The Degrowth Paradigm

Wow! I was just racking my brain the other day trying to imagine how the concept and practice of permaculture could be applied to all aspects of life (social, economic, etc.) I mean if we could mimic nature to achieve a sustainable and productive food forest couldn’t that same theory be applied to work? Finances? Relationships?

I couldn’t get my head wrapped around it – it seemed limitless and complicated. A food forest depends on biodiversity and the symbiotic relationship between all it’s elements. One element serves multi functions. The whole concept, in practice, requires far less maintenance than a small tilled vegetable plot. And is far more productive.

How could I take my three jobs and apply permaculture principals. Work smarter. Shorter hours with increased production and increased rewards (monetary). Not to consume more but to have the time to pursue my own interests and hobbies.

I asked my 22 year old daughter. She rolled her eyes and looked at me like I was mad YET she was the one who had told me a few days before that she was worried that we, as a society, were growing too fast. That the planet couldn’t keep up with our growth and civilization was not meant to continually grow. (She’s still pissed about the mining in the Great Barrier Reef and life isn’t worth living any more)

Well what pops up on my fb news feed today – a CBC podcast on the Degrowth Paradigm. I’m not about to start living in a Yurt and some of this stuff is a little way out there for me but compelling! And it helped get my head wrapped around a different way of living.

I have never been a big consumer. As long as I have enough to pay the bills and muck about home I’m happy. I don’t want winter vacations in Aruba and I haven’t had cable television for six years. But even that is getting to be a challenge; one job turned into two, then two to three and I’m working on a fourth – just to meet those minimal requirements.

There is no time for self anymore. Everything used to be closed on Sundays. Now you can work 24/7. And this is a good thing?

“‘Degrowthists’ aim to maximize happiness and well-being through non-consumptive means—sharing work, consuming less, while devoting more time to art, music, family, culture and community.” – Economic Degrowth for Sustainability and Equity

So degrowth proponents say it isn’t enough to look for alternative energy solutions (solar, wind) as a solution to depleting our resources – we need to stop being such consumption pigs! We are growing at such a rate that even renewable resources will be unable to keep up or our quest to find new technological means to extract our non renewable resources threatens our renewable resources – WATER!

An interesting contradiction here though – “Degrowth therefore sees sustainable development as an oxymoron as any development based on growth in a finite and environmentally stressed world is seen as inherently unsustainable” – Wikipedia

So sustainability is bad?

“Proponents of degrowth hold that the only effective ‘sustainable’ solutions must involve a complete rejection of the growth paradigm and a move toward a degrowth paradigm” – Wikipedia

Food for thought….

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So you want to eat your yard

ImageWith all the talk about GMO’s, pesticides, food waste and the rising cost of groceries, I made a decision earlier this year to become completely self sustainable. It’s a process.

The thought of renting or purchasing a tiller and tedious seed planting then a summer of weeding really didn’t seem appealing or practical. Especially when I could walk into any grocery store during the fall harvest and buy a ten pound bag of potatoes or beets for two bucks.

But then I discovered permaculture! These crazy food forests that self seed or produce perennial crops. You wouldn’t dare till! Just add – newspaper, leaves, compost, twigs, dieing plants…..I have visions of wandering through a lush forest, foraging for berries, apples, beans, squash, grapes – oh my! Never again will I fidget impatiently in a line behind the 90 year old who still is trying to pay with the stash of pennies they have saved from the great depression.

I can walk right out my back door, basket in hand and select my fresh dinner of choice. I could do that and still wear my pajamas! (My ultimate goal in life is to wear my pajamas all day, every day) I already have a start on this permaculture thing! I’ve been doing it all along and never even realized it was a movement! I have concord grapes on my sunshade, tayberries growing up the side of my barn, the best patch of rhubarb in town – ask anyone. An apple tree and a great crabapple tree that sprouted up on its’ own a couple of years ago and produced a stunning show of spring blossoms. And all that stuff I THOUGHT were weeds? Well turns out they have all kinds of uses and play an important role in my food forest. Let ’em grow!

I didn’t know where to start. The more I read about permaculture (and there’s a lot!) the more excited I became! I started randomly filling nooks and crannies of my flower gardens with onions and beans. I planted more beans in the containers on the back deck and filled the others with herbs. I had been burying an old fire pit on my property with twigs and leaves then discovered I could get free wood chips from the township. I put them everywhere and added them to that fire pit that mounded into a lovely decaying den of iniquity for squash plants. In went the seeds. There is a name for that too it turns out – HugelKultur!

The more I read about permaculture the more I realized it was a science and it was going to take planning and strategy. I started taking notes, and drew a big master plan. I joined permaculture groups and took online courses. I started to preach to people with this crazed look in my eye. Then came pinterest – I won’t even get started on that, and spoke at a local presentation on food forests as though I had been doing it all my life.

I was excited to harvest my small bounty and waited patiently for the grapes to turn that lovely shade of purple to indicate just the right amount of tartness. I missed out on the best of the rhubarb because my patch sits close to the road and mysteriously vanishes in midnight harvesting raids. I know who you are. I have seen you drive by nonchalantly in that old pick up truck to see if it’s ready. Some insect got at the beans in the container off the deck and the dog tromped my onions. I managed to beat the squirrels to my apples but they got most of the squash seeds.

I still had those grapes though. They were coming in beautifully. A couple more days. I was busy on pinterest gathering recipes for grape jam, grape jelly, grape chutney. I grabbed my basket, still in my pajamas and headed for the sunshade. Grape holocaust! Hundreds of half eaten and squashed grapes littered my flagstone patio and stained my outdoor furniture cushions. There were grapes everywhere! Mangled, unripened bunches left behind. The raccoon! The one that took up residence in my barn this summer! I even took out treats for him the ungrateful sot! Saved him from a fate worse than death at the hands of my ferocious toy poodle!

I still had my crab apples though. Never mind that I could have collected those from any one of the million crab apple trees littering the side roads. I settled on a jalapeno, crab apple jelly and it turned out amazing. Oh well – maybe next year will turn out a little better.

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The lazy environmentalist

I said I would never compost. I still have nightmares of my mother sending me out to her cone shaped space capsule – a nineties composter – with a stinking, overflowing, sticky green bin to “dump”. There was never any room in that composter. I think it was overflowing the day she bought it and the fill spout was six inches in diameter. The top of the green bin was 12 inches. Do the math.

I discovered recently that I do have a conscience. I can no longer ignore the state of our planet – it’s watersheds, it’s climate, it’s habitat and all it encompasses. No longer can I see the fruitlessness of doing my part no matter how small. Gone are my days of blissfully tossing my food scraps, tin cans and glass bottles into the garbage. Gone are my guilt free days of blowing my leaves onto the street, flushing unmentionables down the toilet, letting oil leaks go unchecked, chuckling at my neighbors as they hauled out cumbersome recycle bins.

A new vision came with that conscience and, like the Grinch, “…it grew three sizes that day!” A vision of sustainability and accountability. So I reluctantly made space for three recycle bins in my small house – halfway between the kitchen and the front door. In the fall I set up a composter in a convenient location off the kitchen door and deck. Instead of resenting its’ unsightly nature and attempting to hide it, I placed it so it stands out boldly and screams to all the world that here in lies a composter! I hauled the dusty green compost bin in from the barn and display it proudly in my kitchen, pleased when the lid bulges from use and I imagine the crumpled egg shells and coffee grains nourishing plants in my garden next summer. I proudly join my neighbors, an array of flannel pajamas, plaid housecoats and fuzzy slippers, transporting overflowing bins to the curb side.

And I am especially pleased that the lid of my green bin is still 12 inches BUT my composter is 28 inches!

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