Reimagining sustainable living through permaculture practices
Cover Image: A thriving garden with several high-rise buildings in the background. The garden is filled with lush green plants, blooming flowers, and healthy vegetables. There are several trees and a fence line with berries behind the garden.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to changeCharles Darwin
In our intricate dance of life on Earth, one constant remains: change. The world around us is in a state of perpetual flux, with climate change acting as a powerful catalyst. As temperatures rise, ecosystems shift, and habitats transform, many species face extraordinary challenges. However, amidst this turmoil and chaos, life continues to show its incredible resilience, revealing the astonishing ways in which many different kinds of beings adapt to the changing environment around them.
The urgency of change: necessity for regenerative living
Caring for our planet goes beyond mere preservation or consideration for future generations; it is essential for our survival. The consequences could be dire in the face of potential large-scale systemic failures, such as resource depletion or infrastructure breakdowns. Disturbing estimates suggest that the US system could crumble within a mere few days under such circumstances. In such a scenario, communities would be left to rely on their immediate surroundings for sustenance and resources.
The key to change lies in cultivating a regenerative relationship with the land we inhabit – how can we move from a place of merely sustaining ourselves, to a place that actually regenerates the earth around us abundantly? The more we prioritize practices that restore and nourish the environment, the greater our ability to weather these kinds of challenges and ensure our future.
Pictured above: an aerial shot of a dandelion plant thriving in a crack in the concrete. The dandelion plant has several yellow flowers and medium-sized green leaves.
So what is permaculture and how can we embrace it to effect change? Permaculture is a design framework that uses big-picture thinking to solve challenges the world currently faces. It’s commonly practiced within the food and agricultural system, for example, farming practices that work to heal the land vs. gigantic mono-cropped farms that deplete the earth’s resources. However, since its inception, it is a kind of revolution that has taken many other forms, from transforming our energy systems, social systems, economic systems, and more.
In our present-day society, our economy revolves around consumption, often leaving us detached from our own capacity to produce goods that fulfill our own needs. As Bill Mollison, a co-founder of permaculture said,
“The most significant transformation we must embrace is shifting from being mere consumers to becoming producers, even if it is on a small scale within our personal gardens. If only 10% of us adopt this approach, the potential for abundance is within reach for all.”Bill Mollison, a co-founder of permaculture
So how can we, as individuals, organizations, communities, and businesses, make a positive impact by adopting regenerative practices that nurture the Earth? Using permaculture as a design framework allows for each designer or practitioner to work with what they have, promoting practices that contribute to a more resilient and balanced future that is not one-size-fits-all. Below we’ll be exploring three real-world examples that showcase the transformative power of permaculture at different scales.
At the individual level, we can dive into the realm of our own homes and gardens. Here, we have the opportunity to create diverse and productive ecosystems through sustainable techniques like companion planting, water harvesting, and soil regeneration. These small-scale efforts not only provide us with nutritious food and natural resources but also play a vital role in boosting local biodiversity and ensuring the overall health of ecosystems.
Zooming out to the community level, we encounter inspiring projects such as community gardens, urban farming initiatives, and cohousing communities. These inclusive spaces embrace permaculture principles, fostering community resilience, ensuring food security, and nurturing social cohesion. Through collective decision-making, resource-sharing, and the integration of sustainable technologies, these initiatives strengthen the bonds among community members while simultaneously reducing their ecological footprints.
Organizations and corporations
Now, let’s expand our view to the realm of organizations and corporations. We witness an increasing adoption of permaculture-inspired practices in sectors like regenerative agriculture, forestry, and land management. Through agroforestry systems, regenerative farming methods, and land restoration projects, permaculture principles are not only enhancing soil fertility but also sequestering carbon, restoring ecosystems, and promoting sustainable livelihoods. These real-world initiatives show us that regenerative production is not just a matter of environmental benefit but also an economically viable and impactful choice.
By embracing and scaling up these examples, we can move the needle and create a paradigm shift in our approach to production, development, and economy. Integrated permaculture practices hold the potential to illuminate a path toward a harmonious relationship with nature, where regenerative practices are the norm. This journey invites us to create a future where our systems actively contribute to the regeneration of the Earth and the well-being of everyone.
Example 1: urban permaculture with The City Repair Project in Portland
After living in a city for many years, I had a perception that cities were just giant, inefficient, energy-sucking, and waste-filled places. However, it wasn’t until I moved to a more rural place, that I realized how many more resources I was actually using to fulfill my needs. Interestingly, studies have shown that people living in cities often use less energy compared to their rural counterparts due to the prevalence of walking and resource-sharing practices within urban environments. The possibility for regenerative living is immense because cities are vibrant with communities and abundant in different kinds of resources.
The City Repair Project
The City Repair Project in Portland, Oregon is a community-centered organization that focuses on placemaking and community building. They aim to foster vibrant, sustainable, and equitable communities in urban areas through the integration of permaculture design principles.
At the heart of the City Repair Project is the idea that by using permaculture principles in the design of public spaces, urban areas can be transformed into thriving, ecologically-sound environments. For example, the organization has created “intersection repair” projects, which involve the transformation of previously neglected intersections into community gathering spaces by adding benches, gardens, public art, and other amenities. These projects have created a sense of place and encouraged social interaction between neighborhoods.
The City Repair Project also engages in a range of community-building activities, such as workshops, events, and educational programs. Their annual Village Building Convergence (VBC) is a 10-day event that brings together community members to collaborate on placemaking projects, ranging from urban gardens to public art installations. Through their work, the group seeks to empower individuals to take an active role in shaping their communities and building a more sustainable and just future.
Outside of these projects, City Repair has also created community gardens, utilized natural building techniques, built pollinator pathways for bees and other insects, built houses for the houseless, and incorporated public art installations to promote ecological sustainability, community engagement, and social transformation. Their work showcased how permaculture principles can be applied to create inclusive and thriving city-level environments.
To learn more about the City Repair Project you can check them out here: https://cityrepair.org/
Example 2: Mark Shepard’s regenerative agriculture project and farm
Mark Shepard’s farm, New Forest Farm, located in Viola, Wisconsin, is an awesome example of redesigning agriculture by mimicking nature. Founded and stewarded by the Shepard family for over 20 years, the farm encompasses a 106-acre space that was once a worn-out row crop farm but has since been transformed into a thriving perennial agricultural ecosystem. This conversion is regarded as one of the most ambitious sustainable agriculture projects in the United States.
At New Forest Farm, the farming system layout is based on techniques developed by Mark Shepard. The farm incorporates passive water management systems, efficient runoff distribution, retention, and control methods. Additionally, adaptive mass-selection breeding is utilized, selecting perennial crops based on plant families abundant in the region’s oak savanna, successional brushland, and eastern woodlands ecotypes prior to commercial agriculture. This approach to farming creates resilient and abundant agricultural landscapes.
Through their work at New Forest Farm, Mark Shepard and his family demonstrate the potential for transforming degraded agricultural land into a diverse and productive ecosystem. They showcase the power of perennial agriculture, hybrid trees like poplars and hazelnuts, and the importance of sustainable water management techniques in creating a balanced and ecologically harmonious farming system.
To learn more about New Forest Farm, visit their website here: https://newforestfarm.us/ You can also read Mark Shepard’s book: Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers
Example 3: permaculture solutions for waste
Pictured above: many shaggy mane mushrooms that have sprouted in the grass. There are three in the front of the image, each with tall and skinny grey-white caps with a black base.
One innovative application of mushrooms is their ability to filter pollutants and remediate contaminated environments. Through a process known as mycofiltration, certain mushroom species can effectively absorb and break down pollutants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, and hydrocarbons, presenting a natural and sustainable solution for waste management. Some mushrooms that have become known for their microfiltration capabilities include oyster, reishi, white-rot fungi, and turkey tail, among others.
Paul Stamets, a well-known and almost celebrity-level mycologist, has been at the forefront of this field, conducting extensive research and experimentation with microfiltration. His work has highlighted the remarkable affinity of mushrooms for pollutants, as well as their ability to transform and neutralize toxic substances. Stamets has demonstrated that with their intricate mycelium networks, mushrooms can bind and sequester contaminants, preventing their spread and facilitating their degradation.
Using mushrooms for mycofiltration aligns with permaculture principles by embracing the concept of working with nature and utilizing natural processes to tackle environmental challenges. This approach minimizes reliance on synthetic chemicals and energy-intensive methods. By integrating mycofiltration techniques into permaculture design, we can create self-sustaining systems that not only clean up pollution but also enhance soil health and biodiversity.
Emphasizing the use of mushrooms for waste filtration underscores the need for creative solutions to address the growing problem of waste and pollution. As traditional waste management methods often contribute to environmental degradation, exploring innovative and sustainable alternatives becomes crucial. Mycofiltration offers a promising avenue, merging the regenerative potential of mushrooms with permaculture principles to mitigate pollution, restore ecosystems, and foster a better relationship with the natural world.
Cultivating a regenerative future: the power of permaculture design
In a world grappling with environmental challenges and change, permaculture design emerges as a silver lining of hope, offering a path towards a different future than many have imagined. By harmonizing with nature’s wisdom, we can unlock the transformative power within all of us and create systems that sustain and heal.
From the visionary work of Paul Stamets to the collective power of the City Repair Project and the restorative work of Mark Shepard, we are reminded of the incredible potential of human ingenuity, collaboration, and solid practices to shape a more regenerative and harmonious future for our planet. These are only a small piece of the thousands of other permaculture projects currently going on across the globe. Together, we can co-create a world where harmony between humans and the natural world actually works, paving the way for a flourishing planet and future generations to thrive.