Monday, June 20, 2011

Permaculture: Design, Practice, Evolve

Way back when I first learned that cheap oil was the underlying foundation of our economy and lifestyle, and that oil was due to peak and begin a decline somewhere between five and twenty-five years, I searched for signs of hope.

The picture was grim. I found that industrialized agriculture depends on oil and fossil fuels, and people across America have forgotten how to garden, farm, preserve food, bake, even cook. I realized that most cities are designed for cars, not people, and so people live far from their work, entertainment, and shopping, making them car-dependent. Our collective health was declining in a crisis of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, with health and insurance costs ratcheting up every year. Our financial system, based on an ever-increasing cycle of debt and bubbles, seemed poised to explode. All the environmental indicators - topsoil, water, bio-diversity, ocean life, pollution - were (and still are) in a downward spiral.

Yet even amidst the signposts of doom, hope was working quietly in the wings in the form of grass-roots re-skilling movements, organic agriculture revitalization, localization, small-scale appropriate technology development, environmental and social activism, and permaculture.

Permaculture, a sustainable design system based on working with and harnessing the forces and processes of nature, rather than fighting them, seemed to be the most revolutionary. Permaculture's foundation of ethics and principles make it applicable all around the world, in a variety of different climates, eco-systems, and cultures. Ever since I encountered this system, I have been searching for a way to take a full-scale permaculture design course, but every course I found was far away and would require an extended time away from my family.

My luck has changed. Now, Transition OKC is bringing Scott Pittman, of the respected Permaculture Institute, to Oklahoma City for a full-scale, 72-hour design course, taught alongside guest instructors including Oklahoma City's own rebel permaculturist Bob Waldrop. The course will be spread over four weekends in August, September, October, and November of 2011. Class topics include design principles for sustainable living, permaculture techniques, natural building methods, dryland restoration, renewable energy, rainwater harvesting, food forests, community building, and more.

Transition OKC has even been industriously seeking out grants and funding to cut the cost of the course to make it affordable during a recession. Because of these grants, the cost of the class is only $750 if you register one month before the course begins on August 4th, $800 thereafter. Applicants who want to apply for a half-tuition scholarship from Sustainable OKC should act NOW - applications for the four scholarships are due by June 30th.

In my view, permaculture could be a vital contributor to a transition to a more sustainable and resilient system of living, working, and interacting with our communities. Knowledge and application of permaculture will make a difference in a world with less energy, fewer resources, and increasing inequity - the difference between poverty and sufficiency, the difference between continuing to degrade our habitats, or the ability to help heal them.

But permaculture, despite the potential, cannot be learned overnight. Learning permaculture requires work, study, practice, and customization to each eco-system. I'm looking forward to my opportunity to continue learning with Scott Pittman this fall, in Oklahoma City. The sooner we start, the better.

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