How Being Self­ish Can Heal the Earth.

I’m going to share with you the truth about what brought me to Per­ma­cul­ture. It’s not ‘hip’ and it’s not par­tic­u­larly polit­i­cally cor­rect. But it’s true for me, and it’s pos­si­bly true for you.

Despite what I’d like peo­ple to think, I wasn’t drawn to Per­ma­cul­ture for envi­ron­men­tal rea­sons. I wasn’t look­ing for a way to heal the earth. And although the first ethic of Per­ma­cul­ture is Care of the Earth, I wasn’t look­ing to be a ‘gree­nie’. I was too busy to care.

I had a career to build, a house to clean, a dog to walk, a part­ner to love and friends to try and stay in touch with.

I got frus­trated with the local coun­cil when they wanted me to shower with a 4 minute hour­glass timer. Log­i­cally, I knew it was envi­ron­men­tally respon­si­ble and impor­tant, but I didn’t want to be told what to do. My per­sonal desires came above the needs of the earth.

So, despite this first self­less and worth­while ethic ‘Care of the Earth’, my atten­tion was drawn to Per­ma­cul­ture out of need for the sec­ond ethic:

Care of People.

And it wasn’t even the egal­i­tar­ian idea that I wanted to care for other peo­ple. I wanted to care for myself.

When my health gave way, I didn’t care about sav­ing the envi­ron­ment. I just wanted to be able to eat some­thing that didn’t cause me 14 hours of pain. Some­thing that hadn’t been sprayed to death with chemicals.

Yep, when I look back, I wasn’t moti­vated to start a gar­den for envi­ron­men­tal rea­sons. And I’m guess­ing you are the same. You don’t want a gar­den to some­how save the earth. That’s a nice idea, but we are all too busy today with work, kids, fam­ily, and day to day life to make gar­den­ing a priority.

Let’s face it. The pos­i­tive envi­ron­men­tal impact of organic gar­den­ing, on a small, per­sonal scale in your backyard, thereby elim­i­nat­ing food miles and reduc­ing chem­i­cal fer­tilizers leached into soils and washed into water­ways, isn’t enough to moti­vate most of us to grow food.

It’s all too over­whelm­ing, and when our focus is to save the envi­ron­ment, it often leads to debate, fanati­cism, supe­ri­or­ity com­plexes and preaching.

I’m not inter­ested in those shades of grey. They lead to con­fu­sion and self-loathing when you don’t meet the stan­dards of an ‘envi­ron­men­tally con­scious’ per­son. Every deci­sion is wrought with com­pli­ca­tions, con­tra­dic­tions, and seem­ingly futile attempts to ‘tread lightly’ on the earth.

We can’t tread lightly.

Unless we go back to tribal liv­ing. And I don’t see that hap­pen­ing in a hurry. Not with all this oil still to burn.

Human nature is too dif­fi­cult to cur­tail by focus­ing on log­i­cal pre­ven­ta­tive action. Human nature, unfor­tu­nately, is to let things slide until real prob­lems start.

Inter­est­ingly, we’re all faced with real prob­lems right now with the food industry.

If you’ve seen movies like Food Inc. and Food Mat­ters, or sim­ply lis­tened to the media, you know about genet­i­cally mod­i­fied foods and large cor­po­ra­tions who are monop­o­liz­ing farm­ers, elim­i­nat­ing seed banks, spray­ing the crap out of crops and threat­en­ing the very sta­bil­ity of our food security.

That prob­lem is here, now.

That’s what will moti­vate us, it moti­vated me, to get out­side and learn a few tech­niques to grow some of my own organic food at home. I started a gar­den to improve my health, by know­ing exactly what pes­ti­cides had been sprayed on, or more specif­i­cally, NOT sprayed on my food.

I doubt any­one wants to be con­sum­ing liters of pes­ti­cides each year, and we don’t want to be pay­ing through the nose for limp, albeit organic lettuce.

So, the prob­lem we all face now is try­ing to live a healthy life, while tak­ing per­sonal steps to sup­port a healthy planet.

And the solu­tion, sur­pris­ingly, is gardening.

On a small, man­age­able scale, using sim­ple meth­ods to lever­age your time, money and effort and reward you with abun­dant, fresh, nutri­ent rich foods for you and your fam­ily to enjoy. It’s the only prac­ti­cal, log­i­cal (and emo­tion­ally sat­is­fy­ing!) way to go.

Most of us have lost touch with the gar­den­ing skills our grand­par­ents had. But those skills can be picked up again, in fact many of them have been stream­lined, mak­ing it eas­ier today than it was in yesteryear.

My hope is to trick you into sav­ing the envi­ron­ment, by call­ing you to action through a more rel­e­vant and per­sonal expe­ri­ence: tak­ing care of your­self and your family.

Your pos­i­tive envi­ron­men­tal impact will creep up on you as you notice the decrease in your waste pro­duc­tion; you see the diver­sity of plants you can grow; you enjoy the delight­ful wildlife that will take refuge in your gar­den; you’ll mar­vel at the bil­lions of micro-organisms you nur­ture to make the health­i­est soil pos­si­ble; and how you can recy­cle 60–80% of your house­hold waste on site.

But the rea­son I’m bet­ting you’ll be moti­vated to do all these things, is for the purely self­ish, and highly respon­si­ble rea­son of pre­serv­ing, improv­ing or chang­ing your and your family’s health.

Here’s another lit­tle tid­bit about my ‘dark side.’

I’m often too lazy to take steps I know I need to take to help the envi­ron­ment. And I’m a per­son who is rel­a­tively dri­ven by a love of nature.

For exam­ple, I’ve been putting my waste paper in the recy­cling bin for years, which sounds pretty good.

How­ever since mov­ing to the coun­try and hear­ing other Per­ma­cul­tur­ists talk, I became aware it was bet­ter to use paper to build soil, by adding it to com­post. Not only does it make a valu­able resource for me to use, it also elim­i­nates the energy that goes into rub­bish col­lec­tion, and recy­cling itself.

But do you think I started doing that?

No. It was too hard. I thought I needed a shred­der. I thought it would take too long to break down. I didn’t have enough bins under my desk to sort the compost-friendly waste from the plastics.

So I just felt guilty every time I recy­cled paper instead of com­post­ing if for the past year. (If this sounds ridicu­lous, you’ll see I have a point in a minute :) ) So I con­tin­ued to feel­ing guilty, until recently, when I used my com­post to plant new seedlings.

I saw the turbo charged growth of those seedlings and knew it was due to the compost.

All of a sud­den, I’m look­ing for any mate­r­ial I can find to put in my new com­post pile. I want a lot of mate­r­ial, and I want it fast.

(I learnt a great tip from Cath Manuel: tear the paper up when you put it in the bin, then soak it in water with molasses before adding it to the com­post — it will break down very quickly!)

Now recy­cling my paper and card­board is look­ing easy. It’s look­ing worth­while, and it’s look­ing like some­thing I can do (because it directly ben­e­fits me!).

We are all moti­vated by things that ben­e­fit us.

Most of us who live in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture, have moved so far away from a true con­nec­tion with the earth, that help­ing the earth doesn’t make us feel good enough to actu­ally go out of our way to do it.

When those actions are intrin­si­cally linked to a process where we directly ben­e­fit, like see­ing the turbo-charged growth of my broc­coli and being able to eat it in a short space of time as a result of mak­ing rich com­post, we are more likely to take action now.

We are com­pelled to take action because we are work­ing with our nat­ural self­ish ten­den­cies, instead of against them.

So, the key to over­com­ing our nat­ural incli­na­tion to con­serve energy for things that ben­e­fit us, is to make those things that ben­e­fit us intrin­si­cally linked to causes like heal­ing the earth. It’s the only way I can see any of us mov­ing for­ward and truly mak­ing a difference.

It’s ok to be self­ish in this.

It’s only when we our­selves are healthy that we can truly be of ser­vice and reach out to oth­ers. When I was sick, lying in bed and can­cel­ing dates with my friends, too tired to even drive across town, I wasn’t func­tion­ing at my opti­mum level of influ­ence or service.

So take the sec­ond ethic of Per­ma­cul­ture “Care of Peo­ple” seri­ously, and begin by car­ing for your­self. And the rest, when framed by organic gar­den­ing prin­ci­ples, will nat­u­rally follow.

Grow­ing some of your own organic food isn’t hard, it doesn’t take much time, and it is worth it. I’m thrilled to be able to take you step by step how to set up an abun­dant veg­gie patch in my new video train­ing and coach­ing pro­gram. You can get on the wait­list to be first to know about it by reg­is­ter­ing here.

I have to say, grow­ing my own food is one of the most reward­ing things I’ve ever done. Eat­ing a salad of fresh pro­duce I’ve grown nour­ishes not only my body, but also my soul with a deep sense of abundance.

Author's Bio: 

Organic gardener Nicola Chatham shares tips, videos and fun stories in her acclaimed free weekly newsletter Sprout!.

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