Sunday, August 23, 2009

Permaculture Persecution

I am sure that a lot of my permaculture buddies can sympathize with me about the experience of discussing an exciting permaculture design or idea with someone and then having them respond with “no”, “it will be messy”, “what will the neighbours think”, etc. For those of us who put their heart and soul into permaculture, these responses can be very disheartening. I think that often times these negative responses have to do not only with misconceptions regarding permaculture, but also with different perceptions regarding beauty. In fact, I would bet that most people have not really thought about beauty and depth and that their perceptions regarding beauty are only skin deep.

Here is a case study that concerns “what the neighbours think”. A couple of weekends ago I got into a lively debate at a party with a neighbuor who doesn't like the idea of me (eventually) cutting down the Norway Maple on our front lawn to make way for fruit trees. Her main objection was that she liked the way the tree looked when she walks by. Someone else got into the conversation and asked why I wanted to cut the tree down. When I told her that it was to plant fruit trees in its place she replied, “wouldn't that be, uhhhh…., ugly?” I can assure you gentle reader that I did not say the first thing that came to mind. All I could think of saying at the time was that I guess people have different perceptions of beauty.

Why do I perceive planting fruit trees on my front lawn as beautiful?

There is beauty in the actual fruit trees themselves. While a large maple can be beautiful as well, I would say that a flowering cherry tree, along with the subsequent cherry tree covered in red fruit, is more aesthetically pleasing than a Norway Maple, at least on my front lawn.

There is beauty in eating fruit from your own yard knowing that it hasn't been sprayed with chemical pesticides or fertilized with inorganic fertilizers.

There is beauty in knowing that the fruit from your yard only traveled 20 m on foot to the kitchen rather than being transported from Chile, California, or even St. Jacobs, for that matter, using fossil fuels.

There is beauty in seeing your children get excited about eating fruit grown in their own yard. Take a look at the picture at the end of the blog of my kids eating cherries grown on a dwarf tree in a half barrel.

There is beauty in seeing the kids calling a fruit tree on the property “the restaurant” because of its prolific berries. In this case it is a weeping mulberry. One of our neighbour’s kids even made two pies with berries picked from the tree and gave one to us.

There is beauty in knowing that your fruit trees will help support the local bee populations that are currently under threat from a variety of sources.

There is beauty in knowing that the fruit trees on your property are producing food for your family and not just shade and leaves to rake.

Taking into consideration these aspects, I think that a much deeper appreciation of beauty can be found than simply the appearance of one tree or another. If and when a similar discussion comes up, I hope I will be better prepared to articulate my thoughts and feelings on permaculture and the beauty of home grown food. Please feel free to share any experiences or thoughts that you have had pertaining to permaculture persecution or differing appreciations of beauty.

Here are my kids picking the first ripe cherries from a dwarf tree grown in a half-barrel on the driveway.



DJEB said...

An interesting read, thank you! It's funny how little people realise their perception of beauty is simply a desire to see their standard enforced everywhere without questioning, let alone understanding, where that norm comes from. In as much as permaculture systems mimic the "messy" chaos of nature, if permaculture systems are ugly, do we need to worry about these folks cutting down all our "ugly" forests so that they may be replaced by "beautiful" lawns? I hope not.

On the first Canadian permaculture site I implemented, the boyfriend of the girl next door came by when I was laying down 12 inches of sheet mulch and asked what I was doing. He then asked, "Will that help the grass grow?" He was immediately puzzled when I said "No, I'm trying to kill the grass." Just because everyone wears bell bottoms does not mean that bell bottoms are beautiful. Fashion and beauty should not be confused.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great post! For me you hit the nail on the head with the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If we can educate people about natural beauty, especially children, then there may be a paradigm shift toward functional gardening.
Thanks again

Bippy said...

What would the neighbors think? I'm hoping "Shit yeah, more free eggs!"

We live in an apartment with hippies while trying to save for a house, though, so I might find suburbia a little more difficult.

On your neighbor telling you what to do with your yard because she gets to see it- all I can say is welcome to being female. I know I've been told my entire life that I should smile/dress skimpier/dress in certain colors/loose weight/gain weight/cut my hair/grow my hair etc etc etc because that would make me look better- of course, for the person who's doing the looking.

I had a life-changing moment when I heard some of that typical crap being flung at this one woman and she just calmly said "I am not here to decorate your world." That one statment was so profound, so non-confrontational, but also completely non-negotiable.

I'm glad you like my maple tree, Ms. Neighbor, but my house is not here to decorate your walk. In my opinion it is here to do feed my family. Thus the maple is against my goals and fruit trees are useful. Besides, nothing is as pretty as a cherry tree in bloom.

Pat-f said...

I see the "My way or the highway" attitude a lot on both side of the argument but more so from the permaculture side. If you want to have any credibility you need to take aesthetics in to perspective. As a design professional I find it difficult to sell suitability when it's viewed as messy. Also the Norway Maple had just as much to offer as the cherry tree. Aside from shading your house and acting as a windbrake ( reducing heating and cooling costs), the maple provides much, habitat for wildlife, absorbs water, cleans the air provides food for birds tnx squirrels. Perhaps instead of cutting down the tree an already sunny spot in the yard could be found for the fruit tree.