Matthew Lynch, O'ahu native and recent TedX Honolulu presenter, stopped by the Upcountry Sustaibility public meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, to talk about his current passion project--Permablitz Hawai'i.
Lynch is a self-described "reformed capitalist." At the age of 20, he began work at Bank of America. He started his own financial firm at age 26 and made his first million dollars by age 29.
"I thought I was going to show that there was such a thing as good bankers in this world," he said. "Needless to say, I lost all my money by the age of 31."
Enthusiastic Permablitzers after a productive day’s work. Permablitz Hawai‘i’s motto is “Feeding Hawai‘i, One (Edible) Garden at a Time.” The “perma-” comes from “permaculture,” or “permanent agriculture,” a design system for sustainable living and land use. Using local materials, the all-volunteer group replaces unused or under-used land with community gardens featuring edible plants and trees--all in one day.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Lynch and permablitzhawaii.com
Penniless, Lynch finally found the freedom to do what he thought he'd been making money to do--travel. During time spent in Australia, he discovered the grassroots movement known as "Permablitzing." He describes witnessing "a swarm of volunteers installing an edible garden at a homeless shelter," and wanted to bring that concept back home.
Permablitz Hawai'i's motto is "Feeding Hawai'i, One (Edible) Garden at a Time." The "perma-" comes from "permaculture," or "permanent agriculture," defined on their Website, permablitzhawaii.com, as "a design system for sustainable living and land use." Using local materials, the all-volunteer group replaces unused or under-used land with community gardens featuring edible plants and trees--all in one day.
So far, Lynch has organized four Permablitzes on O'ahu. The first was in September 2011. Home or land owners provide a "blank canvas"--an area of land, such as a yard or vacant lot, that they would like to make into a productive and sustainable planted area. Lynch's permaculture designers survey the area with the owner and determine a layout that best makes use of the natural state of the land.
"It's essential that we create a design that is in harmony with your land and works to connect elements in your system," said Lynch.
Carefully placed banana trees, for example, eagerly absorb wastewater and runoff and use it to make edible fruit, while also providing essential shade, wind blockage and privacy. Highly nutritious mushrooms are "networks of nutrients and water that form partnerships with other plants and help them grow better," he said.
The "foodscapes" created by Permablitz Hawai'i include delicious items such as daikon, chard, ginger, kale, coconut, eggplant, green onion, artichoke, sweet potato and much more--each specifically chosen for its ability to grow and thrive in the landscape and climate of the respective blitz. Lynch describes the joy the blitzers get from "digging up pavement and replacing it with food."
Using recycled and naturally sourced components is an elemental part of the Permablitz method. Downed branches from nearby trees are used to build beautiful trellises on which squashes, lilikoi and other vining plants can climb. Discarded pallets are used to build planting beds. Recycled cardboard is a key component of the permablitzes, acting as a perfect sheet mulch to squelch unwanted grass and weed growth. The matererial's corrugated passageways are a favorite of these vital garden critters, facilitating a "worm orgy" of sorts. When not found as discarded or unused items in the environment, plants and materials are provided by the landowner or donated by community, friends, family and the Permablitz hui.
"There are three guiding principles behind Permablitz," said Lynch. "First, permaculture design is at its heart--it works with what the land offers, to create a functional, diverse and resilient system in which each plant performs a function that supports another plant or element."
Second, it's a reciprocal network. "The more the land owners put in, the more they get out." Land owners wanting their space to be "blitzed" are asked to volunteer at three other blitzes.
Third, it's all about supporting community. "When neighbors are helping neighbors grow their own food again, Permablitz won't be needed."
Lynch came to Maui this month with the hope of launching Permablitz Maui. He would like to set up about one Permablitz per month to start. At the Upcountry Sustainability meeting, he found many interested residents hoping to transform their "blank slates" into "foodscapes," and volunteers eager to help make that a reality.
A future goal is to organize a state-wide Permablitz day. Lynch's dream is to get "beyond sustainability," to what he calls "regenerative design-emulating, healthy, productive ecological systems to create human systems which increasingly flourish over time."