The Milkweed Diaries

Monday, July 21, 2008

Indigenous Permaculture

My dear friend Tyson introduced me to this organization, run by a friend of his who is a certified indigenous permaculture designer (wow, who knew there was such a thing!):

The Red Earth Action Project

And here's an organization that runs a certification program in Indigenous Permaculture.

It's interesting terminology, since one of the critiques I've heard of permaculture is along the lines of: "Some white dude from Australia didn't invent these concepts, he just named the things that inherently sustainable indigenous cultures have been doing forever!" I've long thought that many of the principles of permaculture are old, old ways practiced for thousands of years before the advent of modern farming. For instance, "food forests," or polyculture, which just means that rather than planting a uniform bed of one type of crop you plant a whole bunch of diverse plants together. Diversity, it turns out, is more robust and sustainable than homogenized sameness. True in human society as in the natural world.

Above: polyculture in our garden-- common sage, zinnias, and purple jalepeno peppers.

Below: our Three Sisters bed - an ancient tradition of biointensive companion planting/polyculture.

As much as our work here has been influenced by permaculturists, I've been resistant to using that label because of a sense that the ancient practices of growing food that we are rediscovering are far deeper than "permaculture" or any other modern school of thought. All of this reminds me of Farmers of 40 Centuries, which, although focused on China, Japan, and Korea, is all about ancient traditional methods of growing food.

I took a great class at the Organic Growers School a couple of years ago, taught by Jeff Ashton, where I learned that most ancient traditions of growing food are based on biointensive (lots of green stuff in a small space) raised beds with soild heavily amended with manures. Ashton referenced Farmers of 40 Centuries as a great summary of some of those traditional methods.

So call it permaculture, call it indigenous agriculture, call it biointensive polyculture, whatever! Regardless of the technical-sounding terminology, it's all about building the soil, paying attention, celebrating diversity rather than sterile monoculture, and working with the dirt and the sun and the rain to create something beautiful and nourishing.

: keyhole bed planted with amaranth, peppers, dill, okra, marigolds, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, eggplant, strawflowers, nasturtiums, and sunflowers.

Below: raised beds in our garden....bellflower, majoram, parsley, bee balm, chamomile, calendula, and basil in the foreground; black beans, crookneck squash, beets, onions, basil, broccoli, and tomatoes are in the background.

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