During a workshop I ran over the weekend we were discussing the application of permaculture beyond (and integrated with) food systems. It is my sense that permaculture has either been quietly hijacked by food thoughts, or alternatively, is now coming through its guise as a healer of food systems and beginning to flourish into an all encompassing philosophy of being. This is certainly how I see it, and it is from this position that I wish to apply my energy and thought to the furthering of permaculture and a holistic approach to planetary healing. Hence, this essay is a little thought experiment applying some fundamental underpinnings of permaculture to an organisation currently feeling the strains of the global situation: the NHS.
This feels pertinent in this moment as (not unusually) the NHS is ‘under strain’ with burgeoning wait lists, patients laying in hallways and a financial and staffing crisis. Covid was blamed during Covid times, but the situation was not new in 2021 and is worsening even as Covid begins to blur.
Rather than dive into what I believe to be the major issues of our health systems, I will simply ask, from a permaculture perspective, a series of what-ifs… I ask that you dwell on each individually, slowly, and allow that ‘what-if’ to sink in and give space to truly imagine: what would it be like? For now, forget about how we may make it come about, just let the possibility percolate into a distant future reality and allow that its coming about may be blocked not by finance nor energy nor time but by a narrative we presently inhabit and can elect to change.
What if hospital rooms burst with plants and flowers and had views of natural, green space?
What if the patients that were well enough cooked communally for all patients with fresh local organic produce in a kitchen led by an inspiring chef and nutritionist?
What if hospital shops and vending machines sold not food that make us sick (flapjacks, crisps and coke) but foods that heal, like fresh smoothies, vegetables with hummus and kombucha?
What if children learnt how to grow food in school allotments and cook from scratch?
What if every child had access to biodiverse woodland and parks and were allowed to play freely?
What if social media had closing hours? Or changed their advertising model?
What if doctors were trained less in treating symptoms and more in recognising underlying cause contributors?
What if obesity fell dramatically, or disappeared?
What if roads became cycle lanes with one-way streets for cars, making cycling far more appealing and safe?
What if soda disappeared from the planet and people drank more water? What if we respected water?
What if healthy, organic local produce was subsidised whilst unhealthy, processed foods created a tax pot to support the NHS?
What if pharmaceutical companies were set to the task of treating root causes?
What if medical prescriptions were first social, feeding into a mass of community-based projects doing good for the local people and environment?
What if food advertising was banned?
These are not lofty idealist dreaming but researched, proven methods toward improved health and a thriving society. It could all happen. What if the NHS crisis will not be solved by throwing money into the same system? What if it is not a crisis of staff shortage but one of human health and wellbeing?
Permaculture offers opportunities for thinking not only outside the box, but outside the narrative we are fed daily by the story we currently inhabit. What if it is only one story? What different story can we begin to tell? What is your role in the new story?
The permaculture way of thinking can be applied to any situation, organisation or business. It is a process of designing better systems through the observation of current ones. Slow and simple solutions are all around us and in envisioning them we begin to take steps toward their becoming reality. This is, as Joanna Macy observes, living in active hope.
I invite you to add your ‘what-ifs’ in the comments, thinking of the NHS.
Finally, what if we gathered up doctors, nurses, politicians and patients and spent some time envisioning, listening and dreaming up a new story for the health system? What new story might we begin to inhabit?
Thanks for reading.