Many of us are questioning what is important to us given that we are living through a time of climate change, biodiversity loss and social distancing. We want to know what tools we can use to solve pressing environmental and social issues.
I regard nature as an intelligent system in which we can find many of our answers to these questions. Take the natural act of composting. When you compost you use the process of decomposition to minimise food waste (which would end up in a landfill), see healthy microbes be earth warriors and turn it into rich dark soil, which can be used again by the plants and vegetables that you grow.
This abundance of solutions that can be found in nature when we work with it rather than against it drove me towards permaculture. Permaculture is a framework in which nature can meet human needs while being preserved and restored in the process. The design process within the permaculture framework is a unique approach to tie landscape and social aspects of the community together and see what solutions arise. For example, when you survey a site and community intending to design a permaculture-based intervention the interesting questions we can ask ourselves are: how does the community respond to change? What practices existed in the past? What existing elements and flows of animals are there in the area? Is a particular problem recurring – say an invasive species as a result of deforestation? These questions begin to form the bedrock of our understanding, and play a vital role in designing a regenerative intervention which not only benefits the community, but also conserves the existing marvel on site such as village forests, wildlife or community practices among other things.
My learning in the field of permaculture has not been linear, because most projects end up being short as clients often have a specific need. Moreover, the shift from an urban dweller to working in pristine and isolated locations is not easy. I have gone into many projects without clarity and full commitment but you end up realising that you can’t live up to the challenge. This can cause a geographical heartbreak as moving back without a so called ‘success’ story can be dissatisfying. I have made it a point since then to work with organisations like Edible Routes Foundation and environmentalists who share my values and life principles.
But sometimes what I considered a failure was actually a major success in retrospect. Once I left a very tough working environment as I was not used to living in a Gaon (Indian village) where there are electricity problems and high levels of social isolation. I left with a feeling of guilt, and thought I had been more of a burden than an asset. However, nature and the community replied otherwise. One of the tribals I had stayed and worked with called me during the monsoon and sent pictures of this strategy we had applied and called ‘the forest floor method’. The area became lush and started producing corn, tur daal, bajra and chana as the water made everything regenerate. Although I stayed with him for only four weeks, it has been a year now and the caretaker of the land still drops me messages or updates. This shows that these bonds can last for a lifetime.
More than ever, there is an ever-growing curiosity for people to grow their own food, create edible forest gardens, live in natural buildings and harness clean energy and water. The abundance and the practicality of permaculture makes me passionate about it. It makes me read about a range of topics from old growth forests to perennial vegetables to harvesting water in a village to composting your own poop!
There is a lot of scope within the field to add your own voice, innovate and create. My specialities include growing gourmet mushrooms and perennial trees, soil rejuvenation and water management. I constantly feel constantly the need to learn more, and know that the road of learning is still a long one. Fortunately, there are various other permaculture designers working within their niches, which creates a synthesis of information and interests.