Permaculture is a collection of tricks and ideas that make it easy and cheap to live economically and “greenly”, with less work and less harm to the environment. These ideas have come from many people, just observing things and noticing something that was always there, but no-one had ever seen that way before.
My favourite example comes from a hero of mine, Arthur Hollins of Fordhall Farm.
Arthur inherited the farm in Shropshire when he was only 14, but unfortunately the farm was in ruins, both agriculturally and financially. The soil had been destroyed by chemicals, and the resulting loss of fertility nearly made them bankrupt–it killed Arthur’s dad, Alfred. With nothing much growing, Arthur asked the old farm hand, Jim, what to do, and Jim opined that what the land needed was “muck” (manure).
But there were very few animals on the farm, and if they got some cows, they could eat the grass in the fields in the summer (and poop as they went!) but in the winter there wasn’t enough grass to keep them going. They would need to be brought into the barns and given cattle feed. But Arthur had no money for winter feed. What to do?
One day, when walking in the woodland on the farm, Arthur noticed two things. One, the soil in the woodland was wonderful. Alive and full of nutrition … without any fertiliser!
The other was that the floor of the woodland was strewn with acorns, horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts: things that pigs love to eat. What if they got some pigs, Arthur wondered. Maybe they could forage in the woods for food, and then be brought back to the fields to graze … and poop!
It worked. Arthur had begun the process of bringing his fields back to health.
The next problem that he had was that he wanted to farm cattle. But there are some big costs. Cattle are fine on nice grassy fields in the summer, when the ground is fairly dry and the grass is growing. But in the winter, when the ground gets soggy and the grass slows right down, the cattle will churn up the fields, destroying the grass. So what you have to do is to build a nice warm, dry barn, and find some “winter feed”. This can either be bought-in feed, or, if you have enough ground, you grow lots of hay in the summer, which you cut in the autumn, and store as winter feed.
This is expensive. You have to buy a tractor to sow your hay meadow, to harvest it, and to transport the bales of hay.
You need to have a bank loan to buy the tractor (and the barn, probably). Even with hay, you probably still need to buy winter feed. Then there’s diesel for the tractor, and all the manpower necessary.
Over 50 years, Arthur gradually worked out a plan. He experimented with growing different sorts of plants, all mixed together on his fields. Today, there are over 70 different species of plants growing on Fordhall’s fields. This does two things. The pasture is tough: it can cope with the cattle being on it all year round. And it provides more than adequate nutrition all through the winter. So, at Fordhall: no tractors, no barn, no mowing, no bank loan, no manual labour (well, not as much as other farms!) And when they say that their cattle are grass-fed, they mean it. All year round. It’s how cows were designed to eat!
And all this was done by observation, experimentation, and seeing what could be done by working with nature, just giving nature a helping hand, rather than fighting it.
These are just two brief examples of permaculture in practice.
Over 30 years (Arthur Hollins was doing permaculture 30 years before the word “permaculture” had been invented) people from all over the world have come up with hundreds of other ideas, and various people have drawn these all together into a set of “design principles” that you can use to design your landscape. These principles are taught, all around the world, in “Permaculture Design Certificate” (PDC) courses.
Whenever you’re with a group of “permies”, they soon start talking about where, when, and with whom they did their PDC. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about that (unless you get the bug)–we have people with PDC qualifications, and the principles of permaculture will used throughout Foldehampton, to ensure that we are not just living sustainably, but regeneratively, too: Arthur Hollins started with badly degraded soil–a badly degraded farm–and regenerated it.
If you are grabbed by all this, and want to learn more, the Permaculture Principles website (click the permaculture flower) is a good place to start.
Or you can just move in to a Foldehampton house, live in the village, and eat the food grown on Foldehampton Farm and in the gardens around the village, and know that the permaculture is being done for you.