Monday, 30 September 2013

Permaculture: respecting your place within the ecosystem

Worm bin, permaculture. (c) Wikimedia Commons.

Life is not just about reading and writing great books. One has to eat too.

As creatures of Mother Nature we may call ourselves animals and be reminded that, initially, we were supposed to - at least before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century messed everything up* - live as an integral part of an ecosystem and, along with other species, participate in the nature's food chain.
Similar thoughts re-entered my head several days ago at a Sofian community centre 'Adelante' where our fellow EVS volunteers Marko and Dora from other Bulgarian organisations were giving a lecture about permaculture.

Talking about permaculture: (right to left) Marko from Serbia, Dora from Hungary, and the translator. Judging by the amount of people who turned up at the event at the community centre 'Adelante' that day (all the seats were filled, some people had to stay standing), the topic was up-to-date and relevant. 

Permaculture (= permanent agriculture), the movement started in the 1970s by the Australian naturalist Bill Mollison, seems to be promoting an updated version of the lifestyle that our farmer ancestors had practised for thousands of years: staying in harmony with the nature.

Although at times it sounds rather hippie-like and New Agey because of all the love and harmony it promotes, the ideology of permaculture is, actually, quite a rational way to be - if your aim is not to leave any ecological footprint and to be self-sustainable.

You are supposed to look after the earth and the people, and not to take more than you need. You have to arrange your farm's plants and animals in a way that mimics the surroundings and relationships they would be having in the wilderness. The arrangement has to fit nicely into your farm's natural landscape: hills, forests and water sources.

You zone and layer all the living components of your farm around your house according to certain rules that are designed to give the most benefit to you, to the plants and the animals, and to the environment. You create around yourself a balanced ecosystem of which you become a part.

If you like to live close to nature, permaculture seems quite a creative and philosophical way to be. With all the myriad rules and principles to take into account, it is not the easiest craft to learn, and a good way to learn is through practical experience.

Both volunteers have worked at permaculture communities. Marko has been at a few workcamps and farms around Europe, and Dora is currently helping at a small village of Vlahi located in the Bulgarian Rhodopi mountains. 

* Although I am not necessarily saying that we all should go back to the gloomy pre-industrial times.

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