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Use Edge & Value The Marginal [Permaculture
Posted on June 18, 2015 @ 12:36:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Today I will discuss the 11th Permaculture Principle which advises us to "Use Edge & Value The Marginal" (you can read my discussion of the 10 other principles here).

What is an edge? Bill Mollison, in Introduction To Permaculture, defines edge this way:

An edge is an interface between two mediums: it is the surface between the water and the air; the zone around a soil particle to which water bonds; the shoreline between land and water; the area between forest and grassland. It is the area between the frost and non-frost level on a hillside. It is the border of the desert. Wherever species, climate, soils, slope, or any natural conditions or artificial boundaries meet, we have edges. (p 26)

Edges are important because where two ecologies meet (land/water; forest/grassland; estuary/ocean; crop/orchard) we have a mixing of plants and animals from both ecologies, as well as plants and animals unique to the edge. This often results in more productive landscapes around the edges.

We are also attracted to edges, particularly the edge between water and land. Half of the world's population lives next to this edge.

If we see a particularly beautiful landscape, we may be able to trace our reasons back to how edges are used in the design. Straight edges are less interesting than curved edges and as we increase edge through such curves, we also create conditions for a more productive landscape because we have more edge in a given area.

So the imperative to "Use Edge" is a reminder to study edges and use edges consciously in our designs to increase productivity, interest, preserve biodiversity or for other reasons.

I was contacted awhile back by Rick Harrison about his design work on Prefurbia. Prefurbia is suburbia with alot better edge design than suburbia. Suburbia is often laid out in a grid pattern for no particularly good reason. To get from one point on a grid to another point is quite inefficient because you have to zig-zag to your destination. Sewer lines, electrical lines, and roads on grid are also inefficient. A better edge design can produce savings in time and money and a better suburban living arrangement. See Rick's Prefurbia video for some interesting suburban edge design.

The second part of this principle is to "Value The Marginal". The word "marginal" includes the work "margin" which is an edge or border around something. The word "marginal" originally referred to what was written in the margins of a book. We now use the word marginal to mean something that is on the fringe or less important. The principle advises us to value these fringe or less consequential elements in our thinking and/or designs.

When we design an edge we also have margins around that edge so the principle would advise us to properly value what is on either side of the edge we create. The principle also encourages us to value what is less mainstream, counter-cultural, and fringe. If mainstream thinking got us into our problems, perhaps we need to listen or appreciate the marginal elements of society to get ourselves out of these problems. If climate change or peak oil come to pass, for example, the lessons we will need to learn will not come from mainstream culture but from cultures that choose to live with less fossil fuel dependence and with greater community. The Amish might be the most well adapted to a post carbon future.

Today I visited our local "community workshop" where mentally challenged people are kept busy stocking shelves of stuff/junk that people donate to the workshop. I'm often impressed with how well this enterprise is doing. It is often difficult to find a parking spot. It is a prime example of what can happen when community organizers properly value the marginal, when we create edges that are more inclusive of the marginal.

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