True Permaculture in "Zone 0"

As yet another round of Michigan snow forces us inside, perhaps like me, you’re warming up by the fires of imagination, dreaming elaborate Permaculture fantasies then widdling those down into concrete and careful plans for the next planting season.

This time of year is when I find I’m most attached to the garden we’re building. I too easily get stuck in daydreams about its future, and even when I’m outside in the garden now, I can fail to see the beauty of the winter landscape through my visions of a mature, prolific food forest.  
I’m reminded that there are a million ways I could easily lose this homestead through natural disaster, man-made catastrophe or even simple, human stupidity–as families have lost their homes and all their possessions only to prove later that it was all over nothing more than a small bank error. 
One of the benefits of “Perma-culture” is that buiilding a more resilient, enduring “culture” confers a more resilient, secure life for those building and investing in it. It gives us practical strategies to build REAL wealth that’s less susceptible to the whims of a financial system built on elaborate fantasies. 
And yet, any of us could lose our possessions in the blink of an eye. 
So a “Permaculture” that’s mindful of that impermanence would do well to focus on the things that can’t easily be taken away. Here are some things that help me when my mind turns to the fragility of what we’re building:
1. Invest in community. At Lillie House, we’re especially proud of our large collection of edible and medicinal perennials and self-sowing annuals. By helping our community learn to value and adopt these plants, and sharing when we’re able, we ensure that we’ll continue to have access to them if we lose our garden. And it provides us with access and support if we ever need to rebuild. 
2. Focus on skills and experience, not possessions. The three years I’ve spent watching our young food forest, experimenting with guilds and learning from nature have been the most valuable education I’ve ever had. There is no school that teaches the skills I’ve built in rennovating and improving the sustainability of our old home in accordance with the principles of Permaculture. 
3. Emphasize wildcrafting and invest in public commons. If I were to lose my income and gardens today, I am confindent that I could easily forage my food for the year from within a short distance of my home, and probably even create a source of income from wildcrafting value-added products. Projects like community coppice lots, guerrilla gardening and food forests create more security and opportunity for everyone. 
4. And finally, while its official status as a “zone” is controversial in Permaculture circles, I appreciate the traditions that teach us to work on “Zone 0,” or the self as we work on the other “zones” of our property. Because ultimately, what’s left when everything else is taken away? As a non-religious person, there are a few tools that I find particularly helpful as I work on Zone 0: Yoga and Tai Chi for the body-mind connection; the philosophies of Sotto Zen (the most secular form of Buddhism) Daoism, and Epircurianism (which is quite different than the popular conception and very similar to the other two philosophies) because they are all studies of how to live a happy life; and daily seated meditation, as a way of getting to know my mind and be at peace with myself, the only thing that’s truly left, when everything else is taken away. 

3 thoughts on “True Permaculture in "Zone 0"

  1. Excellent and thought-provoking as always, thank you for sharing. I totally agree about sharing/distributing plants, that's one of my favorite ways to connect with people (and perpetuate the spread of good and useful plants). Point #2 you made reminds me of this article I just read; Dmitry Orlov is one of my favorite writers and analysts of our current predicament: your point #3, I'm curious about what your main foraged calorie crops would be—walnuts, acorns, hickories, sunchokes? Point #4 is something I need to work on, I'd like to get into some kind of meditation practice to “ground” myself a bit more in the world. Sam Harris makes a good case for this in this presentation:

  2. Hi PJ, thanks for sharing those two great links. I've long been a reader of Orlov, but Mr. Harris is new for me. I like his approach. As for #3, I would heavily rely on high-calorie root crops. Jerusalem artichokes are plentiful around here, but so are evening primrose roots, which are available all year around, even after the plants have gone to flower.

  3. (Continued) Beyond that, Chicory can be winter-forced for excellent greens (along with pokeweed and dandylions) though I would consider the roots a survival food. I personally consider nuts as more of a condiment, because they tend to be a pain to harvest and process. Though they are a great source of protein. Acorns make a good calorie-rich soup and flour, though I like cattail flour better. Some of the best pancakes I've ever made were 50% wild grass seed flour and 50% cattail pollen. The pollen gives a wonderful honey flavor and the wild grasses can have a rich nutty flavor.

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