Coexistence as the natural solution
Permaculture - don't be afraid to ask what it is. When it comes to enviro-talk, a lot of us furrow our brows at the word. Just what are we talking about?
In the broadest sense, permaculture defines an interdependent living system in which all the elements - human, animal, plant, water, air, etc. - coexist equally and thrive indefinitely. The word has been applied to agricultural systems. A permaculture system deals with the actual nuts and bolts of creating a man-made structure that fits into the environment and supports the natural habitats that surround it.
This week, permaculture instructor and designer Dick Pierce will begin teaching a 10-day Design Certificate Course. Held at the Youth Hostel International. It is intended for those who want to develop their permaculture skills and apply them to home, property, workplace, and community, as the course flyer explains.
While students are learning about everything from ecosystems to unusual edible plants, they'll choose a real life example and design a working permaculture system for it.
"Everyone in the course will do a specific design for a property of their choice," explains Mr. Pierce, "their backyard, country acreage, something they're dreaming about - and they'll consider all the elements, including water, food, soil, housing, community. By 'community,' I mean the whole community, one that includes all the surrounding living beings - humans, plants, and animals. They'll take all these natural resources on the property, assess what they need and what they've got in surplus, and build the whole system."
Mr. Pierce didn't bring the course to the Island by chance. He is a long-time visitor and part-time resident. (His brother Ed Pierce is a year-round resident.) He returns to the Island as often as he can, but not for the same reasons as most. "My wife comes for the beach," Mr. Pierce jokes. "But I come for the socio-economics."
Photo by Jennifer Brown
Over the years he has been visiting, befriending, and cheering on a number of Island organizations and individuals that have pioneered sustainable living solutions. Eventually, he coupled his Island connections with his permaculture training and saw the logical next step.
"About four years ago I read a book, 'Solviva,' by Anna Edey," says Mr. Pierce. "My brother pointed out that she lived on the Vineyard and he knew her, so I went to see her. Without declaring herself, Anna is a consummate permaculturist and she is practical sustainability if you ever saw it. I proposed to her that it would be really nice to teach a class on the Vineyard, so four years later I've finally gotten to it, but she was my major inspiration and impetus."
In the way that things come full circle, Ms. Edey is one of several Island teaching/tour partners with whom Mr. Pierce and company are working during the weeklong course. Considering the larger definition of permaculture, these locations are examples of the wide range of creative sustainable solutions that Islanders have developed in several areas, including farming, aquaculture, economics, and housing. In addition to Solviva, they'll be going to Morning Glory Farms, Island Grown Initiative, Polly Hill Arboretum, the Wampanoag Shellfish Hatchery, Island Co-Housing, the Allen Sheep Farm, and Native Earth Teaching Farm.
At Native Earth, Mr. Pierce became interested in the way owner Rebecca Gilbert works with her animals - ways not normally thought of in modern animal husbandry.
Ms. Gilbert notes, "One of the things that I think attracted him is the way we move the animals around a lot and use their natural proclivities to do some of our farm work. For instance, we use pigs to dig up stumps - something the pigs really enjoy and naturally like to do. We don't have to train them to do it. Not only does it help us to dig the stumps out and help keep pigs happy - but when you move animals around a lot their parasites don't have a chance to build up in a particular spot and they get a wider range of food supplements. It's a little bit closer to what their life was like as wild herd animals."
Mr. Pierce is optimistic when he talks about the permaculture models he sees on the Island. "What permaculture would want you to do is use the word environment and plunk yourself in the middle of it as an equal being. You have the perfect rights to an abundant and joyous life and so does everything else and everybody else, so you'd also be worried about the 'beings' that you've paved over in a swamp for a shopping mall or parking lot. One of the wonderful things about Martha's Vineyard is you are creating swamps and you are keeping the pavers away."
Students for the course have come from both off and on Island. Kaila Binney is an Islander taking the course who has done environmental research work overseas. She hopes to take the tools she acquires and re-teach them to a reforestation community in India. In the long term, she intends to bring those tools back to the Island. "As much as I have plans to go back overseas, the biggest reason I'm taking this is to apply it locally," says Ms. Binney. "I have so many ideas of how to be more invested in our Island community and I think this is a way to do that."
Freelance writer Niki Patton is a resident of West Tisbury.