May 20 2015
This week’s blog post was written by one of my students at Western Carolina University. I hope that you enjoy learning about her green living experience!
After two months at this extraordinary place, I can barely remember my views on the world before the Green Apprenticeship at Kibbutz Lotan in the Negev Desert of Israel. After two months of living and learning about permaculture design, I have a newfound understanding for the relationship between people with each other and with the planet.
Permaculture is based on 3 ethics – Human Care, Earth Care, and Fair Share. Essentially, this means all human and environmental needs are met, and no (or very minimal) waste is being created; the idea is to “close the loops”.
When we look at things as cyclical, we can realize that – even in the harsh, arid climate of the Arava Valley – many systems can be put in place to use what would otherwise be wasted. For example we used composting toilets to collect “humanure”, which could later be used as compost. Food scraps were used in making compost, fed to the chickens or worms (whose castings create incredible soil conditioner), or sent to our homemade biogas system, which then powered the stoves we used for cooking food again. Grey water (i.e. water previously used in sinks, showers, laundry, etc.) was fed to plants, and thus naturally purified before reentering the water table, and plastic bottles, styrofoam and other packaging waste was stuffed into old tires and used as insulation for building mud structures. Permaculture can truly be manifested into every aspect of living, but for now, let’s just focus on the food.
There’s a distinct, satisfying value that can only be realized when you find yourself digging into a pile of food scraps to sprinkle onto your “lasagna garden”, meticulously arranging rocks for an herb spiral, or sleeping with a bottle of EM (Effective Micro-organisms) fertilizer to keep it warm at night. To many people – even to many farmers, these tasks may sound outlandish; but permaculture is rooted in practicality, and sometimes the most practical things are also quite unconventional or silly. But these are the things that make organic food production a fun, engaging way to employ human labor, build community, and create abundance and health for all. And in my opinion, a hard-day’s work should always be celebrated by eating a big shared meal together using what you’ve worked hard to grow (I must say, the potlucks we had together were incredible – lucky for us, swiss chard is an uncontrollable weed at Lotan, so we had chard dishes on an almost daily basis)!
Enjoying our day’s harvest
There are about a million different techniques for growing food organically; some more organized than others. For example, Square Foot Gardening – a method that is great for beginner gardeners with limited space – divides a 4 x 4 ft square bed into 16 smaller squares. In each square, a different crop is planted; the density of plants means a plentiful harvest and little room for weeds to thrive among other advantages. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution promotes Natural Farming (also referred to as “do-nothing farming”) – a method of growing food which requires no cultivation, no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by tillage or herbicides, and no dependence on chemicals. In natural farming, ground cover grows amongst grains and vegetable crops in orchards, through which animals like chickens may run freely. The idea is that nature will take care of itself, and what is meant to grow together will thrive; we can just seed-bomb and watch life come into existence.
Regardless of the method used for growing, a common theme in organic growing is companion planting, which we experimented a lot with at Lotan. The idea behind companion planting is that the placement of plants should be done according to how well they serve the other plants’ needs. The outcome is pest control, pollination and a balanced soil, serving as a habitat for beneficial creatures.
A classic example of companion plants are the 3 sisters: corn, squash and beans. These plants were grown together by Native Americans, and support each other’s growing patterns and needs (beans fix nitrogen, corn supports climbing beans, squash serves as living mulch, etc.), and together form a balanced diet. When we look at companion planting, we can see that foods which are often eaten together grow well together, for example basil and tomato; and correspondingly these plants provide complementary nutrients.
As an American, I’ve grown up in a food system characterized by monoculture soybean fields, plastic-wrapped Little Debbie’s, and organic chard sold for a whopping $5/bundle. The current state of our country distances us from our land and our food, but we can create our own abundance in something as simple as a vertical garden on our apartment balcony, a worm bin in our coffee table, a patch at a community garden, or by “seed bombing” our own backyards. Though farmers are horribly underappreciated, we can help them by contributing compost, supporting them at local farmers’ markets, and most of all, becoming conscientious of the techniques used to grow the food on our tables. If we start growing and connecting with our food, we can truly feed the world.
Making furrows and mounds in the garden
For more information about the Green Apprenticeship, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.kibbutzlotan.com/#!green-apprenticeships/c1sf9
Guest Blogger and Honors Student in Denise Barratt’s Food and Culture Class at Western Carolina University