The Silver Lining: Turning Problems into Assets

A cornerstone of permaculture design is the idea that “The problem is the solution,” or “Turn problems into assets.” This is also expressed in the design principle, “Obtain a yield.” (As opposed to just alleviating or getting rid of a problem, we turn it into an asset or harvest.)

So-called “weeds” stubbornly growing in a corner of the yard turn out to be native wildflowers that support the pollinators who are essential to our survival. Instead of spending money and labor (and deploying poisons) to eradicate them, we can simply let them be. Providing a net benefit to the ecosystem for free!

The willingness to “turn problems into assets” can make the difference between life and death. One example: In East Africa, a bumper crop of locusts is laying waste to the land, threatening the food supply. However, locusts are edible! (by both livestock and people.) In Israel, where crops are also in the grip of a locust invasion, people have taken to eating the bugs.

Eating bugs might sound gross if you’ve never tried them, but insects are a staple food or even a delicacy in many cultures. I myself have eaten many a bug, and found them unexpectedly tasty. I once attended an “insect potluck.” Held at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, and organized under the banner “Man Eating Bug,” it attracted some 500 people. Note, for reasons of safety and flavor, it is best to cook bugs rather than eat them raw. Also, if you are allergic to shellfish, don’t eat insects.

Another example of turning a problem into a yield would be harvesting invasive plants and using them to make cellophane or biofuel.

On a personal note — I am channeling my sensitive, reactive temperament into FICTION GOLD, and will be publishing an eco-comedy novella series soon.

Can you think of some area or situation in your life where you might be able to turn a problem into a yield?

Further Reading:

Eating locusts: The crunchy kosher snack taking Israel by storm (BBC News). In addition to reporting the pragmatic snack craze in Israel, the article also mentions that “Locusts are a valuable source of income for women in Niger, who get up early to collect them from the millet fields, and then sell them at the market. They make more money from the locusts on the millet than the millet itself”.