Whose permaculture?

Permaculture is a term coined in the late 1970′s that initially meant permanent agriculture and was later extended to mean permanent culture. It’s a philosophical value system that follows the ethics (center) and principles (around the circle) in the picture bellow to design a regenerative world. This is on one hand pretty great and on the other hand extremely hard since so much of societies’ workings nowadays seem to be about destructive practices.

Problem is, same as always, how power and privilege come in. 

Last Saturday evening I had the opportunity to attend a Southern California regional permaculture meeting. There were around 20 people in the room, all doing relevant work in the field (ha - pun intended). It so happened that they were all white males and while a couple other women floated in and out of the meeting, I was the only one that sat there throughout. It would have probably been a lot less of a tense situation for me if I hadn’t decided before hand that I was going to observe the demographics. I watched closely to try to understand who was present and most of all, who was not. I noted what wasn’t talked about, what was overlooked or what was taken for granted (such as: access to certain resources, an understanding of legal regulations and how to go around them and a whole lot of free time to go surfing in between work). I felt uncomfortable at how this exercise heightened my own awareness of my body as a body in the room that was neither white (for american standards) nor male. I pointed this out when we were going around for final reflections: that when we discuss community in a group of people who have a clear understanding of the importance of ecological biodiversity, maybe we should think more about human diversity and whose voices are invited to the room and whose aren’t. This was mostly well received but I felt there is a lot more work to be done here and bringing that up at that meeting was not sufficient.

I did another exercise afterwards. I looked at the permaculture ethics and design principles above and thought about how they apply to social systems. Observe & Interact; Integrate rather than segregate; Use & value diversity; Use edges & value the marginal: these seem to strike a chord most of all but really, all these can be applied to designing a better society. And doesn’t it seem great? So what’s happening here? 

The thing is that most permaculturists seem to focus more - maybe out of convenience - on the “Earth Care” part of things than on the “Fair Share” and “People Care” parts; at least when those last two are outside their closest affinity groups. This is an issue I feel very passionate about. What’s really scary about this is to think about the development of an exclusive “permanent culture”. A group of people working towards a beautiful regenerative world and way of living who happen to share a lot of privilege and power from the start. All others can fade in their impermanent ways when things in the world out there turn gloomy. Personally, it has a bone chilling resemblance to how history has been so often written and told again and again from the colonialist’s perspective - as if all other experiences did not happen.

As of right now, I am looking at talking to East End Eden more about this and developing some working suggestions by looking at examples of how other organizations address these questions. If you know of organizations/permaculture sites/farms that work consciously to address issues of food/environmental/social justice holistically please send them my way, I’d love to take a look and get inspired.

In terms of bigger questions I have right now - How much do I want to work with/in permaculture and bring in all my ideas in (and maybe face a fair amount of resistance in the process too)? Is it the right “place” to bring these ideas in? Do I want to avoid it all together as a label for the connotations it can imply from point zero? (In the United States a permaculture design course tends to cost between $1000 - 2000, not a bad way to keep those without money out of the room) Does the word matter that much? 

There’s so much bubbling in my head - it’s like I’m producing some powerful fertile compost tea and it feels smelly and great at the same time.

Vibrantly yours,


belitaross  asked:

Hello, I was wondering if you have any advice for getting started with a pemaculture garden. I have look for videos on youtube(don't have any money to buy books) and can't find anything that helps a really, really green beginner. Any help would be very appreciated

Permaculture“ is a portmanteau of "permanent agriculture,” or “permanent culture.” It can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. It is much more than a style of garden: it’s a holistic philosophy about land management and sustainability.

Personally, I have never taken a course or a certification in it, and I have also never belonged to any permaculture groups or organisations, but I would still call myself a “permaculturist,” even though I am self-taught.

All of the best free educational tools I have found are archived in the #resources, #videos, #DIY and #garden hacks archives.

I have been writing a series called #Edible Forest Gardening 101, which starts off rather simple, but gets more complex. If you are looking to try the forest garden model, that might be a good place to start. I have additional resources in the general #forest gardening archives. My practices also overlap quite a bit with the ideas of #edible landscaping, and #agroforestry, so you might also find useful information there.

If you are just getting started, I would recommend you learn about some basic topics. I try to archive everything I write and reblog so it’s like an accessible in-site library:

The first thing you need to really think about before you start your garden is your local biome. Living in accordance with your local ecology limits the amount of work you will have to do, and resources you will have to use in maintaining your space. this is called bioregionalism.

You should figure out:

  • Your USDA hardiness zone and AHS heat zone. When you are shopping for plants, this information will let you know what you can grow. Most greenhouses will mark their plants with a minimum temperature they can tolerate: if not, you can find this on the internet. Other things to consider are soil pH, light exposure, and water.
  • Your local natural biome type: is it Shortgrass Prairie? Riparian? Deciduous Forest? Tropical? Alpine? Arid? This information should also inform the kinds of plants you try to grow.
  • Your local laws and zoning ordinances; those bastards in municipal government can be real dicks about things like keeping chickens or planting trees. On a practical note, you should map out where your utilities are buried (call before you dig!)

For your first garden, I would recommend a permaculture classic that is very useful and fulfilling: this the the herb spiral. It can be easily built with salvaged materials, and provides you with all of the culinary herbs you need. It’s a good way to get your hands dirty, and to start learning about the different needs different plants have. Have a look through the archive and see if you find a design that is inspiring!

The point of permaculture is to derive the most abundance possible, with the least amount of work and disturbance of the environment. You will have a much easier time if you learn to work with nature than against her. Embrace things like birds and bugs snacking on your plants, and embrace the fact that plants die — everything has a place.

I run this blog to help people and get them excited about working with plants, so you can always write if you have a question!

What permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet. We don’t know what details of a truly sustainable future are going to be like, but we need options, we need people experimenting in all kinds of ways, and permaculturists are one of the critical gangs that are doing that.
—  Environmentalist David Suzuki