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The course I took in Northampton showed me how social change (or stasis) is interwoven with my personal/ecological choices. It also showed me how a lot of my choices already reflect that concept, how I just didn't notice the connection. I'm happiest when sharing skills with my community: learning how to grow, cook, ferment, can, and pickle food, and then gather with others to teach each other or pass on our surplus. For my birthday last year, there was a "grubbing bee." Soon, there'll be a grain mill to share around. And of course, there are other examples, like throwing massage parties, which aren't about how we relate to food, but how we relate to our bodies and each other.

Now, what does permaculture matter to you? More than you might imagine, actually. There's a good chance you're recycling resources back into your community, like at a clothing swap, or sharing them, as in a group household. Pooling childcare. Attending bodywork & energy shares. Group art. Passing along sourdough starter. Teaching someone to knit. Selling each other local eggs and meat. Really, whatever things we do to put ourselves into our connections with other people and our surroundings, instead of handing a credit card to a faceless corporate fictional entity.

Yes, permaculture can get vastly more esoteric, simultaneously back-to-basics and cutting-edge. Yes, I'm excited about the idea of taking raw land and starting an edible forest garden, which might be years or forever away. Yes, I want a graywater system and a pond with fish and a root cellar (and a pony). I'll settle, though, for all the new perennial plantings (which, I didn't mention, will involve sledgehammering concrete to install), the rain barrels, a clothesline Carl's been building, remaking the compost pile for optimal performance, digging up and rebuilding our first depleted raised bed with a bunch of permacultural ideas, and designing a solar greenhouse for use next year. Well, okay, maybe I'll settle for a lot less, given all the annual crops to play with too. And, y'know, the vagaries of the universe.

My favorite example of permaculture-at-work in my life, right now, is the results of the cold frame, this first year of use. It has outperformed my wildest hopes. We had claytonia and mache, little salad greens, until February, of this winter. Then they sprang back in March, as did some of the winter lettuce that died off in December. Sylvana has been nibbling them like a bunny, and I've handed off large bags of greens to friends. Surplus to share in April. Meanwhile, the overwintered kale and scorzonera are thriving, getting a huge head start on the seeds planted in March/April. And next year, I expect we'll be doing a lot more winter harvesting, now that I know what's possible.

I'll leave this with a couple of recommendations, if your interest has been piqued. Gaia's garden is awesome as a means of understanding and applying permaculture at a small, even urban level. It's beautifully written and accessible, and I'm happy to loan mine around.

And if you'd like a taste of the overarching, holistically-different thinking that the course was trying to inspire in us, here's Andrew Faust, my favorite guest speaker. He spoke without notes for a couple of hours, tying ideas together in rapid-fire succession, so none of the clips available is going to do him justice, but they'll at least demonstrate how different a paradigm permaculture advocates, and what a shift in thinking it can require.
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It took me several months to read No Impact Man (subtitle: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process). Not because it was drudgery to read it, but because so much of it was thought-provoking - and I had thought of myself as living a reasonably thought-provocative lifestyle already.

Manhattanites Colin Beavan and family try to reduce their waste and carbon over the course of a year, experimenting radically with how they live and discovering (often to their surprise) what they value. Beavan's point is not self-denial in order to be virtuous, but finding virtue and abundance in living differently.

If you're really resistant to the idea of substantially changing your lifestyle, do not read this book. If you wish to avoid the impetus to reconsider your choices, to look afresh at your behavoirs, to wonder what really makes you happy, do not read this book. Or the blog. Or see the movie (which I haven't yet seen, so can't recommend, but presumably it makes the same points).

I'm done with mine for now. Anyone local want to borrow?
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There's been a lot going on for me internally, lots of processing and re-evaluating, coinciding with a recent birthday. It is, though, perhaps better expressed in person; I'm not sure I can even write about it. Meanwhile, I've still got a couple of posts grumbling at me about being unwritten. So, here's a book that really made me sit up and take notice, a couple of months ago.

William McDonough and Michael Braungart come from very eclectic, varied backgrounds. This explains in part how broad in scope their observations and ideas are. The basic underlying premise of their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, is that we are going to have to think much farther out of the box, much further into the future, than we currently are, to solve our environmental problems long term.

It is not a scolding book, nor a gloomy one, but an optomistic and creative one; still, it does paint a rather terrifying picture of how dangerous an environment we are currently creating for ourselves. To quote an early paragraph, "That plastic rattle the baby is playing with - should she be putting it in her mouth? If it's made of PVC plastic, there's a good chance it contains phthalates, known to cause liver cancer in animals (and suspected to cause endocrine disruption), along with toxic dyes, lubricants, antioxidants, and ultraviolent-light stabilizers. Why? What were the designers at the toy company thinking?" Well, obviously this question hit me rather hard; and, frankly, it got across to me things that [livejournal.com profile] starphire had been trying to communicate all along, that one cannot assume that things made for children are safe for them.

So do we not give the child a toy? Do we not make the toy? No, says Cradle to Cradle, we make the toy out of materials that are safe for the child to interact with.

But what about the fact that it's still trash, after it gets broken or outmoded or whatever? It's nice if I got it as a hand-me-down, and if I can pass it along the line afterwards, but eventually it's going to end up in a landfill - or, worse, burned, which will release toxic chemicals into the air. The toy was never designed to be anything more than a single-life item. It needs to be designed to be fully recyclable: not as an afterthought, not "downcycled" into a subsequent single-use item (of lower-quality material), but as a material that can be safely and efficiently used and re-used and re-re-used.

And what of the process by which the toy is made? One of the most shocking facts for me to absorb in here, of many shocking facts, was that the toy only represents about five percent of the materials used and discarded, in its making. I am unconsciously throwing away twenty times as much as I directly use, which is a phenomenal amount of waste. The process needs to be re-envisioned, the book contends. We need to copy nature's processes, wherein waste equals food.

It all gets more complicated from there, and I can imagine rereading this book (which, slow and picky reader that I am, I very rarely do) to better imprint the ideas on me. If you'd like to borrow it in the meantime, speak up. It will hold up to many readings: it's not actually made of paper, is waterproof, and is the only book I have unhesitatingly let Sylvana play with.

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