For the past two weeks we've been hiding under the thatched roof of a mountainside bamboo hut trying to focus on the future of our planet and all its residents. It's a lot of work! So many angles!
Since tomorrow is the last day of our Permaculture Design Course (PDC), now seems like a good time to reflect on our experience in the classroom and on the island.
When we signed up for the course way back in the fall we didn't know what we were getting into. We went to the bank, deposited a large sum of money into a Thai account, and hoped for the best. Would we show up to an empty lot on a Thai island? Would we get there and be forced to dig trenches and haul rocks in name of practical experience? I feared the former and expected the latter. Reality, of course, was neither.
Instead of explaining the best way to hold a shovel when you dig a ditch, Permaculture instructs you to put down the shovel, open your eyes, and think about the big picture. It's about design.
Conventional wisdom would tell us to look at the newest technology, what others in the field are doing, and then to put our heads down and get to work. Pull out the weeds. Plant one crop. Apply the fertilizers. Smile every time you see soil between your rows of veggies/cereals/trees/whatever. Instead, we now ask why the weeds are there? What is their role in nature? Instead of using energy to get rid of them, can we use them to our advantage? As we have learned, weeds are often pioneering species that help rehabilitate the soil after it's been damaged. They can replace missing nutrients and break up compacted earth among other things. We don't have to use that plant though. We can identify other species that perform similar functions but have additional uses and are easier to control. I imagine that it will be difficult to convince any Saskatchewan gardener or farmer to befriend weeds. I risk being labelled a starry-eyed hippy whose lost his sense while away from reality.
The process is the same in the case of monocrops, synthetic fertilizer, and barren soil. These things are never observed in nature and nature has perpetuated itself since the dawn of time, feeding all of Earth's species with no intensive cultivation or petroleum inputs. The key is to look at how nature does what it does and mimic it for our benefit. I don't want to eat every tree in a Saskatchewan forest, but I can increase the instances of Saskatoon berries, raspberries, strawberries, root vegetables, herbs, nuts, and all sorts of wonderful foods that you can find once you start looking.
This talk is all well and good, but it doesn't seem like we can change our worlds when you get back to 'reality' at the end of next month. Well... we're working on that. We're hatching up schemes for our yard and garden. I'm thinking of ways to integrate permaculture with environmental engineering which shouldn't been too difficult. Jevin's got a property out of town he can play with. And we would all relish the opportunity to visit friends' properties outside of town just to discuss possibilities and share our enthusiasm and knowledge.
So, I haven't said too much about basking in the sun or drinking coconut milk but the truth is that we've been stuck in a monsoon for the past week. It's just as well though since it would be very difficult to pay attention in class with a nice cool beach staring back at us on a sunny day.
David J Parker