“You cannot have well people on a sick planet” Thomas Berry.
After a three month break from writing, I am back! I have moved away from Copenhagen and am currently living in London, where I come home each day with a growing layer of dust, guano and old chewing gum somewhere on my body.
But, amidst all the bustle, there are pockets of calm, greenness and inspiration. One wonderful escape is the Cecil Sharp House, Camden, which hosted this years London Permaculture Festival.
I found out about the Festival via Twitter, after lazily scrolling through my Feed while walking through Central London (Note: To be a Londoner, you can’t sit and use your phone; you must walk, usually straight into other people to really boost levels of urban resentment).
It turns out that the Festival has been around for seven years, each year hosting a bounty of workshops and speakers, homemade vegetarian/vegan food, local products and art. Here’s my account…
What is permaculture?
Before I start sharing photos and messages of hope, I should define what permaculture is. Bill Mollison, one of the fathers of the permaculture movement, states:
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system” Bill Mollison, 1980s
Skip forward to 2016, and we have global crises of soil degradation, natural resource and biodiversity decline, water shortages and livestock disease. It is apparent that industrial agriculture, with its separation of ecosystems from food production and consumption, is no longer bearing fruit (if it ever did).
We need to think and do differently.
Permaculture is about slowing things down, observing how the natural world works, and how we – as humanity – can work with nature rather than against it.
So, how can we do this as individuals, communities or global citizens? Here are some messages of hope and actions from the Festival that I found particularly inspiring:
“God gives us water and all we need to do is keep it in the landscape” The Loess Plateau, China.
The Loess Plateau, an area the size of France was regenerated from an infertile, water-parched and low biodiversity region to a lush, green and biodiversity rich site in a decade. Young people have also started migrating back to the area from the cities, allowing knowledge transfer between older subsistence farmers and the youth. It is a revival of both biodiversity and culture.
Another big and bold message: “Agroecology can double food production within ten years”. This is via small-scale farming, intercropping and silvopasture – i.e. combining trees with pastureland. By supporting natural systems of soil, food and nutrient cycling, we would need less inputs, and get more outputs. Simple.
At the community level
One woman spoke about how she transformed a golden field of barley, treated with phosphorus and lacking wildlife, into a permaculture haven. The site had wild flower meadows, forests and vegetable patches, and most importantly, amphibians, birds and fauna came back. Who needs Eva Cassidy when you have birdsong, eh?
If you don’t have a field (I mean…I don’t…), you can create the same diverse, wild and edible system in a small (10x6m) garden or allotment. To give further inspiration:
- Here’s an inspiring TED talk showing how you can create a forest – i.e. an area densely covered with trees – in your backyard.
- Want an ‘edible garden makeover’ in your local park or garden? The international organisation Permablitz creates low maintenance, edible, wildlife friendly gardens. You can find 38 gardens, or ask for/help with creating a new project, in London.
As an individual
This is where it gets fun.
Strolling round the stalls, I saw so many cool initiatives you can do in your household with minimal effort and money.
- Reclaim old timber, bricks from building sites, plastic from skips to create: sheds for sheltering plants; raised beds and patios for growing more flora on a small plot of land.
- Make your own bird feeders out of apples.
- Make an insect home (i.e. bug hotel) out of an empty large water bottle, packed with straw and…plastic straws.
- Use an empty, large water bottle, cut in half, to create a rainwater harvester.
- Buy seed balls and start growing your own herbs or plants.
- You don’t even need gardening pots: you can use empty yoghurt cartons, milk bottles, Ariel tablet boxes, tin cans… Just make sure you puncture holes in the bottom to allow water drainage and aeration.
- Go foraging for comfrey and soak it for a few weeks in water, creating liquid gold (i.e. a super feed) for your plants.
The take-home message? A virtuous cycle is created, at whatever level you are working at:
Reclaim Resources >>> Return to Nature >>> Witness the Reciprocity (Food, Water, Energy, Soils, Biodiversity) >>> Create a Relationship between Culture and Nature >>> Maintain a Self-Sustainable Human Habitat.
Remember, we think of ourselves as subjects on this Earth, so let’s start treating all other species and ecosystems like subjects, rather than objects, too.