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Review; The Earthcare manual by Patrick Whitefield

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  • Graham Burnett
    Here s my review of Patrick s new book, as submitted to Growing Green (the magazine of the Vegan organic Network- hence the emphasis on the vegan or
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2004
      Here's my review of Patrick's new book, as submitted to 'Growing Green' (the
      magazine of the Vegan organic Network- hence the emphasis on the vegan or
      otherwise aspects of this work..)

      A Permaculture Handbook For Britain
      & Other Temperate Countries

      AUTHOR: Patrick Whitefield

      PRICE: £34.95 + p&p
      PUBLISHER: Permanent Publications, The Sustainability Centre, East Meon,
      Hampshire GU32 1HR, UK
      ISBN: 1 85623 021 X
      PAGES: 480pp

      ILLUSTRATIONS: 206 black and white photos, 43 colour photos, 145 line
      diagrams & numerous tables.

      Some critics have said that permaculture is all very well and good for
      tropical or desert conditions, but isn't suitable for a cool temperate
      country such as the UK. Indeed, many of the major permaculture texts
      published up until now have been Australian in origin and thus contained
      large sections that have been at best irrelevant to us Brits. At worse they
      have led to disillusionment when advice intended for climates far more hot
      or humid than ours has been slavishly followed and resulted in failure.
      However, all that is set to change with the publication of The Earth Care
      Manual, the first fully comprehensive permaculture designers handbook
      specifically written for British conditions.

      And what a phenomenal work it is… Seven years in the making, experienced
      permaculturalist Patrick Whitefield has assembled a truly encyclopaedic work
      covering virtually every aspect of the physical design of the world around
      He leads in with two chapters defining permaculture and it's ethics
      (earthcare, peoplecare, fairshares) and principles before looking in depth
      at the elements of soil, water, microclimate, energy and materials. The
      second part of the book focuses on application- how working with nature can
      provide all of our food, shelter and comfort needs in order to live
      abundantly and sustainably. In his very readable yet highly knowledgeable
      style he covers gardens (everything from the window box and conservatory up
      to allotments and community gardens), buildings, woodland, orchards, farms,
      local food links (box schemes, food co-ops, CSA, farmers markets, etc) and
      biodiversity. Using copious amounts of facts, figures, tables, diagrams,
      photos and case studies Whitefield illustrates solutions for every situation
      whether urban or rural, looking at mulching, rainwater harvesting,
      windbreaks, perennial vegetables, pond construction, biotecture, forest
      gardening, coppicing and wildlife gardening to name but a few examples. The
      last section of the book is devoted to design skills, providing a step by
      step guide to actually putting all this wonderful knowledge together in our
      own homes, gardens and landscapes.

      One chapter I found pertinent was that on farming and food links. Whitefield
      isn't vegan himself, but respects the vegan point of view. He acknowledges
      the inefficiency of the animal-based diet, pointing out that only around 10%
      of the food consumed by farm animals is available as edible meat when they
      are killed. He also highlights the untenability of the vegetarian stance,
      ie, that it is OK to eat milk and eggs but not meat: "What happens to the
      bull calf or male chick which cannot be used for milk or egg production, or
      the cow or hen when they are too old to produce an economic yield? Of
      course, they are fattened up, killed and eaten. It's impossible to eat
      animal products without contributing to the death of animals"… He does go on
      to look at the keeping of livestock such as pigs or poultry within
      permaculture systems, but this is not a large part of the book and can
      easily be skipped by the vegan-organic reader. Or you could actually read
      it: I found it very interesting, and it clarified that animal husbandry
      within a permaculture context is a million light years away from the
      industrialised factory pharms that currently supply the sterile little
      packages on the supermarket shelves. Whitefield's own position is "What
      matters to me is how much the animal has suffered… Purely from an animal
      welfare point of view I'd rather eat an organic steak than drink a pint of
      conventional milk". He also looks at green manure based stockless systems,
      acknowledging the work of Elm Farm (although unfortunately doesn't mention
      VON), and explores the possibilities of leaf curd as a protein source for
      vegans that avoids importing pulses.

      Also of particular interest to Growing Green readers will be the section on
      fruit and nuts. Along with vegan pioneer Kathleen Jannaway, Whitefield
      recognises that although nuts are not widely grown in the UK at the present
      time, they have enormous potential as a staple food crop; "…there's no
      reason why tree crops should not replace annual field crops as our main food
      source. That would revolutionise not just our agriculture but our landscape
      too. Gone would be the open fields of cereals and grass replaced by orchards
      and edible woodlands, with perhaps as many clearings as we now have woods.
      Our landscape would cease to be an imitation of the prairie or steppe, and
      become an imitation of what it was before we turned it upside down:
      woodland". A vision for the future maybe, but one backed up here with
      cutting edge research and practical details on pioneering crops such as
      hazels, walnuts, chestnuts as well as acorns (Whitefield advocates selective
      breeding for edibility), beech, pine and monkey nuts. For my money the book
      is worth the admission price for this chapter alone.

      Where the book is less strong is in the area of what in permaculture circles
      are sometimes called the 'invisible structures'. In other words, the fabric
      of social interactions and human connections that will need to be redesigned
      if we are to create truly sustainable future societies. Whitefield does
      acknowledge that economics (the 'fairshares' ethic of permaculture) is not
      his forte, instead directing readers to Richard Douthwaite's excellent
      'Short Circuit'. However, despite some valuable acknowledgement of the
      importance of developing real 'listening skills' and touching on inclusive
      community development techniques such as 'Planning For Real', I would also
      liked to have seen a section going into some more depth regarding
      'peoplecare'- or how we are to look after both ourselves and each other
      properly. Producing sustainable food, water, medicines, buildings, forests
      and landscapes is only half of the battle for survival in the new millenium.
      To my mind the real challenge for the 21st century permaculture movement is
      how to create the 'social glues' that are needed to effectively bind
      together our communities. Not just the intentional communities of
      eco-villages and progressive land share projects, but also retro-fitting the
      towns, cities and rural settlements that most of us inhabit today either
      through choice or circumstance. But I'm probably quibbling- the title of
      this book is after all the 'Earth Care Manual', and maybe as time goes on we
      will see equally mature works addressing these other aspects of permaculture
      design. In fact I should be grateful, for if this were any bigger than it
      already is it would only cause my bookshelf to collapse…

      Graham Burnett August 2004

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