Solving Problems With Gardens


http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcolman/542378377/in/photostream/By Giovanni Galluzzo

Some years ago I decided to go to law school because I wanted to make more money. What I learned in law school actually turned out to be more valuable than any amount of money, especially if that money happens to be fiat currency.

One day, one of my professors mentioned that the Midwest of the United States used to measure on average about twelve feet of top soil in the 1950′s and that by the 21st century the average had decreased to about six feet. I didn’t really notice much of a reaction from my peers, but this statement alarmed me. Perhaps because my parents still grew tomatoes and eggplants and other things in our backyard, I still knew the fact that food comes from soil.

I went home that night and started to do some research. I learned about all kinds of problems from peak oil to water wars to economic collapse. This research, which began in law school and has continued to this day, has provided me insight into many of the vexing problems humanity is facing. We all taste some part of these problems, whether it be a family member with diabetes or even as trivial as why the things we buy break so soon.

In the time since I became a Muslim, I have become well-acquainted with the narrative or various narratives we Muslims tell ourselves. One very common story recounts how the golden age of Islam is a distant memory and we are now under the yoke of this all-encompassing system and we blame the “West”, the Israelis, colonialism or all of the above and more for our problems. But we cannot deny that we are (or at least most of those who are reading this) complicit members of this system.

Do we ever hold ourselves accountable? Are we willing to make the changes, the real sacrifices, that are required to rid ourselves of our guilt in destroying trees, animals and other people? We ARE guilty. We think we are peaceful but we outsource our violence to corporate military entities in exchange for an illusion of security. We think we do not steal or cheat, but we outsource our thievery to banks and financial systems that give us an advantage over people who live worse than slaves and make the things we hold in our hands. We think our food is delicious, because of artificial sugars, but it lacks nutrition and conceals toxins that accumulate slowly in our bodies and our children’s bodies. We think that our homes are nice comfortable places where we can fuss over how to decorate their interiors or where to put the flat screen, but these homes are made of the bones and blood of trees, animals and people.

In my research I also found that many solutions already exist or are being developed. But yet these solutions are not being implemented in a widespread, sincere and equitable way as they need to be.

I have found the most comprehensive set of solutions under something called Permaculture, which is explained below from excerpts I have previously written.

But I want to say this: Permaculture is simply a technical solution. It is a set of design concepts and an accumulated body of knowledge of best practices.

I believe that Permaculture can be useful for Muslims and all people. However, I also believe that without sincere faith in Islam, the technical solutions of Permaculture are meaningless.

Solving Problems with Gardens

Permaculture is an holistic design philosophy and methodology for creating sustainable systems.  Permaculture principles may be applied anywhere; in a modest home or on a thousand acres of land. Permaculture works in the tropics, the deserts and temperate climates alike.

Permaculture is a combination of the words permanent and agriculture. Permaculture seems to be and has been primarily concerned with food production, but its design principles can be and are applied to all areas that people are concerned about including water, energy, industry, transportation, architecture and more. But since we need to eat healthy and wholesome food before we can do other things, it makes sense to focus on food first.

Much of the food today is grown in dead or dying soil and must be fed with petroleum-based fertilizers and kept alive with pesticides. This food is not nutritious and much of it is probably toxic. This is what we eat. How did this happen?

Food wasn’t always grown this way.  Traditionally, food was grown locally and was mostly nutritious and of course it was pesticide and chemical-free. But traditional agriculture is very labor intensive. Due to capacity constraints of traditional agriculture and advances in technology, agriculture moved in a different direction in what is called the “green revolution.” While the green revolution created previously unheard of yields and allowed for greater scale in food production, it also created many problems and many costs were externalized (although we cannot externalize the costs  beyond the borders of the planet). This sort of agriculture is technology or energy intensive. It is also completely dependent on the continued existence of cheap energy inputs such as petroleum and coal. That is why many consider the current system to be unsustainable.  This may pose a real problem, as much of the world population is dependent on this system to get their food.

Permaculture is not simply a return to traditional agriculture although it borrows many practical ideas, techniques and strategies from traditional systems all over the world. Permaculture is an information or design intensive method of food production. If one goes into a natural jungle or forest, no one is watering, giving fertilizers or spraying pesticides and yet the system is teeming with vibrant and diverse life and energy. Permaculturalists work with nature, not against it, and observe nature in order to develop designs. Permaculture, then, is a science and art of designing man-made systems by using  nature  as a guide.

This excerpt from Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison is illustrative:

“The core of Permaculture is design. Design is a connection between things. It’s not water, or a chicken or the tree. It is how the water, and the chicken and the tree are connected. Permaculture makes the connection, because as soon as you’ve got the connection you can feed the chicken from the tree.”

Again, Permaculture is an holistic design philosophy and methodology for creating sustainable systems.

When I speak of systems, I am talking about organized ways to satisfy human needs and wants.

Permaculture offers ways to grow and distribute food.

Permaculture offers ways to build homes and shelters.

Permaculture offers ways to obtain and store energy.

Permaculture offers way to collect and distribute water.

But we already have modern systems in place that are intended to satisfy humans needs and wants, so why do we need Permaculture?

I will make the following two assertions:

  1. The current systems are unsustainable, meaning that at some point they will no longer be able to satisfy human needs and wants effectively. (For many people on Earth they are already failing.)
  2. The current systems are unethical, destructive, wasteful, and rife with injustice.

Based on these two assertions, it is advisable that we collectively take steps to regain knowledge and capacity over the control and production of resources that satisfy our needs and wants.

If we can successfully find an alternative means of securing resources for our needs and wants we can:

  • protect ourselves or mitigate as much as possible the adverse consequences of failures or collapses of the current systems
  • abstain from perpetuating and  contributing to systems that are unethical, destructive, wasteful, and rife with injustice.

Permaculture is not the only alternative solution that has been proposed, and the wide range of problems occurring require a wide range of solutions. Permaculture, in my opinion, is one of the many solutions proposed and it is one of the most comprehensive and effective means that exists.

Permaculture is not about destroying or completely replacing the current systems but about humbling them. This is accomplished by empowering dedicated individuals and groups to become independent of the system to satisfy their basic needs and wants.

Giovanni Galluzzo blogs at www.murujan.com

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9 Comments

  1. ng says:

    السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

    Well timed article bro on an fascinating subject.

    Permaculture kind of strikes me as the fitrah.

    In sha Allah, this articles inspires and benefits.

    جزاك اللهُ خيراً

    • Giovanni says:

      wa aleikum asSalam wa Rahmatullahi wa Bareketuhu,

      I agree, Permaculture involves a perspective that seeks harmony with reality and nature, which I would say is part of our natural disposition as fitrah is often described in English. So in contrast, we might venture to say that we are in imbalance or away from our fitrah when we are in conflict with the natural world which is precisely where much of humanity is today(including Muslims) and so even with material wealth that some of us have we are still unhappy.

      According to the founder of Permaculture: “There are as many definitions of Permaculture as their are people who practice it.”

      My Definition:
      The science of discovering how Allah has designed nature and the art of implementing what we discover in order to live a wholesome and gracious lifestyle.

      Thank you for your comment ng

      wa iyekum ihdinikum

  2. Ayesha Banu says:

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    Thanks for the amazing article.
    I have always been amazed by Permaculture and how it relates to the Islamic way of life (Walking on this earth with humility and our responsibility towards Allah SWT’s creation).

    I read about Permaculture while searching for the book “Gaia’s Garden”.
    I had few questions for the author,
    -how can one start involving the community in this?
    -how can one use Permaculture system in architectural design? If you could atleast guide me to the right resources.

    • Giovanni says:

      wa aleikum asSalam wa Rahmatullah

      Thank you for your comment and questions sister Ayesha. These are two important questions with vast answers.

      General answers to the questions:

      1. Getting the community involved requires connecting with people and reciprocity.It requires time and effort, and in-person interaction. Depending on where you live you then organize in some way to preserve, access, or create a resource or solve a problem using the strengths and talents of the people in the community as opposed to looking for “external” solutions. This does not mean isolation but rather community self-reliance.

      Here is a link for starting a community garden which is one of many arrangements that can catalyze community self-reliance.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKJexyPwBfk

      2. Architecture is part of the Permaculture curriculum and is looked at holistically. The materials of the building, the way it is constructed, how it will interact with its inhabitants and the surrounding landscape are all considered when building. The climate of the where the building is to be built is the central factor in resolving these considerations.

      More links for useful resources can be found at our website as a good starting place for both questions you raised:
      http://murujan.com/resource-library/

      Feel free to contact us any time about specific questions pertaining to where you live and we will do our best to help insha’Allah

      • Ayesha Banu says:

        Shukran for your answers, suggestions and the links brother. This was a big help and I hope to benefit a lot from it, InshaAllah.
        I am overwhelmed with joy knowing that I can now use my profession(Architecture) combined with Permaculture for doing good for the society and the environment. Permaculture really adds a meaningful dimension to architecture.

        I will surely contact your team in the near future for help and I really want to thank the team of suhaibwebb.com for connecting us with people like you.

        JazakAllah Khair

  3. Yasmin says:

    Jazzakallah khair for sheddding light on this very important issue that isn’t discussed as much as perhaps it should be.

  4. sana says:

    WoW! Awesome article! i’d heard of the term but never realized what it was and how awesome it is until now – thank you!

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