[permaculture] work - was the gardener's shadow...

Lee Flier leeflier at comcast.net
Mon Dec 14 12:12:58 EST 2009

Well Mitch, I suppose this speaks once again to the value of having an 
actual PDC as opposed to taking a few bits out of contexts where they 
might be easily misinterpreted. :P  Never were the comments I quoted 
meant to imply that a permaculture site isn't a lot of work.  I quoted 
them simply to address Frances' specific concerns about remembering to 
slow down and reflect and observe what is happening in the garden.  It 
was meant simply to illustrate how the supposedly hard-nosed Bill 
Mollison does communicate this point without invoking any specific 
spiritual doctrine.

As far as your point about attrition - no doubt there are some people 
who underestimate how much work is involved with a pc site, but I think 
the same is true of pretty much anything.  Anyone can become 
romantically enamored with the idea of learning to play a musical 
instrument, or becoming a fireman or an airline pilot or a nurse, and 
once they find out how much work is involved there's always a high rate 
of attrition, which weeds out those who are serious.  C'est la vie.

But there are a lot of folks who never even develop an interest in 
gardening in the first place *because* they associate it with 
backbreaking drudgery, and I think this is just as important a barrier 
to overcome (if not more so) as the idea that gardening isn't much 
work.  Just to bring up an example that's fresh in my mind, I've been 
helping my town to establish a community garden, and we proposed to do 
it on city owned property.  We got a lot of pushback from our city 
attorney who was, we thought, rather overly concerned about personal 
injury.  By talking to him a bit I learned that he had grown up on a 
farm, and that growing food to him was equated with heavy machinery and 
hard labor, and most of the folks he'd grown up with had sustained some 
serious injury at some point.  Our Mayor is also an old country boy, and 
still maintains a garden of his own, but he just lost a nephew this past 
weekend in a horrific accident involving farm machinery.

So I had to take a lot of pains to explain that growing vegetables does 
not need to be done this way, that we would be using mostly hand tools 
and implementing techniques such as no-till that were gentle on the body 
and soul and could be done by all ages.  The point of a "community" 
garden, I had to stress repeatedly, was not just to grow food but to 
build community, which all of the participating neighbors have made clear.

In light of the huge barriers we need to overcome in terms of changing 
people's attitudes toward growing their own food and the way it's 
conventionally done, I think I'd rather err on the side of laziness. :D

I also think that your post is somewhat biased toward the particular way 
you practice permaculture - not that I have a problem with that, but of 
course there are many ways to practice permaculture and they don't 
*have* to involve livestock, or home schooling, or brush clearing, or 
some of the other things you do.  A project isn't sustainable if you 
can't sustain it, to state the obvious. :D  So part of the design 
process needs to be deciding what you can reasonably handle, including 
with advancing age.  And of course, many people who practice 
permaculture don't garden at all - they may be involved with invisible 
structures such as re-thinking economics or law or manufacturing 
processes.  Permaculture principles can be practiced in any field, and 
what may look like "attrition" from the outside may actually be 
deceptive.  They may in fact be applying permaculture principles in 
their daily lives in ways that are not obvious on the surface.

Last but not least, if you design for it properly and put in the work of 
establishing it, you can in fact have a permaculture garden that doesn't 
require constant maintenance.  My home garden is a very "lazy" garden, 
and although I probably couldn't disappear for a month, I have 
disappeared for at least a week to 10 days and come back to find 
everything doing fine.  Of course it took work and careful decision 
making to design it properly and build up the soil, but just saying. 
:)   Depending how you designed it, too, if you have mostly mature fruit 
and nut trees and other perennials, you certainly could go away for a 
month.  So the amount of work involved in a site really just depends 
what you want to do (and of course, if we're talking perennials, at what 
stage of maturity your site is), and the question of how much work 
you're prepared to do on an ongoing basis should factor into your 
design.  One also shouldn't be shy about bartering for or hiring help, 
or swapping resources.  Toby Hemenway has an excellent article on his 
website about the myth of self-sufficiency.  Sustainability and self 
sufficiency are not the same thing, and one needn't provide everything 
for oneself to have a sustainable system - as mentioned, it's not 
sustainable if you can't sustain it. :D  People working together can 
create a sustainable system, though.  Maybe going away for that month's 
holiday involves having a neighbor looking after your garden, and that's 
OK too.

Mitch Triplett wrote:
> Phrases like this make my neck hair stand on end.  I understand that part of
> what many of us are trying to do is create, encourage, etc. self-sustaining
> systems, but if we're really going to be integral components of these
> systems we're going to have to work.  Especially if you're starting with a
> clean (or in our case cracked) palate.  
> I've seen the "intervenor becomes the recliner" sentiment pop up
> occasionally on this and other lists and I'm always left wondering a) if
> people new to Pc realize what they're getting themselves into when they
> start down this path, b) what kind of attrition there is because folks got
> into it thinking they'd be able to plant a couple trees then spend their
> lives lying in a shaded hammock and c) if the lack of realization and rate
> of attrition is avoidable by being more honest about the commitments (time,
> labor, money) involved in establishing goals & objectives, then doing the
> work to get there.
> Clearing brush and planting trees is work.  Double-digging is work.  Hoeing
> dirt mulch in a dryland garden is work.  Designing a forest garden is work.
> Installing irrigation is work.  Caring for livestock is work.  Harvesting is
> work.  Processing and preserving is work.  Home-schooling children is work.
> Participating in a (good) PDC is probably work.
> I'm not at all implying that it's drudgery.  I work my tail off and then I
> rest and then I go back to work (sadly, the rest periods are longer than
> they were 20 years ago, but that's life).  And I love what I do because I'm
> working toward something I feel is worth working toward.  But a month's
> holiday?!  That's hilarious.  
> Mitch Triplett
> Tri-Pearl Family Forest
> Member - CCFFA/OSWA & OTFS
> Associate Member - FSC

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