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“Permaculture is a philosophy of…protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.”
By now, I’ll have started my month in Chile on an organic, permaculture farm called CIHOL. My hope is to work with CIHOL to find a way to reconcile the sterile perception of vertical farming with the holistic, resilient philosophy of permaculture design.
(In case you missed it, here’s last week’s story setting up the trip)
Permaculture is an ecological design system that applies principles found in nature to intentional human constructs. It is a strong, resilient substitute for much of the environmentally tenuous industrial agriculture norm.
It is a system of 3 core tenets and 12 guiding principles.
- Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle, because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.
- Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
- Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two ethics. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness
The principles are more specific:
- 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.
(Thank you to the good folks at wikipedia and David Holmgren’s site for that info!)
A large part of what makes vertical farming so appealing (efficient productivity, minimal impact, minimal waste) directly aligns with these permaculture principles. During my time in CIHOL, I want to explore the possibility of combining these 3 principles in particular with what’s worked in vertical farming:
Use and value renewable resources and services: From sunlight and photovoltaic cells to incorporating the farms livestock into a system of integrated pest management, I’m excited to explore unconventional ways to harness renewable energy sources. One idea I have in particular is a gravity-powered irrigation system.
Produce no waste: One idea I’m especially eager to test is a basic compost system. Inspired by The Plant in Chicago, there is no reason why every farm cannot use waste from one process as fuel for another. In reality, chances are, any permaculture farm is probably miles ahead of vertical farms for utilizing compost!
Use edges and value the marginal: CIHOL is not a farm in the traditional sense. While it grows food, mostly fruit, the primary purposes are education and habitation. As a result, there are many buildings already in place that aren’t necessarily intentionally agricultural. Using my experience working with green walls and simple drip irrigation systems, it might be possible to convert otherwise blank wall space to a productive surface that stretches out into the ecological system beyond.
I won’t assume that I will be able to offhandedly implement these ideas. A huge part of permaculture and vertical farming is observing and testing systems (mechanical or natural) that are already in place. Only after genuine observation and engagement can a path to improvement be charted. But, quite honestly, who knows! I am not there to prescribe, I am there to learn. Maybe everything is just the way they want it at CIHOL.
You’ll have to wait until I get back to find out!