Editor’s Notebook: August 2013

“Actinomycetes” has long been one of my favorite words. Which is to say, I’m a soil nerd. No one ever says the word (except for me, and maybe my brother, who taught it to me), which means a type of (good) bacteria that lives in the soil. But it does tell you why I am mad about composting. I would just as soon grow soil as vegetables.

And that, as much as anything, is what probably got me here.

I’m in Boulder, Utah, in a permaculture design certification course. In a nutshell, it’s about “permanent agriculture.” It’s possible to build an ecosystem from the ground up by nurturing soil life; planting trees, shrubs and perennial plants that produce edibles; learning to capture water; and through these practices and more, somehow manage to create oases in deserts. I have found my tribe: people who think soil is as cool as I think it is.

Now, after two intense weeks (and almost 150 pages of handwritten notes, backed up with 350 gig of resources to read and watch), I’m so enthused by the possibilities that I can’t wait to start implementing some of what I’ve learned.

If you think about what humans really need to live, soil can provide it all. You can shape it to catch water runoff, and use it to grow things. You can feed it mycelium, microbes and waste, and it will manufacture the nutrients that plants need to thrive. It can filter air and water, returning them to us cleaner.

Soil has been used and abused like nobody’s business since the invention of agro-chemicals and the modern plow. It is not just a substance for propping up plants. It is our lifeblood. The more we realize this, and take care of it, the more it will do for us.

Permaculture is a design process based on a set of principles that come about from observing natural

systems. You can design human habitats and foodscapes that are in harmony with nature—systems that are strong, resilient and self-regulating.

It’s about stewarding the land––from an entire self-sufficient village to a small commercial farm, a rural homestead, a suburban backyard oasis, or even an urban patio garden. It’s also about rethinking how we live our lives. There are better ways than those we’ve grown accustomed to. And they’re interesting, tasty, and good exercise. The future, should we decide to start caring for it now, is full of promise.

Greta deJong is editor and publisher of CATALYST. She thanks Matt Nestico for the conversation that led to this column.