by Annie Hasz
Pat your species on the back. We humans are almost as capable as bacteria in adapting to all of earth’s environments. And, like those early bacteria that converted the planet’s atmosphere into an oxygen bonanza, we are masters at manipulating ecology. Our variety of manipulation is understood to be unnatural. It automatically places us outside the community of other life forms that unconsciously understand how to live within their limits.
The key manipulation—the one that has allowed for our population explosion, division of labor, urbanization, centralization of power, and our wildly complex culture—is agriculture. The model of subsistence that best satisfies capitalism is an industrialized agriculture, where ecologies are simplified and human control is maximized. But, what a monumental bummer:he more we simplify natural systems to suit our needs, the more rapidly we destroy our life support systems.
The promise of permaculture is that sustaining human populations need not be an environmentally destructive act. Humans can consciously re-enter the ecology and even increase health and biodiversity with their actions.
“The only ethical decision,” says permaculturalist Bill Mollison “is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children’s.” Only through cooperation, an acknowledgement of the intrinsic worth of people and all other living beings, and an understanding of ecological principles can we create food systems that allow our species and other life to survive and thrive on this planet. The idea of permaculture design is to create highly diverse, perennial, edible landscapes in which a person need only take a short walk-and-gather to fulfill the majority of their subsistence needs. This is the woods of our ancestors in concentrated form, with the goodies at our fingertips. Imagine: a garden that looks as profuse and wild as a natural system that is also chock full of berries, fruit, nuts, and perennial vegetables. Once established, such a food system is intended to function with minimal human maintenance, just like a natural ecology.
Look around. The ecological fabric of the Lehigh Valley is full of jagged rips where humans have laid forests flat and covered living soil with asphalt, strip malls, monoculture. These are ecological deserts that an application of permaculture design might be able to restore. The goals of permaculture excite our ideals:he vision is intensely inspiring and unavoidably awakens dreams of a return to the Garden of Eden. But before we get carried away, let’s experiment and apply. Let’s see if these dreams can grow.
Annie Hasz is a student and farmer who resides in South Bethlehem.
(Originally published in the Alliance’s 2008 Directory of Organizations That Promote Sustainable Communities.)
More Voices of the Valley essays from Sustainable Lehigh Valley.