The South Side Permaculture Park is designed to be an experimental laboratory and learning center for teaching people about permaculture theory and practice, while serving as a model for rebuilding society in a way that is not just sustainable, but regenerative.
The techniques in place in the gardens demonstrate low-maintenance, perennial, self-regulating production systems for providing decentralized food, medicine, and materials while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere to build soils, increasing biodiversity, and beautifying the community. These are techniques that can be adapted and replicated on even the smallest plot of land, even in a pot on a porch, that will contribute to increased food stability and local autonomy within the community. When we start to see how the systems work and see how we too are a part of them, then we become more attuned to these natural feedback loops and our systems become more stable, more productive, and our overall quality of life improves dramatically.
Permaculture is a holistic design philosophy for creating integrated, regenerative systems.
It is more than just growing plants; it is a lens through which we see the world and approach problems. Permaculture is not an ideology in and of itself; it is not even a formal set of ideologies. Rather, it is more like a language- a tool for thinking about problems and talking about solutions.
The ethics and principles of permaculture create a framework for addressing the issues of today’s society- not just around climate change and ecosystem destruction- but issues of social and interpersonal origin as well. In contrast to the capitalist economics that teach that efficiency is produced by an ever-increasing division of labor and fragmentation of the production process, constantly siphoning wealth from the environment into arbitrary boundaries of the “economy” to feed an insatiable hunger for profit, permaculture teaches that abundance and stability are achieved by integrating diverse components into systems where every element performs multiple functions and every function is supported by multiple elements. The output of any element in the system is the input of some other element. Waste is eliminated and turned into surplus. Human systems become Earthly systems.
In permaculture we look at whole systems and how relationships between elements within the system work to build something greater than the sum of their parts.
For example, one who has been indoctrinated by the dominant culture of reductionism and fragmentation might look at a forest and see some trees, a few deer, birds, and squirrels, and maybe some ferns and raspberries; all as separate entities occupying roughly the same space. In permaculture, we see the forest as a whole system: a single entity.
Take a look: the tall canopy of the trees acts as the respiratory tissue- analogous to our lungs -that filter particles out of the air and produce abundant, clean oxygen for the rest of the forest to breathe. The trees also act like a skin, shielding the ground from the harsh rays of the sun, slowing down strong winds that might blow away loose, fertile soil, and dampening the force of heavy rains that would otherwise contribute to erosion. Beneath the surface, the fungal network takes on the role of the digestive system, breaking down the long-chain polymers in the fallen wood and leaf litter, releasing the stored nutrients to be consumed again by the forest. The squirrels act as stewards of the forest, burying nuts today that will become the canopy of tomorrow, feeding them for generations to come. The deer roam around, consuming small understory plants and young trees and redepositing them as rich, fertile manure. Raspberries hold the deer at bay with their thorns, providing a safe haven where young trees can grow large enough to withstand the browse of the deer and become the next-generation canopy. The berries attract the birds, who also feed on insects and larva that might otherwise burrow into the trees and nuts and render them unusable to others.
Diverse components are woven together with relationships that create a stable, self-regulating system that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
We humans too are part of that system, even if we don’t see ourselves as such. With every breath we take, we engage in a relationship with the green plants. With every bite we eat, we fuel our cells with the life’s work of other organisms. Every action requires energy from the surrounding system and has some impact on those surroundings; we are inseparable from the system.
It is an unfortunate truth that the very structure of our society- the construction of our roads and buildings, the nature of our farms and food distribution systems, the organization of our economies and financial systems, and the legal framework that keeps it all in place — breeds people who are disconnected from the feedback loops that keep systems in check; we have become blind and deaf to the larger systems that we are a part of and that we interact with every moment of our lives. (How it came to be this way is the subject of a future post).
Our industrial culture has become a cancer on the organism of Earth; replicating without bound, consuming endless resources, and poisoning our host, leading to our eventual demise.
But it doesn’t have to be this way; we can rebuild our infrastructure and rewrite our culture to be more in touch with these feedback loops, allowing us to create stable, regenerative systems, even in the face of a changing climate.
Over time, we will create a decentralized, self-regulating food system so that when the oil runs out, when the massive monoculture farms fail, when superstorms destroy the highways, and the shelves at the supermarket run dry, the South Side will be ready.