This article was first published in the Holistic Science Journal Vol 2 Issue 4. To view the journal click here www.holisticsciencejournal.co.uk.
The wars of the 21st century will be wars fought over water – these are the now famous words of former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, words that a growing number of authors are repeating today. But what if, instead of providing the catalyst for war, water could instead be the catalyst for deep, holistic and sustainable human participation in Earth systems?
As someone drawn to holistic science and the need for change towards big picture thinking, I struggle to think of a single area more ripe for holistic engagement than water management. I say this because, whilst my intention here is to articulate a complete paradigm shift in the way in which we think about and approach water management in our basins and catchments, none of the arguments I will be using to support this position are particularly controversial. What is unique here is approaching the subject in a holistic manner.
The development and adoption of a new holistic water management paradigm, a paradigm that acknowledges, seeks to understand, and in some instances to reverse, humanity’s impact on the ‘small water cycle’, could be one of the most important challenges we face. The good news is that at its most fundamental level, the change in approach can be summarised in one short sentence: a shift from the current paradigm reality, where evaporation is viewed as a loss to the system to be avoided at all costs, to a new paradigm, where evaporation is understood and respected as the source of all precipitation and managed accordingly.
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Today the organic food movement is no longer considered to be a luxurious fad, enjoyed exclusively by those with the financial resources to care. Indeed, our common high street supermarkets have been cashing in on our desire to live a greener, more sustainable life and the organic market is thought to be worth in excess of $14 billion in the USA. But looking beyond the feel-good marketing, there are an increasing amount of poignant questions that should be addressed, when it comes to the role of organic farming within long-term sustainable agriculture.
The goal behind organic farming is to mitigate the risk of using industrial chemicals and fertilisers, plus at the same time enhance soil fertility, encourage biodiversity and prevent soil erosion. If you look at a field sporting an “organic” sign, the last thing you would expect to see is a dustbowl, yet in some parts of the world, organic farming is taking its toll not only on the environment, but is impacting farmers, workers and consumers.
One of the reasons for this is the term “organic” is open to interpretation. For example many farmers use organic farming techniques, such as not using harmful pesticides, but do not practise some of the fundamental techniques, such as crop rotation. This would then suggest that the line is blurred somewhere between organic and a monoculture, the definition of the word itself meaning the tilling of the land for one particular crop. Monoculture has of course had its advantages over the years, for example having only one crop enables farmers to mechanise planting, weeding and harvesting, thus getting a greater yield. The world’s population surpassed the 7 billion mark in 2011 and the United Nations forecasts this number to be 9.6 billion in 2050. Having the capacity to produce enough food to feed the planet is therefore a genuine concern.
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Growing your own food doesn’t require expanses of acreage. It doesn’t require a tractor. It doesn’t require complete self-sufficiency. As we all well know by now, it doesn’t require chemicals, either. It doesn’t even require a garden, at least not in the way we’ve come to picture one. In some instance, it doesn’t even require soil. There are so many things they are not necessary for anyone to start growing their own food, and that’s good news.
Not so long ago it became official that most of the world’s population had migrated into urban settings. It’s a strange thing, really: In a global society that has been battling world hunger and poverty for decades now, the bulk of people are relocating into cities, where land is at a premium, soil—especially healthy stuff—is harder to come by, and the food available is more apt to be nutritionally deficient. Our migration may not be the most logical of moves, but it isn’t without its own possibilities.
There are lots of permaculture newbies wanting to join in on the game, throw a little greenness into their lives. It’s no wonder, really, because it isn’t so far back that growing our own food was fairly standard practice, and even more recently that a sort of first-world disconnect with what we eat has occurred. Eventually, the pendulum does swing to a returning dawn of awareness, an old direction worth moving, so it’s no surprise that even just the thought of growing a few herbs for ourselves strikes a harmonious chord.
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Within the world of Permaculture we often find reference to plants known as Dynamic Accumulators. In brief, this is the idea that certain plants (often deep-rooted ones) will draw up nutrients from the lower layers of the soil, and these nutrients will be stored in the plants’ leaves. When the leaves fall in autumn and winter and are broken down, those stored nutrients are then incorporated into the upper layers of the soil where other plants will benefit from their deposition.
As a physician, I strive for scientific accuracy. I understand the scientific method and the world of academia. I know, beyond doubt, the benefit this arena has provided for the world. However, I also know, beyond doubt, that there is a lot of truth that has not been proven in a lab. This may be due to many factors. To name but a few: the topic has not yet been studied, there are flaws in the design of the study, or the topic is too complex for reductionist evaluation.
Comfrey (Symphytum species) is one of the most popular Dynamic Accumulators.
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The world’s leading soil scientist and creator of the Soil Food Web, Dr Elaine Ingham, sits down to a fun and down to earth interview with Nicholas Burtner where she answers many questions of how she got to be where she is today, plus many other GMO and soil goodies.
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Celebrating International Year of Soils
Healthy soil makes for healthy people, animals and plants; it provides the foundation for all life on land. Soil gives us food, clean water, clean air, medicine, fibre and fuel, it’s also a climate regulator and buffer. All these vital services depend on a dynamic web of billions of organisms, which break down organic matter; this activity renews the soil and keeps it fertile and resilient.
But soil is under threat. Millennia of agriculture and other human activities have robbed our soils of life; from simple ploughing and overgrazing, to chemically based monocultures; to logging, mining and other consequences of urban and industrial growth. Today almost one third of the planet’s surface is classed as desert and a quarter of all agricultural soils have been lost. The remaining topsoil is depleted and could vanish within 60 years. The threat is therefore critical. Interconnected crises in climate, water, energy and the economy only add to the problem. We need holistic soil solutions now.
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Tom Kendall from the Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast describes the process after the cow manure goes through the biodigester. The biodigester compost pits and reed bed are shown and how he generates soil fertility through the cycling process is discussed.
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The International Permaculture Convergence (IPCUK) in September will bring together practitioners from across the globe to share ideas and solutions that can be used to transform our futures. Can you help bring these global practitioners to the convergence?
In September this year, the International Permaculture Convergence – IPCUK – will bring together permaculture practitioners from around the globe. From ‘the front lines in climate change’, hopeful scholarship applicants tell us their stories of how permaculture transforms landscapes and communities.
Can you help these people attend IPCUK? The Permaculture Association are aiming to send as many scholarship applicants to IPCUK as possible, can you donate to help them attend? Visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ipcuk-scholarships for more information. Closing date is 17th April 2015.
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You can visit the Crowd Funding Page here.
Help us build up a scholarship fund so that we can support permaculture practitioners from across the world to attend the international permaculture conference and convergence this September in London and Essex (IPCUK).
Geoff Lawton has already donated in excess of three thousand pounds and sponsored two places, as scholarships, for this up coming event.
Everyone that pledges between £10 and £250 will be entered into a prize draw to win an IPCUK Convergence catered camping ticket (travel not included).
We’ve had over 60 amazing applications for scholarships from permaculture practitioners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Cameroon, Malawi, Gambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Zambia, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Belize, Ecuador, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba, Argentina, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India. We want to support as many of them as we can, and we need your help.
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Finca Quijote is located in one of the wettest places on earth. We get 6 meters of rainfall per year on average. Our elevation is 800 meters above sea level to 1100 meters on the highest “cero” or mountain top.
The 517 hectares of Quijote consists mostly of forest, some pristine old growth in the mountains, secondary forest where logging occurred years ago and some open land near the rivers where sugar cane and coffee were grown. The town of la Esperanza (The Hope), was at the center of our farm with a school, houses, sawmill, cantina and trampiche (sugar mill) on the relatively flat land portion. December 1957 is etched in the concrete of the trampiche. This area was also the most abused land, where sugar cane was grown on the “flat” land and coffee on the slopes. In the 70’s and 80’s it was the world’s most profitable coffee farm! Actually it was a money laundering operation. Garbage was burned and/or buried; sewage was dumped in a pit. We are still finding clothing fragments, shoe soles and other detritus of life.
The previous absentee owner had purchased the land from the government at auction after the money launderers went to jail. Coffee bushes were left over much of the land. Land thieves set up crude housing, harvested the coffee and tried to claim the land as their own, so the rightful owner had the coffee bulldozed along with most of the topsoil. The resident caretaker family was allowed to eke out a living with sugar cane, wood from the river and off farm jobs. All things considered, the place was perfect.
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Somewhere near the early 2000’s I was co-founder of an architectural rendering firm that specialized in creating 3D renderings for architects using a computer graphic software called 3D Studio Viz. This was a specialized 3D animation software that was geared specifically to the architectural industry and was offered around the time that software giant Autodesk (who owns autocad) bought the 3D Studio company and started marketing 3D Studio under the Autodesk brand. Viz was essentially 3D Studio Max missing many of the robust features. I do not believe they make Viz any longer.
I spent the next decade or so diving deep into graphic design and 3D rendering. I am sure that has something to do with my preference of hand renderings over computer aided design. Before I go a little deeper into my thoughts on the pros and cons of both, it is wise to state that the advances of 3D computer software is outright amazing and the ease of access obtaining it is a reality the home user can seriously pursue. One of the key features to computer aided software for permaculture is the ability to give walk through animations of farms or homesteads before they are built.
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Download the complete Home Garden Soil Health Assessment document here
Growing food in a home garden is sensational.
The most obvious sensation is the taste. If you don’t know how much better home grown fruit and veggies can taste, then ask an old person what tomatoes used to taste like.
But the sight of a productive garden can be inspiring as well. It takes a shift from the modern urban view of gardens as neat and constructed, but the constant change and promise of fruitfulness can be very exciting.
Many of the plants and blossoms in a veggie garden or orchard have smells to match the well-known scented flowers. And as for healthy soil….. it has a fabulous aroma.
There are lots of things to touch in a veggie garden because there is plenty to do: digging, planting, pruning and harvesting.
Your garden might sound like silence…. broken sometimes by the snap of green beans that are not going to make it to the kitchen.
This is what the Chinese proverb means:
You have to be in the garden to know from your sensory experience how things are going and what is needed. You get a feel for it.
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