Introduction to Permaculture

For tens of thousands of years, human beings knew how to feed themselves:

  • Preservation of topsoil
  • Crop rotation
  • Natural fertilisers
  • Locally grown, seasonal fruit and vegetables
  • Fresh, free range meat, eggs and milk
  • Freshly cooked, nutritious meals.

The food they produced was rich in essential micro-nutrients.

Today, with our sedentary lifestyles, we need fewer calories, but, as a result of environmental degradation, farming methods, food processing and diet choices, there is a gap in the nutritional status of most people today.

The UK Food Standards Agency says, ‘Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.’ But there are problems with this:

  • Many people have limited access to a balanced diet
  • Most people make poor food choices
  • Farming methods have depleted the soil and our food of essential micronutrients
  • Food processing removes essential micronutrients.

The stark truth is that the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries have taken charge of our lives:

  • They dominate farming practice, which has destroyed our soil and minimised the nutrient content of our crops
  • They dominate animal husbandry, which has become a nightmare of poor nutrition and overcrowding in insanitary conditions, sustainable only by the liberal use of antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals
  • They dominate the food industry with chemical additives and other unnatural substances.

Modern farming methods have conspired to maximise yields at the expense of nutrient content:

  • Deep ploughing
  • Artificial fertilisers
  • Pesticides and fungicides
  • Monoculture
  • Genetically modified crops
  • Hydroponics
  • Early harvesting and artificial ripening
  • Factory farming
  • Storage over long periods and transport over great distances.

Our food contains a fraction of the essential micronutrients it contained a hundred years ago. The result is that our health is failing, our immunity is compromised, and all manner of chronic diseases are in the ascendant.

This worldwide problem is further compounded by a food industry wedded to optimising shelf life and taste through milling, refining, processing, additives and the extensive use of sugar, corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (trans fats).

Today, the average diet relies heavily on:

  • Refined cereals (empty calories)
  • White sugar (empty calories)
  • Cooking oil (trans fats)

The World Food Program states, ‘Hidden Hunger affects more than two billion people. Even when a person consumes adequate calories and protein, if they lack one single micronutrient – or a combination of vitamins and minerals – their immune system is compromised, and infections take hold.’

This problem is not confined to the Third World. The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has identified nutritional deficiencies in every group of the UK population, with the elderly, pregnant women and youngsters the worst affected.

Is there any hope?

Only if we care for the earth, care for people, and share fairly. These are the three tenets of Permaculture, sometimes defined as ‘Consciously designed landscapes, which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for the provision of local needs.’

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