As I’ve been clarifying the vision for Squawking Hawk Acres, I keep coming back to the concept of a permaculture and homesteading demonstration site. It really resonates with me. But I realize that it could convey different things to different people. What do I mean by that? What exactly do I want to demonstrate? I started exploring this a little more, beginning with seeking out some definitions:
Permaculture: I think everyone defines this a little differently. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say: “Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.”
Ok. That’s good. But I liked this one even better: “Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.” That’s from the Permaculture Institute.
So then, Homesteading. What does that even mean anymore? I found these on an online dictionary: “Homestead (buildings), a single building, or collection of buildings grouped together on a large agricultural holding. And Homesteading, a lifestyle of agrarian self-sufficiency as practiced by a modern homesteader or urban homesteader”.
Great. Well, I don’t know about you, but I needed to clarify agrarian. Have you ever played the dictionary game? This is exactly how it goes, you look up one word, and then you have to look up one of the words in its definition, and on and on it goes. The dictionary game was a regular occurrence at family dinner during my childhood, (can anyone say “unschooling?”).
So: “agrarian a·grar·i·an adjective: of or relating to cultivated land or the cultivation of land”. Thus homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency related to the cultivation of land.
I was finding some clarity here, but it was time to ask myself what it meant to me. How do I want to be demonstrating these concepts on my land? To me, permaculture is a method of sustainable design. It is vast, and can expand or contract to fit any situation you are working with. For instance you could use the principals of permaculture to organize your kitchen cabinets or to design a whole city. Looking at the land and home at SHA I decided that there were a few key elements that I definitely wanted to demonstrate as permaculture practices. Mainly: greywater systems, utilizing the waste water from our home for irrigation; water catchment, whether in tanks or earthworks such as swales, utilizing the water collected off the roofs of our buildings for irrigation, and to replenish out groundwater; composting toilets, conserving potable water and recycling nutrients by utilizing our humanure as a soil amendment; and natural building techniques for future construction as well as renovations of existing structures.
There’s certainly a lot more to permaculture, in system design and in lifestyle practices that I’d like to embody here at SHA, but those are some key points. So then I started thinking about homesteading. I want to demonstrate homesteading primarily through food self-sufficiency, by growing a substantial amount of our own food on the property, urban harvesting, and networking with other local producers, as well as by preserving a significant amount of food through canning, drying and freezing, for enjoyment throughout the year. I would like these and other homesteading skills such as cheese, wine, or soap making, basic sewing and mending, herbal medicines, to be shared at SHA through a workshop series. I am constantly reminded that this is all a learning process, and it is important to me that we keep focusing on education. We have so much to teach and learn from each other.
This all got me thinking a lot more, and more clearly, about what I want to be demonstrating here at Squawking Hawk. And it brought me back to the concept of leading by example. This is how I have always tried to approach my life, living it as truly as I can, and in so doing inspiring others. It is hugely important to me to live in alignment with what I value and hold dear, this precious life, this precious planet, these precious resources. Sometimes it can feel that all my actions are so tiny and insignificant, and that there’s nothing I can do to affect real change. But I know that I still need to live that way. Throwing in the towel and saying I’ll never make a difference anyway feels incredibly much worse than continuing on, challenging myself to go deeper into what I believe, walk taller and stronger in it, burn brighter with it. And I know that I touch people. Maybe only one person at a time, but I know these actions inspire others. And the more we practice them, and share them, and have conversations about them with others, the bigger and stronger this movement becomes. We are not alone. And we are capable of so much more than we tend to give ourselves credit for.
So in the spirit of pushing myself deeper, and of starting those conversations about what we all can do, I created a list for myself. I call it My Commitments to Mama Earth. Your list might have a different name. It might have completely different things on it. But I think it’s interesting to think about. I’m certainly curious to know what others do. How do you navigate the challenges of this world in order to stay close to what you value and hold dear? I wrote this list as a starting place, as a topic of conversation, as something I could share, particularly with my housemates here at SHA, so that we could collectively begin thinking about the lifestyle practices we want to demonstrate in this community we are creating together. Please, I’d love to hear what you think.
Personal Lifestyle Practices, or, My Commitments to Mama Earth
Not Buy New Items, and will instead seek creative used alternatives for clothes, tools, and household items
Be willing to repair instead of replace
Buy items with the least packaging
Grow as much of my own food as possible
Purchase directly from local farmers as much as possible
Source food that is local, organic and fair trade, and constantly monitor my consumption habits to find creative sources for my needs
Be willing to do without something if it is not available in a way that is in line with my beliefs
Only eat meat if it is local, organic and sustainably raised, or wild caught
Eat foods that are in season, and preserve local seasonal foods by canning, freezing, and drying, for consumption throughout the year
Buy food and household products in bulk and use re-usable containers
Reuse plastic bags, and seek alternative containers for shopping
Not take new plastic bags at the grocery store
Always take cloth grocery bags with me to the store
Carry reusable eating utensils, water bottle, and travel mug with me all the time
Take my own To-go containers to restaurants for left-overs, and eat out less
Not use disposable hot beverage cups
Use reusable feminine hygiene products, ie Diva Cup and cloth pads
Commute by bike as much as possible, ie unless I need to go farther or carry more than I can on bike
Plan my schedule in such a way that it facilitates bike travel, and think critically about impulsive errands that would require car use
Be a friendly bicycle advocate, ride responsibly, and use every opportunity to engage positively with other drivers and cyclists around road safety issues
Foster community through my life, actions and interactions
Carpool whenever possible when car transport is necessary
Share resources through community, such as tools and equipment
Hang my clothes to dry, rather than using the dryer
Wash my clothes with cold water unless warm is absolutely necessary
Conserve water wherever possible, yellow mellow, pee outside, short showers, conscious dishwashing
Use simple, biodegradable cleaning products, for my body and the house, and purchase them in bulk/reusable containers
Recycle everything I can
Design my home and property to minimize waste, support sustainable systems, and encourage diverse flora and fauna
Seek meaningful employment with organizations and individuals that believe in and support a similar set of values
Continue to educate myself and those around me about ways to live more lightly
Strive for a zero-waste lifestyle
Inspire others to do the same through my art, writing, life