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Realizing regeneration: Permaculture as applied political ecology | 2011

Permaculture is a design science that enlists ecological principles in the management of gardens through fostering "webs of mutually beneficial relationships". Corn may support trailing beans, which in turn fix nitrogen into the soil. Broad-leafed vegetables may provide a living mulch to provide insulation and prevent erosion. Borders and edges are prized for the diversity they foster and so are often curved or spiraled rather than straight. With the philosophy of regeneration and renewal at its core, permaculture has taken root as a global alternative to monocultural production and viable pathway to sustainable food systems. Through the positioning of the gardener as an agent of nature, permaculture aims to maximize agricultural production while minimizing input and harnessing the efficiency of time-tested interspecies relationships in dynamic socio-ecological systems.

Permaculture provides a useful window onto the socio-ecological nature of food production and political motivations of those seeking alternative foodways. This is particularly relevant in spaces like post-socialist Europe, where a general ambivalence toward the 'transition' of the 1990s is inspired by increasing wealth disparity and political disillusionment.

This project, which began as my MA thesis fieldwork, focused on a permaculture site in Central Bulgaria but draws also from a summer spent on other permaculture (or permaculture-inspired) farms in Central and Eastern Europe (namely, Slovenia and Serbia). While in Bulgaria, I also attended my first permaculture course. The outcome of this project included an analysis of the ways in which permaculture principles are ultimately socio-ecological, expanded to include a diversity of people, approaches, and epistemes (in addition to fostering biodiversity in the garden). It also provides the space for renegotiating ideas of progress and abundance on one's own terms.

"What is wealth?" Damyan asked a group of thirty permaculture course attendees. They had come from Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Hungary, America, and Israel; leaving their respective ecovillages, suburban homes, and studio apartments for a weekend spent in a small Bulgarian town, hoping to collaborate and share mutual inspiration. When nobody answered immediately, he repeated the question in Bulgarian: how do you define wealth? As hands began to go up, the answers were eventually compiled into one category: the creation of abundance... For these 'students of nature', permaculture offers abundance on their own terms—in units of time, freedom, and freewill— conceptualized as a diversification of investment that runs counter to capitalism's "monoculture of commerce."

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