Beyond being a design science, a philosophy, and a social strategy, permaculture is a community of people who share in the belief that there is a better way to live, and who actively take measures to move away from the existing paradigm and towards a more balanced way of life. Permaculture largely deals with land projects – installing gardens and food forests, building natural buildings, harnessing natural energy, etc. – but it also involves social systems.
The Orlando Permaculture group is a great example of social permaculture, encompassing food production, networking, community outreach, and education. Their motto is “We grow minds, community, and food.” They are a group of people living in the Orlando area with an interest in permaculture and sustainable living who have meetings once a month, and get-togethers, workshops, and other events more often than that. Although there are several members who own land where they are developing permaculture projects, not everybody in the group is in such a position. Many are just interested in permaculture, which can be applied to any part of our lives. The purpose of the meetings is to share knowledge, plan future events, and have good old fashioned fellowship.
In many ways, it’s not at all unlike what goes in a church community, which is interesting, because Orlando Permaculture actually meets at a church. I have long been interested in the potential relationship between churches and permaculture, and I was delighted to learn that just such a thing is happening in Orlando. I spoke at length with Sarah, the pastor of Audubon Park Covenant Church, about this relationship and the many ideals each culture has in common, and the ways in which collaboration can benefit us all. That’s a different story all together, though.
Orlando has a really neat scene, with lots of cool projects going. They have great participation, with folks of all ages and walks of life attending the meetings. There were at least 35 people at the meeting I attended to, and everyone said it was actually a pretty small group, compared to the 50 plus that they usually have.
The meeting began with a conversation about the plant of the month, which was pigeon pea, perineal bean from India that’s high in protein and that has many different functions in any permaculture system. Plant of the month is a great way for people to learn about new plants, and the speaker handed out dried pigeon peas so everyone could plant some in their gardens.
The featured speaker was a man named Wae, who talked about bio-char. Bio-char is much like charcoal, being burnt out wood that is not entirely broken down, but blackened and made brittle and porous. It is made in a kiln, by simply cooking woodchips with very low oxygen and high heat. Wae had a slideshow, explaining how he makes bio-char in small kilns that he constructs from pizza cans or metal drums. His presentation was entitled how bio-char can save the planet, and he went over the many benefits of using bio-char to rebuild damaged soils.
Soil science is essential for permaculture, as well as a fundamental aspect ecological literacy. Without going into too much detail here, I will say that most places on earth that once had great soil health have now been denuded by agriculture and over-grazing. Bio-char can help remediate soils, and Wae showed us many examples of the results of adding bio char to gardens, row crops, and trees.
One big function bio-char serves is to provide habitat for microscopic life, for which the porous wood char is like an apartment building. It also adds carbon to the soil and helps build humus, which is what makes soil fluffy, soft, and absorbent.
For even more information, including videos of Wae's presentation, I recommend going to Orlando Permaculture's write up of this presentation, which can be found here.
I learned a lot about bio-char from the presentation, and I am excited to try using some the next time I have a garden to work in. For people in Central Florida, where most of the soil is very sandy, bio-char is an essential tool for building soil quickly.
Also discussed at the meeting were upcoming events for the month of April, some of which were still being planned. Orlando Permaculture is affiliated with a non-profit group called Ideas for Us, and together they’ve been implementing a program called Fleet Farming, which utilizes people’s front yards for gardening, sharing the produce with the hosts and taking excess to local farmer’s markets. Another local program involves crews of people on bikes going around and collecting kitchen scraps from members, composting them at nearby locations, and then returning finished compost to the members. It’s a service that allows people to return their food waste directly to the soil without having to do all the work. They pay a low fee for this, and they get good compost for their gardens in return.
Orlando Permaculture also has action days where they go out and do work in the community, and many different classes and workshops like medicine making, food fermentation, holistic cooking, and bio-char making. These events take very little money to organize, and they help people to stay plugged in with the community, and to learn valuable skills that help them further the creation of their own home economy.
I wasn’t in town long enough to check out all of what the Orlando Permaculture group is up to, though I did get to meet quite a few people and visit a few projects. If you live in the Orlando area and have any interest in permaculture, gardening, or home economics, I highly recommend you get connected with this group. Even if you don’t live in Orlando, you should check out their website to see more info about what they have going on. Every community could use groups like this, and if your community doesn’t already have such a group, you could always help to create one. I hope that people will see what all is going in Orlando and be inspired to find similar gatherings and community projects in their own towns.
We are the ones who are going to fix the world’s problems. We can’t count on the institutions which created the problems to solve them, but we can get together with our own communities and take small steps together towards re-greening our world, building soil, producing abundance, and developing positive relationships with our neighbors. So what, I ask you my friends, are we waiting for?
Thanks to everyone at Orlando Permaculture for hosting me, and especially to Sarah at Audubon Park Covenant Church for the great work she is doing, and to Yuan, Justin, Michael, and Matt at the Peanut Butter Palace, for hosting me in their home. Keep an eye on Orlando, folks, because great things are happening there, and the movement is only growing!