Anyone who knows me understands that I am more than someone who enjoys growing my own food. Among other things, at heart, I am an avid student of psychology, sociology, culture and the human spirit. In my university years I studied in these fields extensively, and continue to immerse myself in these areas to this day. Up to this point, the majority of what we have seen in most publications on the subject of Permaculture have mainly discussed the topics of food production and other forms of both small and large-scale agriculture and have done so thoroughly. This is a logical start. However, once we have the basic human needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) met, what is the logical next step for permaculture?
Some readers may be familiar with the fact that although the term permaculture was originally formulated with the combination of the words “permanent” and “agriculture”, it has more recently been expanded to encompass the words permanent and “culture”. The following is an account of where I personally would like to see this field grow in the coming decade, followed by just a few examples of how we might make that happen. With this in mind, it is the culture aspect that I would like to focus on for the purposes of today’s blog.
If we have a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model (fig. 1), we can see how the first 2 layers of the pyramid speak to those needs already discussed. These have to do with basic human survival, and it makes sense to ensure these needs are met before we can begin seeking answers to the needs in the higher levels. Assuming that we can satisfactorily meet the physiological and safety needs, we then have the freedom to explore ways in which we can satisfy the more mental, emotional and spiritual needs of our human culture. Understanding the sociology of industrialization and the negative impacts it has had on us, is part of what makes reconnecting with nature so important. There are so many barriers that have been created—both conceptual and physical—which separate us more and more from our natural roots and from each other. Permaculture has the capacity to help us transform this, and will be one of our major assets in breaking down these barriers over time, and all of this can only happen with more frequent, meaningful connections with nature and with each other.
So what are some ways to achieve this, especially in places on this planet which spend more than half the year in winter? Well, there is nothing wrong with dressing up and heading outside for a brisk winter walk, but there are some other paths to inviting nature into your own home at any time of the year. An indoor tropical garden is one way and this can also be an area in which you might grow food, as well as being an opportunity to connect with nature. In order for this to happen, however, the home needs to be designed with at least a few south or west-facing windows. More extravagantly, one might consider constructing an atrium or passive-solar greenhouse. This is where people in the field of architecture, interior design and engineering must be introduced to the concepts of permaculture. It is my wish to see more and more homes designed with large south-facing windows or atriums, not only for growing plants, but also for the purposes of tremendous solar gain in extremely cold (yet unusually sunny) places like Calgary. In both instances we are inviting nature into our homes and making the connection necessary to foster healthier psychological, emotional and physical development.
Urban planning is another area which is due to expand its scope of expertise into the field of permaculture with the goal of designing our urban areas to foster more human-nature interaction. Rather than designing patches of parks and so-called “green spaces” into communities, these neighbourhoods would be better designed with nature as a fundamental part of everyday living. Each natural area should continually flow from one to the next, instead of being broken up by roads and highways. This might necessitate tunnels and bridges or maybe wildlife overpasses as solutions, but would be worth it in the long run.
If this is too large an undertaking at first, we may want to start with smaller ideas that connect us as a culture to each other in the field of urban planning, such as creating gathering places—places that facilitate human interaction (i.e. placemaking). The concept of placemaking has already firmly taken root in major urban centres across North America and elsewhere. It involves the creation of meeting places in city parks or streets where people can come to simply mingle and interact without the need for expensive technology or other energy consuming amenities. It often involves an artistic or interactive cultural element as a catalyst to human interaction. This is where people are not just passing through, but are given a reason to stay for a while and enjoy something new, to start conversations, find reasons to smile, debate, or be entertained. What is great about placemaking is you can even start in your own backyard—or front yard!
Whether we are talking about placemaking, creating more connective natural spaces, or bringing nature into your own home design, the physical and social benefits are only limited by our imaginations and creativity. I will expand more and go into greater detail on all of these topics in future blogs. For now, more on the subject of reconnecting with nature can be found on my July 2014 article on Ecopsychology and Permaculture.
Ted Bahr is the founder of Prairie Sage Permaculture. MORE