The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CLJY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
June 1, 2006
Title: Permaculture - Farming and Living With Nature
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Vanessa Sanchez
JON STEINMAN: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner - a syndicated weekly radio program produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio.
As of the initial date of this particular broadcast, Deconstructing Dinner is now heard on seven radio stations throughout British Columbia, with all broadcasts additionally available to listen to on both the program's website and through the recently launched podcast feed.
Each week on Deconstructing Dinner we take a closer look at our daily food choices, and discuss how these food choices impact ourselves, our communities and our planet.
On today's broadcast we put into the spotlight a system of growing food that goes far beyond that of organics. It is that time of the year when many of us are in our gardens and local and regional produce is filling up grocery store shelves, and what could be a better time than any to discuss the methods by which the food we eat is grown.
But as is discussed often on this program, the conventional methods that govern how the majority of our food is grown are accompanied by many issues that threaten the very sustainability of these practises. These methods are often accused as those which exploit land instead of working with it.
While these forms of agriculture are increasingly becoming dependent on resources that are quickly depleting or becoming far too expensive to pump into our cars or tractors, it is of the utmost importance to discover alternatives that challenge the ways in which almost all of our food is grown. After all, the industrial forms of agriculture that govern our supply of food are in such a state of infancy, that these methods are still very much an experiment that each of us assist in conducting on a daily basis.
So on today's program we discuss an alternative method of not only growing our food, but connecting all components of our lives to this process. And this system is known as Permaculture or otherwise known as Permanent Agriculture.
To better understand Permaculture, we will hear from Gregoire Lamoureux of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute, from Peter Bane - the publisher of The Permaculture Activist a quarterly publication based in Indiana, and we will hear a selection of clips from a recent presentation by one of the two individuals who coined the term Permaculture - Australian David Holmgren.
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A quick note about the Deconstructing Dinner website, if you do miss any of today's broadcast, you can listen to an archived version on the show's website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner. I also encourage listeners to lend a comment or perhaps a suggestion to the program, and you can do so by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The content of this program often consists of deconstructing the methods in which our food is grown, processed, produced, distributed and sold to us whether it be at grocery stores, markets or restaurants. By deconstructing these methods, we can better understand how the choices we make impact all that exists around us, and when we consume food more than any other product or service, these choices we make are in many ways political, environmental and social acts not so different from voting once every few years.
One of the most common changes many of us have made to our daily food consumption patterns is that of choosing organically grown and processed foods over conventional ones. While the principles of organics may not be so recent, only now has Wal-Mart's American grocery store empire begun offering organic options to their customers. These Wal-Mart grocery stores are by the way planning to enter into Canada shortly. But while organic principles represent far more ecologically friendly food choices, these principles very often only address agricultural inputs and not the entire system itself. On the other hand, the Permaculture concept - the topic of today's broadcast, is one that does address the entire system of how we grow food and additionally incorporates many requirements of human living into this system - whether it be housing, energy resources and land use. Now while we as the general public may not have the opportunity to walk into a grocery store or restaurant and purchase food grown using permaculture principles, understanding these principles can help us better understand the many negative impacts that conventional forms of agriculture have on our planet and ultimately ourselves. But while the permaculture concept may not be practised on such a commercial level, this concept can very much be practised on your own land or in your own community, whether you have a farm, a backyard or even a downtown balcony.
The feature guest on today's broadcast is Gregoire Lamoureux of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute, and Gregoire will take you onto his experimental farm where you will have the opportunity to follow him around his property as he explains the ways in which his farm has been designed.
But to first better introduce the topic of today's broadcast - this topic of Permaculture, we will take a listen to some short segments of a recent lecture conducted by Australian David Holmgren and this was recorded in Vancouver in September of 2005 by the Necessary Voices Society. David is the co-originator of the Permaculture concept that was first conceived during the 1970s. He has authored many of the key books on the topic and has travelled the world instructing others on this concept and how it is best put into practise.
While Permaculture is an evolving concept that is difficult to define, David Holmgren best defines the concept by explaining how Permaculture is a way to reclaim our place in nature.
DAVID HOLMGREN: Firstly, the issue of defining Permaculture I think is always a difficult one, and is perhaps one that I avoided for the first decade after the publication of Permaculture in 1978. I suppose, I see permaculture as really a process for reclaiming our place in nature. And this is not some idea of some romantic liason but a realisation that the limits that nature sets do actually govern human systems, and always have.
Even though we've diluted ourselves in perhaps recent decades, and for that matter recent centuries that we are separate and independent from nature. We need to refind what our place now is in nature. As we said previously permaculture is really a design system and we can think of that as being a design system for both sustainable living and for land use. We're perhaps more familiar with it in its focus on land use, but it's also essentially about how we redesign the way we live individually, in our households, in our communities.
JON STEINMAN: While reclaiming our place in nature is the backbone of the Permaculture concept, the question arises, well what have we as humans done to lose our place in nature?
DAVID HOLMGREN: On the environmental front when I started these presentations a few years ago, maybe it was slightly controversial to say ‘climate change is already happening'. What has been very frustrating to me over the past fifteen years is that virtually all of the predictions and discussion about climate change have been discussion about average temperatures moving this way or that and whether the data indicates this, the footnote in all of the predictions on climate change were increased variability in extreme events. And anyone who understands system dynamics, whether it's in human systems, in human history or in natural systems, understands that it's actually peak extreme events which determine and limit systems not some average, and it's what we have been getting is those increased extreme events.
Land degradation is continuing and not just in places like Africa where the last wood resources are being used. I'm seeing in our great cropping districts that degradation of our prime agricultural soils is continuing. Resource depletion, of course the biggest of which is global oil peak which I'll come back to.
On the social front we've got continuing family and community breakdown, and there's a direct link between this and sustainability issues, resource consumption. I think addictive behaviours have arguably escalated dramatically over the last twenty years, and I don't mean just to pharmacological substances. We joke about the addiction to shopping, to television, to commuting but the real test of how severe these addictions are is to take away the supply and see the behaviour. And I think then we'd see that we are dealing with very serious addictive behaviours.
JON STEINMAN: As some of us are perhaps spending increasing amounts of time in our backyard gardens or have just recently set up a tomato plant on a balcony, as David Holmgren explains, permaculture is very much garden agriculture, and he expands on this by indicating how home gardening and community-based gardening is the most resource efficient way to produce food.
DAVID HOLMGREN: A lot of what permaculture has been about might be called garden agriculture. I suppose that most people involved in permaculture are in fact gardeners. But gardening is not something which is accepted as central to the sustainability debate. We see that it actually is, for a number of reasons. Firstly, gardening is the most energetic and resource efficient way to produce perishable food such as vegetables and fruit. And not primarily because of the elements of the production system but just because it bypasses the whole chain of supply from the farm gate, through all the packaging and processing and transport and storage to final consumption.
In many parts of the world gardening is still a serious part of daily life, and is in fact a huge part of the hidden economy, the household economy. In Croatia we were at the International Permaculture Conference, food gardening is a normal path of certainly small town and rural life.
We didn't set out to be self-sufficient in food but it's interesting that how producing more of our own food than anyone else we know, how powerful a statement that is of a possibility in affluent countries. We also see that the evidence where people, where you have a nation of food gardeners, this is also the best was to maintain health and also reduce the need for resources.
JON STEINMAN: While Holmgren states that gardening is the most resource efficient way to produce food, he also indicates that permaculture is not just about producing food sustainably, but is about redesigning our food consumption patterns.
DAVID HOLMGREN: Permaculture's not just about how we produce food sustainably it's equally about how we redesign our food consumption patterns and culture. How many gardeners have had the experience of succeeding in growing their food but had more trouble in getting the family or the household members to eat out of the garden rather than going off to the supermart? This often seems like a more difficult design problem. Of course the right time to really imbed the skills and culture in the next and future generations is at this age.
So it's interesting that the drip feed culture of four tomatoes from the supermart every week of the year, people have come to think as a natural way of living. Like the drip feed of wages into the bank every fortnight. This is in fact a contradiction of everything we know from history, from nature. Natural systems catch and store energy when they can and use it for later use. Of course, the way that applies anywhere outside the tropics is through food storage and preservation. We use a lot of traditional low energy efficient ways of preserving food rather than relying on the default of the freezer.
JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour radio program recorded at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. You can find out more about the program at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
On today's broadcast we are featuring the concept of permaculture, and we were just listening to clips by one of the originators of the concept David Holmgren. He was recorded in September of 2005 while visiting Vancouver and the recording is courtesy of the Necessary Voices Society. Should you want to listen to David's full speech, you can purchase CDs at www.necessaryvoices.org.
JON STEINMAN: As the Permaculture concept is one that is constantly evolving, there are many institutions around the world that are experimenting and researching the ways in which the Permaculture concept can be applied and practised. One of these centres is the Kootenay Permaculture Institute located in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia. The institute consists of a research farm and offers a number of courses and workshops that allow those in the area to come and learn about Permaculture and then take this information and apply it to their own land or gardens.
The director of the Institute is Gregoire Lamoureux, a native of Quebec who moved into the area in 1990 and onto his current land in 1992. Gregoire offers permaculture courses and workshops at the Institute, but he also travels across the country and teaches these very principles and practises.
I had the opportunity to visit the Institute located just outside the community of Winlaw, and the highlight of the visit was the in-depth tour of the farm which was recorded for those of you wishing to take an audio tour of the farm. Clips from that tour will be played shortly. But I first sat down and chatted with Gregoire and
found out that what makes the permaculture concept so interesting, is that it is one that holds many similarities to those that have been practised by indigenous cultures for thousands of years, yet the permaculture system incorporates modern ideas which allows it to constantly evolve as it is practised.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: They put it together in the late seventies following the back to the land movement and the need for self-sufficiency, but then we went beyond self-sufficiency into more self-reliance. It is inspired from native cultures and old traditional cultures from around the world, so in that sense it's not new, it's the newest part today is where we have access to all the tools to put it all together. The part that I like a lot is that it's an evolving system, it's a bit like nature you never find out everything about something in nature, about a tree or plant or an insect, there is always more to learn.
The system is evolving and we're learning more, we're trying to understand how our system works. Also the idea of permaculture is based on nature, it's about mimicking nature and looking at how nature grows, how the forest grows. Some small example would be in nature, in the forest you don't need to go out there and fertilise the forest, you don't need to plow the soil in the forest will grow and sustain itself. Permaculture tends to mimic this system as a minimum disturbance of the soil and using perennial plants and self mulching plants or using a lot of mulch and building the soil from the surface instead of adding unnecessary outside input.
JON STEINMAN: To better understand how permaculture (or permanent agriculture) differs from conventional agriculture, Gregoire explains how food is a very important part of permaculture but that permaculture goes beyond just growing food.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Sometimes we like to say that agriculture is what causes a lot of problems out there, especially conventional agriculture with disturbing a lot of land, polluting a lot of land, eroding a lot of land and lost a lot of soil. So from a permaculture point of view it came from the word permanent agriculture, so we're looking at more perennial systems using tree crops, shrubs and perennial crops. But it goes beyond agriculture as I mentioned, it integrates shelters, houses, energy and also in the most recent years the whole social aspect and energy (alternative energy) and all these other aspects. It goes beyond just the farming or growing of food.
JON STEINMAN: In answering the question of "why permaculture?" Gregoire explains where conventional agriculture has gone wrong
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: There's a few things that come to mind, for me one would be scale. Once you start looking at land and farms that are a thousand acres, two thousand acres, five thousand acres it sort of gets beyond. Then there's over mechanisation because the farm became larger and larger, it has to be mechanised, then the machines and tractors. When I grew up my dad probably started farming the land with horses and then he traded this horse for a tractor. When I was young tractors had four wheels and then when I left Quebec tractors had eight wheels, and now I go back to Quebec and sometimes I've seen tractors with twelve wheels. And the farmers are getting more and more in debt - farmers have to have a second job. The banks and the companies that sell the equipment are getting richer and richer, so there's a disbalance. The economic system is not very sustainable the way it is. It's very hard to farm and grow food when they are able to bring in food from the outside for much cheaper than we can grow. So that's another big challenge.
The larger plot of land has created a monoculture, that's the other big, wrong turn in the road that we took as we specialised in monocrop. Then you run into all kinds of problems and nature doesn't monocrop, nature doesn't specialise. Nature tends to diversify and that's also again a principle in permaculture that I find really attractive. As you look around this land there's a lot of diversity and there's not just one crop. So if one thing doesn't do well, if the apples don't do well this fall or summer then there's pears, there's plums, there's berries. If the blueberries don't produce well or the raspberries don't produce there's other crops, maybe currents, strawberries that might be vegetables or crops in the ground or herbs - there's always something else to sustain us.
JON STEINMAN: In further expanding on this question of "why permaculture" Gregoire further describes how conventional agricultural systems treat the land versus the way a permaculture system treats the land.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: We tend to impose on the land what we want instead of listening to the land. The land tells us if you have a permaculture idea, again if you have a very wet site then you look for plants that like a lot of moisture. And if your site is very dry you work with drop tolerant plants instead of always trying to change and bring water to dry sites and drain the wetlands, all these ideas that we've done on large scale agriculture that sort of corrupted nature's plan.
JON STEINMAN: You're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner as we listen to clips from my conversation with Gregoire Lamoureux of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute.
Permaculture is the topic of today's broadcast as we take a closer look into this system that is very much one that operates in opposition to the conventional forms of agriculture that dominate our food options. Permaculture goes beyond just growing food and incorporates many components of daily living into the concept. Now while it may be difficult for many of us to quickly start gardening and growing our own food, the permaculture concept also promotes the idea of connecting those growing food to local food systems, and Gregoire explains.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: It also looks at local food systems as well as producing food, more food locally. And the best solution, sometimes we say to a lot of these big problems is to go home and grow a garden. For some us it's easy but for other people it might be more difficult getting access to land and all that. If you're not able to grow a garden, to grow some part or all of your food, then you can buy or support local growers that do.
As you well know, a lot of the food today is transported for a thousand miles or a thousand kilometres on a regular basis. Producing more food locally will also minimise the impact on the environment, supporting other growers and building networks of growers. Permaculture addresses a lot of these questions basically. We don't claim that we have all the answers but I think sometimes we look at, we're asking all the right questions: "how can we produce it more sustainably and closer to home?"
JON STEINMAN: One of the defining principles of permaculture is the use of plants that are best suited to the environment so that all of our food can be grown as close as possible to our homes and communities. This raises the idea of eating seasonally and Gregoire touches on this.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: There is a strong association between permaculture and food that a lot of people think it's just about growing food. There's a lot of myth out there with people thinking it's just another way of organic food or it's about not killing the soil. But food is a central focus, for sure. You're seeing everybody eat, everybody eats every day, most of us three times a day or more and we're always joking in permaculture circles that it's all about food, (laughs) it's all about eating good food. We talk about good food, sharing the food is also important and there's so much diversity again in food. Most people tend to have somewhat of a limited diet but there's just so many different things that we can eat and grow here.
Some people ask if I grow all my food, not necessarily but I try to eat everything I can grow. If you want to eat exotic fruits, as an example bananas, oranges and lemon then we may not be living in the right place but here in the mid of season (July, August) I have access to over 14 or 15 varieties of berries and fruit starts at the end of August, September and there's all kinds of apples, pears, plums, cherries and Asian pears as well and mulberries, so there's an incredible diversity of fruits and vegetables as well. We can grow many different vegetables, a lot of root crops store very well, or squash and garlic store even at room temperature. We can look at the diversity of what can be grown here and start from there.
It's the same with so many different variety of greens today, Asian greens that are very hardy and disease resistant, and pest resistant so they don't need too much attention. There's kale that comes back, the winters are so mild that kale just comes back. I have a whole crop of kale so I can come back and make a salad everyday here or a soup or something. And all the wild food, it is very important to connect will all of the wild food, nettle and even wild dandelion, which is considered a weed for many people, because there's just so much good food in there as well from the leaves, the roots or other parts of the plant that you can use.
JON STEINMAN: As I sat with Gregoire on his farm at the Kootenay Permaculture Institute, I raised concern over many of us not having such large tracts of land on which to practise the Permaculture concept, but as he explains, permaculture can even be practised on an apartment balcony.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: You can apply it on any scale. I am very fortunate that I have access to all this beautiful, fertile land here but it can also be done in your urban backyard, in the suburbs in a very small plot of land or small area, even we like to suggest design for balconies with all kinds of pots. Instead of having just flowers, you can have edible flowers and herbs in pots and a few tomatoes plants and some vines climbing up there and the trellises. You may not produce all your food of course but you'll produce a small portion of your diet. So on the urban scale, very small to a larger there's a lot of work these days with eco-villages, people looking at larger pieces of land and reorganising the idea of living in a village, how do we have a sustainable village, eco-village design really fits in. We could design for this whole valley on a larger scale so any scale, any climate is possible
JON STEINMAN: The highlight of today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner is the upcoming tour of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute that you will hear just shortly. This tour will give you a better illustration of a permaculture system, and the ways in which plants of all kinds work with each other to ultimately feed ourselves and those around us.
Before I embarked on this tour with Gregoire, he explains how plants work together and how these groups of plants are known as guilds.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: In a permaculture system a guild is a group of plants that work well together. So you may have a tree or shrub or herbacious plant that will grow well together. This is evolving rapidly but outside of permaculture there was not as much knowledge about it, sometimes we observe them in nature in the forest, we have guild. But now we're building guilds for edible food or medicinal plants and other uses, and fibre plants and things like that. That was pretty exciting for me.
JON STEINMAN: As we embark on the tour of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute, Gregoire explains how planning a piece of land first requires careful observation.
So there is a strategy in deciding what to plant.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Really observing the land is the first thing you want to do, observation of the nature, the teacher and by taking our time and observing. There's a permaculture saying: just don't do something, just sit there. (laughs) By observing we learn and nature is telling us that there are all these little microclimates on the land.
And the other principle that we use is zoning as you see closer to the houses is Zone 1 intensive gardens, things that you may want to grow every day, all the vegetables, herbs you use every day and greens, peas and tomatoes all closer to the house.
As we walk further then there's the berries zone, what we call zone 2. Berry crops, fruit trees you still need to visit once a while when they produce. You need to harvest them when they're ripen otherwise you can not go as often, it's a very energy efficient system.
That further zone there, zone 3 would be more pasture or cash crop, sometimes I plant potatoes. In zone 3 you plant them, you mulch them, you go once a week. Also there is also the nursery; the taller tree would be the zone 3 nursery.
Zone 4, what we call the forest on the other side of the fence, is all the trees, a very wet forest, there's alders, willows and poplers, a kind of marshland. So the forest that we maintain and harvest either for firewood or we can harvest products that produce from the forest, there's nettles out there, there's different medicinal plants, fiber plants and firewood or wood for building or lumber.
And the last but most important zone is what we call zone 5. Zone 5 is the wilderness. Zone 5 should include all the riparian area, all the riparian area should be protected and you shouldn't be building there or planting there, or growing things there. It's okay to restore if the area has been disturbed. I'm mostly staying out of there, it's the zone for the animals and nature, just doing their thing there and is a very fragile and sensitive zone so the animals need to go and drink and harvest whatever, eat there. They use them as corridors. All the zones that be zone 5 would all be steep hills and the ridges of these zones should be protected.
In the larger picture we can look at the whole valley, and on a small scale my place there are all these zones. It doesn't make much difference, "oh I'm saving a little quarter of an acre there" but if everybody started saying that, doing that and protecting these riparian areas and these zones start to be connected and make sense. You've got corridors and I think that's the most important part in the system is the zone that we leave alone.
JON STEINMAN: After now better understanding how zones are determined within a Permaculture system, Gregoire continues the tour through these various zones on his property.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Permaculture is about zones, we're looking at zone 1, the house is here so we do two steps when we're in a garden there's all kinds of food, there will be day lilies that will flower later on and we eat the flowers. Chives here that are tasty, edible. And then we're preparing some beds, as soon as we clear the beds that host little seedlings of kale and mustard coming up.
This is a perennial green Good King Henry (chenopodium bonus-henricus), it just comes back and you can eat the green in salad but mostly in soup and stir-fry or steamed. I have a lot of the great crop dandelion, I love them just look at the bees that are working around them and getting nectar and pollen.
The dandelion you can use the greens when they are very small, put the greens in salads or you can use the roots also, in early spring/late fall you can harvest the root and dry them, roast them and use them as a coffee substitute. At this time in the year it'd probably time to harvest the flowers, if you like to make wine there's an incredible dandelion wine that can be made with those. They have very deep roots so they kind of tap into the subsoil and bring a lot of nutrients. Sometimes I'll just harvest them for mulch or put them back in compost or feed other plants.
Here there's onions, a perennial onion, Egyptian onions sometimes called the tree onion or walking onions which have just come back. You eat the greens now and then they'll start making bulbs on the top and as they get too heavy they'll fall down and root again and spread that way, they're always around. More kale here, mustard and greens. The mint has kind of moved in here as well, that's another one that spreads quite a bit. We've tried to harvest it all in the past (laughs) but there's always a little piece left and it likes to spread around.
It's also the shape of the garden that I like a mandala garden or circular garden, so it allows for a different energy and feel, it's very pleasant to work with.
JON STEINMAN: So, the idea here is to put as many different crops and plants in as possible into one area?
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Yes, having a high diversity then I don't feel as much concern about pests or disease. There's garlic here you see and in these other beds I've planted some garlic or onions or leaks around the perimeter with the greens you see there. It's all mulch, there's a bit of bare soil because we're still working on cleaning up and preparing and seeding some beds. But usually I like to have all the soil covered in mulch or covered with plants. Yeah, lots of diverse food. And as we move out we have different shrubs; these are golden current, very nice sense of smell, these are flowering away and produce a nice berry.
JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour program that takes a closer look at our food choices, and how these choices impact ourselves, our communities and our planet. The program is produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia and more info on the program can be found at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
Permaculture (or Permanent Agriculture) is the topic of today's broadcast as we take a closer look into this system that is very much one that operates in opposition to the conventional forms of agriculture that dominate our food supply. Permaculture can best be described as an ethical design system that can be applied to food production and land use. It looks to create productive and sustainable ways of living by integrating ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agroforestry. Now while Permaculture is a concept that extends beyond food, food is nevertheless an integral component of a permaculture system as food is an integral component to our daily lives.
Now while we as the general public may not have the opportunity to walk into a grocery store or restaurant and purchase food grown using permaculture principles, understanding these principles can help us better understand the many negative impacts that conventional forms of agriculture have on our planet and ultimately ourselves. But while the permaculture concept may not be practised on such a commercial level, this concept can very much be practised on your own land or in your community, whether you have a farm, a backyard or even a balcony.
We are currently hearing clips from a tour that I had the opportunity to be led on at the Kootenay Permaculture Institute located in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia. Gregoire Lamoureux is the director of the Institute, and here is the continuation of that tour led by Gregoire.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: And we're just getting into what we call a zone 2 garden or a forest garden. Here we have more fruit trees integrated with berry bushes, and again there are two steps away from the first garden. A lot of gooseberries, and currant (black currant, white currant, red currant), and cherries here, lots of flowers. It looks like we'll to have a lot of fruit again this year. I was a little bit concerned because we had frost, late frost here but I see a lot of fruits hanging there so it should be good. Some apples, Asian pears. I had mixed success, this is the best Asian pears I've grown on the land some are doing well, some have more difficulty. You can see some flowers, some fruits in there that's great. That's a summer apple.
JON STEINMAN: Were a lot of these trees here when you first moved onto the land?
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Actually this whole land was open, so you can imagine all of this would be a big field when I arrived. All the trees have either been planted by us since 1993, I guess the last twelve years. Or sometimes nature, the fun part once you start working with nature, nature starts to work with you. Some of the trees that nature brings are a lot of Saskatoons, and the birds are planting those. And there's Hawthorne as well, and a few other crops that nature is providing for us now.
Under each tree you'll see there's different perennial crops. There's a garlic crop under this one. This one has apple mint usually comes up, the Allelo families will repel pests and sometimes we have nitrogen fixers, leguminous plants that will provide nutrient and that's usually mulch. I like to mulch with organic matter (wood chips, saw dust or leaves). There's always a lot of mulch. These apple trees are all flowering away.
Lots of flowers this year but this is a very difficult climate for fruits. I'm getting a lot dying because of a fungus, there's a canker on the apple. It's been a bit of a challenge that way. I'm resisting using any fungicide or even natural fungicide, I'm not really comfortable but it's a big choice. I'm not sure if nature's telling me I'm not supposed to grow these apple trees. I found that dwarf are more susceptible than the bigger trees. These would be dwarf and they are more affected by the fungus of smaller root systems.
If we walk that way we'll look into the hazelnuts. Here this is part of the forest garden but it's more of a concentrated hazelnut, I call the hazelnut grove here all together. Because hazelnut will get pollinated by wind so in the spring (early spring) they produce pollen, that sort need the wind so you want them close together. With apples and fruit trees the bees do the work, closer is better so it's less work for the bees but you can have them further apart. Those would be all different varieties of hazel and I'm getting two big bags of hazelnuts every fall now so it's been great. There's a few of those other Asian pears, this one and that one there. These are not too bad.
Here we've created a small mandala, like in a circular garden mostly focused around medicinal plants. The dandelion is producing a good crop, I would call them as well medicinal. There's a few plants that have sort of introduced themselves here too.
JON STEINMAN: As Gregoire Lamoureux continues on with the tour of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute, the tour begins to move away from edible plants and trees and into areas of the land dedicated to plants that help assist in both growing food and everyday requirements.
Are there any plants in here that you would take out? Any weeds?
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: The grass is the main challenge, and then as you see the dandelions have kind of taken over the garden. Grass, again there is nothing wrong about them, they serve excellent purposes. They build soil and control erosion. If you have animals you want grass for them to pasture. They have their place but in the main garden it's not the best.
Here there is a bit of a nursery, there's some oak tree which have grown and a few cedars out there. I like to grow trees in the nursery, out in the larger field too, there is a nursery.
If we walk by here, try and stay away from the cat. Just in parting this year a duck has laid eggs under the shrub, you can see them. She's sitting on the eggs, do you see her? We're going to disturb her, sorry but I don't think it's a good place for her. The waters very far and I'm hoping the cat won't find that little duckling.
JON STEINMAN: Now with the trees back there, what is the importance of a tree such as an oak tree that doesn't yield any fruit?
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Actually the oak will yield some nuts, acorns I should say. And the acorns are also edible; the white ones are edible for humans and the red ones more for animals. They provide leaves and habitat for a whole diversity of critters, insects, birds and animals. I read somewhere that there are two trees in the temperate zone that provide the most diversity. One is the oak, it provides habitat for 500 species of insects, birds and animals. And the second, which we'll go to, is the willow which was about 450 different varieties of animals and insects, and birds.
There's a small raspberry patch, on the left you'll see some small nursery pots. Sometimes I do some potted stocks, trade or sell or exchange, give them away or sometimes for my own need when I want to transplant things.
This other area of the land is for more acidic soil so I've decided to put in the blueberries.
JON STEINMAN: What's underneath here, I see sawdust?
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: I like to put in good mulch; again grass tends to compete with trees and shrubs so you don't want grass. A good mulch of organic matter, I like to use some compost sometimes or grass clipping is another good one providing a lot of nitrogen. So you'll see some of those with a mixture of woodchips, grass clippings and there'll be covered with sawdust. I find that sawdust is an abundant resource in the area and it breaks down eventually as it's high carbon mostly. But we also need carbon to build plants, so if you can break it down with the nitrogen and then it will all turn into soil and in a very short time.
Here we have the willows, the basket willows and a butterfly there, how very nice. If we look at the bamboo grove, I call it. I've managed to grow bamboo here, this clump is about twenty feet tall and some of the biggest ones are one inch in diameter. It's one plant I'm quite impressed how it's managed to grow. Look at these guys. It's managed to grow in the Kootenay's and survived the winter. It's a grass that people can get confused with bamboo, it's not a tree or a shrub, it's a grass that stays green all winter. This whole clump will get flat with the snow and the snow actually insulates them and keeps them green so they stay green all winter. And as soon as the snow is gone they start standing up.
JON STEINMAN: So this is rare in the Kootenay's to have bamboo?
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Yes, there's not too many people, there's a few people I know, but very few people. There's a lot of fear around bamboo, people think that bamboo will invade and take over the world. They're are somewhat invasive but I find that they have been spreading about a foot a year or so. With mowers and tools today they are pretty, somewhat easy to control. This is a true bamboo, there's a false bamboo that grows in the Kootenay's, the Polygonum that is more invasive and very brittle. The other one kind of dies back in the winter but these are providing me with some really solid material for trellises. I'm looking at different projects to work with this plant, this incredible plant.
JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner as you are being taken on a tour of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute - a research farm dedicated to advancing permaculture concepts. While conventional forms of agriculture rely very heavily on resource dependent mechanization, Permaculture aims to reduce the need for this mechanization. And Gregoire explains the level of mechanization he employs on his farm.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Sometimes I tend to be too small to be a farmer and too big to be a gardener. I don't have tractors and tillers, by choice I prefer to work with people. Sometimes I have students or apprentices coming to work with me, or friends and I prefer that approach. But you have to plan your system in that direction. My biggest tool, well there's two tools that I use. Mechanical is the mower, I have a lot of grass and I like the harvest. You get the benefit of lawns, but I like the benefit of grass clippings. And the other tool is truck that I need sometimes; I do hauls of resources like sawdust or woodchips, sometimes some hay from a neighbour. Those are all used to build the soil.
JON STEINMAN: As Gregoire highlighted during the tour, a diversity of trees is essential to creating a permaculture system and he explains the principle that governs his decision to introduce new species of trees onto his piece of land.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: I grew up near the hardwood forest in Eastern Canada, in Quebec and I kind of miss the maple. I miss the red colours, I like the red maple, the sugar maple there and it grows very well in this climate. There's nothing wrong with them, it's just feel they haven't made it here. We as humans, I find my role is as humans is we're here to propagate and move plants around. Animals move plants in many ways in their fur, by eating the seed. The bear eats the apple and goes out by dumping it all over the place, spreading it around. The birds to the same, they eat the berries and then they'll drop the seeds everywhere. I find that myself, I'm just another animal spreading plants and I have (laughs) different ways of doing it. So I like bringing in different plants sometimes and see how they do.
JON STEINMAN: So you'll be making the first maple syrup in the Kootenay's?
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: (laughs) That'd be interesting, yeah, maybe.
JON STEINMAN: While trees represent a vital component of a permaculture system, looking at conventional forms of agriculture, we tend to see vast tracts of land, open land without any trees, and without trees, plants are exposed to many risks that in conventional terms leads to the pressing need to flood farms with chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. Gregoire further illustrates this importance of trees on land where food is grown.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: Then the other big change I've noticed on the land, there's two things I've noticed with planting all these trees have more birds, all the song birds. Birds are prey except for raptors, small birds (song birds) are prey so when you have an open field they fly very quickly they don't want to stop but when you have trees or shrubs like this then they stop on a tree and shrub and kind of hide or eat a few insects or seeds and then they keep going. Or they nest in trees, trees are homes for birds. I feel I've increased the local population of birds since I've been here.
And the other thing as you plant more trees you slightly change the local microclimate. We have with trees, it's not as hot as if we were staying in a full sun, it's not too hot there's a nice wind now. Yesterday in midday it was like 32 or 35 degrees here in full sun and you go just under these trees and it'll be much cooler. And the same in winter if you're an exposed or open area you're going to be much colder. But you go into the forest and you're making it more temperate in your area so that means with the windbreak, you have a windbreak from the east. There's more of a possibility of plants I can grow.
JON STEINMAN: And that wrapped up the tour of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute located in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia, but in wrapping up my visit to the Institute, Gregoire explains one of the courses he is offering.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: The Permaculture Design course, five years ago we started up the partnership with Selkirk College in Nelson and decided to present the permaculture design course. It's a very intensive program that's twelve days or a 72 hour program where we present all the different principles and techniques in a very hands-on and practical approach as well so that they can go home and apply it to their own land. We bring in all kinds of guest speakers from the area to present in some of the sessions. We also go visit other places because there's tons of interesting people and places around the Slocan Valley so we like to share and show different ways. Again, there's not just one way to do things, I do things a certain way. Here it's more of a wild approach and some people have a more tamed approach. There's different styles some people are more focused on vegetables and I'm more focused on berries and tree crops and things like that. Other people are focused on building incredible strawberries while other people are more knowledgeable on alternative energy. We like to pull all these people and resources together.
JON STEINMAN: This course is also scheduled to be offered to those in the Greater Vancouver area at a farm in Aldergrove and Gregoire briefly explains this course.
GREGOIRE LAMOUREUX: We're working with the Vancouver permaculture network and we're going to be at Edenvale Retreat Centre which is an organic farm and retreat centre. I've worked in the past with the Vancouver Permaculture Centre network, I may have helped start the group maybe ten, fifteen years ago and it has evolved nicely presenting all kinds of activities in Vancouver and on the coast. They were the ones that invited David Holmgren last fall to present at the UBC campus a beautiful talk. The course there is very similar the curriculum is the same, the difference being the environment; we're working with different local guest speakers, local instructors as well as looking at local systems. But again back to the principle, it applies wherever you are.
JON STEINMAN: You can find out more about the course by emailing Gregoire Lamoureux at email@example.com, there will also be additional contact info on the Deconstructing Dinner website and that website is www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
A reminder that you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour program that takes a closer look at our food choices, and how these choices impact ourselves, our communities and our planet. The program is produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia.
Permaculture (or Permanent Agriculture) is the topic of today's broadcast as we take a closer look into this system that can best be described as an ethical design system that can be applied to food production and land use.
While the term Permaculture was first coined in the 1970's, there are to this date only two periodic publications devoted to the permaculture concept, and one of these publications is the Permaculture Activist - a quarterly publication based in Bloomington, Indiana. I caught up with the publisher of the Permaculture Activist - Peter Bane as he was instructing a course near Roanoke, Virginia.
I will note though that in this modern age of technology, the phone connection to the course's rural Virginia location was not ideal, so we do apologize for the quality of the recording, but here is Peter Bane giving a background on the Permaculture Activist.
PETER BANE: The Activist, as I call it often, the Permaculture Activist was originally published as the house newsletter of the Permaculture Institute of North America which was formed in Seattle in 1985. And that organisation published it for about four years before PINA as it was known and closed its doors. At that time the editor Guy Baldwin was living in the central valley of California and he felt that the role of the Activist was too important to be let go of so he took on publishing it himself for a couple more years. About the time that I got involved in permaculture I took my design training in early in 1990. He was looking for a replacement as editor and publisher, we found each other and he handed the magazine over to me in stages. From late in 1990 I've been publishing it to this day. We're in our 21st year now, and we're up to 60 issues. We come out quarterly at this point, our circulation is small but we go all over North America and to many countries overseas as well.
JON STEINMAN: While Permaculture is a system designed to see humans developing a relationship with nature as opposed to controlling it, the term activism is one that sparked some attention, and I asked Peter how Permaculture Activist sees Permaculture as a form of activism.
PETER BANE: Well, I think the word originates in the conversation that came up in the 80s when the magazine was first published. There was some debate about what to call it, after all it was a newsletter. What did the meaning of activist hold for the people who launched it? I think they saw it as embodying the permaculture ethic to take responsibility, to become active in implementing the changes that we want to see in society and in landscape. We held onto it and I considered it an honourable title, it means engagement, it means not merely study but action. Permaculture is about theory - new kinds of theory of thinking about the world but put into action.
JON STEINMAN: Each issue of the Permaculture Activist focuses on a theme - themes that very much illustrate how permaculture extends beyond just growing food, but connects food to both the land and ourselves.
PETER BANE: I have been working on this model for the fifteen or so years that I've been publishing. It seems to me that if we were to go to the trouble of using paper and printing magazines that we ought to make something that would be worthwhile and would endure at least as long as this might persist for ten or so years or more and be useful to people. The themes that come out in themes of permaculture education or permaculture design, the word itself permanent agriculture is also understood to mean permanent culture. It gives us a wide brief to address every sort of subject that helped create human settlement or support human settlement, landscape planning, land use. We just published our most recent issue on land use, past and present. We're concerned about resources and the control people may have over them. The previous issue is on peak oil and the prospect of declining supplies of energy and materials and the world. Over the last dozen issues or so we've looked at water shed management. We have looked at the process at making change, we've investigated where permaculture is being practised throughout North America. We've looked at ecosystems, that's a big model for permaculture and we draw a lot of our understanding from the science of ecology.
We look also at traditional knowledge and systems of traditional knowledge that incorporated indigenous science, if you will, from past eras and have been handed down to this time. So we did an issue on that a couple of years ago. Aquaculture came up. We have so much to do if we're going to recreate the civilization we're in to prevent it from crashing, to prevent it from losing all of its values in the coming resource crisis.
JON STEINMAN: While food may not represent all that Permaculture is about, I asked Peter if food is the best starting point to understand the permaculture concept - this interconnectivity of humans and nature.
PETER BANE: It's an unbeatable hook Jon, everyone eats. We're looking at a situation in which we have six and a half billion people on the planet and our agriculture is just failing us. So food is a central issue in permaculture and although permaculture is far more than a system of gardening we do adopt a metaphor of gardening in all of our design work. We're looking at highly interactive systems where humans are closely integrated with the natural world. We're very much concerned about food issues to food security issues. People have a right to food, a right to the land to produce food but that's not the situation that prevails politically in the world today.
JON STEINMAN: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner as we listen to clips from my conversation with Peter Bane - the publisher of the Indiana-based publication "The Permaculture Activist."
With agricultural systems such as organics having now in many cases been commodified to the point where many organic farms are operating using industrial and unsustainable methods, I asked Peter Bane if the permaculture system runs the same risk of being commodified.
PETER BANE: I think there's less risk, we've resisted so far of being taken over by any commercial interests and I would be surprised to see that emerge. Part of this comes out of the systems or the approaches that we take. If you look at organics it's an important step of progress away from the modern conventional industrial agricultural model. But it is and I have enormous respect for organic farmers, it is still a system that is based on changing the bag, on changing the inputs to agriculture but not necessarily changing the entire system. And this is one of the reasons it's been so easily overtaken by agribusiness.
It's possible under the organic labelling and certification programs to do great swaths of monoculture, to do input intensive, transportation intensive, energy intensive organic agriculture. By changing the inputs away from chemical synthetics and towards biologically originated material it doesn't change the system. In permaculture we're looking to redesign the system and that's much more difficult, it can't easily be commodified because of its site and place and culture specific. We're looking to reach grassroots audience, to empower people in their communities to take control of their food resources not to set up a plum or a prize for agribusiness to seize.
JON STEINMAN: And that was Peter Bane, the publisher of the Permaculture Activist. You can find out more about that magazine by visiting www.permacultureactivist.net.
That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant Dianne Matenko. All of those affiliated with this station are volunteers, and financial support for this station is received through membership, donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations. For more information on the station or to become a member, you can visit www.cjly.net, or dial 250-352-9600. And should you have any comments about today's show, want to learn more about topics covered, or would like to listen to previous broadcasts, you can visit the website for Deconstructing Dinner at www.cjly.net(slash)deconstructingdinner.