Friday, 5 December 2008

Permaculture Diary & Calendar: a 2009 diary with a difference

Review by Pip Hinman
29 November 2008

Permaculture Diary & Calendar
$28 & $20
Order from Michelle Margolis at

Permaculture gardens are becoming more widespread in Australia today and not just on rural plots. Look closely at inner-city schools, on balconies and in tiny front- and back-yards today and you’ll often spot the odd corn, tomato and strawberry plants growing together.

Permaculturalist Michelle Margolis has tracked down some interesting examples from here and around the world and showcased these in her Permaculture Diary and Calender 2009.

Permaculture is way of growing food crops together with non-food plants, without chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Permaculture, developed in this country by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s, promoted a new approach to designing settlements.

The word itself comes from a hybrid of “permanent agriculture” as well as “permanent culture”.

In particular, it promoted the idea of perennial agricultural systems that mimic the structure and interrelationship found in natural ecosystems.

Today, the most celebrated example of sustainable agriculture is Cuba where some 50% of Havana’s vegetables are grown in the city. In other Cuban towns and cities, urban gardens produce 80% to more than 100% of what they need, according to the Diary.

The Diary devotes a number of pages to illustrate how Cuba transformed itself from a mono-cultural and oil dependent economy into a sustainable food producer.

Cuba, colonised first by Spain in the 16th century, and then the US until 1959 when a popular uprising deposed the US-backed dictator, had been turned into a monocultural export zone for US sugar, coffee and tobacco corporations. The land was also suffering from the effects of decades of use of vast quantities of chemical fertilisers.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which put an end to Cuba’s imports and subsidies, forced some huge changes. While devastating, the abrupt end to the support from the East marked the beginning of Cuba’s transformation away from its oil-dependency towards agricultural sustainability.

The “special period” — as Cubans refer to this very difficult time — included the real threat of starvation. Alternative forms of food production became urgent, and this is the period in which urban gardens, or “organoponicos”, were first developed.

It notes that the people of Havana spontaneously began to plant food crops in parks, patios, balconies, roof tops, vacant land sites — everywhere they could. And the results were incredible: within two years there were gardens and farms in almost every Havana neighbourhood.

By 1994, according to researcher Raquel Pinderhughes, hundreds of Havana residents were involved in food production.

The Diary also features Roberto Perez, from Cuba’s Antonio Nunez Jiminez Foundation, who engaged many hundreds of Australian permacultural enthusiasts and solidarity activists during his speaking tour this year for the Cuba-Australia Permaculture Exchange. He stirred up huge interest in Cuba’s alternative social example — and not just its sustainable agriculture.

(For more information, check out The Power of Community — How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, produced by The Community Solution (Canada), which tells the story of Cuba’s survival. The DVD is available from Resistance Books).

This is the other important part of the permaculture story: community involvement.

Margolis, herself a keen permaculturalist who has visited Cuba, visited a number of permaculture and urban gardens to illustrate the Diary.

Whether or not one subscribes to the theory that the permaculture movement can transform the world, the Diary is a great present to inspire those already keen on the delights of growing one’s own.

From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #777 3 December 2008.

No comments: