My first presentation is at Balay Tuklasan infoshop, on permaculture design principles. The workshop happens in the street, and all the neighbours have come. They arrange their chairs around the entrance to the infoshop.
The neighbourhood is less built-up than where I’ve been staying in Pasig City, there are a few empty lots, and space for trees to grow.
I introduce the history and ethics of permaculture design, and give examples of the design principles, using the teaching cards. Everything is translated into Tagalog, and everyone joins in the activity of matching the principles to the icons and photographs.
The neighbourhood was previously a rural area, but in recent years the farmland has been taken over by cement factories. The factories emit fumes and chemical dust, and dump excess concrete on the roadsides, making the land unusable for horticulture. Two years ago, a flood spread toxic waste over the whole area, killing lots of plants, and rice and corn can no longer grow here. Other plants are struggling just to survive.
People are concerned that the toxic soil will cause any food they grow to be poisonous. The food won’t be toxic, but the contaminated soil will affect the growth of the plants, and airborne pollutants will mean that the food will need to be washed before being eaten. I recommend planting a windbreak to lessen the effects of dust, and composting to remediate the soil, but really what’s needed is to get rid of the cement plants.
I wonder afterwards if it has been useful, to present abstract design principles to people in this situation, or if I should have focused on their more immediate concerns. But I hear a few days later that the workshop has started a lot of conversations in the neighbourhood, about how they relate to nature, and how they can change the way they live.
I had lost interest in permaculture design, thinking it isn’t a sufficient response to the global crisis, and therefore isn’t useful. After this workshop, I’m shifting back towards it, as it does have something to offer. It’s not the answer to everything, but does have a role to play in reclaiming our place in nature, and that makes it worthwhile.
Feral Crust collective are a small group of activists who are beginning to develop a permaculture demonstration project in this neighbourhood, using some empty lots to experiment and learn together with this community.