Perma-WHAT? is a series of posts that highlight some of what I am doing and would like to do better in the field of permaculture. I am presently raising funds to enroll in a permaculture design program this September. If these posts speak to you, you can help me out by donating at my GoFundMe campaign page. Thanks for reading!
Like most permaculturists I know, I love to sit with nature. When I don't know how to handle modern life, when I need to get out of my head, or when I'm looking for inspiration, I head into the woods and spend some time just sitting.
A Question of Inputs
Before I discovered veganic agriculture pioneers like Helen Athowe, self-sufficient vegan seed-saver Will Bonsall, or international vegan permaculture teacher Graham Burnett, I wasn't sure it was possible to cultivate the sustainable, homegrown lifestyle I desired without livestock inputs. Every permaculture video and enthusiast I came across seemed to be certain that chicken tractors and a goat herd were key expressions of this movement. Manure from these animals is thought to be an organic nutrient-boost for the soil, and so critical for their regenerative cultivation programs.
Before we even talk permaculture, organic agriculture is mired in the livestock trades too. If you haven't checked the ingredients of your organic fertilizers lately, look for all the slaughter by-products your veggies are being grown in. They're called blood meal, bone meal, and fish emulsion.
The Veganic Agriculture Network as well as a growing number of permaculturists around the world are choosing to go livestock-free however. And this is where I really see my work taking root.
The Wild Classroom
On one of my nature walks I came to realize that all around me I was observing the vegan landscape. None of the animals in the woods are there in captivity. They aren't domesticated, dependent on humans for food or water, or being raised from pregnancy to slaughter with our desires in mind ahead of their own.
Nature somehow keeps the balance when we leave her alone. The right number of frogs and bats tend the right number of insects, the right number of pollinators perpetuate the right number of native plants, and the right number of grazing mammals migrate through these spaces as needed. The trouble really seems to arrive when humans over-hunt one part of this web, poison another, introduce monocultures, and develop over the "empty" spaces where life already thrives.
If 'conventional' permaculture can design small-scale animal agriculture systems in bold attempts to mimic the way nature works on her own, why can't we just bypass that step and design more directly in harmony with nature's impulses to begin with?
Designing Vegan Permaculture
If one appeal of adopting veganism as a ethical standard is the idea of doing the least amount of harm possible to Earth and other animals, I think designing vegan permaculture challenges that ethic to develop in deeper directions.
I'm not interested in simply abstaining from consuming animal products while maintaining a smug relationship with modern agriculture, fake "meats," and "vegan" options grown in the blood of farmed birds and calves. Neither am I interested in simply decreasing the industrial scale of modern agriculture while maintaining an ethic of domestication and mastery over animals and plants alike.
Modern agriculture continues to colonize and cultivate the last remaining wild spaces on this planet. By some reckonings, 60% of the mammals on Earth are domesticated farm animals now, 36% are humans, and only 4% are wild. Likewise, 70% of the Earth's birds are now chickens or other poultry, while only 30% are wild. The only word I can think of to describe this system is simply "insane." I don't want to be a part of it, do you? I believe there must be an alternative, don't you?
How will we preserve the last remaining wild spaces and wild species? How will we be a force for reclaiming WITH the veganic wild from what humanity as a whole has polluted?
What fascinates me about permaculture are the possibilities it brings to veganism and potential relationships between human-animals and the wild. The idea of growing food systems without livestock-inputs is compelling, yes, but what will veganism look like in post-livestock communities? How do we design human living spaces that go beyond not just farming animals, but working in greater harmony with the wildlife who share our community? What do food systems designed with pollinators, indigenous ecosystems, and complex webs of life energy rather than human consumers alone in mind look like?
I don't have all the answers. I don't even have all the questions yet. But I know this is the work that drives my heart. And I know that deepening my knowledge of permaculture design is a step in the right direction of realizing this passion of mine and this vegan world we will share.
If my ideas speak to you at all, please consider donating any amount you can spare to help me enroll in a permaculture design program beginning this September. Thank you and thanks for reading!
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to email@example.com