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Ryan Sandford-Blackburn-discusses-permaculture

Ryan Sandford Blackburn of Earthedup Discusses Permaculture

Sustainable Development Goal 15 (SDG 15) seeks to protect, restore, and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and mountains. Permaculture, a holistic design approach, plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. Permaculture principles guide us in creating harmonious, self-sustaining environments that mimic nature's resilience and diversity. By integrating permaculture into land management practices, we can regenerate degraded landscapes, prevent deforestation, and foster biodiversity. Permaculture encourages agroforestry, organic farming, and water conservation techniques, minimising soil erosion and habitat destruction. This synergy between SDG 15 and permaculture empowers communities to safeguard Earth's vital ecosystems while ensuring long-term food security and sustainable resource utilisation.

Ryan Sandford-Blackburn-discusses-permaculture


I found quite an interesting definition of permaculture, "To create resilient and regenerative systems that reduce the impact on the  environment while enhancing human well being."

So I think it's spot on for what we're trying to do here at Awardaroo. And it's also it's a great podcast for us to be doing because  we've already covered indoor vertical farming, green roofs and biodiversity, rewilding and conservation for kids.

So perhaps if you could start by telling us a little bit  about Earthed Up, please.


Earthed UP is a plant nursery we're a very small and young  plant nursery founded in 2021. We operate as a workers co-operative. We're a registered society. So there's three of us, all directors and all getting our  hands dirty literally and metaphorically. So we all have our own plants, the  edible and useful plants. So they have wonderful places in our garden where  we grow them ourselves and then propagate from them.


Okay. So and if you could tell us a little bit about permaculture then, and you're interest in permaculture.


Permaculture, help me co-found the nursery. It's a design  system that for me helps get stuff done. And I think what we're seeing at the  moment is there's a lot to be done. There's a lot of changes happening to us.  It can feel like. Permaculture allows us to design those changes and  implement them. So positive Permaculture allows us to take positive action  and design those changes for ourselves. And at the core are three ethics care  of the earth, care of people and fair shares, making sure there's enough to  go around.


And is this something that you think that you know, we should  all be doing, we should all be working towards?


I think for most people those ethics will ring true. I  haven't found anyone that will disagree. If we've got a healthy, happy  planet, we're looking after people and we're making sure there's enough to go  around now and for future generations. Like nobody can argue with that. And I  think the vast majority of the population are working towards that. Whether  they consciously know that or not, what they can offer us by studying it and  by practising it is a framework to more consciously operate in that way.


Okay. So I think there are the challenges we have, I think  around energy, transport, waste and obviously taking care of the environment  and the social side of things as well. And so permaculture really I suppose  helps with all of that, doesn't it? Because if we're growing things locally  and we're managing things more locally, then we're cutting down on energy,  transport, you know, we're reducing food waste and taking care of the environment  and we're engaging people locally. So it seems to take all the boxes.


Yeah, not a lot  then, hey.  And it's it's hard to find  many disciplines that are so all encompassing. And I think one of the pillars  in the strengths of permaculture to me is that it is holistic and it does see  that everything's connected. Yeah, so it's systems based. What do we mean by systems?  You know, we've got transport systems, education systems, financial systems,  all kinds of invisible systems make, you know, global society or in countries  and regions and villages, even at a  parish level.

We also have  in our back gardens, you know, our compost system. Maybe it's as simple as  lifting the lid, chucking these scraps in there, ignoring it for a couple of  years. Right. It permaculture works at that systems level and it sees the  whole world and it also pieces together the detail in cool ways actually,  like there's loads of people using really cool practices as part of their  permaculture design.

So there's a  lot that permaculture has been used to design across the world.

What  Permaculture Association 2015 we published a study called Next Big Step and  that was studying what the global permaculture network looks like. And we  know that it's in most countries around the world that people practicing  permaculture everywhere, right? At least 3 million people that have studied a  design core. So that's like the the gold standard of permaculture education.

It's many  millions more that have dipped their toes in it just below that level. On an  introduction to permaculture course, or they've gone to a talk or they have  read a great book about it. So there's loads of people everywhere and it has  been used to design kitchen cupboards. Yeah, they're crazy sensible. Think of  it up to the food distribution system for a region in northern India and it's  okay.

That's why  it's really hard when you Google what is permaculture to get one definition  that sticks because there's probably as many definitions as there are people  using it because it's holistic and it's all encompassing and and you've got  those core ethics. So for me, you can't point at something and go, that's  permaculture, right? As it's communicated in that way.

And someone says, Hey, I used a permaculture design  process to get to this end result. Right where we are now, there is no end,  right? Everything goes in cycles. So yes, it's been used to distort, to  design, transport systems, food distribution systems, community composting  schemes and so on. And so on. So I think the key thing is to to learn the  philosophy and the design tools and connect network of people that are using  it.


And tell us a little bit about about the Permaculture  Association.


The  Permaculture Association, 40 years old this year. They're a charity  registered charity in England and Wales and Scotland. Yeah, and they've been  going going for 40 years teaching people about permaculture and connecting  them through events and it's on the front of it as simple as that. And  remember, permaculture is holistic and is used in many different places in  many different ways.

So right, there's so much work to do. The advocates,  association staff and members are excellent networkers and they connect with  their friends of Earth groups, political parties, businesses, all sorts of  organizations on different levels. And what I see is the real strength is  their networking and bringing people together, synthesizing that effort and  kind of bringing it to the front and continuing that momentum.


Right. Okay. So it's a it's a fantastic philosophy. I  think it's where we'd all like to get to, if you like, you know. BE But there  are challenges with something like this and scaling this up. And, you know,  one of the reasons we're not doing this would be just time. People don't have  the time to grow their own.


I think also making time to consciously design and decide  what we're going to do and kind of step back from the race for a second.




And not just  just to add another metaphor, not just to be on that hamster wheel. Yeah. No,  it's a small mammals, but just keep going, keep going, keep going. More,  more, more. Yeah. I think what we've learned in recent years as a result of  the pandemic and all of the effects societally from that is that if we do  have a chance to just pause and step back and and look at ourselves and what  we're doing, we might then make some changes for better.

Own lives at work, in how we travel, in how we enjoy our  time and how we spend our money. Right? Everybody that has this choice, that  has the privilege to be able to step back and take a look at their life can  do so and think that is is this the most ethical path I'm taking to care for  the effort, to care for myself, and to make sure there's enough resources to  go around now and in the future?


it seems that this would work best at the community level  where people can get together and share knowledge and skills and obviously  just make the economics of it work.


We have to  work together. That's what we do as a species and we have to work with other  species. Okay, We we know that we have to plant more trees for example. We  know we have to create more habitat for insects. We know that we have to  build the soil so they can store the carbon and feed us.

We have to  work together holistically. So we have to work in community, Sure, with lots  of other people and all the other resources in our environment too. Right. If  we're just going to be extractive, then imagine that person in your community  that's always take, take, take. Don't get along. Well, it doesn't it doesn't  build happiness and health. So if we can just give and keep giving to our  community, share our skills, share our abundance, we've got a garden full of  courgettes and runner beans.

It's July. I  think a lot of us growers do at the moment, you know, Give it away. Yeah,  maybe then some people will exchange with you and they'll get back some  lettuce or some pound coins. You know, we have to work together and we have  to find ways to keep scaling out as well as scaling up our efforts.

Right. If you  if I just think about the neighborhood I live in, you know, 150 houses, we  don't have a center, we don't have shops, services, etc.. We're near a main  road and 150 houses. I don't know how many people that is at least 500, I  think. And there's lots of families. It's a it's a mixed neighbourhood. If we  could all work together and we had a conscious permaculture design for just  our neighbourhood that would be so impactful to so many people, I think we'd  get a lot more food grown, we'd share a lot more tools, we'd totally change  how how we work and how we commute and child care.

And the first step towards that would be bringing us  together. And like I say, we don't have you know, we don't have a shop, we  don't have a a village hall. We're just, you know, stuck on the side of a  hillside on the edge of a town.


Can you tell us a little bit about the history of  permaculture?


There's many  points in history I could start a story of permaculture. I want to go back  maybe 500 years and let's, let's think about how indigent US communities  around the world were surviving and thriving in those times. We don't have to  pick on any community in particular. I think the best pattern to look at is  that they're working with nature.

Okay, We  think about indigenous tribes now in the Amazon that they've really  integrated into the rainforest. They work with the species that they're  alongside every day to help themselves thrive for medicine, for shelter, for  food. Now let's fast forward to the 1970s to Australia. Didn't know we were  going to land there. Did you know that? We have to.

Mollison,  who's teaching at the university of Tasmania and Bill Bailey, left school  when he was 16. He'd worked in fisheries, he worked in forest, he worked with  timber, he worked in different natural ecosystems. And then he started to  teach and what he realised was Mother nature's got is sussed. She doesn't  find it hard, You know, if if humans can act more like nature, then it would  be a lot more efficient and a lot healthier to live and thrive on this  planet.

So he started  to put this to the test. And fast forward a few years. David Holmgren, one of  his students, jumped on board and said, Yeah, I want to help you test these  theories and I see you doing that. And so, so they started doing it, it being  permaculture and books were published and they all sent out students of  permaculture around the world to, to spread the message.

And he said,  we need an army of land workers to spread the word of permaculture

Now that  feels like it puts the cult into permaculture. Okay, we've got to say that.

it's a  criticism I've heard and I get it. And it was because it was the 1970s. I  wasn't there. I've got to put my hands up and say, I don't remember those  times I wasn't born. That permaculture started to spread across the world and  in the UK we had pioneers like Rod Everitt teaching people about  permaculture.

We had the  first people that were just trying it out across the country and, and setting  up smallholdings and farms and gardens.

So can't just  come in with a quick question.


So what. I'm not, what I'm not really understanding at the  moment is what were they doing that was new or radical or different to what  was already happening.


So what was  different about permaculture? It was at a time where the Limits to Growth  report had been published. Quintessentially said all of our natural resources  that we're extracting have their limits. You know, peak oil will come or all  these natural resources will run out. So with those core ethics of earth care,  people care, fair shares in particular limiting growth, living consciously  and there were lots of other similar movements at the time, but what  permaculture did was put it all together and take action.

Okay, so  we've got the ethics, we've got the principles which go further into how  nature works and we've got some design systems and the first published books  were really practical and permaculture initially was permanent agriculture  and then over time got contracted to permanent culture because of the plastic  nature of it. So growing things differently is how it started.

Perennial  Systems. So an annual intensive system, you may picture a tractor with a plow  year on year digging up the soil acre you know, acres upon acres, sowing the  same species. The whole field of wheat or corn or maize will have you  fertilizing that with chemical fertilizer, spraying that with insecticide,  adding fungicide and so on. So that's really limiting diversity.

What  perennial permaculture growing systems typically look like is abundant  diversity and a bit chaotic. Okay, If you walk into a forest and it's in  straight lines, it's probably because it was planted after World War One by  people.

If you go to  West Wales and you look at some of the last remaining rain forest in the UK,  it's chaos.

Okay, there's  the ponds and Brooks, there's there's fallen trees and insect galore and all  of the undergrowth and brambles you have to scramble over and it's going to  take a long time to get through that woodland.  Permaculture mimics those natural systems.  Okay, so it tries to be like a woodland edge where you've got that meeting of  two systems, you've got the meadow and the woodland somewhere in the middle.

We've got  this really abundant edge. Imagine the brambles and the haze or the  wildflowers in the herbs is a lot for humans to interact with there. So if  we, you know, chaotically jumble that all together, then you've got  diversity. However, it's quite inefficient. You know, you've got to look at I  go, how am I going to harvest that?

They're all  the way deep in there and how am I going to do? Permaculture mimics Woodland  Edge, but it doesn't recreate it, it's inspired by it and it works with nature.  


Okay. All  right. Okay. So thanks very much for that explanation, Ryan. That's so a lot  clearer about, you know, about its history and its journey to this point and  what is trying to achieve for everybody. Um, it just really but the scaling of  it I think is obviously the challenge, isn't it? I mean, monocultures exist  because they're so efficient feeding, you know, vast numbers of people.

We know that they're, we know that they are perhaps the  future or maybe they are the future, but not the way that they're implemented  at the moment. So are farmers, the industry, adopting permaculture in the way  that they're managing land and in the way that they in their land management  practices?


There's no  one solution that's going to feed us all. If we've got lots of tools in our  toolkit, then we're more likely to succeed. And permaculture is full of tools  and it gives a framework. So how do you say that monoculture farming is  really efficient? I think if we look at the numbers, it's not in terms of  water use, in terms of soil fertility and health of plants and health of the  people it's feeding.

It's just not particularly efficient. Now, monoculture is a  kind of a broad stroke pattern. It depends. You know, we might have a market  garden bed of ten meters long, 1.2 meters wide, and it's just lettuce That's  not exactly the same as 50 acres of maize. Yeah, right. We have to look at it  in context as well, because the lettuce might be beside some dill that's  allowed to flower and it's attracting loads of hover flies


It might be  alongside lots of other diverse beds. So it's not. Yeah, but try not to be  reductionist and I think that's difficult for a lot of us because our  education system, Victorian education system, is reductionist and we learn a  little bit at a time and as we get older we get a little bit more and a  little bit more and maths sits in that box and literacy is in that box and  geographies over there somewhere.

A garden is a great place for people to learn and you see  that it doesn't fit neatly into a box.


So yeah, no,  I completely agree with you in saying that. And it's, you know, everything's  driven by the economics at the end of the day, isn't it? So, but the  economics are changing. You know, that's, you know, in the 21st century, as  we're all quickly realizing that we need to put more value on nature and  permaculture is certainly a way for us to be doing that and implementing it.


But on the otherside of this then would be just knowledge  and skills that are required in order to be able to adapt to or to be able to  create a permaculture or to implement permaculture because, you know, a lot  of people don't have green fingers, do they? So do you have to have green  fingers to get involved with permaculture


So the vast  majority of people in the world are fed by small farmers and growers.

It's a myth  that big agriculture feeds the most people. It doesn't. And this is from the  United Nations. FOA. that that's one of the focuses a couple of years ago was  on small farmers. LA Via Campesina is the largest workers union in the world  and it's of land workers and peasant workers that grow food and feed people  and they grow fiber and clothe people.

It does take  a lot of people.

At the center  permaculture is the prime directive, which says the only ethical decision is  to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. I  don't understand why every one of us should rely on lots of other people to  feed and clothe and warm us.

We can take  some of that responsibility to look after ourselves and our families. Right?  And I think it's really powerful when we do that. Now, you said not everybody  has green fingers. That's right. And when I'm stood in a market store selling  plants, I get one of two reactions. I get people come up to me and say, Oh, mint,  I've got enough mint. I could sell that to you. Ha! You know, Right? Yeah.  Isn't it brilliant when you give it the right conditions that it thrives? We  allow things. The right conditions. They can thrive. That works with people  to the other reaction I get is, Oh, these look really nice. I'm not going to  get anything because I always kill things like you like to try to kill  plants.

No, no, they  just die. Yeah, that's right. They just die and they feed other things. And  then other things come to life. Oh, yeah, Because I've got loads of poppies  in the garden and they're pristine, they're lovely, and the bumblebees love  them, but. All right, well, you did that. Yeah, I guess so. But I didn't have  to do anything.

But isn't  that good? Look, all of these plants, we've got that perennials, once you've  bought them, once they do their own thing and you don't have to do much,  that's the case for most plants. Unless we're trying to grow some exotic orchid.  No. Yeah. So there's a lot of potential in a lot of people. And what I've  seen over several projects over the years is a lot of people need some  self-confidence.

Boost right?  That's not saying that we want loads of arrogant people walking around the  streets. You can be confident with compassion right? Okay. That confidence in  an ecological definition is something like there's enough resources to  maintain the system.

So people  need to be sure they have enough resources to maintain their own system, like  their body and their health. And I think what we're seeing at the moment with  a quote unquote cost of living crisis.

We can take  some of that responsibility into our own hands and choose what it costs for  us to live. But that comes with a load of loaded privilege. A lot of people  don't have the choice to do much different to what they're doing. They can't  just go out and start a garden. It's not as simple as that. How much can they  feed themselves anyhow?

That's not  what I'm saying. Saying we can grow a bit and we can grow a concentration of  really nutrient dense food. We power ourselves with that knowledge of what we  can forage, what we can find in our gardens already, what we can introduce,  that's that's lower for. Yeah. And then we can talk about that with other  people in our communities, whether they're the face to face local communities  or online communities.

And I think  we just have to keep building up that confidence, building up those resources  that give us the confidence to share that knowledge, you know, find something  online, listen to this podcast series. There's loads of great inspiring ideas  from from a range of of speakers. I've been enjoying catching up on it. Find  an online course, you know, watch YouTube videos, find a book library.

There's loads  of ways that we can do it. And I think then the powerful thing is coming  together with other people on that learning journey and chatting with them  and doing it together. 


Has there been much government support for yourself and  Earth up?


We know there  are lots of government ministers that know about permaculture and have said  that they're supportive of it and they would like to know more and to support  it further.

I think it  helps to also talk about reducing waste and saving energy like we start by we  said at the start of the podcast because that is a big problem, isn't it? If  we you know, if we use less, that's half the battle actually.

And  permaculture, going back to the way we started the podcast does a lot for  that.

You know, it  reduces transport, reduces energy, reduces packaging and yeah, I think that's  almost where it stops in a sense, you know, doing things locally, more  efficiently and, and you know, so we're not producing things halfway around  the world that we can create locally would seem to be a good plan if we're to  take on the challenges of the 21st century. 


What's the future of Permaculture. Do you think, then, Ryan


That nobody  likes waste. I've just got Charlie McGee from Edible Veg Soundsystem song in  my head. There's no such thing as waste because in nature there is no such  thing as waste. Everything goes in cycles. When things die, they give get  room to life. So there's no such place as a way. We know that. Yeah, we're  conscious of that.

That if our  plastic is listed on the floor, ends up in the river, it ends up in the  ocean. Yeah, we know about the Pacific Garbage patch. We know about the  source of that pollution. And it's really disempowering to go into the  supermarket and see everything wrapped in plastic and you go, But I haven't  really got a choice because I can't afford to shop somewhere else.

I don't have  the time. So really we need to keep pushing and and being really visible  about our ethics, saying, Hey, we don't want organic stuff wrapped in  plastic. Can you do that loose like the other stuff too.

The future is  what I'm saying is a lot more people discovering it, a lot people coming  together in lots of different ways, whether it's on a Reddit forum through a  podcast Permaculture Convergence in London this September.

Shameless  plug for that awesome event. Come, come together and do more. And we need to  think about taking responsibility for our own existence.

Can we grow a bit of our own food together? Can we source some  would fuel more locally to heat our homes. What can we do to help ourselves  locally with others?


Okay. All right. Thanks very much, Ryan, for that. And if  people want to engage with you at Earthed Up, how can they do that? How can  they find you?


Find out about all the things we're doing at  Send us an email If you've got any questions about what we do, hopefully you  can come and visit the nursery. We're launching mail order plants this autumn  and we've got a full program of events and courses.


Okay, great. Well, thank you very much for your time on  this podcast. Right. And, you know, clarifying what permaculture is and how  we're all going to benefit from it if we know we can get more involved with  it. Thanks again.


Thanks, Paul


Thanks, Ryan

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