Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

The Culture of Permaculture

How much do you really prioritize your health? What happens when you’re faced with an illness that doctors can’t treat? Do you resign yourself to the inevitable, or do you work and hope for what may be an exercise in futility? These were questions that Colleen Dick, a mother, wife, and resident of Alpine, UT, was asking not long ago. Several years ago, Colleen was diagnosed with a disease and given a commonly prescribed medicine by her doctor. Unfortunately, the medicine itself made her ill. Her doctor then told her that there was little else he could do for her, essentially telling her she was beyond help. Colleen didn’t take this as an ultimatum, though; she took it as a challenge. Colleen holds a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Biochemistry, so she decided to search for alternative cures to an otherwise untreatable illness . . . and she found them. She didn’t find some miracle pill or experimental drug, but her own personal cure revealed itself to be even more effective than a simple medicine. Colleen discovered that healthy living was exactly what her body needed to fight off invasive sickness, and she realized that this type of organic, natural remedy can be applied to many diseases and disorders.

In the years since Colleen graduated with her degree in nutrition, she’s witnessed a dramatic increase in entirely preventable ailments like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Diabetes patients have been getting younger and younger over the years, she observed, and there is a limited window of time when an adult can maintain good health. Colleen believes that this rise in poor health has two fundamental sources: poor diet and lack of exercise, and a global disaffection from natural living. Processed foods and sedentary lifestyles have become the norm, leading to a serious decline in society’s overall health, and placing a barrier between civilization and nature that was never intended to be there. She saw that this false barrier can prevent us from becoming truly healthy, and decided to seek out ways that humanity can fight back and reconnect with the natural world, an enormous resource that has until recently provided everything that we need to thrive. During her journey to find means of healthier living, Colleen became acquainted with several activist groups that are doing a lot of good, including the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance. However, even though she believes that what they do is important, Colleen didn’t want to focus her efforts on political activism. Instead, Colleen wanted to promote a completely natural lifestyle, one that took advantage of nature’s own recycling and maintenance systems. At first, Colleen considered the benefits of organic gardening, but practitioners of organic gardening still use some chemicals and still use fuel-powered tools. Eventually, she stumbled across a term that she wasn’t familiar with: permaculture.

Permaculture is a system of agriculture that utilizes the natural processes of the earth to grow healthy, organic produce without the use industrial tools and chemicals. Permaculture activists maintain that the reason that modern, factory-farmed food lacks vital nutrients is because the earth and the soil are themselves unhealthy and over-tilled.

Although ideas similar to permaculture have existed for a long time, the modern system of permaculture was first conceptualized in the mid-20th century, when a man named Bill Mollison began working with wildlife groups and fisheries in Tasmania. There, Mollison would closely study the ecology of the area. He learned from his time in Tasmania that humans can easily rely on food that nature provides, and that plants and wildlife will take care of themselves in diverse ecosystems. This was in stark contrast to the processes of modern agriculture, where nature is bent to the will of man. By maintaining the natural balance of an ecosystem and encouraging pollination, plants will grow better and further enrich the surrounding soil. The soil remains layered and unbroken, utilizing its own recycling process and sustaining its moisture. Later, Mollison teamed up with a man named David Holmgren, and together they devised a method for permaculture farming that involved digging deep trenches to catch rainwater and recharge aquifers. This method utilizes minimal human interference, although the initial digging of trenches can be arduous. However, after the trenches are in place, the farm work becomes minimal; the land is self-sustaining, relying on the natural cycles and seasons of the earth, and no tilling is needed.

Once Colleen discovered permaculture, she began to search online for groups dedicated to promoting the movement. She eventually made contact with Harrison Quigley, a man who maintains a “living, breathing showcase” of permaculture in Taipei, Taiwan. Colleen plans on meeting Harrison in November, and they have some grand designs.  Although permaculture is a great idea, it is not easy to implement when the public knows little about it and time-tested and culturally-embedded agricultural methods are still engrained in society’s psyche. To combat these preconceptions, Colleen and Harrison, along with a group of like-minded individuals, plan to design and build a small community that is centered on the physical implementation of a permaculture farm and the communal and natural ideals that accompany that lifestyle. To find out the details of this plan, readers can visit Colleen’s informative website www.stateofgrace-living.org; she also moderates a Facebook page and Twitter account for her group.

To quickly summarize the website’s information, the group plans on purchasing a portion of land in Southern Utah to accommodate a small community of around 300-400 people. According to Colleen, Southern Utah is the perfect environment for such a community, because the elevation changes so much that several different types of ecosystems are possible. The community will comprise different areas, or “circles”, which emphasize different characteristics of the natural lifestyle. The first circle is the Institute of Higher Learning, which emphasizes the teaching of holistic health, the physical aspects of permaculture, renewable energy, and artistic endeavors. The second circle is the Hospitality Center, which focuses on events, activities, presentations, fine dining, and the sharing of gifts and talents. The third circle is the Prototype Community, which is meant to provide basic and aesthetic needs for inhabitants. Eco-village concepts such as co-housing for families will be adopted, as well as gardens, forests, waterways, fields, and greenhouses; personal business ventures, as well as farming and animal husbandry, will be encouraged.

Although the community is still in its conceptual design stage, the group has attracted many individuals with a range of expertise, from architecture to city planning and, of course, permaculture design. The community is meant to be a resource to the world, and as such will be open to any who wish to put their busy lives on hold for a short while in order to invest their time and effort in helping promote these ideas. The group is open to people from all walks of life, as long as they are willing to forego unhealthy lifestyles and support the community; people from any race, region, or religion are invited to make the community a home (for a very small cost). Colleen and her colleagues are heavily involved with the project, so the community will definitely be in good hands. She sees this as not only a socially and culturally important project, but a spiritual imperative as well. This project connects Colleen with her pioneer ancestors, who forged new paths and started new communities with the hope that they would be of benefit to the human family; in her view, Colleen is doing the very same work. She believes that care for the earth and care for humanity are moral responsibilities, and she takes them very seriously.

Permaculture is not simply a method for agriculture, but a way of life, one which is addictive in its natural simplicity. Those who are dedicated to promoting peace, to protecting nature, to perpetuating happiness and good health, and to producing strong communities are well on their way to adopting the new culture of permaculture.