This is all about seeing the wood for the trees. In a physical project it is imperative to look at how the land behaves in order to carry out any design. The usual stuff, like slopes, species, climate etc... guides a design. These factors should be aiding the sustainability of the design, not fighting it.So when we have a dominant species we should be designing to take advantage of the soil and climatic conditions that species enjoys, as well as the benefits that that species brings, be it the way it interacts with the natural environment or the yield it brings.
The glamour in permaculture, or self sufficiency is often stuff like hugelkulture, designing guilds, food forests or keeping chickens. Its these ideas that appeal to people because there is a physical, clever way of producing food, and lets face it, if you're that way inclined, its cool and interesting.
But the art of looking for patterns... well that is a bit like the cinderella in the rush for the over made up hugel/herbspiral sister. And it is a rush. I am guilty of doing this. If I look back at my ideas for the back garden and how to design my life, the patterns were ignored in the desire to get things done.
So I start again. Not completely, but as part of a critical analysis of what went before. The beginning is the Survey bit in SADIM (Survey, Analysis, Design, Implement, Maintain). After maintaing the elements I have put into my life, we go full circle. We re-evaluate, accept feedback, we build and tinker.
From the very top. If I was to be allowed a wish list? I would be travelling to all the people and places that inspire me. From Geoff Lawton to Joel Saladin. Ben Falk to Jack Spirko. I would be doing a second 2 week intensive course with Patrick Whitefield, and a 10 week internship with Ridgedale permaculture farm in Sweden. Then I'd come back to Hastings and set up a city farm with an educational growing hub for the unemployed youth of the town, probably receive an OBE, get the freedom of the city (Town) and just schlep around drinking in coffee shops, swimming in the sea and fishing. Oh yeah, and I'd spend the Winter somewhere warm.
That sounds good. Heres the reality. I have a family, I have a mortgage, I have debts. I have a job that requires me to be physically present and doesn't pay holiday. These are all limitations. Some which I wouldn't change, beautiful and charming, some I definitely would. But none the less, they all mean that disappearing to do this stuff is out of the question. This rather stark example shows us that by looking at the patterns, we can ascertain what is and isn't sustainable
When I finished the PDC, one of the first things I did was to volunteer at the community garden. It was good. I met good people and helped a worthy project. It wasn't sustainable because I did it despite having to work every other weekend and losing money we needed as a family. I wouldn't change what I did, but when the garden closed it was a relief as it meant I had more time and money for myself. It wasn't sustainable within my current pattern.
Now I bring eggs and cucumbers (right now its cucs, next week probably courgettes!)for my neighbours and friends, and i'm getting the same hit from it, without having to volunteer time I haven't got.
And whilst 10 weeks in Sweden at Ridgdale does sound great, I decided to build my learning around my limitations. Cue Michael White, Lucia Stuart and Ben Fairlight Edwards, local(ish) foragers. All with different specialities covering herbalism, sea shore and everything else. It has become clear to me that foraging is definitely a passion, makes me happy and is one solution in feeding ourselves. It also has the effect of curbing to a small extent the limitations of money (food for free as Richard Mabey says) These guys are all amazing by the way – well worth checking out if you are in the area.
I will be getting out on the boats and learning as much as I can about sea fishing from my friend, Russell Field. This should be both social and educational for me, and again, a big step towards free, sustainable, healthy food. Just – got – to – find – the – time!
The other thing I've been doing is making stuff with the kids. They are naturally predisposed to making potions and lotions, so this summer so far we've pickled gherkins, made bread, salves and oven dried tomatoes. Next up is tomato sauces and quiche. We are all learning. Together, and they seem to like it.
Finally, once it all settles after the arrival of the baby, I will explore the Permaculture diploma with as local as possible tutors.
The point being that the patterns of my life, at least for now, limit my options. The beauty of those limitations, however, result in a beautiful solution. One that boils down to local learning, deeper connections with local people and the local environment, and one that sates my appetite without taking me away from my family or taking up more of my precious time. In fact, it brings us all together, eating, drinking and enjoying the things we bring into our lives.