Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Permaculture Shares Tenets of Fr. McNabb's Back-to-the-Land Movement

Last night Nathaniel and I drove to west Houston to attend a class called "Introduction to Permaculture", which was offered by the Permaculture Guild of Houston.

We weren't really sure what to expect. A couple of months ago I ordered a light-hearted video called "Eat Your Garden: Create a Permaculture Oasis" and two books: How to Make a Forest Garden by Patrick Whitefield and The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques by Rosalind Creasy. We started looking at gardening in a totally new light. Then, this week, Nathaniel began a landscape design for Grandma and Grandpa's house and was looking for inspiration. I remembered seeing information on this permaculture class. So we signed up, hoping to build on what we had learned in the video and books. Also, Nathaniel planned to gain more insight into a career in horticulture/landscape design.

The class did all that and more. The handout we received defined permaculture as "an advanced design concept for creating gardens, landscapes, and ecosystems. It helps design sustainable societies that can prosper for centuries while minimizing energy and materials use." While that sounds like it was written by Ralph Nader, the conclusion I drew by the end of the class was that philosophically, the permaculture movement is the secular version of the Catholic back-to-the-land movement. Each movement is indebted to a visionary who saw that the methods of production brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the resulting lifestyle changes are not only not sustainable but destroy community life. They look for alternatives to the factory model, whether it be healthcare or food production. The permaculture movement was founded by Bill Mollison, who wrote PERMACULTURE: A Designers' Manual; the Catholic back-to-the-land movement was founded by Fr. Vincent McNabb, who wrote The Church and The Land. Permaculture would also tie in with what John Senior, the Catholic educator and author, taught in his book, The Restoration of Christian Culture.

Cass Van Woerden, a Permaculture Guild of Houston member and electrical engineer, taught the class. He explained that on a hot day in December about 16 years ago, he was in Houston and was suddenly struck by the sound of all of the air conditioners running. He decided then to live off the grid. He and his wife Gita built a house that enabled them to do that on acreage one hour west of Houston in Cat Spring. It's called Animal Farm. They grow their own food and sell to Houston restaurants and the Farmer's Market. They grow so much food that they have four full-time employees who live in straw-bale houses on the property. The Van Woerdens host open houses regularly to demonstrate sustainable living. The next one is this Sunday, April 27, from 10 a.m. -4 p.m. We plan to attend.

Nathaniel will be signing up for at least three more classes: Mrs. Van Woerden will be teaching "Principles of Sustainable Building" next Tuesday. Mr. Van Woerden will teach "Renewable Energy" on the following Tuesday, May 6. "Designing the Eco-House" will be taught by Shawn McFarland on Tuesday, May 13.

Disclaimer: My understanding of permaculture as presented last night is that it is a concept that can generally be adapted to Catholic principles. Whether the Permaculture Guild of Houston promotes things that are against Catholic principles, such as population control, I do not yet know. We will take from these classes what we can use in order to better promote the Social Reign of Christ the King and discard the rest.

1 comment:

bwit57 said...

After commenting on your permaculture entry on Somersetsis, I read this entry. In the meantime, Stephen and I had done a little sleuthing on Google and were intrigued. A few months ago he'd mentioned that he'd like to build a straw-bale house. Also, solar panels have been a hot topic on his BMW tech group. I read him the list of events you'd be attending and he was sore jealous!