An act of war brought me to permaculture. On September 11, 2001, I had been a mother for little more than three weeks. I was immersed in the care and feeding of my tiny, vulnerable, perfect baby girl. There was milk dripping from my breasts and I was tender in all ways.
As I sat and watched the towers fall, holding my baby in my arms, I knew that the world was going to change, and probably get worse. Motherhood being what it was, my central concern was with the health and safety of my baby, her care and feeding and continuity. What was it going to be?
The answer didn’t come immediately, but the war following the fall of the towers, and a move out of our city, led me circuitously back to the garden, back to re-skilling in the kitchen, back to worms and compost and the joy of co-creation with the earth.
A few years later, I trained in permaculture at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas. Penny Livingston-Stark, Lydia Neilsen and James Stark were my teachers. During the year I studied, the problems I saw all around me start shifting and morphing into solutions. Not enough water? Tap your greywater and divert it to the landscape. No food security? Grow it yourself. Fossil fuel energy ruining the globe? Tap into the power of the sun. And so many other practical, logical and accessible skills were revealed.
I found myself easily able to learn, master and apply these skills in the place where I live. Now these many years later, the permaculture way is just how I live. Permaculture is a beautiful, evolving design science that helps us practice living in peace with creation. Rather than thinking of the world as a resource base for my use and deployment, I am a steward of the land where I live (rented), the waters that I use (diminishing), the food that I grow (abundant), and the connection to earth energy (all around me.)
My daughter is 13 now, and I work as a permaculture educator and advocate, as well as a somatic psychotherapist. I see these paths as being the same—healing the multiple traumas of our violent and disconnected culture, on both the inner and outer levels. Permaculture has brought us a way of living in place, sharing our values and dreams with the people we care about, and a way of educating our daughter into a life in the earth. This has brought us a delightful posse of earth-loving creators, artists, farmers, and free folk we now call friends. We consider ourselves blessed by the bees and beets and buckets of water that surround us.
Permaculture creates peace because it is a hands-on, appropriate technology; an adaptable and flexible way to live within the limits and opportunities of our place. It teaches us, through ecological principles, to observe and interact with our world, and to take actions rooted in reality, not in some fantasy of domination or control.
Permaculture creates peace because it teaches us that we are both small and powerful, that our daily actions make a difference in changing the world where we live. Permaculture creates peace because it gives us a template for living in respectful relationship, not only with the animals and plants the surround us, but with the people with whom we share our home place.
I have found, paradoxically, that it is simpler to grow carrots than it is to get along with my neighbors. I don’t think I am alone in practices of polarization and projection that make it hard for us to view one another as allies. Permaculture has taught me how to do the right thing—use less, share more, slow down and listen, design from patterns to details. If peace is the pattern, the details must rest in how we act every day—with an open heart, or a closed mind. When operating from within the permaculture ethos, where we hold earth care, people care, and fair share as our guiding ethics, the open heart leads the way.
Permaculture helps us cultivate abundance where we live. This makes it possible to extend into the world in a spirit of enough-ness, offering generously and with gratitude. This cultivates inner peace, and the ripple effects of peace with all creation.
While it is true that world continues to turn to war, no matter how many times I turn my compost bin, I’ve also learned from permaculture to get right-sized—some of what is happening in our world is in my hands, but mostly, it’s in bigger hands than mine. Knowing that, I embody the permaculture maxim: “If the world is going to end tomorrow, I am going to plant a tree today.” This helps me live through some of the hardest passages of human aggression and cruelty, while cultivating a soil where something else can grow.