The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Roots of permaculture

The New Forest is one of England's oldest forests. Trees were coppiced regularly, but allowed to regrow from the stumps. Pollarding is a version of coppicing where tree limbs are cut several feet above the ground to allow them to regenerae amid grazing animals.I've bandied about words like permaculture and forest gardening with great abandon in the last year.  But what do they mean?  Where did they come from?  This week's lunchtime series attempts to fill that gap so that I can go back to the delightful nitty gritty.

Both permaculture and forest gardening are ways of feeding ourselves without demolishing the environment.  Think of them as organic gardening, cubed.  The concepts (which I'll go into later) are reactions to modern agroindustrial systems that spray, fertilize, and till the natural ecosystem into submission, using more energy to produce crops than we get out in useful food.  Obviously, the modern monoculture system isn't sustainable.  But how can we feed the world without it?

Permaculture goes back to basics, reminding us that we did manage to feed ourselves before chemical fertilizers and monoculture came along.  Remember how Amazonians produced edible forests that look so natural scientists are only just beginning to realize they are man-made?  How Central Americans left serviceberries in their vegetable fields as a source of mulch, or raked organic matter out of nearby woodlands?  Did you know that Europeans have used coppicing to turn forests into sources of fuel, fiber, fodder, and mulch for hundreds of years?  All of these systems are examples of ways that people have worked with the natural world rather than against it and still managed to make a living.  Can't we do the same?

This post is part of our History of Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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