Growing an edible, urban ecosystem one backyard at a time

Permaculture Principles in Everyday Life Part 4 – Principles 10, 11, and 12

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Welcome to the final post in this series on permaculture principles in daily life. This time we’re looking at the final four permaculture principles: “Use and Value Diversity,” “Use Edges and Value the Marginal,” and “Creatively Use and Respond to Change.”

If you’re interested in reading the first three posts, here they are for easy clicking:

Remember, depending on the teacher, the permaculture principles you find may differ from these. In this series, I refer to the twelve Permaculture Principles laid out by David Holmgren in his book, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (amazon affiliate link). I’ve bolded the principles covered in this post.

Holmgren’s Twelve Permaculture Principles

  • Observe and Interact 
  • Catch and Store Energy
  • Obtain a Yield
  • Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  • Produce No Waste
  • Use Renewable Resources and Services
  • Design from Pattern to Detail
  • Integrate Rather than Segregate
  • Use Small and Slow Solutions
  • Use and Value Diversity
  • Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  • Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Use and Value Diversity:

Of course, we know that diversity is important, and the kinds of diversity are, well, diverse. In the realm of biology, we have species, genetic, and ecosystem diversity. In society, we have cultural-, racial-, and neurodiversity, just to name a few. To use and value diversity is to consider diversity as, not just a good idea, but a resource. Think of the saying “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Diversity creates resilience across all areas of life, from systems in agriculture to finances, to social organizations.

Use and Value Diversity In The Garden

The go-to example of this principle in action is polyculture gardening and farming. We know that monoculture systems are more susceptible to diseases and pests and require more chemical inputs than polyculture systems.

In the home garden, planting a diverse range of plant species naturally increases the diversity of other populations — mammals, birds, beneficial insects, fungi, and microbes. This diversity helps create a healthy, resilient garden requiring fewer interventions from the gardener to control pests and diseases.

Use and Value Diversity In Life

Nutrition

We all know that it’s important to have a diverse diet. Eating a wide range of foods ensures that our bodies get the macro and micronutrients, we need to build strong healthy bodies. Think about the saying “Eat the rainbow.” This nutrition advice seems to come straight out of permaculture.

Society

Diversity is critical in our communities. Countless benefits come from conversing and working with people from a diverse range of backgrounds, ethnicities, histories, and experiences. Multiple perspectives lead to greater creativity and innovation, as well as increased empathy and care for one another.

Parenting

In parenting, embodying the principle of “Use and Value Diversity” involves offering a broad spectrum of activities and experiences that engage and enrich childhood. It extends beyond activities to embracing and celebrating differences–recognizing that children may differ from their parents or societal expectations. Encouraging an appreciation for diversity involves fostering a mindset that values and respects individuals who differ from them, nurturing a foundation of understanding, empathy, and acceptance.

Use Edges and Value the Marginal

“Use Edges and Value the Marginal” encourages us to recognize the potential in transitional spaces. For example, the shoreline, where land meets water, or the forest edge, where two ecosystems intertwine. These edges are not only zones of diversity but also areas of opportunity for increased productivity.

Marginal spaces with extreme conditions such as colder, hotter, wetter, drier, acidic, or alkaline, are home to organisms with unique adaptations. Embracing these overlooked areas allows us to tap into the resilience and creativity born from adapting to challenging conditions.

Use Edges and Value the Marginal In the Garden

In permaculture landscape design, we often start at the edges. For example, by planting a groundcover to line a pathway, or vines to grow up an existing fence. In the latter example, the space along the fence would otherwise be wasted space. The property edge becomes valuable real estate for growing things, and the fence suddenly takes on multiple functions, as a division between spaces, a trellis, and perhaps added privacy or shade.

It’s important to observe microclimates on a site, mitigate their negative aspects (if these are “problem areas”), and select plants adapted to the specific microclimates we observe.

Other marginal spaces might be easy to overlook or undervalue. Think of a verge (the strip of land between the sidewalk and street) planted with a rain garden or fruit trees rather than the standard grass.

Use Edges and Value the Marginal In Life

Transitional Moments

Times of transition can be the most difficult times of our lives but also the most beautiful. Think of those first few weeks after bringing home a new baby, the first few days of a new school year, or the first moments of a new relationship. These times of transition offer fertile ground for creativity, reflection, and unexpected opportunities.

Pushing Comfort Zones

When we get too comfortable in our lives and routines we stop growing. This principle challenges us to step outside our comfort zones. Socializing with new people, trying new hobbies, facing fears, and gathering new experiences provide opportunities for personal growth.

Time management

I think that productivity is over-glorified in our culture, but increasing productivity is still a goal many of us share, including myself. Looking for productive ways to use those awkward moments between the main events of our day can make a big difference. An example off the top of my head is using those few minutes you’re waiting for your coffee to brew or tea to steep to empty the dishwasher. Or, using the time spent commuting on the bus to write a chapter of your next novel. It’s between the edges of life where we can find these pockets of productivity.

If productivity isn’t your goal, maybe this looks like using these moments to take a few calming breaths or even a nap to separate from the hustle and bustle and bring more balance into your life.

Creating Boundaries

Another way we might use this principle is to create boundaries that serve us. This could be social boundaries to protect our time, physical space, or emotional health. Or it could be building a structure into our daily routine in the form of time-blocking or scheduling tasks.

Similarly, improve work-life balance by putting clear boundaries between your work and play time, perhaps divided by a period of transition to allow your mind and body to adjust to the next phase of the day.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change

In permaculture, “Creatively Use and Respond to Change” underscores the need to adapt and innovate in the face of evolving circumstances. This principle urges us to view change not as a challenge but as an opportunity for creative solutions and resilience. Let’s explore how this principle unfolds both in gardening and in various aspects of life.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change In the Garden

Gardens, with their dynamic nature, often unfold unpredictably. Some plants resist our plans, while others flourish unexpectedly. Significant events, like the fall of a large tree, reshape the environment, introducing new light or wind patterns.

Alongside noticeable changes, subtler shifts occur – trees casting more shade, evolving product demands, or external influences from neighboring yards. A garden undergoes continuous growth and change, demanding our adaptability.

Challenges arise with these changes, yet the permaculture mantra, “the problem is the solution,” reminds us to view them as opportunities. It encourages us to creatively tackle the issues that change introduces, emphasizing that adaptability is the key to a flourishing and evolving garden.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change In Life

“Creatively Use and Respond to Change” can easily be applied to many situations in life. It’s almost always beneficial to be flexible, and when unexpected changes arise to use them as opportunities for growth.

Career and Personal Growth

In Career and Personal Growth, this could mean embracing unexpected shifts as chances for personal and professional development. For instance, finding yourself in a remote work setup opens the door to exploring innovative approaches and adapting to a different work environment. Rather than seeing it as a hurdle, observe how such changes can creatively enhance your skills and broaden your professional horizons.

Health and Well-being

When it comes to health, this may involve acknowledging the natural progression of life. As we age and face shifts in health, we can creatively respond by exploring new wellness practices, adapting our physical activities, and embracing changes in routine. This adaptability contributes to a holistic approach to aging, fostering resilience and a positive perspective on evolving health conditions.

Parenting

In Parenting, this might look like navigating the ever-changing landscape of raising children. Embrace the uniqueness of each child, allowing their interests and personalities to guide your parenting approach. When a science enthusiast decides to explore art, observe and support this creative shift, recognizing it as a valuable part of their journey. This adaptable parenting style contributes to a thriving family dynamic where each member can grow and flourish.

Conclusion

I hope this series got you thinking about how the permaculture principles might apply, not just in the garden but also in your life. Observing our own lives through a permaculture lens can be enlightening, but it can also be discouraging. It might feel like it’s too hard to do things in a “permaculture” way. But take heart and withhold self-criticism. Self-observation and self-awareness aren’t always easy or comfortable, but they’re important first steps (just like principle 1, Observe and Interact). Making small, incremental changes (small and slow Solutions) that benefit the earth, yourself, and your community will come in time.

That wraps up this series. Happy growing, in the garden and life.


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