Permaculture is a misleading idea. Nothing on our planet is permanent. Simply look at maps of land masses over time. Time lapse photography, if we could do it over long enough periods, would make mountains look alive, being thrust up during one epoch and eroded away in consequent ones. The fossil record itself confirms change has been the predominant feature across the entire surface of the planet, so who came up with the idea that permanence is good?
I didn’t make up the concept, nor do I have any hope of changing the nomenclature, but it is helpful to take a longer scale of time into account for a number of very good reasons. Let us imagine that we are building a barn. Say we expected it to be around for a hundred years. We may need it immediately, but there are considerations that need to be made. Prior to construction, we should take into consideration a series of questions. From which direction will the barn face the onslaught of winter storms? Almost in the same question is embedded another…where is the best solar gain to be had? What about drainage? Livestock with wet feet work against the health of the creatures and their productivity. Taking into account the needs of critters that will inhabit or work in the barn for the coming century is imperative. Knowing a bit about climate and weather is essential as well, some locations would be better suited by a lower profile building, especially if wind is strong, frequent or sustained over long periods, while in other areas a taller structure might be called for to create a chimney-like effect, generating a cooling breeze in times of no wind or oppressive heat. Once the first stone is laid for a foundation, this structure will be relatively permanent, so changing to adapt to those things that have relative permanence becomes quite difficult. Being in a hurry could affect hundreds of thousands of other relationships that the structure might have with the environment and those creatures who will utilize it for shelter. In addition, where can the windows be placed for the best solar gain during the cold season and how can the doors be placed for the best cooling during the hottest times? Eternal questions, because of the relative permanence of the environment.
Beyond the actual structure come a series of other questions. How will hay be laid up for winter? Where will the best water be found? If there will need to be daily pick-ups or deliveries, how can access be easily made without disturbing too much ground? Depending on what sort of farm you are planning, specific needs could drastically change the features of the structure. For example: a farmer who wants to raise turkeys would have very different needs than another who wants to raise cattle for meat, still another who wants to have milk cows or goats would have unique considerations for “harvesting” and storing their specific commodity. The wheat farmer might only need room for his equipment, seed and storage etc.
Permanence, being relative, is, for many, harder to understand than change. Most humans are loathe to change. We seem to subconsciously understand what that is. Our ancestors have sought to understand the human species for many hundreds of generations. During that time, it seems, that the more things have changed, the more we humans have remained the same. We abhor change, but there it is, staring us in the face. Permanence gives us a feeling of security. How we prepare for the future, and the changes that time will bring inevitably determine the quality of life for generations yet to come. Permaculture is supposed to take their welfare into account, as well as our current needs and aspirations.
Especially now, when it seems that everyone desires the quick “fix”, what they want now. Many can’t seem to be troubled with understanding the difference between wants and needs, getting our bearings in this milieu can be a little tough. When I learned that native people have always changed their environment to suit their long term needs, it made me feel unstable. My understandings of and about native people had to change. It was uncomfortable. Previously, I had thought that the tribal people who I had studied in great depth were some sort of super human race, that they were ecologically benign. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my area specifically, native people burned vast swaths of forest periodically because the nature of the forest in our area is to mature into a climax state dominated by maple trees. great for making maple sugar, but terrible for deer browse. Periodic fires allowed oaks to flourish instead, providing food for the deer herds that, in turn, fed the people.