Monday, July 27, 2009

Return to the Local

This is the second article in an ongoing series that I've written in our town's alternative paper, the Madison County Crier. The series is intended to be an introduction to permaculture, often illustrated by examples taken from our homestead. When possible I've also made it a point to link in to the potential for a permacultural approach to town and community life as well as the prospects for easing our town's transition into this new future we have before us.

In a recent article I defined permaculture as permanent agriculture or permanent culture which puts forth a system of designing food producing ecosystems which produce more food but require less energy. Permaculturalsystems, as sustainable systems, are designed to be largely self-contained in that once set up they do not require inputs of energy from outside systems. These concepts of self-reliance or self-contained sustainability are also aspects of our town and the surrounding region.

Let me offer two examples: honey and eggs. On our permaculture homestead we’ll be setting up bee hives as well as a chicken coop. Not only will we benefit from the main products of honey and eggs but we will also see many other benefits from this more complete ecosystem. For example, our bees will increase the pollination of our fruit trees and garden plants resulting in more produce and we’ll have beeswax for making candles. The chickens will increase the productivity of our garden and orchard with their manure as well as their control of insects that might otherwise eat our produce.

We’ll likely have more eggs and honey than we can eat which means we’ll be able to share or sell to family, friends, and neighbors. They benefit from fresher food produced with no chemicals and harvested ripe with no need for preservatives. We all benefit in that local energy and resources are being used for production and consumption within our community. This is opposite of the oil-based global economy which places no importance on keeping production and consumption local. When we go to Wal-Mart or other big box stores for our food not only are we are sending our money out of our community, we are allowing ourselves to become dependent on others for our most basic survival needs.

With every day we increasingly see the dangers of this system. Produce which is harvested before it is fully ripe so that it can be shipped across country before it rots is not as tasty or healthful as produce which is harvested at full ripeness and eaten two hours later. Even worse, food produced by large scale industrial agribusiness is tainted with a variety of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides, waxes and recently, sometimes bacterial contaminates such as salmonella.

The problem is not just our food production. We hear about banks and businesses which are too large to fail and yet they are failing, bringing the entire global economy into a depression. Such a system is not sustainable and the more energy and money we spend trying to prop it up, the less energy and money we will have to develop our local alternatives which we control directly. It is a problem perpetuated not only by government bailouts but by us as well. We failed to maintain our ability to take care of ourselves and one another in our communities. In the last century we chose a way of life that emphasized good deals on gizmos and hyper consumption which was based on cheaper production in China and elsewhere which meant jobs lost in the U.S. Even worse, this entire global economy is based on cheap fossil fuels, primarily coal and oil. We have likely reached a peak in production of oil and are now realizing that never-ending economic growth is impossible. The ponzi schemes of Wall Street created the illusion of growing wealth throughout the past 20 years but we know now that it was an illusion and it is now collapsing before our eyes.

While we may not have any control of the global economic system we can work to build our local economy which we can control. Everyone reading these words can grow some of their own food. In the summertime we can buy local food at the farmers markets which we can eat fresh and preserve for winter meals. Every single tomato grown and consumed locally adds value to the health and vitality of our community. Taking greater control of our lives and building a more secure, sustainable future starts with me and with you.

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  1. Good article,explains it so well,hope many read it.Just one point though don't you think the global 'collapse' was engineered and the results are now playing out or is that too conspiracy theorist?

  2. eag,

    i think the collapse could very well have been engineered. or not. really, i don't know but it would not surprise me at all. i go back and forth as to how engineered it is/was. sometimes i think it is just the result of short-sighted stupidity and greed out of bounds... a culture run amok... lots really to say and speculate about there.