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 Field Notes

What Organic Farmers Can Learn From Permaculture

By Arzeena Hamir

in 2012. I also come to farming with an extremely con- ventional educational background: an undergraduate degree in Crop Science at the University of Guelph.


So when I heard about permaculture and food forests, the first thing to that came to my mind was “What on earth?! How can plants grow to their full potential all crammed in like that?” To this day, I still hold a certain degree of that bias. One thing that you never hear from permaculturalists is the word “competition.” Accord- ing to permaculturists, plants will find the nutrients and light they need, and there’s no talk of the risk that they may rob each other of these necessities.

Although I was initially sceptical about permaculture, my first seasons on the farm had knocked much of my self-assurance and I was suddenly open to looking at my farm through a new lens. I’ve started thinking of my operation through its limiting factors to see if there are some permaculture principles that can answer them.

Limiting Factor #1: Labour

Although I have two children, they somehow become scarce and invisible whenever there’s any transplant- ing or weeding to be done. I have about an acre in pro- duction and for the last year it’s been primarily myself with a few hours of help from farm workers. Needless to say, the time I’ve spent weeding, despite the fact that I mulch heavily, has been incredible. It’s an ongo- ing fight that can cripple a farm.

Come July of this past year, it finally clicked that I just couldn’t spend the summer in battle. I had begun dreading going into the fields, which didn’t bode well for a lifetime spent on my farm.

In permaculture, weeds are viewed very differently. At worst, they are nutrient accumulators, bringing scarce minerals to the surface of the soil. At best, they are fine food crops in of themselves. So I started introducing the chickweed, lambsquarters, sheep sorrel and

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Polyculture rules! Planned and unplanned intercropping of leeks and New Zealand spinach (above) and volunteer let- tuce with chickweed (below). Even the weeds (chickweed) are marketable - and they keep soil cool and moist in hot summer weather. Credit: Arzeena Hamir.

BC Organic Grower, Volume 17, Number 1, Winter 2014 Page 11

’m a relatively new farmer: my husband and I moved to our 26-acre property on Vancouver Island

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