At last the sleeping boot awakes; Permaculture in Italy at last is moving – some people have actually heard of it! I was tired of the lack of people interested in Permaculture courses and workshops, in the ignorant criticisms by people who had little idea of it, and no experience of having tried to put Permaculture principles into practise. Tired of hearing that it wouldn’t work in Italy, as if by some miracle Italy is another planet that just happens to occupy a space on Earth. As if Permaculture is some sort of exotic cultural virus seeking to invade from somewhere else. From Australia? Well of course it couldn’t work here, since Australia is on the other side of this planet. The upside down side, to make matters worse.
But wait a minute.
Even if Australia is far removed from Italy, the zones where Permaculture has most successfully been applied: to regenerate desert; to turn marginal farmland into highly productive land; to be the judged the most productive agricultural land in South Australia in fact, are precisely the areas specifically of ‘Meditarranean climate’, with remarkably similar qualities and problems as so much of Italy’s devastated agricultural land.
Do I hear protests of indignation at the suggestion that Italy is devastating its agricultural land? I would repeat the claim if I thought it necessary. Algal blooms in the water from chemical runoff; canyons of erosion on much of the hill-land; topsoil being lost in thousands of tons with every heavy rainfall; farmers struggling to maintain economic viability in spite of subsidies and working hours often double that of urban dwellers; and the beloved Mediterranean virtually void of significant fishing grounds, not only because of over-fishing, but also destruction by land-based sources including agriculture fouling the river estuaries where many species spawn.
The fact that Permaculture started in Australia is probably a reflection of the amount of ecological devastation that has been inflicted on that land in such a short time. This should not be read as a justification for ignoring the damage that has been done here in a much longer time. The reality is that we can not afford to ignore the continuing degradation of our environment, wherever and at what rate it is occurring. The environment is the physical basis of our existence, the ecosystems the foundation of our food sources as well as the myriad other functions. The economy too, since that would seem to be the totem most people pay the most respect to. It would seem wise to take good care of it
SOME PRINCIPLES COMMON TO DESIGNING SUSTAINABLE SYSTEMS
Care of earth – can’t hurt nature without hurting ourselves; there is still a need for attitudes to change, so that people identify with land and nature rather than viewing it only in exploitive terms.
Care for people – promote self-reliance, community responsiblity
Dispersal of anything surplus to our needs.
No element exists in isolation. Functional relationships exist between plants, animals and structures. These relationships can reduce or eliminate pollution and work by filling NEEDS of each element with YIELDS of others placed nearby. Finding right output to match right input from others.
unfilled needs = work, unused yields = pollution
eg; poultry and gardens
Scratching can destroy garden, or aerate it, and manure can fertilize it.
So, look at the needs and yields of each element, and place elements accordingly to achieve the most productive and harmonious relationships.
MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS FOR SINGLE ELEMENTS:
Each element is selected to perform at least 3 functions
eg; windbreak; wind protection, bee nectar, fodder, fuel, pest predator habitat, microclimate moderation
MULTIPLE ELEMENTS SUPPORTING SINGLE FUNCTIONS
All functions should be met in several ways, as an ‘insurance’ against single element failure.
eg; food production: – main plants grow predictably well, but grow other species for diversity, to spread resource and earning potential
ZONES AND SECTORS AND ELEVATION PLANNING
Zones – arranged according to energy requirements
eg; vegetable plants and stall-fed animals – close to house, but tree crops can be further away
Sectors – determined by energy source OFF site – channel positive, scatter negative energies
eg; sun, wind.
Elevation Planning – use gravity to reduce energy requirements.
eg; gravity feed water, poultry above garden
Looking at energy flows is important to achieve sustainablity
“If I need it, I plant it”.- fuel, food, fodder, fertilizer, tillage, pest control, weed control, fire control, nutrient recycling, energy conservation
Set up cycles; what can’t be recycled becomes a pollutant.
eg; fire as fertilizer – energy waste; same nutrient exists in unburnt organic material composted
energy recycled IN system, not lost OUT
AIMS FOR ENERGY
Energy input should decrease over time.
Energy input should decrease over distance
Energy given back for any method of producing food should be greater than energy used to produce it
– any system is designed as a series of complete connecting energy cycles.
eg; water is kept in soil through mulching and green manures instead of needing to be supplied from another source
Urine in sawdust for fertilizer – C and N balance;use of a renewable resource, and an appropriate fertilizer
Appropriate technology = that which can be appropriated
ie; take idea and adapt to local conditions
Same principles apply to energy for cooking, lighting, transport, heating
ideas universal, but implementation specific
Air Conditioning may be fine for high income apartment dweller, BUT not for farmer, who can grow it , using same principles. Hot air flows through cool medium, over a water pond; this is a good example of microclimate manipulation, for house comfort, to support a greater diversity of plants and animals, to reduce stress on people, plants and animals.
The natural process of land regeneration is: Herbs -> Pioneers -> Climax
Conventional agriculture often maintains systems at weed/herb stage by human/mechanical energy (tilling, weeding, spraying), fighting natural succession.
Substitute successive species, so there is immediate continuous food production: shrubs and trees are planted into annuals, then species adapted to low light are added replacing first herbs and pioneer species
Stack all available space/light levels, and time
Eg; intercropping green manure crops with cash crops, sowing at appropriate times to avoid competition.
Eg 2; timber as high short-mid-long term cash crop
edge is the most diverse area in any system (accumulates more light/nutrients -> greater diversity)
Design to fit with patterns in nature
eg; crenellated (rather than round or square) pond, increases potential stacking rate without extra volume; birds and fish feed at edge
maturing system increases diversity in space and time. It is NOT the number of different species that is important, but the complexity of functional relationships between elements: more complex and diverse -> more stable, more resistant against rampancy.
In nature, groups of plants and animals (guilds) occur consistently together because of beneficial rel’ps, SO in human systems (agricultural, urban, rural, social, etc), we try to form guilds by appropriate placement. Traditional systems did it, but modern has often ignored it.
energy input must be appropriate to conditions specific to the time, resources available, market accessibility.
too big, or too small can both be problems
Show me a natural or human system which is sustainable in the long-term, and these principles will exist invariably.
If anyone can tell me why any of these principles are not totally practical (ie; not simply theoretical), or not applicable to Italy, please contact me that I may be enlightened by such argument.
Hi, you are 100% right. I am Dutch and living permanently in Italy, Le Marche since 1-1-2014. On our 1.5 ha land we apply the principles of permaculture now that I have ample time (early retirement). Luckily there were already lots of big trees but the land itself was poor. Some things I do are taken over by others nearby. I would very much like to follow a PDC course and/or have your input on my site. We bought the house almost 16 years ago. We were not familiar at that time with permaculture so a lot of mistakes were made during renovation and garden design. Hopefully Italy will change as I agree completely with you that agriculture the way it is practised is not sustainable at all. We see lots of erosion and poor crops around us. Frana’s that are not repaired because of lack of money. The course in Octobre is not possible because we have to harvest olives. Please let me know what is possible. Thank you!
Gosh Annemiek, I’m so sorry that I haven’t responded to you, but I have only just this minute found it sitting here on my website! Not accustomed to communicating directly through the site, so I really must keep my eye on it in future, especially since I intend to upgrade our website very soon. It can certainly do with some stream-lining!
I have been these past 4 months visiting my family here, and my land. It’s been so wonderful, finally feeling my roots here after abandoning my little house and 33 hectares 26 years ago to co-ordinate the project in India. My land here is in a sub-tropical rainforest region, so the growth is very fast!
However, I am returning home to Italy in two weeks time; probably you no longer have the need for any input which I might make, but in case you do, please contact me after the 3rd of April, or you can contact Francesca earlier.
In any case, best wishes with all that you do there, and thank you for your letter,
Greetings Annemiek, Excuse my lack of communications please. I have just recently returned after a long visit to Australia (my first long stay in many years). If you are interested in any collaboration, please contact me on +39 340 9384932, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Best wishes, John
Oh, and by the way, we are teaching a PDC at Bolsena just prior to the European Permaculture Convergence. The course will be running from 22 August (to be finalised prcisely) for two full (very!) weeks, in English.