Momentum works in two directions. For a long time, the environment has experienced the momentum of degradation; carbon emissions, species extinctions, forest fires, and land use change all happening at increasingly faster rates. However, there’s also the momentum of regeneration. More and more people are joining forces to demand change, protect the natural world, and restore the Earth’s ecosystems. Even as governments continue to drag their feet, communities who come together are achieving more and spreading a message of hope. Taner Aksel’s story is filled with promise for a brighter future. An engineer turned permaculturist, Taner is working to restore ecosystems in his native Turkey, and it seems things are beginning to speed up exponentially. After decades of hard work he’s now a permaculture teacher, tends to a successful food forest, and helped create the Permaturk foundation.
Taner’s momentum was built from the ground up, literally: “everything starts with the soil,” he says. In the 90s Taner left to study civil engineering in the United States of America, but upon returning to Turkey, he felt a desire to reconnect to the land he had grown up in. He started with a modest goal, to find a small plot of land that he could use to escape from the city and grow some food. So he purchased an abandoned piece of industrial farmland and, “then the problems started.” Taner was faced with a serious array of challenges. His land had no direct access to freshwater and years of industrial farming had left the soils depleted. For nearly a decade, Taner spent a few days a week desperately encouraging a few grapevines to grow. “The thing is, back then I didn’t know anything about soil,” Taner explained. “If the soil is weak then the plants are going to be weak.” He worked hard to try and initiate some progress on his land but was met with roadblock after roadblock.
However, in 2008 Taner decided to look deeper into the climate catastrophe which he noticed was following a similar pattern to the financial crisis which was shaking global economies. His research led him to eventually write a book but above all, it opened his eyes to the importance of protecting the Earth. “When I realized there was this problem I also realized I had to do something,” Taner explained. “I can’t change the world but I can change the way I live.” So Taner started to do even more research and sign up for courses. He looked into natural gardening, natural animal husbandry, and sustainable agriculture, all in pursuit of making his land a resilient and functioning ecosystem.
Eventually, in 2010 he found himself in a room with Bill Mollison, one of the founders of the permaculture movement. “When he started speaking he changed my life,” Taner recalls. “I thought I knew a lot but I didn’t know anything about how nature works, how soil works, and how we are a part of the whole system.” This talk and the lessons that he would walk away with would be the tipping point for Taner’s work. They would provide him with the jumpstart he needed to make sure his work continued on. He was starting to gain momentum.
Taner became fascinated by permaculture. He registered for more courses, did more research, and connected with other permaculturists. Taner was inspired. He moved to his farm full time so he could work on repairing his soil, collecting rainwater, recycling, composting, implementing cleaner energy options, and regenerating the surrounding landscape. Slowly but surely his soil started becoming richer and more fertile, his garden started to produce vegetables and people began noticing his work. Through social media, people began reaching out: “The people I haven’t seen for 30 years, they come to the farm and I start telling them. I love it because I start with the soil.” Taner takes his visitors to the nearby land and he shows them how devastated the land remains from industrial agriculture. “They see that soil, they smell that soil, and then we go back to my farm and they see the soil I have regenerated in 10 years’ time.” It’s proof of restoration in action, a lesson that you can hold in your hands and is hard to ignore.
Family, friends, and members of the community continued to visit Taner, wanting to learn about how he turned his land into a food forest that provides him with hundreds of varieties of produce every year. As he continued to gain momentum, Taner was starting to feel hope again. “This is such a nice road. You will realize you’re successful when in time energies will flow to you.” He began offering to teach permaculture courses and with the support of his students, they created the Permaturk foundation. Now Taner’s momentum is reaching a fever pitch and it seems like there’s nothing that can stop his work.
Permaturk is collaborating with the Beykoz municipality in Istanbul to create a Permaculture Ecological Park, the first of its kind in Istanbul. The goal of the project is not only to restore the land (filled with discarded soil from construction projects) but to invite the community to reconnect with nature, providing opportunities for education, recreation, and direct access to organic produce.
Whether or not international governments step up to the challenge of the climate crisis, Taner believes in the community that is driving this movement. “There are so many issues that separate us, but there are so many basic issues that should bring us together. Clean soil, clean water, clean air, clean food. The most important human needs,” said Taner. “If you want to be part of the solution there are so many things we can do together, let’s concentrate on them.”
Restor is a direct result of the momentum that’s building within the global environmental movement. We are adding fuel to the fire and making it easier for people like Taner, to find the information or resources they need to get their projects off the ground. Taner talks about the founding principles of his Permaturk foundation and it’s striking how much overlap there is with Restor.
There are three components to the Permaturk foundation’s mission. First, to learn: “the biggest teacher is nature itself and there’s so much you can learn from nature.” Then, to generate examples: “When people see the examples, they see that it’s possible.” And finally, to create a network: “together with people, groups, companies, foundations, NGOs we can build a multi-beneficial network so that we can do something bigger than ourselves.”
Restor's mission prioritizes the same aspects. With this global platform, we want to foster learning, provide examples of successful and unsuccessful restoration projects, and build a global community. “What you started as Restor is amazing and this is what I dreamed of,” said Taner. “This is the right thing to do, the right way to go, I realized it the first time I saw your website. I was really impressed. I am very happy to have made this connection with you.” We’re lucky here at Restor to be able to see the momentum that is building first-hand. We believe in the power of momentum to grow this movement into an unstoppable force, fueled by the knowledge of science and the hard work of people like Taner.