This is the question that I get most when talking about Small Parish Permaculture – just what is Permaculture? It has variously been described as earth worship (so wrong), environmentalism gone haywire (false), and promoting pagan pantheism, despite the fact that the teachers of Permaculture have explicitly rejected any attempt to ascribe metaphysics to it.
Permaculture is a design science. Bear with this important explanation. It matters.
Permaculture is a compound word meaning permanent agriculture. It was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the last century. I won’t go into the details of how it came about here, but it is well worth picking up later. Geoff Lawton (my instructor), who is regarded by many as Bill Mollison’s successor, defines it thus:
Permaculture is an ethical design science, a system that supplies all the needs of humanity — all the basic needs and all the intricate needs — in a way that also benefits the environment.
The beauty of Permaculture is that its principles work everywhere, in every climate and on every scale. They can be applied to a tiny balcony as well as to a large human settlement. Permaculture is not organic gardening, and Permaculturists are not gardeners. Rather Permaculture is about design, magnifying and multiplying natural ecological processes in a productive system of support and sustainability. Sounds like a mouthful, so let’s start at the start.
The basis of Permaculture is ethics. Does that surprise you? The ethical basis for Permaculture is
- Care of the Earth
- Care of Each Other
- Fair Share
Now, the words fair share in the society today have become politically charged, and usually imply someone in authority who doesn’t even know you taking something which belongs to you and giving it to someone else you don’t know. If you resist even the idea, you are branded a greedy hypocrite worthy of public shame. For some, it no longer means sharing surplus.
Luckily, it is completely in line with Christian moral practice. In light of that, let’s give these very same ethical categories a vocabulary which already exists in the Christian moral tradition.
In using Christian language – and that is all I am doing here – it means,
- Stewardship of Creation
- Stewardship of our fellow Man
- Stewardship of Surplus
Let’s take a Biblical lesson here.
Many of you may know that Adam was created in the wilderness (not in the Garden of Eden), and he was placed in the Garden that the Lord planted. (Don’t believe me – check Genesis 2:4-15) His job? To tend the garden, to cultivate it; that is, to make it productive, and keep it from going wild. Keep it orderly and productive. That was mankind’s first job. It has always been our job. It’s our job now – it is the job that we were created to do.
Every monastery has a garden. Some have orchards. They understand the necessary relationship between growing things and growing spiritually. There is nothing esoteric about this – it is who we are and what we were made to do (again, see Genesis 2:4-15).
This is how we see our ‘role’ as man on earth. We were commanded to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Subdue means not to vanquish or destroy, but to bring under control. Why under our control? So we can learn to make it more productive, and learn what it teaches us about the world, and about ourselves. That’s what hard work does, after all.
We interpret these ethics properly as good stewardship of the earth, each other, and everything which comes of it. It is, properly put, a responsible way of living. No wonder some resist it!
Why it works and why it is necessary
Permaculture works because it follows the way of the natural order of things. It’s not simply ‘organic’. You’d be shocked to see some ‘organic’ farms – they look just like industrial farms, because they are. Permaculture seeks something more varied, more natural, more akin to how things actually work in nature. Sure, everyone talks about it, but few understand it, and fewer do it.
The Most Productive Agriculture in the World
You may not know this, but the most productive use of land occurs in small scale urban farming. More nutrition comes out of small, urban farming, per square foot, than any other farming in the world. Ever. And as urbanization is, unfortunately, becoming a larger and larger part of human existence, making the best use of limited land means an unequaled opportunity for anyone in an urban residence. In Permaculture the saying goes,
The problem is the solution,
and this is a classic example of it. As urbanization spreads, it provides an opportunity par excellence for small parishes, in their neighborhoods, to demonstrate and educate those in and out of the parish about real solutions to their real problems. No grocery stores in blighted urban areas? Let the Church begin to supply some. Nothing for local groups to do, nothing for kids to get involved in, nowhere for families to do something together? Get them involved in the life of growing food, and they will see the Church as the center of their communities again, and their lives. Not sure how to begin, but convinced that your parish can do something for yourselves and those around you? Let’s get started!
How much land do you need?
As much as you can control, which is often less than you actually have. Again, you only need as much land as you can control. WATCH and enjoy this video. Do it! You’ve read this far! Remember, the man in this video started not so long ago, and he added one thing at a time. One at a time.
6,000 lbs of Food from 1/10th Acre in the City
For What Benefit?
As I write this, I personally know of five locations in run down urban areas that have no grocery stores nearby, and I haven’t even Googled it. In these locations, the local families must travel out of their neighborhood areas just to purchase basic necessities, groceries, and more. We have Churches in these areas. This is a powerful opportunity, and a giant gap of provision – and the Church can fill it. The easiest way to supply these needs is not by opening local retail stores. The easiest way to do this is with Small Parish Permaculture. It has a giant impact on economies, personal, community and international. It’s more than community gardening. It’s more than supplying groceries. It’s smaller. It’s bigger.
And we’re not alone in doing it.