Permaculture and Christians

You need permaculture. If you aren’t familiar with the term, you may be surprised by how intuitively sensible it is. You may be surprised how much permaculture you already practice without even knowing it.

I was really surprised by how many sites came up for a basic search on “christian permaculture.” When, a few years ago, I read through a summary of David Holmgren‘s “Permaculture Principals,” it had struck me how well it fit into the kind of pursuit of Jesus that is aligned with a pursuit of the kingdom of heaven. All this time, I guess I sort of thought I might be the only one who had made that connection. It turns out that there are actually a lot of christian organizations that are involved with aspects of permaculture, including feeding impoverished communities abroad and teaching biblical principals in the states.

What I wanted to do today was give a really brief overview of permaculture theory. The term “permaculture” was coined in the 1970s (as much of our ecolingo was) by Bill Mollison, who explains the importance of permanence in agriculture, and in culture in general. In a society enamored of turning resources into trash, living in light of the future is unusual, set apart, and holy. For the sake of proper credit, you should know I am referencing Holmgren’s principals as titled in Permaculture: Principals and pathways beyond sustainability. The explanatory language is, of course, my own.

There are twelve principals of permaculture, and the first six principals are:

1. Observe and interact. While the Bible contains a lot of explicit direction, God also provides a lot of instruction in the design of our bodies and environments, about how to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion.” We can discover and pursue his intentions, instead of enforcing our own intentions.

2. Catch and store energy. Instead of relying on our invented units (dollars, watts, barrels), to determine value, let’s be aware of how energy moves through systems: plants, animals, and their products are all valuable forms of energy and are part of God’s provision.

3. Obtain a yield. Where humans alter a natural environment, we should be improving on God’s original design. To me, this principle covers a lot of ground. The original intention of this principle is to use edible or productive plants and components instead of decorative landscape and box hedges. I believe it also applies to building development: we must be really sure that the value of what we are putting in is more than what we are displacing. For instance, the social and ecological value of forest is probably higher than the social and ecological value of cheaply built houses, or box stores.

4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback. This means when we design systems, we should design them to require little maintenance.  In creation we have lots of examples of systems that did not originally need human assistance: forests, oceans, freshwater ecosystems, etc. When a system we have designed turns out to need a lot of assistance, that may be an indicator the system could be improved.

5. Use and value renewable resources and services.  God has already provided a lot of resources for us to use in glorifying him- instead of trying to upstage his design, inventing machines and substances that do the same things faster and dirtier. Describing this principal, Rob Hopkins says “Where nature can take some work off our hands we should let it.”

6. Produce no waste. This one, for me, may as well refer directly to the creation account where God says the whole creation is good. He doesn’t have some cosmic trash island the size of Jupiter spiralling in space; all the things He made in the act of creation were good. Permaculture insists that “waste is a reflection of poor design.” As image bearers, I think we can get closer to God’s example when we design our systems.

Cool. So, Edythe is ready to move on from mama’s blog time; we’ll be back tomorrow with the second half of the permaculture principals. Please do comment: which of these ideas seem the most useful to you? The least?

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3 comments on “Permaculture and Christians

  1. Beth Martin says:

    In the last couple of years, I have really put more thought into topics like these. I admit, other than the public school recycling routine, I hadn’t really allowed myself to reflect too heavily on things of nature WITH God. I have thoroughly enjoyed nature in places outside of my home, but had never really integrated this appreciation in my day to day life.

    Upon giving birth to Rachel (induced, 4 days early, for no real excusable reason – the doctor simply offered!), and then dealing with her contracting of MRSA while in the hospital, I took it as a wake up call that hospitals, doctors and modern medicine are not authorities who are the be all, end all. Rachel ended up only nursing for 4 months because she was not gaining enough weight – a result of the “mini-pill” that was not supposed to affect my milk supply. Because of this experience, I began questioning the use of hormones as birth control. Because I began questioning hormones for myself, I then began researching about hormones’ affect my child(ren), mainly in food sources. Yes, organic food is sometimes painfully more expensive, but consider the alternative, and the long term effects on health! (By no means am I perfect on this – I still enjoy the occasional ice-cold Coke! But my regular, everyday grocery choices have definitely been changed.)

    My latest experiment has been with cloth diapering. Until a friend of mine began cloth diapering a month ago, I had never even considered it. My vision of cloth diapering was very outdated – prefolds with hideous beige plastic pants. Even though my own mother had cloth diapered my two younger brothers, I had figured it was a primitive, unnecessary ritual. Now I will say, my first draw to cloth diapering was the cost factor. I had figured that between Naomi’s current age of 5 months and about 2 1/2 for potty training, we would blow through $1500 easily. How many other things could my husband and I be doing with that huge chunk o’ change? What things am I prevented from doing for God’s kingdom because of the money spent on disposable diapers that could possibly irritate the precious skin of my ezcema-inclined daugther? Simply because the idea of washing diapers sounds so *beneath* me?! In addition to the cost factor, the environmental consequences are staggering. In my researching of cloth diapers, I saw a small photo essay about flushable liners and disposable diapers in a compost pile. One year from the first picture, and that sucker was still completely intact. Now times that by 8 diapers a day, times millions of American babies.

    Anyway, I have babbled on and on (husband is out of town, and it’s 10:30!). I guess I just wanted to say that the ideas you’ve presented are definitely worth thinking about. I had never really thought about environmental issues and God in the same sentence, when really they do belong together. Seeing God in nature with new eyes has been very inspiring to me. I’ve always imagined trees and plants growing upward because they are reaching up *their* hands in praise to the Lord – and that I should in every circumstance, because how much more does He care for me?

    So if you excuse me, I have to hot-wash my load of diapers! :)

    p.s. I nursed Keira for 13 months easy, and Naomi is a happy nurser at month 5 – simply because I refuse hormones now!

    • melodyadele says:

      Wow, thanks Beth! Cloth diapering is a big choice to start out, but now that you’re doing it, don’t you find it easier than you expected? In spite of all the environmental and health considerations you mentioned, I think it’s the work load that deters most people. But it’s really not that bad! When I really thought about it, I figured popping diapers into the wash and moving them over was not really any more difficult for me than buying huge costco boxes of diapers and wipes( and possibly special disposable bags for them), and then hauling all the stuff out to the trash in the alley again. We’ve really enjoyed our diaper system.
      Beyond that, I really appreciate how you connect your choices in your family, for materials and resources, to our relationship with God. I understand cloth diapering, for instance, isn’t for everyone right now, and other families make different choices to reflect that priority. But the example we set as parents is so important. When a kid’s artwork gets scribbled on or his tower gets knocked over, he feels violated and disrespected: I think children can understand the parallel to how God must feel when His creation is defaced as well. However we can set an example of protecting the natural world, our kids can easily see that as respect and love towards its Creator.
      Thanks again for your comment- I’m glad the diapers are going well, and congrats on the steady nursing! Good to hear from you!

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