The Art of Stacking Functions

 Tulsi or Sacred Basil harvested for tea.

Tulsi or Sacred Basil harvested for tea.

Stacking functions. What does this phrase mean to you? It could mean any number of things depending on what you apply it to. In this case I'm referring to the term as it's used in permaculture. It is one of the primary principles of permaculture design. Here at the Ranch we employ as many of these principles as we can in our work and in our daily lives. 

Before delving deeper into this topic, I think it's important to first define what permaculture is. There are thousands of definitions available but I've found it useful to come up with my own because it makes the most sense to me. I encourage anyone with an interest to do the same. Here is my definition: Permaculture is a way of life that empowers you to contribute to the regeneration of the earth on a personal level. Its use is guided by a set of principles that can be applied to any aspect of your life. 

 Learning about Compost making in our PDC.

Learning about Compost making in our PDC.

With this in mind let's go back to stacking functions. As first mentioned, stacking functions is a primary principle of permaculture and basically refers to elements in your life having multiple functions, instead of a single function. I will offer a few examples to make the concept easier to grasp. A kitchen table is where food is prepared, where meals are shared and it can also become storage space. A fruit tree provides fruit, offers shade, produces mulch, fire wood and a climbing structure. Try to think of elements in your life and what you use them for. If you can only come up with one use for something, it's probably not necessary to have in your life. Can you think of anything that doesn't have multiple functions? 

After taking the permaculture design course (PDC) at the ranch, I started to notice that I was applying these principles everywhere and had been all along, only now I was able to recognize this process. Stacking functions is apart of my everyday life here. My role has taken many forms, but recently I have focused on the farm to table operations. I propagate plants, nurture them and continuously maintain them until they are ready to be harvested and used in the kitchen. 

 Ready to make pickles.

Ready to make pickles.

One morning in the Vivero (plant nursery) and kitchen gardens I realized that everything I was doing actually had multiple functions. I'd set out to clear the paths and Swales from plants too tall to hold themselves up from the relentless rainy season downpours. I was simply cutting and clearing. But it was more than that. The plants I was tending too were edible salad and cooking greens, perfect to use in the kitchen later that day. And this got me thinking, what other functions do these humble garden tasks have? Well, I was pruning and shaping the plants, helping to promote new growth and removing old growth. I was collecting cuttings to propagate in the nursery later that day. And from what was leftover, I was gathering nitrogen rich green cover for our compost pile. When I was done clearing I got onto weeding and again found myself picking out perfectly edible food growing in unintentional places. I wasn't simply weeding, I was improving the aesthetic of the gardens, creating a new intentional herb garden and collecting herbs for use in the kitchen.

Later that week I was in the kitchen processing our farm food and found myself using these ingredients in many different ways. The tulsi or holy basil I'd cut back was used fresh to make a concentrate to flavor our kefir water sodas. Some of it was dried and put on the tea table and some of it was used to flavor a meal. One of my favorite foods to process this year has been mango. When it's ripe we eat it fresh, add it to our hot sauce, use it in smoothies and freeze it to make ice cream. When it's green we pickle it, make green mango kimchi, create green mango salads or simply slice it up and sprinkle with our chili lime salt. It seems simple but I'd bet many of you have set out to do a simple but necessary task in the kitchen or garden without realizing that what you're doing or using actually has many functions. 



 Chaya cuttings from the garden.

Chaya cuttings from the garden.

I've found this concept a wonderful and useful one to apply to my life here at the ranch. It is an approach I will take with me when I leave. A way of moving and doing that is easily applied to my life back home in the city. I will find myself asking the question, "what functions does this item/task/plant/food have?" over and over again. If I'm able to come up with at least 3 (positive) functions then I'm happy to purchase/do/ plant/use it. If not then I will rethink my choices. Of course there will be some situations where this concept is not applicable but there are many where it is and I believe it's simple enough for everyone to employ. After all it is these small changes in our lives and more specifically, in our thinking that help move the big change in the right direction. It is the decision to question what we are doing and using and actually think about the consequences, it is the decision to think and act consciously. 

NEWS AND NOTES

Our Permaculture Design Course is on the schedule for 2017. Course runs from April 25th to May 8th. We are hoping for another great turnout so help us spread the word!

In 2016 we offered over a half dozen full and partial scholarships to students from Costa Rica and around Latin America to participate in our workshops.

We were able to do this through the generous support of the Mastate Charitable Foundation. We hope to continue this pattern in 2017 and are now accepting tax-deductible donations for our Central American Scholarship Program. Help has increase the accessibility of sustainability education to our neighbors and consider making a donation!

Abrazos

The Ranch Crew