A major emphasis in the world of permaculture is in growing perennials.
I first considered the value of perennial cultivation a few years ago when I heard Wes Jackson, of The Land Institute speak at Prescott College. He told us about the research being done breeding perennial wheat, crossing annual wheat and intermediate wheatgrass. What stands out the most in my memory was him showing us a picture comparing the root structures of the perennial vs annual plants. (Here is a link showing him next to this picture: http://capenews.net/blogs/under_the_lens/2011/02/11/wes-jackson/)
The roots of the perennial plant are awesome in that they reduce erosion, (not to mention forgoing yearly tilling), aerate the soil for healthy micro-organisms and bugs to better thrive in, and sequester more carbon–which enhances soil cation exchange as well as nutrient and water retention. On a nutritional level, the wheatberries produced from these plants are consequentially awesome. According to the Land Institute, “Lab tests have shown that flour made from perennial wheat has 40 percent more protein, 10 times more folate and lutein, and up to 600 percent more nutrients than traditional wheat flour” (The Perennial Promise).
And of course this is not only true of the wheat! There are all sorts of perennial fruits, and many vegetables, including asparagus, artichokes, fennel, garlic, onions, horseradish, all sorts of herbs, sweet potatoes, water cress, certain kinds of kale, spinach, and collard greens, and rhubarb. Researchers in China and Sweden are breeding for perennial corn and rice, as well as oil-producing plants like mustard and sunflowers. (The Perennial Promise) One could have an entirely perennial garden or farm if they so desired, and many permaculturalists do!
Planting perennial polycultures–especially when organized in ways where land features and a variety of plants work with and benefit each other–minimizes energy input, (labor, water for irrigation, money for seed or starts, fertilizers, pesticides, and often fossil fuels to till or plant with) helps the garden or farm become self-sufficient (which means more time being creative/sipping lemonade in the hammock), and helps heal the greater ecosystems (which is just awesome).
What particularly stands out to me about allowing our food systems to be more self-sustaining is the incredible shift we are stepping into in how we see and connect with nature. With our use of conventional agriculture through the years has come an almost colonial mindset of objectification–the control of the biotic and abiotic factors of the land in order to guarantee feeding ourselves. With permaculture, we bring a sense of wildness back into food cultivation–a more cyclical and circular thinking. We rejoin with the rest of nature, in a sense, by cooperation and assistance rather than conflict (with this pest or that weed), and a dependency on human action. Lastly, (this is the ecopsych major coming out here), this shift affects our mental health. The main idea in ecopsychology is that the inner reflects the outer, and the outer the inner–so what a release to enter into natural flow, resistance-free. As we help to heal places, they help to heal us back. Here’s to health and happiness!
For a discussion thread on perennial grainfields, visit: http://www.permies.com/bb/index.php?topic=4609.0
And for a discussion thread on breeding for permaculture, visit: http://www.permies.com/bb/index.php?topic=7542.0