But for a general audience of readers I’d like to lay out the ethics and practice of permaculture using two concrete examples.
When engaging with permaculture as a design methodology, practicioners are bound to follow a basic set of ethics: care for the environment; care for people; share surplus resources. I appreciate this ethical code because it helps distinguish a permaculturist from anyone else who may be involved in the ‘sustainability movement’ such as an organic gardener, recycler, green builder, eco-activist.
This is not to say that a permaculturist cannot engage in all of these, but that anyone who practices one or more than these is not necessarily engaging with the permaculture ethics.
I also appreciate the ethics because they are an integral part of the design process. For example, the ‘pop-up curtain bank’ that recently opened in our community is a direct application of the permaculture ethics.
Sharing surplus resources: Members of the community who have curtains they no longer require can drop them off and members of the community who need curtains can pick them up. Like any bank it accepts deposits and grants withdrawals.
Caring for people: It’s no secret that most of the housing in our city is substandard: cold and/or damp. These unhealthy homes are especially hard on children and seniors. Getting properly installed curtains, insulating blinds and window blankets into as many homes as possible helps make the occupants more comfortable and healthier.
Care for the earth: Improving the ‘thermal envelope’ of a home is the best way to save energy required for heating and cooling. Saving energy is generally considered good for the environment.
The other example I’ll share is a direct application of eco-design: imitating nature to develop or reestablish robust ecological systems. The latter of these is sometimes called ‘regenerative design’.
We are in the process of reestablishing a wetland on our farm and protecting streams from stock. Additionally, we are planting native trees and poplar poles on steep hillsides to prevent slips and erosion.
All of this work is supported by Horizons Regional Council, which offers expert advice, low-cost poplar poles, and in some cases funding for fencing and plantings. I cannot speak highly enough of these programmes.
Forests and wetlands play important roles in moderating seasonal water flows across large land areas. In other words they store water high on the landscape during wet periods and release it slowly during dry periods. It works like a bank by accepting deposits and granting withdrawals.
Much of the farmland in our region suffers from extreme weather on both ends – wet and dry. Neither is good for stock, nor for farmers, nor for water quality, nor for anyone living downstream. The reasons are clear: not enough trees on hillsides and streamsides.
The solution is to build resilient waterways by imitating nature, or in other words engaging in eco design. Projects like ours are the most direct way that landowners and the wider community can address the extreme weather events associated with a volatile and changing climate.
The restoration work we are doing on our farm will help – to a tiny degree – everyone who lives and works downstream and downriver from us.
So, in a nutshell, what this is all about is developing alternative banking systems – stream banks and curtain banks – and getting the community involved. This is what resilience is all about, and it is the heart and soul of permaculture design thinking.
If you are the least bit concerned about healthier homes and climate change, you too can get involved.
Please donate clean curtains and Roman blinds to the Curtain Bank before 5th August: 91 Guyton St.
Please donate native trees to the Kaitiaki Wetland Restoration by popping into the Wanganui Garden Centre before 17th August: 95 Gonville Ave.