Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Permaculture & Biomimicry

April 2nd, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Whenever I got a cut that bleed when I was a kid, I would ask my dad how long it would be until my cut would heal. He would almost always answer “soon, the human body does a fantastic job at healing itself.” This quote echoes the principle that “nature heals itself better than anything else.” The concept of permaculture reminds me of how mimicking “the patterns and relationships found in nature” creates useful products for people because nature truly does it better. This concept is known as biomimicry.

Velcro came from copying what the structure of a bur. A bur is seed or dry fruit that hooks or teeth. These types of seed easily latch on to animal fur so that the seeds can be carried and dispersed across long distances. Inventors realized that we can use multiple sets of these hooks and create a strong attachable fabric product. Qualcomm, a semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company, used the reflective properties of the Morpho butterflies’ wing to make a new display technology. This type of butterfly creates its colors because of microstructures in the wing that use the process of structural coloration instead of pigmentation. Qualcomm was able to create a display that reflects light so only the desired color is visible in each individual pixel.

The shark is my personal favorite animal used in Biomimicry. The shark is one the most incredible animals in the animal kingdom. The United States Navy has been trying to unlock the secret of sharks’ hydrodynamic body shape so theirs ships hauls can glide through the water easier. These same scientists are also interested in finding out how shark’s skin never has barnacles on it because barnacles cost the military millions in increased drag (ships requires more fuel to go a distance) and cleaning costs. Medical scientists study the sharks skin and immune systems. Shark’s skin is able to grow back faster than almost any animal because of how quickly denticles are replaced. The sharks immune system is able to fight off cancer & arthritis, as well as detoxify bacterial, fungal, anthropogenic and environmental toxins.


Qualcomm: https://www.qualcomm.com/news/onq/2010/01/07/nature-knows-best

Sharks: http://www.elasmo-research.org/education/topics/p_wound.htm   

Good Footprints

April 1st, 2017 | Posted by Margaret Overton in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Each person, from the farmers to the founders of the movement, seemed to struggle with defining the term “permaculture.” I want to add in my own attempt. To me, the defining characteristics of permaculture are the integration of modern lifestyles, technologies, and structures with certain core philosophies: minimizing waste, maximizing efficiency, balance within the ecosystem, diversity, and overall a sense of harmony and symbiosis within the system. In a word, it’s synergy; it’s the blending of old with new and the reciprocal cycles of life, death, destruction, and creation anew. It means taking what we have now–small yards, depleted soil, miles upon miles of empty rooftops, runoff from streets, and a system that cannot endure forever–and infusing them with life and purpose and energy.

I’m torn between my belief that it takes widespread investment and effort to bring about change and my desire to make a significant impact. But lately, I’ve begun to realize that you can do both. One garden in someone’s backyard can feed a city block; a single rain garden can prevent gallons upon gallons of water from entering sewers and contaminating ecosystems; one roof can do both of these and more. I’m someone who is very grounded in reality, and I tend to be most impacted by documentaries and true stories; I found Before the Flood to be much more motivating than Pumzi. Similarly, I found Inhabit to be incredibly inspiring because it turned a seemingly impossible problem into something that can be approached one step at a time, person by person, through a philosophy and an approach that would be appealing even without an environmental crisis to consider. Instead of discouraging me, it gave me hope and a way to make a difference even if I am alone in my efforts.

Mostly, as I watched, I was overwhelmed by the green everywhere. It must be an evolutionary trait, to be so calm and content just at the sight of leaves, grass, trees, plants– green. Here, finally, is a vision of a way out of the hole humanity has dug for itself. The path runs through every discipline, from public policy to education to engineering to psychology to chemistry to philosophy to urban planning to agriculture to biology to architectural design, and yet it is simple enough that anyone with enough determination can walk along it. I want to live in a world dappled by trees overhead, with each footstep muffled by grass, and permaculture puts the power to work towards that directly into my inexperienced yet willing hands. Rather than focusing on the problems we face, we must begin to look forwards and look around us and see the good that is being done to do “more good” rather than just “less bad.” Ben Falk put it best: what if footprints were something you wanted to leave behind?


April 1st, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

We’re sitting in Francesca’s, a quaint little cafe on 9th street. The walls are purple, bedecked with colorful paintings, and bouncing with laughter and conversation. I’m sitting across from my college advisor happily chatting about my current classes when the word “permaculture” enters the conversation. At this, my advisor stops me – “perma-what”?

Frankly, less than one week ago, I was in the same position. What is permaculture? I had heard of agriculture, of course, of industrialized planting. I have discussed CAFOs at length and horticulture in my spare time. But permaculture? The word brought to mind images of “permafrost” and the Arctic. Little did I know that permaculture is a form of “permanent” + “agriculture.” More than simply promoting sustainability and the idea of doing less bad, permaculture endorses actively doing good, mimicking natural patterns and relationships found within nature itself. As exhibited in the film Inhabit, permaculture can take on countless shapes and forms, ranging from Ben Falk, the self-sustaining homestead farmer from Vermont who makes farming look far more attractive than I ever thought possible, to Mark Shephard who makes his livelihood off of a perennial agricultural forest, to suburban gardens, to rain gardens along the streets of New Jersey. Our current approach to permaculture is founded on three core ethical principles: “care for the earth,” “care for people,” and “fair share,” established as part of the Permaculture Design Course, a manual which helps people like myself who had zero exposure to the concept of permaculture create their own form of agriculture, tailored to their lifestyle but sharing the same kind of positive impact.

Interestingly, though the term “permaculture” has a very short history, with the term first coined in the 1970s, permaculture principles fueled much of history’s agriculture. For example, the Three Sisters farming method which grows squash, corn, and beans together and is currently used by Susana Kaye Lein on Salamander Springs Farm – as shown in the film Inhabit – was widespread in Native American societies and used by the Iroquois as trade goods. This goes to show that in calling ecologically friendly “advances” may not actually be so innovative, but rather a return to earlier times in which people and Mother Earth coexisted more peaceably.

Make Change Happen

April 1st, 2017 | Posted by Victoria Grant in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Human activity changes the environment and now we are changing the world at unprecedented rates.  Climate change is a huge problem that seems too daunting to tackle at times. With politicians being too busy arguing whether it exists and scientists attempting to create extravagant solutions, it seems impossible to fix. Big corporation pump pollutants into waterways and the atmosphere daily and turning on the car to drive to work creates a carbon footprint crisis for the individual. There does not appear to be any solution but, permaculture shows there is another alternative to living an environmental friendly life.

Permaculture changes the culture’s mindset of reducing waste to not producing waste. The ideas involved with permaculture emphasize using the environment to do the work and let nature work for you without altering it. When properly being practiced, individuals could grow their own food (and food for others), reduce their waste, and purify the air without drastically changing the environment. The gardens shown in the documentary, Inhabit, clearly were more productive and sustainable but, involved less work. They were proof that sustainable farming can exist it just involves a change in mindset. As a culture, we want what we want: corn, beef, or pecans. We grow things not native to the area and damage the environment to keep up with the demand. If we were to change our ideology, we could support a lifestyle that does not just lower our footprint but, creates a green one.

The solutions for climate change are here. Yes, some large-scale actions will have to be taken but, little things like a permaculture garden help. Using bikes to collect garbage or installing beehives make a difference. We need to stop sitting around thinking there is nothing we can do as an individual. Demand change through our actions: great movements always started with one.

Permaculture at Home

April 1st, 2017 | Posted by Brielle Tobin in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

As someone who grew up surrounded with monoculture and year-round hostile weather, I became incredibly inspired from Inhabit and our discussions on permaculture. So of course, I scoured the web to see if anyone from my glorious state of Wyoming had braved the years of trial and error to create a permaculture design to work in the sagebrush and pine covered, notoriously wind-blown landscape. It turns out, the only permaculture center in Wyoming resides in my hometown of Casper! The owner, Laurel Graham, keeps a blog of not only the environmental, nutritional, and social benefits of permaculture, but also of her intense appreciation of the peace that living off and with the land gives her. I learned through her blog and through this film about the vibrancy and the passion behind the practice and design of permaculture, and how it is something extremely special.

As volunteering at the Duke Farm was my first exposure to anything farming wise, I finally learned how I love caring for and having a hand in creating life, not to mention the rewarding act of contributing to a process that benefits both the Duke and the Durham communities. As inspiring stories of healthy and local food that benefits us in tandem with the environment mount, the only next step is for me to call my parents and start to work on transforming our backyard in a way none of us thought possible.

Permaculture is not solely a science. It is an accomplishment. In fact, it may very well prove to be one of mankind’s greatest and most important achievements. Through countless life science studies, we have learned both how the environment works and how our bodies work. Yet we have never had a definitive answer for how the two entities should coexist and work together. Permaculture provides insight into this conflict by modeling our actions and landscapes on natural systems. Humans are thus placed as part of nature and as part of the working environment with the role of efficiently managing landscapes.

With clean, efficient methods for living on Earth, permaculture has positioned science to combat climate change. Therefore, the importance and relevance of environmental communication has grown exponentially. Now that there is a way mankind can live harmoniously with the planet, it is of the utmost importance that everyone became aware of this fact. This entails using news outlets, public artworks, literature and other forms of persuasive rhetoric. Moreover, lessons on how to live with such “permanent culture” will be crucial. Permaculture is a terrific accomplishment due to its ingenuity and also its difficulty. There will need to be classes available to the public walking them through the management of this complex system. Though it may take many years for society to accept and respond to climate change, permaculture is a prime example illustrating how science has stepped up to the challenge.

Blog #9 – Kevin Bhimani

March 31st, 2017 | Posted by Kevin Bhimani in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Kevin Bhimani Blog #9 3/31/17


“Permanent-Permutable Permacultural Futures”


By reading about Permaculture and especially getting an in-depth look by watching Inhabit, it is hard to argue that there is any better way to plan for the future. The whole idea behind Permaculture is rooted in the notion that it is “permanent agriculture” so that all of the needs that plants have are met by the natural world. I think one of the most intriguing concepts behind it is thinking about how nature works and getting a true understanding as to how the different parts function. It is a very difficult task to do and seeing the ways in which people have come up with entire farms based off of nothing but rethinking the way in which they organize, design, and populate in order to ensure success for what they hope is eternity. Essentially recreating an ecosystem that nobody can teach you how to make—you simply have to observe “the teacher” in a forest for example and figure out a way to engineer your space to fit those loose guidelines. It is really an interesting concept and it was incredible to see people like the man on the rooftop garden having a very well thought out design for his space even with bees for natural pollinators, or the group harvesting mushrooms on logs in the forest, needing nothing else but the sunlight and natural ecosystem to grow them. The movement is something that could transform the way in which we source our food as it requires such essentially no power, and currently every form of mass food production uses tons of energy. If we move to having our own food sources or even have food that is produced with no power, we will be able to thrive as a society with the ability to make food and harvest other resources just like they used to do it. It reduces our carbon footprint as a people and prolongs our time on this planet—something that seems like a no-brainer situation.

One particular vignette from Inhabit captured my attention: there are over one million rooftops in New York, and each year the city dumps thirty billion tons of sewage water into local bodies of water. As a response, more and more groups are installing rooftop gardens.

Immediately, I grasped the brilliance of this idea. The essence of permaculture, what easier way is there to mutually benefit humans and the environment? Rooftop landscaping could produce a massive carbon sink, save on air conditioning costs, provide new habitats to animals, as well as stimulate the psychological perk we derive from green spaces. Without limiting rooftop cultivation to simply a garden, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that one day New York and our other metropoles could host a forest in the sky.

Permaculture is all about finding sustainable solutions and living symbiotically alongside nature rather than siphoning its many gifts, and large scale rooftop cultivation fits the bill. The idea is not outlandish or without precedent: the Persians were famed for their Hanging Gardens of Babylon. If people are able to recognize the ease with which such a concept can be facilitated, it might not be long before the “concrete jungle” has equal emphasis on the second word as the first.

Mark Shepard’s insistence on returning the land to its “natural form and function,” while still producing food drew me to his style of permaculture. Regarding his 106-acre perennial farm, he made the point that, “if we were to disappear tomorrow, this land would continue producing food for thousands of years.” It blew my mind. Inspired by Shepard, I called my parents and asked to try permaculture in our yard at home. I said, “It’s like our regular garden, but instead we plant only perennials.” I went on to share my limited knowledge about topsoil disruption, pesticide use, and the productivity of the permaculture farms from the movie. Amazingly, they didn’t say no.

My parents have agreed to plant five new food-producing perennials before summer, on the condition that they are native to North Carolina. As the financial share-holders and creators of my life, they generously delegated the research of indigenous plants to me. The list below shows my preliminary findings, all of which are native to the piedmont region and courtesy of the North Carolina Native Plant Society.

  1. Pecan tree (nut-producing)
  2. Shagbark hickory tree (nut-producing)
  3. Beech tree (nut-producing)
  4. Hazel tree (nut-producing)
  5. Black tupelo tree (for honey)
  6. Persimmon tree
  7. Black cherry tree
  8. Pawpaw tree
  9. Crabapples
  10. Plums
  11. Wild strawberries
  12. Low bush blueberries
  13. Huckleberries
  14. Blackberries
  15. Raspberries
  16. Fox Grapes

I figure the best way to convince my parents to continue down a permaculture path even long after I’ve grown up and moved more than thirty minutes from home, is to grow what they like. While I am incredibly intrigued by pawpaws, those might best be tested further down the road. I’ll start with persimmons, black cherries, and plums. They are familiar and I’ve seen them grown in Raleigh without difficulty. Additionally, we already have three pecan trees in our backyard, so hazelnuts would be an interesting addition.

I also think that with the right amount of coercion, I can get my dad to agree to put a bee hive in our yard if I also put a black tupelo tree, given his affinity for Tupelo Honey. While the bees may not actually produce pure Tupelo Honey due to the other nectar sources, my dad doesn’t need to know that. It would kill two birds with one stone: planting a perennial, and increasing biodiversity in our yard.

Persimmons, black cherries, plums, hazelnuts, and black tupelo. Those are my five as they stand now. I am in awe of Mark Shepard’s farm, and hope to create a sliver of the good work he does there in my own backyard.


In the middle of an urban area in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina is a small community garden called the Wedge Community Garden. When I was a junior in college I emailed a lady about a potential gardening volunteer position and did not realize at the time how influential it would be on my outlook on permaculture, community gardens, and sharing that with others.  Shamsa Visone and I worked in the garden almost every Saturday during the warmer months growing everything from okra, to cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, bok choy, garlic, chives, and so much more. We used sustainable farming practices with little chemical pesticides to care for our plants. I learned about composting, the importance of giving back to the soil and making sure all the nutrients were in balance. I also had the wonderful opportunity of working with a high school student and began my interest in being a high school science teacher.

Developing relationships and connecting with high school students can be a challenge. I had the opportunity to connect with a student named Donte during my time at The Wedge Community Garden. Donte had been court ordered volunteer hours and decided to spend some of those working in the garden. I guided him through several projects and I tried to make the laborious process as fun as I could by asking him questions about his life and why soil is important when growing vegetables. At the beginning, he barely answered any of my questions but I did my best to keep asking because I genuinely cared and wanted him to develop a love for gardening. Over time, he began to open up with me and I really felt as if we were making progress not only in the garden but forming a mutually respectful relationship. One weekend without notice, he stopped coming to the garden. Not all of my students will be easy to connect with and each student faces their own challenges but I believe that through never giving up on them I can grow their love for science.

This is one benefit of permaculture and using urban areas to grow anyone’s love for science but also the beautiful earth we live on. I think by turning more areas with degraded soils into areas that produce food is just the beginning of producing a sustainable future in which all people have access to sustainable and wholesome food sources.

Me working in the community garden