When it comes down to it, nearly every daily choice you make can be a chance to impact the world—including choosing the food you put on your plate. How we choose to eat can be an activist act in 2017, if you rely less on the Walmart and more on the farmers market or your own garden. If the president goes through with his plan to tax Mexican imports by 20 percent, (considering that our Southern neighbors are responsible for nearly 70 percent of our vegetable imports and over 40 percent of our fruit imports), expect the price on perishables like avocados and tomatoes to skyrocket.
But before you get scared about the future of your produce supply, consider this: Everything humans need to survive can—and should—be sourced from the local environment, say local permaculture experts. Internationally recognized permaculture educator, designer and speaker Marisha Auerbach says: "Permaculture is a design system that responds to the unique local environment and culture of each place."
Colin Doyle, education and events director of Lost Valley Education Center, a permaculture farm in Dexter, Oregon, concurs: "Permaculture is a way of working with the forces of the natural world and not against them to be of benefit to our own human needs." We spend so much of our lives trying to make our mark on the world and fit things to our own perception, that the idea of working with the natural world should seem more intuitive than it actually is.
"The current political situation has shown us that there is a large gradient of what Americans think is best for the future," says Auerbach. "I need to be an optimist to get out of bed in the morning. The practice of permaculture has developed with the intention to provide a positive way to respond to the various challenges, ecologically, economically and socially, that we currently face. I think some Americans will respond to the current situation by becoming more connected with their food. Others will become less connected as they fall into despair or lack the information to know how to make healthy food choices."
Doyle thinks there might be more immediate threats than trade wars and food shortages. "Utter dependence on fossil fuels to feed much of the 7+ billion people on Earth is the looming threat that few seem to talk about," says Doyle. "We are VASTLY overpopulated, and the other shoe is going to drop—I'm impressed it hasn't in any considerable way yet. I see a confluence of factors running short soon: fresh water, oil, food, nuclear restraint and stable currency. It's hard to predict which will falter first and which will follow, but local supply of life needs is a very resilient position to put oneself in now, while it's still easy and we aren't dependent on it, and therefore can afford to experiment and make mistakes. This is the calm before the storm, and we should seize the opportunity."
Seizing that opportunity by shifting into a system as multi-layered (pun intended) as permaculture can be intimidating, but far from impossible. "One good first step is getting your hands in the dirt in whatever way you can, not just to grow food, but for your psychological health too," says Doyle. "Help someone with their garden, then start your own, then convert your lawn to food (instead of a resource drain). This is in the usual application of organic gardening, but permaculture goes far beyond that. As Bill Mollison said, 'Permaculture is a revolution disguised as organic gardening.' It can be applied to any human system, from local currency to interpersonal conflict to teaching math. Going deeper still, adopting the cooperative lens on the world that permaculture offers changes worldviews."
Growing your own food in C. O.
In Central Oregon, there are specific challenges to the permaculture way of living. Auerbach, who lives on an urban farm in Portland and specializes in neighborhood-scale food production, explains: "In a dry land environment, like Bend, excessive irrigation can cause our soils to become saline. It is important to conserve water in this sort of a climate. By choosing locally adapted varieties of vegetables and fruits, we are able to grow things that have been trained over the years to do well in local conditions. Organic food is fertilized with compost or manure, which enriches the water storage capacity of the soil, so plants need less water. Not only this, but compost prevents organic waste from ending up in the landfill, which creates methane gas."
Permaculture design isn't just about our food or our gardens, but the way we exist day-to-day long into the future. "Each day, we design our lives," says Auerbach. "We live in homes and cities that were designed by someone. We seek to design human habitats that are based in good stewardship of local resources. As I have studied permaculture and been fortunate to travel, I find it amazing to learn about how nature meets human needs in unique ways in each climate. In permaculture design, we base our decisions on caring for the earth and the people; this leads to long-term stewardship. Permaculture design provides a framework for learning how to read the landscape, tend to water, care for the soil, grow food, build healthy homes, invest sustainably, build community and develop right livelihood in a way that supports humans living indefinitely on this planet into the future."
Learn growing practices:
The Environmental Center's Learning Garden
Ongoing volunteer opportunities available
Permaculture Design Certificate Course (once a week, accessible for commuters)
Spring: Mar. 1-May 17; Summer: May 31-Aug. 16
Lost Valley Educational Center
81868 Lost Valley Ln. Dexter, OR
Permaculture Design Course in Belize, with Marisha Auerbach
Feb. 25-Mar. 11
Maya Mountain Research Farm
Near San Pedro Columbia, Toledo District, Belize
Purchase food from local farmers:
Central Oregon Locavore indoor farmers market
1841 NE 3rd St., Bend
Local Farmers Markets
Bend Farmers Market Opens June 7; Wednesday markets in downtown Bend; Friday markets at Mountain View High School in NE Bend
Northwest Crossing Farmers Market Opens in June on NW Crossing Dr. in Bend. nwxfarmersmarket.com
Find local farm deliveries and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs at LocalHarvest.org/bend-or/csa