Thursday, November 19, 2015

Healing Ourselves, Healing the World

(This article is intended to stand alone, but is a continuation of thoughts started in "Civilization's Fatal Flaw,") 

I knew something was wrong, even when I was a kid, because I could see it.

I could feel that the old systems, the old ways of living weren't working for me, and I could see that the old maps would never take me where I wanted to go. Up ahead, the road was long and littered, with no destination in sight. My fellow travelers spoke of their weariness, their hopelessness, disconentment, disempowerment, like they knew in their hearts that there was no fitting end to their journey, no place on this path worth arriving. And yet they just kept trudging on...

But just off the road, I could see faint footpaths into the wood, into the wild. I couldn't be sure of where I'd end up. But I knew that to leave the road meant to start finally living.


Yeah, I'm resorting to poetic gobbledygook about a metaphorical road because these are things I felt long before I could understand them. Images and impressions I couldn't put to words. But I felt them to my core. I felt angry and disappointed that the system failed the people I loved. I saw the smartest, hardest working people I knew left in poverty while greedy predators were rewarded and treated like kings. I felt disconnected from nature, my food, my community and our past. I felt pessimistic about my future and the futures of everyone around me. It felt like the only way to thrive was to join the predators. I couldn't believe this was all "progress," the belief that is essentially our new modern religion. And I felt powerless to change any of it. 

When I discoved Permaculture that all changed. 


On the old road we've all seen community elders we respect lose their jobs, their careers, their savings - and it doesn't matter that they've worked their whole lives doing their part to keep this system running for the good of us all. In that situation, it doesn't matter that their families love them and their friends value them, the message from society is that their contribution is no longer needed. What they brought to society wasn't worth paying for or protecting. 

And it's crushing.

I've watched as we burned whole industries to the ground and wasted years of human life and capital, not to mention dreams and families, because the system didn't value experience and expertise.

On the other end, we've burned the youth away from a whole generation, and they'll never get it back. We've wasted the PEAK years of their productive lives, when they had the most time, energy, creativity, and idealism to invest in building the future. We've burned their youth as payment on our growing debts, to keep our colleges solvent, prison system profitable, our industries fueled with cheap lives and low-cost labor. Disappointment? 

"Would you like to super-size that?"

You stay on that road, you've got a good chance of getting burned in those fires again and again. It's not personal, or some conspiracy theory, it's just that we have debts to pay, as I described in the previous article, and burning off the over-complicated, over-valued, over-priced sectors of the "old" economy is the easiest way we can pay those debts. These large structures require unsustainable upkeep and no one can afford to pay the ever increasing costs, so we must convert the excess to "waste." Usually, this means, layoffs, centralization of authority, computerization. This has become so common it seems the most natural thing to us. "The new normal."

But even when we keep our jobs, we burn in this failing economy. 

In 2010, the Illinois Immigration and Refugee Conference funded a study to identify the biggest "problems" faced by refugees in the US, and found, as other studies had, that the number one problem was "stress." 


Life in the US was intollerably stressful compared with their previous homes. This was coming from people who previously lived in failed states, war-torn dystopias, threatened with starvation, persecuted by authoritarian regeimes. None of that was nearly as stressful as life in the US!

This should be shocking, but whenever I tell people this, no one is ever surprised, really. 

Because we all burn. With issolation. Disconnection from nature. Unsafe, unhealthy "food" that previous generations would have called poison, unfit even for beasts of burden. Epidemic levels of mental illness, depression, anxiety.

And we worry where the unfaltering trend lines of the last few decades will lead for our children. 

"How can we solve these interconnected problems? Change the system? Create a better world? It seems impossible! What does Permaculture say about this?"

That's the question from a reader that inspired this series of posts.  

The solution for us personally, for our kids and for our society is all the same: get off the old road, out of the old system. 

Take as many with you, show as many the way as you can. Together we can build new pathways to plenty. We can build new just, regenerative systems to meet our needs right underneath the old, destructive, suicidal ones as they crumble. 

Off the road is the only "destination" that matters, the only place left worth getting to.  

The key insight is that we don't have to wait for someone to save us. We don't have to work thanklessly against broken political structures. Why even bother to "fix" these old systems? Let them burn! Make them irrelevant. 

We can act now, joyfully, to build better lives and "be the change." We do so by redesigning our lives and the way we meet our needs. There are practical steps any of us can take to get started today. 


And your work finding your own path to a resilient, beautiful life is the greatest work you can do for the world. 

And in a culture sick with greed, discontentment and disappointment, your commitment to do regenerative work for your community and biome is the key to a beautiful resilient life. 

According to the old roadmap, life looked like a long road ahead, with a "goal" somewhere at the end, a house in the suburbs, a car, a corner office, a special title. We spend all our lives on the road, and when we reach our goals, we're usually disappointed to find there's just a new goal up ahead. It never ends and we never really get anywhere. 

But I'd propose a different roadmap, one that's cyclic, like this: 

With this new roadmap, we see that we can align our lives so that our personal work to build a happier more fulfilled life can make our community and biome a wealthier, more joyful, more resilient place. And our work to strengthen our communities and the natural world can be structured so that it reinforces our personal goals, building true wealth, increasing our security and helping us cultivate the qualities that lead to real happiness. 

Each act is its own goal, and each investment a meaningful end. 

"Enlightened self interest." 

As our personal weath grows, we invest more in our community and ecology, and as our community wealth grows, it can afford to invest more in us.

If we can structure our lives in this way, our lives become "super-fueled" with positive feedback loops that simultaneously benefit ourselves and our community.

Others can take up our model and our solutions. They strengthen us as they strengthen themselves and together we strengthen our communities. Even more become inspired to take up this model, abandon the old road.... 

This creates a whole different approach to thinking about our careers, livlihoods and needs. We become our own masters, designing and creating our own regenerative, mutually beneficial "systems" to meet our needs and fulfill our desires. 

And the first step is to start identifying streams of energy that we can start to "catch and store" into these community and natural "postive feedback loops" that will be the building blocks of those systems. And that's what we'll be exploring next.  


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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Forest Gardening Articles and Resources from Lillie House

Why is it that nobody ever walks into a healthy forest and says, "boy, does somebody ever need to do some mulching in here! Somebody needs to weed, water and fertilize this forest, too!"

For the most part, healthy forests don't require human managers, volunteers or employees to keep them running and productive. The necessary "work" is accomplished in the casual interactions of plants and animals - the forest community - as they go about their lives. Some mulch, some fertilize, some catch and store water. Others attract beneficial allies and keep pests in check. 

With the ability to do all that work for us, "ecosystem services" are an invauable source of energy that clever human societies have put to good use in the form of "forest gardens," "food forests," or "home gardens."  

In fact, many researchers across disciplines are calling forest gardens "the oldest human land use," recognizing that this kind of garden has been nearly univeral across continents and cultures. Where ever trees grow, people have created systems that meet human needs by mimicking forests and learning to cooperate with nature.

In the tropics, these gardens really do resemble thick, wild forests with a diverse set of plants growing at all different levels from tall trees to creeping groundcovers. Only they're filled with fruit, vegetables, medicial herbs, animal systems and materials for crafts, fuel, clothing and building. 

But in colder climates with less sun, these systems require a more open structure to let in more light and warmth. Temperate forest gardens tend to resemble open woodland, savannas, forest edges and hedgerows.  

So imagine for a moment a beautiful woodland, a trail along a forest edge, a forest clearing, some beautiful ecosystem that has spoken to you, that has held you in awe. Above, birds fill the trees and their songs fill the air. Flowers blossom through the understory and a beautiful diversity of invertebrates bring their own color, movement, music. The air feels cool and sheltered, conditioned by trees and perfumed by flowers. But everything here is useful, edible, medicial. Fruit and nuts hang from the trees, salad plants, vegetables and edible flowers fill in below them. There is no such thing as "waste" here and the only "work" to do is foraging and harvesting.

That is the vision and goal of "forest gardening." 

On the technical side, we can define a temperate forest garden as a highly diverse, multi-layered polyculture production garden specializing in trees and woody perennials. They're traditionally culturally important spaces that integrate food production with social uses such as family living, ritual gatherings, meetings, and ceremonies. Typically, they include fruit and nut trees and bushes, large perennial and annual herbaceous plants that produce fruits and vegetables, ground cover plants, root crops, mushrooms, and vines. Beyond that, the design can vary widely to deepending on the goals the gardener wants to achieve. 

If you would like to learn more, I hope you will check out these other articles and resources on forest gardening that we've put together:

Forest Gardening Blog Posts:

Living with a Food Forest (Inspirational) 

A Permaculture Jardin de Cure (Ornamental Food Forest)