Re-Imagining Economic Systems: Untangling the tongue-tied transition from capitalism to cooperation.
It is so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the term “economic systems.” As the words roll off my tongue I envision millions of pieces of string binding everyone in the world together: the laypeople to the mega corporations and governments, to the mom n’ pop store down the street, to the big banks, to friends and family — each string representing an economic transaction of some kind. In the middle of it all, it’s easy to feel tangled up.
From talking to my peers, I have found that quite a few people share these sentiments. So then how can we get ourselves untangled? How can we tug at those strings in such a way that causes the least harm to others and votes for thriving interdependent economic communities rather than mammoth oligopolies? Many of us involved in alternative lifestyles, activisms, and social movements — of which permaculture is one — are often searching for innovative and place-appropriate ways to do this.
One of my favourite professors at university — a feminist activist who was fighting alongside people threatened by multinational corporations in Guatemala and elsewhere — once said something along the lines of, “When we study capitalism, we tend to focus on IT and its negative effects, to the point where we sometimes limit our ability to even recognize the myriad non-capitalist forms of economic exchange that we and communities around the world engage in every day.”
This simple statement was definitely an awakening for me. Yes, it is important to analyze and actively oppose capitalism, especially since it is arguably the most powerful force shaping global society, but it is equally important to value and lift up the alternatives that already exist and have in many cases existed for millennia!
Let me ask you this: have you ever swapped clothes, seeds or services with a friend? Have you ever been given or have issued an IOU? Have you ever shared the story of a small business or non profit with your social network because you believed in what they stood for?
If you answered YES to any of these, then you have already engaged in non-capitalist forms of economic exchange. Perhaps you leveraged your social capital to help a friend, or perhaps you have engaged in reciprocity, gift giving, or bartering in order to meet your needs or the needs of your loved ones.
For many of us, when we think of the word “economics” our minds might quickly jump to flows of dollars and cents, however, The Free Dictionary defines “economics” more broadly as that which “deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or human welfare.” For myself, I like to think of economics as “the ways that we meet our needs through the exchange of goods and services.” With this wider definition in mind, we can really expand and explore what it means to participate in economic exchange.
By doing case studies on economic traditions, such as the reciprocity-based Potlatches of the Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples, local currencies which promote the circulation of economic energy within a specific region, or credit sharing which helps all parties involved in a deal determine what constitutes a fair exchange of goods or services rendered, we can observe diverse culturally and historically rooted economic stories. These stories offer lessons for ways that people have engaged and can engage within economic circles, ways that promote the ethics of caring for people and the earth, as well as fair share.
In my life, I have had the opportunities to study permaculture, work on a community currency project, participate in time banks and mutual credit initiatives, and work within the Degrowth and Transition Towns movements.
All of these experiences have gifted me with invaluable tools for navigating my economic reality. I have calculated that during the past 12 months I have participated in the exchange of over $5000 Canadian Dollars worth of goods and services without the need for any Canadian Dollars. As someone who works within the non-profit sector and qualifies as a low-income person, having the knowledge to access and identify wealth through alternative means has enriched my life greatly.
Alternative approaches to designing our economic systems which engage with concepts like local currencies, basic income, credit sharing, and interest free loans, can help vulnerable communities become economically stable, they can help people reduce stress and improve mental health, and they can help people express their gifts and talents in ways that are not exploitative.
I think the greatest boon that rethinking economics has given me, is the increased sense of agency in my life — feeling like I am able to meet my needs and experience abundance even if my economic profile might suggest otherwise. If we are able to engage in more of the kind of work that allows us to redefine, reimagine, and critically redesign what terms like ‘currency’, ‘wealth’, ‘capital’ and ‘economics’ can mean, then I think that the potential for positive change is truly great.
Want to know more?
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post! If you are interested in learning more about alternative approaches to economics as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught by a group of 40 women from around the world, check out https://coursecraft.net/courses/z9Thn/a/cpmYFEtTE.
My name is Lucie and I live in Kelowna, Canada, where I run a permaculture group and work as a coordinator in a non-profit organization that empowers community members facing hardships by teaching cooking, farming, and employment skills. I have a masters degree in the social dimensions of sustainability from Lund University and a background working in social sustainability, community building, writing and mixed media art. To find out more about me and what I do please visit luciebardos.net.
#rethinkingeconomics #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #peoplecare
with Kareen Erbe
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Appropriate technology and permaculture design go hand in hand. Remember that permaculture is a design approach that meets our food, energy, shelter and other needs. Through appropriate technology, we are engineering ways in which to meet those needs in the simplest, most locally based ways possible.
The ecological crises that we are facing today is very much related to the fact that our economy, our agriculture, and our technologies are out of scale with what the planet can support. When entities are out of scale, natural patterns in the landscape are disrupted. In fact, it is our advances in technology that have led to a lot of that destruction. For example, combine harvesters have allowed us to cultivate large monocultures that have led to soil erosion and topsoil depletion.
Advances in cell phones and computers, coupled with consumerism and a global economy, have not only mined the earth of natural resources, but have created tons of electronic waste that fill our landfills.
Understanding and using appropriate technology is about bringing things back into scale and applying the permaculture principle of using small and slow solutions.
As mentioned in the video, appropriate technology is technology that is suited to the social and economic conditions of a particular region in which it is to be applied, is ecologically sound, and promotes self-reliance on the part of those using it. It is:
Often labor-intensive but energy efficient.
Reducing our consumption first.
Before you think of applying appropriate technologies, think first about reducing your consumption. Though it’s heartening to see advances in alternative energy, such as solar and wind, it seems like many of these advances are designed to meet society’s current needs, without addressing our overconsumption.
For example, people choose to put solar panels on their roofs to power their TVs, dryers, multiple appliances, and possibly even multiple cars.
While it may be a step in the right direction, alternative energy technology often prevents us from taking a good look at our consumption. What’s more, these technologies contain a lot of embodied energy. From the extraction of the base materials to the manufacturing and the shipping, the energy involved in producing a product like a solar panel or a wind turbine is substantial.
Chances are that if you live in a developed nation, you are likely consuming at a level that is not sustainable for the rest of the planet. The challenge is not to find an energy source that will support that lifestyle, the solution first lies in our willingness to reduce our consumption.
Then, we can look at appropriate technologies to meet our reduced needs.
The most obvious way to reduce consumption is through growing your own food. Reducing our transportation miles from farm to table immediately reduces our impact.
Household strategies for reducing consumption.Simple strategies in your home can go a long way. For example, though we have a permaculture homestead, we do live in a conventional home. However, before putting solar panels on our roof, which is perfectly aspected for that technology and in a climate where it makes sense, I am going to look at ways to reduce our energy use first.
This is what we have done so far:
In the coming years, our plan is to attach a greenhouse to the front of the house. This will not only provide passive solar heating, which is key in our cold climate, but serves the additional function of growing more food and extending our short growing season. Only after we’ve added a greenhouse, will I then consider solar panels. However, I’ll evaluate our energy bills at that point, balancing the expense of the panels and their embodied energy versus the energy produced.
Again, using small and slow solutions that take minimal resources is your primary goal. Below is a checklist for easily reducing your household consumption in a conventional home.
Checklist for easily reducing household energy consumption in a conventional home.
Cooking and food storage
Heating your home, cooking and food storage are some of the most consumptive ways in which we use energy. According to the aforementioned report, lighting and other appliances (e.g. toasters, ovens, blenders) comprise 30% of energy consumption in a home, and refrigeration accounts for 5%. In my video, I cover one simple and easy appropriate technology that you can start using within minutes, and touch briefly on several other technologies to consider.
Here is a link to the photo album on Facebook that I reference in the video. This will take you through the step-by-step process of building a cob oven.
Here’s some activities you could do to use what you’ve learned:
Make a blanket box for your household and cook something with it. If you need a reminder on how to make a blanket box, go back to the Cooking and Food Storage video in this module. Make a note of how long it took your meal to cook and how much energy you saved.
Invite your friends over to share a blanket box meal and get them to commit to doing the same! During the dinner, share ways in which you will be using appropriate technology and reducing consumption around your home. Ask them to commit to one action.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Appropriate Technology module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Kareen Erbe.
Kareen Erbe is the owner of Broken Ground, a permaculture business in Bozeman, Montana, USA, that teaches people how to grow their own food and become more self-reliant. She has taught hundreds of students through her workshops, both live and online, and offers consultations and permaculture design services. She and her family live on a ¾ acre suburban homestead with large kitchen gardens, a food forest of fruit trees and berry bushes, a greenhouse, a pond, beehives as well as chickens and ducks. Kareen is a regular contributor to Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine and can be reached through her website brokengroundpermaculture.com. She also has an online course platform at brokenground.teachable.com.
Further reading on this topic
Bubel, Nancy and Mike. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 1991.
Kerr, Barbara. The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers. Self-published. 1991. - A 79 page book with plans/diagrams for solar cookers. Here is a link to the text of the book and info about purchasing.
#appropriatetechnology #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #blanketbox #reduceconsumption
There is no doubt that over the past decades, permaculture has grown tremendously in popularity. Permaculture Design Certificates, books, movies, meetings, convergences, teachers’ groups — all have seen an increase. I would argue that Permaculture has grown into a bonafide, international, globally connected movement. For enthusiasts such as myself, this is generally great news. However, with popularity, also comes analysis and responsibility.
Permaculturists such as Heather Jo Flores, Kim Del Valle Garcia, LisaDePiano, and Silvia Di Blasio have all contributed analyses which point to the fact that there is certainly a large deficit within the permaculture movement in terms of understanding how oppression is systemic in nature, and how permaculture without awareness of this can perpetuate racism, sexism, classism, cultural appropriation and other forms of discrimination.
I think that the current work on decolonizing permaculture has a wealth resources to offer and this article is my humble attempt to add to that body of knowledge. This is a piece for folks who see the need to implement decolonization and social justice within permaculture but who might be left wondering what to do first in order to transition towards a more conscious and just permaculture practice.
For instance, I might be interested in stopping the appropriation of knowledge, but I might not know the right words to use to give credit to local indigenous peoples in a way that is not only respectful but that also acknowledges the histories of violence and oppression that have lead to me, a white woman living in Canada, being able to do something like appropriate indigenous knowledge and not even be aware of it in the first place!
To help me contribute to this conversation, I think it would be useful to situate permaculture within a general context of social justice. When I use the term ‘social justice’ I refer to the acknowledgement of existing inequalities in terms of the distributions of power and privilege amongst social groups, as well as the work being done to address these inequalities.
These inequalities stem mostly from historically rooted social and economic systems that perpetuate violence, oppression, and discrimination based on intersections of race, gender, age, class, education, gender, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness and more.
So, what are some ways that the permaculture movement can engage better with social justice? Below are a few practical tips for reflection and action that could be useful for permaculture practitioners.
Actively make room in permaculture for people who may have more difficulty than others participating in the movement
Permaculture is often marketed as a movement that is ‘open to anyone’ or ‘doable by anyone’, but often we do not address the fact that some folks, while on board with permaculture ethics and principles, might not feel comfortable, or might not have resources to participate to the extent that others are able to.
First, think about this: who is usually present at permaculture gatherings, courses, and meet ups? Do you see any trends in terms of things like gender, skin colour, class or education level when thinking about who is out there teaching permaculture?
I was privileged enough to be able to attend and volunteer at the 5-day long European Permaculture Convergence in Bolsena, Italy in 2016. I was also happy to see presenter Pandora Thomas from the United States talk about social justice and her permaculture training programs for empowering youth at risk and formerly incarcerated folks with permaculture training. Still, Pandora was the only person whose workshop I attended in the convergence to address permaculture through a critical social justice lens and to actually have created a project around it. She was also one of very few people of colour to hold a workshop.
Given their importance, the kinds of initiatives that Pandora is a part of should have a much larger presence in meetings, convergences, and published material about permaculture; so why don’t they? Perhaps because when the organizers of an event, project or course come from a place of privilege, it is easy not to have to reflect on those things which don’t affect them. So, research and reflection are the first step.
What are some simple things to implement? If you run a permaculture course or workshop, make sure there are gender neutral bathrooms, make sure it’s accessible, and let everyone know! Make sure that participants know that you will be addressing the issue of how folks with more resources in the community can “redistribute the surplus” (one of the core ethics of permaculture) more equitably within their communities, and invite speakers who might be best qualified to discuss this to participate in your workshop/course. Include topics that are locally relevant for marginalized communities. In Canada and the United States that might be something like: How can we work with indigenous communities to support them in their efforts to protect their lands and resources or in current struggles they have with the government?
Obtain Anti-Oppression Training — Don’t Just Read About it!
In order to better understand the concrete ways in which permaculture can be colonizing and generally problematic within the context of social justice, it is important to get the facts from a reliable source i.e. someone with experience in conveying and working with these kinds of topics.
I firmly hold that all Permaculturists need to cultivate an understanding of systemic oppression and colonial history in order to be better equipped to articulate why permaculture practices can contribute to ongoing colonization and to understand on a deep and meaningful level, why this needs to change.
Permaculturists, permaculture teachers or business owners could all benefit from attending workshops with facilitators trained in anti-oppression and social justice work. These can be found in most small and large cities or online. In Canada for instance, we have the PIRG’s — the Public Interest Research Groups — which are student-run bodies that provide support, services and training around issues of environmental and social justice. They will often have facilitators that can provide this kind of training or at least be able to help direct people to organizations or individuals who can. In the States I know about AORTA (Anti-Opression Resources Training Alliance) and Movement Generation who are also doing amazing work.
Design For Processing Discomfort When Faced With Uncomfortable Topics
This ties in closely with the point above. Facilitators who provide social justice and anti-oppression training are also great at helping folks work through the inevitable discomfort that talking about things like power and privilege can cause for many people.
Folks who hold more privilege and power in a given society will often need to process reactions such as guilt, shame, and defensiveness when they come to understand that they have grown up and in, therefore participate (though perhaps unintentionally) in a system that is oppressive to others.
In 2015 I wrote my masters thesis about this same phenomenon happening in the transition towns movement — a sustainability movement closely linked to permaculture — and how these feelings of discomfort around privilege sometimes perpetuated alienation between the movement and others trying to participate.
Through my thesis-writing process I found that I underwent much of the expected feelings of shame and defensiveness as I reflected on the harmful ways I myself had participated in permaculture-based projects. In my permaculture experience, teachers often urge students who anticipate a problem to “design for that”, i.e., to correctly anticipate or identify an issue and use resourcefulness to consciously mitigate it. Having read lots of material on social justice and being connected to activists and facilitators who could help me, I was able to design for having these difficult feelings and was able to get support in processing them.
I have to say that the experience was transformative for me, I am so happy to have gone through it and to be now able to participate in permaculture in a way that better aligns with my views of the world.
Actively Support Social Justice Groups and Activists in Your Community
In my experience, permaculturists often exist in a kind of social bubble. I think this happens when folks looking for more sustainable ways to live come across like minded individuals in the form of students, teachers, or connections they make at permaculture networks and events.
The bonds formed between permaculturists can be very strong and lead to the desire to collaborate solely within these networks. There is nothing wrong with any of this, however, indirectly it can cause a sort of bubble effect that can lead to permaculturists closing in and focusing on building their projects from scratch while simultaneously being oblivious to work already being done in their communities that they could support.
Of course, without reflecting on histories of colonialism or systemic oppression, it’s understandable that permaculturists who hold more privilege might not see the connection between their sustainable homestead (perhaps located on unceded Indigenous territory) and local Indigenous communities fighting for land rights.
However, once the consciousness is there, I do think that the desire for meaningful connection and collaboration comes. One thing to do, is to research your community, go outside of the ‘permabubble’ and offer your skills as a volunteer or show up at events hosted by local organizations and activists who are working towards justice and equity.
There are also ways to exist outside of the bubble within the permaculture community. For example, if permaculturists own a large acreage, why not offer some of that land to use for free to a local social justice organization which may not have such access? Why not invite activists from other groups to come and teach workshops or modules within your permaculture programs? Why not provide scholarships to participants in your partner organizations to attend your permaculture courses? Taking one step will lead to the realization that there are so many avenues for collaboration.
The beauty of permaculture is its amazing versatility as a holistic design system. A meaningful connection to the land can be regenerative to both the land itself and to the people stewarding it, but this connection needs to happen with a deep understanding of the inequalities currently present in our local and global communities. It is necessary to carry out a careful insertion of permaculture projects and practices into the existing matrices of power and privilege in our communities in such a way that these projects contribute to empowering and supporting the work of those folks who could benefit the most from them.
Want to know more?
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post! If you are interested in learning more about the social dimensions of permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught by a group of 40 women from around the world, check out THIS LINK.
My name is Lucie and I live in Kelowna, Canada, where I run a permaculture group and work as a coordinator in a non-profit organization that empowers community members facing hardships by teaching cooking, farming, and employment skills. I have a masters degree in the social dimensions of sustainability from Lund University and a background working in social sustainability, community building, writing and mixed media art. To find out more about me and what I do please visit luciebardos.net.
#decolonizingpermaculture #social justice #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture #socialpermaculture
On Teaching Permaculture: Tips for Evolving and Enlivening the Education Paradigm (and why you need to take a Permaculture Teacher Training!)
The magic in teaching
is the questioning mind (JH),
or as Socrates said,
“education is the kindling of a flame
not the filling of a vessel.”
by Jude Hobbs of Cascadia Permaculture
This article comes from the perspective of my guiding the process through which aspiring Permaculture teachers gain the confidence and competence to share Permaculture strategies, principles and processes to a wide variety of audiences in a variety of educational settings: from 2-hour “Introduction to Permaculture” talks at local libraries to full 72+-hour standardized Permaculture Design Courses.
Since 2001 I have taught the Permaculture Teacher Training over thirty times and have not taught it the same way twice. I am continually adjusting my teaching approach to incorporate individual needs, participant feedback and new pedagogical techniques. To me, this is the art of teaching: always growing and changing what I teach and how I offer a course by exploring varied teaching strategies with a primary focus on the active learner via a transformational learning process.
This article offers some ideas on how to effectively share information and empower individuals to discover their own teaching styles, along with some of my personal philosophy about evolving and enlivening the educational experience.
How many of you have felt safe in a classroom setting? Did you trust your teacher —their abilities to guide you with accurate information presented in ways you understood, in ways you found both accessible and inspiring? Did you trust your teacher to not roll their eyes if you gave the wrong answer to a question? Have you experienced an instructor being ethically inappropriate with you or with others? Unfortunately, these scenarios are very common in some educational situations. Cultivating a learning community by setting the tone of a safe environment for the “peer culture” of a classroom is also imperative since many students are as afraid of being embarrassed in front of or by fellow students as in front of or by the teacher.
Co-create a safe learning environment by setting clear intentions.
Write about it. Compose a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU).
The morning after our evening course opening, which involves participant introductions, the class reviews a Memorandum of Understanding, which was mailed to everyone pre-course. The MOU provides a common set of intentions on how we plan to interact as a learning community working collectively to support one another.
The MOU focuses on the following:
Talk about it.
We review the MOU as a group with the opportunity to discuss any questions and /or concerns and/or needed additions. During our course introduction we set the tone for people to be comfortable, stating that all questions are honored, inviting people to place anonymous suggestions in a specially designated basket, and employing a variety of techniques to help participants get to know one another.
Additional ways to set the tone and build trust:
Co-create Effective Learning & Learning-to-Teach Environments.
Learning environments are considered “effective” if learner outcomes, individual and collective, are achieved for each module. As an example, in teaching about roof water catchment, will the learner be skilled in sharing the steps in order for participants to design and install this type of whole system? In working together as a class can they achieve this goal in hands-on practice?
Explore multiple pathways for-co-creating effective learning environments:
Finally, how can you tell this is working?
I offer Permaculture Teacher Trainings all over the world. Here's the flyer for my next one:
Why Guide Permaculturists, and Others, to Teach Permaculture?
Permaculture Education as an Extension of Permaculture Principles
As a Permaculture teacher, my goal in guiding others to teach Permaculture is to encourage and inspire them to discover and celebrate their own unique strengths and abilities as educators, and to empower them with the confidence and tools they need to effectively communicate Permaculture principles, inspire change, and transform the way people everywhere value and apply true sustainability practices. As co-creators of the Permaculture Teacher Training learning environment, and through collaborative, dynamic interactions via group projects, participants build a strong social community and form resource networks to support one another and maintain lasting friendships.
I actively support the next generation of Permaculture trainers with the philosophy that sharing meaningful knowledge is regenerative, empowering and part of the Permaculture solution….“kindling (and strengthening) the flame” of Earth Care, People Care and Future Care.
“Jude creates a course that finds the perfect balance between creating a safe comfortable learning environment and a place to push your comfort zone and to grow.”
--J.D., Course participant, 2017
“This course is a living example of Permaculture Design. The design of the course itself, the course location, the learning environment, and the total delivery embody the principles, ethics, and functional application of Permaculture Design for place, people, and evolution. This course has empowered me with the knowledge, strategy, tools, techniques and ability to empower others through teaching.” --C.S. (2016)
“This course is a week-long intensive for Permaculture designers and educators who are interested in honing their craft as teachers/presenters. It has been transformative and valuable beyond measure. Jude has a lot of wisdom and knowledge to share and is great at drawing out our strengths. She helped facilitate learning peer to peer and has helped me grow as a Permaculture designer and educator. Jude herself is an amazing resource, and the bulk of my learning came through her ability to tap into the wisdom of the group and inspire thoughtful reflection.” —T.M. (2018)
“[After this course] I feel like I could put together a weekend Intro to Permaculture course no problem. I gained valuable friends and colleagues here. I also feel stronger, refreshed, more confident in myself, and refocused on my path.” —J.S. (2018)
Jude Hobbs is an internationally recognized Permaculture educator and designer with 35 years’ experience in the design and teaching fields. Her focus is whole systems thinking to generate environmentally sound solutions that inspire sustainable actions in urban and rural settings.
As an educator, she conveys her passion for permaculture by providing curricula developed to encompass diverse learning styles with teaching techniques that are accessible, inspiring and information rich. Jude tends Wilson Creek Gardens, a 7-acre homestead and demonstration site located in Cottage Grove, Oregon, U.S.A.
Listen to Jude's interview on The Permaculture Podcast, describing this course and more:
“What Permaculturists are doing is the
most important activity of any group in the world.”
Global Economic Crisis
You could say that I probably got into Permaculture through the economical doorway. I was working in real estate when the 2007–2009 global economic crisis hit and although it didn’t (immediately) pose a financial problem to me (I had earned well in the rise up to the crisis), it sure did leave a foul taste in my mouth on the social side of things. I had to fire people on the sales team, work the very few leads out there still double as hard, withstand lies told to customers by colleagues of other real estate agencies down the road as we were all after the same few “fish” in the sea,… it sure felt like it was a war zone out there, where everyone was competing for their share of the sinking cheesecake. This is the moment when I stepped out of the branch and went looking for a Change.
Right now, house sales have gone up again here on the Balearic Islands and tourism never stopped growing due to other areas in the Mediterranean Sea Basin like Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and even Greece still being somewhat uncertain holiday destinations due to terrorist acts and refugees from Syria. Unemployment is down, spending is up once more and the papers talk about yet another record hitting season this 2018. We are out of the dark hole they say…
The global economic crisis of some ten years ago might seem over when you read through this little list, but it surely still is fresh on my mind, and I am actually even weary about a next one being right around the corner.
House sales are up to foreign buyers only.
Tourism is putting an extreme strain on the island’s resources, starting with water and on a par: long term residential rental properties are almost impossible to pay now.
Jobs are aplenty yes but wages haven’t gone up, so spending power is lower for locals and the doctors have had a ball writing sick notes last summer 2017 due to burnout.
Growth is something very natural. In nature, things don’t keep on growing forever though. Plants grow, people grow… and then… they die. It’s the cycle of life. An old growth forest is a system that is made up of many elements, some are in their growth phase, others are in their decline phase. Between them all, they keep the system going.
This stage of collaboration and accepting that there necessarily are phases of decline or cycles (the plants in decline become the soil and nutrition for the new plants) is something we humans have not yet understood as a species. If we want to avoid the decline of the entire system (our planet) we better hurry up to get to that stage of understanding.
Just as with the Social or Political Invisible Structures, we need to know exactly what it is we are working with when talking about the Economic Systems so that we can make a hypothesis as to why things are out of whack, to then start working on our design to get back on track (Permaculture Principle “Observe & Interact” at work).
As I got more familiar with the principle “The Problem is the Solution”, I got more and more interested in the Economy and how our current capitalist model is pushing us beyond the limits of our ecosystem. I wanted to be able to design our way out of the mess and therefore had to start with … observation and analyzing. I personally learnt an enormous amount about the economy of today through taking the Integral Permaculture Academy’s mini-course on “Eco-Economy”.
I have recently finished a 6 month stretch of working on a module for a spectacular Online Permaculture Design Course that I co-facilitate together with 40 other female Permaculture Women’s Guild Designers from all over the world. It sure was spectacular on the Invisible Structures side of things, which is what my module focuses on, together with the Design for our Inner Landscape. In the course I talk about all of those Invisible Structures, but as a colleague goes into much more detail about the Economic Systems in her module, I brought my thoughts on those systems into this Medium post.
Let’s look at some of the most important concepts we need to understand before we can start any design involving the Economic Invisible Structures.
When we think about the economy, often we think about money. What is money? Money as such is definitely not a bad thing. It is one form of energy that circulates through our system. It is a store of value that we collectively assigned to it, and it is based on confidence.
It was designed to make connections possible between humans over larger distances.
What history tells us is that when our horizons expanded and direct bartering on the road got too hard (it isn’t always easy to find the person who has exactly what you want and you have exactly what she wants when you are traveling), some items got introduced that were recognized to have value elsewhere too. So “money” came into being.
Today’s money however has little to do with that original trust in a seashell or a block of salt that goes back 5000 years. These days we might do good in not placing too much of our confidence in money, as any Argentinian person can probably tell you (the peso suffered massive inflation in 1990 and has been unstable for a while).
Why not? Money these days is made up out of thin air and it is not the government printing our notes as some people believe. It is the bank that types in some numbers on a screen and as by magic you have money in your account.
For the privilege of them giving you something they actually don’t have themselves, they also charge you interest, and you are saddled with a debt. In the latest crisis many people lost their homes to the banks. So the banks end up winning always: they either get money in return for the thin air they created your loan from, or they get a property! To top it off, when they then fly too high and burn their wings, our (tax payers’) money (borrowed from them with interest and/or worked very hard for) is then used to bail them out of trouble.
Whenever I tell this story or write it down, I feel that this currently is the biggest story we need to share, and make people aware of. Debt is not natural, therefore it is not sustainable.
Why is this not front page news everywhere?
Apart from many invested interests (pun intended) I believe it is because we lack new, positive stories. We need success stories, examples of good practices, a practical design to do it better. Something achievable to work towards.
We maybe feel that getting out of this mess is too big a task for us, and that we are firmly held in the grips of our debt. But there are many examples out there of complementary and local currencies in operation.
Small steps may take us a long way (small and slow solutions are the way to go!). Going back to our basic needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), we must be able to make the distinction between them and our wants, as Max-Neef points out, and particularly realize the impact elsewhere in the system of our ways of satisfying our “needs”. The comparison between Maslow’s and Max-Neef’s needs becomes necessary in today’s economic system, and you can read about it in this other Medium Article by Neha Khandelwal.
I mostly graphically represent this by drawing two apples on the board. One of them is the Apple-logo. The younger students I work with tend to immediately recognize that one. The other apple, the one that you can eat, is always second… and no I don’t think that has to do with my drawing skills. Which of those apples is a basic need and which represents a “want”?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that “wants” are all bad. Of course I want to stay in touch with people, work from home, record my photographs and speak to my family in Belgium. I can do all that on any brand of computer though, or if I really do value the apple logo enough to pay the higher price for it, then I maybe don’t have to change the model for a new one every time one comes out…
Apples aside, it’s known that the capitalist system we live in purchases growth. Therefore “they” must sell more. Marketing helps them to achieve that. The system plays on our “wants”, and we are led to believe that we can satisfy our needs with items such as an iPhone or food packaged in colorful boxes.
The more “wants” we have, and we will — because our needs are often not satisfied, the more we have to recur to interest based loans, or in other words, we are spending money we don’t have whilst at the same time sending money up the chain (of those bankers and the already wealthy corporate world that sells us such items).
Maybe we should re-educate ourselves, and understand that capitalism is a polarizing system. Ever more money is flowing up that chain to the top, it surely isn’t trickling down as what they want us to believe. The divide is getting bigger. More and more people end up underneath the poverty line. Being in debt becomes a social epidemic with a lot of consequences (think Big Pharma, junk food chains causing loss of our soil as well as loss of our health, crime…)
But enough of the doomsday information overload. Permaculture is about solutions. Here I’d like to present you some very simple steps to boost your confidence in taking control over the Economic Invisible Structures in your design.
Solutions: Sustainable Economy
When looking at your personal economy, it’s good to have a base understanding of the following concepts.
Invest in & like Ecosystems
Invest in Ecosystems: buy livestock, trees, plants, seeds, buy land and steward it, buy local produce from your farmer, study local flora and get really good at foraging (there is so much free food all around!)…
The point being: you won’t be able to eat those classic motorbikes or those tons of designer handbags when the going gets tough and nobody around you has any cash to buy them off you.
Invest like Ecosystems: Diversify! Use the principle of redundancy and diversity, which create stability and resilience, have different income streams, your skill base might be a good start or you might want to check out the 8 forms of Capital by Ethan Roland. Sign up for your local LET group or Time Bank*. Up the faith and jump out of your comfort zone.
Also look at where your passion lies, and see if you could make it into an income stream. Design your Right Livelihood. It’s good to be using several economic systems and currencies at the same time, so you will not depend on any one system alone. Capitalism is not going to go away any time soon, but on its own, it’s too fragile a society we’d be living in, not resilient at all.
Live within your limits
Know what you have (your resource base — and don’t forget foraging, free food!) and don’t cross your limits. It’s exactly what we have to do on the planetary level, so we might as well start with ourselves. Another solution lies in how you act as a consumer. How about giving yourself enough time to think it through before you make a purchase.
There is a set of questions you could run through before actually buying anything, which could go something like this: Do I need this (basic needs!)? Do I maybe already own something like it (know your resource base!)? Can I borrow this from someone I know? Can I source this from a second hand store? Can I actually afford it? Etc.
If you have already crossed your limits, look at designing your way back up to the black numbers rather than stay in the red. It might be daunting but there is professional help out there too. As before, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It is not worth suffering over it for any longer than need be.
As we have crossed our limits as a society a while back (currently we are using 3.6 planets’ worth of resources as a species), the only option for those of us in the developed world is Degrowth. It is not going to be a choice anymore any time soon, so we best get used to it now already.
Would you be involved in arms or drugs trafficking? Would you invest in deforestation or petroleum companies that chop big chunks of the amazon down? Would you support big pharmaceutical companies that are under the suspicion of actually wanting to keep us sick as a society, and now even are one and the same as the big agro companies that destroy the livelihoods of our local farmers? I am guessing your answer to there questions is no.
You then need to know that your bank might be involved in them and that this is probably where your money is being used, because those are the investments that give most returns.
So if you don’t want to invest in those activities, di-vest your money out of your bank. It’s a job and a half yes, but it is doable and it is very much worth it. Being honest here, I have not yet been able to move my own mortgage to another bank.
Check out your area for ethical banks through this link if you are in Europe.
Also vote with your money. Try to buy local products as much as you can. Steer away from big corporations that are known to play a huge part in destroying our environment, our social networks or our public health and don’t invest anymore in the likes of Coca Cola, Monsanto, Nestlé and many other brands that are often one and the same as can be seen on some chart images that float around the web.
Share your surplus
Don’t charge interest on any personal loan you may give a friend or family member, your abundance now is reinvested in a cycle that will cultivate social capital and it wíll return to you!
Don’t have a massive savings account: Debt is unnatural, so is hoarding. Even a hamster self-regulates and stops eating so much (and therefore hiding food) when the warmth of spring returns. You can have a saving accounts or a piggy bank by all means, it is a sign of a good Design for Catastrophe/Resilience, but anything more than that is based on fear and is not helping the local economy. Money is a flow of energy, and like anything stagnant, it stops working. One note of 10€ in your bank account is just that… 10€. If you spend 10€ in your local economy, it jumps up in value to 100€ just by passing through the hands of 10 people. Remember the principle of cycling energy.
Don’t charge for any spaces you might have available to share, or charge only a fair price to share in the costs: On this note, I can tell you about how our association PermaMed’s demo sites are on property that has been donated to us, or assigned to us to steward if you will, and there is even a “Land-bank” here on the island of Mallorca, where property that cannot be tended to by the owners is offered to people who are looking for a piece of “dirt” to grow food on, mostly just charging the cost of the water or agreeing on a part of the harvest to go to the owner.
Share your crop: you have loads of almonds, apricots, tomatoes, leeks, corn cobs… at the same time? Are you seriously going to can them all? Why not share what you can’t eat, and get some diversity in return. And as the saying goes: where 2 eat, 3 can eat too. Never hesitate to invite someone to your table and share a meal.
On the other hand, don’t stretch yourself to share what you actually really can’t (again, I am a good example of doing just that), because as one Permaculture Design Course teacher of mine likes to say: “You can’t be green, if you are in the red”, so it would be a priority to not be in the red. Guard your limits. Just as with your physical and emotional boundaries for your Inner Landscape Design, these limits are important for the longevity of your projects.
More detailed information on the Economic Systems in the mark of the Permaculture Invisible Structures can be found in Lucie Bardos’ latest Medium article. She is one of my 40 international & expert co-facilitators in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course which has just opened for early bird enrollment.
I myself take you on a journey through the Inner Landscape and we look at the Invisible Structures in general, explore what they area within the social, economic and political dimensions, and how we can design for them in our projects. Wanna join us on this tremendous learning experience? Click on this link for the complete information.
Dana Meadows was hugely important to the birth of Permaculture, by co-authoring the “Limits to Growth” Report of the Club of Rome in 1972. Together with the looming oil crisis of 1973, this stimulated Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to get designing for a permanent agriculture. This is her take on Sustainable Economies.
Helena Norbert-Hodge is a very inspirational lady as is the film she made in Ladakh: The Economics of Happiness.
Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economy works with boundaries and basic human needs. Fantastic! She also offers loads of economic history and poses some neat questions.
Ellen McArthur’s Circular Economy was presented to me at the R.I.E. gathering in 2015 (Iberian Ecovillage Reunion) in Navarra, Spain. Based on the principles of cycling energy and producing no waste.
Hazel Henderson states that our economy is based on a big invisible layer that she calls the “Love Economy”. Riane Eisler builds on this in her Tedx talk on The Caring Economy. They both refer back to the backbone of our society being… the women… Caring & Loving… invisible in the GDP.
As we integrate into living, working farm communities, it’s important to remember that permaculture is not a new idea.
It seems to have become popular recently to use the label “permaculture farm.”
I’m a farmer, and I’m also a permaculture practitioner, but I don’t call my farm a permaculture farm. There are a number of reasons why I don’t follow this trend.
First and foremost, permaculture doesn’t teach you how to farm.
Permaculture can teach you how to look at things from different angles and see different perspectives, but it doesn’t teach you how to deal with footrot or liver fluke, or how to lamb. It doesn’t teach you how to lay hedges, repair dry stone walls or put up a fence. I learnt how to farm, and am still learning how to farm, because neighbours and friends have been generous in sharing their knowledge and skills. All sorts of different people have helped and advised me over the years, including women and men who are farmers, smallholders, foresters, engineers, local history experts, vets, cooks, cider-makers, geologists, soil ecologists, conservationists, spinners and weavers…the list goes on and on.
Labelling farms as “permaculture farms” seems to me to be an attempt to set them apart. It’s not the same as calling a farm a “dairy farm” or an “arable farm,” or even an “organic farm.”
The implication seems to be that a “permaculture farm” is superior in some way, which in turn implies criticism of neighbouring farms. Is this perhaps a result of the poor image of farming in media? That people new to farming don’t want to be tarred with the same brush? If so, it demonstrates a lack of understanding that there are many different types of farms and farming, and in particular a lack of understanding that smallholdings, small farms, family farms and hill farms are all very different from large arable farms and from intensive farms.
The second reason I don’t call my farm a permaculture farm is because I can’t help noticing that, with a few exceptions, the label is often aspirational; there’s often not much to see on the ground, and often the people involved haven’t yet built up a wealth of experience.
Farming is a long game. It takes many years to get to know your patch of land. Eventually, you’ll know it like the back of your hand, but initially there are probably neighbours who know it better than you do, who remember where springs have appeared after heavy rain, who know which field is better for lambing and calving. And, when you’re first starting out, those neighbors will be your most valuable resource. Alienating them in the first year by trying to set your farm above theirs, based on ideology rather than action, isn’t wise. And it isn’t sustainable.
It also takes years to build up your reputation, because it takes years to develop a healthy flock or herd, to select healthy seed, to build up fertile soil, to grow or restore hedges, to grow orchards. Farmers gain respect (or not) from others seeing their healthy animals, crops and fields, year in, year out.
In rural areas, people depend on each other much more than in urban areas. Being a good neighbour and having good neighbours, being part of the local community, these all make a big difference to your well-being and to your resilience. Being on hand and offering practical help when there’s a local event, or when a neighbour has an accident or is taken ill, these are all a crucial part of being part of a rural community. Finding shared values and common ground is far more important than setting flags in the ground and highlighting differences. However good your permaculture design, being snowed in still means going out to check, and save, livestock.
And, if you consider the second and third ethics, all of the above considerations are permaculture. And they should be just as important to your design as where to put the pond.
As we integrate into living, working farm communities, it is crucial to remember that permaculture is not a new idea.
It’s a collection of traditional and Indigenous knowledge, from across the world, that has, in many cases, been repackaged for an urban generation that has become disconnected from nature and from each other. Because it is from rural people that the knowledge has been gathered, this means that it is part of the shared common knowledge of rural people. Yes, even in industrialised nations, and yes, still today.
Those of us who grew up in rural areas often grew up with a close connection to our habitat, our square mile, because we need to understand how the natural world works and how we fit in it so that we can thrive in our local landscape. This means that permaculture may not have much to add to the land-based skills of those already immersed in land management. Unless you incorporate the social stuff into your design. Then, permaculture becomes a powerful tool for deeply connecting you to the community in which you live.
Although permaculture is often thought of as being about gardening and farming, it actually applies to any aspect of life.
The three ethics underlying permaculture (earth care, people care and fair shares, plus a recently suggested additional one: future care) mean it is deeply relevant to social issues and to social justice. In rural areas, we face similar problems to urban areas, including homelessness and gentrification, but the problems are often hidden and so get ignored. Pressure on land is also an issue, but instead of being for office blocks or luxury flats, it can be for resource extraction (eg mining, quarrying, forestry plantations, dams for water, wind farms), for investment, for a nice place to retire to and lately, for rewilding. Few realise how fragile rural communities are, and how seemingly small changes can result in loss of resilience, loss of knowledge, loss of key people from the community. Language, dialect and culture hold within them generations of knowledge about how to thrive in often harsh landscapes. When young people move away, the thread is broken and can be hard to repair, and especially if incomers see only a blank canvas.
No land is a “blank canvas.”
There is a tendency for those who have completed permaculture courses to think they now need to move to the countryside and buy some land. Sometimes doing this is great and good things happen. But not always. Sometimes however good our intentions, our actions can have negative impacts. It’s important to be aware of the privileges being able to move freely and buy land entail, and also to be aware of the differences in power and privilege of your chosen location.
Taking all three ethics seriously means asking ourselves some uncomfortable questions:
As an incomer, are you a settler? A new colonialist?
Could your arrival have a negative impact on a minority culture or language?
Although the land may be cheap to you, is it unaffordable to others, such as local young people? Is there some way of helping to address this?
Some years ago, Nesta Wyn Jones, a North Wales farmer and poet, realised that the increasing number of people moving to the area was eroding the local culture and changing the main language of communication. She started holding language classes where students also learnt about the local culture and customs. Nowadays, many incomers across Wales learn Welsh, and the challenge now is to help them move on from being learners to using the language in their daily lives. Part of this is lifting the blinkers so people realise there is a rich diversity of cultures around them, especially as these are often rooted in the landscape, and often reflect much that people moving to the countryside are keen to create.
As is often the case with permaculture, it all comes back to observation: noticing what is already there, rather than what we want it to look like, or think it ‘should’ look like. But it’s important to remember that observation isn’t only about looking: listening is a big part of it too. Observation means taking time to listen to people who are already there, and who know the land and whose lives and stories are an integral part of the landscape. It means realising that traditional knowledge is not static, that rural communities are not homogenous, and that conventions have developed for a reason, which will, no doubt, change again.
Most of all, observation means being open to learn from people with different perspectives, different experiences, different ways of holding and sharing knowledge. Because more often than not, when you take time to observe, to listen, and to learn about what was there before you (and will perhaps be there long after you’ve gone,) then you find unexpected connections and shared values that prove the sum to be so much greater than the parts.
Marit Parker is on both the faculty and editorial collective of the Permaculture Women’s Guild and she teaches the module on Social Justice and Decolonisation in the online Permaculture Design Course.
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