Paw Paw Trees

A permaculture event next weekend will include the planting of a food forest including paw paw trees.

If you’re like me, you’re looking for positive action to counteract all of the bad news in our world. In the face of my despair, I have to believe that we as humans can do better, that we can be a resilient and regenerative force on the planet, but how? That question has led me to permaculture – the most hopeful path to a bright future that you may have never heard of!

Rooted in permaculture is a positive way for humans to work in collaboration with each other and our planet. Permaculture can be broadly defined as earth care, people care and fair share based on 12 principles that can be applied to how we grow our food, care for our planet and for each other (for details, see sidebar).  

The term permaculture merges two words: “permanence,” meaning to persist indefinitely, and “culture,” or practices that support human life. The idea of permaculture was developed back in the 1970s by Australian Bill Mollison, known as the father of permaculture.

More recently, it’s begun to gain traction here as young people interested in a sustainable way of living return to the land looking for a meaningful life and ways to support the health of the planet.

I believe permaculture provides a visionary yet practical path to human survival on Earth.

Let me use what’s called an edible food forest as an example of how many of the permaculture principles can play out on the ground.

Growing an edible food forest uses forest ecosystems as a guide. Where conventional agriculture plants one crop on hundreds of acres, limiting biodiversity, the food forest follows the design rules of nature, incorporating native fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which people can eat. It’s like having a grocery store in your backyard!

But that’s not the only function it serves. It also provides food and homes to beneficial insects, birds and animals, many of which suffer from habitat loss due to mono-cropping.

The trees and shrubs also clean the air, suck up carbon, and build the soil by reestablishing the underground mycelial mushroom network. The forest is also beautiful and its root system filters water and shores up stream banks – all this benefit from the relatively small input of planting a good mix of edible trees and shrubs.

An edible food forest is a great permaculture example – it produces way more than what it takes to establish and maintain, and it lasts for decades; it offers opportunities to build relationships with the people and the land; and it creates environmental and economic resilience as a byproduct!

If you’re interested in a free, hands-on food forest permaculture experience, come join us on Oct. 27 where a group of us at the new Permaculture Center at Claymont.

We’ll be planting an edible food forest – a diverse mix of 400 nut and fruit trees along the North Fork of the Bullskin. We’ll be planting persimmons, paw paws, pecan trees, elderberries, hazelnuts and more.

Once established, the food forest that you help plant will be open for harvest when ready.  If you’re able to join us, plan to stay for a classical music concert.

– Kit McGinnis writes from her home in Charles Town. To learn more about permaculture or the Oct. 27 event at Claymont, email her at or find the Permaculture Center at Claymont on Facebook

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