The Heart of This Thing

Permaculture Ethics & My Goals for This Land

When I first walked this land, I was nervous to make any changes. I was afraid that consequences of one bad idea might prevent the right idea from being possible later. I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed. A tree that has been growing for 100 years can be cut down in a few minutes. Am I really sure I want to do that?

So in 2019, I decided to enroll in an online Permaculture Design Certificate Program at Cornell’s School of Horticulture Extension. After some emailing around, I found out they could accept my Americorps Grant! Classes began with the basics of permaculture design and concluded with a complete design. My final project was an in depth design for my land over the next 10 years. More on that soon, I promise.

So what is permaculture?

I was surprised at first by how many different definitions of permaculture there are. From “permanent agriculture” to “sustainable agriculture’s underground cousin”. It turns out this whole thing is intentionally effusive.

Permaculture is a holistic worldview of food, energy, and shelter. It often involves herb spirals. It’s also imperfect, lacking gender and racial diversity, despite espousing the importance of diversity within the framework. So I approach it cautiously.

At the highest level, permaculture is about three things, called ethics. Let’s look specifically at what those three ethics look like in my goals for this land. Here, the Permaculture Ethic is in bold, my goal in italics and a description follows. These goals are the foundation upon which everything else will build.

Ethic One: Caring for the Earth

I care for the fertility and health of the soil, water, creatures and plants now and for generations to come.

This means caring for the soil by naturally building and preserving soil fertility. My property also drains directly into this lake I love, so it means preserving the health of the water passing through and capturing that water in ponds and streams to feed plants. Lastly, I treat the forest with respect as I harvest firewood and grow food so that my grandchildren’s grandchildren can continue to live in this way.

Ethic Two: Caring for People

The site provides healthy food that can support myself, family and community with food sovereignty all year. In relation to this food, we rebuild a culture that connects people with our own ancestors and our foods.

The way I was raised, the heart of a home is the kitchen. By rooting into this place and growing food, I can nourish people’s bodies and souls. I want to rebuild ancestral and cultural connections by slowing down, by making space to reconnect with the way your great grandparents hunted, crafted, ate and preserved food.

Ethic Three: Redistributing Surplus Fairly

In acknowledgment of the Seneca people, whose land I live on, we cultivate and share abundance, (re)connecting people with this land, both in word and in action. 

Most importantly, redistributing surplus means acknowledging and supporting the indigenous peoples who first lived on this land. I know my “ownership” of this land is a product of the colonization of what is now the US. On the Bluff, this land is specifically belonging to the Seneca Nation which has 8000 enrolled tribal members today. Redistributing surplus means sharing land acknowledgements, building relationships with Native communities and supporting cultural centers like Ganondagan.

Living in harmony with the hillside also means acknowledging and thanking the living world that created this abundance. With that in mind, generosity is how we conduct ourselves. That means feeding people well and winning their hearts with stories and food that this land provides.

It’s a foundation. It’s a start.

So this where it all starts. These goals are a foundation and everything else relates back to it. These goals and this post is part reflection, part dream and partly an invitation to you. If you want to talk more about permaculture, let me know! I have lots of resources to share. I’d love to geek out about it.

In future posts, I’ll tell you more about the specifics of this plan. You’ll see how these goals weave into each idea. If you’re not already subscribed, do so below and you won’t miss any posts.


Hey! If you’re new here, this is West Bluff Food Forest. I'm building a permaculture orchard and home in the Finger Lakes region of New York. I write about the lessons I'm learning and update you along the way. Join in on the fun!