Grandma Matthews did not like going to the chicken coop when she was a girl. She lived on a small farm just south of Corder, Missouri. “I would go into the chicken coop and those chickens would just fly everywhere, and . . . ughh!I hate chickens.” She loved her milk cow though. “That was the best cow. She was a little Guernsey and she was just the best little cow. We milked a few cows, and the milk truck would come around and pick up the milk to sell. That was part of how we made a living.” I need to ask Grandma about a garden. I’m guessing she had a garden, too.
Troy “T” Matthews here, transmitting from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, where the green is giving way to brown and I haven’t taken a dip in the pond since September. I’ve planted a little kale in the hoop house and my parents came to visit for a couple days. Dad and I loved the coconut cream pie at Keith’s Café.
Just this morning I saw a sticker that said, “Eat healthy, organic food. Or—as your grandparents called it—Food.” Whatever happened, I wonder? It depends on who you ask, I suppose.
“It depends,” by the way, is the answer to most questions if a person is looking at the world through permaculture-colored glasses. I just completed my second week recuperating from the 10-day permaculture design course taught here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Sixteen students from around the country came to learn about permaculture design.
What in the world is permaculture anyway, you ask?
As part of the PDC, I developed a so-called elevator speech to have at the ready in case anybody ever asks me what the heck permaculture is. We have no elevators here at Dancing Rabbit, but we do have folks sitting on the front porch or in the cafe of the Milkweed Mercantile, ruminating and off-gassing about various topics every day while enjoying a cup of hot coffee or tea. So, I’d like to think of this as my sip-of-coffee speech.
To me, permaculture is a way of conscious-living that regenerates all Creation. I know it sounds vague, so let me break it down.
The word permaculture originally referred to “permanent agriculture.” Permaculture is one way to do agriculture (and many other things), but it’s certainly not the only way. As we learned throughout the course, the answer to almost every question in permaculture design begins with, “It depends.” It depends on the soil. It depends on the water. It depends on the lay of the land. It depends on what I already know. It depends on how much work I can commit to or how much help I can get from my community. It depends.
I better explain what I mean by conscious-living, too. I mean paying attention. I mean thinking about how I’m living. Life is a whole bunch of small daily decisions and what I try to do is be conscious about making them. I give them some thought. I pay attention. I often see that some of my little decisions are at odds with what I hope the big picture will look like in the future. I can use this awareness to make some changes in my behavior.
On my way back from getting chocolate chips out of my truck, before sitting down to write this article, I picked up a pear from the ground. I don’t know if you all had those big straight-line winds several weeks ago, but one of our pear trees was knocked down. The first pear I picked up had a big bruise on the top third, so I ate what I could from the bottom. That didn’t take long, so now I have a pear-core with a bruised top to do something with. What can I do with it? Look at me making a conscious decision in my daily living about what to do with my pear. I could throw it off into the grass where it would decompose as it nourishes another part of Creation. That seems acceptable. I could also take it in the kitchen and put it in the compost bucket that will eventually get fed to the chickens. I hear chickens don’t mind eating bruised pears. I won’t feed the chickens myself but I know someone will. (This has me wondering if my chicken aversion is genetic; maybe I don’t like chickens just like my Grandma Matthews?) Chickens make delicious eggs which I will enjoy. This option is not only acceptable but preferable to me. I chose to put my leftover pear in the compost for the chickens.
There is also a dumpster that the garbage truck picks up and I might have put my pear in there, but then it would get hauled away. Recently, more than once, I was reminded, “There is no away.” Hauling things away is not the best option for me. Garbage trucks use a lot of energy and don’t make delicious eggs for my breakfast, so I’m sticking by my conscious decision to put the pear in the compost bin for the chickens. I didn’t think about this at the time, but I could have also walked right down to Ted’s chicken coop and fed the pear to the chickens myself, no intermediary. I will check with Ted about this for future reference.
Did you already forget about the chocolate chips I got from my truck before I picked up the pear? I didn’t. I’m paying attention. I’m living consciously. I realize that chocolate chips are not native to Scotland County, Missouri, where I now live. The plastic bag the chocolate chips were nestled into is also not a local product or an environmentally-friendly product. My truck is not very “eco” either. Since I’ve begun thinking consciously about how I live in relation to regenerating all Creation, I’ve begun to wrap my head around the idea of selling my pickup. I’m consciously moving in the direction of not having my truck or not owning a personal vehicle. Here at DR, we can reserve one of three shared cars or a truck. We also try to have more than one person along for the ride, carpool, or take some recycling to town to minimize the overall miles driven per person. More on that some other time, but the truck issue does bring up another concept within permaculture which is the transition ethic.
The transition ethic is about not being able to change everything overnight. Most of us—me included—will make many smaller (with a few bigger) changes over time to get to the new place we need to be. This is okay if I survive in the process, I suppose. I can be stubborn though. Like it said on my Uncle Bill’s t-shirt at a family gathering a few years ago, “You can always tell a German, but you can’t tell him much.” My process of transition, of changing, usually involves small, slow changes.
So, what is this word regeneration doing in my sip-of-coffee speech? The concept of regeneration is a very invigorating idea for me. Instead of just doing less bad for all Creation; let’s drive less, pollute less, consume less, harm less. In other words, business as usual but less of it. Regeneration speaks to a new way of living that grows, enriches, enlivens, and improves all Creation and results from this new, conscious way of living. Regeneration is about abundance instead of more belt-tightening.
A way of conscious living that regenerates all Creation. I made a conscious decision to use Creation with a capital “C” to mean an overarching term that does not separate People and Earth. Is this right? Does it make sense? Will I change my mind? Maybe, we’ll see. For the last time, I will invoke the standard answer from a permaculture point of view: It depends.
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