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Photo: Costa Boutsikaris
The result of a three-year odyssey in what director/cinematographer Costa Boutsikaris calls his “veggie-oil-solar-powered-filmmaking-mobile-unit” (a converted VW van), Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective documents ecological design systems in action across the U.S. Northeast and Midwest—from large-scale farms to urban rain gardens. Viewing permaculture as “creating a regenerative agriculture that has the permanence and resilience of nature,” Boutsikaris here answers questions about his visionary, and at the same time down-to-earth, film.
Rather than reducing human impact, Inhabit looks at our leaving a footprint as a positive thing. How does that work?
The modern environmental movement tells us that the only thing we can do is to shrink our footprint and be “less bad.” If you take that logic to its furthest extent, it’s saying that humans are inherently bad and that they less they exist, the better! Permaculture, which is an ecological design science, is about redesigning our systems so that they meet human needs while simultaneously regenerating the ecosystems within which we live. It’s about going beyond sustainability because it’s asking, “What is it we’re trying to sustain?” Permaculture seeks to create not just sustainable but regenerative systems that heal the natural environment while feeding the people within it. If humans can have a regenerative footprint, that is much more exciting and empowering, and a huge impact is something we want to have.
Where does permaculture fit in with animal welfare?
There are no ecosystems that don’t have animals, so, if you’re designing a forest farm or garden where you want to mimic natural relationships, you’ll incorporate animals in their most natural state, eating bugs, grasses, etc., and cycling nutrients back into the soil just like in nature. Whether the animals are harvested or not is entirely up to the farmer, and we filmed examples of both vegans and omnivores, but the goal is always to design an ecosystem where the animals can be in a natural state and be a positive force in that ecosystem. Some we visited were not raising animals for meat, but merely having them as allies providing their many awesome ecosystem services and helping transform the landscape back into a much healthier and diverse state.
Where could someone start with applying permaculture principles to their lawn or backyard?
The first thing to do is to look at the all the inputs coming onto your site: rain, sun, wind, etc. Then look for ways to best capture those inputs: a rain barrel, solar panels, a wind turbine, trees, plants, etc. Look for opportunities for gardening like full-sun spots and shady spots, and use this map to design where a small vegetable garden could go and where shade-loving berries like red currants could go. If you want to set up a vegetable garden, explore sheet mulching and hugelkultur beds. Think about other options for the shaded areas, like growing shiitake mushrooms on logs and creating small ponds for frogs. If eggs are part of your diet, look at ways that chickens could benefit your garden, like eating pests and scratching up soil for future planting spots. The fun part is seeing how all these pieces start to form relationships, and where they mutually support each other and benefit each other just like in an ecosystem.