Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Waena--putting the "perma" back in permaculture

One understands "waena" gardening when one understands that the skill involved is understanding each plant and cultivating it in a near natural state in a place that it flourishes. Most agriculture techniques or even permaculture techniques attempt to modify the local environment to suit the plant. Of course borders on each of these concepts become vague and blurred but--there is a big difference between walking out on ones property, finding a spot X, knowing that plant Y will grow in plant X, and planting plant Y--rather than attempting to cultivate plant Y on site X and using a cat to hammer the land into condition to do so. 

As James Lovelock often points out, one of the things that's difficult about the modern "eco progressive" movement in general is that by and large the majority of its proponents are middle to upper class urbanites. While they may be very educated about ecological issues in a theoretical sense, they are often very disattached from the realities and practical issues of a non-recreational life in harmony with the land. Just a little. One large and very well promoted permaculture project right down town Los Angeles comes to mind--while an amazing example of fine gardening--a farm kid would immediately ask how on earth one pays the mortagage on a square block of prime real estate worth 2000 bucks a square foot with bok choy. He may also ask where in this permaculture project one gets the water--to which the trendily dressed vegan anarchal-feminist will point to the pipe, of course, dummy.

So what's special about waena? Not a great deal. It's another type of subsistance lifestyle(that's what they used to call permaculture before grant money was invented) that many of our ancestors lived. Subsistence lifestyles are by nature "sustainable" or people die. Plenty have died and still do and more will yet. This is one of those realities and practical issues of a non-recreational life in harmony with the land. But, as subsistence goes, waena is a particularly good style of a particularly fine climate, and the crops it relies on are particularly fine and reliable. As well, Hawaii is only a 100 or so years removed from this kind of lifestyle being commonplace, as opposed to perhaps 500 in Europe, so the idea of working within a natural state and the means of doing so aren't so lost or alien. Since any sort of better or survivable future will require a restoration of as much of the natural state as we can--pressing new land into service for agriculture, even permaculture, is simply not a tenable option.


Anonymous said...

I've appreciated your Waena series. Too often, too much thought, lacking contemplation(of context), leads to destruction. As much as I was once intrigued by the Permaculture book, its heroic land efforts-bit can do a disservice to intact aina. Hopefully the popular Permaculture-education efforts consider this. (To go skeptical, many edu-systems don't often posit that practical lesson: "Well, don't muck things up to begin with, gang."--who needs teachers for that, right? Anyway, might I plug the book, 'Native Planters--Their Life, Lore, and Environment' As you point out, Hawaiians have been practicing permaculture in sensible contextual ways for..a long time. Mahalo.

mrostron said...

For the drier Hawaiian locales there are also alternatives to large scale ranching or mono-crop approaches. I have always been intrigued with the ancient combination of vineyards, olive orchards, pig and goat husbandry intermixed with native dry land forest in parts of Spain, France, Portugal, and other Mediterranean areas. Many of these areas suffered initially from the effects of deforestation and the population growth that accompanies the rise of a civilization. (Greece & Rome) Yet for centuries now humans have managed to strike a sort of balance that does not rely on importing water from the wetter regions.
My point is: there are ways to extract the necessities of life (and even live well!) from dryer climates too, although the human carrying capacity may be less.
The ancient Hawaiian system utilizing bands of land stretching from the sea to the the barren mountain tops was the most efficient use of the many micro-climates there. A return to that system might be necessary at some point - I only hope the social system that went with it does not recur!

kohledfusion said...

Jay, is that clear corrugated pvc arched over your plant beds? Brilliant idea!

Zachary Stowasser said...

You are very wise jay. I also feel similar about permaculture, but in a way that it uses too much technology that I am not 100% sure will be around. So maybe some of the permaculture techniques can help us get a jump start, but they may not work for future generations. I'd like to find a way of life that can be passed down. Hopefully it is a progression forward. I think permaculture overall is wise to know and I have read the book and other books / videos about it. In many ways it is re learning what we have forgotten but some new ideas. We no longer have to pray to gods to make things happen, we can now understand it scientifically and build upon that to make nature even more efficient with our help.

I'm totally in agreement that we should put the plants where they thrive naturally so we need no irrigation or soil work/etc. much less work for us and less energy use, which may not be around in the coming decades.

This is one reason why I'm trying to find the best balance of perennials to grow. better EROEI :), I've got this perennial vegetables book that is very inspiring and I want to try out many new crops. such as oca (raw is sweet and crunchy, cooked is like potatoes w/ sour cream) and katuk (greens tastes like peanut and green pea). many more. some are drought tolerant so could be used on drier parts of hawaii... ?

mrostron - yes I agree, I like the hawaiian method of land use but the taxes and inequality do not need to come back!