A great emphasis in Permaculture (apart from the veggie patch and passive energy housing design) is on social change, awareness and education. Recently I asked a friend what she thought about a Permaculture Property Tour she had taken over the weekend. Her answer surprised and delighted me: "I loved it, but I thought it was sad that we had to travel 2 hours and pay to see an example of what used to be in my backyard".
When did this type of living become a novelty? Growing your own? Community sharing and Family focused? And why do we need a system such as Permaculture to re-establish what was once common practice (at least for some), or do we at all?
My friend grew up in the 50's. Her father was the gardener and would take her on tours of his plot when she would come home to visit, asking her to count with him the number of current crops (some improved by the applications of DDT!!!).
I on the other hand grew up in the 80s. We had a lemon tree which we would enjoy but that was the extent of home grown. The garden was purely ornamental. Today two galvanised raised veg bed sit in the middle Mum and Dad's lawn. Dad has converted the brick BBQ to a 3 bed no-dig garden in addition building a 2x2 meter enclosed space which was once lawn for more produce.This was not something that came naturally to my folks. It took a lot of reading on my mum's part and also visits to "Mr Budgie" our Italian nieghbour around the corner. My grandparents, having grown up in the depression were extremely hard workers, but not vegetable gardeners. They were however, the most phenomenal recyclers I have ever encountered. Everything, to this day, is considered before being discarded (or given away). I remember when at a certain age it suddenly occured to me that the crystal salt and pepper shakers were not crystal at all - they were vinegar bottles which had been skewered in the tops. This was not only a matter of affordabililty, my Nana simply can't stand throwing anything out!!
Sitting in my garden on the weekend with a much younger friend - we were brain storming which veggies to plant, she then pointed out a nettle and said to me (she is 8) "Sarah you really should pull that thistle out on the path - but you could make a good tea out of it or use it for ummmmm compost" WOW where did you learn that ?- "At school, we have a Stephanie Alexander Garden!!!!!".
No doubt, we are stylising what once was common, backyard practice. But figure-heads here in Melbourne such as Stephanie Alexander and David Holmgren are helping to formalise the groundswell of people who want to act rather than sit back in dismay. The formalisation of change through government is not only too slow, but also unreliable with the chop-change government sturcture (it was interseting to even hear the BHP CEO Marius Kloppers suggest that government is decades behind the eight ball in regard to climate change):
Channel 10 News
Ultimately (and particularly after the dethroning or Kevin Rudd) it is clear that business runs our government. The upside is that the consumers (you and me) ultimately dictate business.
Professor Stuart Hill's study advocates that change is in the hands of the individual:
Although we have still only scratched the surface in applying these (renewable energy) two potentially valuable approaches, their limitations are such that without more fundamental changes in values and the design of systems, they can only delay the eventual reaching of critical thresholds relating to ecological collapse and associated cultural breakdown, including increased violence, war and personal degeneration. I believe, based partly on my familiarity with the history of soil degradation and associated cultural collapse (e.g., Hyams 1952), that such outcomes are inevitable if we continue to mainly focus on status quo maintaining, and problem-solving responses. However, if we take proactive, imaginative, fundamental redesign and transformative approaches to change, and are willing to learn from nature, and 'otherness' in general (Bhabha 1994; McClintock 1995), then numerous hopeful opportunities may be recognized and emerge (see also Nina-Marie Lister, Ch.2).
(Professor Stuart B. Hill, REDESIGN AS DEEP INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY: LESSONS FROM ECOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE AND SOCIAL ECOLOGY).
The emphasis in Permaculture on social change, awareness and education is perhaps what we drive two hours to witness and are willing to pay to be educated about. For now I am happy diggin around in my garden and letting my thoughts drift about how what I am doing with my hands affects the air that I am breathing and more.