Seeking Out the Edges: A Permaculture Perspective

Seeking Out the Edges:
A Permaculture Perspective

Alyssa, Dan, and Jennifer in the 2015 Permaculture Design Course. Photo by Aaron.

Alyssa, Dan, and Jennifer in the 2015 Permaculture Design Course. Photo by Aaron.

I took a blind leap in 2015, and signed up to take a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. As a long-time gardener, I had been feeling tired and burned out. While I loved eating my home-grown food, the work output was weighing on me. I hoped that the PDC would offer ideas, insight, and just plain inspiration for me to continue growing a large portion of my own food.

I didn’t realize at the time that Permaculture is about so much more than agricultural ecosystems, so much more than gardening. While I did find ideas, insights, and inspiration that helped me plant seeds in my garden for the coming year, I also saw the application of permaculture principles in many different areas of my life. Over the course of the PDC, I became intrigued by the concept of “social permaculture”.

One of the Permaculture Design Principles suggests the value of using edges and valuing the marginal when developing a permaculture design plan. In nature, this Principle might best be seen at an edge between two biological communities or landscapes. In the transitional place where land and water meet, for example, we might find greater diversity of animal and plant species than either ecosystem could support on its own. It is thought that more action happens at these edges, these places of transition.

I wondered, though, could this concept also apply socially? What if we all chose to live by this Permaculture Principle and seek out the edges in life?

I noticed that, personally speaking, it can feel easier to steer clear of those edges. There is comfort in the familiar, the known. It feels safer to stay within that familiar, to stay in my own ecosystem, so to speak, than be pushed to an edge. However, living in or near that social edge may actually prove to be the most fertile and inspiring place to be.

I also see the potential for greater conflict in the edges. I may choose to hold strong to who I am and be unable to integrate the gifts brought from a different ecosystem. What if, instead, I chose to lean into that edge with curiosity, engaging with the difference and the potential conflict in front of me? Even in the face of conflict and difference, I may leave a more balanced, whole, diverse being.

What else is there to explore on the edge?

I know that as a midwife, my work is on an edge. The beauty and rawness present when new life makes its way into this world is humbling and inspiring to say the least. I see new mothers, pushed to that edge, showing up with greater courage, presence, and ferocity than they even knew was possible.

At the beginning of the book Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, by Rosemary Morrow, there is a quote of a Vietnamese saying, “You can’t do anything on your own.”  As much as I might want to do everything on my own, I am realizing that I need those edges to remind me over and over again that doing things with others and exploring that uncomfortable place of difference and transition allows for a richer life experience.

A common phrase used in consensus decision-making is that “everyone brings a piece of the truth.” Permaculture reminds me to seek the places where I can better see and hear all pieces of the truth, especially the ones that don’t come from me.

As I plant new seeds in my garden this year, I now see the limitless applications of permaculture in the form of my new rain gardens, a polyculture fruit orchard, my newly open heart and the presence of new friends. I now seek out that edge.



Alyssa Martin has been living a rich life at Dancing Rabbit since 2006. She spends her time gardening, homeschooling her son, serving pregnant women and their families via her work as a Certified Professional Midwife, dancing, playing ultimate frisbee, knitting, and loving life in a vibrant community.

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