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Permaculture in Costa Rica: Get Ready to Join the Movement

A friend of mine recently said that Costa Rica is the incubator of the future of humanity.  There are many who are drawn to this land, who have come here to start living life in a “different” way.  By “different,” they generally mean healthier, more active, and closer to nature.  For the uninitiated, it’s almost as though they are talking about an evolutionary regression.  Haven’t we progressed to the point where we expect technology to take care of the hard labor while we ingest our daily nutrients in pill form?

When I think about permaculture and the so-called “new age” of humanity, I am reminded of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and his take on the meaning of life. We can use whatever language we want to describe our purpose, but it’s what we do with our thoughts, love, and action that lets us give back to the world that is essentially the meaning of our lives.

Last year, at our local annual music, conscious living, and permaculture festival called Envision, I asked a trio of Costa Ricans, who have their own permaculture farm, if they had learned anything new that they were going to bring back to the homestead with them.  They replied no, but that they got what they came for.  They were talking about inspiration.  I immediately recognized what they meant because I felt it, too.  Inspiration was flowing liberally throughout the festival grounds, and everyone participating had brought love and sharing as intentions, and the energy abounding was of a creative force, backed by those highest of ideals.  Everyone was raving that it was this piece of Costa Rican land that helped them channel these energies of love and appreciation for life.  We were all invigorated by being amongst nature.

Where did we go wrong?

Rachel Carson’s 1962 novel Silent Spring warned humanity of the dangers of the toxic chemicals we were releasing into the waters of our planet.  Her warnings incited backlash in a post-WWII America enthralled in the new industrial economy.  The bastions of the Golden Age of Capitalism called the burgeoning environmental activism movement “anti-American” or “anti-progress” and ignored the facts supporting reason, that the environment is the basis of all economic well-being.

In 1995, scientists began warning humanity that greenhouse gases were going to melt the polar icecaps, causing habitat destruction, global warming, biodiversity loss, and groundwater pollution.  Despite environmental activists having achieved so many victories over the years since then, the war is still being lost: cities are being flooded and many millions of people are dying from drought around the world today.

About permaculture

The term permaculture was coined by David Holmgren while he was still a graduate student.  The rapidly growing use of industrial farming methods in Holmgren’s home of Tasmania in the 1960s sparked the idea in him that the industrial methods are highly dependent on non-renewable resources, poisoning the land and water, while also reducing biodiversity and removing billions of tons of topsoil from lands that were previously fertile.

Permaculture is a system of principles that intersect agriculture and social design.  This system centers around using the patterns and features observed in nature.  Integrated resource management is used to regenerate and maintain simulated natural habitats and agricultural systems, which are modeled from natural ecosystems.  It is essentially a philosophy of working with, rather than against, nature.

There are many different theories for permaculture farming but the core tenets are:

  1. Care for the earth: we need a healthy earth to flourish
  2. Care for the people: we must have the resources necessary for our existence
  3. Setting limits to population and consumption: we need to govern our needs, setting resources aside to ensure the first two principles are fulfilled.This includes returning waste back to the system.  Reinvest the surplus.

Permaculture mimics the patterns and relationships that are found in nature, which are then applied to human habitation, agriculture, and ecological building.  It necessitates the creation of the appropriate technology, education and economic systems to represent these patterns and relationships.  The purpose is to go from being dependent consumers to responsible producers.

The philosophy behind permaculture is about changing the world in a positive way, rather than focusing our energies on trying to stop the negatives in our world.  People who practice permaculture are creating the world that they want to see.  Changing policies is the old way to get anything done.  By changing ourselves and what we do, we are building the stepping stones that will inevitably contribute to a larger change worldwide.

People who practice permaculture know that when you do something for yourself that also benefits you, while simultaneously reducing your adverse impact on the world, they are creating a potentially attractive example to other people who then think, “oh, I’ll think do that to!”

According to Ed Ayers, editor of World Watch Magazine, our homes should be unique representations of our environment, “reflective of the local topography, flora, soil, sunlight, climate and culture,” and our energy should come from local sources.  We should build our houses from local materials that have been sustainably sourced, free of toxic substances like glues, paints and carpet fabrics.  We should use natural shade for cooling, conserve water and recycle waste.  We should live in living homes.

What this type of living lifestyle does is provide an uplifting effect on others’ environmental resolve and creates ripple effects in the public consciousness, asking for new forms of community.  Like attracts like, so people who are interested in pursuing a living lifestyles will be drawn to these communities, which share communal playgrounds and green spaces, gardens, water sources, tool sheds and meeting places.  These places already exist all over the world, only that they have very limited motor vehicle access, meaning that it is rare for outside humans to accidentally encounter them.  Public necessities are within walking distance, allowing for the time and space for more spontaneous formations of relationships and the sharing of tasks.

Costa Rica is a natural choice

A true farm represents diversity, growing vegetables, fruits, and grains.  Small herds of sheep or goats roam, fish ponds are created, and patches of forest, wetlands, and meadows are retained for balance in the environment, including wild pollinators, soil microbes and songbirds.

Because of the ecologically dynamic landscape of Costa Rica, these natural permaculture factors are already in balance.  Springs, rivers, tree cover, insects and so much more that is necessary for an environment in balance are prevalent in this natural wonderland.  People who come here to live in a different way, that is slower and more in harmony with nature’s gifts, find that they are richly rewarded by their investment into Costa Rica.

To live in this way, we must check our personal consumption.  We determine our environmental impact through the industries that our dollars support.  When we allow ourselves this type of living lifestyle, even for a short amount of time, the increase of oxygen to our brains, the natural daylight, and the food and water rich in vitamins and minerals will benefit our bodies so powerfully that our minds and spirits will naturally grow lighter.  Our environment is our greatest asset and it is high time that we feel naturally elated by doing the right thing for ourselves, each other and our planet.  There is no better time than now.  Costa Rica has inspired myself and many others and it is through living in this fertile land that I look forward to a brighter future.