I had the chance to meet Wen ROLLAND, in Montréal. Wen is the director and creator of DESIGN ECOLOGIQUE, a design agency specialized in permaculture (It is a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by relying on renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem). Being a developer at first, Wen ROLLAND decided in 2017 to create DESIGN ECOLOGIQUE to coach companies, cities and people to become more aware of the environment. The goal is to create sustainable project using the permaculture. Most of their activities is about agriculture and helping the cities to develop in a better way, a smarter way – the ecological way.
WHAT IS ECOLOGICAL DESIGN?
Ecological design is a field of conception and ecological mindset that aim to create new design in respect of the environment, as Wen explained. To do so, nature leads with all what it can bring us, the human. It all answers to our needs. That way, we can create more ecofriendly systems. I liked in my talk with Wen ROLLAND how it was really different from all the talks I had during my road trip. I had the feeling that I was learning from him as much as he was learning from me. And I had this feeling because he put the relation in the center of his approach and in the design he develops. Maybe also because he doesn’t design for a client but with a client. It is totally different. For Wen ROLLAND, teaching is the core of what we should do as designers. Teaching something to someone with completeness makes him to understand what is happening and that way, he will get better ownership and move forward. He gave me the example of the work of an expert compared to his work. An expert will arrive and say that it is not possible or not efficient to plant vegetables at a given place, but he should plant them 10 meters farther, then he will leave. The farmer will not know why it is not a good idea to plant where we wanted to plant his vegetables, so he will probably do it anyway. Wen ROLLAND at the contrary explains the client why, and that changes all. In this example, it was because there was a cold wind blowing where the farmers want to plant but 10 meters away, a micro climate was there to protect the vegetables. Disclosing the reasons of his advices made the farmer understand Wen’s decision. Education is a big part of what DESIGN ECOLOGIQUE does. Though, teaching is great, working together is even better. Wen implements this in his practice to design a better way. The goal is to create autonomy by the education.
Sometimes, some clients call Wen just to ask his advice and opinion and check about what they did. And he likes that because it means they thought about it and understood what the issues and possibilities were. That way, if a designer work with the client and not for the client, the client can grow and teach himself how to get better. I know what some of you are already think about! How is he keeping is client if they know what to do and don’t need his help. Well, he doesn’t but that is not what he wants. He just want to spread his philosophy and try to make the soil better. That is what we should want as human. In natural life, no one wants to be the best. Some of them just are better or leaders like Lions. But they don’t want to kill all the other animals and plants because they have the chance to do it. They just want to live together and make it work. Why shouldn’t we do the same? Nature adjusts when things are changing. It is another cornerstone of permaculture. When something is dying in the nature, it is dying but it means that it was not supposed to survive in the given conditions. In our society, it doesn’t work the same way. 20 years ago, people were finding a job and they were performing it for the rest of their life. Now, the new generation doesn’t want to work like that anymore and a few people stay more than 5-10 years in the same companies. But all the rules are the same, the laws are the same even if the system as we knew it is no more. This means that we are not trying to change when we need to change. Wen is trying to change this idea because changing is good. Then Wen taught me about what happen in 2007 with the subprime crisis. The World gave a lot of money to save some Banks that were going to collapse and die. The issue is that if it almost died once, it will die again but it has to. Exactly the same way as the nature does. If it doesn’t work anymore and is not going well with how our society is aiming for, it should not survive, or it should change. Teaching and educating our society should help us to realize that sometimes, we should let things happen and change with it.
The last cornerstone of ecological design is the scale. When you design a system, you always must think about the place where it’s going to happen. Designing a system for a town and a small city is, of course, different because of the number of people, but also because the needs are different. For example, Wen designed an eco-hamlet where they must leave all the cars outside. That way, there is less stress and more security. The design is focusing on what the people need. Also, this hamlet used permaculture to design the way to move inside it. Like the roots of a tree, everything is beginning from the same point and growing to different smaller road until it reaches the last house. Because each root is connected, it is easy to move from one point to another. To design a town, you need to look at more information. It makes it harder to create a system that answers every problem. Nevertheless, it is possible to bring permaculture using another way. Sometimes, the scale is too big. Some communities are emerging allowing to act on a smaller scale. It makes it easier to act, to target problems and resolve them. For example, in some districts, they are developing some vegetables gardens or some places where you can do your own compost. Other towns are implementing more bike tracks to reduce the number of cars. When you design something, think about for how many people you are designing and where it is going to be use. To be a better designer, we should now always think about those three cornerstone. It will allow us to be more create and to resolve problem a more efficient way.
HOW THE ECOLOGICAL DESIGN CAN IMPROVE AGRICULTURE?
As I wrote on my last article with WDO, between 35 and 45% of the vegetables are wasted and thrown away. We discussed about the fact that if we increase the amount of plastic to protect the vegetables, it was maybe possible to decrease the amount of vegetables wastes. Well, Wen ROLLAND explained to me how it was not possible and why. First, when we import fruits and vegetables from the other side of the planet, we need to send them when they are not ripe. That way, they will mature during the transportation and arrive in our supermarket mature enough. The problem with that is that non-ripe vegetables don’t have all the vitamins that we need for our body. So, eating vegetables coming from the other side of the world is not good for the environment because of the pollution generated by transportation but it is also not good for our body. Second, those vegetables are already protected by plastic when they are sent to us thus increasing the amount of plastic. This will not help to decrease the amount of waste. The only way to decrease this amount is to redesign all the agriculture industry. This is where the design is coming. Redesigning the system, we will see that the best way to eat is to eat locally with what you have available during the season. For example, in France, it is easy to eat vegetables all year long, but in Canada, it is not possible because of the snow. In those condition, eating meat is probably the best solution. But not meat from anywhere, you should eat local meat and the animal should have had a normal life in the nature, eating grass and else. So for Wen, designing the local production and distribution of the local crop helps both the farmer as well as consumer, and overall the society with lower pollution and better health of population.
Another issue with the intensive agriculture industry is that they pollute the soil. When they are using pesticides and other chemicals products, the soil is becoming weaker and cannot survive. The only way to survive is to use more chemicals and create a vicious circle. Well, that is what a lot of people think. It is not true. Some way are possible to remove all or almost all of the chemicals from the soil. The problem is that it takes between 18 or 24 months. Nevertheless, using some special types of wood chip or insects. This will help to create some new underground ecosystem with warms and else. Those insects are going to create to air bubble which will receive the rain water. Vegetables will use this water during dry weather period to survive. The tractors used in the agriculture industry destroy this underground life which is another problem because it makes the soil weak. Some experts in permaculture realized that, if machines are not used or highly reduced, after the first year, the amount of vegetables is the same but are bigger and have more vitamins. The second year, the number of vegetables are increasing and they would better resist the climate changes and they could preserve themselves better. Using ecological design to create an agriculture system can be a great answer to decrease the amount of waste, but also to produce better quality vegetables and fruits.
SOME BOOKS TO READ
Introduction à la permaculture, de Bill MOLLISON
Ecological design, from Sim Van der Ryn & Stuart COWAN
Designing Regenerative Cultures, from Daniel Christian WAHL
Gaia’s garden, Toby HEMENWAY
Designing urban agriculture, April Philips
I would like to thank Wen ROLLAND for the time he dedicated to me. It was interesting to discover what is ecological design and the possibilities that permaculture opens. If you want to discover more about DESIGN ECOLOGIQUE and permaculture, go check the website: http://designecologique.ca/