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Toward the start of this tour, we stopped at the Silk Hope Catholic Worker Community in the outskirts of Siler City, North Carolina. On one and a half acres, this is one of the best land utilization models weve seen in the country.


At Silk Hope, we talked with Dan Schwankl who had recently written an article on the concept of perma-culture for the communitys newspaper.


Schwankl, who has a degree in Sustainable Agriculture from Central Carolina Community College, explains permaculture is short for: permanent agriculture. And he wrote that the principles of permaculture focus on how well a land design uses energy (your energy, the sun, the water, the wind). And how do the elements work together so that relationships between plants and animals aid the rest of the system?


He used the example of a design that used ponds, chickens, vegetable gardens and orchards all in close proximity to on another.


Toads who like the moist banks of the ponds during the day come into the gardens at night and can each eat up to ten pounds of insects a month. When they go back into the water during the day to keep cool, their poop helps fertilize the pond bed. Duckweed grows easily on the pond surface and, thanks to the nutrient rich pond water, can be skimmed off and used as a protein rich food source for the chickens.


If the orchard is connected to the chicken coop, Schwankl writes, the chickens can fertilize the orchard yard; and as they scratch for bugs to feed themselves theyll keep insect levels low.


All the while, the people who live in this well designed system get fresh eggs, vegetables, fruit, fish and meat without the need of bringing in fertilizers (provided by the chicken manure), pesticides (bugs eaten by frogs and chickens), or herbicides (chickens eat weed seed). 


The variations of permaculture are virtually endless.


But Schwankls point is: All people, not just farmers, need to be open to seeing these patterns in order for more food to be grown in areas where it is currently trucked in (often thousands of miles) from outside. Permaculture is not just for people in the country who have acres and acres of land. People can design and grow things in the space they have.


In the space Silk Hope has (again, one and a half acres), they have a fruit tree grove, a greenhouse, chickens, raspberries, black berries and grapes, extensive organic garden beds, a compost area, a wild bird habitat And nestled in between are three small, quite energy efficient homes with composting toilets, solar shower, wood stoves


It is, I believe, environmental stewardship at its best.


And why is all this so important?


Because with the advent of industrialization, urbanization, suburbanization weve significantly shifted our focus away from a small, agrarian based society with good utilization of the land. And whats more, weve significantly moved away from our connectedness to the land.


This is not only tragic environmentally and interpersonally  its sin. By the wholesale bulldozing of the natural environment and artificially carpeting it with concrete and chemically treated sod were killing the eco-system, one-acre, one yard, at a time.


And in the face of the damage thats already been done, in choosing not to restore the environment in the form of varying degrees of permaculture on our properties, we are further committing the sin of omission.


And if that isnt bad enough, we point to idle (read: another sin, as in: idle hands) non-life-giving pastimes like restoring a classic vehicle, watching hours of TV, playing card games on the computer as excuses not to put time into life-giving things like working in a garden or establishing a Backyard Habitat. Like my friend Ted Zawistoski did.


A probation officer in Cleveland, when Teds 9 to5 was done each day, you could often find him, his wife Marge, and daughter Karen out working in their half-acre backyard in North Olmsted, a suburb of Cleveland.


Ohio (as do many states) has a Backyard Habitat Program. Regional consultants tell you about plants and animals indigenous to your area. With this information, the Zawistoskis planted trees, bushes and other plants that provide natural habitat for some of Northeastern Ohios natural species. In addition, the Zawistoskis planted a rather big garden and maintained two beehives.


The family proudly displays a framed document certifying that they (like 20,000 other Ohioans so far) have met the requirements necessary to be an official Backyard Habitat.


And Im sure if God were giving them out, there would be another document on the Zawistoski wall certifying the family was, indeed, official Environmental Stewards. 

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