The Food Issue... or the Issue with Food
Sister Mary J. Beaubien, OP, prepares apples harvested from the Permaculture Gardens.

Permaculture Cooking

Jerusalem artichokes
What better way to celebrate food than to cook together? This past October and November, with the help of Dominican Life Center (DLC) Activities Supervisor Kristen Livingston, we in the Permaculture Office used apples from the trees at Siena House and Jerusalem artichokes from the Permaculture Gardens to help feed hungry people in Adrian. They could not be effectively integrated into our campus kitchens due to their small size and limited quantities.

Sisters helped bake apple muffins for The Daily Bread, a local soup kitchen and food pantry, and made soup from the Jerusalem artichokes for people on the Motherhouse campus to enjoy. Both apples and artichokes were grown without contributing to climate change and ecological degradation. Perhaps more importantly, they were grown with positive impacts on Earth and on those involved in their growth and harvest.  

These plants provide many important ecological and social functions. They capture carbon and keep it in the soil and out of the air, purify water, and provide shade and wildlife habitat. Thank you, apples and Jerusalem artichokes, for two small yet mighty glimpses into the possible future of a regenerative food system.

Permaculture Gardens: Thoughts on Food

In his article, "Reclaiming Eating as a Sacred Relationship," in the Fall 1996 issue of Earthlight Magazine, Jeremy Rifkin describes eating as the "vital bridge that connects human culture with the larger environment." He notes that, in its choice of which animals and plants to eat, a society "provides a mirror" to its own values.

As we contemplate our own sacred eating habits, let us start by thanking and honoring our ancestors to whom we owe the present. Let us be guided in our work by their voices. Let us not repeat tragic histories, but learn and grow together the past, present, and future of just, equitable, and sustainable relations.

When introducing people to permaculture, I often begin by asking, "Who eats food?" This simple prompt opens a window into understanding the importance of food, which is often taken for granted. All of us on planet Earth eat. So why would anyone view food as anything short of sacred?

Permaculture ethics and principles ----  Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share ----  are founded on the idea of connectivity, the building of webs and circles of reciprocity and relationships, as opposed to lines and dead ends of degenerative actions and thought. Food connects us to one another and to Earth. Appreciation and gratitude for food make us human.

The issues with our food system are deep and complex, yet the solutions are simple. But let us not confuse complex for impossible and simple for easy. We have much to do, and, as long as we're alive, we're eating. We must take it upon ourselves to act out of love to influence food culture. By valuing food as an opportunity to enter into intimate reciprocity with Earth, we may be our most human selves and communities.  

The opportunity to express gratitude through food begins when we understand our current relationships with it. The next time you sit down for a meal, ask yourself:
  • Where is this food from?
  • How was it grown?
  • Who grew it?
  • What are the ecological and social impacts of eating this food?
  • Who benefits from the sale and production of this food? 
  • Who is oppressed by the sale and production of this food?
Your answers can point you to one of three food consumption models:

The Degenerative (harmful) model involves the degradation of valuable resources needed to sustain the ecological and social systems, to produce a yield that might also have harmful effects. This model favors monoculture, in which only one kind of crop is grown in a particular place.

The Generative (less harmful or neutral) model involves the generation of a yield without taking more than is produced, but also without producing in an abundance to sustain the system. This model includes limited diversity of crops.

The Regenerative (harm reversal/positive) model brings about generation and reinvestment of surplus, which benefits all and calls for diverse crops.

If you would like to know about what we can do locally to shift the industrial food system, please join us for an experiential exploration of regenerative food options. Email for more information or learn more in the Upcoming Events section below.

For more information on the intersections of food, race, and justice, view Malik Yakini's Food, Race, and Justice. Malik is the Founder, Executive Director, and Board Secretary of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

Species Spotlight: Paw Paw
Asimina Triloba

The paw paw is truly a unique North American treasure. Despite an otherwise completely tropical appearance ----  large, broad leaves, reminiscent of banana tree leaves, and tropical-tasting fruit ----  the paw paw is native to climate zones 5-9 in North America. In the Midwest, this is roughly from the line of Pennsylvania, Ohio, northern Illinois and Indiana, and Nebraska to the north.

Due to their lack of commercial value, extremely short shelf life, and susceptibility to bruising, paw paws were quickly forgotten in our fast-moving, industrialized, globalized, and de-personalized monocultural food system. They have also been erased from our memories by the forces of land development, which often demolishes the river banks on which many of the moisture-loving paw paw trees grow.

Fortunately, paw paws are now entering a brilliant renaissance, not only for paw paws themselves, but also for all of us in relationship with them. The Zebra Swallowtail butterfly can be especially thankful for their resurgence in mainstream culture, since paw paws are their only host plant.

Enjoying North America's largest edible fruit is easy. Eat paw paws fresh or freeze the bright yellow pulp. Use the frozen pulp as you would papaya. Cooking paw paws can impart an "off" flavor, so most paw paw recipes are without heat. Paw paws are also used in beer. Zingerman's Creamery in Ann Arbor sells seasonal Michigan paw paw gelato. During paw paw season, September and October, head to the Ohio Pawpaw Festival in Albany, Ohio, to enjoy three days of all things paw paw.

Where can you find these fantastic plants? Look no farther than the southern swale in the food forest on the Motherhouse Campus. Young paw paw saplings line the swale bank and are currently protected from deer by white tree tubes. We can expect fruit in four to five years. Several paw paw trees can also be found at Heritage Park in Adrian and in Hidden Lake Gardens in Tipton, Michigan.

Not sure if you've found a paw paw? Just rub the leaves. If they smell like motor oil, you've found a paw paw!  

Upcoming Events
  • Winter Permaculture Update
    1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, December 20, 2018, in the Rose Room at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian. The event will include paw paw tasting and will be live streamed.

  • Eating Locally and Seasonally
    1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 9, 2019, in Regina Room 124. Join us for an informational brainstorming session to explore ways in which we will experience and connect with local, seasonal, and regenerative food options. We will also discuss the possibility of monthly permaculture cooking events in 2019.  

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