Deborah reports from the field

“Hello Michael!” I exclaimed to the tall, fit man who we all know so well as the guru of “Food Rules.”

Writer Michael Pollan turned, gave me a big smile, and said, “Are you following me?”

I was just about to settle in for a long and fascinating day at the Permaculture Voices Conference last weekend in Temecula, California — a four-day conference where Michael was a speaker. I had only one day, so—being a great admirer of his activist writings, especially “The Ominivore’s Dilemma,” and “In Defense of Food”—I chose his day. I see him as one of the great flag bearers of the food movement and have learned much from him.

And here we were together again, for I’d just see him the night before at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. Once again, his presentation would be riveting. He is as good in person as he is in print!deborah-michael-pollan.jpg

I’ve known about permaculture — or regenerative agriculture as I sometimes like to think of it — for several decades now, and you might say I’ve practiced it since 1940: We started our first garden at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja California, to feed a handful of guests who paid the princely sum of $17.50 for an entire week of vegetarian meals, hiking, fitness classes, and daily lectures by my husband, Edmond Szekely, an internationally known expert on health and fitness.

In recent decades, most knowledge of permaculture I might claim (or have soaked up) traces back to my daughter, Sarah Livia Brightwood, president of Rancho La Puerta, whose landscapes and organic vegetable farm have received international recognition. She has used permaculture principles at our health and fitness resort, and she has also taught its tenets in remote areas of Central America.

Personally, I make every effort to see that everything I eat comes from a rich and functional ecosystem that is efficient (minimal waste), beautiful, abundant, diverse, renewable...a system that honors permaculture’s three fundamentals: Care for the earth; care for the people; and return surplus back into the system.

Headliners for the Temecula conference, in addition to Pollan, included Geoff Lawton, Dr. Elaine Ingham, Allan Savory, Joel Salatin, Mark Shepard, Toby Hemenway, Paul Wheaton, and Jack Spirko, and many more. Google any one of them: their stories, books, and projects are remarkable.

Diego Footer is the organizer of Permaculture Voices, and his inspiring message resonated with us all:

“I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that, then I realized I am somebody. Together, I believe that we can thrive in an ever-changing world. Together, I believe that we can create a more sustainable future. Together, I believe that we can change the world. Are you with me?”

I most certainly agree, Diego! I’m with you, and so are all Wellness Warriors.

I was surprised and pleased at the diversity of the audience. At 92, I suppose I was the oldest. Many who had made the commitment to living and working as organic farmers since the ‘60s were there: ahead of the curve then, and still leading the way today. I also learned that my audience mates included landscape architects, urban garden designers, people from the food movement, and, interestingly, people from distant places... including all over the U.S. and beyond to places like Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and Australia, home of Bill Mollison, considered the father of permaculture. This was not a provincial, Southern California event.

Permaculture is oft-described as: “...an integrated system of design Mollison co-developed with David Holmgren, that encompasses not only agriculture, horticulture, architecture and ecology, but also economic systems, land access strategies and legal systems for businesses and communities.”

I was equally impressed by the diverse reasons why attendees were there.

“Are you a farmer?” my companion from our Wellness Warrior team asked the young man sitting next to us. “Not quite,” he said. “I married the farmer’s daughter. I was previously a journalist, but now, because our family wants to stay and live on the farm, we are looking for new approaches to agriculture that are sustainable, resilient and healthy—not only healthy for the crops and animals, but for our future and the future of our children.”

Deeper descriptions of Permaculture’s philosophy say it is “...one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.”

The idea of, “How to take this model and make it work on a larger scale” was a thread that ran through the talks of the day. Michael Pollan responded to this question by saying "To the extent we diversify our farms, we diversify our diets and we diversify our economy." He described Permaculture as being “on the cutting edge, the antennae of a world agricultural movement and having one of the most hopeful stories out there...”

His talk ended with a burst of enthusiasm from the audience as he gave the directive: “Expand your ranks and convince the mainstream!"

Video and information from the conference is available on the Permaculture Voices website and Diego posts new and wonderful podcasts regularly.  Stay tuned, and stay Perma...nent!

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