Using Small and Slow Solutions is one of the 12 Design Principles of Permaculture. This refers to taking steps to begin to put your thoughts, ideas and plans into practice. Not just sitting with them and hoping to one day have the perfect place to create the perfect garden or farm. Sometimes a small space is all some of us will ever have, and for that alone we should be appreciative. Learning to address issues and work within constraints can lead to some surprising opportunities and outcomes.
Starting small allows you to sustainably work within your own limitations of time, space, or budget so that you end up having more successes as you define them for yourself. Instead of charging into a large unmanageable situation and getting overwhelmed, taking small steps will provide time for learning as you go and create stronger, more long-term growth. This type of development takes time, like a small acorn growing into a giant oak.
Learning about the permaculture approach was a homecoming for me, as someone who had the fortune of growing up on a small homestead in rural Illinois. My parents experimented with growing food organically and had an orchard and apiary, with black raspberries growing wild in the little woods next to our home. I felt a deep desire to share my experiences, knowledge, and love of wildlife within my community.
When I started out with my gardening company, I had been subcontracted to work on some permaculture projects which were designed much too large for anyone to manage by themselves. Sometimes these grand visions lead to half-working systems that are abandoned, not to mention the major expense and labor investment. Instead of using small approaches and learning from small mistakes, a big mistake can lead to feelings of failure and disappointment. Wider discussions in the world of permaculture often involve people dreaming of one day having land, but this can be unattainable for most people. This led to the feeling that there was something really missing from the discussion in Permaculture Design. So many of us live in urban environments, so perhaps sharing the journey of living with the constraints of small spaces can inspire others to begin their journey where they are, instead of dreaming for more. One of the most inspiring aspects of permaculture is for me its ability to inspire creative solutions to complex problems, which is something that can be realized on any scale.
Noting these observations and interactions led shaped the approach for my own company, much like sitting in your garden and observing the available sun before you start your design as illustrated in Design Principle 1: Observe and Interact. Permaculture works best when people consider scaling projects to their own realistic available time and money as well as phasing large projects based on what is manageable over a long period, so people grow their skills and management abilities along side their maturing garden space.
After having had the opportunity to move to a small Baltimore rowhome in 2015, I had an opportunity to design for efficiency from scratch. Within months, I started growing fruits, nuts, berries, roots, medicines and herbs. In addition to having a robust kitchen garden, it was a dream to be able to preserve jam, dry my own tea, process some herbs for medicine, and make soap with the garden yields. All things I’ve been doing now that the garden is starting to mature. I hope that the Rowhomestead approach can be an inspiring testing place for efficient, accessible and achievable Permaculture Design for regular folks.
Sometimes people are surprised to learn that I’ve lived on such a small footprint of this planet. Maybe they prefer to envision me existing somewhere in the dreamscape of rural farmland, but living in the city on small Rowhomestead allows time to reflect and grow with all of these ideas. It not only allows freedom to slowly grow my small gardening company: Roots & Sky, but also time to develop efficiency – time to prepare harvests into medicine or make food preserves, address obstacles and dream of new projects. While not everything planted will survive and not every design created works the first time, everything is viewed as a process. This is part of Design Principle 4: Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.
Since beginning my Permaculture journey, I have had intense dreams of the 13-acre farmette where I grew up. I know that I’ll likely never again be able to live in such a large, beautiful, wild space where my brothers and I had room to roam and play among animals and in the woods as kids. I also know the lessons and experiences I had while watching our parents experiment in homesteading was a gift that I continue to reflect on, and now I must try to recreate that space and magical feeling in my own garden and share those lessons through the gardens I help create for other people. To combine what I grew up doing and observing with what I’ve learned though studying and practicing Permaculture in order to really explore what is possible on any scale. This is what I call Permaculture’s “Radical Optimism” and now is a critical time to share it. Permaculture transcends gardening. It is a way of life that is generous, respectful and integrated. It is slow and deep, thoughtful and reflective. It is adaptable and allows for growth and change. It can be applied to a business approach, social activism, and survival of the values we embrace to create a holistic permanent culture that uplifts and supports all people, living beings, and nonliving elements.
Starting here and reflecting with Rowhomestead is a chance to learn by doing, and a chance to share the journey and hopefully inspire others.