Sunday, August 25, 2013

Farms, Gardens & Epidemics! – Part 2: What They Have in Common as Tools for Building Resilience

In this three-part series we’re exploring how farms, gardens and epidemics illustrate the permaculture principle, Integrate Rather Than Separate (or “stacking functions”), and through this principle, how they might contribute to building personal and community resilience. Last week we looked at Masanobu Fukuoka’s “do-nothing” approach to farming, as described in his book “One Straw Revolution” and saw how he was able to leverage elements of his farm’s eco-system to accomplish more with less. However, as I also pointed out, farming is not necessarily practical for most people to take up. So, this week we’ll be looking at the garden and how we might achieve similar goals.

The Home Garden: More Than Just Another “Pretty Face”

In residential settings people may often view gardens as simply ornamental or decorative landscaping (your neighbor with the green thumb’s vegetable or herbal garden not withstanding!). However, the home (or community) garden can have quite a few more tricks up its sleeve than you may have realized. In Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway describes other potential benefits they provide and how to go about implementing them. Here are just a few:
  • outdoor physical activity or exercise
  • in addition to utilizing rain water, the ability to otherwise hold it onsite and then later, slowly release it back into the environment, thereby helping to reduce the load on local sewer systems
  • utilization of trees and bushes, which in addition to their potential for providing edible fruits, berries or nuts, through strategic placement, can help manage heating and cooling loads, by providing shade in the summer while letting sun through in the winter.  They can also serve as wind or firebreaks or a form of natural fencing to deter intruders” (both animal and human!)
  • habitat for birds, insects and other animals, who in turn help to control or eliminate undesired pests, potentially replacing or mitigating the need for expensive and possibly harmful fertilizers and chemicals often used for this purpose
  • material for the compost pile, a dividend arising out of a garden’s “waste”, which can then be continuously returned (or reinvested) to build and improve the garden’ soil health and structure, potentially reducing or eliminating the need for commercial fertilizers. . .
. . .beginning to see a pattern here?

These benefits are very similar to those described by Fukuoka using his “do-nothing” approach!

permaculture corner in my gardenThe specifics of how to design a garden in this way is beyond the scope of this post, so again, I encourage you to check out Gaia’s Garden for yourself (or any other of the numerous gardening resources available). However, what I hope you’ll take away from this week’s installment is that in so many ways, the garden is more than “just a pretty face”. A garden designed to “stack functions” can simultaneously perform multiple tasks in the process of achieving the overall goal of growing things to eat or pretty things to look at.  Even as it utilizes resources, it can also regenerate and improve them. Eventually, it might even become more self-managing, thereby reducing some of the work and expense of maintaining it.

So, looked at another way, beyond a garden’s harvest, which can certainly be sold for profit, there is additional “money” literally growing on the trees and other plants within it, and as such it should be viewed as a tremendous asset.

Changing Your Intent


 What You Can Do Now!

Still on the fence about starting your own garden? Or, maybe you live in the city or an apartment building and don’t think you have access to enough space to do it. Well, think again!
  1. Consider becoming a member of a local community garden, before taking the plunge yourself (in NYC, visit Just Food or GrowNYC for more information about these options)
  2. Or, another option for the urban or apartment dweller is a window box or container garden.  You would be surprised how much you can actually grow in small spaces.  Start with something simple like herbs or spices to jazz up your meals, before attempting a more ambitious project. Your local botanical garden or similar organization is a good place to start learning more (in NYC: New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanical Garden or Queens Botanical Garden)
  3. Already gardening or supporting one in your community?  Drop me a comment here, or start a discussion on my With Intent Facebook page.
Urban Gardening

Next week, in the final installment of this series, I’ll explain what epidemics have to do with all of this, before tying everything up.

See you then!


  1. I've finally got a chance to check out your blog!!

    My boyfriend grew up on the farm. And, I just love hearing the stories of his childhood. It's also a great place to visit when we go see his parents.

    We haven't really talked about the stacking function of farms, but I'm sure this will be an awesome topic with them!

    The boyfriend and I have a small garden on our balcony -- mostly herbs and lettuce. It's rather small, but the plants have attracted hummingbirds. Not sure if they are helping eliminate pests, but they sure are beautiful to look at!

    Thanks for this post. Will be sharing it with the boyfriend!

  2. Hi Jennifer!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Hmmmm...humming birds! That's nice. I would imagine they help with pollination in some way. You've got me curious. I'll have to look into it a little further. But a key thing that you've said is that they're beautiful to look at, and part of my philosophy of living with intent is to just take time to enjoy the whimsy and delight that we encounter.

    One morning I saw what looked like a piece of cellophane stuck to a bar on my fire escape. A moment later when I looked again, it turned out to be a dragon fly! That really made my day. I was able to snap a picture of it. You can check it out at Permie Peeks: Morning Visitor (