The Message of Permaculture – Care and Share

Pumpkin in the compost

Last night was my final class at St Andrew’s Episcopal church here in Seattle. Much of our discussion was around the principles and tenets of Permaculture. This method of agriculture, sometimes referred to as “do nothing gardening”  is modelled observation of natural ecosystems. Out of that are developed self maintained horticultural systems.

I love the three tenets of Permaculture which could easily come out of the Bible and wanted to reflect a little more on these, incorporating some of the principles of Permaculture (and of the Bible) in the process.

  • Take care of the earth – especially the soil. No life flourishes without healthy soil.

Taking care of the earth is not just about conservation however. The words that come to me are:  Look back with gratitude & forward with anticipation. We need to look back to legacy of past stewards, learn from their techniques, preserve the heritage seeds they developed and cultivate native and other plants that are well developed for our climates.  We als nee to look forward so those that follow us will reap the benefits. Our concern should not be for short term gain but for long term stable systems that therefore depend on long living perennials and trees that provide food for many years rather than short lived annuals.

Permaculture is not a quick fix garden technique. We need to take time to let the land speak, observing and interacting with it in all seasons, learn the patterns of rain, wind, sun, and noise, taking the animals into account and framing the vistas and views the land opens up. The idea is to work with nature and not try to control it.

Another basic principle of permaculture is to catch and store energy. We can catch solar energy in sun spaces, and greenhouses. We can use it in solar cookers, dryers and lights.  We can also store water  through the use of rain barrels and greywater (not allowed in many cities). And we can store the rain that falls on the earth with deep layers of compost and mulch.  We can also store energy by storing the harvest in root cellars, or by preserving, drying and freezing.

Another important principle is the use of renewable resources. The idea is to produce no waste at all. Leftovers can be composted, dead trees cut down for new garden beds or firewood. Nature is an incredible waste free design that we could do well to emulate.

Mimicking the ways of nature, which has been refined in the science of bio-mimicry is something that has always intrigued me. God has created some amazing designs that we could emulate to save the planet.

  • Take care of the people 

For number one priority here is the need to form community & grow friendship by gardening together, preserving the harvest together and partying together.  The idea is to integrate rather than segregate, cooperate rather than not compete. We learn to value diversity in our garden community as well as our produce. Community gardens and shared backyards can foster this.

One principle of permaculture is to use every available space. We use the edges  by espaliering trees on walls, growing vines and hanging baskets. We use dark spaces by growing mushrooms. But perhaps (and here is my radical Christian perspective here, right out of the Old Testament.) – maybe we should leave the edge crops for others to glean

  • Share the surplus:

Unless we share we do not really care for others, but as the author comments in The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture, to share we must recognize that we have more than enough for ourselves. We live in a culture that teaches us there is never enough. We must hold onto everything. No wonder storage for excess household goods has become such big business. And sharing in a garden should go beyond the harvest. We should generously share techniques, seeds, recipes, skills and information. And above all we should share the beauty of our gardens, inviting others into our space whenever possible.



Church as Permaculture

Yesterday a friend forwarded me this reflection by Richard Rohr entitled Church as Permaculture.

There was a movement that began about thirty years ago in Australia called “Permaculture” (from perma[nent agri]culture) which was concerned about making good and natural use of our earth.  I would like to suggest here the idea of church itself as a kind of permaculture.

Permaculture is a design system to create sustainable living habitats.  Permaculturists seek to find regenerative solutions that are local, on-site, and natural.  We have to look right in front of us and say: “How can we regenerate what is right here?  How can we live with what we have and make it beautiful and good?”  I ask, why should that not be true for church too?  Wouldn’t it make sense that all we need for salvation is available for all peoples, all the time, and everywhere?  God and grace cannot be that scarce.  Why should any church “technology” be so centralized at higher levels, or dependent on major and specialized education?  Maybe that was Jesus’ point in starting with fishermen?

This reflection became the focal point for a discussion in our MSA team meeting.    I love the concept of permaculture.  You disturb the soil as little as possible so that the native microorganisms thrive, you add a lot of compost & mulch to keep in the moisture and you plant native crops where possible because they are the ones most likely to thrive.  Great principles for ministry too.  You don’t need to bring in lots of sophisticated stuff (or people) to be effective.  Nor do you need any highly sophisticated training to do a good job.

It is easy for those of us who work in full time Christian ministry to live in an artificial and need I say imported bubble that has little relationship to the real world or to the community in which we live. And as a result we often do a lot of things that really mess up the local soil in ways that are not very good for it.  Being hard pressed financially in the last couple of years has forced all of us to be creative in how we provide for ourselves in ways that I think are very healthy.

Many pastors and ministry workers have had to take part time jobs to provide for themselves and their families and they have had to rely a lot more on local resources too.  And this has often drawn us to get more involved in our local communities… without disturbing the local soil as it were  Maybe these hard economic times are God’s greatest blessing to us.

We have been very aware of that here in MSA.  Cindy Todd started a soap making business which has not only helped provide for her and her family but has also pushed her out into the community as she sells her products through farmers’ markets and other local networks.  Andy works part time at a local church in Hood River Oregon as well as running a small computer business.  He too has developed broad local networks as result.

It has changed the way many of us think about ministry too. International development so often really messes up the local soil.  It brings in foreign substances (overseas personnel & resources) and often does not depend on innovation and utilizing the resources that people already have.   Even when it does that utilization is often based on outside expertise and technology rather than on the ingenuity of local people.

I think hard times foster creativity and innovation.  Everyone has within them the divine spark of creativity that so often shines in the midst of adversity.

I would love to hear how these times have stimulated your creativity and what you have learned about what it means to be a follower of Christ as a result