Permanent + Culture
Permaculture was originally conceptualized in the 1970s by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. As a philosophical ecosystem, permaculture's roots can be found in sustainable agriculture, natural building, biomimicry, and synergistic design choices. Since the 70s, it has become a worldwide phenomenon and is now taught in numerous countries and languages. Permaculture has bolted to incorporate many new ideas and innovations that grow beyond its original foundation. The themes described below are the most compelling to me in my own relationship to this field.
The first modern organic agriculture movement, biodynamics originated in the 1920s from a lecture series given by Austrian esotericist Rudolf Steiner. His emphasis was on considering the health of soil, crops, and livestock as an interconnected system. Biodynamic ideas of localizing food production, planting by the Moon, and growing cover crops or green manures on-site continue to be preserved by many permaculturists today.
I was introduced to this concept in an aromatherapy class taught by Jade Shutes and Cathy Skipper. While most commonly heard in relation to viticulture, terroir, or the ecological context in which something is grown, can also be applied to traditional herbal medicines or even our food. For me, terroir is the microcosm to what biodynamics seeks to work with. It's one thing to understand our food, medicine, and soil as a holistic system, but it's another skill to read the effects of this system in each individual plant or field. As people, terroir seems important to me too. What is the context of an individual's chronic neck pain? What is their connection like to food and bioregion?
This perspective was first documented by Arne Næss in the early 1970s, and is all about considering the complexity of the natural world beyond the utility it offers to humanity. In essence, deep ecology is about seeking to understand the world from the perspective of other living beings, like a tree or a mouse. It's about re-structuring the way we not only think about the environment but work with it. A mountain, then, becomes not just a mass of natural resources to be extracted and distributed ("sustainably" or otherwise), but a site that deserves consideration, defense, or even autonomy, in the face of human development. Its inhabitants become voices that need to be heard, and species with intelligence and desires as worthy of respect as our own. When designing permaculture projects, deep ecology challenges me to consider how wild flora and fauna will benefit from and interact with the space as well.
For me, the concepts of regenerative agriculture and rewilding graft easily together. The first is all about regenerating soil health in particular, biodiversity, and the connectivity between farm site and bioregion. The second comes from modern anarchist philosophy, and refers to the process of undoing the impacts of civilization and domestication on humans, other animals, and our shared planet. While regenerative agriculture makes room for grazing livestock and other domesticated farm animals, rewilding offers space to eschew these characteristics of civilization in favor of a wilder existence. When we exit our manicured lawns and neighborhoods to observe in the classroom of nature, we encounter a system that is thriving without the domesticated livestock of modern agriculture. I take my cue from these spaces, and am committed to designing (and purchasing) for soil health without livestock inputs.