Toby Hemenway On How Horticulture Can Save Us

What I like about author and permaculturalist Toby Hemenway is that he does a lot better job, frankly, of explaining permacuture than do the founders of the movement, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Hemenway is a better writer and demonstrates how permaculture’s abstract designs principles can apply at the household and neighborhood level. His book, Gaia’s Garden, A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture ought to be on everyone’s bookshelf.

Last Thursday at the National Heirloom Exposition Hemenway gave a talk entitled “Redesigning Civilization: How Horticulture Can Save Us.” What he meant by “horticulture” is not, say, propagating begonias. Rather, he defined horticulture as gardening, the kind of gardening some indigenous people did when they influenced the landscape to produce useful and edible plants. In other words, what we in the West would call permaculture. This is in contrast to agriculture which Hemenway considers to have a destructive influence on ecosystems, human health and culture.

Hemenway also, justifiably, critiqued some corners of the urban homesteading movement for promoting an egocentric self-sufficiency–“MY food on MY land” as he put it–a kind of industrial farming on a household level. While “self-sufficiency” appears in the subtitle of our first book (our publisher’s idea), it’s not a term we use. Kelly and I always emphasize, like Hemenway, the importance of community. We are much more comfortable with the title “gardener” rather than “farmer”. We need farmers, of course, but I’d like to think of urban homesteading as being more about small scale, permacutural type projects that involve both individual and group efforts.

The takeaway from Hemenway’s talk for me was the importance, especially in urban areas, of integrating community in any permacultural design project. After showing what everyone reading this blog knows, that our modern world is in big trouble, Hemenway ended on a positive note. With small scale, thoughtful design we can go a long way to solving some pretty big problems.

Carlo Petrini and Slow Food: A Joyful Revolution

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini gave the keynote address at the National Heirloom Exposition last Tuesday. For those of you who don’t know, the Slow Food movement began out of protests against a McDonald’s that was slated to open near the Spanish Steps in Rome in the 1980s. Slow Food has since grown into an international organization that promotes food biodiversity and traditional farming practices.

Petrini spoke eloquently and without notes through a translator. He called our food system “entropic,” adding that our agricultural system is, in fact, in a crisis of entropy.  When it takes 300 calories to produce 100 calories of food, according to Petrini, we clearly have a system headed towards collapse. When it comes to the health consequences our out of control food system, he noted the ironic fact that more money is spent on weight loss and obesity than buying food.

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More On the National Heirloom Exposition

Squash tower at the National Heirloom Exposition

Quite honestly, between the lead and zinc in our soil and an endless heat wave that seems to portend climactic disaster, I’ve been a bit dispirited with our little urban homestead project this summer.

The Heirloom Exposition up in Santa Rosa lifted me out of my petty depression. The amazing speakers, exhibits and vendors, left me inspired and ready to get back to work.

This week I thought I would report on some of the many talks I attended as well as share links to interesting projects and products that I saw at the expo.

The Return of the Paper Collar?

During the summertime in the warm climate we live in I often find myself wishing for the return of the paper collar. What better way to deal with ring around the collar than to just throw out the old collar and put on a new one? I have a theory (unproven, admittedly) that using paper collars would have less environmental impact than all the water and detergents we use to scrub out ring around the collar. Of course, the best solution would be to adopt collarless shirts. The folkloric apparel in hot climates tends towards white and collarless or, at least, short collars. Until dashikis make a comeback I predict we’ll see the same paper collar trend that hit the Victorians:

It is hardly twenty-five years since the advent of the paper collar. Prior to that time the average man wore neck-gear made from linen fabric, or was content to go without collars, except on Sundays and legal holidays. Then the collar was frequently built in with the shirt and worn with a loose, limp and decidedly comfortable manner. The mechanic going to his daily work despised collars altogether, and in order to see an aggregation of white linen, stiffly starched and held about the neck with satin stocks, it was necessary to attend church or go abroad at a Fourth of July celebration, Then it was that some genius discovered that there was nothing like paper, and produced that useful, convenient and always done up article the paper collar. It struck the popular fancy the paper collar did-as a cyclone strikes a Western hamlet, carrying everything before it, and so complete a revolution of gentlemen’s toilet was never before effected in so short a time. Everybody, or pretty much everybody, appeared out in clean paper collars. Their advantage over any other collar was apparent. They never needed the careful attention of the washer-woman, and after one had been worn until it was in a state of dilapidation, another, bright, clean, folded without a wrinkle, was ready in the box to take its place. The banker if he was not too old-fogyish, wore paper collars; the business man, the society man, the workingman, even the dudes of those days wore paper collars.

-Taken from Manufacturer and Builder December 1886

A note from the Mrs.: This post is a good indication of the lengths Erik will go to avoid laundry.