Thursday, April 19, 2012

Holmgren Design Principle #11: Use the Edges and Value the Marginal

Going through David Holmgren's version of the Permaculture Design Principles, here's #11.

Use the Edges and Value the Marginal

This principle is not a contradiction to #8 (integrate!), instead it recognizes the potential richness in transitions, especially between biozones.

Edging towards Wealth

The theory goes that an interface between two zones supports the lifeforms from both zones and unique forms that can only exist in the transition space. Take this with the usual salt speck ("all general rules are false, including this one"), but there are some great examples.

Forest interior, absent disturbance, mostly has plant life as canopy and ground cover, pretty much ignoring the other 5 layers. Edges, man made or otherwise, tend to be filled at all layers, and frequently difficult to penetrate.

Lake shores support unique forms, river deltas are massively productive, swamps know, and if you aren't Joel Salatin then everything interesting happens in the top few inches of your soil.

Marginal doesn't (always) mean Insignificant

Valuing the marginal is a reminder that democracy can devolve to bread and circuses, so don't count on the majority do value the collective good. Sometimes the nut job in the tinfoil hat is right, and we've got to look past the packaging to hear the valuable message. Case in point, I'm listening to Mollison's PDC audio from the 1980's, and he is the guy with the conspiracy theories and he does sound a little bit less than mainstream sane! 30 years on, he's being appropriately recognized as the father of permaculture, but he was pretty fringe in the day. Just because everyone is doing it/thinking it/believing it doesn't make it right, so don't dismiss the margins.

That doesn't mean the margins are comfortable places! I hold my nose and skip past the "permaculture produce can cure cancer" (prove me wrong, please, but do it with science), I fast forward past the "essential oils are your first aid kit," and I mute the parts about "tuning in to the harmonic energies of the universe" (feel free to vibrate that way if you want, just not my cup of hot chocolate). But I wade through that in order to get to the great stuff that does resonate with me: paddock-shift poultry raising, aquaponics, and edible forests!

Today's Internet and social media provide a platform for the marginal - we can find those who share our interests and provide support and pool knowledge - I follow permaculture sites all over the world, and I'm in awe of the work that is being done!

Watch the marginal because sometimes it transitions to mainstream, and the entertainment factor is high even if it never goes mainstream.

Pretty picture of the principle at

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