“Anything that we value, but that is being progressively lost; from soil to silence, from biodiversity to darkness, from trees to a sense of purpose, can be studied to help us identify the root causes of these problems.” Aryana, Permaculture Design
This is what I aim for as a permaculture designer—studying the root causes before I step into action—and/or—-putting the brakes on during the process to do even more study and consideration. Another step in permaculture design that travels hand-in-hand with observation rather than interpretation, is evaluating why any given thing doesn’t work and where we can make different choices. An illustration in Permaculture Design, depicts a reinforcing feedback loop focusing on people and their food supply. This shows a feedback loop which spirals out of control, from growing human population to need for more food, to creating more sunny land, to cutting trees, to loss of biomass and fertility along with less productive land and lower productivity; then spiraling into traveling further for more biomass, taking more time, not being able to support ourselves….whew!
Looking at the illustration in the design book doesn’t freak me out, but it does anchor me in the pondering place of knowing that I’m a seed-tree-plant based garden-farmer with a concern and question I have about one of my family’s favorite foods which is: “Where will I get my bacon from?”.
“Our aim in in permaculture is to turn spirals of erosion into spirals of abundance and productivity….” Looby Macnamara, People and Permaculture.
Instead of panicking or skimming over this feedback loop which resonates with my food supply concerns, as well as my livelihood as a market-garden-farmer, I spiral into a place of looking at my history of where my food comes from, my own roots—which influenced my behavior about what I eat and how grow it, and where I get what I can’t grow. Even though I may have to give up pork, someday, I live and work and plan to stay put in a small urban setting here in North West Michigan, and I have great fondness for where I grew up in a small, farming community near Lansing, Michigan.
My original, home-place in Laingsburg was about 10 miles out of town, near the Looking Glass River, a branch of the Grand River flowing just a mile or two south of our rural ten acres. It was a beautifully rich, wooded area with only about four homes on our dirt road. No pig farmers, but a chicken farmer lived right down the road, and my friend Debbie Hurst and her family had milk cows a mile or so away. My parents mostly relied on the industrial food chain to feed our family of eighth, and my Dad a blue-collar Oldsmobile worker, did his best to supplement us with an annual veggie garden, and an assortment of well-tended and blessed, fruit-bearing trees.
Along with my Dad’s influence and pride in the little time he had to spend gardening, my first garden-farming skills were learned through my adventuring and foraging in the fields and woods, as well as my involvement with 4-H in the summer. At the edge of our 10 acre field, I discovered a group of hazelnut bushes and up and down the road there were several old hickory nut trees. My brother raised chickens, rabbits and pigeons off and on, and both he and my dad hunted for squirrel, pheasant and deer in the fall. But mostly for food, my parents did the best they could to keep up with our growing family and shopped at an industrial food chain store in Lansing, and a little family owned business Mahoney’s Market in Laingsburg. It wasn’t until after I left home, at 18, that through harvesting what I tended in a community garden plot in Lansing, that I began to learn to preserve and can food from my garden.
In this past year, I’ve gone way back further still, in regards to my early influences of living rurally and my connections to a portion of land. I recently did a bit of research and came across information that in the late 1700‘s through the 1800‘s my home-place was a thru-way for travelers, along the abundant lake and river systems, a source of fresh fish and other food sources. Within a few short miles along the Looking Glass River, was also a favored camping site for the Sagninaw Chippewa people of the the Ojibwa nation. Just a few miles east of my home Chief John Okemos was born in Shiawassee County and just west of my home, is his burial site. Through the widened lens of system thinking, I take a long look backwards at how the land and the people interconnect and intersect, and this definitely and positively influences my choices in the present day, mostly giving me hope and a reality check.
Even though this is a bit of a twisty-turny side trip, it leads me back to looking at where my food comes from and our hand-to-mouth food-system existence on the planet. I’m thankful for my upbringing and the space/place I had to wander and explore. I’m incredibly grateful for my parental units growing, and finding/buying the food they did to nourish our family. The land and the place where my initial observations and patterns of food systems occurred have influenced me as a human-designer. And now, taking a deeper look/revisit to my roots, allows me to ground my decisions to begin the design process again. And without judgement or interpretation, take a look at the deep-deep root of the industrial-age-problem I’ve been born into. Of how I’ve “become the food that I eat”. Observing and letting go of what didn’t work, what isn’t replenishing and providing in a necessary way of ecological choice-making. I can be a garden-farmer and wandering food gatherer as both my Dad and ways Chief Okemos may have practiced. I do not have to support the industrial food-system any longer, a system that I know is not working. And I can continue to realistically plan steps to help my family and neighbors do this as well.
“At a time when the world is more messy, more crowded, more interconnected, more inter-dependent, and more rapidly changing than ever before, the more ways of seeing, the better. The systems-thinking lens allows us to reclaim our intuition about whole systems and
- hone our abilities to understand parts,
- see interconnections
- ask “what if” questions about possible future behaviors, and
- be creative and courageous about system-redesign
Then we can use our insights to make a difference in ourselves and our world. “
Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems
I find a great deal of passion-creativity and solace in being able to back-paddle through these complexities I’ve encountered in the holon of food system upon food systems in my life so far. It’s like a treasure map of discovery. And as Donella Meadows points out above, by taking time to consider system thinking I can use these “insights to make a difference in ourselves and our world.”
This understanding leads me back to my current work and a place of designing a combination of a rural-urban food system with my personal design project through the O’k CSA and Market Garden and LLOOF program here in Traverse City. It also sets a connective tone for my work this weekend at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference, as I do my graphic-recording/note-taking with other folks working towards integrated, whole-system design on their small farms.
P.S. Currently my bacon, pictured here, comes from Baker’s Green Acres, which means I can thankfully stick to urban garden-farming with perennial and annual veggie, fruit and herb/flower growing, including the Baker’s farm in my families’ food system.