How to Learn Permaculture for Free, a Handy Guide from Somebody Who Learned Permaculture for Free...
by Heather Jo Flores.
Suggestions for learning permaculture for free, and also for finding ways to fund your permaculture education.
My goal with the #freepermaculture project is to give people access to the resources I wish had been available when I first started learning permaculture, way back in the 1990’s. We didn’t have much in the way of internet then, and Facebook hadn’t even been invented yet. So we used the library and good old fashioned hands-on trial and error to figure stuff out.
If humanity has a snowball’s chance at survival in the coming climate cataclysm, it will be permaculture tools and techniques that get us out of this mess. But we need to get on it, NOW, and it pains me to see finances preventing people from experiencing the joy and fascination that comes with learning permaculture. So I’m doing something about it.
Here you’ll find suggestions for learning permaculture for free, and also for finding ways to fund your permaculture education. I only make suggestions based on what I, myself have done and continue to do.
I hope you enjoy the work, and thanks for being here,
7 ways to learn permaculture for free
1. Enroll in our yearlong online permaculture course.
Designed specifically for folks who don't have a lot of time or money, this course will give you one bite-sized class per week for a full year, taking you step-by-step through a permaculture design process, focused on your own home, garden, and community. Check it out at
www.freepermaculturecourse.com. Tell all your friends!
I know, this is so obvious. And you already know there are a bunch of amazing permaculture books that you can get at the library. But did you know you can download a ton of excellent reading material, including some full-text PDFs of the best books about permaculture? Ok maybe you know that too. But where do you start? It’s overwhelming.
To help cut out the noise, I’ve selected a handful of super-value texts to get you started.
3. Form a study group.
Food Not Lawns was born out of the “Sustainable Horticulture” study group we had going at our house in Eugene. We met up every week and discussed texts--like a book club, but with more dirt! We often had our meetings in somebody’s garden, where we could discuss ideas while pulling weeds. Stacking functions! Now that we have the internet, there are so many excellent study groups online. Again, it’s overwhelming, and some of the Facebook permaculture groups aren’t really that helpful. (In fact, as bizarre as it seems, several of the largest Facebook permaculture groups are run by internet trolls, unfortunately! So be careful!)
Here are the ones I recommend (and help moderate!)
4. Find a local mentor.
If there is someone in your community whose work you admire, approach them and volunteer to help. We can learn so much from help each other, and through respecting and seeking out the wisdom of our elders.
And, if you are are a wise elder, consider looking for an young’un to pass your skills on to.
Maybe you know alot about something besides permaculture, but you want to learn permaculture? How about setting up a skillshare with somebody?
Most of the permaculture teachers I know LOVE doing exchanges like this. If you can’t think of anyone in your own area, start hanging out at the farmer’s market. Or, check out our faculty and see if one of those folks inspires you to reach out.
5. Trial and error.
This one is obvious too, but it cannot be overstated. You can take a dozen expensive design courses and still have no idea what you’re talking about. You have to get out there and start designing! Beyond designing, it’s important that you get dirty and do some serious implementation. Only through years of hard-won experiential knowledge will you ever truly master the fine art and science of permaculture design.
The good news is, implementing permaculture design projects is pretty much the funnest thing ever! This #freepermaculture blog is packed full of hands-on ideas to help you find new ways to get your hands dirty with permaculture. Type any keyword into the search box and see what you find!
6. Raise funds in your community to do a Permaculture Design Certification Course together.
In 2001 the Food Not Lawns collective raised enough money to pay Toby Hemenway and Jude Hobbs to teach a permaculture course for our whole neighborhood. It wasn’t very hard to raise up the money, and the results were completely awesome.
Ok, I know this whole article is supposed to be about learning permaculture without having to attend an expensive design course. And I’m a very critical, skeptical person myself. But I have to say, a good permaculture design course, taught by knowledgeable people who have taken the time to learn not just how to do permaculture but also how to teach it...well it can completely change your life.
And there are ways to pay for it. I’ve known tons of students who did a gofundme with friends and family to come up with tuition money, offering the reward of teaching free workshops to funders afterwards.
Others, like myself, leveraged existing community projects to get funding from the local municipality. Back in 2001, after two years of being super visible and growing gorgeous gardens all over the neighborhood, Food Not Lawns got a grant from the City of Eugene to pay Jude Hobbs and Toby Hemenway to do a 72-hour certification course for myself and twenty neighbors. It was awesome!
Most cities have little bits of funding for stuff like this, and if you frame it right, you can raise money to hire top-quality teachers and still be able to offer training for free to yourself and your friends.
What I am saying is: think outside the box!
You’re a designer now, you can do this.
That being said, I recognize that not everybody has access to the time and resources to attend a PDC, regardless of the cost. Not everybody can get ten whole days (plus travel time) to go to an immersion course.
So, just in case you didn’t already know, I’ve collaborated with 40 women to create a low-cost, go at your own pace online permaculture design course that includes an extra certification in advanced social systems design.
We offer the entire first module for free, PLUS, we offer discounts for survivors of abuse and for women of color, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need support and want to get serious about becoming a certified permaculture designer.
7. Write for the #freepermaculture blog.
This blog is a hub of skills, resources, and information, brought to you by a collaboration of some of the brightest minds in the movement, and it might just help save the world.
And, as you learn, what better way to solidify your knowledge than by writing about your experiments?!?
We’d love to feature you on our blog and get to know you better through your designs. So, if you fancy yourself a writer, come on! And if you already have your own blog, I’d love to do a guest post there as well.
Also, connect with me directly if you’d like to do a writing work-trade for a partial tuition waiver in our online permaculture design course.
And check out this program for Permaculture Women Writers. It’s not free, but it’s focused on helping you turn your garden writing into a cash crop!
P.S. Does the idea of writing for publication terrify you?
If it helps, I can share that when I wrote Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, I had never published a single article! And honestly, sometimes I cringe when I read my writing in that old book (it was published back in ‘06), but it has changed a lot of people’s lives and empowered them to grow food and build community, so I am glad I pushed through the apprehension and just shared what I had with the world. And now that I’ve spent the last 13 years honing my professional skills as a writer, we’re doing a new revised edition! It’s due out in Spring 2021.
Alrighty? I hope that’s enough to keep you busy, and if not, then check out more resources for learning permaculture for free, right here.
by Lucie Bardos.
When we look at permaculture and economics we can expand and explore what it means to participate in economic exchange and rethink our economies.
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.
The Roots of Permaculture and Economics
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 and economics through 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.
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 #permacultureandeconomics #cooperatives
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.
Appropriate Technology For 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 for cooking and food storage 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 Appropriate Technology For 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.
#appropriatetechnologyforcookingandfoodstorage #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #blanketbox #reduceconsumption
with Mandy Merklein
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
We love food. Let's make sure it doesn't get wasted! In this mini class we’ll look at how gardening cuts down on waste and ways to eliminate waste while gardening.
By growing your own food, you can cut down immensely on many forms of waste. This is true throughout the whole cycle from seed to plate and back into the garden. What waste can be avoided by simply growing tea herbs and sprouts on a windowsill or in the garden?
Here are just a few ways gardening reduces waste:
Here are some more ways to reduce waste in your food system:
Take a look at your garden set up and think about ways you could be closing the loop to create no waste. Create a repurposing project such as using toilet paper rolls to grow your starters. Make a worm bin or compost for organic waste, i.e. food scraps etc. Invite friends/family to help. Document. Extend the idea of repurposing and not wasting into other areas of your life.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Waste, There's No Such Thing As Waste module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Mandy Merklein.
Mandy Merklein studied permaculture for her thesis in environmental studies at Wells College. She has worked as a field biologist and environmental consultant in the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, Pacific Northwest, South Pacific, South America and Europe. She currently lives in Mallorca, Spain. Mandy received her PDC from Darren Doherty, and her teaching certification from Rosemary Morrow. She is a founding and active member of Permacultura Mediterranea (PermaMed.org), Youth in Permaculture, Gaia Youth, Community and Ecology Resources LLC, and Escola Kumar, a permaculture education demonstration site, where she lives, practices, and shares permaculture with her family, friends and students.
Further reading on this topic:
Harland, Maddy. Fertile Edges. Permanent Publications- 2017. Harland is co-founder and editor of Permaculture International magazine. This book covers a wide range of topics including regenerative culture, earth restoration and social permaculture.
Shiva, Vanadana. Seed Sovereignty, Food Security. Women in the Vanguard of the Fight against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture: North Atlantic Books. 2016. An anthology of women writers on protecting seed biodiversity and food.
#waste #compost #repurpose #sharetheharvest #permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #zerowastepermaculturegarden
Most of the challenges we face in the world today, including climate change, diminishing resources, loss of biodiversity, food and water shortages, are the result of the wasteful practices of our modern society. Clever technologies conveniently remove the burden of dealing with the consequences of waste by distancing us from them, at least temporally. But invariably the impacts just cycle back somewhere or sometime else, often dumped on future generations. Tossed plastics don’t just disappear in the dump, the carbon dioxide from our industry and cars reaches out to the poles, waste cycles back to us, because we are part of a closed system, a beautifully complex web of connecting and cycling feedback loops. The impact of wastefulness goes beyond the material costs, something more profound is lost; the gift of wisdom that comes from insight that these feedback cycles offered us, an awareness of the value of our interconnection.
More and more people are joining a movement for a different kind of society, one based on the same ethics that guide permaculture; care for the people, the earth and future generations. People are claiming back their lives from mindless consumerism, debt, and wastefulness, to a life of awareness, self reliance, community and enjoying quality time. Taking practical personal steps, can be empowering in our own lives and lead to wider community level change, that ultimately leads to a profound cultural shift. In many communities such change is already in motion.
Towards a Zero Waste Lifestyle
Here are Twelve+ Rs to help guide you on your way to cutting down on waste and moving towards a zero waste lifestyle. It may seem a simple goal, but it can be eye opening, and have surprising repercussions in all aspects of your life. While acting in your own life, you will be joining with other people all around the world, participating in becoming part of the positive solution to the bigger global challenges facing all of us.
Refuse: To cut down on waste-simply refuse to receive unnecessary items (even if they are free) or buy stuff that is not reusable, compostable or recyclable. Say no to plastic bottles, and bags, to package goods, to unnecessary items like junk mail, and stuff with high embedded costs. What we don’t take we don’t waste. There are movements like the Voluntary Simplicity Movement and Minimalism that aspire to cut back on waste. As the name implies the Zero Waste Movement takes it one step further-reducing waste to particularly zero.
Reduce: We can reduce what we do bring into our lives. Declutter. Conserve. Simply buy, own, and use less; water, fossil fuel based energy, chemicals, appliances, and stuff in general, etc. Lift the burden of stuff off your back and livelihood. Reduce what you thought you needed to own, clean, maintain, and replace. Step lightly into a new life where you accumulate less stuff and appreciate what you have.
Repair: Fix things rather than tossing them and buying new ones. Buy things you can fix. For example Fairphones is making phones with parts that can be replaced when broken so the whole device does not need to be tossed. People are coming together in “repair cafes”, where they can share repair skills so items can be fixed and reused.
Reuse: Buy second hand when you can: clothes, furniture, appliances… everything. When you are done with something, give it a new home rather than throwing it away or even recycling it. When you buy, buy things that are well made and will last, that can be reused for generations. I still wear my dads old shirts that are about 30 years old and my 25 year old bike still works great. Antique furniture is cool and valuable and can often be found inexpensively at swap sales and flea markets — IKEA just doesn’t make things like that now.
Plus, used items can be passed on with a story of care and respect. Reuse is not limited to stuff. For example greywater can often be reused through a simple design to water trees. Using your imagination and permaculture design many items can be creatively reused multiple times.
Repurpose and Upcycling: Here is where people get really creative; turn pallets into furniture, a cigar box into a guitar, cut wine and beer bottles in half to make drinking glasses. There is a whole movement of reusing spent cooking oil to run cars. If you like crocheting, you can take 500 plastic bags like my sister Nina did, and crochet them into a bigger, stronger, better bag. People are building whole houses with “junk”, using everything from tires to plastic bottles (check out the earthship movement). You can make beautiful art, musical instruments, new clothes from old ones, old clothes into other useful stuff, (felting old sweaters into blankets). The examples are endless. Be creative, have friends help, throw an upcycling party.
Regenerate: Compost organic waste in worm bins, backyard compost piles or through community composting programs to regenerate soils. Your organic waste problems become the solution. When you do buy, try to buy items that are compostable such as paper packaging rather than plastic. Buy clothes made from organic cotton, bamboo, or wool rather than polyester. Consider what items are made of, and choose biodegradable wherever possible.
Recycling: Is what you do, only if you can’t do the other R’s. It’s a last resort and it has to be done right otherwise it’s just “wishful” recycling. If we toss recyclables improperly into the bin like people do with garbage that’s what it might become. You may need to wash off food, separate by type, and bring things you want to recycle to certain drop sites. If you do buy, buy things made from recycled materials. Our plastic bucket is made from recycled plastic, the paper I print on is recycled paper. Buying recycled products reduces the extraction of more raw materials and helps close the loop for materials that are non biodegradable like plastics.
Rethink: Is there another way to get this item rather than buying it, even if its recycled? Could I borrow it? Lend it? Swap it? Share it ? Communal ownership of tools, bikes, cars, land, homes, boats, washing machines and more.. is an example of rethinking consumerism. Here is another opportunity for creativity and building community. Our reliance on brain numbing convenience has really taken a lot of creatively and fun out of collaborating and sharing. And it’s not limited to stuff; transportation, services, work, projects, meals…all these activities, when shared, can build relationship webs of interdependence that create vibrant and caring communities.
Redesign and reinvest: Innovators and regenerative product designers that are inspired by natural cycles have created a circular economy movement in which long-lasting product design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling are encouraged and rewarded. Taking it even further economists such as Kate Raworth, in her book “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist”, suggests we redesign our economy so it is based on earth and people care instead of one based on endless growth where costs are externalized. We can support these movements politically and as investors and consumers. Reinvest your money in your community and where your values are. More and more people are turning to alternative value base currencies.
Resource and resilience: Reduce your waste resource footprint and create a more resilient lifestyle by growing and making your own resources. Growing some of your own food and herbs, even in small quantities, will lower your waste footprint. What you can’t grow resource locally at farmer markets, thereby reducing waste from transport and packaging. You can also resource your own toothpaste, shampoo and cleaning products using a few simple organic ingredients that are biodegradable and need no packaging. (The Internet has loads of recipes. I can pretty much take care of all of these with a kit of vinegar, baking soda, white clay, citrus peels, olive oil, and a bit of homemade soap).
Relax, reflect, and recharge: Wastefulness is often the result of a rushed, over-extended lifestyle. Slow down. Take time to remember do things the way you want to, smell the flowers, play, reach out to friends, and act with care. It is indeed a shame to waste life’s gifts of time, opportunities, and people.
Recognize, revere, and reward: The opposite of being wasteful, could be described as recognizing and appreciating what life offers us. The twelve +Rs can become a part of our daily practice that reflects and builds on our values to cherish life. From this orientation we are simply less likely to make choices that lead to waste. And more likely to recognize and enjoy what we have, in our lives, communities and the world. Our collective actions can reclaim a shared reverence for life. Acting together we can co-create deeply rewarding feedback loops.
Want to learn more and join a vibrant community on this path? The Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course, created by 40 international and expert co-facilitators offers a unique, meaningful, and in depth learning experience for people wanting to take part in creating a more resilient and sustainable future, click on this link for the complete information.
#waste #repurpose #minimalism #zerowastemovement #permaculture #zerowastelifestyle #permaculturewomen
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
with Ridhi D’Cruz
Excerpted from our double certificate design course
We often think about permaculture as the noble practice of regenerative land management. But as I’ve walked this path, I have also realised that collaborating with land is a source of deep healing for people that is differently accessible to people. For healthy human and ecological communities then, we must look at the barriers of access to land and creative solutions to equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.
Some groundbreaking work that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in is my work in Portland with City Repair. We work hard to increase opportunities for stewarding land in urban areas in unconventional ways. City Repair has facilitated over 500 projects in the public right-of-way, or on private land but for public benefit, through education all over the city of Portland. In this way we are able to cater to both landowners and renters. Projects have included over 50 intersection paintings, over two dozen earthen buildings and various gardens.
The main idea behind these projects is to revive the urban commons by reclaiming street intersections with public art, ecological landscaping, earthen buildings and other community amenities that invite hyper local community building and resilience. These projects are scalable to meet the needs, desires and capacities of the communities themselves. In fact, project proposals come from the communities, and City Repair just supports these initiatives with our experience and social capital.
We focus on the commons because it is an integral piece of a regenerative culture that often gets lost in big cities. In most of contemporary society, economic capital is valued so much more than social and ecological capital that we often make decisions that fray the complex web of relations that support a healthy place. Our creative placemaking initiatives are an attempt at physically and psychologically re-patterning cities with a more sustainable culture by giving people the opportunity to have power in their places irrespective of whether or not they ‘own’ it.
People have gone on to make various community amenities including cob ovens, benches and kiosks, permaculture gardens from parking strips to community orchards, little free libraries and intersection paintings that tell the unique story of that place and its inhabitants.
The Urban Commons
The Dialogue Dome cob bench in the background is one of the main reasons I ended up choosing to pursue my Masters degree at Portland State University (PSU). There is something profoundly powerful about an earthen building in a public space in the middle of downtown Portland, adjacent to our student union building. This picture was taken at the end of the Village Building Convergence (VBC) 2014, where the last day of the 10-day urban permaculture festival was hosted by us students at our cob oven just to the right. Due to fire-related issues, the cob oven was removed in 2017.-- Photo by passerby, 2014.
A colleague at the Student Sustainability Center (formerly the Sustainability Leadership Center) had worked out an agreement with our State Department of Transportation via the Adopt a Highway Program. We made an agreement to steward the strangely triangular shaped plot of land adjacent to the freeway as a community orchard and gathering place. For our opening of the space, we inoculated mycelium into cardboard and embedded them into the soil. Photo taken by campus photographer, 2011.
We hosted a VBC placemaking site at PSU and built a Peace on Earthbench in our new community orchard. The site has had challenges in terms of activity with transient folks that we are still trying to work out. My dream is to integrate a program that includes transient people into the site’s stewardship, turning a problem into a solution..
This parking strip food forest designed by fellow permaculturalist Marisha Auerbach has transformed my understanding of urban food production. We collaborated with our sister organization Communitecture, and harvested pounds upon pounds of fresh delicious fruit every summer when we were renting our shared office space there.-- Photo by passerby, 2016.
In 2017, we won a grant through the Bureau of Environmental Services to install pollinator-friendly species on parking strips adjacent to intersection repairs. This is a picture of us installing a pollinator parking strip at SE 11 & Clatsop by Ayomide’s rental home. With limited financial resources and as a renter, these small interventions substantially impact the lives of our community members.-- Photo by one of our City Repair volunteers, 2017.
First created at our campus garden is the Grazing Garden, adjacent to the cob oven and dialogue dome on campus. This public altar was the culmination of us reviving the garden after it had been lying dormant for a few years. One of the biggest challenges with the commons is creating a resilient culture of stewardship that maintains its health along with the neighboring communities’ health.
Painting the street outside my current residence, Portland’s second mid-block street painting. The mid-block painting was an amendment we made in 2015 to our intersection painting ordinance from 1996 to ensure that one of our community members was able to breathe life into the vision of her community.-- Photo by Ridhi D’Cruz, 2015.
A suggestion for how you could tend the Commons in your area would be to volunteer with an ecological restoration project including: water commons (river/beach clean up), nature commons (invasive species removal in a park), food commons (work parties at community orchards/ food forests).
This miniclass is excerpted from the Placemaking module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Ridhi D'Cruz.
Ridhi D’Cruz is one of three co-Executive Directors of City Repair, a Portland, Oregon based nonprofit working on community development, permaculture and urban design. As an intercontinental cross-pollinator, sociocultural anthropologist, and permaculture educator who has been living in Portland since 2010, Ridhi participates, facilitates, and supports various initiatives in the areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Placemaking, Capacity Building, Houseless Advocacy, Native American Allyship, Cultural Sustainability, and Social Permaculture. She is also a passionate herbalist, urban wildcrafter, natural building and participatory technology enthusiast, animal lover, and urban permaculture homesteader.
You can reach her at email@example.com
Further reading on this topic:
Kaddachi, Aurore and Sapru, Tanviya. Vruksha: Bangalore’s tree doctor is determined to save the ‘Garden City’ of India.
Citi Io. Our Modern Grid Design for Cities: Not so modern after all.
#urbancommons #urbanpermaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen
#streetpainting #foodforest #foodnotlawns
Permaculture is about designing the world we want while acknowledging the realities of the world we live in.
I love so many aspects of permaculture: the delicious food produced by permaculture gardeners, the sense of global and local community it fosters, the sustainable changes it has supported me to make in my life and the beauty in the nature it helps me see. At a more pragmatic level I also know that permaculture gives individuals, households and communities the tools, attitudes and skills we need to design abundant, inclusive and resilient futures.
This mix of sustainability and resilience is one of the delightfully simple, yet complex aspects of permaculture. A well-designed and managed permaculture system will be resource efficient, productive and may well sequester greenhouse gases, but it will also be a resilient system better able to deal with the inevitable effects of climate change such as natural disasters like floods or wildfire.
The potential for disasters happen when systems can not handle extremes or cumulative stress. One week of limited spending may be a challenge for some of us, but a medical bill on top of long-term debt and structural poverty may force many families into homelessness. Water is essential for life, but the extremes of either drought or flood-causing torrential rain can cause havoc in both natural and human systems.
Designing land, the built environment, lifestyles, livelihoods and organisations to deal with extremes as well as everyday conditions is essential for resilience. Resilience is the ability of a system to handle change. There are many ways in which permaculture design and practice supports resilience. In order for designers to design for resilience, they first need to understand what extremes are most likely to have an impact on a site. This is why careful observation and sector analysis is so important for a successful project.
In this video from the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course I get really excited about sector analysis and visualised data like wind roses. Then again, I am really excited about permaculture and regenerative design in general.
Sector Analysis and Permaculture Design
Sector analysis is a critical tool for visually representing observations about identifying how a site may be affected by the “sectors” or the external forces and elements that move through or otherwise influence a project. The sectors recorded can be related to effects on the site caused by climate, ecology, geology, topography and society. For example sun paths, wind and rain patterns, invasive plants, wildlife, pollution, neighbours, areas of high fire threat, views and noise could all be recorded on a sector analysis map.
Sectors are often represented as labelled wedges, arcs or arrows representing the origin and direction of the element. However, rocky areas, contaminated soil, boggy land, or areas of flood risk are better represented as location specific patches over a base map. Some uncontrollable issues such as geological instability or limiting factors such as legal restrictions are harder to represent visually and are best recorded in writing.
In the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course (PWGPDC) my colleague Jennifer English Morgan introduces the idea of Designer’s Mind. One aspect of developing Designer’s Mind is about making observations free of bias. We use Designer’s Mind when making a sector analysis as the forces we record can be both beneficial or harmful. For example knowing that dry summer winds come from the east of a site helps identify the best place to locate a laundry line or to hang produce for drying. At the same time that drying wind will quickly evaporate water from soil as well as dams or ponds. This information guides the placement of windbreak plantings or hedges on the eastern side to moderate the impact of the wind and reduce evaporation.
Used together with permaculture design tools such as zone analysis, sector analysis helps guide the placement of components so that they make best use of, or mitigate the risks of that sector. Sector analysis influences which zones are placed where, but at the same time, zones influence the strategies used to respond to external forces. In outer zones such as 3 or 4, lower cost, less energy demanding solutions such as windbreak plantings are used to slow the wind. Closer to the home more intensive solutions such as walls or use of gray water might be used to protect water-demanding plants, animals and people from a drying wind.
Permaculture designers make a sector analysis for every design project whether it is a farm, balcony garden or community project. Within larger designs, major subsystems such as high intensity vegetable beds may also benefit from their own sector analysis that includes smaller scale micro-climate influences like the impact of trees casting shade.
Working on sector analysis is a great way to review and incorporate the ideas from Permaculture Design Course modules on climate, ecology, water, earthworks, soil and passive solar building design. Knowing how and why to make a sector analysis is a first step in designing mitigation approaches for the major extremes whether they be fire, flood, drought or legal challenges.
In the PWGPDC I present an in-depth module on Designing for Resilience: Chaos and Catastrophe. I consider the social and structural conditions that make people more vulnerable to disaster as well as the design approaches we can use to make our sites safer. My final Masters project explored how natural hazards are dealt with by permaculture designers and teachers and my results showed that “designing for catastrophe” is currently focused on the physical aspects of disasters rather than the people care aspects that increase coping capacity.
Originally published at makingspecial.org on May 9, 2018.
Pippa Buchanan (MSc SA) is an Australian born resilience and sustainability educator, facilitator and urban permaculturist based in Austria. Her focus is on supporting and facilitating social learning processes which assist individuals, communities and organisations to develop ecologically sound futures and adapt to climate change impacts. She draws on permaculture design, systems thinking, informal education theories, future scenario development and facilitation approaches such as Art of Hosting in her work.
#designforresilience #designforcatastrophe #disasters #permaculturewomen #sectoranalysisandpermaculturedesign
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: Permaculture and Economics
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.
Lack of access to land is often raised as a barrier to participation in permaculture. Land ownership in North America — both rural and urban — is prohibitively expensive for many people but many permaculture practices are based on land ownership including the creation of perennial gardens, the growing of food forests, major earthworks such as berms and swales and the building of cob structures.
In cities, where public land can be highly contested, the acquiring of public or private land for communal projects often requires sustained activist campaigns that are grounded in an understanding of the complex connections between urban land and race, class, and gender. Land in the city tends to be very expensive and zoning rules mean that some practices may be forbidden in certain parts of the city (example: animals considered ‘livestock’).
Although access to land for urban agriculture projects can be an obstacle, people have found a variety of creative ways to overcome this barrier.
Accessing public land
Cities contain a lot of public land — more so than in rural areas. Many community gardens are hosted on public , or publicly accessible, land. Sometimes community gardens have rules or guidelines that restrict some permaculture techniques, for example, not allowing the planting of perennials or shrubs. You can approach this in a couple of ways, you can work with the city department or organization that oversees the garden to change the rules, or you can plant what you want and beg for forgiveness. Both approaches can work. If you plant what you want in your garden plot, I advise you to be mindful of your neighbours and not plant overly opportunistic plants such as comfrey or mint.
Additionally, there are growing movements around the world for public food forests, community farms and collective apiaries. Collective projects in public spaces can be an important way to begin to reclaim the commons and can help to disrupt the concept of private property. This is an important part of beginning to grapple with what it means to decolonize our cities.
We can begin to shift our language and practice from one of ownership of land to one of care-taking and attachment. I have found it very useful to, while retaining my community activism and grassroots organizing, find some allies within city governments whether that be staff or city councillors.
Community land trusts
There has been a growing movement for community growing projects on private land (such as vacant lots, private land with short-term leases, or, in some cases, public land with short term leases) to be turned into community land trusts. Many of the community gardens in New York City that were set to be destroyed in the 1990s were saved by a community land trust. This can still bring up some tricky issues about who has the right to control that land.
If the land trusts are larger non-profits with a lot of paid staff, there can still be a disconnect to and with the creators of the project. Don’t be discouraged though! There are many examples of grassroots land trust projects that value and practice participatory democracy.
Sharing other people’s ‘property’
There are many instances of people who have property sharing it with people who don’t for urban agriculture and urban permaculture projects. Sometimes this is done between strangers, using a website that matches them. More often it involves friends, family, and neighbours engaging in the kind of sharing that is a cornerstone of a connected community. It can be awkward to approach a neighbour, acquaintance, or even a friend about using their land for a project.
As Heather Jo Flores suggests, “Go on, go over there, bring some seeds and a smile, and ask!” Even after they say yes, it means delicately negotiating some sort of mutually beneficial agreement about how the land will be used, by whom, and for how long.
This is another reason why social permaculture is so crucial, and potentially amazing. You might not get the answer you want but you might find the possibilities for collaboration and creativity to be even greater than you hoped.
Accepting temporary access
As mentioned above, sometimes people can only get temporary access to land in cities. They may be renting their apartment or home, or a community project may only be given a temporary lease. It can be helpful to think of your project/design as part of a larger urban ecosystem.
As Flores beautifully points out in Food not Lawns, “Growing ecological gardens, wherever you can, is never a waste of time. Nothing lasts forever, and if you can get a few baskets of food without damaging the environment, and perhaps leave behind some long-living fruit trees, then the larger ecological community will surely benefit from your labors. If you can do these things while also educating others, then your work will succeed many times over” (p. 24).
While your project may be temporary, it may have long-lasting positive effects about which you may never fully know. For example, maybe your temporary project inspired a community activist to create a similar project in another part of the city. Or maybe your pollinator garden, although only in existence for the time you rented your house, helped a species of native bee to thrive in your neighbourhood. Or, maybe you gained skills in permaculture design that you were able to use to create a future, more permanent space. I encourage you to not be daunted or discouraged by temporary access to land.
Gardening in containers
If you don’t have ground in which to plant, consider container gardening. It utilizes permaculture principles beautifully because an important aspect of urban permaculture is knowing how to create small, intensive projects. The best part of container gardening is that if you rent your home or apartment, you can take your garden with you! For years a productive gooseberry bush in a container moved with me.
Many now established gardens got their start as guerilla gardens, i.e. people gardening on land without permission of the landowner. This is often done in vacant lots but people have also planted fruit trees in public parks and put garden baskets on public streetscapes. These projects may become permanent or they may be destroyed but they have several benefits. One, they add to ecological health and biodiversity for as long as they exist and two, they encourage people to ask challenging and critical questions about city design and the food system.
One word of caution: in order to not replicate racism and/or classism, I recommend that you guerilla garden in your own neighbourhood. Sometimes well meaning people try to initiate urban agriculture or permaculture projects in neighbourhoods that are not their own and may, unwittingly or not, be part of marginalizing or alienating people in that community.
Don’t decide for others what they need: focus on the communities in which you are already well-integrated and then work in solidarity with other communities and neighbourhood.
These strategies for accessing land in cities may seem time-consuming especially the ones that require working together with other people. But the process of engaging with these strategies may lead to rewards greater than gaining access to land.
You may find that you create a more connected neighbourhood in the process, make new friends, gain valuable interpersonal and organizing skills, and/or increase your knowledge about growing plants in tricky spaces. You might find, as I have, that even when you gain permanent access to private land you still seek out and organize collective initiatives in your community because of the abundance and joy it brings to your life.
A note about polluted land
As a general rule, do not establish a garden near a railway line or on land known to contain lead, other heavy metals, or a concentration of chemicals (such as a former garbage dump).
If you are in doubt, you have a few options. One, is to have your soil tested. This can be costly but some cities are devising ways to allow residents to test soil for free or at low cost.
Another option is to build raised beds on top of contaminated soil, with a barrier between the original soil and the added soil. Lastly, you can explore bioremediation especially with plants that are dynamic accumulators and with mushrooms. A warning, it is hard to remove lead and some very toxic chemicals from soil in this way.
Flores, Heather. Food not Lawns: How to run your yard into a garden and your neighbourhood into a community. Chelsea Green, 2006
I am a permaculture educator, feminist and social activist in London, ON, Canada. I am currently a PhD candidate in Geography at Western University, where I study the relationship between people and bees in cities. My M.A. in Anthropology, also at Western University, focused on gentrification and belonging in a community garden in Toronto. I live in a suburban permaculture sanctuary with my family, two dogs, three cats, two bunnies, and thousands of gorgeous, busy bees. I maintain the blog Permaculture for the People.
Want to know more?
I am so excited to be teaching urban permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught exclusively by women. If you would like to know more or would like to have me as your permaculture design reviewer, please check out my blog and get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#guerrillagardening #urbanpermaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns #decolonization #containergardening
Water is the most essential element to life on earth. Take a moment and really let that sink in. Do your everyday practices demonstrate a reverence for this finite resource? The permaculture design process can help you protect and care for the water in your life and community.
It can also ease the irrigation burden in your food-producing systems.
When you’ve managed water well, whether in your home, garden, or community, other elements in the system will come alive. Now that’s powerful.
Water: The Most Revered Element on Earth?
For many of us, clean water comes directly from a tap in an instant. Because of this, it’s easy to forget how finite this resource is, and how our practices regarding water may be unsustainable.
Upon further inspection, one realizes there is not a single organism on earth that can live without it. Good thing we’re living on the Blue Planet, right?
Well, the truth may shock you. It turns out that only .5% (!) of all water on earth is freshwater, available to us. Much of the rest is locked in ice or deep in the earth’s crust. In other words, our most precious and important resource is amazingly finite.
For this reason, most native peoples have traditionally honored this element’s sacredness. When your life is closely entwined with — and dependent on — access to clean water, you protect it, rejoice, and give thanks for its presence.
Modern civilization on the other hand, has become disconnected to water’s sacredness due in large part to the convenience of modern systems.
Less than 200 years ago, modern indoor plumbing hit the scene. This highly engineered system brings water efficiently to each household. However, it also sends away water that was used only once faster than it came.
When people become intrigued by permaculture design, they usually expect to learn how to apply permaculture principles to a landscape. In truth, when we cultivate a relationship with water, our actions can benefit much more than a single landscape. While our gardens may be more resilient and robust with permaculture design, so, too, can our local watershed and ecology.
Permaculture design allows us to think about our place within the system as a whole. In this article we’ll check out ways to become better stewards of water in all areas of life.
Looking in the Mirror: Personal Water Use
Part of the permaculture design process is looking to see where resources are being lost or wasted.
The average American uses 1200 gallons of water per day. In the U.S. alone, vast underground aquifers that have taken more than 2 million years to develop, are depleting faster than they can be replenished. This is largely because of consumer habits and a lack of reverence for water.
Are you wondering what you can do to better care for this wasted resource in your personal life? From eating organic food to eschewing packaged foods, these 10 tips can help.
In the western world especially, we must find ways to respect and conserve this vital resource, as if our lives depended on it, because they do!
Closing the Loop in the Home Water Cycle
The typical pathway for water in a municipal system is this: Clean water is pumped into the home. It’s used only once before it is whisked away again to the municipal treatment plant for cleaning. This is a very energy intensive cycle to filtrate, pump, and collect waste water that so quickly enters and leaves the home.
An ecological home water cycle, on the other hand, seeks to retain and recycle water onsite whenever possible. For example, greywater — the used water from sinks, showers, and washing machines — can potentially be used in the landscape.
While this might seem unsanitary, in fact, soil organisms are pretty efficient at filtering and sanitizing. Utilizing greywater onsite is quite possibly the next frontier — after recycling and composting — for reducing household waste.
Seeking out ways to utilize greywater helps us to be more mindful of both water use and water cleanliness. When I know water is headed for my garden rather than to the municipal treatment plant, I’m more mindful of what I add to the water.
If you would like to explore ways to take advantage of greywater to connect the inside of your home with your landscape, or other sustainable water topics, check out the wealth of information and ideas at GreywaterAction.org.
Take advantage of these water opportunities so you can conserve water, reduce pollution and the strain on sewer systems, add fertility to the garden, and create a dynamic, living water cycle within the home that is integrated with the landscape.
Let’s look outside and see how you can design a landscape that respects and cares for water.
What’s Your Local Watershed Got To Do With It?
It is essential to know where a landscape is situated within its local watershed in order to apply permaculture design to the site. A single landscape is just one part of a larger system, and our goal is to support regenerative ecosystems as a whole.
Understanding how water moves throughout a watershed helps you to visualize where water is being wasted in the landscape. Armed with this knowledge, you can find appropriate ways to manage it.
Try this exercise:
Look at the water that comes in and out of a landscape.
Where does it come from?
Is the source clean or polluted?
When it leaves a site, where does it go?
When you think about your landscape as part of a whole watershed, you can look for ways to conserve water and maintain water purity.
Permaculture Water Design
Conserving Water in the Productive Landscape
Observe where water is being lost or wasted in a garden. Armed with this knowledge, you can look for smart ways to make the system more robust and interconnected. Sometimes the solution is as straightforward as building soil, mulching appropriately, or routing a downspout so that it discharges in the garden as passive irrigation.
Other times, the solution is more involved. For example, earthworks are man-made structures that change the topography of the land in order to direct and manage water. On some sites, the goal will be to redirect excess water, while on other sites earthworks encourage infiltration.
The permaculture design process can help you assess a landscape for its particular qualities and find ways to manage water appropriately.
The water that falls or collects on a site is a precious resource. In a permaculture water design, the aim is to use water as many times as possible before it passes out of the system and to send only clean water into your local watershed.
Seek Out Native and Local Water Wisdom
Dr. Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu was working as a consultant for the World Bank in Washington, D.C. One day, she overheard her boss complaining about an irrigation project that had cost millions of dollars to build. The solution in the Republic of Niger was falling far short of its intended goals to bring irrigation to crops. Of course, irrigation is essential for agriculture in this region that is 75% parched desert.
Meanwhile, a traditional irrigation method in the region, called tassa, demonstrated glowing results. Plots of land growing millet using the tassamethod were 98% more productive than plots of land not using the method. That’s an incredible increase in productivity using a hand-dug technique! Watch Dr. Ezeanya-Esiobu’s TED Talk here.
These results are encouraging, but not surprising. After all, native techniques tend to be low-tech, low-cost, and work with the land to produce a lasting and water-wise solution.
You might find yourself aghast at the wastefulness and over-engineering of the World Bank solution and its disconnect with the local ecology and people. It’s easy to judge that which is removed from our own experience. As such, when we circle back to our own bioregion of the world, we must be vigilant about solutions that are disconnected from the qualities and needs of a landscape or community.
Remember the over-engineered municipal water system that sends filtered water all the way to your home to be used only once before being disposed of as waste? Learn to discover where resources are being lost and seek out specific strategies that match the needs of a site. Why invent the wheel when there may be an appropriate, low-tech solution right under your nose?
Design with water in mind, and you’ll observe a powerful, integrated system (whether in your home, garden, or community) come to life.
Would you like to learn more?
Read more of my writing about creating regenerative food-producing systems on my website, TenthAcreFarm.com.
I'm also on the faculty for the Women’s Permaculture Guild Online Permaculture Design Course. In this one-of-a-kind, self-paced course, you’ll learn from 40 of the world’s sought-after permaculture teachers and designers. If you’ve enjoyed this article, then you’ll enjoy the module I teach about water, as well as the module I co-teach about earthworks.
#permaculturewaterdesign #greywater #designwithwater #waterconservation #permaculturewomen
Shining the spotlight on women writing about permaculture.
Women have a high rate of participation throughout permaculture, but aren't proportionally represented in leadership roles. The spotlight often goes towards men while women who are organizing and farming get overlooked. This can make it more difficult to find the work out there that women have done. In researching this article I was surprised to find that any combination of words I could think to type in around women writers in permaculture found few, or oftentimes no results.
So, to make it easier for everyone to find these excellent resources, I've compiled a list of female authors and their books, some in the permaculture movement, some who may not identify as permaculture designers, but who still wrote important books for self-sufficiency and gardening.
Listed in alphabetical order, by author's last name:
Jenni Blackmore: Permaculture For the Rest of Us: Abundant Living on Less Than an Acre
A very readable, personal account of her twenty years of trial and error farming in Nova Scotia. A great read for anyone who can’t afford a large farm in a sunny climate.
In addition to being a micro-farmer Jenni is also a painter and certified Permaculture Design Consultant. She lives on Quakadoodle Farm.
Catherine Bukowski: The Community Food Forests Handbook
Focusing on how to build and maintain a food forest project when working with a community of people. Focuses on the social aspects of a project and changes that occur in a group from the beginning to the end of a project. More info here.
Novella Carpenter: Farm City
An urban farming memoir set in Oakland that has contains many stories of her raising animals. In 2011 she was told by the city that she would need to close the farm but instead she was eventually able to get a Minor Conditional Use Permit. This allowed her to keep her more than 40 animals and inner city garden. She is currently an adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at the University of San Francisco. Here's her blog.
Robin Clayfield: You Can Have Your Permaculture and Eat it Too
Robin has been teaching permaculture and in particular, the social aspects of permaculture, for more than 20 years. Her playful style complements a serious body of revolutionary work, well respected by fellow permies around the world. Her extensive website is here.
Rosalind Creasy: Edible Landscaping
While this is not technically a permaculture book it does address designing your outdoor landscape with edible plants instead of being only decorative and was highly influential when it was first published in 1982. Her work goes as far back as 1970. She has written several other books and appeared in many publications. Her website is a fantastic resource for edible landscaping tips.
Carol Deppe: The Resilient Gardener
Presents gardening techniques in disaster design, whether the disasters are financial or climate change related. A relevant book for our times. She has two other books, The Tao of Vegetable Gardening and Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties. You can access many of her essays and articles on her website.
Heather Jo Flores: Food Not Lawns
There are more than 50 Food Not Lawns chapters worldwide, mostly due to inspiration from this book. Heather makes the connection between gardening, activism, and community building, as tools for sustainabilty. Food Not Lawns is a great book for the urban dweller as well as country living. Heather also runs this blog and the Permaculture Women’s Guild, which offers an online permaculture design certificate course taught by 40 women. She's a trained teacher and professional writer and offers a series of online classes for women writers who want to use their stories to change culture.
Jackie French: Backyard Self-Sufficiency
Jackie is a self-described "Australian author, ecologist, historian, dyslexic, honourary wombat." She loves writing as much as she loves gardening, and she has written a bunch of books. Learn more here.
Vera Greutink: Edible Paradise
Vera lives on a 1/4 acre plot of land in the Netherlands where she has created her own edible paradise. In this book she shares her no dig permaculture techniques she has used for 15 years. Learn to grow a landscape of herbs, flowers, and vegetables as well as building compost. Also contains a monthly garden job guide.
Maddy Harland: Fertile Edges: Regenerating Land, Culture and Hope
Discusses the potential of use of permaculture principles in society alongside current events. She demonstrates those principles in contrast to the way things are usually done. She is also the editor of Permaculture Magazine.
Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume: Urban Homesteading
Focused on their own hands-on personal experience in an urban environment, this 2011 hands-on exploration connects to an ever-evolving blog, here.
Juliet Kemp: Permaculture in Pots: How to Grow Food in Small Urban Spaces
An excellent reference for anyone who doesn't have good access to land, this book also provides ideas for making best use of vertical space and microclimates. Written in almanac format with a month-by-month list of suggestions. Juliet also writes fiction.
Looby Macnamara: People and Permaculture
This has been a very influential book because it was an early arrival in the discussion of social permaculture, taking permaculture ethics and principals and applying them to our interactions with each other, ourselves, our families and society. It also contains many useful activities. Looby also wrote 7 Ways to Think Differently and is currently working on her next book Activating Cultural Emergence. She also runs Applewood, a 20 acre demonstration and education center.
Rosemary Morrow: Earth Users Guide To Permaculture
This book can be found on most lists for best permaculture books. It is a practical permaculture design guide good for use on whatever sized plot of land you are working with. Contains information on water use, managing pests and wildlife, and much more. Published in 1993 it is older than most books on this list. Rosemary began teaching permaculture in the 1980s and is still travelling all around the world teaching it today.
Trina Moyles: Women Who Dig
Features the stories of women from many different countries and their experiences with farming. Tackles climate change, economics, gender roles and much more. The secondary title is Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World. She also writes fiction and poetry and her non-fiction works have been published in several magazines. You can find more on her here.
Jenny Nazak: Deep Green
The subtitle of this one is "minimize your footprint, maximize your time, wealth, and happiness." Need I say more? Jenny is a long-time permaculture activist, writer, and educator. Find her on FB, here.
Starhawk: The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups
Starhawk has written a ton of excellent books, both fiction and non-fiction, about living in greater harmony with nature. This one is all about social permaculture, and how to navigate the all-too-often debilitating challenges of working with groups. She also teaches permaculture courses that emphasize an earth-based spiritual approach to activism.
Crystal Stevens: Grow, Create, Inspire
This book contains practical step-by-step ways to build the skills to become more self sufficient. Crystal is also the author of Worms At Work. She is an herbalist, a teacher and a regenerative farmer. She is published in many magazines and speaks at conferences.
She lives on a 10 acre farm in Missouri with her husband and two children.
Ruth Stout: No Work Garden Book
Again, not technically a permaculture book but groundbreaking in the organic world. Loved by many, the title says it all. She uses thick mulch to, as she puts it, garden from her couch. You know you want to read this book. She went on to write several more books and magazine columns. She lived from 1884-1980.
Amy Stross: The Suburban Micro Farm
Teaches how to farm effectively with limited land and free time. Her own tenth of an acre micro-farm is a real life example of her writings. You can stay caught up with her micro- farming adventures at TenthAcreFarm.com.
Linda Woodrow: the Permaculture Home Garden
One of the few permaculture gardening books that focuses on sub-tropical climates. Linda Woodrow's "Witches Garden" blog is awesome, and she writes about way more than just permaculture.
Let's work together to bring more support and recognition for these pioneering writers, gardeners, and designers! Share this article, read these books, and also check out these other resources, by and for permaculture women:
#womenwriters #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture #permaculturebookswrittenbywomen
by Heather Jo Flores
Excerpted and revised from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community (Chelsea Green, 2006).
French aristocrats popularized the idea of the green, grassy lawn in the eighteenth century, when they planted the agricultural fields around their estates to grass to send the message that they had more land than they needed and could therefore afford to waste some. Meanwhile, French peasants starved for lack of available farmland, and the resulting frustration might well have had something to do with the French Revolution in 1789.
Americans spend $30 billion every year to maintain over 40 million acres of lawn. Yet over 40 million people live below the poverty level. Even if only ⅓ of every lawn was converted to a food-producing garden, we could eliminate hunger in this country.
The lawns in the United States consume 800 million gallons of fuel every year and about 300 billion gallons of water a week. Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland. These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.
In addition, the pollution emitted from a power mower in just one hour is equal to the amount from a car being driven 350 miles. Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural toxins than industrial farming, making lawns the largest (and most toxic) agricultural sector in the United States.
But it’s not just the residential lawns that are wasted on grass. There are around 700,000 athletic grounds and 14,500 golf courses in the United States, many of which used to be fertile, productive farmland that was lost to developers when the local markets bottomed out. Turf is big business, to the tune of around $45 billion a year.
The University of Georgia has seven turf researchers studying genetics, soil science, plant pathology, nutrient uptake, and insect management. They issue undergraduate degrees in Turf. The turf industry is responsible for a large sector of the biotech (GMO) industry, and much of the genetic modification that is happening in laboratories across the nation is in the name of an eternally green, slow-growing, moss-free lawn.
These huge numbers are overwhelming, but they make the point that lawns are not only an inefficient use of space, water, and money; they are seriously contributing to the rapid degradation of our natural environment. If we truly feel committed to treating the earth and each other with equality and respect, the first place to show it is by how we treat the land on which we live.
It is time to grow food, not lawns! The reasons include reducing pollution, improving the quality of your diet, increasing local food security, beautifying your surroundings and improving your mental and physical health. You will save money, help the planet and enhance your connection with nature, your family and your community.
What have you got to lose besides a few blades of grass?
to learn more about the Food Not Lawns network, find a local chapter, and connect with the online community, visit www.foodnotlawns.com
#growfoodnotlawns #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
by Heather Jo Flores
The number one reason I hear for why people aren't growing food is that they don't have access to garden space.
For people who have their own yard, starting a garden is easy. But for those who don’t have easy access to land, starting a garden takes a little more effort.
In this article we’ll look at how to find places to grow gardens, and how to make the most out of the spaces you find. (This is just the first in several installments on this topic, so subscribe if you don't want to miss anything!)
Ways to Gain Access to Land
1. Use the Neighbor’s Lawn
It may seem odd in our modern American culture, but in other places around the world people frequently share yard and garden space with their neighbors. If you’ve been eyeing that nice sunny lawn next door, dreaming of filling it with fig trees and big red tomatoes, what could it hurt to ask? Go on, go over there, bring some seeds and a smile, and ask!
I have seen spectacular gardens come together when a group of neighbors with adjacent yards take down the fences between their lots and share the land communally. All the ideas in this book are most effective when done in community, with the people who live nearby. This doesn’t mean everyone can’t have their own space to do as they choose—only that the natural ecology is allowed to be more fully inter- connected, without plants, insects, animals, and natural flows having to overcome fences and other human-made obstructions.
2. Rent a Plot in a Community Garden
Many cities have some sort of community garden program. Ask at the local university, Agricultural Extension Service, or gardening store, or just google it!
Most of these programs lease ground from the city and rent out small plots to local gardeners on a seasonal basis. If you can’t find a program locally, consider starting one!
3. Volunteer at a Local Farm or Help Friends with Their Gardens
Most organic farms offer free produce to volunteers, and some will lease you a small plot of your own. This gives you an opportunity to learn from the farmer and access to the farm infrastructure, which includes important resources such as irrigation, seeds, surplus starts, et cetera. Some farms also hire seasonal workers, which can be a great opportunity to spend your summer learning, exercising, and eating fresh produce.
If you can’t find a local farm to work with, volunteer to help your neighbors with their small garden. More options usually reveal themselves as new relationships mature, so build community through voluntary interaction and you won’t be without a garden for long.
4. Garden in Pots and Containers
Most annual vegetables are well suited for container gardening. Even a small patio can hold a few planters—get pots out of a garden center dumpster or use other recycled containers such as sinks, bathtubs, wine barrels, and plastic buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. Try strawberries, car- rots, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, herbs, and salad greens.
Try a self-contained potato garden: Take some chicken wire and make a round cage. Put a layer of thick straw in the bottom and toss some potatoes in. Cover with straw, leaves, or soil, water often, and keep adding more mulch on top as the shoots emerge. Soon you will have a basket full of fresh potatoes.
5. Use the Roof
If you lack patio or yard space but have a flat, accessible roof, consider building raised beds or planter boxes on the roof. There are fabulous rooftop gardens in big cities all over the world, with everything from small containers of herbs and salad greens to large planter boxes filled with trees and perennials. Get creative with the space you have now and better options will unfold later.
6. De-pave Your Sidewalk or Driveway
Rent a concrete cutter or just get together some friends with crowbars and rip out the pavement around your house. It doesn’t take that much work to convert a driveway or parking area into a garden. I have seen several wonderful examples, and the residents didn’t regret the lost pavement for a second. The broken-up pieces—aptly called “urbanite”—work great as stepping- stones or patio pavers or for building raised beds and terraces. Park on the street and enjoy the extra exercise while walking home through your new garden.
You may even want to tear down a whole building, such as a garage full of junk; recycle the junk and building materials, and grow plants instead. I would much rather have a living, edible garden next to my house than a dirty old box full of consumer crap. Think about it—you probably wouldn’t pave over an orchard to build a driveway, so why choose the pavement over the trees just because it’s there now?
7. Grow Food in the Existing Landscape
You don’t have to turn over a big area or even disrupt existing plantings to integrate some food plants. We once rode bikes around town with a big bag of zucchini seeds, planting them wherever we saw a gap in the landscaping. Later we saw big plants in some of the spots and harvested some delicious zucchini! I have also planted fruit trees into existing beds in front of local businesses or at the edge of a park.
This strategy works well, because the city or property owner main- tains the landscape, and your plants get watered—sometimes even weeded and fertilized—right along with the plants that were already there! The downfall is that whoever is in charge of the site may notice your plant and pull it out or may spray it with toxins. Still, this is a good option for generating more food around town, and it can be great fun.
Also look for good spots in alleyways, along back fences. Often there is a garden on the other side of the fence, and you can plant small beds along the outside that benefit from the surplus water and fertility.
8. Start a Garden in a Vacant Lot
You can do this with or without permission (aka guerrilla gardening!) . Sometimes property owners will let you plant vegetables and fruit trees in a sunny, under- used corner. Others may say no if you ask but won’t notice for a long while if you just do it without telling them.
When the Food Not Lawns collective started our first garden, in an overgrown section of the park, the city didn’t know we were there for almost a year. We got the combination to the gate from a neighbor, cleared out all the trash and debris, and started gardening. By the time folks from the city came along to ask questions, we had a beautiful garden established, and they let us continue to use the space. They even sent park workers to drop off chip mulch once in a while!
There are countless examples like this, where people took over an area, grew food, and maintained access for many years. Some of these squatted gardens eventually gained ownership of the land. Sadly, there are just as many examples of gardens that were eventually bulldozed and paved over. In my opinion it is usually worth a try, and you will probably get at least a season’s reward for your audacity.
As you look for places to grow, ask yourself some important, practical questions:
Will you actually go there to garden?
Will you be inspired by the surrounding space?
Will the plants have an opportunity to reach maturity?
Will you want to eat the produce?
Grow what you love, what you eat, and what you want to look at, in a space that makes you feel healthy and empowered. Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
#foodnotlawns #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture #accesstoland
by Marit Parker
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.
#permaculturewomen #freepermaculture #farmcommunities
by Heather Jo Flores
Whether you save your own seeds or just have a bunch of leftover packets from years past, a seed swap is a great way to expand the diversity of both your garden and your community. But don't limit yourself to just seeds!
I have been organizing events like these for 20 years and folks have brought surplus plants, trees, garden supplies, food preserves and homebrews.
A seed swap attracts more than just the local permaculture crowd. People from all walks of life have a passion for gardening and seed saving and this event can bridge gaps and build new friendships that lead to a close-knit and more sustainable community for everyone.
How to organize a community seed swap
Look online and ask around in your area about anyone who has organized seed swaps in the past. It is better to help with a central, large swap than to have a bunch of small ones that aren't connected. If you can't find anyone who is already organizing swaps in your community, then you are ready to move on to step 2.
Make a flier and/or FB event page
In order to do this, you will need to decide on some things. First, when and where will you have your seed swap? Your house, the park, a local church or café or a nearby community garden are all great venues for a seed swap and they don't cost money. Next, decide whether you want to have people exchange just seeds, or if you also want to have them bring plants, garden supplies, potluck foods, preserves, homebrews, etc. Put all of this information on your flier. Pick a date at least six weeks in advance to give yourself time to get seed donations and thoroughly publicize the event. Once you've made the flier, you can create an event and a page on Facebook and any other social networks that seem relevant.
Get seed donations
Send a short, polite letter, with your flier attached, to seed companies, local farmers, garden stores and anywhere else that you think might have some surplus seeds from last year to donate. Remember that some of these places get a lot of requests, so be patient and polite. It is fine to follow up with a second email or phone call a couple of weeks after your first request, but don't harass them! If you don't get a ton of donations for your first seed swap, don't worry about it. Once you've established an annual pattern, you will always have more seed than you know what to do with.
When your swap is about three weeks away, start doing a ton of publicity. Send a calendar listing to the local papers. Make an event on Craigslist and promote that Facebook page. Make a handbill and pass it out at farmers markets, post fliers at local garden centers and food stores. Go to garden-related events and invite people in person. The more you hit the streets with this, the more successful you will be. A seed swap is a tangible way to connect with your community in face-to-face, real time. Let it happen and you will be amazed at the results.
Set up for the seed swap
On the day of the event, give yourself about two hours to set up the space. Make attractive signs for the different families of garden seeds (beans, brassicas, nightshades, lettuces, etc.) It doesn't matter if you know botany, just create a system so that people who bring seeds to share can easily find where to put them, and seed-searchers can figure out where to look. Create a few sitting areas for people to socialize when they're taking a break from seed swapping. Leave a space in the middle where everyone can circle up at the beginning of the event.
During the seed swap
Most seed swaps take one of two forms: people either set up their own little area and directly trade seeds, or everyone just puts what they brought out on onto the tables, potluck-style, and then they just go for it. I much prefer the latter format because I feel it contributes to the spirit of community more so than a "this-for-that" format. Assuming you will take my advice, have everyone put their seeds on the tables, but ask them to wait until a critical mass of people have arrived at the event before they start looking. Once you get what feels like a solid amount of people (and seeds), have them circle up. Go around and ask each person to talk for less than a minute about who they are, where they're from, and what they brought. This is an essential part of the event, as it gives everyone a clear picture of the community that has come together for the seed swap. But don't be afraid to play facilitator here, so that the go-around doesn't take more than 20 minutes or so. Introduce yourself at the end, and ask everyone not to take more than half of anything — that way the diversity stays on the tables for as long as possible. And then tell them to go for it!
Document, document, document
A seed swap is one of the most photogenic events you will ever attend. Take as many pictures as you can. Get close-ups of hands with seeds in them. Take group photos of people laughing and sharing. Climb up high and get shots from above. If you have video or audio recording tools, interview folks and ask them about their relationships with seeds and their experience of the seed swap. All of this documentation will help you promote future events, and can be a wonderful way to inspire people in other communities. If you have skills to edit a short video and put it online, all the better. This is such a simple, free and easy way to build community, so consider your final task as important as the rest, and help get the word out about the glory of a community seed swap!
#seedswap #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
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