By Warren Brush of Quail Springs Permaculture and Casitas Valley Farm and Creamery
With rapidly changing climactic and social conditions, we are witnessing instability in many human support systems around the world. Systems that are heavily dependent on centralized infrastructure and globalization for their basic needs of shelter, water, energy and food are the most susceptible to shocks and eventual collapse. Good science along with social and economic feedback tell us that there is a interdependent relationship between how far a resource is from our direct stewardship and how resilient and stable our system will be.
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THE CURRENT STATE OF CALIFORNIA’S UNPRECEDENTED DROUGHT
California is currently in its fourth year of a severe drought. The United States Drought Monitor estimates that over 90 percent of California is currently experiencing “severe” to “exceptional” drought conditions. For farmers, the increasing scarcity of water has been devastating. According to the American Farmland Trust, California is home to 27 million acres of cropland. Nine million of those acres are irrigated farmlands, requiring a steady water supply. Crops typically requiring regular irrigation include vegetables (1.1 million acres), orchards and vineyards (3.1 million acres), and forage crops (1.7 million acres). Roughly 7 out of 10 irrigated farms in California depend entirely, or at least in part, on surface water allocated from state and federal projects. In 2014, farmers received zero water allocations from federal projects and only one-fifth of the water that they would normally receive from state water projects.
The shortage of water for agriculture has forced many farmers to fallow thousands of acres of their land in order to allocate what little water they receive to producing a successful harvest. Some reports estimate that in 2014 alone nearly half a million acres of California farmland were fallowed as a result of the water shortage. Other farmers have chosen to switch their crops to more drought-friendly varieties, including GMO seed varieties designed to thrive in soil with lower moisture content.
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Herb Spiral (Panama)
One of the first permaculture projects I did was building an herb spiral, and to be honest, the design has never ceased to delight me. Undoubtedly, that one and the few spirals that followed are amongst the most beautiful garden beds I’ve made. More importantly, they are also amazingly productive and a great way of getting into the mindset choosing the right spot to plant stuff, both in the sense of permaculture zoning and climatic considerations.
These are some of reasons why everyone who can should have an herb spiral, and there are many more. Herbs make meals more flavorful, used for creating sauces and marinades, infusing oils, or simply sprinkling them freshly julienned over virtually anything. Culinary herbs also have heaps of medicinal benefits, both for preventing and treating chronic conditions like heart disease and dealing with everyday ailments like headaches. They are also amongst the easiest and quickest things to grow, something that can almost instantly end up in the kitchen.
For those looking to get into permaculture, an herb spiral can be a fantastic first project. For those already in the know but still developing their plot, the spiral will undoubtedly be a feature to include for its beauty, practicality and ease. Or, for those with well-established zone ones, abundant with plant life, herbs included, the spiral can be an eye-opening way to demonstrate principles to interested friends, family and neighbors, a fun project to help them get into the idea.
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Edited by James Turner
ARCAH is an NGO that helps homeless people in the form of social farm programs like Therapeutic Communities (CT). In 2014, ARCAH formed a partnership with CT, together offering even more opportunities. These included a permaculture design of the farm, it’s first year application, and weekly permaculture lectures.
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There are so many fantastic, inspiring permaculture projects around the world.
Over the last four weeks we have been sharing the stories of some of the 60+ applicants to an IPCUK scholarship fund. It would make such a difference to support as many of them as we can.
The IPCUK scholarships crowdfunding project ends this Friday at 3pm. We have reached 90% of the target and have less than £1500 to go.
You can visit the Crowd Funding Page here.
For example, one of the scholars who applied is the chairman of the Permaculture Research Institute Kenya, and founder of the Drylands Natural Resources Centre. He is doing great work for communities and landscapes across Kenya. He is working to develop a self-sustaining village for 1000 orphans and their grandparents, plus supporting over 400 farmers and schools to establish food forests.
What an inspiration!
You can make a huge difference to him and people like this from South America, Africa and Asia. Help bring inspiring scholars to the international permaculture convergence so we can learn, share, and plan together.
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Tom Kendall from the Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast shows the end result of the Bio Digester setup: the gas. He also talks about and shows making thatch for a roof from vetiver grass.
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Come join us June 14-27 2015 for our Permaculture Design Course.
Adam Woodman author of Gabions for Gully Erosion Peru and Contour Beds Peru is co-teaching in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a place that is rich with history and where you will see the native cultures (Quechua speaking) working the land as they have for centuries
This Bi-lingual (English and Spanish) Two-Week Intensive Permaculture Design Course (PDC) is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the beautiful gardens of Sach’a Munay eco retreat with delicious food and a creative learning environment with internationally renowned permaculture teacher Penny Livingston-Stark, permaculture practicioner Adam Woodman, and special guests including indigenous farmers who will share with us their own permanent agriculture techniques.
This training provides multiple ways of presenting information from presentation and slide shows to storytelling and interactive group process. This course include hands-on experiential learning opportunities provided by experienced instructors.
This course is a powerful way to have a transformational experience, be nurtured with delicious meals while learning powerful tools to create resilient environments on all scales.
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Working on a project in the Sacred Valley Peru, I came across an opportunity to install Gabions to reduce soil erosion on a steep slope. A Gabion is a porous dam wall made from rock and small stones free standing or packed into a wire basket. They combat soil erosion by slowing the flow of water and dropping sediment and organic material behind the rock wall as water slowly leaks through it. They can also be used as retaining walls and in drylands used as a water harvesting feature, see Geoff Lawton’s article here http://permaculturenews.org/2010/11/25/gabions-water-soaks-in-the-desert/
To the left of a steep (35-40 degree) area planted to food forest is a growing erosion gully caused by water erosion during the wet season. This was probably initiated by disturbing the natural slope when paths were cut in, creating conditions for a large flow of water to spill out over the path above the point of the gully. In some cases the erosion is back to bear rock, and furthers rains threatened to erode the edges of the newly planted food forest.
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The Permaculture Research Insitutute’s Rhamis Kent and former WWoofer Ignazio Schettini, on day ten of a PDC they are teaching in Altamura, have a brief to camera candid discussion about the PDC and their thoughts for the future.
One interesting thought point is, “How do people in different countries, with the same climatic zone, solve the same problem?”.
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In March of 2015, France passed a bill supporting green energy which affects the commercial building industry. The bill requires all new buildings in commercial zones to have their roofs partially covered with either solar panels or plants. Although construction companies and builders may see this as an additional upfront cost, the long term benefits will outweigh the initial funding necessary.
Environmental activists initially pushed the French government for all new roofs to be completely covered, but Parliament only agreed to pass a law for partial covering on new commercial buildings. Until recently, France had been lagging behind other European countries when it came to producing solar energy. For example, when it came to solar photovoltaic mechanisms that produce energy from sunlight, France was behind Germany, Spain, and Italy. According to a Reuters article in 2014, “It had 5,095 MW of photovoltaic capacity in June, which accounted for only 1 percent of its energy consumption in the first half of the year, and compares with nearly 37,000 MW in Germany.”1
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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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