The daily pounding of sun, drought, and record-setting heat on the Great Plains is a searing reminder of nature’s cycles and of a changing climate. In western Oklahoma grasslands and pastures give way to sand, farm ponds and creeks are dry or going dry, water wells are low, and ranchers -- no longer able to feed cattle on pasture -- are selling them off at auctions that go long into the night. As the drought monitor above shows, in central Oklahoma things are literally only a shade better and all of Oklahoma is now in some level of drought.
Oklahoma has always been a place with weather extremes. Climatologists tell us that not only can we expect this to continue but that we will see even more variability and extremes as the climate continues to change.
This raises questions: Are there ways to better manage increasingly precious resources such as water, to retain soil moisture, to retrofit and redesign human communities that are resilient and perhaps even abundant in the face of all kinds of weather, and to do all these things so that we manage, maintain and preserve the natural systems that give us life in a sustainable way?
Permaculture design offers an approach to designing human settlements modeled on the relationships found in nature. Central to permaculture are three ethics: care for the earth, care for people and fair share. These three ethics, along with 12 principles, form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies. Many ecologists, scientists and environmental advocates see permaculture as offering one of the most comprehensive and holistic means for addressing the critical state of our planet and its species.
For Oklahomans, learning about permaculture has, up until now, required travelling out of state, and paying hefty tuition fees in addition to traveling and lodging expenses since permaculture courses are not yet routinely offered here. That’s changed this summer with the advent of Oklahoma’s first full-scale, certificate-level Permaculture Design Course organized by Transition OKC and taught by internationally renowned permaculturist, Scott Pittman of the Permaculture Institute, Santa Fe, N.M. The course starts in less than two weeks on August 4, and I admit to being terribly excited about it.
Two of my Oklahoma City colleagues and friends have taken the Permaculture Design Course and are much more articulate than I am about describing permaculture’s promise for Oklahoma and the talents of Pittman as a teacher. Randy Marks, principal, Groundwork: Applied Design says this:
“Scott Pittman is one of the most gifted teachers I have encountered. He has a long history of putting permaculture into practice and he knows how to convey what he has learned. Additionally, he is a great storyteller and has tales of his worldwide travels as a teacher and practitioner. He has a huge heart and is altogether a wonderful human being.
I took the design course with Scott when I was trying to figure out a new direction for my career and life. The course was fun, provocative and challenging. In itself, it didn't change my life, but it gave me a framework to begin changing my life and my understanding of nature and culture. I have thought of that course and what I learned there virtually every day since, and believe now more than ever that permaculture can help us forge a human culture in tune with the natural world.”
Oklahoma’s own practicing permaculturist, Bob Waldrop, founder of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative and Prairie Rose Permaculture, and one of the teachers for the upcoming Oklahoma PDC, sees permaculture as an essential investment in an age of uncertainty.
“Permaculture, with its focus on caring for people, caring for the planet, and having a care for the future, has helped me design adaptations to my house that make it possible for us to be comfortable, at low cost, even as the weather seems to be becoming more extreme – heat and drought in the summer, cold and ice in the winter. The money I am spending on those renovations is certainly the best financial investment I have ever made, since it has reduced my monthly energy bills.
Like many in the baby boom generation, I am concerned about retirement in an age of great economic uncertainty. A significant component of my retirement plan is a debt-free house with very low operating costs. By spending money now on these permaculture design renovations, while I have a job and income, I am reducing my cost of living, not only in the present, but also later on, when I retire and my income is much lower. Every dollar I don’t have to spend during retirement is probably a hundred dollars I don’t have to save, so the advantages of permaculture design for anyone approaching retirement are very clear and compelling.”
Deadline for enrolling in the course is Tues., Aug. 2. Full details on registering for the course, payment, dates, times, location, syllabus and other pertinent details can be found online here.