Permaculture – the future is the present

A change from within

There is a revolution happening that most of us are not even aware of. It’s a revolution that does not ask for much. It doesn’t ask for more resources or more profit or more money. This revolution isn’t happening on social media or in our parliament. This revolution is happening on the fields, in our gardens and sometimes even on our rooftops. It’s an agricultural revolution. Agriculture might not be the first political movement that crosses your mind, but if you think about how dependent we are on it, you might wonder how this revolution can be so quiet.

But this movement has not started just now. Decades ago there were smart minds, who had already foreseen that the way we live now is not going to last. So, they thought of something that enables nature and humans to live together permanently without exploiting each other. That movement is called permaculture. And even though this is not new, it’s becoming more urgent because the system we live in now is upsetting. I am aware of the fact that the headline that bananas now ripe within a couple of days in Vienna is not the most upsetting headline of the day, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

From the fields to politics

a permacultivated field

Austria has always been a country with an economy heavily reliant on the agriculture. In numbers that means that 44% of Austrian land is used for agricultural activities. About 150 years ago, 75% of employed people were working in the agricultural sector, whereas today it’s less than 10%. Considering what the trade embargo of Russia meant for the Austrian apple farmers or how climate change impacts the Austrian soil, agricultural is a very political and touchy subject.
So, I can’t help but wonder how we will find a way out of this. Is there a way out of this? An alternative to the always profit-maximising and competitive way of producing? Because it seems like one day, it won’t be about who profits the most, but about how we can still make use of the land that has been exploited for decades. Luckily, there are always people, who are looking for alternatives and who do not see problems, but challenges. A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to meet these people and learn about alternative ways of growing food and providing for each other within a society.

Permacultural state of mind

Those were farmers and gardeners who use the principles of permaculture. Permaculture is an agricultural method which works completely natural by creating ecosystems, which are diverse, stable and therefore resilient. It is about creating systems, which are self-sustainable. It is not only about the producing but also about nature making its own way. 

This may sound very abstract. But the reality of it is closer to the real world than any other way we are growing food at this moment. Practically this means to grow plants together, which support each other or protect each other. Knowing the soil you are working with, and using plants that compensate its deficits while making use of its benefits. To work with what you got and see where this leads you. This means no fertilizers, no pesticides and no monocultures. Realistically this also takes a lot of time and effort. But it’s not an unrealistic goal to achieve in the future. Since permaculture produces more product than conventional agricultural techniques. Also it doesn’t need any chemicals or fertilizers, so it saves a lot of time and effort in the long run.

A self-experiment to self-sufficiency

The city of Albi in the south of France has set its goal to be self-sufficient by the year 2020. By using permacutural methods the city of 50.000 inhabitants works on being able to provide all its citizens with agricultural products that are grown within a radius of 60km. When they reach their goal would make them the first city this size in Europe to ever succeed at being permaculturally self-sufficient. An investment that the government of Albi has worked on for many decades. Because permaculture takes time. That’s why the earlier we start to overthink the way we produce the better.

For a lot of people permaculture is not only a way of agriculture, but also a way of life. Permaculture articulates several so-called design principles. Responding creatively to change, to find small and slow solutions or to apply self-regulation and accept feedback. We can integrate those principals in our everyday life. It’s not only about agricultural ideas, but also about integrating economic principles that are very far from the standards we are used to. It is about cooperation and not competition, integration instead of segregation and about optimizing outcome not maximizing it. In a non-agricultural sense this means to share any kind of capital a person has to offer. This means their time, strength, support and knowledge. It’s not only about growing food, but also to grow as a micro-society within society itself.

And even though a world where we would provide for ourselves solely by permacultural agriculture may be a utopia for now, it can still serve as an inspiration for the future. What used to be a niche concept is now hopefully on its way to become the new normal.

Special thanks to Nicola Herrmann for her professional help and her pictures!

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About Julia Unteregger

Julia is a writer and a mental health professional. In her free time she likes to hike, even though she fears heights. She also drinks a lot of coffee and plays an excessive amount of solitaire.

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