Permaculture Where You Are
By D.X. Logan
Look upon my ‘yard’ in all its desolate glory. Vast fields of carefully maintained asphalt. Borders of green weedy growth regularly sprayed with poison clouds to curl up anything that might try to grow in pots laid out along the sea of gray pavement. Not precisely a permaculture paradise.
Okay, so perhaps it is better inside? Small space with several windows. All of them facing the wrong direction to effectively light any growing plants. The best place to put more than a small table herb is right in the middle of our primary living space. We don’t even have a balcony to work with.
Welcome to the reality of permaculture where you are.
Think of what you wanted when you first found permaculture. Perhaps you conjured images of impressive acreage. No one would fault you for it. After all, the big names in permaculture own large properties. Even the term permaculture, i.e. permanent agriculture, implies as much.
Permaculture is much more than gardens though. It’s an entire philosophy used to create regenerative and ethical systems. Systems that benefit humanity and the planet alike. A huge property isn’t required. In fact, you don’t need any land at all. There’s the core of permaculture where you are. Forget waiting for the ‘right place’ to start living a permaculture lifestyle.
Working With Limitations
I’ve never owned my own property. If there was land, it came with what I rented. With only one exception, the landlords were opposed to digging of any sort. As noted at the start of this article, I live above a parking lot. That’s not an exaggeration. You can see what I mean in the picture.
I’d hoped to try for potted plants here. Unfortunately, between vandals in the area and a regular spray of poison drifting through as they kill the weeds, that wasn’t an option. There’s urban, and then there’s extreme urban. It bothers me, but everyone has to work within the limitations they find themselves in.
Consider your own limitations. What is it that keeps you from ‘being permaculture’? Some things will be excuses, others will be barriers of substance. In both cases, it’s important to look at all aspects of permaculture and to try not to ignore the options that do exist for you.
You must accept that some choices are out of your hands. You can’t control what others do. You probably don’t get many layout options on an apartment. So how do you proceed? It’s all about having the right mindset. Go into each situation looking for what you can do rather than worrying about what you can’t.
You CAN live a permaculture lifestyle. Even with a hundred acres people aren’t able to do everything. So stop fretting. Take a deep breath and step back. Start with open eyes and a willing mindset. You’ll find ways. We’ll start with the first principle of Permaculture: Observe and Interact.
It starts with observation of your situation. If this was a farm, you would observe the weather, lighting, and land usage. Your home is not so different. In both cases, you are looking for patterns that inform your decisions. What are the patterns of your family? Where does the light from outside fall at different times of the day? What about different times of the year? Where are you being wasteful? Not just in things like trash, but abstracts like money.
Start keeping a journal of spending and activities. See where you are spending time and what purchases are getting the most money. Are some of these things proving especially satisfying? What are the things you do only because you must? Some abstract patterns might show up. In my own home, one room we wanted to use for other things was being used to store boxes. When we looked at our patterns closely, it was discovered that a portion of another room was almost never used for anything. Dead space where we didn’t mind was left empty while useful space was filled with things that interfered. It was simple to move them and it improved our overall happiness. The room in question? Our dining room. Suddenly it was easier to sit down around the table and we found ourselves eating in more often. Homemade meals shared with family as opposed to quick meals where everyone was less comfortable.
Mapping Your Situation
Take the time to create a small map of your home. Colored pencils can be used to clarify different types of traffic. Mark down how the light falls. Indicate where movement happens at different times of the day. As you start to mark things down, you are almost certainly going to find patterns. When the sun falls at an angle in the living room, your family members are all doing something other than watching the TV. While cooking, everyone favors being close to enjoy the smells. These patterns will be the start of how to move towards a permaculture lifestyle.
That period of time when the light makes watching TV impossible is a great time to do a healthy activity together like take a walk. When the scent of cooking draws everyone close to the kitchen, perhaps hobbies such as knitting can fill the time with a useful craft. A small herb plant may be perfect for a sunny spot in the kitchen that you’d never realized was getting so much light. The possibilities are endless.
Mapping your situation also shows where you are relying heavily on non-renewable resources. Tracking the number of plastic bags you use can be a real shock to someone who’s never done so. The obvious option is to switch to reusable bags. Another is donating those bags to food-banks, where they often need a steady supply. Is it ideal? No, but it is certainly better than just throwing those same bags into the garbage. Every step you can take is positive. No matter what some people think, permaculture isn’t all or nothing. We each slowly move forward along the path and each of us is at a different point. Never let anyone convince you that you aren’t doing it right just because you don’t do it the way they feel you should. Small changes and slow solutions make for lasting changes to your behaviors.
Refining Your Plans
After you’ve mapped out the basics of your life, and apply what you’ve learned. Your map has almost certainly revealed quirks. Obvious patterns and subtle ones that you’ve never noticed. If you see something you can do immediately, do it. Each new change you make isn’t the end of the path, however. Instead, continue to observe and develop how you do things. Where can you increase your yields in the tasks you do without greater inputs? Are there ways to store the energy you put into the system more effectively? How can you move towards a zero waste system? Involve the whole family. Anyone can have great ideas to make it work better.
Always start with the big patterns and work downwards from there. Finding how to make the most impactful changes is far more important than focusing on the ideal. A little creative thought can go a long way. To use my own situation, I lack growing space. What I do have is a number of farmer’s markets and farm stands in the area. I also have a canner. It isn’t hard to see how that canner that had been languishing in a cabinet was being wasted. I now save money by buying foods fresh from farmers in season. Picked at the peak, I can process them to store in a little-used cabinet to enjoy year round. In one action, I managed to bypass the wasteland that is my yard, save money, eat higher quality food, and have an activity to do with my children. It costs a little time, but thanks to mapping the patterns of my house, I knew where there was time being wasted on everyone trying to fill a boring stretch of the day weekly.
I’m confident you’ll find your own surprises as well. The point here is to try. Don’t just accept that your situation doesn’t let you do what you want. Do those big projects down the road when your situation changes and focus on the here and now. Everyone can do a little permaculture where they are.