GROW: Perma...what? Resilience, Self-reliance and Empowerment
Over the last two decades, I have dabbled in permaculture...perma what..you ask? Well, grab a cuppa and let me explain a bit.
In 1983, I was living in Seabrook, Texas, a tiny speck of a town south of Houston on the edge of Galveston Bay. In August, Hurricane Alicia, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the Texas coast came through leaving behind almost a foot of water, incredible property damage and a life-changing aftermath for me, a midwest-transplant. While living through the actual fury of such a powerful storm is terrifying on its own, it was the aftermath that had a profound impact on me.
Young and unfamiliar with the fury of hurricanes, I had no real understanding of the impacts of a natural disaster. Electricity was the first comfort to go (which also meant no water and no AC), then howling winds that I thought for sure would tear the roof of my old-and-not-too-well-built first home. Rain was hammering my single pane windows, and I began almost immediately regretting my decision to stay through it. But I had nowhere else to go and living paycheck-to-paycheck, no extra money to go anywhere so my only real option was to stay. I stayed awake through the worst of the storm, holding and soothing my 18 month old son. Some preparation had been done: food and water were purchased, tape on the windows, things in the yard put away, several buckets of water to flush the toilets, and I filled the car with gas.
Because I had lived through several tropical storms already, I was not surprised to see rising water around my house, downed trees, neighbor’s lawn furniture blown away and shingles blown off my roof the morning after the fury. But nothing really prepares you for the full effects of a powerful hurricane.
Confident that OTHERS - officials, repairpeople, etc - would take care of everything soon, I sat around waiting for the electric to come back on. This, of course, was before cell phones and the internet, so I had no idea what was happening, who was safe, and the extent of the regional damage. I was simply waiting for SOMEBODY to fix it all so that I could resume my life. With no water, no electric, no phone, no AC, and in the heat and humidity of August in Texas, it became miserable quickly.
Food in my fridge and small chest freezer spoiled within a few days; grilling food outside worked for a few days until the charcoal was gone. My son developed heat rash all over his body, and I didn’t know how to treat it. I was worried about losing income and needed to get back to work ASAP at a local seafood restaurant that overlooked the bay.
It took several days for the nasty storm waters to recede and gradually, some of the roads became drivable. We were able to get to the store, planning to pick up more food and water but the store was mostly emptied as they awaited deliveries from other parts of the US. No fresh vegetables or fruits and limits on gallons of water. As a city gal, I grew up with abundance; grocery stores within walking distance and as much food as I could afford. My frustration became more intense.
After a week or so, I learned that my I was also out of a job. I don’t remember this part too clearly except this: the seafood restaurant was gone - completely. I was told I could come by and pick up my final paycheck from the owner. I was stunned when I arrived: only pilings remained of the once popular restaurant. And a barstool, on which the owner sat handing out our checks. He had insurance, and he was ready to retire so this chapter of his life came to end that worked out for him. Living paycheck to paycheck like my young family was, it was devastating and depressing for me.
It took two weeks for my electric to be reinstated and during that time, I remember feeling helpless, like I had no control over my circumstances. And for good reason: I had no control, I was at the mercy of mother nature; a lack of individual preparation, knowledge and skills; and an overworked group of repair heroes. I had invested a lot of time thinking while sweating under the shade of my covered porch, and I realized that I needed to find ways to take more control of my life. I signed up for college that fall and bought books on growing vegetables and medicinal herbs. It took many years to complete my college education and many attempts at successfully growing food. I was resolute then about my commitment to self-reliance and even more so now.
What Have We Done To Our Selves?
It is remarkable how much our culture has changed in less than 100 years. We have slowly turned over our food supply, our healthcare and medicines, and our independence to a combination of professionals and corporations. I roll my eyes when people tell others that they should pull up their bootstraps and not rely on help. The reality is our modern lifestyle has made most of us serfs to a corporate kingdom and media that sells us a lifestyle.
If a disaster hit your area today, how ready are you to survive it? Take a moment to assess your current independence/dependence.
How much of your food do or could you grow?
How stocked is your pantry? How many gallons of emergency water do you have stashed?
How many days could you survive without access to additional food and water?
How well can you treat minor health conditions without buying commercially made products?
What types of home remedies do you have on hand?
Are you current with your CPR/ First Aid training?
Do you have a complete first aid kit?
I live in an area increasingly threatened by forest fires and long overdue for a major earthquake. I have to be ready to evacuate within hours or even minutes.
Are you ready to evacuate during a natural disaster?
Do you have a “bug out bag” prepped?
Do you keep a supply of cash on hand?
Are you mobile enough to walk for several miles?
Do you have a plan to connect with other family members?
If you take life-saving medication, how much do you keep on hand?
How will you take care of your animals? Do you keep extra food on hand for them?
Do you keep your fuel tank full? Do you keep extra fuel at your home?
If a long term disaster hit your area tomorrow, how well would you survive?
Move beyond the disaster mindset and focus on your current lifestyle and your future. How dependent are you on employers, for-profit financial infrastructure (e.g., banks, investment firms, mortgages), stores, medical professionals, etc.?
How much debt have you incurred to sustain your current lifestyle?
How many hours a week do you work for someone else? How satisfying is your work?
If change is desired, what are the barriers that you face?
How much control do you have - both in how you spend each day, and how you spend your life?
What changes could you make in your life today to be more independent?
What are your concerns about growing older and supporting yourself?
Thinking About Self-Reliance
These are some of the questions that I thought about during those hot August weeks in 1983 while waiting on others to return my life to back to normal.
This is where the philosophy and concepts of permaculture enter the picture. Though I am not 100% independent, I continue to work toward the goal of self-reliance. Growing food and medicinal herbs have been my primary paths since the 1990s and at age 50, my mid-life crisis consisted of changing up my lifestyle and moving to level of more self-reliance. Many changes and challenges happened over the last ten years, and there remains much more that I can do to embrace the permaculture lifestyle.
Are We In Trouble?
Most of us don’t think much about a disaster until we are threatened. Most of us don’t think much about where are food comes from. And most of us don’t think much about retirement savings until we actually retire. Poverty among retirees in the US is increasing, and many older adults are working into their 70s simply to pay their monthly bills. Meanwhile, the costs of living increases each years and our wages are not keeping up.
As I look at the many global problems that are not being addressed by OTHERS, I have finally moved permaculture to the forefront of my thinking. At age 60, I have enrolled in an online Permaculture Design Certificate course through www.Permaculturewomen.com. Every now and then, I wish I had taken a path like this when my body was 40 years younger; imagine where I would be right now! But I am reminded that starting is the point:
Permaculture is more than growing food, more than being independent: it’s a view of our lives and our culture that is radically different from the consumptive and financially indentured one that surrounds us.
I filed this post under my GROW category because the easiest way to begin with permaculture is in the garden, growing food and medicine. I will be sharing some of what I learn and how I am applying it to gardens, my home, my community and my interdependence with each of those systems.
It’s a personal and cultural revolution in the making. Are you ready?