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Last summer, I read “The Permaculture City” by Toby Hemenway. “Permaculture” is a system of food systems design which uses Earth’s natural systems as its model.

Hemenway’s magnum opus was “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture,” which completely transformed how people viewed their yards, and what they could accomplish in small growing spaces. (We have one amazing Gaia’s Garden here in Iowa City!  You should check it out this summer!).  And so I was really looking forward to reading the “Permaculture City”.  I had high hopes…

But I was disappointed. The book wasn’t actually very good, but I am still glad that I read it because I learned two very important concepts of permaculture design: the concept of zones, and stacking functions.

Permaculture design starts inside out using zones ranging from Zone 1 to Zone 5. In Zone 1, you place the plant, or thing that you need to tend to the most frequently closest to your front door. The thing that you need to tend to the least is placed farthest away.

So greatest impact and most frequent work, Zone 1. Least impact and least frequent work, Zone 5.

Duh! Isn’t that obvious? I felt the same way, but how often to do we ignore what is happening at our front door, where we have the greatest impact, while focusing on that which is farthest way while having the least impact?

And focusing here does not mean that we cannot have a national impact. Think of our talented and courageous young people in November. They focused here, and within a week made top of the fold NY Times. In less than one week, they achieved more than most of us will achieve in a lifetime, and they did it by focusing here.

The second concept in permaculture that I love is called stacking functions. Permaculture designers like one thing to achieve multiple benefits. So a fruit bearing tree does multiple things in a naturally designed food system: it enriches the soil, it prevents erosion, it acts as carbon sink, it provides shade, it give us food, it builds community when we plant it, provides oxygen, it gives us fuel when it is cut down, it enhances value in our neighborhoods, it provides nourishment to birds, it provides us a place to sit back and read…

So in these coming times, I am going to focus on Zone 1 and stacking functions. That does not mean this is the only way. Some will need to focus on every zone including Zone 5, but I want to focus as much as I can on my street, my neighborhood, my community, my state, and my federal government from the inside out, and to achieve as much as possible in everything that we do…


The above writing is from a Facebook post on 26 Jan 2017 @ 10:29 PM CT.

Want to learn more about permaculture in Iowa City? Visit BackyardAbundance.org