catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 10 :: 2014.05.16 — 2014.05.29


Defining community with permaculture

During the last week of April and the first week of May, the Three Rivers Public Library hosted a permaculture workshop with the intent of designing a garden that could surround the library. The garden would, in essence, make the library grounds appealing while providing potential yields in the form of vegetables and aesthetics from the space. I’ll admit that I harbored some trepidation about the group from the first day. Roughly twenty or so potential permaculturists showed up, from land-owning libertarians, to a Mennonite preacher, a couple librarians, a few retirees, a granola-hippie type with his granola-hippie daughter, a library board mom and her teenage son, and even a woman who I think of as your stereotypical crazy cat lady, all led by the resident youth librarian, herself an accomplished permaculture advocate. My thought process went something like, “These people are going to bicker. There are too many viewpoints in this room. We’re going to destroy the library!” And I was right, but I was also wrong (the library stands). There was discourse, conversation, a whole heap of learning about systematic permaculture design, and in the end, we planted a beautiful garden, or at least the beginnings of one. 

The first two sessions were lessons in permaculture history and design. We learned the “why” and “how” and “what” of this movement that seems so natural, yet so foreign to the way we’ve done things for hundreds of years. Another word often thrown around when discussing permaculture is “natural farming,” which is appropriate as the methods used are those found in nature. Our third session was planning the actual design of the “prototype” plot, a small triangle shape near the library doors that would serve as a test for larger, more ambitious designs. Our last session saw us planting things in the ground.

During that final day, as we were flipping soil and layering on compost, I heard the phrase “This is amazing!” over and over again (from several people, even if I did hear it most from one Mennonite preacher whose streak of optimism is very hard to shield oneself from). As I sat back at one point in my very usual place of observance, I realized that it was indeed amazing. In a way, the group represented a microcosm of what Three Rivers is. This place attracts all types, even if that’s not always what the majority of residents want. No, there were no people of color represented, and the group was skewed toward the feminine, but it was hard not to think that what was happening at this workshop could happen everywhere in Three Rivers, and maybe, in a more encompassing sense, the world. People can bicker and argue and throw their different viewpoints into this melting pot, but change can happen if there is a clear vision, strongly stated and backed by education. To me, that was a hopeful thought, both for our town as a whole, and for the Huss Project and the community surrounding and driving it. Like some of the ideas of permaculture, we’re all different, but can complement one another in those differences if we can intentionally and harmoniously choose to do so.

During a *culture is not optional meeting last year, when the idea of using permaculture at the Huss garden was simply the vision of a few idealists, one of our intrepid and prophetic interns, the Ainsley Rynders, coined the term “permaculture is not optional,” which, though said in earnest, didn’t fully capture the imagination of those present. However, I think it’s every bit as relevant as the phrase “culture is not optional.” Permaculture is the purest form of sustainable farming that we have open to us at this point in our collective knowledge, and I think that, in many ways, it could be the method by which we as a species survive. Like the workshop at the library, permaculture promotes diversity and a balanced structure that is delicate and beautiful, and I think will be an important lesson for humanity as a whole in the years to come. I hope everyone opens their ears to its call. 

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