Fertile Edges: Regenerating Land, Culture and Hope

Graham Bell | Thursday, 26th October 2017
Maddy's unique frontline take on the environmental successes and challenges facing this planet and its people from the last 25 years of publishing Permaculture magazine and Permanent Publications.
Author: Maddy Harland
Publisher: Permanent Publications
Publication year: 2017
RRP: £9.95

It’s an immense privilege to be asked to welcome you to this collection. Maddy’s 25 years of endeavour demand our attention. Twenty five years since taking over Permaculture News from me and turning it into the very professional PM. And then 20 years of editing it after becoming a mother and Tim stepping aside as editor. I am in awe of what she has achieved.

She is knowledgeable, articulate and kind. In these pages she exemplifies the social justice that she says she inherited from Quakerism in a way that is totally non-partisan. Her strong sense of time, place and being ring out through her timeline placements of her work. She is a strong advocate for the role of women in achieving the changes we need. 

Maybe Maddy hasn’t written many books – I’ve written only two – but her short sharp comments are worth their weight in gold. Every time. And this is often more effective than reams of text.

This book lays out the historical context in interesting details, then gives editorials from the time. Thus when you see the Editor’s comments you can see the context in which they were written. A fascinating journey back in time which shows you what a fast changing world we live in. This increases the urgency of her message.

One of the strengths in Maddy’s work for me is her commitment to family. “The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children”, Bill Mollison. And her children are creative, which is just what we need.

There’s another aspect of Bill’s work that I see written here. Bill speaks loudly to all permaculture people through his emphasis on basic patterns. Here I’m reminded of succession. Bill was a pioneer plant – prolific, prickly, un- palatable if you crossed him, but at heart warm and generous. These are the species we need after the ice age. Then we get successive species ... this is where Maddy’s talent lies. After the bare soil has been colonised we need species that grow the fertility of the land so that next we can build enduring forests. Inevitably this will take time.

She has a great sense of time, history and place and our (uncertain) future. Her work discovers ignorance as well as intelligence: “Many people have discovered that working with human nature is often where the biggest difficulties lie. As we heal the Earth, we inevitably begin to heal ourselves.” And in 1995 the “English High Court ruled against the planning appeal at the Tinker’s Bubble project. The court defined permaculture as merely ‘subsistence living’”. There’s also Bob Flowerdew’s comment, “Most practitioners of permaculture are doomed to near failure unless they can stomach a diet consisting mostly of shrubby spinaches”. I hope he’s eating his heart out ... Our garden yields at 16 tonnes per hectare.

It’s also important that we recognise the political realities of our time. This book is very sharp on the subject and the timeline is very helpful in placing that in context. Politics is just the process of how we decide how big the cake is, who gets how much of it and why. The reality is this is not often fairly decided. “There are both micro and macro solutions. We do not regard permaculture as eco-DIY or self-help, although that aspect can be part of the picture. We see permaculture as a design system that can be applied on many scales.” 

So how do we move beyond despair to hope? “One thing that really concerns me is our children’s future, and their children’s and beyond. We are leaving them with a mess, but I don’t ever like to present a view of the world that is without hope. I start by arguing that sustainability isn’t economic development or growth, but is about the long view.”

One of the great gifts of Permanent Publications in recent times is how they have developed the beauty of the printed page. Good design makes a good book.

This book rings loudly with passionate truth. “The potential climate catastrophe is something we need to act upon now.” Her revealing comments about her father’s estate and the collapse of fortunes remind us that sustainability is about hard work and money ... only when we’ve struggled with these can we build the long term endurable systems we all dream of. But they’re about so much more than gardening, not that gardening is a bad place to start.

I’d like to thank Maddy for taking us on this very personal journey through her last 25 years. If we share experiences like this it enables the next generation to avoid some of the mistakes we made.

“The Earth will surely survive our onslaughts.” I agree. But will we? Join Maddy in her life’s quest to impart vision for how we can create that better world and you’ll be better for it.

Graham Bell is a permaculture teacher, author and lives in Britain’s oldest forest garden, which is visited by thousands yearly. You can find more about his books here: www.green-shopping.co.uk/books/pp/graham-bell.html

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