8. May 2017
Reading time: 4 minutes
Today we are going to think outside the box again and introduce you to permaculture, a movement begun in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Let’s start by looking at why permaculture is receiving more and more attention. We live in a world in which resources are ever scarcer while the population grows ever larger. The question thus arises whether our present economic and ecological systems can remain sustainable at such a rate of growth – or whether we will have to rely on more suitable systems in the future. Permaculture involves developing just such alternative solutions, using systems modeled after natural ones, and which operate in cycles instead of exhausting nature – in farming, energy supply and social infrastructure. But what exactly does that mean? We asked Mischka Hart, who is currently apprenticing as a permaculture designer.
Hello Mischka, can you explain what permaculture is by way of a practical example?
In general anyone can start with permaculture right away. The principle of permaculture can be applied on very small surfaces such as on balconies or in gardens. The idea is to create permanent and sustainable cycles that are in harmony with nature.
Mixed cultivations in gardens complement one another. Diseases and pests which specialize on only one specific plant cannot spread as quickly. The system is significantly more stable and ultimately more productive while doing without chemical pesticides and fertilizer.
An example: corn and beans planted next to one another complement one another. As a large and stable plant, corn serves as a trellis for beans to climb while the beans provide the corn with important nutrients. Certainly a win-win system. If stones are used as well, moisture will be retained longer and on sunny days the heat will be stored, affecting the climate of the immediate surroundings. This also makes it possible to grow, for instance, exotic plants and create more living space – as anyone who has ever looked under a rock knows. It is thus very easy to change a situation in a garden or balcony by laying out stones, if one is aware of the functions and interaction of individual elements. There are countless such reciprocal effects which we can utilize, but observation and stock-taking should always come first: What are the climatic conditions? Which reciprocal effects can I use and manage? How ecologically worthwhile is the time and effort with regard to end result; that is to say my consumption of resources? Photo © PermaKulturgut.de, CC BY-SA 3.0
Urban gardening is also catching on in cities. Unused space is again being made available to private users or the general public as cultivable surface. This is also happening with regard to whether, in the event of a food shortage, we would have enough nourishment to sustain us, despite the urban environment. Presumably so. Balconies and backyards are excellent for vertical cultivation, for example, or cultivation in raised beds. It boosts our individual productivity and makes us a bit more independent.
Why do you think permaculture is important and the right thing to do?
Although permaculture accesses knowledge that has actually existed forever, I see progress in this movement, a perspective for the future, certainly not a step back. Farming today uses predominately single-crop systems, not mixed cultivation, thereby diminishing biodiversity. Widespread use of pesticides and husbandry with heavy equipment such as tractors additionally weakens the soil. The buildup of active and healthy soil becomes decimated. Unused fields are exposed to erosion, and any remaining nutrients are simply washed away by rain. Permaculture combats this and is actually even more productive. Photo © EwigLernender, CC BY-SA 3.0
If we returned to producing our own food we would also reduce our ecological footprint, cut transport routes and consume regional and seasonal offerings without burdening the environment. Moreover, infertile areas can be made fertile again and contribute to regenerating the natural world, once again become available for farming.
But permaculture is much more than farming, isn’t it?
Yes, in principle it is a movement, an outlook towards life which involves living as environmentally conscious as possible. Without being old-fashioned – quite the opposite – I consider the movement very modern.
It does not require restrictions, but rather a change of attitude. This change in lifestyle can already be seen in many big cities and parts of the Earth. There are community gardens, regional currencies, swap meets, zero-waste shops, recycling, upcycling, repair cafés, symbiotic communities, gross national happiness (Bhutan), transition towns and unconditional basic income. Creative minds that have found alternatives to conventional thought and behavior patterns.
To wrap up, we would like to know why you decided to get involved in permaculture?
Permaculture just hit me right in the heart. I was lucky enough to experience it and get to know it before I had even heard the term permaculture. It spoke directly to my feelings and hasn’t let me go since. I used to have many questions, and permaculture is now providing me with the answers. My rethinking and other actions have made me happier and more open, I meet wonderful people, unlock new areas of knowledge on a daily basis and am occupied with things I would not have occupied myself with and see that there are many intriguing things to learn. It’s just nice to know that there are solutions with which we can create a future fit for our kids. Photo © Alôsnys, CC BY-SA 4.0
Mischka, thanks so much for the interview. And for anyone who has had their curiosity piqued here is a film recommendation: “Tomorrow – the world is full of solutions”. Have fun discovering.