By popular request, I will summarize the unique aspects of permaculture as applied to humans as it emerged in Cecilia Macaulay’s webinar during my permaculture teacher training class at PRI several weeks ago. Be forewarned: this is an approach to permaculture not yet considered previously in my blog thus far.
Cecilia’s voice is worth hearing on your own, so I also recommend a peek at one or more of her websites/blogs here:
Trained in permaculture, Cecilia has gravitated toward exploring how permaculture principles can be utilized in urban settings in creative and beautiful ways. Yes, beautiful ways. I’m learning that within permaculture circles, aesthetics are commonly ignored, if not frowned upon, and I found Cecilia’s willingness to embrace this unsung potential in permaculture refreshing. (This tension between beauty and permaculture is a topic I hope will emerge in future blog posts, so stay tuned.)
Many people who study and practice permaculture are unwilling to define permaculture as a strategy, a tool, or even a tool box. Rather, these stalwart permaculturalists define permaculture as ‘a way of life,’ or ‘a way of thinking.’ By such definitions, it is incomplete to relegate permaculture to the garden sphere, even if the garden is a central focus of a particular permaculture design. While Cecilia does plenty of work in the garden dimension and is well-known for her urban permaculture balcony gardens, she does quite a lot indoors as well. And not just with houseplants.
Cecilia is an endeavoring share-houser in and around Syndey and Melbourne. “Lots of people are spending resources on building brand-new energy efficient dwellings, which is wonderful, but by adding one person under the roof, you automatically decrease your energy consumption by 50%,” she explains. But not just anyone under one roof will do. As all plants have value, so do all people. And similar to plants, not all people are meant to be in the same space with each other. While some combinations make fantastic companion plantings, others are doomed from the start. So the first step in operating a successful house share is getting the right house-mates.
A key qualification for selecting the right “companions” is finding people who share the same standards of cleanliness as you do. “Nothing,” Cecilia explains, “will ruin chances of success faster than co-habitating with individuals whose home habits are neater or sloppier than yours are.” To make sure Cecilia finds the right companions, she has adopted a communication strategy that ensures success: Ask questions that can only be answered with one word: ‘Yes.’ In the true spirit of permaculture, Cecilia does not like to force or push or nag or waste unnecessary energy with inefficient systems. Rather, she looks for ways to coax the natural potential within her share house system. After lots of experience and observation house-sharing, Cecilia has devised a system that works for her, and ultimately for her housemates. Cecilia, a self-declared “monster of mess” has devised a system that nevertheless keeps her abode in a tidy condition. When she interviews prospective house-sharers, she explains that every Saturday morning they have a two hour house-cleaning party. “Doesn’t that sound like fun?” she asks. “Would you like to participate in that?” ‘Yes,’ they say. Cecilia also explains that because she works from home, the kitchen must be clean, spotless really, at all times. All dishes must be washed, dried and put away immediately. Not a knife shall remain in the bottom of the sink. However Cecilia understands that we are all human and that sometimes we are just plain running late. “In those cases,” Cecilia explains, “you can put your dirty dish on a tray and take it to your room and you can wash it up when you return home. Doesn’t that sound good?” she asks. ‘Yes,’ they say. And so become members of a tightly run ship.
Good communication and taking care of each other are really important parts of successful permaculture, and something we often hear much less of in the permaculture world. There is much about earth care, and indirectly, people care through provisioning with food, fiber, etc., but Cecilia talks about the more interpersonal parts of permaculture. Could botanical gardens branch out to include this important aspect of permaculture? Don’t some already, like Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Chicago Botanic Garden do this, by reaching out to their community through community garden and education programs?
I hope to speak more with Cecilia as I make my way toward Melbourne & Sydney in the coming weeks.