Permaculture Comes to the Midwest

Permaculture Comes to the Midwest

Permaculture greenhouse,The Netherlands. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted 07 August 2011, by Stefene Russell, Saint Louis Magazine At Home,


Here’s a clue that the food culture in America has permanently shifted: it’s now illegal to forage in New York City parks. Actually, it’s always  been illegal, but during the McMansion era, no one wanted to eat dandelions. It’s so popular now police are chasing people out of the park for picking berries, and rangers fear roving bands of foragers will defoliate Central Park. (Longtime foragers like Wildman Steve Brill and Nance Klehm tend to disagree with that point of view, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

As with foraging, permaculture has attracted a lot of media attention lately—if you are not familiar with that term, it just means designing your garden like a natural ecosystem; the goal is to create something that’s self-sufficient, like a forest, so you don’t have to use large inputs of water or chemicals. Like the Integral Urban House (a building designed to function like an ecosystem) permaculture was an outgrowth of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and ’70s. There are lots of reasons to build permaculture gardens: they are naturally low-maintenance;  they attract wildlife, including native birds, butterflies and bees; they nurture our relationship with nature; they can be more productive than traditional gardens. They also tend to be a lot more aesthetically pleasing than your average vegetable patch. The problem is, of course, is that designing a complex system like this tends to be kind of difficult. Which is why there are permaculture training courses.

Until recently, there was no place in St. Louis to take even a single permaculture class. Though permaculture’s had its core group of devotees through the years, they tended to be scattered all over the place, which was part of the problem. But, thanks to St. Louis’ progressive gardening community, we’ve had visits from permaculture experts who are training locals in how to build “food forests.” In March, Brick City Gardens, Slow Food St. Louis and Schlafly Bottleworks brought in the good folks from Midwest Permaculture to teach classes; this month, The Sun and the Soil, a group based in Old North St. Louis, is sponsoring a permaculture design certification course (the first in St. Louis) taught by members of Terra Genesis, an international collective of permaculture designers. The classes will cover “both the fundamental theory of permaculture and a selection of temperate-climate and urban-to-rural design strategies,” and run August 15 through 26.

If you aren’t able to take the time off to take that course, the Community Arts and Media Project on Cherokee has ongoing permaculture meetups; you can get more information on that at Permaculture St. Louis‘ Facebook page; also check out the Missouri Permaculture site, which keeps tabs on regional permaculture events.

And if you’re not ready to turn your backyard landscape into a “food forest,” there’s always foraging, which isn’t illegal (yet!) in Missouri.


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