Ethics & Eating

Those who know me personally know how I endlessly bang on about the importance of eating ethically, which is normally an incoherent long-winded ramble that after a while makes the captive audience members’ eyes roll back into their skull. Not this shit again ­– I can hear themselves thinking – when will he shut up and let us be free.

So I thought it would be best to write in a coherent fashion why it is that I do what it is that I do. For myself, ethical consumption is far from superficial fads like the never ending wave of super foods, or the organic train which everybody is jumping on board these days. Eating ethically is an educated & practical philosophy of love – for local farmers & local retailers; for my body, mind, & spirit; and for the beautiful planet that we inhabit. And I believe a good cause should entirely speak for itself, without the need for a preacher incessantly preaching – so for those who aren’t too familiar with the ethical eating lifestyle, I hope that this article will shed some light on the subject (and perhaps even change a few peoples consumption habits too).

There exists many opinions and thus misconceptions about what is considered to be ethical consumption, and its necessary to draw some lines in the sand for a more clear cut definition of what is and isn’t. For example, is shopping locally more ethical than buying organic? Do vegetarians/vegans, have a moral high ground to stand upon? Let us clarify these notions just a little.

Oh, Veganism – such a juicy/extremely touchy subject. What a great place for us to begin! For many, the heart of veganism is a very kind, empathic belief that animals should not be slaughtered for human consumption. At all Vegans heart is ethics; it has been very successful in exposing many of the horrors of industrial animal agricultural practices, as an example. For those who haven’t been exposed to any pro-vegan media before, Earthlings (2005) is an evocative (and extremely graphic) documentary that would make any meat-eater reconsider their meat-eating. It’s well worth a watch – but tread with caution friends, as it isn’t a flick for the faint hearted. You have been warned.

I personally owe veganism a huge thank you as it was a large catalyst in my quest for the search for ethical food. After 6 months of strict veganism my health started to deteriorate quite severely in a number of different ways (even with careful dietary planning & supplementing), and it got to a point where I truly had no choice but to finally give up the gag. So I wondered to myself – is it at all possible to consume animal products with a crystal clear conscience?

Or let me rephrase that question entirely to demonstrate a point: is buying non-animal products from large agribusiness retailers, like produce markets or Coles & Woolies, somehow less ethical than purchasing meat or dairy from small scale producers? Watch the video below for a quick insight into the workings of Australia’s ‘big friendly giants.’

The vegan movement reminds us all that at the heart of climate change is animal agriculture (check out this link from the Cowspiracy documentary website, dropping them #facts (& decent documentary to chow-down, might I add)) – yet laying sole blame in animal agriculture is missing the point. Whilst animal agriculture contributes an enormous amount of greenhouse emissions, industrial agriculture couldn’t have be designed worse – and whether it’s animal or vegetable production the entire industry is based on sales targets, which inherently ignores the impacts that industry has on climate or farmers!

Agriculture is flawed as it dissects nature in its attempt to produce yields solely for human benefit. This is the crux of the problem: reductionism. Nature cannot be easily simplified, and to do so is to work against nature and we should be working with her – monocropping is a perfect example of this. Planting one species for endless acres is detrimental for the environment for numerous reasons – it obliterates soil life (and soil life equals healthy plants, which equals healthy people, as the saying goes); it requires heavy machinery (that requires fuel) for harvesting that compacts the soil which creates conditions for soil erosion; pests & diseases will god-damn thrive (!) in a monocrop field unless extensive synthetic chemicals are applied; so, it also creates chemical dependency, which poisons our precious pollinators. The list truly goes on.

The Great Dust Bowl of the 1930’s in America was caused by the common agricultural soil-slaughtering technique, deep tilling (turning of the soil). After little rain and heavy winds, Americas most fertile topsoil blew away and in the storms wake, all that was left was desert. A single inch of Topsoil could take 500+ years to rebuild, and thanks to our mate mindless agriculture, the southern US Plains will never be farmed again.

Removing animal agriculture still leaves us with the gigantic headache that is agriculture. A far better solution would be to redesign food systems entirely. Disciplines like Agroforestry, Permaculture & Holistic Management provide excellent design solutions (both economic & ecological) for transitioning from the current model of large monocropping to sustainable small scale farming. If you’re interested in sustainable methods of farming & designing – check out a Permaculture Design Course somewhere near you.

Of course it isn’t an easy feat to achieve redesigning the entire food system, granted. It would take decades to make the transition to an ethical sustainable farming model – but the entire global community will be facing great economic/ecological challenges in the upcoming decades, and frankly there isn’t much of a choice but to revamp the entire system. It’s either that or…extinction, perhaps?

Now to peddle back a bit here before I move on: Organic foods. The term ‘organic’ is just as loaded as veganism is and it bothers me endlessly. Major supermarkets are now stocking extensive organic produce – which from a health perspective is a positive thing (I guess. Rolls eyes.) though it’s missing the point, again. Organic simply means no application of synthetic chemicals. That’s it. It doesn’t mean it’s good for the planet. It certainly doesn’t imply that the produce is ethical or natural. Organic produce could very well be broad-scale monocropping, harvested with heavy petrol guzzling tractors – which is about as far away from sustainable as straight up free pouring oil directly onto precious coral reefs.

What about organic imports vs non-organic local produce? I may decide to purchase organic cacao from a fair-trade farm in South America – but the food mileage (the distance the food has travelled) and the embodied energy (means taking into account all aspects of production & transport of a product) in the cacao would be through the darn roof, son! Is it better than to purchase food that isn’t organic yet has travelled only a short distance, or buy packaged imported produce that jetted half way across the world?

To sum it all up, being vegan or eating strictly organic isn’t inherently ethical. It may be a step in the right direction but it is quite the cheeky little fallacy to assume that because you don’t consume meat or GMO’s (or whatever) that somehow your consumption habits are more positive than others. We have to take a holistic look at our consumption of food & produce – but that also includes where our fuel & electricity is sourced, or where/how our clothes are made to take it a step further. One thing here is clear though, if you support commercial farming through your shopping habits, you are directly supporting the degradation of the environment. And a degraded environment (and boy is it degrading!) isn’t exactly fantastic news for the animals inhabiting our mother earth.

Alright, back to supermarkets. Remember that video from a couple o’paragraphs ago? Good. Retail giants in Australia have grown to be able to force farmers into paying less than what it costs them to produce food they grow. But how is it possible for farmers to sell food for the same price or less than it costs to produce? A great question to ask, dear reader! – & the answer is government subsidies and humongous bank loans. According to the UN, large agribusinesses in Europe receive 80% of subsidies & 90% of research grants – whereas 70% of the world is fed from small scale farming! (Ahmed, 2014). David Holmgren (2002) – co-creator of the concept Permaculture – writes, ‘As prices fall, even farmers who follow the recipe perfectly and get high yields of good quality receive barely enough to cover costs.’ (p. 217). The cherry on the cake folks, is that ‘Currently, most subsidies go to large agribusiness.’ (Ahmed, 2014) To backtrack just a little on myself – in Australia, farmers are only subsidised around 3% (Keogh, 2015). It differs from place to place and there is a lot of conflicting data on this subject. The point here is still valid, nevertheless: whilst small scale farming feeds most of the world the industry unfairly favours the big-players.

As for the issue of farmer debt – as Tolzek (2015) writes ‘Drought may be badly affecting parts of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, but debt sticks around for longer and is arguably a bigger threat to farming families.’

It’s worth noting that agricultural workers in Australia commit suicide at a rate 1.6 times the average of employed people throughout the nation. In Queensland the rate is about double, it’s higher for people under 34 and the suicide rate isn’t in decline either. Reasons given for the high rate of suicides amongst agricultural workers are ‘occupational issues related to the farming industry, economic and financial problems, and stressors related to changing climatic conditions (ABC News, 2014).

So whilst our food is relatively affordable, the cost of cheap food turns out to be quite fair bit. And speaking of cheap food, why is it that organic food is perceived to be more expensive than non-organic?

It’s a strange presumption society makes by thinking local organic produce is dearer than conventionally farmed food. If you live in Melbourne it ain’t a valid excuse. Retailers like Terra Madre, Friends of the Earth, or CERES sell in bulk and are often cheaper than supermarkets. Terra Madre sells organic Yogurt 1kg for $4! (I wasn’t bribed into penning that plug but for with prices so low – they inadvertedly did!) I’ve bought end of the day produce from CERES for pennies & cents. And these outlets supply seasonal produce which is super important – consuming food that is in season is often cheaper and is far more natural (and thus ethical).

The price of local organic food would actually drop if governments & industry got behind the cause. If economic incentives shifted from conventional to organic farming it would increase the ability for farmers to meet consumer demand – as currently demand outweighs supply (Langley, 2014). And if research grants were aimed at developing alternative sustainable models of farming as opposed to continuing to fund research for ridiculous unsustainable hi-tech solutions, organic food prices again, would decrease.

All the more reason to support local organic food.

In fact, your dollars probably won’t be missed in the slightest by the big friendly giants. Coles isn’t going to go out of business if they don’t receive your weekly hundred bucks. But spending a $100 at a farmers market on some local goodies might be the difference between a small producer being able to pay the rent. Your dollar counts more than you realise – it can make a world of difference when in the hands of those who need it.

And before we call a wrap, there is that whole thing of health & organic produce that we haven’t delved into. That point alone could be a bloody thesis paper in itself, so I’d just like to briefly discuss one of the great nutrition bibles Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (please, read this book. Please), for your health!

Fallon informs us that unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal physiological function of the body. Natural organic eggs from hens fed on grass and insects have an equal balance of the fats Omega-3 & -6 at a ratio to 1:1 – which is beneficial. Yet commercial farmed factory eggs can have up to nineteen times the amount of omega-6’s to -3’s. She writes that an excess of omega-6’s can lead to ‘inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain’ (Fallon, Enig, Murray & Dearth, 2001).

Organic food is typically richer in nutrient content & more importantly is free from toxic residues, Sally also writes. Given that what we eat determines our health, and Australians diets are typically poor, it is no wonder that heart disease, cancer, degenerative diseases & mental illness (to keep the list short) are commonplace these days when ‘these diseases were also extremely rare only a generation or two ago’ (Fallon, Enig, Murray & Dearth, 2001 p. 1). The best form of medicine is in the food we feed ourselves, so we should be feeding ourselves clean healthy produce for our own health’s sake– as Hippocrates famously wrote ‘Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.’

I could keep rambling for forever on this topic. It’s important to me. But I don’t always live out my ethics and it ain’t worth belittling yourself over breaking the food regime whenever that occurs. Though I stick to it where circumstances allow it, because –

I don’t want to contribute to exploitative agricultural practices that damage our precious earth.
I don’t want to contribute to companies that are completely corrupt – companies that in turn, are in part responsible for the deteriorating un-wellness of our farmers.
I don’t want to be a mindless consumer.

I want to contribute and support local farmers – the people who work against all odds, who do not earn a fortune off their labour, but do it for the love of growing food.
I want to be healthy and happy and vibrant and full of life all the time! And
I want to be a positive force in this world.

Eating ethically is so much more than hashtags or jumping on the latest trend-mobile headed to over-priced consumerville. It’s a big fat middle finger to the unethical corporate giants that value wealth over humanity. And nature. And common sense.

But above all, it’s showing that I really do give a damn about this incredible planet & each and every one of its beautiful (delicious!) inhabitants.

References //

ABC News,. (2014). Fact check: Does a farmer die by suicide every four days in Australia?. Retrieved 1 December 2015, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-16/farmer-suicide-rates-bob-katter-fact-check/5805450

Ahmed, N. (2014). UN: Only Small Farmers and Agroecology Can Feed the World. The Permaculture Research Institute. Retrieved 30 November 2015, from http://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/26/un-small-farmers-agroecology-can-feed-world/

Fallon, S., Enig, M., Murray, K., & Dearth, M. (2001). Nourishing traditions (2nd ed., p. 11). Brandywine, MD: NewTrends Pub.

Holmgren, D. (2002). Permaculture. Hepburn, Vic.: Holmgren Design Services.

Keogh, M. (2015). Australia still at the bottom when it comes to farm subsidies.. Farminstitute.org.au. Retrieved 1 December 2015, from http://www.farminstitute.org.au/ag-forum/australia_still_at_the_bottom_when_it_comes_to_farm_subsidies

Langley, S. (2014). Australia’s appetite for organic foods at record levels | Australian Food News. Ausfoodnews.com.au. Retrieved 1 December 2015, from http://ausfoodnews.com.au/2014/12/10/australias-appetite-for-organic-foods-at-record-levels.html

Tlozek, E. (2015). Farmers say debt a bigger threat than drought. ABC News. Retrieved 1 December 2015, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-01/farmers-say-debt-a-bigger-threat-than-drought/6740282

 

 

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Food Production Systems Comparison ARTICLE

RECENTLY FOR SCHOOL, I WROTE AN ARTICLE COMPARING ALTERNATE FOOD SYSTEMS AS VIABLE SOLUTIONS TO MODERN FARMING METHODS. CHECK IT OUT BELOW. !! XX !! 

In this short analysis, I will introduce three different systems of food production as ecologically & economically beneficial alternatives to modern industrial farming.

The systems I will be looking at are:
1. Mayan Milpa Forest Gardening
2. Indigenous Australians Firestick Farming
3. Contemporary Permaculture

I will first introduce modern industrial agricultural systems.

MODERN INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE
Modern Farming defines success as profits from single-row cropping and ignores all other forms of yield as potential resources (ecosystem health, social utility i.e. happiness through increased recreational time, mineral content in soil, % of organic matter in soil etc.). By using regimented repetitive straight lines as a repeated growing pattern for all crops, irrespective of climate, topography & local vegetative patterns, farmers are able to quickly grow one crop en mass.

As monoculture is preferred then polycultures in Industrial Agriculture, high levels of synthetic biocides & petroleum based products are required to prevent systemic collapse and these inputs can surmount to 90% of a farms costs.[i] The damage from the runoff of these biocides is almost incomprehensible in its scope and has created wastelands throughout the world – which is quite typical of non-traditional farming methods throughout history.[1] It is estimated that one third of the world’s pollution is due to inefficient agricultural techniques (like production & transportation costs).

The father of Permaculture Bill Mollison shares a thought with any hopeful future designer with us: ‘As I reassure all would-be permaculture designers you can do no worse than those prior designs you see about you…’ Modern Agriculture couldn’t cannot get much worse, so there is so much potential for designers wishing to experiment with alternative food production systems.

MILPA FOREST GARDENING
The Mayans of the Amazon River lived in high density[ii] yet managed to produce abundant yields for centuries, in part due to their forest farming regime the MILPA CYCLE. The Milpa is a traditional agricultural method of cultivating food forests with succession over a 20 year period. The Milpa succession is divided into 4 distinguishable stages:[iii]

Stage 1 of the cycle involves slashing under bush & lower limbs of trees, drying of the slashed material, then lastly a hot burn in preparation of full cultivation of annual polyculture plantations of the Meso-American 3 Sisters Guild: corn, squash, & beans. Surrounding the low canopy is a mixture of edible ground covers, tubers & medicinal plants which are either left alone or removed depending on whether or not the plant is wanted for human consumption, or whether it is advantageous/disadvantageous for the ecosystem.
Stage 2 starts in the fourth year (or thereabouts). By this point a lower canopy has emerged and herbaceous & woody perennials are encouraged via transplanting – particularly quick yielding species like bananas, papayas etc. Fruit trees with longer maturing times (such as mango & avocado) are planted now.
Stage 3 begins as the canopy closes and long-term fruit trees begin to yield. The 3 Sisters Guild is no longer viable; hardwood plantations begin for future usage.
Stage 4 is the final evolution of the Milpa is recognized as the hardwood plantation matures; the canopy is now closed and at the forests main use hunting, foraging & gathering.

As each year progresses the amount of labour input decreases whilst yields increase & vary as ecosystem grows in size, health and begins self-regulation & feedback processes. On a final note, Conservation Scientist Dr. M. Sanjayan makes a compelling case that suggests this way of agriculture evidently proves high-density living & environmental sustainability is utterly viable, in his documentary series Earth: A New Wild.

INDIGENOUS FIRESTICK FARMING
The term ‘firestick farming’ was coined by Prehistorian Rhys Jones to describe the cultivation techniques of Indigenous Australians – a highly sophisticated observant and abundant agricultural system that certainly shows that Australia was anything but terra nullius.

The tribesman utilised controlled fire ‘to create open pastoral woodland with distinct patches of rainforest or thickets with very sharp transitional edges…’[iv] At the beginning of each annual dry season, typically North-West facing grasslands, heaths & low-fertility ridges were burnt back. In doing so, the available minerals in vegetation became available that was otherwise locked up in bio-mass and edges became more defined (thus greater interaction from multiple ecosystems, thus higher yields). The tribes also harvested & maintained the lands at the same time – by combining both necessary tasks in one sweeping action very little labour was needed to keep this lands productive. The English explorers concluded that any peoples so relaxed about farm were indeed lazy savages, when in fact the tribesman were simply incredibly observant and efficient. The irony is as blatant as day, as modern agriculture requires endless inputs of labour & resources for little profit, if anything. Especially in the modern age, all farms require huge government subsidies to stay afloat and are a heavy burden for nations to bear.

The non-cultivated forests of Australia were described as dark, gloomy & monotonous by English explorers,[v] whilst cultivated land created access ways, shaped matured trees to form hollow branches (critical for native species habitat), stimulated high protein grasses (which attracted herbivores for hunting and system maintenance), and slowly shifted minerals from one landscape to another which allowed for greater bio-diversity in regions that lacked soil mineral content or soil biota. Similarly to Milpa farming, Firestick farming increased eco-system health, bio-diversity and functional interconnectedness. In more bold terms, the abundance of both the Amazon & lands of Australia could not have been created by nature herself – both ecosystems directly have their human caretakers to thank for the abundance of vegetation & wildlife – which is quite a controversial statement as humans are typically seen as more of plague soon to be extinguished but bot examples shows the actual potential for successful future harmonious societies.

CONTEMPORARY PERMACULTURE
Contemporary Permaculture, in all its vastness, was birthed both from the combining of holistic land management principles & ethics of tribal peoples and the findings of modern day science & efficient design. Permaculture is an intentional design science[2], and its ultimate goal is to provide harmony among humans, animals, plants & the planet. Through careful placement of many elements in relation to how one elements output can be the energy source for another creates optimal functionality, yield & diversity whilst minimising labour and waste products from the system. Each Permaculture farm design will vary based on the local biome – each design will be a unique & innovative pattern design in response to the land, animal, & people’s needs of that area.

Contemporary Permaculture takes many forms – from broad acre farms to urban rooftop CSA’s. As Permaculture encourages natural & non-destructive actions in regards to land stewardship, Permaculture farms have little capital inputs such as synthetic biocides, petrol, harvesting tractors etc, and so NET profit (real profit) can be more than double as the farms input (if generating its own energy) will be nearing $0.[vi] The UN stated that localised organic agriculture is capable of providing enough food for the worlds population[vii], which suggests that large broad acre farms hundreds of miles away from where the demand for food is, is unnecessary. Transportation emissions & costs would be nullified if such systems were supports on local & national government level. Above all, Organic agriculture is more profitable thanks to lower input cost requirements, is much more sustainable due to little if any environmental impact, and the social ecological/psychological benefits are innumerable – from increased real wealth to sharp decreases in crime.[viii]

Modern Industrial Agriculture is neither the most financially viable, economically stable, ecologically safe or people friendly system for providing food for society. Its development exploded so fast with the rise of the consumption culture of the 1950’s that competiveness of industry & the necessity of quickly producing always more product has left the industry ethic-less and void of any design. As discussed through the Milpa, Firestick, & Permaculture food production systems it is evident that sound economic alternatives that value life over profits whilst still providing abundance for both earth & all its inhabitant is not only possible, but has been the reality for the vast majority of human history.

One last thought: as cooperation’s have grown in power & profits, nature has been constantly overlooked. As humanity descends into a low energy future, the adaptation of sustainable food growing systems will become the mainstream paradigm and will ensure the food security of our children, and their children.

That, or the human race will be lucky to make it to the end of the 21st Century.

R   E   F   E   R   E   N   C   E         L   I   S   T

[1] Desertification of the lands of ancient Egypt to the modern lands of Southern America is due to tillage of soil. This damage was prior to the invention of both mechanical & chemical warfare on earths delicate top soil circa 1945.

[2] I use the word intentional here to emphasise the necessity for observation & critical thinking in design. Tribes intuitively knew what to observe in their ecosystem as it was taught to them from a young age, and become second nature. The modern day individual lacks this early education so intelligent intentional design as opposed to intuitive cultivation is super important.

[i] Permaculture: A Designers Manual, Ibid.

[ii] Earth: A New Wild documentary series episode 3, Forests. 15:00 approx.

[iii] Exploring Solutions Past, The Four Stages of the Milpa Cycle (online) found HERE.

[iv] Permaculture: Princples & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holgrem pg. 228.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Permaculture: A Designers Manual, Bill Mollison pg. 5 figure 1.1

[vii] The Trews: How We’re Lied To About Food episode 179, Russel Brand 1:00 approx. (online) found HERE.

[viii] This video was a part of an online Civic Ecology course by Ecologist Akiima Price, and I am unable to share the link as it is concealed for privacy reasons, unfortunately. I am indirectly quoting Dr.t Price in this reference.

The Permaculture Principles

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted anything up here. The 10 free property designs has been keeping me pretty darn busy – but I’ve started collaborating with a few people already, and in particular the Food Forest at CERES is coming along nicely!

What has been taking up much of my usual academic-writing rambling time is school! Instead of writing for the blog, I’ve been busy putting together assignments that double up as a teaching resource for any permaculture teacher/instructor – or anyone who is curious and wants to go a bit deeper into the principles of permaculture, why they are necessary, and how we can pragmatically utilize them in our designs.

Please feel free to download, edit or re-write the powerpoint as much as you please! Be sure to keep an eye out on the blog, as I’ll be throwing up a few more essays/articles in the next few days. In the mean time…

Download it here. !!!!

FREE PERMACULTURE PROPERTY DESIGNS

I’m currently undertaking a Diploma of Permaculture through the Permaculture Institute! A requirement of the Diploma is to have had designed at least seven successful permaculture properties. SO, I’ve decided to offer TEN FREE PERMACULTURE SITE DESIGNS a.k.a. MASTER PLANS for your urban food forest dreams in the Melbourne region this winter!

For the past several years I’ve worked on several permaculture plots in Australia, India and Thailand.

IMG_6255

A design Molly Hoffman & I made for a vertical garden at Rak Tamachat, Thailand (2014).

Rak Tamachat Josh Planting

Teaching and Participating in building a No Dig Gardening at Rak Tamachat, Si Khiu, Thailand (2014)

Herb Spiral Odanadi India Permaculture

Beginning of Food Forest Implementation, Odanadi Women’s Orphanage, Mysore, India (2013)

Odandi after food forest establishment

1 year after Food Forest Implementation – Odandi Woman’s Orphanage, Mysore, India (2013)

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Odanadi Women’s Orphanage, Mysore, India (2013)

Teaching Odanadi Permaculture

Presenting our Master Plan to the woman of Odanadi Women’s Orphanage

Josh gathering Butterfly Pea cuttings for propagation.

Me gathering Butterfly Pea cuttings for propagation. Thailand (2015)

bee hive CERES

Building beehives at CERES Environmental Park, Melbourne (2015)

Claire_Gregorys_Permaculture_garden-700x525

What a succesful Permaculture Backyard looks like! (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Through devotion to learning more about permaculture, I’ve complimented my time spent working hands on farms, with publishing articles for the PRI, Elephant Journal, and privately, and doing extensive personal research towards developing more regenerative modes of existence. I’m currently settled in Melbourne this winter, 2015 and would love to spend my time here sharing what I’ve learned by passion-fueled, personalized permaculture designs for your property.

Please feel free to get in touch and ask questions! For now, I’ll have to cap this offer at 10 designs, but I plan to offer a wide range of open-sourced permaculture education in the future, so we can continue to build our global community together!

To apply or inquire, send an email to labyrinthpermaculture@gmail.com or drop a line at (+61) 0435 862 889

All my love,

Joshua Muir

The PRI just published my latest article !

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on this blog entitled Humanity: Earth’s Allies, which makes a case for the potential of humans and how we are in fact a creative positive force in the world, and not a plague of the earth. Well, The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia dug the article enough to throw it up on their blog! Check it out:

http://permaculturenews.org/2015/05/13/humanity-earths-allies/

The PRI is an absolutely incredible project, and the team there constantly posts great original content on anything related to Permaculture. So after you’re done reading my article, it is worth checking out their site for more articles and any videos they’ve posted up.

!!!

HUMANITY: EARTH’S ALLIES

The other day I came across this viral video entitled ‘Sorry’ from a poet named Prince Ea, apologizing to future generations on behalf of humanity. The clip went viral just days after its release. In short, the video apologises immensely for all the damage we humans have created in this century due to our own selfishness and ignorance. Prince Ea has a massive audience and is an inspiration for many young kids, yet I feel that he is extremely misinformed in respective to the immense amount of successful projects within many cities. Being a passionate permaculture enthusiast has led me to see just how much darn good there is everywhere that gets zero media attention comparatively to viral videos like ‘Sorry’ As inspirational as it is, the video fails to offer practical solutions to the crisis mentioned in the clip, so here’s my two cents worth showing the other side of the coin – along with some good-causes & solutions we can all get behind.

Societies and their inhabitant are the reason that ecosystems (such as the Amazon Rainforest) are abundant in bio-diversity and life. In permaculture it is constantly reinforced that human disturbance leads to environmental degradation however new evidence strongly concludes that without human disturbance, eco-systems would not be as thriving if humans were out of the picture.

Worldwide, permaculture practitioners adopt positivism as their chosen outlook towards society and for good reason, as focusing on the dire state of many aspects of humanity can be soul-crushing. Yet through my own anecdotal experience, the underlying mentality seems to suggest that nature without humans would flourish and most forms of human intervention is negative. This is far from reality. Whilst we have the capability to destroy eco-systems, we also have the ability to create them – but to what extent?

In the documentary series, EARTH A New Wild: Forests, the astounding discovery by archaeologists shows how ‘The Amazon was once home to vast civilizations of people that once made the forest more productive, not less so.’[1] Contrary to the common paradigm, the documentary shows how human intervention within an eco-system allows for more bio-diversity to all life forms. The website of the series also says:

‘Cork forests make the Mediterranean among the most bio-diverse regions in Europe. Imperial Eagles, cranes and lynx make this a natural paradise. And it’s largely because of human impact. We strip the trees of their bark in order to sustain a huge international demand for wine bottle corks, and this makes the trees and the forest stronger.’

There are several examples presented throughout the documentary that show ecosystem productivity increasing due to various agricultural practices, and this is precisely what isn’t understood in the mainstream paradigm – that humans living in harmony with nature can create more bio-diversity then nature could itself. And this isn’t limited to small eco-villages or intentional communities, either. 15 minutes into EARTH A New Wild shows 2000 year old trenches and earthworks that would’ve housed approximately 60,000 people.[2] Without viewing the documentary the scale is hard to comprehend, but what is important here is that a dense human settlement co-existed alongside forests without impacting negatively on the environment.

Bill Mollison writes in A Designers Manual ‘At 2000 people, theft and competitiveness is more common, and sects set up in opposition…’[3] This isn’t presuming that the above example of a 60,000 person city would be void of negativity, yet, a society within nature that exists in an over-abundance of food, water & resources, would inherently have less socio-economic issues. As Geoff Lawton so famously stated, ‘all the world’s problems can be solved in a garden’ which reiterates the idea that many wars are created by scarcity of resources, and that future conflict ‘are more likely to be fought over water than oil.’[4] The trend for communities with green spaces, CSA’s etc, is for crime and other socio-economic problems to decrease overall within the first year and rapidly continue this trend as the community expands and connects with likeminded projects in surrounding areas. It is reasonable to conclude therefore that it is plausible for sustainable societies with large populations to thrive without typical issues found in high density living areas.

For further evidence of this, Civic Ecology looks at how people’s inherent love of life and place inevitably leads to the rebuilding of a ‘broken space,’ and how in turn that attributes positively to community rehabilitation, both physically and mentally. I recently watched an online video with Civic Ecologists Akiima Price[5] in which she explains how the rebuilding of a community gardens in Baltimore, USA in commemoration of deceased peoples from her community encouraged drug dealers (who were pushing their products through the communities youth) to give up that trade. In time it was successful – the dealers opened up to their once fearful neighbours and a ‘broken place’ started to heal itself. If green community spaces are encouraged within urban centres, then there is no reason that a city with a large population could not only be sustainable in resources, but a safer environment for all its peoples.

From here I would like then expand on the implications of these conclusions. First and foremost, it allows us to view humanity truly as guardians of the earth with the power to heal ourselves, and secondly, to briefly explore some ways of re-designing and re-thinking our environment and lifestyles to move towards this social model.

Positivism is key when discussing the ‘current state of affairs’ as it is too easy to fall into the trap of helplessness. Whilst an impending doom may be real, the other side of the coin is that humans have the potential to undue all the damage, and to help nature to flourish.

Looking at many areas of high soil fertility (thus bio-diversity) like in South America, North America & Australia,[6] we can directly attribute this to human movement. In North America before European contact, the only lumbricids [earthworms] native to the United States were some lacy species of Bismatus and Eisena, essentially worthless soil builders.’ On settlers boots lay dormant earthworm eggs that were introduced to North America upon arrival and quickly spread throughout the continent. From there, the wonderful little critters got to work munching, pooping & procreating and thus the introduction of the earthworm by humans to the North American continent can be directly attributed to the creation of the lush agricultural lands of New England, the Mid-West, and parts of Canada.[7]

Tribes from all over the globe that practiced selective culling & burning of trees, which freed carbon and precious minerals to be reabsorbed back into the soil leading to a sharp increase to ecological productivity which would not have been possible without human intervention. To increase productivity in an Old Growth Forests, the selection of specific trees for burning allows for a stagnant eco-system to have more available nutrients, more sunlight to the forest floor, and more niches in the forest for young trees (which are greater in productivity, typically) to grow. It takes a keen observer to know which plants should be removed and which to leave as is, and is regarded as a sophisticated from of tribal agriculture.
So whether it is the unintended introduction of the earthworm into foreign lands or conscious burning in delicate forests, humans have a vast potential to be the creators for nature.

The focus for Social Planners, Permaculture Designers, Civic Ecologists, Council Members and the public in general then becomes an issue of how to effectively integrate this knowledge in practical fashion. This topic is far too broad to be succinctly condensed into a short article however herein lies a short list of obvious practices we can, should, and need to communally support to move towards a healthier, green society.

Urban Food Forests/Replanting of Nature Strips

At the very least, nature strips should be planted with indigenous species, not ornamentals. Food Forests in recreational parks have been discussed throughout Melbourne. Progressive councils might allow the planting of fruit trees which is common (and at one point compulsory) in the inner suburbs of Canberra, Australia. Better yet, if we rally our neighbours support enough people can convince the local council to turn the sidewalk into an edible landscape as is seen throughout the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne – one street hosts an annual ‘Most Edible Sidewalk’ prize to encourage the community to pitch in with communal gardening!

Urban Apiaries

The legalisation of urban apiaries in New York 5 years ago marked a massive milestone for beekeepers of the city. Societies are seeing the benefit of such policy with many cities following suit since. Nowadays it is fairly easy to cut through the red tape of establishing hives on rooftops, and as awareness spreads around the harmlessness and importance of bees in urban environments, neighbours, housemates, etc, want to contribute their energy towards beekeeping if someone (like you!) leads the way.

Environmental Education (in all levels of schooling)

‘Alternative’ schools lean towards incorporating gardening as part of their curriculum though it’s unfortunate that this has been labelled alternative. All schools, regardless of the level of education, should have an element of permaculture/environmental education as part of their compulsory curriculum. As a permaculture teacher, I have taught children as little as 6 years old how to grow veggies and was always surprised just how willing the kids were to get involved if they were encouraged to do so. The brightly lit faces of the kids when they harvest produce from their own garden is about the most heart-warming expression in existence.

Urban Restoration Projects

Every city has degraded land, and a cycle observed by Civic Ecologists is that a community will tend to come together to restore and rebuild what was once a useable, green space. Common examples are city creek clean-ups, restoring urban plots into community gardens/spaces, rebuilding landscapes after natural disasters. Such projects are always looking for more volunteers. Civic Ecologists observe that such projects connect likeminded organisations in time, and most importantly have a huge positive impact on the individuals, and the neighbourhood at large.

Divesting in Unethical Banks

Most big banks invest in fossil fuels/mining companies – most likely you are indirectly investing in unethical companies if you are a member of a big bank. Market Forces has a wonderful website that shows most Australian banks & credit unions ethical and environmental statements, and rates which companies are ethical, and which aren’t. Also from the site, you can directly email your bank threatening your divestment if it doesn’t reconsider to whom it invests in – I wrote to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia who responded promptly saying they are re-considering their current investments in fossil fuels, surprisingly. Check it out, it’s a great website!

Attitudinal Shifts Towards Society

Perhaps this is the first issue we should be addressing – our own internal revolution before expecting anyone or anything to progress. For anyone involved in permaculture we understand that excessive conversation about the ‘state of the world’ leads to a negative state of mind, but it really is our duty to share all the excellent doings of successful projects. Focusing on the progress of successful micro-projects is key here – and there are countless examples in nearly every neighbourhood. Always keep in mind that there is an exponential growing number of people pushing for change and progress who are winning. By shifting our focus will inevitably allow us to view the truth already staring us in the face: that humans are both biophiliacs (lovers of life) and topophilacs (lovers of our surroundings).

My first permaculture teacher once said ‘Humans need nature, she doesn’t need us’ – and whilst the message of that saying is loud and clear, the evidence clearly suggests that the nature of humanities relationship with the earth is co-dependent. The more we care for her, the more she takes care of us – so, it is time to stop seeing ourselves as the destroyers of the earth, and to realise our full potential as earth’s allies.

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[1] http://www.pbs.org/earth-a-new-wild/episode-forests/

[2] Earth: A New Wild episode 3, Forests. 15:00 approx.

[3] Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A Designers Manual pg 523.

[4] Lester R Brown, http://www.earth-policy.org/press_room/C68/stockholm_transcript

[5] The video was apart of a university online lecture series in which the content cannot be shared, nevertheless I am directly quoting that video. Apologies about the lack of citing here.

[6] Peter Tompkind & Christopher Bird, Secrets of the Soil pg. 41-42, 58.

[7] Secrets of the Soil pg. 42.

Vertical Gardening On Slope

After our seedlings had matured, we needed to build a garden to put them all in. Our Thai neighbours devised a genius way of utilizing space on our shared land by creating a large trellis on slope so we decided to take their initial design, and push it further by creating mini terraces underneath the climbing trellis. 

photo (3)Whilst the picture does not portray the intensity of the slope, it is steep, rocky, sandy, and hard land to work with.You could terrace the land, dig swales, or various other techniques, though the amount of work it would take thanks to the huge rocks in the subsoil would create much work – and frankly, that isn’t my thing, not one bit.

Instead of creating ditches to slow down water and to prevent erosion, we created semi-sunken planting holes all throughout the landscape – a random mosiac of sorts. As water runs through from high to low, the water will spill over to the plant next to it, and so on. In this way, we minimise erosion, maximise water, for what was 2 hours work, at most.

vertical planterTo simple steps of building this vertical planter goes:

1. Collect 10-12  long sticks (we found ours in the neighbouring forest)

2.  Dig a deep hole for the supporting sticks, making sure they are sturdy and will bear the load, then place in ground.

3. Build the outside of the structure first: a) the cross beam then b) the outer edge sticks.

We made up the construction as we went along and the structure that night, undertook a brutal wind but held together nicely! If you are going to attempt to build such a structure, make sure it is super stable before all else.

And after that, start planting! In small holes, tightly spaced, is the best way. The total area was no more then 10ft by 10ft, and I managed to squeeze in 40 or so plants, without removing of the native vegetation. It is much better to work the native species as opposed to removing them for countless reasons; and for me that main incentive is less digging.

A row of nitrogen fixing pole beans that will climb up the planter in time

A row of beautifully thriving nitrogen fixing pole beans that will climb up the planter in time

The best thing about this design in my opinion is the roof of the structure. At the top of the hill we planted squash and watermelons, which will be trained to climb along the roof of the trellis – those varieties enjoy the tropical sun. After a few months, the roof will be partially covered, so underneath the planter will be partly shaded! We planted underneath partial sun loving plants, like kale, mint, tomatoes to name a few.

In total we spent 2 hours constructing, and we’re a bunch of amateurs. Two people could easily put this up in one hour, planted in full. As it is the dry season in Thailand currently, we watered once every 2 days, which was more then enough for the plants, and was a 5 minute duty as the design and placement of the planter allowed for easy access and quick watering.

In 2 months, this garden will be in over-abundance for a total several hours work. For anyone doubting there green thumb abilities, remember plants grow themselves, all we have to do is plop them in the ground!

happy beans

The Bewildering World of Patterns as Solutions for our Gardens FREE PDF

coverCOPYRIGHt copy

As preparation for our upcoming Food Forrest Gardening Course, I’ve been compiling the lectures I’ve planned into short e-books. Here’s a free download of one I wrote about a subject I find particularly interesting; The Bewildering World of Patterns as Solutions for Our Gardens [FREE PDF DOWNLOAD].

A big, big shout out to Mantra Mundana for editing this. Damn, I don’t know what I’d do without her hard work, and selfless love. Thank you again, darling.

Please read, enjoy and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about developing your garden, or the upcoming course happening in Koh Phangan, Thailand this coming April 13th!

Happy reading!

Designers Manual for Course Students

Honestly it is my favourite book to be published, and I'm holding it here for the first time.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–                        Honestly it is my favourite book to be published, and I’m holding it here for the first time.

The course is filling up fast! And as a surprise for those who are attending the course, we have a hard copy of the amazing, incredible book by Bill Mollison, A Designers Manual. Written over 2 decades ago, it is still the number one textbook in permaculture by the father of permaculture. For anyone serious about design, this is the book that must be slowly read, re-read over and over. We have it available for all students and can get a copy for the students at a discounted price! If you want a copy, and are wanting to be introduced into the wonderful world of permaculture, sign up for upcoming course!

For an introduction so some idea of permaculture, I have written an ebook commentary on a section of The Designers Manual. Download it FREE, here. ForestGardening [PDF] //

Later today I will be posting lecture 4 of the course in PDF format, again, free. !!

Forest Gardening Course Curriculum

For those interested in as to what exactly we’ll be doing in the upcoming forest gardening course, here is the current curriculum. The structure of the course is 90% practical, 10% theory. At the beginning of each morning we’ll drink tea, talk & discuss some theory together, and then for the rest of the day we’ll be out in the garden, elbow deep in soil, giving life back to the land.

outline If you’re curious about what is in the lectures, check out our FREE PDF of the 4th lecture just released. ForestGardening [PDF] //

And for a good belly-chuckle – check out the freshest raps on permaculture here.

For any information regarding the course, please, write to us on labyrinthpermaculture@gmail.com !