About 25 years ago my husband and I found ourselves having to start new lives. Our lives had taken a sharp turn for the worst in the late 80’s and we quite suddenly found ourselves broke with a new young family; one 16 year old boy and 3 babes under 2 to provide for. We were quite shell-shocked, disorientated and struggling our way through every day. Our losses and 3 difficult pregnancies had taken a hard toll. We had moved to an old Ontario farmstead to lick our wounds in peace and through a weird twist of events decided to give herb farming a go. We had both been raised on farms and were at this stage of our lives desperately longing to find a simple way to be in the world. We also needed a way to be productive and earn a living while we tried to rebuild and restructure our lives. At some primal level we also knew that we needed to get our feet into the dirt; literally get back to our roots. We were starting over.
Making a Living
Our choice was to focus on growing many varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs and perennial flowers suitable for drying, selling the produce from the farm and at farmer’s markets and craft shows. These were high density crops that could survive and hopefully thrive with the meager assets we could provide. Our land and our lives had specific inherent challenges that we had to get around if we wanted to realize any kind of success. First and foremost was that we had no money nor slush fund to work from. Secondly, we had really crappy land to work with. Half of our gardens were on land that was seriously depleted from dozens of years of being a badly kept lawn, and the other half of the land was stolen from the adjacent corn and soy bean fields that had been repeatedly sprayed for years on end with chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. A serious challenge for an organic herb farm! We also had a minimal water supply – enough for the house only. The area was further challenged in that it had no shelter therefore it experienced full sun, wind and rain exposure leaving it prone to erosion and drought. There were very little native resources on site. Thankfully we were extremely resourceful, had great support from family and close friends and we had neighbours that were very willing to help the new crazy people on the block if only for the giggle value.
Growing, growing, growing!
We were already committed to working organically, utilizing raised beds, mulch, compost and manure fertlizer. As we researched various gardening methods and techniques to help us deal more effectively with the site issues we stumbled into and started experimenting with biodynamic gardening and permaculture techniques. As we grew and developed our ideas, we brought in more and more species and created more and more gardens and increased our biodiversity exponentially. Eventually we had created 19 20’x20’ plots for experimental/demonstration gardens plus a “Tea” herb garden, a 30’x40’market herb garden plus a 50’x50′ english/medicine wheel/labyrinth garden for wandering in, meditation and ceremony. We also renovated one driving shed into a drying storage barn and another into a flower workshop and gift shop. A lean-to verandah became a makeshift greenhouse, a lean-to shed was stripped of it’s inner and outer coverings and became another greenhouse/chicken coup and finally 3 4’x20’ cold frames were dug out of a south facing slope. We were holding guided gardening tours, various educational and crafting workshops, and selling exclusively from the farm year round. These were some of the physical successes we had. Today I would do things almost the same way, tweak some ideas, and hopefully be able to invest in certain aspects of the farm better than I could in those days but all in all it was a great experience, my kids grew up grazing and it served us well for over 7 years. Because we were deeply immersed in the process we barely noticed the really spectacular achievement of those years. The really important value was that as we healed the land it healed us, we transformed, we came back to life!
As we came back to health and our family thrived, life took another turn, my husband was ‘called’ back to working with heavy equipment and I had been ‘called’ into energy work and by 1998 Reiki had taken over all my time. We left the farm and moved into new career directions, the gardening principles persisted however but this time in an entirely new dimension. Today I am once again walking my crooked path and have come full circle. With some wisdom gained through review and hindsight I have decided to get certified as a permaculture designer. All my previous career paths are coming together into one – I feel whole and full.
Why Permaculture Today
The reason I mention all this today is that almost 25 years ago my husband and I chose permaculture as a way to live and work in the world; not because of climate change, not because of the world water issues, not because of imminent oil or financial industry collapse but simply because we needed to get well. We needed to heal. We needed to get our feet in the soil and get in touch with our souls and re-connect with nature again. During those years on the farm we received hundreds of visitors as our guests. I became deeply aware of the pain and suffering people were experiencing in their daily lives. They were struggling with health and unhappiness issues. They came, drawn in by the herbs, and they sat in the gardens – sometimes for hours. I recognized the need for the garden as a healing energy in people’s lives. A deeply restorative place in which we can sit immersed in primordial order. In a natural well designed garden we are held and supported, nurtured and healed.
Permaculture offers us a permanent natural culture that is built on year after year on any scale in any situation. It naturally supports us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We are healed and revitalized energetically as well and it doesn’t depend on us becoming avid gardeners with glowing green thumbs. In “permacultural” living we work and live together with nature harmoniously, neither tries to override and dominate the other, we don’t become slave to each other and we naturally nurture each other with food, energy and peace. Nature and we relax – together. Our garden becomes a living sanctuary for all species of life. We listen to each other and enjoy a symbiotic natural relationship.
I’m mentioning this today because permaculture is one of those things that is just right and good for you to do for you today on whatever scale you choose. If any of this appeals to you I would be happy to discuss and help you design your permaculture home sanctuary.