Redefining Agriculture:

“Give God the ball and get out of the way”

Hannah Bowen


When I first began applying permaculture, each day working in the field (or terrace, here in the mountains of Las Marias, Puerto Rico) felt like an uphill battle. I had been programmed, like most of us, to understand agriculture, even organic agriculture, as tilled, fertilized fields of crops in long, straight, organized lines. Even though I had studied the theory of food forestry, I still could not make sense of these on-contour ditches ( swales ) and giant holes ( basins) covered with all different kinds of plants- bananas, young fruit trees, leguminous trees, taro, ginger, cover crops, and then of all things, kale! All these things must need such different things I thought to myself. Why not group them together?  Wouldn’t that be easier?

What I was failing to understand in the concept that lies in the etymology of permaculture- permanent agriculture. The idea is to create food systems that are here to stay, systems that maintain themselves with as little human intervention as possible. Planting a food forest takes patience. There is a large input in the beginning, with very little immediate return, and lots of time spent observing, planning, and designing. In the beginning it is necessary to plant several support species- nitrogen fixing trees and cover crops that will build soil and produce biomass.

In the meantime we will harvest some annual crops, but not for another 10 years will we enjoy the abundance of mangos, jackfruits, and avocados. In the initial stages one is working mostly with plants that will not yield crops for human consumption, but that will feed and repair the earth.

To understand and successfully implement this type of agro-ecology, I needed a giant perspective shift. This shift meant stepping back and observing the desire to want to be the hero who gets every weed out of the garden, and produces the biggest, most beautiful annual vegetables. It meant realizing the inherent resilience of creation, and respecting that power by setting up systems where we need not intervene.

In this light, our “busy body” minds are humbled. There seems to be some confusion about what is truly great and powerful. With our tractors furiously plowing the land, we are but mice squeaking at the universe. When we realize that sustenance lies within creation as it was created, we are aware of true power, and great abundance.

Hannah lives and works in a community that is dedicated to ecological education and inner peace called Plenitud in Las Marias, Puerto Rico, where she leads students in service to design and maintain a small scale, demonstration permaculture site.

For more information on permaculture, click HERE.


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