A Personal Evolution: Tales of Permaculture via Greennovate Clips


Author: Jonathon Engels

Like many, my introduction to permaculture came in the form of food production. It changed the way I viewed farming, shifting my practice from being one of waging war with nature—constantly tilling, weeding and wasting—to one that teamed up with the plants, soil and even buildings around me. I was already an advocate for organic practices, but this was something altogether different.

Excited by the difference, and upon further investigation, I was happy to discover how much more depth there is to the theory. Permaculture is so far beyond a technique for gardening, or for that matter, it is so much more than eco-construction or sustainable energy. For me, the principles of permaculture were a way of living I’d long been striving for but unable to pinpoint.

Discontent with the state of the world, I wanted to be one in the movement of millions who are bucking the modern systems. For me, it didn’t take much convincing to see that the current wasteful methods of feeding and sheltering people will inevitably collapse. It has happened in the past, with places like Easter Island, but in much the same vein, financial motivations have trumped common sense.

Even before discovering permaculture, I’d spent several years striving for something different, supporting myself via work-trade agreements, volunteering, and the occasional low-wage jobs. Money became more a life burden than the answer to all my woes. I wanted healthy food, a clean environment and community, but working a nine-to-five, the normal route, seemed diametrically opposed to this.

A “real job”—as in “What’s your real job?”—seemed a horrible detour en route to the things I was after in life, not the sustainable way of getting them. I became more and more aware of how inefficient money as a primary means is, how for most of us—especially those with real jobs—it creates the need for more rather than any liberation from labor.

I had long noticed all the trappings of the “real life” of my past created impediments to what I really wanted. Food was quick and often unhealthy, either from packages or restaurants, because there were other things to do. The environment was toxic, devoid of sunlight and exercise or wrought with chemicals and product safety precautions. The community I spent most of my time with—co-workers—were usually watching the clock to go home and do something to try to forget about work.

The second video can be found here.

The culturally constructed reality was largely uninspiring, but it wasn’t because I’m a lazy person. I like to think the opposite is true. The desire to not have that real job more came from the fact that I wanted to do other things, spend my time in ways that were inspiring: helping and sharing with others, learning, producing tangibly rather than earning a wage, and enjoying the work I was doing.

The underlying goal of all of this was a desire to have a positive impact rather than accepting what had come to feel inevitable. Funnily enough, most of my “real job” experience was being a teacher, which seemingly oozed positive impact and bulged with inspiring stories. The problem, however, was that education, in my eyes, had become more for business than for the good of society. The system was constantly being engineered to be less effective but turn a larger profit.

I didn’t want to be part of that system, even if that part was to be wrench in the wheel rather than a cog. Even more so, I didn’t want money, the very thing that had created this discontent, to be the only reason I was working. Life was too valuable, and at thirty-something, I still had for too much of it ahead of me to continue living in a way that wasn’t making me happy. Like the systems I was rejecting, I personally needed some big changes, a new active step rather just disapproving observation.

Of course, this is all well and fine in theory, but when left with the bare bones of where to go next, what exactly that new step is, there is a yearning for some pathway to follow, an idealism close to your own that will at least get the ball rolling in the right direction. For me, I knew I needed to eat. I get really grouchy when I’m hungry, and I didn’t want to subject the world to that.

From a limited amount of knowledge, mostly Google search acquired, organic gardening seemed a good route to start on. I knew the way food was being produced and sold was against all those life principles I was after: It was unhealthy, laced with chemicals, placed profit over function and convenience over community. Most importantly, I felt passionate about it. I felt that growing organic food was a solution rather than a shrug.

Organic farms seemed the likely place to do this, so I started volunteering on them, trading a few hours of labor for not just food and shelter but also a wealth of knowledge and exposure that I was largely lacking. The experience made me part of a community of people who cared, a group who was doing something positive, and ultimately it introduced me to permaculture.

What I discovered through further investigating permaculture was people had a hard time defining it and, by virtue, I was already a practicing its principles. I just didn’t know it. I might not have been creating a garden as I would later come to. I might not have been harvesting water just yet or living in a cob house or installing solar panels, but it wasn’t only about these things. I looked at a lot of the recent changes in my life and realized with aplomb: That’s permaculture!

I hadn’t yet started designing a healthy eco-system, but I’d long ago begun changing the design of how I was living. I’d stopped using chemical soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and deodorants. I had been buying whole foods from local farmers and growing food rather than processed goods from factories. I had continually sought ways to downsize my energy usage, from using public transportation (and, more so, just walking) to giving up air conditioning.

In short, as any practitioner does, I was looking for and adopting better ways to take care of myself and the planet. I wouldn’t be guiding courses any time soon, but the principles, the motivation, were already there. And from there, I discovered loads of books, videos, websites and people to further push me along this journey, to corroborate with, and to both learn from and teach. It’s a journey that is far from over, but one rooted in a reality that suits me just right. That’s permaculture.



13 thoughts on “A Personal Evolution: Tales of Permaculture via Greennovate Clips

  1. The definition of permaculture. Thank you Jonathon

    I was looking for and adopting better ways to take care of myself and the planet. It’s a journey rooted in a reality that suits me just right.

    That’s Permaculture

  2. I can relate to your quest for a better life. Many, like you and i are on this permaculture path. Thanks to the internet, we connect with others and learn so much. Thanks to the teachers and workers, that are making it possible for all who are on this journey.
    Jonathon – what is that massive fruit you have in front of you, in the first picture? Tropically grown, i gather.

    1. Yep, it’s a jackfruit. Climbing the tree to get that monster down was a fun adventure. When they aren’t ripe, they can be cooked to make a sort of potato-esque food, and when ripe, they are super sweet and delicious.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this. There is so much in your story that I relate to, like these words, “It changed the way I viewed farming, shifting my practice from being one of waging war with nature—constantly tilling, weeding and wasting—to one that teamed up with the plants, soil and even buildings around me.” How I relate to that is the discovery through practice at how brilliant chop and drop mulching is at building soil. When I pull back the mulch and look at the soil beneath, I can hardly believe my eyes when I see how rich the soil has become, just full of life. I am a bit dumb but it took until I started doing this to realise how wonderful this method, that is advocated by so many in PC, is. Now all I want to do is add in more fast growing green manure and dynamic accumulating plants into the system that can be used for this fast tracking forest mimicking. Now, I find I have lost interest in doing any sort of garden maintenance in any garden other than a permie garden. I just see so much of the work that is done in gardens like ornamental gardens as useless and unnecessary labour. I now have no interest in waging war against nature as so many people have employed me to do in the past. I find the chop and drop mulching approach so much more fun and easy to do by comparison. Give me a permie garden any day. It is fun, fun, fun to watch the soil turn into a rich dark colour, full of worms, while engaging in a pleasurable and easy activity!

    1. All the way with you on that one. Once I started putting bigger things together, small forests and guilds, it was even more rewarding. So nice to see the soil getting healthier.

  4. There are two conflicting documentaries on Easter Island that pop up every now and again on TV.
    The alternative and more plausible explanation of its downfall is that the island was originally largely covered by a type of palm tree. Polynesian seafarers took rats with them on their voyages as a supply of meat. When they arrived at the island the rats escaped and ate the nuts from which the palms propagated. There were no predators to control the rat population. The islanders did not need the trees to move their statues. The doco shows how they easily “walked” the statues into position using manpower and ropes. The problem was that the palm trees could not reproduce because of the rats and gradually died out.
    Ultimately Europeans discovered the island and brought in their diseases to decimate the population. The island was also a good source of slaves. In the end an English gent bought the whole island and ran merino sheep all over it which was the environmental coup de gras for the place.
    So the video above is a powerful parable but probably not true.

    1. Thanks for the heads-up. This is the only version of the island’s downfall that I know. Do you have a link to the documentary about the rats? I’d be interested in giving it a watch. However, even after reading your explanation, I still don’t understand why it seems more plausible.

    2. Hi Michael, The truth is that we will probably never quite know how exactly they moved the statues. However, to discount all the previous scholarship on Easter Island based on just one study would be unwise. Yes, “walking” the statues could have possibly been a method of moving them, and it is an appealing theory because it corroborates the islander’s myth (they would say the statues walked when asked how their ancestor moved them across the island -however, they couldn’t quite explain what that meant). That said, the experiment that you are referring to used a relatively light statue (only about 5 tons or so if i remember correctly). The average statue weighed more than twice of that, and some were far bigger and heavier. The largest one was 270 tons and 70 feet tall!

      There are other issues as well. They would still have required trees for making ropes and other vital resources. Rats could have very definitely played a larger role in the extinction of the palm trees, but they definitely were not the only contributor -people were most defintely chopping of trees. It is also not entirely true that the rats lacked predators because all the studies show that rats contributed greatly to the diet of the easter islanders. There were also over 20 other native tress that went completely extinct, as well as seabirds. Yes, in the end europeans wiped off the population of around 2000 people but as Jared Diamond says in his work Collapse that it is highly unlikely that this was representative of the population of the island at its peak, which he puts at around 15000-300000. The islanders would have required a great deal of resources to support that kind of a population, and for the massive project of statue building (some 887 moia in total). Everything indicates a great deal of man power and organizational complexity, both of which would have been predicated on a thriving and complex civilization and an adequate resource base, which did not exist when the europeans discovered the island. David R. Montgomerry in his book Dirt; The Erosion of Civilizations also discusses soil loss due to deforestation and agricultural intensification as another significant contributing factor for the collapse.

      Even if it decisively proven that human caused environmental degradation played a smaller role in the downfall of easter island (it would be impossible to discount it completely) history is still littered numerous other examples of past societies destroying themselves through over-extraction of resources and environmental damage. (Hopefully Craig is going to get around to posting a piece that I sent in on the topic recently, and when he does you will read it.) Cheers!

  5. Hi All,
    I dont have a link to the docos I saw on Tv however there are a few on Youtube. Try this one for starters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rut16-AfoyA.
    I you have ever tried to move something heavy like a refrigerator you will be familiar with the technique of tilting the object on to one corner and swiveling the opposite corner forwards. This is why I find the walking statue idea convincing.
    What is also interesting is the way they were spreading the volcanic stones across the land to improve fertility. One of the docos gives an explanation for how this worked although I cant remember the exact details. It could be that these people had a successful permaculture going until the collision with European culture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *