This is the first diary in a new series on ecological gardening that I will be writing for the Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living group here on Daily Kos. Diaries will be posted on Sundays. A specific time will be decided upon once I return to the States in January.
The purpose of this diary series is to share my limited knowledge about a revolutionary mindset that is nothing short of a paradigm shift in our relationship to the natural world. What this diary will not be is a definitive, earth shattering work that claims to understand everything. What will be described here is not "Finchj's way" but rather my understanding of the concept of agroecology and how I tried to internalize and apply it.
I will include an introduction simliar to this one in each diary for sake of continuity and disclosure.
About the author:
(I will not include this from now on)
I want to preface this diary with the very important note: I have zero professional or academic credentials regarding ecological agriculture, landscape management, or anything else. I am a twenty four year old with a bachelor's in history from the University of South Florida and I have been gardening for three years.
My interest in "growing your own" was sparked by my enthusiasm for road cycling and my inability to afford quality, sustainably produced food during college. By my senior year, I was hooked enough to write my senior honor's thesis on organizing around the creation of a student run community garden. For those who care, my application to North Carolina State University, where I plan on studying agroecology, is currently pending. I was previously accepted to the University of Vermont for a similar program, but decided against attending due to the cost of attendance.
This past year I began converting my parent's 1/4 suburban lot to a food forest based upon agroecological science and Permaculture design. I do a poor job maintaining a blog showing off our garden here. I'm not perfect, nor will ever be. I make mistakes. I will share my mistakes.
But I am doing this. Armchair warriors and trolls will be ignored. I will print troll comments and feed them to the worms.
I want to stress that ecological gardening is possible without formal training and is a DIYer dream. Nature will teach you everything you need to know, but since we have limited time here on earth, my aim is to share what I know and where I learned things so the growth will be exponential.
Alright! With that out of the way, lets get to this first diary.
The difference between ecological gardening and agroecology is a question of scale, not of substance.
So, what is agroecology?
The Wikipedia, technical definition:
Agroecology is the application of ecological principles to the production of food, fuel, fiber, and pharmaceuticals. The term encompasses a broad range of approaches, and is considered "a science, a movement, [and] a practice."
This is a great working definition. A mature, well designed agroecological system will regenerate even the most degraded landscapes. Ecological design does not use industrial farm products. We eliminate the "need" for artificial inputs through careful study and implementation of whole systems designs. We emphasize polyculture versus monoculture, biomimicry, innovative techniques, and self determination versus dependence.
There are plenty of different approaches towards agroecology and I have personally decided upon Permaculture because of the underlying ethics that guides practitioners of it. I will not be teaching permaculture here- because I am not certified to teach it, but I will say that permaculture is a design science that takes lessons from many different disciplines, applies ethical considerations, and outputs regenerative systems.
I understand that this is not going to be very convincing without showing some examples of agroecology and permaculture in action. Remember: these techniques are scalable from an apartment balconies to thousands of acres.
Here is a but a tiny sampling of some of the most inspiring projects I have ever seen. These projects are the result of real people. They typically have a "face" but only happen due to great determination by many individuals.
Let's meet Willie Smits first. Willie Smits had a passion for orangutans and came up with a breathtaking project to save some. He would replant a rainforest. And it worked. Well, more precisely, Mr. Smits, his team, and the local Indonesian people created the conditions where nature would be able to repair itself with a little bit of help. They created a system that cares for the people, the orangutans, and the environment. This is his TED talk from 2009:
Note: all forests create rain. Keep this in mind!
Next, check out this project in a much different location and climate. Sepp Holzer has been farming in the Austrian Alps for decades. Along with his wife, he has created one of the most striking farms on the planet. He has recently become a "superstar" in the regenerative design and agroecology movement (especially Permaculture) for his steadfastness in the face of threats from his government over his unorthodox ways. Sepp Holzer developed these techniques before he had learned of Permaculture, but when asked if he would attach the phrase to his work, said yes. He calls it "Holzer Permaculture."
This is a documentary about his farm. Did I mention he not only grows citrus outdoors, but gains a small yield? In the Alps? Impossible you say! Haha, you have much to learn! If you want to see more, just search "Sepp Holzer" on YouTube. Plenty more videos to occupy your time with.
Ok, so we have seen what this can accomplish where it rains. What happens if we take a trip to the desert?
The Lawtons (Geoff and Nadia) have been hard at work in the Dead Sea Valley in Jordan for a few years now. Geoff is the main designer for the Permaculture Research Institute, which is the organization that Bill Mollison- a cofounder of permaculture- has decided will officially carry on the legacy. He is from Australia, runs a demonstration site, and consults around the globe.
Geoff and his team have now taken two separate properties in Jordan and turned them into oases in the middle of the desert. From saline soils to emerging forest in less than five years, these projects have inspired thousands. We can design a better future.
This is the film they created to spread the word about their work. Remember, these are not multimillionaires or gigantic corporations. They do not have multimedia departments that can create "world class" documentaries. They are normal people who have a passion. So take that in mind when you watch this film.
From these three examples, we have learned:
-It is possible to help nature restore rain forests and do so in a way that benefits all parties
-We can alter weather patterns and bring rain by reforesting large areas
-Groundwater levels are raised by forests
-Almost any site can be remediated
-Industrialized/"Modern" agriculture is not the only way we can feed our growing population; in fact, in comparison to these examples, we can see that nature will provide if we allow for it.
Sustainability is a joke in comparison to the promise of regeneration.
How are these projects, farms, and sites able to produce such astonishing results?
The successful application of agroecological techniques requires a mindset that is much different than most of us are familiar with. Our species has become filled with hubris and attempts to dominate nature, we have divorced ourselves from nature and said that we stand apart from it. If you want to garden ecologically, you must abandon this frame of mind and accept reality.
Mankind cannot be separated from nature and we must reverse our desire to dominate and control it. Humanity is but one part of the natural world and we must accept that we are within its framework. We didn't survive until today alone and we will not survive this coming century if we continue to alienate ourselves from the natural world.
Every living thing fills at least one niche in the environment. Every living thing has its own abilities, its own shortcomings, and its own potential. Humanity's greatest gift cuts both ways: our ability to manipulate our environments is almost unparalleled. Our responsibility is to be wise in our actions, rather than careless.
Our station in life is to be stewards and wardens of the land and sea. I have shown but three examples of how people, armed with knowledge and good intentions, can regenerate landscapes all around the globe. Their actions took place only after careful observation, reflection, and planning. They understand that we can be a positive or negative force and must take care to implement our designs with care.
These techniques will challenge your basic understanding of what is beautiful, what works, and what is possible. The hardest part about all of this is not the design, it is not the implementation, but it is the acknowledgement that our current methods are destroying the web of life of this planet and that we must challenge our preconceptions and traditions to survive.
If you are prepared to go beyond sustainability in your garden and life, stay tuned for my next diary. It will begin to cover the basics of ecology and the core of ecological gardening: observation.
Thanks for reading!
Edit: Heading to bed now. Its midnight in Helsinki. Thank you to everyone who has shown their support! Cheers :)