‘Permaculture is revolution disguised as organic gardening.’ (Mike Feingold, community activist and designer quoted in ‘DO IT YOURSELF: A Handbook For Changing Our World’ Ed. By the Trapese Collective)
I packed my rucksack and left behind the tranquil farm in West France to head to a sustainable community of artists/activists/organic farmers and all round lovely people in Brittany. Chapter 1 of my journey WWOOFing seemed to focus on inner peace and self-awareness. Now I’ve moved onto chapter 2 which is all about how to bring that peace into the wider world and create autonomy in a small community, as well as how this can be used to inspire and impact wider society. There is no hierarchy in the group and no one is in charge, everyone works together and lives as equals, keeping communication flowing when decisions need to be made.
So, for the next month or so my room is a caravan in a big field which is shared with donkeys, big polytunnels full of organic vegetables as well as veg plots, eco showers and a compost toilet. And by eco showers I mean a bucket of cold water thrown over the head. My coeliac information sheet in French is stuck onto the notice board in the communal space next to the self-organising chart for cooking and washing up and voila I have landed!
I’ve heard the word permaculture a lot and been involved in various permaculture projects without even knowing it but I’ve never really looked into exactly what the phrase means. Today I learnt that it is a holistic approach to tackling the many problems we face in a capitalist world struggling with an enormous ecological crisis. It is the creation of a more sustainable future. The term was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holgren to describe a growing movement in ecological design for sustainability. ‘Permaculture’ doesn’t just cover the design process of permanent organic agriculture but also describes a set of shared values needed to sustain community and the environment.
Three integral aspects of permaculture’s ethos are People Care (taking care of oneself and each other. It’s about making sure your own actions don’t cause harm to yourself or others. This includes making conscious consumer choices e.g. boycotting food suppliers whose produce relies upon underpaid workers using chemicals which damage their health and the support of campaigns for fairer working conditions), Earth Care (opposing that which further destroys ecosystems, working to restore damaged land and using only as much land as is necessary to live) and Fair Shares (This focuses on the fair use and exchange of skills, resources and money to maximise people care and earth care as well as sustainability. WWOOFing is a great example of a fair share!)
The fantastic thing about the collective I am staying with at the moment is they are putting all these ideas into action. It is truly inspiring to see and hear about all the on-going projects here from forms of activism using consensus decision making to organic farming to natural health to permaculture design and so much more! They eat mostly vegan and plenty of food fresh from the land. The name of the collective sums it up perfectly, La « r.O.n.c.e. », (aka Resist. Organise. Nourish. Create. Exist) and I feel overjoyed to be able to share in this way of life and learn more about how to put the ideas of permaculture into action.
It’s only my 3rd day here and I already have a hundred and one ideas about future projects that I can begin/get involved in. It is fantastic to know that there are people out there living the dream and that it does work. We simply do not have to accept a way of life that is damaging to people and planet, another world is possible and it’s up to us to make it work. I’m left with a similar feeling of inspiration and enthusiasm as when I visited embercombe, a sustainable community in Devon.
People can and are doing it and there is so much that we can get involved in from community garden projects to supporting local farmers to riding the bike to work to setting up a skills based share in our communities (e.g. babysitting in exchange for French lessons). You don’t have to live off the beaten track in an eco-community to make a difference, there is something that we can all do. I can’t wait to find out more about all the different ways of living and working towards a truly sustainable future.
Watch this space!
The first days in pictures: