Permaculture: Pathways to Sustainable Communities
By Bob Ewing
A society is defined, in large part, by how it grows and transports food from the farm to the kitchen.
Food production, otherwise known as agriculture and food processing, can create sustainable employment, healthy neighborhoods and a strong local economy. But that is not what is happening in 21st-Century America.
Fast food is becoming our most popular food delivery system, and it is one of the most environmentally unfriendly. It is not sustainable to use so much energy to produce the paper, plastic, Styrofoam and cardboard that we all-too-often find on our highways, sidewalks, and city streets.
How many miles of transport are behind that “special” meal before you eat it? Food – organic and non-organic – travels hundreds and thousands of miles to reach your plate.
With gas prices and air pollution on the rise, isn’t it time to bring the field closer to the kitchen?
Permaculture is a great way to make this move.
The word permaculture is essentially a contraction of “permanent” and “culture,” meaning a culture that can survive and thrive permanently because its self-destructive practices have been replaced by healthy ones. It is a life-design system developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and proliferated all over the world through a formalized education, training and certification program.
On a practical level, Permaculture may best be defined as, “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs.”
Permaculture design can create urban agricultural enterprises that promote community health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Indeed, it is the balance between these elements that makes a community sustainable.
Permaculture is an ethically-based design system. Permaculture designers study nature and use a holistic or ecosystem approach to understand how urban areas can become productive agricultural spaces while also meeting the non-agricultural needs of their residents. We must see the city as an ecosystem, or rather a series of interconnected ecosystems, which can be designed or redesigned to sustainably support the people and all the other beings and activities essential for those ecosystems to thrive.
Urban agricultural enterprises can revitalize low-income communities. Brownfields (vacant industrial areas) and other vacant lands that are suitable for urban agriculture are often located in low-income areas. These sites can be reclaimed by the community businesses and become attractive, productive enterprises rather than empty eyesores.
The establishment of urban agriculture enterprises in low-income communities not only provides the residents with access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, but also creates employment. On-the-job training can be incorporated in such enterprises.
Urban agricultural enterprises can help jumpstart the re-localization of a community’s economy through new business startup and job creation.
Re-localization has evolved as a positive response to the negative consequences of globalization, the pending end to the oil economy, and the destruction of local communities by multinational chain operations and other forces. In many cities, residents are reclaiming their community by creating infrastructure, such as locally owned and operated businesses, including small farms.
Thus permaculture design provides an all-purpose antidote to our modern malaise – it can grow food, build businesses, protect the environment, and create community.
Bob Ewing is a permaculture designer living and working in Campbellton, New Brunswick, Canada.