On this day of International Permaculture, we celebrate its diversity and use around the globe.
Permaculture initially emerged as an antidote to short-term agricultural practices and its socio-ecological and economic consequences in Australia in the 70s. Its evolution was significantly driven by the transnational spread of environmental and peace movements as well as the accessibility of scientific reports on the limits of growth on our planet. Be assured, you will have a hard time pinning down the meaning of permaculture. It has attracted the attention of a diversity of minds from across the world and spread with a determinacy found in the streamline of a river. Some like to refer to it as “a revolution disguised as organic gardening.” What is crucial to the self-conscious development of permaculture is its adaptability to any context.
From May 4th-6th GAIA has been gathering its volunteers and friends from across Kosovo, Serbia, Germany, France, Austria and Australia amidst the rolling hills of Bozevce for an introduction to permaculture by Pippa, a permaculture teacher who is originally from Australia.
Applying permaculture design principles to our volunteering work for GAIA means an engagement in an ongoing learning process about the people and the environment. The majority of us work for positive social and environmental change within Kosovo and Serbia, yet we face different challenges and needs. In the past few days, we have been able to expand our personal and group understanding of the different volunteering experiences through the application of Holmgren’s 12 principles and different analysis strategies of permaculture. Together, Pippa’s insights into the practical and ethical richness of Permaculture equipped us with practical tools and inspirations to contribute to permaculture’s pursuit of transforming destructive realities into more regenerative ones.
Nestled on the 6th floor of the public library of Mitrovica, GAIA’s community garden has been sprouting its roots across the grey firmament of the building since the beginning of this month. The idea to create a public gardening stemmed from the desire expressed by our local volunteers, Mev, Mimoze and Genti as well as our cooperating partner 7 Arte, to foster new green spaces within the urbanized landscape of the city.
Mitrovica is facetious to say the least. The city buzzes with events organized by the civil sector and young people filling the public spheres which contributes to an overall vibrant atmosphere. Students are eager to participate in events and volunteering with local organizations is very common. The city is also known for its bridge that reaches across the Ibar as well as across the different communities living in the city. Its socialist legacy, embodied by the Trepca mine, is well anchored in the public memory of different generations – while the traces of the immense human suffering of the Kosovo war remain encapsulated by the continuing presence of foreign peace keeping forces patrolling the streets.
Mev, Mimoza and Genti our local GAIA volunteers brought forth the challenge; that green spaces are gradually shrinking as construction sites mushroom on all corners of the city. Mitrovica’s urban landscape is growing – which is a positive development overall, but at whose and at which costs? A large share of families is living in apartment nowadays and do not have the possibility to have their own garden to grow their own vegetables and avoid industrially treated fruits and vegetables. This rapid urbanization leads to a trend that food consumption and production are increasingly separated from consumers as well as local food practices. Especially younger generations gradually become desensitized to traditional knowledge concerning gardening, harvesting and cooking held within their families. Finally, urban development through deregulated construction projects heavily bears down on the natural landscape of the city. New buildings hardly ever consider environmental impact assessments and infrastructural needs in their building process. It all boils down to the desire for economic growth at the expense of eco-health and the nature’s ability to regenerate from exploitative development practices. In the context of Kosovo, this debate needs to be thoroughly addressed through the inclusion of a well-informed and critical civil society. Without going into much more detail, the peace garden serves the purpose to sensitize young and old to the underpinning rational of permaculture in an urban and developing context and thereby offers a locale in which the right to development and its wider socio-ecological dimensions can be addressed.
The garden opens twice a week to have young adults and school classes from across Mitrovica participate in ongoing activities. These range from constructing raised beds out of recycled materials, planting seeds and transplanting them into flower beds. Permaculture approaches to gardening inform our ideas and guide our decisions towards using the patterns and resilient features in the natural and urban ecosystem of our garden. This journey began by forging a synergy with 7Arte, a local cultural initiative that has been eager to establish its own garden and share their library and terrace with us. It further translated into using materials that would usually end up on the waste dump for raised beds and decoration, and inventing our own irrigation system to water feed our seedlings. In order to connect our actions with the larger context of climate change and environmental stressors, the open days offer visitors to engage in open discussion formats on environmental challenges faced globally and felt locally. These topics change each day and vary between the use and functions of natural remedies such as herbs, the interrelation between water, energy and food security in Kosovo, eco-health and air pollution in Kosovo, the perils of hydropower in preserved terrains, climate change, and the use of pesticides and its havocking impact on bee stocks and pollination cycles. It is truly encouraging that everyone brings with them valuable knowledge and experiences about their social and environmental livelihoods and seeks to relate their experiences with more regional and globally felt challenges. By redirecting the discussions through a system-thinking perspective we hope to co-create an environment in which we can learn strategies and define tools that support the transition from a dependent consumer to becoming responsible producer within their own arm length.
One of our biggest challenges is to make motivated gardeners from Mitrovica feel comfortable enough to take over one of our open days and make it theirs, teach us about their needs perception and interests to increase the sustainability of the project. The open days will be continued throughout the summer months and hopefully see more flowers laughing in our garden.
Not very long ago, people made stools by joining pieces of wood, baskets by weaving branches, bowls by shaping clay, spoons by carving twigs and ropes by tying fibers. Today those very diverse things are all often produced out of the same material: plastic. But in the houses of our neigbours we have found signs of that past that will also become our future, whether we like it or not, when we run out of oil. Sometimes it was an old hand tool or piece of furniture, though more often just a few words thrown carelessly after the phrase “people used to …”, as if they were empty talk. But those memories are worth much more than what their very owners think. They are our only chance to earn back some of the wealth of knowledge and craftmanship lost to industry in the modern age. That is one of the reasons why we have set out on recording our neighbours while they go about their daily business taking care of animals, making cheese, pies, preserves and brandy, working the land and cutting wood. But it is not the only reason, neither it is the most important.
This is Antonia, the German who is spending a year in Bozevce doing weltwaerts. This time I want to tell you something about our last workcamp. We had some people from Kosovo and Macedonia coming here for helping us to create a forest garden.
What is a forest garden?
In one sentence: A forest garden is an ecosystem created by humans that gives the best of nature to plants and animals and gives food to humans as well. Humans can create an area where plants and animals have a good life – and we get something for ourselves from it as well. Isn’t that fancy? Yes, it is! And it fits perfect in our permaculture principles of sharing and living with nature. So we want to have it here as well, of course.
This time it is Antonia blogging here. I am a long-term volunteer from Germany and I am in Bozevce since September. Since I arrived, we did a looooot of stuff! For example, we insulated our red house. Completely by hand and our insulation materials were straw, clay and sand. What sounds like a hard job was actually really funny – because we had many lovely people here helping us.
Ok. I can feel the question mark rising in your face. Insulation with straw, clay and sand? How does it function? Here is an explanation.
Straw is a material which can keep heat easily, in an even higher percentage than some of the modern insulation materials. There are even houses built with walls only made of straw and in the old times it was quite common to use it.
In our case, we added the straw as an insulation on the outside surface of our red house. We call it “red house” since it is made of red bricks. These bricks did not insulate good. So here is what we did to improve the situation: