Tampa Bay Gardeners Unite For International Permaculture Day

North Tampa resident Brittany Aukett, 22, wants you to know that growing your own food is easier than you may think. Anyone can learn to feed themselves by living off their land and transforming it into a self-sustaining garden. 

In support of that belief, she hosted an open-invitation event at her home on May 6, International Permaculture Day.

Permaculture -- a term coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late 1950s -- is the ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor, including building natural homes, growing your own food, rainwater harvesting and restoring the natural landscape.

It foregoes the use of commercial fertilizers in favor of natural products like manure and compost -- a collection of organic waste that breaks down into a rich soil enhancer over a period of weeks. Also, the interactive benefits of integrating various types of livestock, plants, crops and trees enhance the production of the entire space.

But permaculture isn't just an ecological design system; it's a way of life.

"It's a way of looking at nature and realizing we can work with it," Aukett says. "We're not all trying to destroy everything that's been given to us."

In the eyes of permaculturists, people are stewards of the land with a responsibility to treat it with care and pass their knowledge on to others.

Learning To Garden

On Sunday morning (May 6), that's exactly what Aukett did, inviting speakers such as Code Green Community blogger Eric Stewart, Mary Davis and Ara Mcleod from the Lakeland chapter of Food Not Bombs and Ryan Iacovacci from Birdhouse Buying Club.

Attendees soaked up information on how to make the most of their gardens, essential permaculture reading material, conducting a permablitz (gathering a team of volunteers to quickly transform an empty space into a sustainable garden), ways to engage their community and identifying food in unlikely places. Those weeds in your front yard? They could serve a purpose after all.

The forum for this facilitation of knowledge was a backyard garden teeming with herbs, greens, fruits and vegetables; a child's high-chair repurposed into a planter; plant beds outlined with empty sapphire and emerald-tinted beer bottles and a makeshift stage surrounded by hay bales and lawn chairs.

Aukett, a pharmacy technician, says she decided to turn her piece of property into a food maker nearly four years ago. It wasn't until last year, however, that she introduced the practice of permaculture into her gardening. Since its methods mimic nature's natural course, the garden takes care of itself for the most part, according to Aukett.

"I don't think gardening should be a chore," Aukett says. "I'd rather it be something I love to do."

Davis, 68, has made gardening her way of life for more than 35 years. Now, she's devoted to spreading the word about sustainable living through events in Plant City and radical recycling ideas through her Facebook group the Garbage Garden.

Starting Guerilla Gardens

Food Not Bombs is a global movement to provide the homeless with food in a peaceful protest against war and poverty. Group members share tools, plants and seeds with the homeless so they can start their own guerilla gardens. It's an effective way to enact real change for people trying to improve their situation, according to Davis.

"It's important to share food with those who need it the most," she says.

It's a sentiment Iacovacci, 25, practices throughout his neighborhood in Sulphur Springs with Birdhouse Buying Club, an affordable food purchasing club created with his roommates in 2009. They're now in the process of transitioning the club into a co-op.

"My focus is ensuring our food system is integrated," he says. "Not just on the farm, but in the cities, urban centers and communities who've been left out of this green movement."

Iacovacci, a University of South Florida international studies graduate, believes learning to garden is the easiest way to be immediately empowered. Furthermore, crossing cultural, economical and racial boundaries to engage communities in the green food movement is a crucial step to bring people together, he says.

"So often we don't have power over our situation," Iacovacci says. "The condition of the food system we're in is something that's oppressing us. The more that people realize gardening is not only fun, it's about becoming self-sufficient then, in my mind, the power lies there."

Catch videos of all nine speakers from Tampa's International Permaculture Day event on Code Green Community's YouTube.

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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