Care. Care is intrinsic to the foundational ethics of permaculture. It is the core of permaculture and must be continually kept while practicing it. So, let’s take a look into the ethics.
For our discussion purposes, I will keep to the ethics defined by Bill Mollison, the “father of permaculture,” in his book Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual (2012, 2)
- Care of the Earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
- Care of People: Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence.
- Setting Limits to Population and Consumption: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.
Beginning in reverse with the third ethic, notice that by governing our own needs we affect the first two ethics. It is up to us as individuals to design our lives to be able to then care for our communities and environments. We hold the power of change in our own hands and we are the benefactors. The realization that how we care for ourselves directly affects how we will, in turn, be able to take care of other people and the earth, gives new responsibility and authority to our choices.
If care for ourselves affects how we care for other people and the earth; then why is it not listed as the first ethic? I believe this is to put our egos in check. We need to take care of ourselves, but not at the cost of our natural environments or the people in our communities. We must consider how fulfilling our own needs will impact our neighborhoods and natural surroundings. This does not mean we cannot live abundantly. It means we can do so, but it must be balanced with care for all the life on earth.
Let us take our focus back to the first two ethics. Both begin with care: of the earth and of people. These statements are then followed by a concise explanation of what it is necessary to care for each. Notice that care of earth is described by providing for all life systems. Aren’t we, as humans, one of the many life systems on earth? Yes. The explanation of the first ethic also demonstrates that how we care for ourselves directly affects how we care for the earth. This shows us our part in our natural world.
The second ethic is care of people. We are a part of the whole. One individual, who can abundantly care for oneself and share with others in one regard, while at the same time, is a partaker in another area where he or she is lacking but can enjoy the abundance shared by other people. The second ethic also demonstrates that care for oneself affects other people.
Properly taking care of oneself is important because it has the greatest effect. So simple, right? Hence the reason I believe the third ethic asks us to set limits to our own decisions of population and consumption because it is a means to abundantly provide for ourselves and all life systems on this earth.
I would also like to share a final discovery about the third ethic. It still does not have one widely accepted definition across the entire permaculture community. I hope to explore the many reasons for this soon on a follow-up blog post.
But, what does it mean to care? Let’s look at it’s definitions: “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something,” and “serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk.”
In light of those definitions, in permaculture, we apply serious attention and consideration to doing something correctly—while avoiding damage or risk—to provide what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of ourselves, the earth, and its people. This is what it means ”to care.” And, we are to apply this care to everything, yes everything, we do. Let that steep in your mind for a bit . . .
It may seem a bit overwhelming to think that we must care for every little aspect of our lives from the most basic task of breathing to the most complicated decisions of choosing one’s work and where to live. But it is possible to think of how each of our decisions to design our lives will affect ourselves, the earth, and other people. We are capable, if we care to make the decision, to live more careful lives.
Making the decision to more carefully design my own life in balance with other people and nature has been very rewarding—even the great lessons wrapped up in my mistakes. One adventurous change we—my husband and I—made that has lead to some surprising results has been reigniting the skill of making fruit jellies and jams. We started with the black raspberries that were growing in the back of my parents urban lot. One picking led to twelve pints of jelly, half of which we made seedless. Since half were to be seedless, we needed to make two batches.
Between the two batches is where we noticed that taking the smallest of care in the process makes all the difference between yummy jelly and syrup. The batches with the seeds would have more natural pectin in them and would require less work and time to create that jelly texture. The batch with seeds had a nice jelly like consistency because we did it first and paid close attention for the feel of when the syrup becomes jelly.
We did not take as much care with the seedless batch and ended up with more of a syrupy texture. We did not give it the extra time it needed and did not add any extra pectin to replace the naturally occurring pectin with the now-gone seeds. Two simple steps of adding a little extra pectin and giving it a little more time on the heat would have provided the intended result of jelly.
This was a lesson to take proper care of the berries and to follow the process carefully to achieve the intended results. This mistake lead to delicious black raspberry syrup for pancakes and crepes besides teaching us a valuable lesson. Now, we only intentionally make syrup. Care was the key to both our success and mistake, which, in this case, created a still-usable product but might have resulted in wasted time, effort, and berries.
That is why care is listed at the core of permaculture: it is the key to the abundance in life for all. If taking care in the smallest actions can produce an abundance, then I choose to take care. I choose permaculture. Thanks again for taking the time to read my post. I hope to dig into the permaculture design principles soon, as they are based on the application of care.
Your permaculture friend,
Effie J. Truchon has a passionate love for the natural world that started in her childhood and has followed her through life. She seeks to better understand Mother Nature through research, education, and life experience. Effie commands a diverse set of skills, from writing, editing, and performing music to event planning, industrial machine operations, and, of course, permaculture design and consultation. For fun, Effie enjoys the outdoors, hiking, swimming, fishing, and canoeing. She is an avid preparer and preserver of foods, which she prefers to share with friends and family. She enjoys reading and hearing stories and learning new skills. She volunteers with the annual Wisconsin Permaculture Convergence and is applying her skills and know-how towards building a permaculture homestead cooperatively with her family in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She lives in West Allis, WI, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.