The permaculture chapter: principle 3 – obtain a yield

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

3 Obtain a yield

The yield referred to in the name of this principle is a yield for human beings and is thus explicitly anthropocentric, something to which Mollison (1988: 7) draws attention in the following, where he adds important context in the broader ecological frame of reference wherein permaculturalists interact:

The real difference between a cultivated (designed) ecosystem, and a natural system is that the great majority of species (and biomass) in the cultivated ecology is intended for the use of humans or their livestock. We are only a small part of the total primeval or natural species assembly, and only a small part of its yields are available to us. But in our own gardens, almost every plant is selected to provide or support some direct yield for people. Household design relates principally to the needs of people; it is thus human-centred (anthropocentric).

Before this principle is discussed in any detail, it is necessary in the context of this study (considering what has emerged as a dichotomy between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, i.e. something very Promethean and something very Orphic) to ‘situate’ the anthropocentrism referred to by Mollison in the broader “ethics on natural systems” (1988: 7) that guides permaculture design generally:

Implacable and uncompromising opposition to further disturbance of any remaining natural forests, where most species are still in balance; • Vigorous rehabilitation of degraded and damaged natural systems to stable states; • Establishment of plant systems for our own use on the least amount of land we can use for our existence; and • Establishment of plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species. Permaculture as a design system deals primarily with the third statement above, but all people who act responsibly in fact subscribe to the first and second statements. That said, I believe we should use all the species we need or can find to use in our own settlement designs, providing they are not locally rampant and invasive.

The anthropocentrism of permaculture is therefore established within an explicitly (but not exclusively) ecocentric agenda, so it would be impossible to argue that the anthropic aspects of permaculture are coterminous with those of ACID, which has direct ecocidal consequences, while permaculture directly works towards ecologically sustainable ends. However, having identified an anthropocentric aspect of permaculture, there is at least a possibility that there is some common starting point for ‘negotiation’ between the Promethean and the Orphic – this is a theme that will be taken up in the following ‘philosophy chapter’.

To return the focus of this sub-section now to the principle of obtaining a yield: the straightforward aim, as has already been encountered in the above quote from Mollison (Ibid), is to employ “all the species we need or can find [for] use in our own settlement designs, providing they are not locally rampant and invasive”. Very strict conservationists might take issue with the fact that there is no ‘indigenous-only’ approach to garden and settlement design, but Mollison (Ibid) quite realistically points out that whether

we approve of it or not, the world about us continually changes. Some would want to keep everything the same, but history, palaeontology, and commonsense tells us that all has changed, is changing, will change. In a world where we are losing forests, species, and whole ecosystems, there are three concurrent and parallel responses to the environment: 1. CARE FOR SURVIVING NATURAL ASSEMBLIES, to leave the wilderness to heal itself. 2. REHABILITATE DEGRADED OR ERODED LAND using complex pioneer species and long-term plant assemblies (trees, shrubs, ground covers). 3. CREATE OUR OWN COMPLEX LIVING ENVIRONMENT with as many species as we can save, or have need for, from wherever on earth they come.

So in permaculture, there is clearly not an ‘indigenous-only’ approach to tree and plant species when it comes to the systems in which human beings interact, creating opportunity for designers to incorporate a wide variety of plants and trees that can produce yields. This is quite permissible from an ecocentric point of view because, as has become very clear already in this chapter, large expanses of wilderness must be left completely free from human interference, and in these wilderness areas indigenous trees and wildlife will be left to exist due to their inherent value as well as their instrumental value to planetary well-being – to state the obvious, a healthy planet is constituted by healthy natural systems, and as Mollison has pointed out above (Ibid), human beings “are only a small part of the total primeval or natural species assembly, and only a small part of its yields are available to us”. Yields must be understood in this broader context of planetary health.

Based on what has so far been discussed about yields, one has numerous options for designing and implementing a permaculture system that produces yields for human beings to eat. The researcher, for example, with the help of his life-partner, during a period of three and a half years at the time of writing this sub-section, has transformed the patch of lawn onto which he initially moved by creating fertile gardens containing a variety of trees, bushes, seasonal vegetables, and herbs: peach, plum, citrus, avocado and nut trees; gooseberry and raspberry bushes; (non-GMO) corn, a variety of squash (butternut and pumpkin topping the list), marrows (big and small), beans and peas (various varieties), tomatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, sweet peppers, chilli peppers, kale, and peppadews; mint, basil, thyme, oregano. All these are generally interplanted, i.e. planted amongst one another and amongst non-food-yielding plants rather than in single patches of only one type of vegetable, and they are companion planted (see the end of principle one) where possible – these methods prevent insects and ‘bugs’ from being able to identify vegetables, and they tend to get deterred from what to them must seem like competing plant odours in the garden (thus preventing the need for chemical pesticides in the permaculture garden). The fruit and nut trees are too young to produce yields yet, but they eventually will – however, a method to prevent birds from eating the plums will have to be devised. Nor has everything in the list been consistently successful – various plants have had problems, such as tomatoes getting blight during an unusually long period of wet weather during tomato-growing season – so the gardens are a work in progress. Success has not been had with grapes and potatoes yet, but with time the system might be able to cater for them. However, these are not system failings, but rather expected challenges that will gradually be overcome as the system evolves and its parts synergise.

The Permaculture Association[1] offers the following comments regarding to the principle of obtaining a yield:

Permaculture stresses self-reliance – the ability to meet many of our own needs from our own resources. In a high rise flat that might be a window box with lettuces, as a whole community it may be the majority of our food. We can no longer rely on global food systems to meet our needs, or on there always being enough fossil fuels to bring the crops to us.

Permaculture stresses the use of plants that are functional – food medicine, fibres, but this doesn’t mean boring or dull. Functional designs and plantings can also be beautiful – another important yield.

These comments from the Permaculture association need no further elaboration as they are perfectly contextualised by information that has been encountered already in this chapter and elsewhere in this study.

The Zeitgeist movement is the obvious candidate from Chapter 5 where there is explicit focus on producing a yield – in a natural law / resource based economy (NLRBE), living areas are designed to produce food via regional automated food production methods, e.g. vertical farm technology and low energy/low impact cultivation methods such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. These methods are perfectly suitable in a permaculture system.

[1] accessed 18 January 2016

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