by Leanne Ejack (Alberta, Canada), PDC student, Jan/Feb 2014 at PRI Maungaraeeda, Sunshine Coast, Qld., Australia
I was bred, born and raised in the Western Canadian prairies, surrounded by massive cattle feedlots and kilometre-long stretches of monoculture grain crops. I always enjoyed the farming lifestyle, but I knew as a young teenager that the farming practices that I was surrounded by were inflicting long-term harm to the soil and environment. Spending a year after university working for a large agricultural company opened my eyes even further to how these large companies have spent years manipulating farmers into complete dependency upon their chemical inputs. Farmers are caught in a toxic and corrupt spiral of powerlessness. I was driven to start educating myself about a more sustainable way of food production that also placed the power back in the hands of farmers. I had heard about permaculture and, after researching it further, I knew I needed to become more immersed in it.
After completing a PDC at PRI Maungaraeeda with Tom Kendall in early 2014, I found the kind of knowledge and experience I was looking for. Beyond learning about the design principles of permaculture as well as plant, soil, and water management, I received something I didn’t really expect to: a shift in my own personal mindset and patterns of behavior.
It was kind of fitting to be learning about permaculture at this time in my life. I know there is no ‘schedule’ that we all must follow when we reach certain stages in our life, but as I head deeper into ‘real’ adulthood, I can’t help but feeling that I would like to establish myself on some path and contribute something meaningful to society. I have spent most of the past few years in a back and forth pattern of travelling and short-term contract positions. These experiences have taught me much about the world and ‘real-life’ and I do not regret any of them, but I am becoming impatient with ‘not knowing what to do with my life’. Impatience and feelings of urgency had come to dictate my life.
After two weeks of a PDC with Tom, I quickly realized that permaculture is founded upon patience. Permaculture is about working with nature and allowing time for nature to work herself out. Permaculture can be frustrating for many people, because there are no ‘quick fix’ solutions to problems. Permaculture is about setting the seeds for a permanent system (think: permanent agriculture = permaculture) that will manage and sustain itself for years to come. Our severe impatience drives us to get in with the tractor and chemicals, blast everything out to bare soil, and plant a monoculture of the desired plant we want. We want these plants to grow fast so we can begin harvesting straight away and make more profit. The more the better! This is a ‘trophy hunter’ mentality. But this type of system requires constant management and constant artificial inputs from fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other manufactured chemicals.
Permaculture, in contrast, is about the maximum amount of output with the minimum amount of work and input. In order to create something that will last and be sustainable, the key is patience, patience, patience! But patience is such a hard quality to cultivate in us ‘instant-gratification’ humans. Therefore, incorporating the practices of permaculture requires a complete change in mindset and attitude. It is not just a method of farming, it is a belief system and lifestyle.
This is why it seemed so fitting that, while taking the PDC with Tom, the crucial value of patience in the design of a permaculture system kept coming back to me. At the risk of sounding too fanciful, I can’t help but feel that, right here, right now, the universe was really trying to hammer this lesson in to me. I am listening!
Thank you to Tom and Zaia, and the crew at PRI Maungaraeeda, for helping me cultivate a new course in my life.