Connecting Women Back to the Earth Through Permaculture

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Of the 300 million people in the U.S., close to four in five live in urban areas. But when it comes to the plants and animals that feed and clothe Americans, much of it comes from the rural farmlands of the nation. Trillions of pounds of food are shipped into American ports each year from Asia, South America, and Europe as well.

This vast global exchange of food is to thank for the fresh citrus available in the frigid Midwest in the dead of winter, among other culinary perks of modern-day life. It is also one of the major contributors to carbon levels and pollution. Overall, food production has been found to be responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Permaculture Is a Global Movement 

This is just one place where permaculture enters the picture. A portmanteau of the words “agriculture” and “permanent,” the word was first coined in the 1970s by two Australians who were experimenting with fertilizing and planting on degraded soils in Tasmania. Today, it’s a global movement that has gained footing across the U.S. in ways that includes the quickly expanding role of urban farming and community gardening.

“Technology and industry have stretched the American lifespan and created convenience at the tap of a smartphone button,” says Rashida Davis, a Detroit-based permaculturalist and eco-activist who is part of a growing community in the region that has taken advantage of backyards, empty lots, and vacant lands to create new ecosystems in the middle of the city. She adds, “But these same things that have helped humans so much have also disconnected us from the soil and nature.” 

Permaculture Is Fundamentally a Closed-Loop Ecosystem

Think, for example, of the forest. There are trees, moss, vines, and layers of dirt and decaying leaves. There are the mushrooms that grow from the ground and in the crevices of trees. There are the beetles that make their homes in the hidden spaces. Then there are flowering plants that attract insects that pollinate and spread seeds that, in turn, re-create plants and ecosystems.

“With permaculture, the goal is to re-create that kind of loop and reinsert it into everyday human life and living spaces, such as your garden or a community area in your neighborhood,” says Davis, who identifies as Black and Indigenous. “We also want to reconnect humans to the soil. We’re part of this earth; we’re not rulers over it.”

It’s Also About Maximizing Yield While Minimizing Environmental Impact

Davis is part of one of the largest urban farming and permaculture movements in the nation. Detroit is home to more than 1,400 small farms that have popped up over a matter of decades. On her tiny farm in the yard behind her house, Davis grows kale and crowder peas. In the front yard, bees buzz as part of a tiny honeymaking operation that produces enough for her own household and a handful of friends.

“The idea goes beyond just growing for yourself and your community,” Davis says. “It’s trying to at once maximize the yield while having the least impact on the landscape. It’s okay to not have much food or to not grow food at all. It’s also okay to move slowly. It’s great to aim for a diverse ecosystem. We want each element in nature, including humans as well as plants, to mutually benefit from the other.”

Another aspect, she says, is also important. “Permaculture may seem like a new idea for modern times. Yet, for people whose ancestors were enslaved or worked the land for sustenance, it is also returning to practices that have been in families for decades or centuries.”

The Bottom Line

Across the country, permaculture networks and conferences are rapidly expanding and now regularly taking place at universities and community centers. There are national and international organizations for women in permaculture as well as Black, Latino, and Indigenous permaculturists. Food and the soil, after all, do not discriminate against color, gender, or any other marker of identity. As Davis puts it, “Permaculture is for everyone.”

Tags: Environment, gardening, Sustainability

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Written By

JD Turner

JD Turner is a writer and puppy parent based in Los Angeles. See Full Bio

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