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Permaculture and Industrial Messes

Permaculture goes beyond the idea of sustainability into what can we do to add health and vitality to the Earth. It is not enough to sustain, we must do more than just get by if we are to have a relationship with life on our planet. Relationships don’t thrive on ‘sustainable.’

Even before the industrial era, we have been extracting from the Earth without giving back. Tillage – which is plowing for agriculture – destroys soil fertility and irrigation inevitably creates salt contamination in former farmland. Cutting down too many trees has wiped out civilizations. However the industrial era has generated far more toxic messes than did the agricultural era, and the industrial solutions for land recovery have been less than satisfactory and are often expensive enough that the product stops being viable on the market.

Permaculture, the idea that nature can provide effective solutions to complex problems, even has answers in the case of soil toxicity. Truthfully, who among us would do without our computers or heat in our homes? The byproducts of producing these things are environmental toxins. But, it is possible to clean up those messes in a way that benefits our planet.

Mine tailings are especially difficult to remediate. Piles of dirt can contain cyanide, arsenic, mercury, fluorite, and even radioactive materials. They also are likely to contain hydrocarbons (oil and grease) from the engines used for extraction. In Globe, AZ, Gary Wheeler restored a 300 meter high pile of mine tailings. The toxins are now sealed beneath healthy soil, and the cows succeeded where hydro seeding grass failed. Hemp is another method to restore tailings and other contaminated soil. Plants are naturals for pulling various minerals out of the soil, its what they do to thrive. But hemp is especially effective at it. This is largely because of the speed of it growth, and the plant actually seems to thrive when working in this way, increasing both it height and mass. Hemp can actually change its DNA (this is called epigenetics) in response to metals in the soil. Other plants that can be used to extract toxins from soils are sunflowers, poplar trees, willow trees, and many others.

Mushroom priest, Paul Stamets, studies the myriad benefits of fungi in his home in the northwest. While he may be best known for his work with medicinal fungi, he is equally passionate about mushrooms' ability to clean soil and improve fertility. Stamets teamed up with Battelle laboratories in Washington state to test removing hydrocarbons – diesel fuel – from piles of soil. The pile Stamets inoculated with oyster mushrooms not only cleaned the soil, but attracted insects, birds and plant life. The same process can be used to reduce coliform bacteria in the run-off from factory farms. Mushrooms– as well as sunflowers - will even clear radiation from soil.

So how do we apply or make use of these techniques? Most of us don’t have mine tailings in our backyards. The first step is self education, the second is sharing information with everyone you know. If we want to heal the Earth, we need to put forth ideas that work for everyone’s goals. We don’t need to share our religion, but we can share our Earth-centered ethics and why that benefits everyone. Here are some points from Eco-Results:

  • Make some of the West’s most beautiful open space and irreplaceable wildlife habitat economically and ecologically sustainable.
  • Make the management of landscapes for ecosystem health and open space a source of wealth and sustainability for rural communities so those communities find it less necessary to convert open space into subdivisions and sprawl.
  • Promote collaboration and community among rural and urban peoples by bringing them together to work toward common goals rather than setting them against one another in battles over control and compliance.

Supporting Paul Stamets work by buying from his business is another option (unpaid endorsement, I am a customer).

And while it may seem counter-intuitive, supporting increased EPA regulation is not always the best course for cleaning up industrial level spills. Permaculture solutions are often so far on the cutting edge that they may be excluded by slow and outdated federal regulations. Look carefully at such rules before advocating for them.

While my goal with this post is to bring some hope about cleaning up industrial level messes, I believe the very best thing you can do is study permaculture principles (search Youtube, there are tons of videos on permaculture in any situation, as well a free lectures) and grow plants, fungi, and animals in your own space. Nothing else will give you the satisfaction and spiritual connection that having a relationship with living things does.

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Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


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