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Embracing Permaculture – Interview with Simon Blackwell

Permaculture is a way of growing and living that has recently received an increasing amount of publicity, ‘but what is Permaculture?’ We hear you cry… Well in essence it is a method of growing which is self supporting and self sustaining. Rather than creating work by trying to control the vegetable plants we grow, growing to permaculture principles means following natures rules rather than our own. For example, peas and beans can grow up the stalks of corn plants, and one of my favourite permaculture based phrases – You don’t have an excess of slugs; you have a shortage of ducks.

Permaculture principles can be applied to any garden – you don’t have to have acres of land to enjoy and embrace it. From the smallest garden to an allotment, or even just a window box, the basics are about making growing more efficient, and it can help you feel more in touch with the plants you grow and the food you eat.

One advocate of permaculture currently on a mission to spread the word and inspire people to learn about and experience it for themselves is Simon Blackwell of Great British Bake Off fame. So we spoke to him to find out why Permaculture makes him tick and why he wants to star in a series following his journey into a Permaculture way of life.

Simon Blackwell1. What first attracted you to Permaculture?

So much has happened in the last two years that i find it difficult to pin point when I first heard of Permaculture, but I one as soon as I read that first definition that it was something that I had to get involved with.

Permaculture is the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing appropriate technology and community development. It offers a practical, creative approach to the problems of diminishing resources and threatened life support systems now facing the world.

Simon Henderson, Cortez IS, BC

It seemed to me that the world as a whole had got it’s priorities skewed, and that perhaps we were spending way too much time fighting the system rather than trying to create and promote a new one.

2. Did you have any experience or professional qualifications in Permaculture before becoming an ambassador for the practice?

I have no professional qualifications or (more importantly) experience in Permaculture what so ever. This lack of understanding is fundamental to my being an ambassador of the practice because the whole point of the television series is that the general public watch me and follow me on my journey as I go from ordinary man on the street to qualified Permaculture Designer.

I think this is the crucial difference between the show that I am making and any other show about gardening/wildlife/ecology, because I am just a normal, high school educated man.

3. How much space do you need to use Permaculture principles in your life?

The beautiful thing about Permaculture, and one of the key things that I want to tell people about, is that the practical side of it can be designed to fit into almost anyone’s life.

There are people out there right now who live in the deepest parts of the concrete jungle who are growing brassicas in cut off bits of up cycled guttering which they have suspended from walls and balconies, and it is people like these that appreciate how massively important it is to do something for yourself and to provide for yourself in even a small way.

4. Why do you think Permaculture is so important?

I believe Permaculture is more than important, I think it is crucial to our long term prosperity and happiness. In a world where food prices are rising at an astronomical level and wages are not, Permaculture can and will provide individuals and communities with ways of stemming the haemorrhage of their hard earned money that can be caused by paying for more and more expensive food, energy and housing.

5. What do you think Permaculture can do to improve the lives of individuals / the wider population?

Imagine a neighbourhood that grows it’s own fruit and veg, and then trades it freely in a gift economy for the benefit of all in involved?
Permaculture, employed with care can make this a real and permanent project and if done well can be carried out with minimum input from those benefiting from it.

This all takes time and work, but when that time and work is spread amongst tens if not hundreds of people, it all becomes a lot more possible and more importantly, fun.

6. Is Permaculture hard work compared to conventional techniques / approaches?

Permaculture is more about designing systems intelligently so that they support and complement one another, so that in time they only require human intervention during times of harvest.

So as long as the hours are put in at the beginning, it should become easier and easier to maintain a permanently productive system.

7. Does Permaculture require special knowledge, equipment or more time to achieve the same results as conventional approaches?

Permaculture Design can be learned over several weekends from a local centre which can be found on several websites, I happened to see the courses that I am interested in attending on www.permaculture.org.uk

As for equipment etc, as long as you have the basics and are prepared to be patient then you will do fine. Permaculture is not a quick fix, but it is worth the effort.

I would suggest forming a group of interested people in your community and look at setting up Permaculture hub to pool knowledge and resources so that you don’t necessarily have to go out and buy garden forks and poly tunnels. You will be amazed at what people have lurking in sheds and garages.

8. What would you class as the number 1 thing about Permaculture?

The number one thing about Permaculture, for me personally, is that it is a sustainable way for an individual or community to provide for themselves and others without the use of expensive and poisonous chemicals and fertilisers.

If we can provide for ourselves in all areas of our lives, then we can gain a sense of freedom and empowerment unlike anything else.

If you feel inspired by Simon, or already grow using Permaculture principles, get in touch or share your experience with by commenting or posting your photos on our Facebook page.


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