This week I took a tour of the amazing Inspiration Farm in Bellingham (traditional and rightful Lummi and Nooksack territory). In two hours, the tour challenged how I think about possibilities of growing food and reversing climate change. The farmers have such nuanced use of permaculture principles that they are able to grow thriving food forests and annual vegetables without watering (how is this even possible?). They have studied ways to plow the earth that turns flood areas into food fields with moisture running deep, making an area less vulnerable to weather extremes. The family farm, run by Brian Kerkvliet and Alexandra King, has found ways to build up top soil!
Conventional agriculture is one of the great dangers to our climate. We are losing top soil at an alarming rate of 24 bn tonnes a year with 24% of the world’s productive soil already having been degraded. This threatens our food systems but also reduces the living eco systems of the soil that store carbon and helps to regulate the climate. While conventional practices claim that it takes 500 years to build an each of top soil, the Inspiration Farmers have been building multiple inches within three year periods. They use humanely and sparingly but as helpers in building top soil. This has concrete, hopeful possibilities for fighting climate change.
Inspiration Farm uses Principles of Permaculture (summary below) as part of their commitment to Regenerative Agriculture (RA). RA seeks to support soil, water, animal, and human systems through radically changing current agricultural practices to be grounded by respect and support for all. Increasingly, the techniques are proving to have the power to reverse climate change.
As university faculty, I am committed to helping empower students to address climate change. This fall I am teaching a course, “Food Security and Land Justice: Food Sovereignty in Changing Cultures and Climates.” Consistent with most subjects in my teaching area, I have much to teach and even more that can expand my own learning. As part of the course, we will tour Inspiration Farm and witness possibilities to engage in the food system in ways that will not only cease harm but have possibilities to accomplish great healing. Together, we will seek solutions and work to build both soil and social justice.
Principles of Permaculture:
1. It’s the connections between things that matter.
2. Each element performs multiple functions (at least three).
3. Each function is supported by many elements, many energy paths, job redundancy, and each is fail-safe.
4. Energy-efficient planning — Concentrate beneficial and scatter hostile energies.
5. Use biological resources to save energy, produce needed materials and perform work. The key is timed management.
6. Energy cycling and recycling. Catch, store, use and cycle energy before it degrades.
7. Appropriate technology — Make the choice of tools work for you. Design things that are life-enhancing, low-cost, durable, producing net energy, safe in production, use and disposal.
8. Design small-scale, intensive systems.
9. Stack and pack your system.
10. Create diversity and edge within the system. Increase the sum of the yield of a system and spread the yield over time.
11. Observe and replicate natural patterns.
12. Ethics and attitude matter.
13. Turn problems into solutions: everything is a positive resource.
14. Make the greatest change for the least effort: work where it counts.
15. We are only limited by a lack of information and imagination.
16. Work with, not against nature.
17. Everything gardens: everything has an effect on its environment.
18. Care for the earth, care for people and care for the community.
19. Distribute the surplus, limit consumption and population.
20. Every living thing has intrinsic worth.