Permaculture: Optimizing the Edge – Series Two

Permaculture: Optimizing the Edge – Series Two

by Stacey Lyn

In the gardening aspect of permaculture, we have things called plant guilds, meaning a number of plants that have complementary functions or purposes. A plant that pulls nitrogen out of the gaseous state of the air and bonds with a bacteria found in the nodules of leguminous plants, for instance, to make the nitrogenous compounds available to their host plants. In exchange, of course the plant gets sugars from this relationship with the Rhizobium bacteria.

Or the classic Three sisters, corn-beans-squash combo, of native tribes in North and South America. Beans provide bonus nitrogen to and climb up the sturdy corn stalk which requires extra fertile soil. Squash covers and shades the ground beneath and its spiny branches provide a Do Not Enter sign for pesky munchers wanting to freeload in the corn patch.

Let’s see if there aren’t ways in which this second principle of Permaculture can’t be used to show us new and interesting perspectives on our economic and social lives as well. We’re talking about ‘connections’ today: using Toby Hemenway’s Primary Principles for Functional Design at his website: “Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.

We all know what traditional agricultural fields or even smaller gardens look like… straight rows of single plants, all spaced evenly apart so as not to touch each other. This is how the individuated Western mind of our times likes to do things. What else looks like rows of cabbage as far as the eye can see? Well, um, planned development, suburbia, tract houses. Odd how we’ve planted ourselves in isolated little rows like so many heads of cabbage, all evenly exposed to the sun, yes, but also all competing for identical nutrients from the soil, trying to capture, but unable to hold onto rain fall, no protection from the sun or the breeze thatevaporates moisture out of our exposed bodies, sticking up out of the bare ground.

What else looks like this? Parking lots or freeways (if there’s a difference at some times of day), school desks, grocery store shelves, pictures on a dating site—or hell, they don’t call them ‘cubicle farms’ for nothing! Just like in the traditional garden setting, all ‘like plants’ are competing for the exact same resources at the exact same time from their environment and vulnerable to the same ‘evaporative factors’ as well. In essence, designing this garden structure in the rest of our lives, sets us up for competition and survival concernsbecause we’re over-exposed to the ‘elements’ and surrounded by competitors who want exactly what we want when we want it. By virtue of this situation alone, there is usually not enough of whatever that is, and at least perceived or circumscribed scarcity is the result.

Let’s dig into that a little bit more, economically. The choir I’m preaching to here, likely understands the whole ‘consumerism is bad for the planet’ argument. But sometimes we’ve a harder time pressing back with all the ways our ‘heads of cabbage’ styled economy is bad for all of US as well. If every head of cabbage/household needs its own lawn mower, car, shop-full of its own tools, closet-full of its own clothes, box-full of its own toys, kitchen-full of its own high-end single-function appliances, etc. those were all bought with the money, orwealth-nutrients, that our economy extracted from the community—from us—the soil. And then ALL of those things we all had to buy separately for ourselves is subject to various types of wind and sun exposure, like theft or damage against which we buy various types of warranties and insurance policies—a further extraction of our wealth-nutrients through a form of economic evaporation—that both evaporates our economic resources to protect what we already have, but also our emotional resources to worry about losing what we already have. And it’s hard for the brain to let go of what might happen in the future. It’s expensive to guard against potential loss.

What would an economic plant-guild look like in a community? Well, we’re already doing a lot of it: people are forming co-work spaces, tool and kitchen libraries, car/ride sharing, skill shares, worker-owned cooperatives and collectives of various kinds, crowdfunding, crowd sourcing, open-sourcing, etc. People are stacking layers of connection to build an economic food forest in their local and global communities that turns all of us who participate from vulnerable heads of cabbage baking in the sun, to multi-layered, interconnected, emotionally and economically linked, interdependent woven strands of strength, knitted together for our own mutually assured surTHRIVAL!

Think of the impoverished uniformity of economies of monocultured scale versus cascades of diversity in interconnected nodes of a nutrient-building, decay-utilizing ecosystems applied to the economy!

But just like separation is how we’ve always done things—always as in ‘just started’ in the evolutionary sense—hodgepodge isn’t the answer either, although it may be its opposite. Successful plant guilds aren’t thrown together because we happen to have all of those seed packets lying around from last year. They are designed and intensionally constructed in order to be of mutual benefit to each other for the long haul, even if some of them are ‘sacrificial’ chop and drop species that are cycled through the system as support species because of the nutrients they collect and then decay back into the soil. It can be easy for the awakened social consciousness to just throw intellectual antibodies at the problems we face in our world today—and those may be good learning curves—but they aren’t where we need to end up. Remember that ‘the number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements‘.

When we build those economic plant guilds in our communities, don’t be afraid to design for specific yields, and to leave out specific aspects if they don’t serve this guild, although they might be great contributors to another guild. And don’t be offended if the circumstances or the design intensions of a guild or cooperative effort of some kind that is forming does not ‘plant you’ in their guild right now. Leave room for the co-creative processes of the Universe to have something else in mind for you. It could be useful to notice that sometimes in life we are the garden designer and other times, we are the plants being designed into the garden. Picture the angry expression on the onion’s tiny face when you elect not to plant him next to his friend he got to know in the kindergarten class of the starter tray! His little fist raised up at you who knows such a more perfect place that you’re going to plant him in that will be absolutely perfect for him to grow and thrive!

We are both the gardener and the garden…and the produce…and the nutrients…and the soil…and the rabbit eating the garden…and the humans eating what the rabbit leaves…and all of the rest of it. It matters how we engage with every aspect of every level of every economic and social garden we grow or plant in because we are each all of it.

To access Stacey’s first article, click Permaculture: Optimizing the Edge – Series One.

About Stacey Lyn

Stacey has been engaged in brain science and the study of consciousness in one way or another for her entire adult life. She is the owner of Optimize Me, Brainwave Optimization, a holistic, natural way to help the brain see itself, find its ‘home room’ resonant frequency and return to balance. “For me the connection between our collective brain’s current state of imbalance and how it got that way points directly to our disconnect with the systems and processes of the earth and our ecosystem, as does our collective way home!”

Stacey has been invited to write a series of permaculture articles for the newsletter.  We hope to have her out to present on this topic and share her insights around her field of neuroplasticity.