Monday, 21 July 2014

Blue Quills First Nations College and Permaculture

By Dulce Maria Gonzalez Ramirez, 2nd year MDP Student

“Hunger in the world is created by man and not by nature”
Sepp Holzer

On my second day of field placement, carrying and transporting over 100 straw bales from one farm to Blue Quills First Nations College (BQFNC) was not just a “good exercise” for that weekend in my mind it is about learning from scratch about the beautiful work of permaculture that we have been doing here, which later will be a food security project. I’m doing my field placement at BQFNC which is the first Native-administered post-secondary education institution serving the needs of seven First Nations and other students from across Canada. I’m amazed with their work, and I have the privilege to be a part of this strong and diligent “peaceful battle” for First Nations education which they have led since the 70’s. In my own experience, working with Michael Hollihn, the Natural Building-Science Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, has been a truly rewarding experience. 

The word permaculture originally referred to "permanent agriculture”, that is to say using multiple crops in the same space in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops. In other words, it emphasizes variety, not uniformity as used in monoculture.

 Positioning straw bales to design the lines of the garden.

For the Blue Quills permaculture program, our work for the first stage is creating a 2 hectare-garden around a natural pond and a forest in about another 2 hectares within the compound of the College. One of the principles of Holzer’s permaculture that I’m learning is finding and managing natural areas for water retention from the rainy seasons and melted snow. The basic idea of having a natural water body is because you need to feed the soil rather than only feeding the plants.  

Close-up of straw bale rows
This year the soil is merely being prepared (oxygenated) and we are planting seeds and trees. Over the winter, the mulch that’s been added will decompose creating natural fertilizer for the plants in the future.

Dulce working on the permaculture garden
The design for the first row (in between the straw bales) is for perennial trees that can give nuts or fruits and will also protect the rest of the plants from the wind. From the second row to the left of the straw bale, seasonal perennial trees and annual plants for veggies and herbs will be planted.

An important aspect of this project is creating terraces or different levels for growing plants and for better control and distribution of water. Similar work can be seen in Asia with rice terraces or in my country, Mexico, with the Chinampa System, an old Mesoamerican agriculture method used mainly before colonization by the Aztecs in the old Valley of Mexico Tenochtitlan. These were “floating gardens” or artificial islands which consisted of rectangular fertile arable land to grow crops on the shallow lake beds, and were separated by channels wide enough for a canoe to pass for transportation.

In general, I have learned that permaculture helps to restore the soil and create food security without hurting Mother Earth, understanding and cooperating with nature rather than attacking it. For instance, monoculture consumes more water while permaculture helps to harvest and keep water, bringing life where different plants and animals live.

This project will need very low man power when all the seeds and plants are growing because chickens, pigs, geese or farm worms, as predators controlling the population of snails, rats or mice, and other animals that can harm the garden, will do the job of weeding the soil and providing manure. Therefore, this eliminates the need for using pesticides or fertilizers.

I’m looking forward to coming back to BQFNC in few years to see the results of my hard work during evenings. Most people in Blue Quills say that whatever they do now will affect the next seven generations. We’re part of a new generation, and by learning and working on this project, we are already impacting the future generations.

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