Responding to an Invitation to Co-Create
By Sister Anne-Marie
Recent theological emphasis has been placed on the human role as co-creators with God in building the Kingdom. My personal invitation to co-create came in the form of an e-mail from Common Circle Education announcing a course on permaculture design. Among the topics we would be learning about were: reading the land and natural cycles, soil regeneration and land restoration, rainwater harvesting and conservation, renewable energy and appropriate technology, waste recycling and treatment, and designing sustainable, thriving cities.
Our instructors were top-notch and I especially liked our primary teacher, Larry Korn, who covered the principles of permaculture and most of the soil and land restoration topics. The three ethical considerations of permaculture are (1) Care for Earth (2) Care for people (3) Sharing of the surplus. Permaculture goes beyond sustainability to embrace restoration. Every permaculture project starts with the question “What does the land need”?
Ever since making a retreat in 2000 with Sr. Miriam Therese MacGillis, OP, at Sacred Heart Villa in Saco, Maine, I have been interested in eco-spirituality. A small inter-community group of Sisters has continued to meet monthly since then focusing on issues regarding Earth and interfacing with other individuals or organizations in our bioregion. We call ourselves Earth Sisters Maine.
The topic of permaculture interested me because of this background and in order to learn more about our relationship with the land. My ideas about landscaping have changed a great deal. Before I learned about permaculture, I admired well-manicured lawns and orderly flower gardens. A permaculture yard would probably not contain either. The land would be rehabbed to enrich the soil and would have fruit trees, edible plants, forest gardens, a pond, berry bushes, a compost heap or bin, a rain barrel or two and swales to redirect rain water.
The property can still be aesthetically pleasing, but be focused on food production. Some properties would have chickens or goats depending on zoning laws. To be in harmony with all creation certainly applies to our own back yard and is a great way to model for others the beginnings of food security and a strong bond with the land that we call ours, but really belongs to all.
In the ethics of permaculture there is the commitment to share the surplus. Extra vegetables can be given away to neighbors or brought to food co-ops or farmers’ markets. I noticed that those truly dedicated to permaculture take their cues from the land and live in the present moment, aware, awake and alive to the information the land is giving to them. It is a symbiotic relationship rather than a human-dominated one such as you see in industrial farming
One principal of permaculture is to catch and store energy. The sun’s energy is stored in plants, trees, vegetables and perennial plants. The idea is to plant edible growth over ornamental and to produce no waste. Too much of a resource is pollution. Elements are to be integrated rather than segregated. Small, slow solutions are preferred and there is a value on diversity since it offers strength and resiliency. An example of permaculture planting that you may already know is the three sisters: planting corn, beans and squash together.
The beans use the corn for climbing and the squash is shaded by the corn. This guild is an example of plants that like being with each other. In instituting guilds we are taking our cues from nature and going with what will work best for the plants and the soil. The course – which resulted in me getting a certificate in permaculture design — also included several field trips to farms, food co-ops, transportation centers, eco-villages and intentional communities. The last day two groups of five participants each presented a design project. The group I was in did ours on a design for a “green cemetery” using no embalming, spreading ashes in orchards and burying bodies without caskets and vaults using only hemp shrouds.
Throughout the course, eight women slept in a small dormitory space above the kitchen. There were shower facilities outside in a separate building. The water was heated by passive solar with a gas backup system. The composting toilets were also located outside on the property separate from the classroom or dorms. In an effort to lead by example and live lightly upon Earth as well as encourage a healthy diet, all meals were vegan and additionally soy and wheat free. For our 16 day stay, this meat, potatoes and vegetable girl ate a diet of six fruits, eight vegetables and rice cakes! It was probably the most challenging part of the social permaculture aspect of the course for me. The food was all organic, but how hard it was for me to adjust to this very different way of eating.