New book – The Vegan Book of Permaculture

Graham Burnett, friend and coworker, has written a book about Vegan Permaculture. After ten years of hard work it is finally here and looks great!

More about it:

The Vegan Book of Permaculture by Graham BurnettThe Vegan Book of Permaculture gives us the tools and confidence to take responsibility for our lives and actions. Creating a good meal, either for ourselves or to share, taking time to prepare fresh, wholesome home or locally grown ingredients with care and respect can be a deeply liberating experience. It is also a way of taking back some control from the advertising agencies and multinational corporations.In this groundbreaking and original book, Graham demonstrates how understanding universal patterns and principles, and applying these to our own gardens and lives, can make a very real difference to both our personal lives and the health of our planet. This also isn’t so very different from the compassionate concern for ‘Animals, People and Environment’ of the vegan way.

Interspersed with an abundance of delicious, healthy and wholesome exploitation-free recipes, Graham provides solutions-based approaches to nurturing personal effectiveness and health, eco-friendly living, home and garden design, veganic food growing, reafforestation strategies, forest gardening, reconnection with wild nature and community regeneration with plenty of practical ways to be well fed with not an animal dead! This is vegan living at its best.

What I wrote about it:

Graham has pioneered vegan permaculture and this book is testament to his knowledge and passion. Graham integrates a desire for social justice for non-humans with the ethics, principles and practices of permaculture in a beautiful and accessible way. Its applications worldwide for social change are clear and I hope this book inspires a movement to change our landscapes and society to radically change how we interact with animals and each other.

Where to get it:

Want to learn more? Come on our Vegan Permaculture Design Course.
Well done Graham, an amazing achievement.

Why ‘Wild Heart’ Permaculture?

Loving of all forms of life

I chose the name ‘Wild Heart Permaculture’ because to me, being in relationship with the land, humans and nonhumans, comes from my heart. I love and respect all forms of life and won’t stop working until all are free from exploitation. The ethics that form the basis of permaculture – earth care, people care and fair shares – are not theoretical concepts, they inform every decision I make, as does listening to your own heart.

Heart based communication & perception

“Words are the domain of the linear mind; only the heart can hear the language of plants” Stephen Buhner

We also use our hearts to communicate and gain teachings from the land. One of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read is Stephen Harrod Buhner’s The Secret Teaching of Plants. He describes how indigenous peoples worldwide say that they have learnt about the medicinal qualities of a plant through the plants themselves. They didn’t use analytical thinking, scientific research or trial and error, but instead learnt directly from the plants and the living earth. They used their wild hearts to connect to and to directly perceive the wild heart of nature.

“We in the West have been immersed in a particular mode of cognition the past hundred years, a mode defined by its linearity, it tendency to reductionism, and an insistence on the mechanical nature of Nature. This mode of cognition, the verbal/intellectual/ analytical (VIA), is now the dominant one in Western culture. There is, however, another mode of cognition, one our species has used during the majority of its time on this planet–the holistic/ intuitive/ depth (HID) mode of cognition. Its expression can be seen in how ancient and indigenous peoples gathered their knowledge about the world in which they lived and how they gathered knowledge of the uses of plants as medicines.

All ancient and indigenous peoples said that they learned the uses of plants as medicines from the plants themselves. For, they insisted, the plants can speak to human beings if only human beings will listen and respond to them in the proper state of mind. Gathering of knowledge directly from the wildness of the world is called biognosis–meaning “knowledge from life”–and, because it is inherent in our very physical bodies, it is something that everyone has the capacity to develop. It is something, in fact, that all of us use (at least minimally) without awareness in our day-to-day lives. It is a way of being that is concerned with our interconnection to the web of life that surrounds us, with wholeness rather than parts, with the very human journey in which we are all engaged.” Stephen Harrod Buhner

Understanding Sacredness

Perceiving the wild heart of nature is about much more than collecting knowledge, however. A profound knowing takes place; an experience and awareness of the interconnectedness and sacredness of the web of life that surrounds us all. “Redeveloping the capacity for heart-centered cognition can help each of us reclaim personal perception of the living and sacred intelligence within the world. Stephen Harrod Buhner

Beyond Romantic love

The heart as a symbol, doesn’t have to just represent romantic love. Chellis Glendenning says, “We must revive the full spectrum of the erotic, demanding that all aspects of work and community be infused with a spirit of aliveness and passion”. For me, I want to live a passionate life. I will throw myself into design work because I feel that working with creation is sacred. I don’t want to produce 2 dimensional designs of raised beds and borders, I want to help create spaces that are charged with life. That have a beating heart.

“The way of the heart is the way of creation” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Falling in love outwards

Some of my friends think I am mad, living in a field in Somerset away from the city, from drink culture, from hardcore shows. But I need it for my heart to beat right. I need to be able to connect with the land, fully and wholly. Not just any land, but Avalon, its curves and its history. Through learning about permaculture, through working with the soil, cultivating plants and spending time in woodlands, I think you can ‘fall in love outwards’. That’s what I have done, madly and deeply. That’s why I’m ‘Wild Heart Permaculture’.

Living Landscape Talk with Patrick Whitefield

On Friday night I had the pleasure of attending a talk organised by Somerset Wildlife Trust given by renowned permaculture designer, teacher and author, Patrick Whitefield.

The talk explored the ‘Living Landscape’; how we can read and understand what we see around us. Patrick wove together an introduction to the core influences of our environment; the rocks  and soils, the climate and the ‘biotic’, all the living beings, trees, plants, animals and insects. Humans also come under the biotic and it is clear that we effect the landscape more than other species, but as Patrick revealed this can often be in subtle, unnoticeable ways.

His slideshow of photographs illustrated each of his points, whether it was comparing the height of a tree that had grown in a sheltered spot to one bearing strong winds, or the different plants which can indicate acid or alkaline soil. He also warned about not jumping to conclusions when reading the landscape, giving an example of a boggy area of a woman’s field, which she had suggested for a pond, only to learn it was compaction of the soil that had made the puddles.

My favourite part was his observations of trees, why some had grown gnarled and crooked, and others thin and spindly. What came across was that we are living in a managed landscape, where humans have a function in coppicing trees to stop their crowns from splitting, or thinning out trees to allow light in to the canopy. We sometimes forget the extent to which we have shaped the landscape, you so casually drive past fields and woods and you never stop to think (unless you’re now a landscape reading addict after Patrick’s talk), why is that field that shape? Why is that tree that tall? Why are heathers growing in one spot but not another?

What I took away was looking at the land on a holistic level, considering all of the different processes of social and ecological change that contribute to how the land is shaped. I’m a bit of a self-confessed plant geek and sometimes I am so busy looking down at the ground layer that I forget to look up at the or the trees or sky and the weather above my head and think about their role in it all.

The passionate curiosity for trying to read and understand the landscape came across in every sentence Patrick spoke. I doubt anybody left the little hall in Ilminster without learning something new which will make being outside even richer.  I am pretty certain that everybody left seeing the landscape with new eyes, even though it was dark, everyone in our carshare home was certainly peering out the windows trying to put our new knowledge to use!

If you’re interested in learning landscape reading skills you can buy a copy of Patrick’s book, here or see his website for the courses he runs. Thanks to the wildlife trust for organising the event, for a bargain of £2!

Book Review: Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture

This book has recently been published in Positive News, Issue 67, Spring 2011. To subscribe please see here or pick up a copy at your local whole food store, community centre or environmental project.

Book Review: Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture
A Practical Guide for Farms, Orchards & Gardens

Sepp Holzer is an Austrian Farmer who has been pushing boundaries for over 40 years at his 45 hectare farm.  Growing thousands of plants at over 1500m above sea level he continually challenges horticultural rules by experimenting and crafting the ecological processes around him, by creating microclimates and situations where plants may be successful.

However the book is not just an overview of Holzer’s own techniques. He also gives practical advice about how to build terraces, ditches, raised beds and water gardens and ponds. There is also a section dedicated to cultivating fruit trees, where Holzer explores why he promotes alternatives to over-pruning and fertilising trees, through mulching, not pruning and planting beneficial plants alongside fruit trees he builds their resilience.  Those interested in health would also find this book useful as he explores medicinal plants and how to cultivate mushrooms.

What comes across as you move through the pages of Holzer’s book is his intimacy with nature. His unique relationships with the plants and animals that share his land. He continuously pulls the reader back to question what it is the plants are seeking, what they are needing, what conditions they are desiring in order to thrive.  He takes the plant’s eye’s view of the world without compromising on what it his family and himself need to make a living and support themselves.

Holzer emphasises that the principles found in nature that create his productive systems can be applied anywhere. As someone who has just become the steward of a parcel of land, I feel inspired to try to apply some of of Holzer’s techniques and remind by self to consider what the plant communities I cultivate are seeking.  I think if in 30 years time young permaculture designers like myself can even attain one tenth of the knowledge that Holzer has accumulated and is now sharing, then we will be on the right track in building a sustainable agriculture that supports all life.