The Things We've Buried: A Piece About Permaculture
My father has always prized his lawn. From early spring prospers a perfect, fertilized green meticulously watered through summer, lovingly combed at the first sail of an autumn leaf, and finally frozen beneath snow until the brown, matted blades show through the winter thaw to be treated and trimmed for another season.
Although I never imagined I’d have useful advice on the subject, I learned something recently: nature doesn’t actually require all of this human tending to stay healthy.
From lawns, to gardens, to sprawling vegetable-hearty landscapes across the region, permaculture is reminding us how the natural world endures.
Permaculture is unique compared to other types of agricultural practices. Although humans place the original design intentionally, it is only after careful thought and observation of the environment and landscape. The success of its growth and resource is the product of nature’s organic work, rather than toil, tractor, or chemical fertilizer. It works upon a shared understanding of specific ethics and principles that encourage all of the elements (people, animals, weather, water, etc.) to work in harmony, resulting in a perennial ecosystem. This resilient phenomenon relies on nature’s adept replenishing and sustainable qualities and provides numerous forms of nourishment for the environment and its population in return. “We are nature working,” says Amelia Curtis, permaculture farmer, designer, educator, and co-owner of Heart and Hand Design Company. “Not in the sense that we are the controllers at the top of the pyramid, but that we are one of the many integral parts within the web of nature.”
The story of this whole-systems design began in the seventies with two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, who wanted to mirror the natural patterns found in nature to create long-term agricultural systems. A prominent example of these patterns is the crucial role that leaves play in a forest. They sustain the forest’s trees by catching and storing sunlight for energy and continue to offer immense benefit once they’ve fallen, participating as a cover for the ground. This crunchy blanket, a hallmark that winter is nearby, creates a barrier between the laden, frigid snow and the soil beneath, providing a microenvironment for insects and worms that nibble at the nutrient-dense leaves. The combination of nitrogen-rich waste from the insects and the leaves’ carbon-rich decomposition creates a natural compost to feed the soil just in time for the next season’s hungry, yawning growth, which would be lost without the supplemental prodding of its bed.
This spherical act of mutual reliance is called interdependence, and has forever existed in natural ecosystems. The staff and visitors of D Acres Permaculture Farm and Educational Homestead in Dorchester also practice interdependence through communal living and their mission to educate people about sustainable living, small-scale organic farming, and the impact we have on the environment. Josh Trought, executive director of the not-for-profit farm, describes the system as a lifestyle that provides tools to address the challenge of our ecological impact, “as well as a common language to redesign our culture.”
Interdependence becomes clear through the different designs of permaculture and its community of winding paths, harmonious relationships, and healthful plants that feed each other along with the elements that helped create them. Some of these plants may be considered weeds to many, but they actually have huge benefits to human health and soil. Nettle is one such plant, rich in vitamins A, B, C, E, F, K, P, as well as Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, and 16 amino acids. This plant can be sautéed in a bit of oil, salt, and garlic, dried for tea, or incorporated in soup stocks and broths. Comfrey, another plant that might have a poor reputation because it spreads quickly, enriches the soil through its long-reaching roots that create a nutrient-packed mulch. Comfrey also serves a healing purpose, particularly for external use on cuts, scrapes, and burns. Its genus, Symphytum, fittingly means to “unite or knit together.”
The healing plants, multipurpose greens, and sustaining flora of permaculture are bringing to light vital lessons that we’ve overlooked during intensive, unnecessary labor. Perhaps you will try letting a layer of leaves accumulate on your lawn to protect it through the winter, or integrate complementary items in your garden to reveal the natural world’s wisdom. Who knows what’s been buried beneath our grip, waiting for the chance to bloom.
Permaculture Design Courses offered in New Hampshire include:
University of New Hampshire, September – December with weekly meetings. Please contact Amelia Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
D Acres Farm, Dorchester, New Hampshire, May – November meeting one weekend per month for 7 months. Please contact Steve at 603-381-1798 or email@example.com for more information.