Category Archives: Permaculture Design Philosophy

Dream a little (big) dream

photo 2I’ve started my new job in New York, from Michigan, which makes for a nice transition to a new house in a new community within a new state. We leave at the end of the following week for closing on the house and we’ll make a few trips out prior to the big move with the kids in June.

This whole process was kicked off by a series of events in the deep of winter early in 2015 with a serious evaluation of our long-term goals.

Chris and I have similar goals across the board, save for the one about opening a burger joint (though the food would be fantastic, I can attest), which made the envisioning process easier. Some things were immediately clear: 1) We were not living the life we dreamed of in the way we hoped to live it, 2) We could not alter the situation without a change in location, and 3) We have two kids quickly approaching college-age and one not far behind those two.

It was early February of 2015 when Chris showed me a farm for sale in Western Massachusetts. I said, “There’s no way I’m leaving Michigan.” And he said, “I think you’d really like it out there.” The rest is history. Eastern NY is very similar to Western Mass. And the land is affordable, the soil profiles are outstanding, and the people are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

After five trips out East, we finally located the right property in line with our five-year plan, right in the middle of the Schoharie, with an agricultural college just minutes from the front door, and universities scattered within a three hour radius in every direction. It isn’t a farm, but there’s enough land to grow food and a large field adjacent to the property, so who knows. We will keep chickens and bees, tend the Shiawassee Beauties, and continue gardening, while growing our savings to accommodate dreams of opening a fiber mill in Upstate NY.

Moreover, I hope the girls can finally feel the satisfaction of being part of a community, rather than living in the outskirts. Apart from college, there is so much to experience in New England, from the history around every corner, to the natural features of this old, old land, to the simple joy of riding your bike to the movie theatre on a summer afternoon.

And you bet, I’ll still be processing and spinning fiber. It likely won’t be local Michigan fiber, if you can forgive me, but I can promise some local Schoharie Valley fiber to keep our friends in beautiful northern Michigan warm.

This is succession.

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

A Woman’s Work

I was just reading an excerpt from Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by E. Wayland Barber and was

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Drop spindle demonstration at the farm. Photo by the lovely Holly Pharmer

struck that though weaving and spinning were developed over thousands of years by women, the mechanization of fiber processing was developed primarily by  men. Barber’s explanation of this is simple. In every culture world-wide, women are the principle child-rearers, meaning any co-existing work must be compatible with the act of raising children.

It reminded me of my frustrations with the lack of recognition of women in permaculture and resonated very closely with me as a mother of four. No matter how finely tuned your craft, it can be overshadowed by those with more time to experiment and labor on other tasks. Or maybe better put, it represents a kind of natural division of labor we see echoed throughout the human timeline.

There is also much discussion about the amount of labor that goes into producing a single product or garment, something we’ve seen shifted significantly since the introduction of mechanized processing. Whether tending to the livestock, waiting for a child to bathe, or as something to do imageas the day drew to an end, fiber flowed through the fingers of our foremothers at every tick of the clock. It was both necessity and something more.

Barber also describes locating twists in the fiber of woven artifacts dating back thousands of year, a sign of shared labor:

“We know… that women sometimes helped each other with their weaving projects… because we sometimes find the wefts in ancient cloth crossed in the middle of the textile. This can only have been caused by two people handing the spools of weft back and forth to each other as they wove simultaneously on different parts of the same cloth.”

Fiber work may have been one of the common threads holding together the social network of these ancient women as it does today. It was an art handed down from one generation of women to the other and remaining artifacts weave a story not only of the technical aspects of weaving and spinning, but of the cooperative aspects. And not to overshadow the menfolk- They did their part, in supplying materials for weaving and in aiding in animal husbandry and shearing.

So, while it isn’t fair that so much of women’s history, whether in fiber or in farming, is overshadowed by our male counterparts, it isn’t that the stories are lost to history. These stories exist in the small twists and vivid colors of an historical tapestry woven throughout time and beckoning our every sense-  as much tangible as an ethereal kind of whisper echoing throughout time.

 

Let’s take a look at those UN goals, shall we?

Now that we know the UN goals for world prosperity, it’s time to take action. As a permaculturalist, I was thrilled to see so many goals aligned with the core ethics of permaculture (aka, being good to the earth, your family, others) and feel like this is one more way for the philosophy to spill over into positive action on a global scale – by starting locally.

An important item to note is that these goals are not independent of one another; they are dynamic. Feeding the world without addressing the methodology of farming would ignore the second goal straight off. Instead, with the end of the growing season approaching, we’ll take a graduated look at all of the goals and set some goals of our own in pursuance of the broader objective: To create a better world for all who live here, whether plant, bird, insect, or mammal.

  • People We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

This is a sweeping goal that addresses not only access to food, affordable housing, and health care, but one could argue access to education, whole-system wellness (applied to where we live, how we live and interact within our environment, and what we eat), and ending violence against women and minorities. This is the first goal for an obvious reason – it’s our Utopian vision. And while some would argue it’s an impossible goal, I would suggest that it recognizes human potential for powerful change as long as we take action.

One thing to remember with this and any of these goals is that bringing about change will vary regionally, and might begin in areas of conflict, severe poverty, staggering inequality, etc. How these goals are addressed must follow an assessment of a region. Combing a few of the permaculture principles: Observe and interact, Value resources, and Slow and steady.

  • Planet We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

For the permaculture folks and bio-dynamicists out there, this one is straight-forward. However, I think this is where our Utopian vision is clouded by ego and greed. Remember when the United States government protected the asbestos producers over the workers because shutting down the industry would devastate the economic well-being of the country? Yeah, that. I’m summing it up a bit rough, but it’s the most obvious barrier to reducing CO2 levels, reducing our eliminating the destruction of sensitive ecosystems, or stopping corporate giants from ravaging resources at will.

So the real question, is how can we overcome that barrier? This question can feel overwhelming. Start locally. Individuals on a local scale can promote big change, even if these changes seem small in the scheme of the larger issues. It’s a domino effect. You might inspire change through action or demonstration, or education on a local level. Or you might be the support person for someone else taking fervent action toward change. Remember the humming bird and the forest fire?

Consider the sharing of resources. Could one area that has a deficit share resources in a way that reduces waste or ecological devastation?

  • Prosperity We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

This is one where we may need to alter our concept of prosperity. In America, we seem obsessed with this notion of prosperity as it applies to our perceived success – getting the bigger house, the bigger yard, the bigger flat screen television – even the phones are starting to get bigger again.

When people ask us about how we make any money farming, I first explain that we’ve changed our concept of prosperity. We do not consider the amount of money made as an indicator toward our happiness, but instead look at the lives we live and how we spend our time together as true markers for progress and success. I think the same must happen on a global level. What does it mean to be successful, happy, prosperous? Having enough within a world where others also have what they need and suffering is hugely reduced?

What’s the obstacle in changing the mindset of success to reduce greed and consumption? Commercial media. We are bombarded with messages of what we “need” and “want” constantly, whether walking to the bus stop, on social media, even in schools, where corporate sponsors are now advertised. (UUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH – whew, nearly gave up!)

I don’t pretend to have the answers on how we’re going to initiate all of this change, but there are some simple practices that might inspire change. You can be the change and choose to live simply. In many cases, this can empower others to take similar steps forward. You can get behind or promote those organizations or media entities that share similar values. You can write a book or make a video that inspires many. Another effective strategy is to stop the madness and reduce consumption. They won’t be able to compete if we’re not feeding them cash-flow.

Of course cash-flow means jobs and jobs mean security. So job creation or a total overhaul of our monetary system is a subject that must be on the table. Personally, the dollar holds a little too much power in my mind. What about an economic system that looks at our gross national happiness, instead of our gross national product? Or a barter system? Or a hybrid of all three measures?

In the end, the UN is asking countries to get behind some core beliefs in order to effect real change. Waiting for those governments to enforce the change is not enough. We must individually work, whether on a small project or large, to initiate real world change. This doesn’t have to be a dream; the dream of a better world can become our reality. One small step at a time.

What’s the next step? Consider the following:

  • Organize a regular meeting in your community that examines the goals and makes an assessment based on regional needs, obvious areas that need improvement, and set local glas in alignment with the UN goals outlined.
  • Think of one way you, as an individual, could enact change in your own life that would be in alignment with these goals. This might mean getting help for an addiction to alcohol or drugs, helping someone who has no opportunity for college get a scholarship, or starting a food pantry for those in need of food in your area. You could even start a pay it forward, with random acts of kindness or generosity. There are many ways you can initiate positive change and they all matter.
  • Share the UN goals with others – even if it’s at the dinner table with your spouse or family. Getting people to think talk about these goals is one way to initiate change.
  • Become a leader in your community.
  • Ask your local government to enact a similar list of goals or to adopt the core principles of the goals outlined by the UN for their master plan.

Or maybe your contribution to world prosperity will involve spreading more ways to get the word out.

For the full report released by the UN, please visit: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld