In the permaculture class I'm taking, a reoccuring idea is to produce more positive than negative effects. For example, farming in a conventional way tends to use lots of pesticides, tilling which increases soil erosion, and fossil fuels. Using permaculture principles, you could build a pond near your garden (so you could recharge the aquifer and wouldn't have to water it as much), plant crops that complement each other and have beneficial effects, and use compost from kitchen scraps instead of buying fertilizer. I think this is a great permaculture example. Now how do I apply this idea to my whole life?
Since I was a little kid, I realized that as long as I was a human in western culture, I would probably be using way more resources than I would be putting back. Sure, I try to reduce my ecological footprint as much as possible, but let's face it: I live in a typical apartment, I work at a regular job, I don't eat as much local/organic food from a farmers market as I would like, and whether I like it or not, I am a part of mainstream culture. Sometimes I drive my car. Sometimes I eat meat. Sometimes I go on airplanes to faraway locations. I can justify this to myself all I want: sometimes taking a bus to a rural location is not practical, sometimes eating meat is good for my diet, and sometimes I just like to go on vacations to exotic places.
Sometimes I want to go all out: become a vegan, transform my car into some kind of combination biodiesel/mobile organic farm, stop using electricity, only take transportation that requries me to self-propel. A student in my class this semester asked me: Shona, since you believe so strongly in climate change, how can you keep living a normal life? Why don't you go off the grid and become totally self sufficient?
I responded by saying that I'm an environmental science educator, so living in the woods by myself somewhere is not condusive to helping other people understand why our society needs to transform into something more sustainable. I think that's only part of the answer, and I'm still working the rest out.
My hope is that my actions and projects can contribute to my postive impacts. I may not be able to reduce my ecological footprint entirely now, but I can try to teach others and hopefully spark a chain of events that will somehow offset my impact. Maybe this is just me trying to justify my presence on earth, but it is my hope.
Next weekend, I'm going to plant my garden. I bought the seeds, I know where I want the plot at my cottage, and I have a list of what plants should be grown together (this is called companion planting). However, I have no idea what to do. Sure, I know what I should theoretically do- I've taken plant biology classes and even an entire university course about ecological gardening. I've read books, heard my friends talk about it, and I've asked my grandfather for advice every time I see him. But I've never actually planted a garden myself. How big should I make it? When is a good time to plant? How much compost should I put on it? How often do I need to weed or water?
I think it's really important to know how to be as independent as possible. Ideally, I will eventually know how to do everything that I depend on in life myself. To me, this means knowing how to grow all my own food without a huge amount of oil, preserving vegetables so they last all year, being able to find medicinal plants, and living off of renewable energy. But don't get me wrong- I am a city kid. Well, a suburb kid. I was raised on Kraft Dinner and canned soup, surrounded by hundreds of houses that looked exactly like mine. My family is the typical mom and dad, two kids, white picket fence type. The only thing that was missing was a dog. I was lucky though- my family went on mandatory bike rides and hikes through national parks, and we visited the cottage every other weekend. So while I was almost totally surrounded by mainstream American culture, I always had an interest to live a more alternative lifestyle.
I eat food every day, and most of it comes from California. I would like to change that. My first step is to grow a garden this summer. This feeling of knowing how to do things theoretically, but having zero confidence in the ability to do things in real life has led me to take a permaculture class. It has taken me a little while to figure out how to define permaculture, but it's basically designing human and agricultural systems to mimic patterns found in nature. Instead of planting a monoculture of just a corn field, a permaculture system would collect rainwater, increase soil fertility, integrate wild species to reduce pests, and grow several different crops so that it wasn't totally dependent on just one species. That's one example of a permaculture way of thinking. I'm taking a 72 hour Permaculture Design Certification class to learn more. It's really interesting, and I have enough notes scribbled in my notebook to keep this blog filled for months.
There are a few workshops offered at Co-Op La Maison Verte, if you would like to learn more about worm composting (May 10th), sprouting and fermentation (May 12), or nutrition (May 17th).
I'm an eco-conscious girl from Montreal, Quebec. I'm currently an adjunct science professor at Champlain College of Vermont (Montreal Campus). I'm interested in any opportunities to expand my experience with grassroots activism, climate change legislation, or environmental education.