Stopping the problem before it gets out of control


Permaculture could stop us from destroying our land

Dietrich Neu

The old Anglican Church on the corner of 7th Avenue and Garnet Street is host to Regina’s first permaculture garden. The unique style of urban agriculture is designed to mimic natural ecosystems; producing yields with no waste, and sustaining the soil by constructing gardens with diverse ecosystems instead of segregating crops from one another.

The initiative just finished up its first year of operation. The garden is a community project in conjunction with the North Central Community Association, and allows for community members from all over the region to contribute to the agriculture process. Although the last harvest ended about a month ago, organizers and volunteers at Permaculture Regina are still working hard to maintain a healthy top-soil on the site to uphold the fertility of the land.

“The goal of [the garden] is to have food produced sustainably, and for us to be able to live sustainably in the future,” said Joanne Havelock, founder of Permaculture Regina. “I think that people can’t ignore the issue of agricultural sustainability any longer. We need to start working on ways to maintain our crop lands for the future.”

While it may be difficult to find  people who would think of “modern farming practices” as one of the biggest environmental threats of current day society, this appears to be a truth that is slowly rearing its ugly head.

The degradation of fertile acreage is slowly grabbing the attention of scientists from around the world. Any region of land capable of growing lush plant life eventually loses its fertility over time; water and wind carry away the nutrient rich soil, and a desert is left in its place. However, the natural process can take hundreds or even thousands of years.

“We face the real risk of the desertification of our farm lands if we don’t start to change what we are doing.” – Steve Fairbairn

Yet, pundits of sustainable food production say that simple agricultural practices, such as the tillage of soil and the use of chemical fertilizers, can accelerate the speed of soil degradation by as much as 4,000 per cent.

“When you have no top-soil you have no food,” said Steve Fairbairn, who helps to maintain the 7th Avenue garden. “Without food, without water, you have nothing. I think permaculture solves a lot of the problems that we are going to be facing in the future if we don’t change the way that we look at agriculture in our society. We face the real risk of the desertification of our farm lands if we don’t start to change what we are doing.”

“Hopefully we can see some of these ideas introduced into modern farming,” Havelock added. “I would like to see this spread to other communities around the city. We are hoping that people can see that it is possible to have fully self-sustainable agricultures in their very own backyards. And the need for such agriculture has never been more important.”

The concerns of Permaculture Regina have merit. One report by the National Academy Press states that unsustainable agricultural practices are the number one contributing factor to the degradation of farm lands throughout the world. According to the report, this makes the excessive erosion of usable farm lands one of the most significant environmental problems that the world faces today.

Indeed, it appears that 40 per cent of the world’s usable farm land is already seriously degraded, which is why the members of Permaculture Regina believe that their style of urban food production is now more important than ever.

Photo courtesy RPIRG