Permaculture in practice?
For the past two years I have been living at Landmatters, an off-grid community whose vision is to be a thriving, nature-connected Permaculture community. The co-operative aims to use Permaculture practises and philosophies to demonstrate low-impact solutions that could help reduces our ecological footprint. This Permaculture project was initially set up, and mainly focused around promoting land based communal living. The intention is to enhance the diversity, productivity and beauty of the land, whilst proving an educational resource to the wider community.
During my brief time at Landmatters I have managed to create a beautiful and productive garden, set up a small education programme, and made significant progress on my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. This blog, I hope, will serve as a means of recording and sharing my experiences of living at Landmatters, and my journey towards developing a Permaculture livelihood.
My Permaculture journey started back in 2009, when I first came across the term whilst researching how to grow chillies in the UK. I was new to the temperate zone and most of what I grew never made it to the fruiting stage of their life cycle. The first Permaculture course I attended was a two day 'Introduction to Permaculture' held at the Brighton Permaculture trust site in south east England. My eyes, mind and heart were now open to the wonders of the natural world in ways I've never before considered.
I moved down to Devon, in the south west of England, in 2014 with my wife, Caroline, and then 3 month old son, Roots. We spent the first year living in a small structure called a 'bender', a dome shaped structure made from hazel poles covered with canvas tarps. It was a cold, damp building and it was home.
Summer was great, lots of sunshine and fairly mild nights. Winter was harsh that year, it got cold, very cold and at times it seemed as though the wind would never stop beating against the walls of our new home. The roof and walls leaked and we shared our new home with rodents, and other wild animals. We had always planned to build a new house during our time at Landmatters. I began looking into different 'low-impact' building options and working out how much it could cost and how long it might take. I was very optimistic about the idea of building a new home while trying to make a living off the land. The reality was that being on low income, looking after a young child and fulfilling our communal commitments left us with very little time, energy and resources to make any real progress toward realising our dream of designing and building a new house within three years.
As the universe would have it, one of the residents of the Co-op decided it was time for her to move on. This meant that there was a dwelling now vacant. I was quiet keen, to tough it out and stick to the original plan, however Caroline, being a lore more sensible than I, convinced me that it would be a better plan to move into the dwelling now on offer.
Our new home was a much larger cob round house, with a living roof and a garden busting with potential. The first few weeks in the round house was quite surreal. Both Caroline and I were never very extravagant, and this felt like too much luxury. I must admit though, it was a great joy not to be woken up by the thundering vibrations of walls being violently pounded upon by the forces of the south west winds. I do the miss the direct line to the morning sun we had during our stay in the bender, but now we were warmer, drier and feel much more secure.
So is this Permaculture? In the early stages of my journey towards true self reliance, I had envisioned myself living one a beautiful piece of land somewhere in the middle of nowhere, mostly cut off from the rest of the world. I later came to understand that trying to hide away from society, and the huge problems we face as inhabitants of this planet was never going to be enough for me. Landmatters was formed for the purpose of allowing 'ordinary' people access to land. In order to gain access to the land, the founding members had to go through a mammoth task of arguing their case to the relevant authorities. After years of attempting to keep a low profile while demonstrating an alternative way of living, the Co-operative was finally granted permanent permission to continue operations on the land.
The three ethics of Permaculture; earth-care, people-care and future-care (fair shares), are the foundations for a harmonious existence for all beings on this planet. But how do we actually realise this 'utopia'? Permaculture, to me, is all about observation, record keeping, strategic planning, systematic implementation of conscious designs, constant reflection and the courage to act on updated information, tools and technologies. With the three ethics as our guide, I truly believe that engaging in this Permaculture process can and will help us solve all of the problems we as a society have manifested upon ourselves.
Landmatters is a Permaculture project that seems slightly out of practice with the process. There are numerous examples of Permaculture tools being used. Like; no-dig gardening, shared meals, and way of council meetings. The foundations have already been laid here at Landmatters, and the awareness is present. We live with an amazing bunch of individuals. All with there own unique take on life, the state of the world, and the best way to 'sort it all out'. As individuals we are all focused and driven by our passions, abilities and skills, and though there is an overwhelming sense of a lack of cohesiveness when it comes to communal priorities, the community still provides a beacon of hope to those both inside and outside its' borders.
Most projects, organisations, communities and groups I have been privileged to connect with, who all claim to practice Permaculture all seem to have one thing in common, which I feel leaves them short of the Permaculture ideal. Somewhere down the line of their growth the temptation to jump a step, or cut corners during the process seemed too exciting to ignore. This I observed has allowed uninformed judgements to dictate what issues or actions take priority. Permaculture as a way of working takes time to master. Sometimes decades. It's a total mind shift which requires discipline and takes a lot of practise. I will never claim to be an expert in Permaculture but I have spent a lot of time researching the subject and experiencing the many ways it has been interpreted and implemented and have come to the following conclusion.
The core ideologies, the three ethics, of Permaculture are simple, some of the tools and principles however are open to interpretation, manipulation and dilution. This makes Permaculture as a design science adaptable and flexible but also corruptible. My means of dealing with this issue is to revert back to the earlier teachings of Permaculture for guidance, whenever I feel unsure about what I am doing and how it fits into the Permaculture philosophy. Permaculture is difficult to get your head around, initially, it's even more difficult when you're attempting to practice it on a community level. But it's so worth it when you get it right. It's like anything really, the more we do it the better we become at doing it. Permaculture has the potential to save the world.