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Why learn permaculture? For the children and ourselves

Permaculture is one of the only ways home for humanity. If one believes in modernism, industrial agriculture and better living through chemistry read no further. However, if you feel something is not right about the way we live, read on.

I have come to realize that it is because we have been taught from birth to be dependent on the system or civilization that we have lost our connection to our home—the land, nature and its cultivars. Simply, because we have no connection to the land we have no reason to take care of it or limit our numbers. The skills and relationships with even the most common plants is not given to us as children.

Teach your children well

Permaculture is a modern translation of first people’s or native knowledge and wisdom. It is a step towards indigenizing the white man. We have to learn permaculture as adults because we were not taught about our home as children. The key may be for us as adults to learn permaculture design skills and then pass this knowledge and established perennial homesteads and communities on to our children.

Every child should be able to identify at least 100 plants and name their uses, how to grow them, where they are found and how to process them. Children should learn these skills through action, touch, feel, smell, taste and story.

Here is a picture of my kids and one of their best friends picking dessert in the berry patch. My children know probably a dozen berries by the shape of the plant at a distance. They know which plant to go to at different times of the year. If I don’t keep a watchful eye though, they can eat much of the fruit before the U-pick customers can get it. Its all good; they are learning their plants the fun way.

A home medicinal herb patch is a also great way to teach kids about plants. The other day Charlie had a few bug bites on his foot that were bothering him. He knows how to make a healing clay with comfrey, aloe and coltsfoot. By the time the clay was dry on his foot, he was ready to go play again.

Bridge the gap between the garden book and the garden

Getting your first garden going can be difficult, especially if you were not taught about plants as a child. The easiest way to start gardening is to buy veggie starts from your local nursery. Get a season or two under your belt and then try starting seeds early and seed sowing directly in the ground after the last frost.

We believe learning how to establish your own garden is so important that the SOPI Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course emphasizes hands-on gardening skills.

Permaculture or regeneration begins when you start turning your lawn into a garden haven. One thing will lead to another, after plants will come compost, then fruit or nut trees and later preserving and sharing your surplus. There is nothing better than a preserving party in the fall—oh ya. Let some of your plants go to seed and save the seeds. Serious seed savers will want to look into a set of seed cleaning screens like the set of eight graduated screen sizes from Horizon Herbs.

Self-reliance allows you to begin stepping away from “the system”

We have to learn how to unhook ourselves from modern culture. Self-reliance is about reducing our need to work in the cash wage economy. It also enables us to begin making a living doing what we love at home with our family and friends.

The Amish call the process avoiding entanglements with modern culture. For example, old order Amish drive wagons with wood wheels because they do not want to be dependent on modern culture to fix or replace a rubber tire.

My ideal is to learn the skills to not only grow your own food but also to build your home from the materials on site. Here is a small home at the Cob Cottage Company in Coquille, Oregon. A dwelling like this can have a rocket mass stove, hypo-cast under a bench or sleeping loft, living roof and even an attached greenhouse. Imagine gathering a few of these together and have the community garden in the center.

Land is expensive enough, do your best not be paying more for the home than the land. I tell young people they are better off living in a yurt on a small piece of good land that you own with water near a community than you are living in a house the bank owns. For one person or family an expensive home can be the biggest boat anchor holding one back from self-reliance.

Our SOPI PDC not only covers how to grow food but also how to develop a group of friends with many of the skills that you need to be reasonably self reliant. Think in terms of group skills, not a nuclear family, think extended family. You need to find a small group with combined skills of farming, building, healing, water systems, energy and so on. One person cannot know it all, “look for skills not money” as Bill Mollison says. You personally need to develop at least one really strong skill, probably a couple.

Going forward, we need to focus on social and economic structures as much as we do on gardens and landscapes. We have to regain our connections to each other and the land. This is a holistic design process to create the interdependence we need going forward as groups instead of as individuals. Remember, we are taught to compete with each other for grades and jobs since birth. We have to relearn group or tribal cooperation.

This grid of suburban homes can be a bit of a prison if used the way it was intended, each to their own cell. Urban/suburban communities can become small villages if people work together to relocalize. The Abundance Garden Cooperative is one such example here in Ashland, Oregon of ten families working together to grow their own food. It started with a permaculture design course.

Get started

The point of why permaculture is not about design, zones and sectors it is about finding a doorway that allows our generation to begin the journey away from modern culture. We need a holistic structures that get back to using nature as a model. Once future generations are living back with nature instead of through civilization then humanity will be sustainable or regenerative again—we will begin the healing process to reverse 10,000 years of exploitation since the agricultural revolution. Honestly that is a big job and a long road ahead but nature has the capacity to heal herself if we let succession continue uninterrupted.

At SOPI and Restoration Farm, I point out that we are one of the few farms I know of that actually builds topsoil, builds biodiversity and allows succession to continue uninterrupted. That is a start but we still have to drive to town more frequently than I would like. Now we are beginning to work on the social community structure part.

Our generation is only awakening to the need to move to a new cultural direction away from the earth belongs to man to humanity belongs to the earth. We are only beginning the journey. Let’s get as far as we can, learn as much as we can, establish as much as we can and pass it along to the children.

We are just beginning but we can start somewhere—start where you are, attract others, share resources, surpluses and land that you may have. Have fun with it all; meet new friends. Life is a journey—it is time for the next chapter. Go out and find your community or tribe. Combine what you have of skills, energy, money, land or home. Think out side of the box, in fact get rid of the box.

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Author’s note: For much more about the birthing of new culture(s) see my book Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution. It is a syntheses of how things came to be this way, why civilization cannot be fixed and then what the only real long-term solutions are.

The Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute (SOPI) is located in beautiful Ashland, Oregon. We teach the Permaculture Design Certificate course (PDC), Advanced Permaculture Design: Edible Forest Gardens, and Teachers Training. 541 941-9711 • info@sopermaculture.org. Chuck Burr is the author of Culturequake: The Restoration Revolution.

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