Growing Food in a Resource-Based Economy
Ever since I was introduced to the Zeitgeist movement, I have been interested in its ideas on food production. As an avid gardener and foodie myself, the same ideology that comprises the resource-based economy also guides my beliefs on producing food. And for quite some time now, I have wanted to bring the ZM together with an equally powerful and revolutionary movement: Permaculture.
Simply put, I can't imagine a successful RBE without the use of Permaculture techniques/tenets which I will outline below. The exact definition of Permaculture is "The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient." It was originally coined by Bill Mollison in the 1960's but it has its roots in sustainable food production from hundreds of thousands years ago. The benefits of Permaculture are as dramatic as they are far reaching and include: Very low reliance on off-site resources such as water and fertilizer, increased ecosystem stability by creation of habitat and biodiversity, restoration of topsoil and air quality, increased crop yield in both quality and quantity, less human input and labor. These are just a few of the basic reasons to switch from an agricultural system requiring LARGE amounts of resources, time, and money to a low-input high-output system that works with natural laws to grow food, timber, fiber, and much more.
Imagine you are deep in a forest or jungle. It's brimming with life. Many plant, animal, and fungi species are living together in a balance that follows natural laws. This system produces no waste, as any waste attracts an organism that will quickly consume up the excess and turn it into something valuable for another member of the system. The forest or jungle is extremely efficient with resources requiring no humans to water or fertilize the soil. There are no problems with pests or weeds because the stability of a full ecosystem doesn't allow for explosions in a population of one type of life form. Humans can learn to mimic this system with fruit and nut trees, edible greens and mushrooms, perennial tubers, and self-sowing annual crops.
12 Principles of Permacultural Design
Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
These principles may seem a little vague at first, but they are meant to be over-arching general principles for designing any type of human settlement. They can all be applied directly to food production and are in use around the world with amazing success. I encourage all of you reading this to pick up the book Gaia's Garden to learn about how you can incorporate permaculture on a small-scale and start growing some of your own food sustainably.