Before I left for what I imagined would be “permaculture camp”, I did some research so I wouldn’t be that girl pretending I knew what everyone was talking about. I googled enough permaculture terms where I finally felt comfortable reciting its textbook definition. I looked up images of fancy, swirly garden designs. I even found some readings on famous permaculture designers and had pieces of their biographies memorized. Although I’m glad I arrived at the convergence with a basic understanding of permaculture, nothing could have fully prepared me for the awakening I was about to receive.
I arrived at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland midday with a trunk-full of handy camping equipment (thanks, Dad). After a few trips unloading my car, I found a clear space and proudly claimed my camping spot. With the concerted and generous help from my tent-neighbors (aka Terry and Holly) I pitched my tent, and there before me was my new weekend home. I felt accomplished.
As Terry, Holly and I headed to the main grounds together we soaked in our surroundings. We passed by a massive organic garden, abundantly filled with vegetables ready to be harvested. We walked by buildings made of 100% recycled material, like prescription medicine bottles. We crossed paths with young couples sporting dreadlocks, older-aged men passing out green tea, and children running barefoot— the convergence certainly had an eclectic audience, and everyone carried the same happy aura.
Later on, my tent comrades and I branched off to explore different workshops. I went from hands on learning, to powerpoint lectures, to open group discussions. All were inspiring and eye opening, but one talk in particular really resonated with me. It was a discussion of our conventional standards of living. This discussion shook my bones because it made me realize how complacent humans have become watching food rot and go to unused waste before their very eyes. Not just some food— about 40 percent, and it’s happening on farms, grocery stores and in our homes. We have been fed this phenomenon that our food goes “away”, like it mystically disappears; but there is no such thing as “away”. Food waste is one of the largest contributors to our landfills in the U.S. This is not only disheartening for ethical and social reasons, but from an ecological standpoint, that “waste” is unused energy that can be utilized.
One of the many beauties of permaculture is how it views waste as a resource. It develops systems that capture, store and use its own energy rather than using energy from conventional sources. Some examples include: composting, which creates nutrient-rich fertilizer for ongoing gardens, and on a larger scale (like our very own East Bay MUD) breaking down food waste anaerobically and using the methane produced to power buildings. We all learned at a pretty young age that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can change form. So why aren’t more individuals and businesses taking advantage of this sexy, self-sustaining energy cycle?
It’s too bad we have created these enormous industries and systems that have made it exceedingly difficult to care for our environment. But I think the more people become aware of the environmental and personal benefits of permaculture, the more we can integrate these designs into our every day lives.
After celebrating the last night of the convergence with some wine and homemade mead, Terry, Holly and I slowly wandered back to our campground. It may have been the mead talking, but Terry admitted he was surprised to see a girl like me at the convergence. I was a little taken aback, feeling like I was now a seasoned camper, but then I remembered where I came from. I have lived in Danville for the majority of my childhood and adult life. I enjoy dressing up and rocking my heels on dinner dates and, without question, I prefer to camp with an air mattress. But I realized over the weekend that you don’t have to grow dreadlocks or brew your own kombucha to see that our current systems, in terms of sustainability, are incredibly flawed. I see an increase of awareness and critical consciousness spreading rapidly and, as a result, more and more diverse faces are taking sustainability seriously, including myself. I have a feeling these permaculture ideas and practices will continue to expand in Contra Costa and together we can make our communities healthier and more resilient places to live.