Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Welcome 2020

Permaculture Design

Plan your new decade as if you were planting a food forest

Picture by Morea Steinhauer

New year, new resolutions.

New decade, new perspectives.

It always amuses me to think that collectively we have one day of the year (or different days of the year, depending on your belief) to start over, and maybe offer a better version of ourselves from what we were the year before.

I love to have a moment to do a deeper review of the year that is about to end, even the challenging ones. It is like my yearly KonMari decluttering moment, of all aspects of my life. I like to prepare myself to start the following year with fresher eyes, clearer headspace and a neat vision of where to focus my energy on the following months.

And yes, as you might imagine, I use the permaculture evaluation questions to evaluate my year.

It goes like this:

  • What did I like about this last year?
  • What would I have done differently?
  • What were the A-Ha moments of the year?

And I add:

  • What did I harvest during this time?
  • What do I need to let it compost?
  • Am I happy with the systems that I have implemented (in my personal life as in my professional one)this year? What about the ones that were already implemented, how are they doing?
  • Is there any component of these systems that seem to be stressed? If yes, what should I change in order to promote more resilience around it, and avoid creating that stress?
  • What were my learnings of this year?
  • Did I celebrate them?
  • How I am going to share these learnings with others?

Yes, I know, I am a big planner, and love to have my things organized too. I Looove processes, and what I love even more is to put them into action and see them coming out of my head to the physical realm.

But the funny thing is, even if we are more prone to think about the process first and then move to action or prone to do the action first and then think about it later. One thing is important to be clear at. Your vision! Even if it is a blurry one.

Importance of being clear in your vision

2019 was a challenging year for many, and 2020 started with some tough struggles, like unprecedented wildfires in Australia and potential war in Iran, for starters, threatens by the Brazilian government to allow mining in protected indigenous land.

A clear vision or a clear direction of where you want to go or do, combined with why you are taking this decision, will support you continue to follow your direction, even in challenging times, to be creative about it, even when you feel blocked.

“Who does not know what he is looking for will not understand what he finds.” Claude Bernard

This quote was on the first page of the physiology book I used to study from in my first years in medical school. For my own sake, I would rephrase it like this:

“Those who do not know what they are looking for will not understand what they find.”

A little break to deconstruct patriarchy is always good. Anyway, back to 2020.

The thing is, you don’t need to be a scientist to look for something. We are always looking for something. Something that can be as concrete as an object to fulfill a function (or many functions), or things more subtle, like a meaning, a supportive community, or an inspiration for defining your resolutions for the new year and the new decade that are about to start.

When I talk about vision, I talk about a direction of a path to be taken. It can change along the way, no problem, but if you don’t sketch a map, you don’t understand where you are going, and when or where you want to change your course, and if you want to change it or not.

To make a clear vision of where I want to do is to reclaim my responsibility for my decisions, about my life. Even if my decisions depend on others or impact others directly.

Unfortunately, I see a lot of people getting hesitant when talking about defining a vision, taking a decision, or making clear a goal. Often these concepts are linked to expectations and expectations tend to lead to frustrations… and some people are afraid of facing frustration, especially in an era of instant gratification at all costs (but this discussion I will continue in another moment).

Let me tell you, frustration is part of the process, you just need to learn how to deal with them. They are not always obstacles, they can be a slow down moment to think creatively from another perspective. And even an opportunity to find out something even better in the first place. And another opportunity to exercise permaculture lenses: The problem is the solution.

Nonetheless, if you know where you are going, or what you are looking for, you are going to find the energy to take a deep breath and face it from another angle. Or take a break, recharge, recenter and start over. Life is all about cycles, remember? And you will continue your journey.

So, what do you want for your new decade?

Make it clear for yourself and share it with the people around you that you feel safe with. Sometimes, speaking from the heart to people we trust helps us to see our own raw vision from a new perspective and make it even more accurate. Practice it.

Remember, set your intentions, practice your authenticity, be clear with your vision and why you are taking this direction. And make yourself prepared to take a leap. It might be a quantum one.

Picture by CCFF of my training for the quantum leap -or just being silly.

Ok, but what about the Food Forest you mention?

Nature is an infinite source of inspiration, and a Forest is the ultimate climax of that expression. We are Nature and we too often forget about, what if we bring it closer to us more and more until we don’t forget anymore?

Besides the plants I cultivate, I also like to look at projects as if they were like plants. Plants that represent a complex system itself, with their own growing rhythm, cycles, indicators, medicines, potential poisons, and beauty.

Like plants, I tend to design my projects placing them in a larger system, like a forest, so they can interact with one another. Even if the only thing they have in common is me.

If you are new to the term Food Forest. Here is one definition of it: Food Forest is a low-maintenance, very resilient, plant-based food production, based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating its many layers in space and time. These systems are also more resistant to extremes of temperature and droughts periods. This kind of production, also known as agroforestry, creates a more stable environment in its surroundings, maintains the soil healthy and protects biodiversity beyond its limits. Cool, huh?

In order to design a Food Forest, you need to understand the kind of plants that you would like to cultivate and look for ways of how to take the concept of companion plants to the next level. Companion plants are the plant combinations that protect one another as they grow. They might protect each other from predators, or sectors like wind or too much sun, for example. They potentialize one another in their development. And this is the classical example of synergic relationships, where 1 + 1 is more than 2 like Fukuoka used to say.

These synergic relationships are going to build up resilience in the system, and with time more complexity, more diversity, and more regeneration are created within it and around this forest, or your life, if your design in these terms.

So why not create more synergy between your projects and with your new year’s resolutions for the next decade?

Thinking about Layers and Associations:

In a Food Forest, you are going to think about plants as systems inside of a larger system, as I mentioned. In which each element (plant) have their own cycle, different needs (sun exposure, shade, wind, water, kind of soil), maturation time, harvesting time, interactions with animals, are a few examples of aspects to think of.

In order to keep it more simple, without losing the richness of its complexity. You are going to divide the plants into layers. Layers of space, time and function.

Thinking about your projects: Observe the peculiarities and similarities of your projects. Each one of them has a different time of development, maintenance, and harvesting too, no? So, create more synergy between them, and make them visible to you! Besides creating more synergy between them, you will learn to see your human energy flow (motivation, transportation, for example) globally and how to optimize your energy in each one of them and combined.

When you make these invisible connections more visible to you, you start to be more accurate in your observations and how to communicate them. With time you learn to regenerate more energy and resources around yourself and in your life.

Layers in Space:

The layers in a Food Forest can be divided in many ways. I choose to use 9 for my example here:

Taller trees Layer (Nut trees & tall fruit trees like chestnut, black walnut, pecan); Smaller trees Layer (Smaller fruit trees like apple, apricot, pear); Shrubs Layer (Currants, berries, roses); Herbaceous Layer (Nettles, Most vegetables); Groundcover Layer (Clover, spinach, comfrey); Vine (or Vertical) Layer (Grapes, Kiwi, squash, melons); Root Layer (Carrots, daikon, beets); Fungi Layer (Mushrooms) and Wetland Layer (Reeds).

When you think about the layers in space, you are going to think more about the physical aspects of the plants and sectors on the land like sunlight, shade, wind, animal’s path, view, noise, people’s path. At this moment, you also need to make sure to place the plants with enough space between them once they are fully grown, so they will have enough space to spread their wings, I mean, branches.

A tall tree might provide structure and shade to other plants, but they take long time to grow. During their growth, it may be important to protect it from strong winds with some scrubs and break the soil with the strong root plants for future cultivation without using machinery.

The idea is to look at them as an entire system and see how to support the collaboration between them to keep them happy and healthy, and more autonomous in keeping away pests, for example.

Layers in Time:

The plants grow in various rhythms. Plan your forest (and your life) with its cycles, seasons, an ongoing process of life-death-rebirth. Keeping the soil healthy and plant-harvest-seed all year long. Keep the slow growers (tall trees/ long term projects) healthy as they grow. Compost continuously, keep the pollinators happy.

Identify which plants that are going to be permanent to the system, and which are plants that going to be in between cycles. Care from the big patterns of your deign into details of it.

Remember forests don’t create waste! They also buffer the impact of intense changes in temperature, absorb atmospheric carbon, clean water and develop more biodiversity.

Looking at your life and your projects as a forest might allow you to avoid creating waste, it might allow you to make you more resilient to changes, keeping yourself healthy and supportive to a transition to a more regenerative culture in your life and around you.


Each plant will present many functions and will present different needs. Make sure to combine plants from different families together, avoid monoculture style, to not deplete the soil and to not make the plants more susceptible to pests.

“Some pests find food by the chemicals produced by the host plant. If you plant lots of the same type of vegetables together (as a monoculture) them the chemical signal is much stronger. This means you attract more pest.” (Ross Mars, 1996).

Combining concepts:

In order to better integrating all these concepts of the food forest design and designing your new decade resolutions in a more concise way. I made you a drawing of how I see many of the parallels between them, and as a transition to a healthier life, building up to a regenerative culture. This is why I called my drawing: Food Forest design is Health design.

Drawing made by Luiza Oliveira

In the picture above I illustrated some of the concepts of thinking about the layers of space, time and function combined. And of course, they are an interpretation, and interpretations are subjective.

In order to make this drawing more practical, I made a table to share a few of the parallels that I made between the food forest design and new your decade, planning to a more regenerative future. Here:

Table by Luiza Oliveira

Here you see that I put together some concepts of different layers, like substituted the shrub layer and herbaceous layer (space layers) with the perennial and annual plants (time layers), since some perennial plants that are herbaceous and shrubs. But I thought it would be more didact.

I also added the layer of medicinal plants (functional layers), and I wanted to emphasize the distinction of self-preservation, self-care and work on oneself. I really wanted to highlight the layers of a forest that exist to always care for the system (the forest) and its elements (plants/animals/resources).

I think these are important aspects we need to learn how to implement in our society to transit to a regenerative future. Learn to care for ourselves, our relationships and our community simultaneously and continuously taking in consideration all the relationships, in a collaborative way.

So, think about your life, your projects, your activities, your resources thinking about a food forest. Look at them thinking about layers of space, time and function. Create more synergy between them, compost regularly, work on yourself, care for your family and community, breathe, dance, meditate, take good care of yourself.

Take one step a time, but don’t lose perspective, remember your vision, keep track of your map!

Ow, and I almost forgot! I wish you an amazing new year and a new decade full of new learnings, collaborations, and nature regeneration!

Together, we thrive!


1- Mars R. The Basics of Permaculture Design. Australia: Permanent Publications; 1996.

Welcome 2020 was originally published in PermacultureWomen on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

via PermacultureWomen - Medium https://medium.com/permaculturewomen/welcome-2020-605f4503bd75?source=rss----c21e0e274675---4
Via Permaculture Women's Guild - Free Permaculture blog https://ift.tt/2QmFrBx

Permaculture News Archive Feed