“For me, permaculture is like glue, a ‘design glue’ if you like, which is used to stick together all the elements that will make up a truly sustainable and resilient culture. If you think of the ingredients that such a culture will depend on, such as local food production, energy generation, skilful management of water, meaningful employment as well as many other elements, what permaculture brings is the ability to assemble those things in the most skilful and beneficial way possible. It has also been described by someone else far more succinct than me as “the art of maximising beneficial relationships”. I rather like that.”—Ingredients of Transition To Thinking Like a Designer.
“What permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet. We don’t know what details of a truly sustainable future are going to be like, but we need options, we need people experimenting in all kinds of ways and permaculturists are one of the critical gangs that are doing that.”—David Suzuki.
Trent Rhode looks great in a suit. The 27-year-old resident of Peterborough, Ont., seems perfectly comfortable standing before a long table of elected officials twice his age, lecturing them on the importance of environmental sustainability. His message is simple but powerful: he tells his audience they are not separate from the environment—they are the environment. Natural resources are dwindling, he says, and now is the time to act.
Rhode sits on the steering committee of Transition Town Peterborough, a non-profit organization that is working toward building a self-sufficient community less dependent on fossil fuels; at this particular meeting he is outlining some of the group’s ideas for Peterborough’s municipal officials and bureaucrats. His power suit says he belongs in this boardroom—but it’s not actually where he prefers to be.
When his business there is done, Rhode slips into a comfortable pair of trousers and an old blue t-shirt and digs his hands deep into the soil. In his job as a natural gardener, Rhode works the land at several properties in Ontario. He spends his time not only designing, but also implementing edible “forest gardens” at an eco-education centre in Colborne, a farm in Cobourg, and a residential property near Belleville. His hometown, which he obviously holds dear to his heart, has hired him to maintain gardens in Peterborough.
As a five-year-old horsing around on his grandfather’s Belleville farm, Rhode couldn’t be bothered with the ins and outs of growing vegetables—he was much more interested in chasing the pigs and geese. But 12 years later, while researching agriculture for his journalism program at Loyalist College, he stumbled across a concept that would become the foundation of his future career and virtually every aspect of his life. The idea was permaculture.
“I became aware of how fragile agriculture is, and how it’s dependent on so many things,” he says. “I began to see how fragile the economy is for the same reasons. I became interested in what seemed to be a necessity. The future is uncertain—but what is certain is we need to eat.”