What does the perfect community look like to you? One could perhaps envision a collection of beach huts, scattered along a paradisal beach. Each evening by the shore is served a lush, plant-based dinner. All ingredients for the dinner are retrieved from the communal farm. The community would dine beneath under the pink light of an evening sunset. All members of the community would be free to do whatever they wanted til then; even attendance of the dinner would be optional. However, such a Utopian vision is perhaps naive – who and what in this community would sustain the farm, and the peace?
Permaculture as a philosophy captures the essence of what it takes to sustain a community. Permaculture practices emphasise the necessity of including, respecting and nourishing all members of our ecology; all the human members, wherever they fall in the ‘hierarchy’; all the non-human animal members, from the domesticated pets, the farm animals to the wildlife – and finally but not least importantly, all the plant-life. Permaculture’s framework for community design is notable in its ambitions to extend community ties and supportive networks beyond the anthropocentric sphere towards all life-forms in a way that is mutually supportive and sustaining.
In the chapter on communities in The Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture (2006) Rosemary Morrow (permaculture expert, teacher and activist) writes of the importance of having ‘a connection and loyalty to one’s bioregion’. This quotation is apt at capturing the essence of the connectedness and rootedness with our wider ecology that permaculture practices emphasise as being so necessary. The chapter covers the ways permaculture practices can be utilised in all types of communities, be that villages, suburbs or cities. Whatever your context, Marrow invites us to observe your neighbourhood, village or community. She then suggests you design some physical improvements that you would like to see – this could be community gardens, retrofit buildings, orchards, playgrounds, fuel forests, wildlife corridors and animal sanctuaries. The permaculture framework is magnificently inclusive in how it can be applied in any and all contexts.
Permaculture in Urban Areas
City permaculture projects excellently represent the strengthening of community ties that permaculture can bring. The City of Melbourne Community Food Forest, for example “began with a dream to provide healthy nutritious organic food for our local Kensington community to build resilience around food security…to reduce pressure on farmlands, reduce food miles and the consequent use of fossil fuels in transportation, keep chemicals off our plate and create community.”
This project is exemplary of the way in which permaculture projects flourish in all contexts; empty green spaces surrounding urban flat blocks are often not seen to be utilisable for food production. Such an eco-innovative vision has the potential to be replicated across all urban frameworks globally. If all the green spaces around urban estates in cities such as (for example) London, the biggest pollutant emitters would become more environmentally sensitive, whilst simultaneously empowering (often working class) communities who do not have easy access to organic and healthy produce. Outside of the community context, permaculture projects in cities have also cropped up in the home sphere. The Permaculture Research Institute spotlights the story of Dale and how his family grows food for 6 in his backyard. With zero gardening experience, the family successfully harvested ‘beans, peppers, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, herbs and more’. Dale even describes how he managed to build an irrigation system and rainwater collection system.
Similarly, the platform also spotlights the work of Scott Jackson, who describes the movement of ‘Permacultura para Deptos’ (Permaculture for Apartments) where permaculture work is carried out in houses and flats in the city Córdoba, the second-largest city in Argentina. Jackson describes his day teaching two sisters how to grow a variety of plants and seedlings. “Using permaculture design to activate ecological production systems within the city is an uncharted and fertile territory where we can expect to improve our health, create bountiful green spaces, generate our own resources, and expand our ecologically-oriented economies.” These three case studies are eloquent examples of community expansion via permaculture design. In the example of the City of Melbourne community food farm, this is the most evident. However, community relations are also nourished in the example of the family home and the sisters in Argentina; by tending to plant life you are able to provide your small community with sustenance and a bonding activity. Alongside your plants, the quality of your relations also grows.
Permaculture and Refugee Communities
One of the most powerful ways that permaculture has been used for community is in the context of refugees and refugee camps. Rosemary Morrow’s organisation Permaculture for Refugees carry out projects in camps, training refugees on Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) courses. On these courses, students are taught “permaculture principles and strategies, from harvesting water and waste recycling to alternative economies and group decision-making. These invaluable skills and knowledge are applicable anywhere: in the camp, at home should they return, or to support their integration into host communities.” The Bangladesh Association for Sustainable Development (BASD) reported that the impact of the course for the Rohingya refugees in the camp was significant; 1500 refugees were practicing permaculture techniques and strategies for growing food, in the tiny and formerly unfavourable spaces in the camp.
Our Project in the Lesvos Community
At Sporos Regeneration Institute the aim is to foster community connections as much as possible within and via the farm; vegetables and fruit that are farmed and harvested are donated to the farm guests and wider community – this includes native Lesvos residents and organisations, or projects that work with the refugee communities in the camp. Guests to the farm are invited to learn about permaculture and agricultural practices – these essential and invaluable skills that can empower students to learn about self-sustainability and eco-conscious living. The community of residents who have worked to help at the farm range from permaculture experts, refugees, locals who have lived in Lesvos their whole lives and international volunteers. In what can be a very difficult context, Sporos represents the power of permaculture in fostering community spirit via a simultaneously nurturing and respectful relationship with the surrounding natural environment.
One of the most key elements of permaculture practice is careful, considerate and close observation of your surrounding natural environment. If you take care to observe the trees in your walks through a nearby forest, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a species who present the phenomenon displayed in the image below:
This here is ‘crown shyness’, where trees leave space between the crowns of their own and adjacent trees for certain community support benefits, including not encroaching on other trees’ sunlight exposure and reducing the risk of the transmission of viruses from tree to tree. This wonderful phenomenon from arboreal life represents one of the key tenets of group cohesion – it is a demonstration of respectful, co-operative and mutual flourishing of members in a community. Throughout this piece, we have seen example after example of considerate and sustainable coexistence within human communities via permaculture principles and practices, and observing our plant and animal counterparts brings us even more representations of such considerate and sustainable community living. Through permaculture we can learn much from the communities in our surrounding bioregions, to be implemented within our human communities and also the wider ecology at large.
Written by Nazan Osman, Edited by Sporos Regeneration Institute July 2021
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Milies Village, Lesvos, Greece
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