How To Live More Sustainably: From a Budding Permaculturist
You might have heard of the term “permaculture”, possibly in the same sentence as gardening, sustainable and organic. But what really is permaculture and how do you apply it to your life?
Coined by Tasmanian farmers Bill Mollison and David Holgren in the 1970s, permaculture is a sustainable design system that involves careful consideration to help us coexist harmoniously with our planet and our communities and is based on 12 guiding principles:1. Observe and interact
2. Catch and store energy
3. Obtain a yield
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
5. Use and value renewable resources
6. Produce no waste
7. Design from patterns to details
8. Integrate rather than segregate
9. Use slow and small solutions
10. Use and value diversity
11. Use edges and value the marginal
12. Creatively use and respond to change
Contrary to what many think, permaculture is not just about gardening and growing food – although that’s a big part of it. Permaculture is about making conscious choices in designing our lives in order to promote a better use of resources.
So what do these principles look like when applied not just in real life, but in a life that looks a lot like most of ours – a city-based life without access to acres of land?
Let Yong – Ora brand manager and budding permaculturist – show us.
Having attended a permaculture course at the renowned Fat Pig Farm in Tasmania and after a short stint on a working organic farm growing vegetables, she came away from the experience empowered by the philosophy and started taking steps towards a more conscious and sustainable life.
Here, Yong shares with us the lifestyle shifts she’s made within her urban context to live a more sustainable, conscious life in accordance with permaculture principles.
1. Put Food Scraps Back Into Your Cooking
“I almost obsessively avoid throwing food scraps into the bin. Ask my partner – he’ll tell you that half our freezer is filled with prawn shells! If there’s a way to reuse them in my cooking, they go into a container in my freezer instead of the rubbish bin or even the compost bin.
I keep all the “ugly” bits that we often cut off vegetables like carrots, celery and onions, as well as prawn shells (and heads!), chicken carcasses and occasionally beef bones, all of which come together in a beautiful stock when I’ve accumulated enough.
A few other ways I’ve reused food scraps are saving carrot greens for making pesto, and baking potato skins into crisps.”
2. Start a Worm Farm
“We also have a worm farm that we keep in our shed – and those little red wrigglers get to eat all the leftover vegetable scraps (except onions, garlic and citrus) that don’t end up in being reused in my cooking. They don’t thrive on having big chunks of scraps, so I usually blend them in a food processor together with crushed eggshells that I’ve saved (helps neutralise the acidity of the food) and throw that into the farm together with shredded newspaper.
The liquid that collects at the bottom of the worm farm – also known as worm tea or worm pee – is a super-rich liquid fertiliser that we use on our plants every month. The same goes for the “worm poop” or worm castings, which is the solid, soil-like organic matter left over from the worms as they eat their way through the food scraps. I have to thank the worms for our thriving garden!”
3. Grow Your Own Food
“There’s nothing more rewarding than growing and harvesting your own vegetables. We don’t have a big garden, but it has always been important to us to stay connected to the food we eat, so we always make sure we’re growing something. Growing our own food also pushes us to create a relationship with the soil, the sun, the weather and the ecosystem in which we live – something so beautiful and yet so easily missed when we simply go through the motions of life.
Kitchen herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme are the easiest to grow as they’re pretty hardy. We’ve also had quite a bit of success growing carrots, rhubarb, kale and eggplant, but every plot and every garden is difficult. My soil might be different from my neighbour’s, the light hits at different angles, the ecosystem of earthworms, insects and pests also differ… so you just have to keep trying and learn what works and what doesn’t in your space.
I think it’s also important to remember that you don’t need acres of land or even a garden to grow your own food. Many kitchen herbs do well in pots on a windowsill if you’re an apartment dweller, or if you have a balcony, you can even grow vegetables in raised gardening beds like VegePod.”
4. Join a Community Garden
"We joined our local community garden a few years ago, costing us only $50 per year for the family. Considering the amount of produce we have brought home each year, that $50 goes a long way.
Apart from spending less on your weekly shop, joining a community garden is a great way to get access to fresh, locally grown organic produce. Since it is closer to home, the nutritional value of your food is still high by the time you eat it, so you’re actually getting the nutrients your produce can give you.
Community gardens also usually have big compost bins which you can feed your food scraps to."
5. Visit Your Local Farmers Market
"Did you know that the average item of fresh food travels 1,500 miles before we buy it? That travel from its source to your plate involves carbon-heavy value chains that create emissions harmful to the environment.
Instead of buying our produce from a supermarket, we buy our vegetables on Sunday mornings from an organic grower at our local farmers market. We know the grower herself, we know where her farm is and we trust the quality of the produce.
Buying from the farmers markets also means I’m bringing my own bag and buying loose fruit and vegetables instead of buying them wrapped in plastic packaging as is so common in supermarkets."
6. Eat Less Meat
"Which is not the same as eat no meat. We’re not a vegan or vegetarian household, but we do try to live by food author Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
By now, we’ve all heard over and over again that meat and dairy are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture industry, occurring from the stage of farming all the way to it being delivered.
As the majority of emissions is a result of production and preparation of meat and dairy, consuming less meat would be a positive contribution to reducing emissions. I’ll reiterate, though, that this doesn’t mean you have to make a drastic change and go vegan. Reducing your intake of meat can already have a big impact.
So instead of eating meat every day as we used to do, we cut it back to 4-5 days a week, going plant-based the rest of the time. This vegetable and ricotta pie and lentil dahl are our go-to. Oh, and we recently discovered Fable which is a shiitake mushroom-based meat alternative that we absolutely love! Many "plant-based meats" are full of ingredients we don't really want in our bodies, but Fable's done such a good job with keeping the ingredients clean and simple."
7. Make Your Own Cleaning Products
"We’re made to believe that we need a specific product for specific cleaning needs around the house, but we definitely don’t. In fact, the next time you look at cleaning products, read the back of the label – you’re likely to find that the ingredients in a floor cleaner, toilet cleaner, glass cleaner and multi-purpose cleaner are all the same, save for one or two ingredients.
We have recently cut back on buying branded cleaning products in favour of making them at home. With just a few basic ingredients like white vinegar, baking soda and tea tree oil, we’re able to tackle everything from mould spots to cooking grease, all without exposure to toxic chemicals or buying yet another plastic bottle.
Here are some of my cleaning “recipes”:
All-purpose cleaner: 1 part white vinegar + 2 parts water + 2 tbsp baking soda + 5-10 drops tea tree oil + water in a spray bottle. Avoid using this on stone or marble.
Glass and window cleaner: 1 part white vinegar + 1 part water + 2 tbsp baking soda in a spray bottle
Toilet cleaner: 2 parts white vinegar + 1 part baking soda. Pour the vinegar first into the toilet bowl, followed by the baking soda. Let it fizz and sit for 15 minutes before flushing.
Mould treatment: White vinegar + baking soda made into a slurry or paste and applied over stubborn mould spots for 6-8 hours before gently scrubbing off."
8. Choose a Hybrid Car
"When it came the time for us to get a new car, we decided to go with a hybrid option. While it is not fully electric (the ideal option if where you live has the infrastructure to support it), hybrid cars emit much less greenhouse gas than most standard petrol or diesel cars.
Research has shown that when in hybrid mode, most hybrid cars can reduce emissions by 15-30% compared to standard cars, thanks to the efficiency which results from hybridising the drive-train."
9. Install Solar Panels
"This can be a very expensive project and may not be feasible for every household, but if you have the opportunity to install solar panels on your roof, do it. Not only did it make our home more eco-friendly, it also brought our power bill down by almost 60%!
Although the initial outlay is high (we paid about $12k), we think of it as a long-term investment in which we not only save money in bills in the long run, but we’re also doing right by our planet."
Yong’s Recommended Reaeds
"There are SO many books out there on sustainable living, how to grow your own food and permaculture design. But here are a few that we have in our home that we’ve read, loved, and refer back to time and time again."
For simple and conscious living
Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel
High Grade Living by Jacqui Lewis
For step-by-step information on designing a sustainable life
Practical Self Sufficiency by Dick and James Strawbridge
For gardening in small spaces
Grow. Food. Anywhere. By Mat Pember and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon
The Urban Farmer by Justin Calverley