Because internet is so expensive here (it cost $1,500 to install a tower and then is $189/month with Iconnect), Thom I decided to forego television. Now, if you know me you know I love my television. Especially reality shows like Top Chef, Survivor, Amazing Race (but just so you know that I’m not completely tasteless, I can’t stand Big Brother, Jersey Girls or the Bachelor/ette). However, I’ve found a whole new world of reality TV on the internet. There are literally hundreds of independent documentary films available for free!
A few weeks ago Thom and I watched a documentary about how to make an old family farm sustainable in today’s world. Natural World: A Farm for the Future focused on permaculture. Now, I had heard this word before but thought it was some weirdo hippie thing (which actually means I should have wanted to learn more about it). I found out through this documentary that permaculture is basically opportunistic gardening — taking the slogan “bloom where you’re planted” seriously.
Permaculture’s premise is that one takes advantage of a property’s landscape and sows seeds where things are already growing, collects water where it’s already flooding, builds where there’s a natural shelter, harvests what grows naturally and perennially, etc. One creates a permanent culture and because you’re working with one’s environment (instead of trying to make it into something else) you end up with more food with less work.
It’s hard to concisely describe permaculture (watch the documentary, you’ll understand after seeing that). Here are some definitions:
I now see the world in a different way. I notice where things grow naturally – like when there are sudden clusters of flowers in the middle of dry patches (must be a water source somewhere) or where there seems to be a clear-cut boundary between a stand of trees and savannah. The soil or something must be different between the two areas.
That’s actually how I originally came across Imagine Rural Development Initiative (IRDI). I googled “permaculture zambia” and there it was!
During our initial tour at IRDI, Steven (a co-director) showed us how he had been observing the land to study where things should be planted, where things should be built, etc., and that one of the first things he noticed was the green patch of land under and downhill from the water tower. Examining it further he discovered that the water tower regularly overflowed (see pipe at top and the stain on the side of the tower) and that the plot of land downhill was getting watered daily.
So, he set about planting the garden there so he could take advantage of the wasted water. First, he dug a trough from the tower down to the planned garden area.
In the photo below you can see the “pool” where the water first falls, and then the trench now coming out of it. Notice the green grass under the tower still (in the other areas they’ve turned over the soil). This time of year it is very dry. There’s only been one day with rain since June.
Here’s more of the trench.
Now he bifurcates it so half will go down and half across. And, the half across has run-off trenches as well.
Now, he has a nice size garden plot that self waters. You can see in the immediate foreground and at the far right that he’s already planted green onions. (At this time they had only been on this property a few days.)
This is classic permaculture. By taking advantage of the landscape’s natural features he’s planted in an area he knows is fertile (given the robust growth there) AND in an area that’s naturally watered (saving himself from having to do that daily chore).
More food with less work — permaculture.