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Main | Agriculture | 6/25/2015

Feature Article: A Culture That’s Permanent

Start with permanence, mix in agriculture, and then throw in some culture. What do you get? In a word, permaculture. Beyond the word, however, lies a concept that addresses the very way we deal with nature.

Sustainable building activity at the Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan (all photos courtesy of Kibbutz Lotan) 
Simply stated, permaculture is a philosophy of “working with, rather than against, nature,” according to ecologist Bill Mollison. (Mollison, along with David Holmgren, is credited with founding the permaculture concept in the 1960s and ‘70s.) Central to the definition is following nature’s patterns as they relate to planting, harvesting, building, and living. 

Permaculture began in response to “unsustainable development throughout the world,” especially in the agricultural sector, which is greatly affected by chemical pollution. While its initial “concerns” related to conserving natural resources and developing systems for sustainable food production, the movement grew to integrate science, art, architecture, politics, sociology, and psychology. It has now expanded to include economic and social components. 

Permaculture is taking “baby steps” in Israel. On one hand, awareness of and investments in Israel’s clean technologies are on the rise; yet, on the other, urban sprawl, pollution, and dependence on fossil fuels pose serious threats to the country’s environment and unique ecosystems. 

The Center for Creative Ecology on Kibbutz Lotan (in Israel’s southern region, the Arava) is an education center emphasizing designs based on natural ecosystems. As the Center’s Alex Cicelsky explains: “The community is developing a viable green agenda while educating Israelis and students around the world about incorporating environmentally positive practices into daily, low-tech life activities.” The Center sponsors a 10-week Green Apprenticeship and multi-day eco-workshops, including “The Magic of Building with Earth.” Kibbutz Lotan received the 2006 Award for Ecovillage Excellence awarded by the Global Ecovillage Network. 

“Permaculture can show us the way forward,” notes Mark Naveh, also from Lotan’s Center for Creative Ecology. He believes that the “ethics of permaculture and sustainability should be a springboard for furthering peaceful coexistence” with Israel’s neighbors. “We need to look beyond borders and cultural barriers in order to [sustain and] manage our resources.” Perhaps this represents the “innovation” that Israel can bring to the permaculture movement. To that end, the Center has sponsored alternative agriculture and building projects that bring together Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian youth. 
Maintaining a Balance

In the area north of Beersheba, Israel is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the country’s population density is 338 people per square kilometer, a figure equal to Belgium’s. The number, however, varies widely throughout the country. 

In B’nei Brak, just outside of Tel Aviv, population density is 19,500 persons per square kilometer, while in outlying Omer, near Beersheva, it is only 300 persons per square kilometer. High population density stresses all of the country’s infrastructures – roads, sewers, electrical – and impacts the environment from water use to air quality and pollution. 

How can the country balance development while preserving land, nature, and scarce natural resources? The 2020 master plan submitted by the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection addresses this difficult issue. 

A “mud” bench filled with plastic jerricans before (top) and after (bottom) 

Since the loss of open space to development is irreversible, future management of open space becomes critical. The plan underlines “the scarcity of space in the country” and calls for an “integrated spatial planning approach that relates both to development and to conservation demands.” 

Solutions with a basis in permaculture may offer urban planners and developers an innovative, integrated set of solutions to meet both the short- and long-term environmental challenges the country faces.

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