Looking out over the lifeless brown quilt of drought-stricken Midwest corn monoculture from the window of a Boeing 747, it was immediately apparent to me that permaculture farming practices would have prevented this ecological catastrophe. The hottest summer on record in the United States combined with aggressive commercial farming practices has created the potential for a biblical famine!
I had been to New York City to attend the nuptials of a very close friend and was heading to a lush, green parallel universe to do a permaculture design course in Karamea on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Flying at 10,000 feet affords a perspective on life that is not possible at ground level. The bird’s eye view clearly reveals the perils of commercial agriculture and the devastating impact of human influence on natural systems.
Vast tracts of flat, previously fertile farmland are devoted to the production of corn, which is now a staple food in the United States. Corn and its byproducts form the basis for most processed food products. The diverse natural landscape that must have once existed here is all gone… the diversity of flora and fauna has been replaced with a single crop.
The interior of the Unites States currently resembles the dry withered skin of an old elephant, with the occasional urban smogatropolis bursting through the leathery hide like a festering pustule. Surely this is not a healthy landscape? How long will it be before the great elephant succumbs to consumption?
As I look around the plane, I consider that I am possibly the only passenger pondering the subject of sustainability. I am one of the lucky 10% of the world’s population who can actually afford to fly and I’m feeling very decadent indulging myself the environmentally expensive luxury of international flight, but am I decadent compared with the business people in first class who do this almost every day? Are they decadent compared with the owner of the airline who has mansions all over the world, his own island and is planning flights to the moon? Thinking about the poor sodbusters below watching their cornfields wither and die as they pray for rain puts my self-indulgence into sharp perspective.
Looking down on the state of the land in the U.S. Midwest, it is clear land-use changes need to be made as the current system of food through the exploitation of land resources is clearly not sustainable and appears headed for collapse.
In permaculture, it is often stated that, “the problem is the solution” and that the solution to any problem already exists in nature. Broad-scale monoculture farming is the problem here, the solution is to reintroduce crop diversity, water harvesting, replanting trees along waterways, assisting nature to remediate the damage done and collectively applying permaculture principles over the entire region.
Another huge part of this problem is that there are many mouths to feed in the United States — food production is essential to the sustenance of the populace. Midwest farmers no doubt feel the weight of responsibility to provide food.
The good news for U.S. farmers is that there is already a lot of permaculture activity in the United States and progressive farmers like Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farms in Virginia have working models of what is possible with a change of mindset from “we do it this way because that’s how my grandfather did it,” to it’s time to take a new approach, let’s learn about permaculture, and set about repairing our land for future generations. Doing what you’ve always done does not always produce what you’ve always got and cracks are appearing in the broad-scale commercial monoculture model. It’s time to have a rethink on food production — in the Midwest and everywhere else.
With that in mind, Living in Peace Project founder Paul Murray decided to be part of the solution and study permaculture so that he could help find answers to the challenges of future food production and distribution and work towards rebuilding and replenishing the land so that it may produce an abundance of food and feed everyone forever. “We need to help others to learn about permaculture and how to grow food for themselves without relying on corporate agriculture food production and distribution systems,” he said.
However, permaculture design course students often come from large cities somewhere in the world. They may not have had an opportunity to gain the hands-on practical experience necessary to apply the principles of permaculture in a practical situation.
Seeing the need to offer practical training for people who have completed a theoretical permaculture design course, to enable them to achieve the confidence and competence necessary to apply the permaculture theory they have learned in the classroom to their own permaculture ventures, Murray decided to offer his property, facilities and services to people seeking practical permaculture experience and set about creating a centre for excellence in permaculture.
Inspired after completing a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course with Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton at Melbourne University in 2009, Murray, with a lot of help from people from all over the world, and with further inspiration from the Permaculture Master Plan, he began to establish a permaculture exhibition farm, education facility and centre for permaculture research, training and practice in the Karamea region at the top of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
The Living in Peace Project seeks to holistically apply the principles of permaculture to the establishment, development and management of a business venture. The stated goal of the Living in Peace Project is to incorporate the elements of art, travel, permaculture and education into a sustainable business.
In June 2004, Murray purchased an old maternity hospital and converted it into a hostel to offer reasonably priced accommodation to young and budget travellers visiting the region. A year later, he purchased a small farm and motel complex to cater to travellers looking for self-contained accommodation and organic gardens to grow food for his family, colleagues and customers.
Murray has a degree in agricultural science with a major in horticulture. The degree was essentially a study in commerce and taught students how to maximise the profit derived from every square inch of land with no real consideration for maintaining the fertility of the farm or for responsible stewardship. Permaculture made a whole lot more sense and the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course with colourful, progressive-thinking characters like Mollison and Lawton, and 100 students from all over the world, convinced him of the way forward and his life changed as Lawton suggested it might.
The long-term objective for the Living in Peace Project is to gradually phase into permaculture and away from tourism, which Murray believes to be “an environmentally expensive form of entertainment” and into the provision of permaculture education, way of life and knowledge sharing with travellers. “Karamea is a stunning region, but it is also perhaps the most remote town on mainland New Zealand. People have to make a real effort to come here.” “I want to cater to travellers who make that effort — people who take the time to learn from their travel experience — and we have a great opportunity to share our permaculture knowledge with people from all over the world and, hopefully, gain new ideas and innovations from the people who come and stay.”
The hostel, Rongo Backpackers & Gallery, hosts travellers from over 50 countries each year and Murray hopes the experience of living and working on a permaculture farm will spark a quest for knowledge among his guests and that they will take some of the energy-saving, self-sufficiency initiatives and permaculture practices home with them.
Bananas and avocadoes can be grown in Karamea and the region enjoys an almost sub-tropical microclimate. The soil is deep, well-drained alluvial loam, which enables a broad range of food crops to be grown. The annual rainfall is around 80 inches and it is evenly spread across the year, alleviating the need for irrigation and water storage.
“In all my travels, I’ve never come across a place with greater potential for growing food. The Living in Peace Project farm is a blank canvas for permaculture designers. People have the opportunity to learn how to go from bare earth to Eden rather than just seeing an established permaculture farm, we offer a very interactive experience and the chance to learn how to do it rather than merely seeing it after it’s done,” he said.
The project has employed Dave Tailby as the Permaculture Farm Manager this year and he has taken charge of the property and its development.
After doing his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course and watching the Permaculture Master Plan video, Murray decided to devote his life to permaculture and saw his tourism accommodation facilities and farm performing a different function — spreading the word about permaculture, helping others to learn and offering an opportunity to urban permaculture people to learn practical farm skills so that they might be better able to establish their own permaculture projects.
“Having Dave on board is fantastic! He’s a great people-person, a really hard worker and is as passionate about permaculture as anyone you’ll meet. He’s an asset to the project and a really great teacher,” Murray said.
In the meantime, the Living in Peace Project still offers accommodation over the summer months to visitors coming to see the many regional attractions, but changes focus from May to December to host permaculture students as interns on the farm and will offer a permaculture design course from September 30 to October 14, 2012.
“We are very fortunate to have Tim Barker, formerly of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, coming over to lead the course. Tim is a great guy and an experienced permaculture practitioner with lots of practical skills to pass on to students on the course,” Murray said. Barker was one of the farm managers at the PRI’s Zaytuna Farm in New South Wales, Australia and describes himself as “Mr. Fix it.”
Eventually, Murray hopes to phase tourism out altogether and focus entirely on permaculture programmes year-round. “I don’t think international tourism is a good bet, but I do believe in international travel… it’s the best form of self-education you can get,” he said.
The Living in Peace Project will therefore cater to travellers and provide opportunities for people to affordably stay in Karamea for an extended period and learn about New Zealand customs, culture, traditions, lifestyle, food while they also learn about permaculture, sustainable living and self-sufficiency.
For more information on the Living in Peace Project, or to enroll in their upcoming Permaculture Design Course, please contact Paul Murray.
The Living in Peace Project in Karamea on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand will be offering a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) from September 30 to October 14, 2012.
Senior Lecturer: Tim Barker, formerly of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.
The PDC will have an emphasis on practical application of permaculture theory and will include excursions to local permaculture projects.
More information about the PDC is available on our web site: www.livinginpeace.com/pdc
If you are interested in the PDC, have any questions, require more information, or wish to book a spot on the PDC, please contact:
E-mail: rongo (at) actrix.co.nz
Ph: +64 (0)3 782 6767