Permaculture involves using innovative methods to create sustainable ways of living. Its aim is to develop ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere. The potential of permaculture lies in how resources – water, food, energy and shelter – are carefully used. It is possible to achieve a lot by using a lot less. Permaculture can be used in city flats, gardens, allotments, community spaces, farms and industrial premises.
Permaculture gets its name from its original name: ‘Permanent Agriculture’. It is more than just a set of gardening techniques. It’s a design philosophy which focuses on creating human systems for human needs. But it does so by using natural elements and ecosystems as a form of inspiration.
Permaculture teaches people how to grow food, build houses and set up communities, whilst minimising the impact on the environment at the same time. And a community in Portugal, called Tamera, is showing the world the huge potential of permaculture, and how it coincides with the goals of sustainability.
Image credit: Permaculturenews.org
Transforming barren land
This peace research village has the goal of becoming:
“a self-sufficient, sustainable and duplicable communitarian model for nonviolent cooperation and cohabitation between humans, animals, nature, and Creation for a future of peace for all.”
Tamera is located in the Alentejo region of southwestern Portugal. Its permaculture project has also been pretty successful.
By using simple practices, such as digging swales (ditches) and creating water retention spaces, Tamera’s ecology experts have transformed an area that was close to desertification (1). And they claim that they can do this anywhere in the world (although I’m not sure how successful this would be in the polar regions).
Bernd Mueller, director of Tamera’s Global Ecology Institute, notes that when he came to the community in 2006 the trees were dying and the wells were drying out. In the summer the place looked like a desert, without vegetation. In the winter there was heavy rainfall, but most of the water was causing soil erosion and damaging the infrastructure, rather than being soaked up by the earth.
The aim of the permaculture project, then, was to retain all of the rainwater. So they built structures like swales, which fill with rainwater and slowly filter into the earth. Mueller highlights a principle in permaculture called the triple S – slow, spread and sink. He said:
“When you have flowing rainwater, something in your ecosystem is wrong. You have to slow it down, spread it over the land and let it sink.”
Mueller was surprised by the transformation. By February 2008, there was a creek going through the valley, which brought lush vegetation and animals, since wildlife respond immediately to a constant source of water.
The Tamera experiment has been presented to the EU because of the exciting prospect of transforming an arid region in Portugal into fertile land (2).
It is a great achievement that could be replicated in many other arid regions in the world. Indeed, the potential of permaculture is very reassuring in a time when agriculture and modern living is anything but sustainable. Mueller wants the community to be a model for the rest of the world. He has travelled the world to consult on water projects. And he has found that:
“When you scale the ecological problems down to principles, it’s all due to the same mistakes. In all the cases I have seen all over the world, the key to ecosystem restoration is rainwater and vegetation management.”
The great potential of permaculture is that it could possibly be applied in areas experiencing extreme drought or famine, such as South Sudan (3). The country has similar ecological conditions as Kenya, where Mueller says he has seen how effective this kind of permaculture can be.
There are some other interesting aspects to the Tamera community. For example, they espouse the philosophy of free love (4). So in the community, people may have more than one sexual or romantic partner. This is similar to polyamory – in that an individual may have multiple sexual partners – but differs in the sense that it is free, so there are no rules, agreements or contracts.
Other sustainable communities have a kind of hippie vibe to them. For example, Sadhana Forest, originally set up in India – but now with communities in Kenya and Haiti as well – involves a schedule where you join a ‘morning circle’ at sunrise (5). It’s a ritual where everyone holds hands. Everyone is then asked to breathe deeply and hum three times before being invited to sing a song or play a game. The circle then ends with everyone hugging each other.
Sadhana Forest also offers yoga, meditation, tai chi, shiatsu, free dance and many other alternative healing therapies.
Of course, this may be exactly the kind of atmosphere some people want. While for others it may sound like a complete nightmare. What it shows is that living sustainably is very intimately tied in with living alternatively, in a way that many perceive to be more positive. These communities aim to treat themselves, others and the environment with care. And that aim in itself should be applauded.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
I’m currently a Writer at The Canary, covering issues relating to the food industry, drugs, health, well-being and nutrition. I’m also a Blogger for Inspiring Interns, where I offer careers advice for graduates. If you have a story you want me to cover, drop me a message on Twitter (@samwoolfe). You can also check out my travel blog (samreflectsontravel.com) and personal blog (www.samwoolfe.com) to read my articles on philosophy, psychology, and more opinion-related content.