Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dick Pierce's Permaculture Design Course

Today I attended the first class of Dick Pierce's Permaculture Design course here in Austin. Permaculture is a way of designing with nature to create self-sustaining farms at varying scales, and I've become so interested that I actually shelled out $600 and all my Saturdays from now to December to learn about it. I don't recall when or how I was first turned on to permaculture, but I believe it was when I came across the "Permaculture Pack" video collection while searching for Landscape Architecture materials on a torrent site a few months ago. 

From what I understand so far, a Japanese man named Fukuoka became critical of destructive Western farming practices imported to his country following WWII. He reacted against these new non-traditional methods by forming his own farming system centered around working with nature to do as little work as possible. Fukuoka's insight and success was paralleled by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who in the 1970s worked to develop and popularize "permaculture," a system of organizing nature's naturally occurring systems to foster self-proliferating soil fertility and yields. This type of farming has been expounded upon by highly successful small-scale farmers such as Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, who was featured in the critically acclaimed book The Omnivore's Dilemma (one of my all-time favorites.)  

Permaculture seeks not only to create self-sustaining farms for personal and community use, but to begin reversing the damage being done by humans to the planet's ecosystem and to ourselves. It is also focused on developing a more harmonious and fulfilling human lifestyle and has ethical considerations at its core.  I realize that this all seems a bit hippie, and being hippie in any capacity is not something I've ever been much interested in.  Yet permaculture has strong scientific backing and empirically measurable successes, and to me it just makes good common sense. Why should we create an ultra-complex system of petroleum-based farming that is costing us billions of dollars and exploding our rate of debilitating disease? Does the sun not provide enough energy already? Can we not use the hard-won fruits of our intellectual evolution to organize natural patterns into a highly efficient system while at the same time eliminating pollutions and wastes? 

We can. If we can develop a new iPhone every year then we can figure out a way to feed ourselves sustainably, and permaculture offers a path towards that end. Ultimately, I would like to utilize the knowledge gained in Pierce's Permaculture Design course to create a sustainable farm on my father's modest acreage in Montgomery,  as well as on future clients' properties as a Landscape Architect. In the shorter term, I hope to use some of the designs I create throughout the course in my MLA application portfolio.

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