I was struck today by this 19th Century Cree observation. It goes without saying that the foundation of healthy lives is a healthy planet, but the Cree insight is about far more than that. There is a great spiritual element in what the Christians call breaking bread. Foodies know it by some odd French concept of terraoir. (please forgive me if I spelled it wrong) I’ve only heard it spoken. This ‘flavor of the place’ is known through a rapidly disintegrating relationship with the Earth. That is why it is such a revolutionary act to grow your own vegetables. When you can taste the granite bedrock in the fruit, you know more about where you are than you could by just looking around, or listening to the local critters. When you absorb abundant minerals from your own soil, it naturally makes you want to give back to the earth in ways that are unimaginable to the fast food junkie. Today, being Christmas, folks the world over are enjoying a meal of spiritual significance, a meal of tradition and communion with friends or family and with generations past and future.
Permaculture allows us to leave a legacy for generations to come and helps us to undo the damage done by our fore-bearers. I am astonished that the American farmer has taken so much heat for the despoiling of our planet. This has got to stop. Although I detest the way we have cash crop corned our way to polluted ground and surface water and history lays bear the terrible effects of cash crop grain operations during the dust bowl era, we should look more toward mortgage holders and equipment manufacturers for the real damage to the environment. Even today, agriculture is treated like any other business when it comes to investors. Few realize that there is a qualitative difference between doing what has worked in the past and what can work in the long haul. For the dollars to keep coming in, banks have to loan, but they do not want to expose themselves to any more risk than they have to. The grace and efficiency of permaculture is that you do not put all your eggs in one basket, never do you want to approach a mono-culture and rarely do you blindly follow someone else’s idea of how you should manage a single plot or your whole farm for that matter.
In natural systems there is a virtual absence of single species stands of anything. The sum is greater than it’s parts, and variety is truly the spice of life. Permaculture honors and respects these laws of nature, using them to increase diversity and mimic nature’s patterns. As many fish become more and more rare, their price per pound has risen. So too, as water becomes more and more suspect, the price per bottle keeps going up as well. Any landscaper knows that the price of trees will continue to escalate as long as people want to feel like they have a bit of nature around them even if it is an exotic species or one that has been hybridized out of the gene pool. The other way that is available to us is to banish the concept of “lawn”, encourage native cover to get established and to recognize the rake as a symbol of suppression of nature. Compost, compost, compost and mulch deeply to conserve water, protect roots and create a place for the microscopic organisms that are the basis of the food chain.
The Earth produces abundance if we encourage it. We may need to revise our expectations or our process, but when we utilize nature in sustainable ways, the benefits accrue to many areas, not just our pocketbooks. What would be the value of crystal clear streams running through farm country? Just because they have not been seen in living memory, doesn’t mean that they cannot run clear. The algae that chokes the entire bay of Green Bay in summer is not meant to be there, it is the result of several million homeowners spreading fertilizer on their lawns and a much smaller number of farmers spreading nutrients on their crops.
Change can be frightening, but we can see the writing on the wall about what will happen without it. In natural systems, change is the only constant. We could take a lesson from the mighty oak here. Stand tall, honor the winds of change by bending, bide your time until conditions favor growth then drop acorns like there is no tomorrow. It may be years before the time is ripe again. Make the best of things where you are and bow to no one.