& what does it mean?
There are hundreds of ways to define permaculture. A quick internet search will tell you that it is “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems” or “the harmonious integration of landscape and people — providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way”. These are a couple of my favorite definitions, but the truth is that it’s difficult to say succinctly what permaculture is. It’s a complex agricultural system, a design structure, a lifestyle philosophy, and more.
I first learned about permaculture after meeting my partner about ten years ago. He had spent time in Hawaii working and gardening in an eco-village as well as working with family in British Columbia on their permaculture gardens and subtly introduced me to the idea through telling me about those experiences. At the time, I was working at a coffee shop and just living day-to-day without much sense of urgency for the future or even much of an idea of what or who I wanted to be. I wasn’t interested in farming or growing food. In fact, I hardly ate vegetables and was an extremely picky eater, so the idea of living in harmony with nature was quite far from my priority. However, his fervor was infectious and I slowly became captivated by these concepts.
We both spent several years earning our degrees, and it was during this time that I discovered the “zero waste movement” and became interested in learning how to live more ethically and sustainably. The zero waste movement was fuelled by (mostly) women living in large cities, and since I lived in a very small city with little to none of the resources they had, I felt something was definitely missing. I wasn’t really able to connect to the conscious-consumption city lifestyles of these women, but felt an incredible responsibility to do something to mitigate the climate crisis I was learning so much about.
Throughout my life, I’ve never really had money or much means, which made it difficult to make ethical consumption a priority. It disturbed me that people living near the poverty level were stuck in a cycle of not having money, buying the cheapest things, consuming immense amounts of processed food and items packaged in plastic, being sick, not having money for a doctor, and so on. I had been in this cycle my entire life and wanted out. I wanted to change this for myself, my family, and as many others as possible. With this, much fuel was added to my fire.
A google maps view of the community garden outside our old Washington apartment
I moved to Washington state for my partner to continue his education in 2018 and this was a huge catalyst for change. The city we moved to had a steadily growing consciousness about the importance of environmental awareness and locally grown food. There was a package-free section in several grocery stores, a small valley with several urban farms, and we were able to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. We were also extremely lucky to have a small community garden plot right outside of our apartment building during the last two years in Washington. This built momentum for me in achieving my personal goals of lessening my environmental impact and got me very excited about what was possible. Of course, the pandemic starting in 2020 made it even more evident that building resilience within geographical communities was absolutely vital to a healthy and fulfilling life.
In the summer of 2021, my partner and I had been living in eastern Washington state for about three years. Things were going well for us. We both had pretty good jobs, a cozy apartment with a community garden, lots of wonderful friends, and spent our spare time exploring Washington and Oregon. My southern small town dreams had essentially been fulfilled. At the same time, we wanted more space to grow food, be closer to nature in our everyday lives, and I really, really missed my family. With a magnificent opportunity to lease-to-own acreage with a small house, shop, and barns, we decided to change our lives completely and move back to the Ozarks. Leaving friends in Washington was hard. Honestly, there are days where the wounds feel fresh and I miss our community there immeasurably. BUT, our decision to move “home” and work towards healing the land we have access to, being near family, and building a community here is not something we ever thought we’d have the resources to do. It’s (part of) our dream and we’re thrilled to have this opportunity.
A glimpse of our Oklahoma garden in the height of summer
Though one person growing a permaculture garden may not solve issues of climate change and poverty on its own, it is one piece of the puzzle. We are directly affected by what we consume and the environment we live in, and I see permaculture as a way to have access to fresh, healthy foods, as well as a way to get closer to a circular economy and to regenerate land. Perhaps by starting to live this way I can at least help myself and those close to me live a healthier, more sustainable, and more fulfilling life. Permaculture does not seem to be a concept that many people in the US are aware of (though that is changing), so I want to share it with as many people as I can.
I hope to provide some inspiration for you to do whatever is within your means to be a more conscious consumer, and maybe even a sustainable producer!
Until next time,
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