On placemaking, true diversity and intercontinental cross-pollination: a conversation with Ridhi D’Cruz
You call yourself an “intercontinental cross-pollinator”— could you unpack it a bit?
I’m originally from India and have been living in the United States for almost eight years now. In 2010, I moved to a continent that I’d never been to before. At the same time I feel like American culture and Western European culture are pervasive and set aspirations in the “global South”. And as a result, there is a familiarity but also a dynamic I wanted to investigate . Knowing that I had taken on aspirations that weren’t really my own, coming to the US was also partially a journey of decolonization. I also wanted to give perspectives from other places some kind of a parity.
For example during sustainability conferences or university gatherings at Portland State University — where I studied in America — some folks would say: “So you’ve come to Portland to learn about sustainability” — insinuating in a way that people in India have nothing to contribute to the sustainability movement. And that really pissed me off. I’ve definitely come here to learn but also to share because a lot of what happens in other parts of the world is of an absolute and imperative importance to be honored and integrated.
And did you manage to get your message across to your peers?
I think so. These are small and slow solutions, right? When I first came to the US, I had a lot more anger and fire in me. I may have scared off some people. I came across as this angry Indian woman. But my discipline — and I trained as an anthropologist — is in a way built on a foundation of different ways of knowing and understanding. Especially social and cultural anthropology. But this knowledge is not on a level playing field.
There are geopolitical forces at play that make different types of knowledge weighted unequally. I would say that the established order in the sustainability movement feels very white-centric, middle class, academic.
I know this may not be true around the world, perhaps, but I still don’t feel that enough support, resources and listening are given to some of the stories and case studies that are coming from other parts of the world. And I don’t mean to over-romanticise because there is a fine balance here. But goals, aspirations, and credit typically go to a certain group of people and I’ve been actively working to dismantle this white supremacy within the movement.
I would think that the permaculture movement shouldn’t be a place where white supremacy prevails — on one hand this is quite surprising, on the other — I spoke to Rowen White who is an Indigenous American woman and she expressed her feelings very strongly as well.
I feel like here there is much clearer ethnic boundary between Indigenous and non-indigenous. Being Indigenous in India is a very different thing to being Indigenous in America. People often ask me: are you Indigenous to India? Well, as far as I know, all my ancestors are from there but I don’t see myself as Indigenous in the same way as they do here. I feel that in the United States there is a deep rift between native or Indigenous permaculture and the Western-centric, Euro-centric permaculture. In my experience, most times, Native communities don’t even want to use the term “permaculture”. They have their own words for it including Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Sometimes I see it being bridged but I think there is a lot of unpacking that we have to do on this continent in terms of whiteness and patriarchy. The longer I stay here, the more apparent it becomes.
You said you wouldn’t expect it from the permaculture movement. But how can it be any different? Despite our efforts to dismantle these systems of oppression, we must not forget that we are embedded within them.
It’s more important to me to see how we respond to it. If we really dig into the teachings of permaculture and put the overarching goals first instead of our egos, we’ve got everything we need, even if it’s Eurocentric. But instead of concentrating on social justice we find ourselves divided, defensive, unwilling to grow. For me the biggest point of transformation is the need to set up robust mechanisms for giving each other feedback. We don’t have a culture of accountability and we don’t have a real commitment to growth.
That’s a good point. And it’s a difficult thing to build, there is a lot of resistance towards it.
Yeah. To use a permaculture metaphor: we know that we need to capture rainwater but we’re arguing how to do that. And in the meantime… Dude, the water is just dripping! All we do is talk about divisions: people of color versus white people, feminists versus patriarchy. I’m thinking a lot about metaphors. One of them is a cell membrane which is semipermeable. It keeps the cell intact but it also has means of exchange.
I feel like there’s sometimes too many functions are being stacked and that over-integration is a real thing: we are diluting and homogenizing and therefore replicating the dominant paradigm in a way. And I’m more interested in understanding how to keep things distinct to retain the diversity but at the same time make the relationships between them beneficial — to keep them intact inside but able to exchange value.
It’s a very nice metaphor. But let’s talk practical — your work revolves around regenerating public places in Portland. Was it something you were doing as well in India, or did you get involved in it when you moved to America?
It’s something I was actually dabbling in when I was living in India. A friend of mine started something called “The Wall Project” in Mumbai. Mumbai is a crazy, scary city. I don’t know how I survived there for two years. She started painting public walls in collaboration with other people. When asked why she was doing it she said: “We barely have any greenery and everything is so densely packed. But we have a lot of walls so rather than looking at walls as a separation maybe we should look at them as points of connection.” It all started very informally and I loved that. I took part in one painting action and it felt so wonderful. I got to meet neighbours. There were many people walking by as we still have a lot of walking culture in India. I felt really inspired. And as a young twenty-something really apathetic, middle class, privileged person I didn’t know how to respond. Together with a couple of friends — one of them was an artist, the other was studying journalism with me — we decided to paint some walls in our own city, Bangalore.
I talk a bunch about Bangalore during the module I teach within the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course because I feel it’s so essential — this is where I came from and this is why I do what I do. So in Bangalore all our hang out places, non-commercial public spaces were eroding so quickly and were driving us into such isolation — at least I felt that. I didn’t want to go to the mall, to just keep buying things to be able to inhabit space. So we started painting walls in Bangalore and that was really meaningful to me.
Sounds like a great project — a combination of art and saving the public space. It is also a part of what you are doing now in Portland with City Repair. Is the local community responsive? Who is getting involved in it?
At this point there are over 65 intersection paintings in Portland. The organization has been around for 20 years and has been growing steadily. We’ve got probably over 20 different communities who are painting and it’s a mixture of repainting the old ones to renew them every couple of years and creating new ones. I feel like the predominant workforce are the usual suspects in the permaculture movement — folks who have a strong critique of capitalism and modern development. I say it carefully because I don’t want to overly homogenize but it feels like they’re mostly white middle class folks who’ve chosen to live in voluntary simplicity.
The more I meet people within the permaculture movement, the more I have a feeling that it’s exactly as you are describing — people choosing to live that way because they are privileged enough to do so. And the communities everyone seems to want to include… don’t get included as much in the end.
The divisions between people run deep. When I was in India I had to make many choices. I grew up middle class so I had a lot of class privilege and I had to fight to go down a route that was not the usual “I’m gonna do an MBA.” There’s a lot of social pressure to keep maintaining the status quo. I have had so many biases because of this, so many prejudices. And one of my favorite ones was involving education. Education was a big deal to me for a variety of reasons. And I’m not saying that education is not important but I don’t think you need to have a degree in anything or to be a high school graduate to be profoundly wise.
I met a shepherd once who just blew my mind. We were talking about metaphysical things, the cosmos, the purpose of life and I was astounded: “Wow, you think about these things?” And he said: “Yep, I’ve got a lot of time, I’m a shepherd.” The fact that he was illiterate didn’t mean that he didn’t think about awesome things. We’ve got a lot of divisions and opinions that we replicate. One of them is that uneducated folks hold problematic beliefs. And I’m not saying it’s never true — really problematic beliefs do exist as a result of a lack of access to education. For example, I worked in a red light area with a non-profit organization and I was told that one of the myths they were trying to debunk was that the cure for HIV was to have sex with a virgin. But at the same time there are different sides.
Sometimes, we’ve got this romantic notion that in rural India, for example, everything is idyllic and we just need to return to that lifestyle. And that’s not all true in the same way that cities are not all bad. To me permaculture is not only about harvesting rainwater and building physical eco-infrastructures — it’s a design philosophy and approach, right? So we have to define a challenge, its context and the goal and design the process to meet this goal. And it applies to social structures as well.
And how do you integrate this approach within the module you’re teaching — the placemaking?
That’s a good question. I think I try to share some things, to come from a personal narrative perspective instead of blanket statements like: “People of color this…”, “Indian women that…” I do not want to be tokenized or be a representative of any of those identities. I wear all of them. I try to own my experience and I also admit that some of these institutionalized ways of oppression do constrain various other people. So I chose a personal narrative approach because I feel like the biggest potency for transformation is in personal growth opportunities. People hear about the effects of capitalism and globalization in other places but many don’t get a chance to meet someone who grew up there.
So I’m talking about Bangalore and how my whole world changed and I dedicated my life to being a part of an empowerment-based approach. I really believe in place-based power. Placemaking is never just about the material stuff, about painting the streets or the cob oven on the corner. All those things are great, they foster the sense of coming together and being in community with one another. But for me it’s also a deeply personal journey: what’s my role within this? What’s my place?
I feel like if we had an ability to root in places deeper and cultivate a meaningful conversation not just with the land but with each other — without being scared to show some vulnerability — I think many problems on the surface would kind of melt away.
Your place started in India, now it’s the United States. How does your middle class, educated, Indian family feel about the life choices you’ve made?
I love my parents. I realized that although as a teenager I thought I was fighting against them, actually I was enacting exactly what they taught me. I’m such a product of them. And I told them that. I said: “You know dad, I’m making these choices because of the values you’ve instilled in me.” And he just smiled and said: “You’re so smart, you know how to get to me!” But I was telling the truth. And I think this is when I started to understand that things don’t exist in duality but in between, in the grey area.
While my parents still don’t fully understand what I’m doing and why, we have conversations. They are surprised that I’m struggling, that I find it expensive to go to India and rarely have time. They say: “You’re working very hard but you’re not rolling in the dough, you’re not comfortable. You’re not even financially stable, forget comfortable! Why are you doing this?” I performed well at school so it’s definitely by choice and they really try to understand it. Over time, they get more snippets.
I’ve been doing this for 10 years so they know it’s not a phase I’m going to grow out of. And it’s really important for me to bring them along because they are true inspirers of this whole path that I’m walking. Recently my dad bought me land in India that I will return to and turn into a permaculture-inspired place. To me is a symbol that although he doesn’t fully understand what I’m doing, we’ve got this understanding and trust. He says: “I don’t know how you’re going to do this, there are wild animals and stuff.” And I say: “You’re right, I’m terrified, I don’t know how to do this but I know I will die trying.”
He doesn’t need to be a permaculturist and I don’t need to be a business person but we can develop a relationship of mutual respect: although it’s not my path, I see it’s yours and I respect it and in ways that are aligned with my own values I will support you. And I think that such respect fosters so much possibility for collaboration, mutual benefits and a truly diverse community where we are all walking our own paths.
#placemaking #permaculturewomen #socialpermaculture
To find out more about the project Ridhi is involved in Portland, USA, check out The City Repair Project website. Ridhi is also one of the 40+ tutors in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Certificate course.
Re-Imagining Economic Systems: Untangling the tongue-tied transition from capitalism to cooperation.
It is so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the term “economic systems.” As the words roll off my tongue I envision millions of pieces of string binding everyone in the world together: the laypeople to the mega corporations and governments, to the mom n’ pop store down the street, to the big banks, to friends and family — each string representing an economic transaction of some kind. In the middle of it all, it’s easy to feel tangled up.
From talking to my peers, I have found that quite a few people share these sentiments. So then how can we get ourselves untangled? How can we tug at those strings in such a way that causes the least harm to others and votes for thriving interdependent economic communities rather than mammoth oligopolies? Many of us involved in alternative lifestyles, activisms, and social movements — of which permaculture is one — are often searching for innovative and place-appropriate ways to do this.
One of my favourite professors at university — a feminist activist who was fighting alongside people threatened by multinational corporations in Guatemala and elsewhere — once said something along the lines of, “When we study capitalism, we tend to focus on IT and its negative effects, to the point where we sometimes limit our ability to even recognize the myriad non-capitalist forms of economic exchange that we and communities around the world engage in every day.”
This simple statement was definitely an awakening for me. Yes, it is important to analyze and actively oppose capitalism, especially since it is arguably the most powerful force shaping global society, but it is equally important to value and lift up the alternatives that already exist and have in many cases existed for millennia!
Let me ask you this: have you ever swapped clothes, seeds or services with a friend? Have you ever been given or have issued an IOU? Have you ever shared the story of a small business or non profit with your social network because you believed in what they stood for?
If you answered YES to any of these, then you have already engaged in non-capitalist forms of economic exchange. Perhaps you leveraged your social capital to help a friend, or perhaps you have engaged in reciprocity, gift giving, or bartering in order to meet your needs or the needs of your loved ones.
For many of us, when we think of the word “economics” our minds might quickly jump to flows of dollars and cents, however, The Free Dictionary defines “economics” more broadly as that which “deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or human welfare.” For myself, I like to think of economics as “the ways that we meet our needs through the exchange of goods and services.” With this wider definition in mind, we can really expand and explore what it means to participate in economic exchange.
By doing case studies on economic traditions, such as the reciprocity-based Potlatches of the Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples, local currencies which promote the circulation of economic energy within a specific region, or credit sharing which helps all parties involved in a deal determine what constitutes a fair exchange of goods or services rendered, we can observe diverse culturally and historically rooted economic stories. These stories offer lessons for ways that people have engaged and can engage within economic circles, ways that promote the ethics of caring for people and the earth, as well as fair share.
In my life, I have had the opportunities to study permaculture, work on a community currency project, participate in time banks and mutual credit initiatives, and work within the Degrowth and Transition Towns movements.
All of these experiences have gifted me with invaluable tools for navigating my economic reality. I have calculated that during the past 12 months I have participated in the exchange of over $5000 Canadian Dollars worth of goods and services without the need for any Canadian Dollars. As someone who works within the non-profit sector and qualifies as a low-income person, having the knowledge to access and identify wealth through alternative means has enriched my life greatly.
Alternative approaches to designing our economic systems which engage with concepts like local currencies, basic income, credit sharing, and interest free loans, can help vulnerable communities become economically stable, they can help people reduce stress and improve mental health, and they can help people express their gifts and talents in ways that are not exploitative.
I think the greatest boon that rethinking economics has given me, is the increased sense of agency in my life — feeling like I am able to meet my needs and experience abundance even if my economic profile might suggest otherwise. If we are able to engage in more of the kind of work that allows us to redefine, reimagine, and critically redesign what terms like ‘currency’, ‘wealth’, ‘capital’ and ‘economics’ can mean, then I think that the potential for positive change is truly great.
Want to know more?
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post! If you are interested in learning more about alternative approaches to economics as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught by a group of 40 women from around the world, check out https://coursecraft.net/courses/z9Thn/a/cpmYFEtTE.
My name is Lucie and I live in Kelowna, Canada, where I run a permaculture group and work as a coordinator in a non-profit organization that empowers community members facing hardships by teaching cooking, farming, and employment skills. I have a masters degree in the social dimensions of sustainability from Lund University and a background working in social sustainability, community building, writing and mixed media art. To find out more about me and what I do please visit luciebardos.net.
#rethinkingeconomics #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #peoplecare
By Heather Jo Flores
Some of our favorite foods are fermented, such as beer, wine, bread, cheese, pickles, salami, yogurt, tempeh, vinegar, kombucha, kimchi and many more. And whether you are a devoted foodie with a well-stocked fermentation station on your kitchen counter or just somebody who loves a Reuben sandwich, one of the simplest and most satisfying fermented foods to make at home is good, old-fashioned sauerkraut.
If you've never experimented with home ferments, sauerkraut could be the gateway. It is easy to make, hard to mess up, and once you've got the hang of how to make a good kraut, you'll be set up with the tools to branch out into more complex recipes like kimchi and kefir.
Myself, I prefer kraut to all the rest. I learned this recipe during a hands-on workshops with fermentation guru Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. For a labyrinth of delightful fermentation recipes, visit his website www.wildfermentation.com.
All of your supplies should be freshly cleaned in hot water. Don't bleach them but make sure they are free of dirt and debris.
Large stainless steel bowl
Sharp kitchen knife, not serrated
Large cutting board
A ½ gallon Mason jar, wide-mouthed
A smaller glass jar, narrow enough to fit easily into the mouth of the larger jar
A sanded and boiled 2-inch-wide, 10-inch-long wooden dowel or a clean, empty Tabasco bottle with the label removed
A clean, lightweight cotton cloth, such as a dish towel or pillowcase.
Ingredients and method:
1 large head of green cabbage
1 medium head of red cabbage
3 tablespoons non-iodized natural sea salt
(Optional ingredients could include juniper berries, radishes, daikon, carrots, garlic, horseradish, bok choy, onion, goji berries, currants, hot peppers or any range of small fruits, seeds and veggies, but I recommend starting with just a simple kraut of only cabbage and salt and then experimenting with other ingredients later on down the line.)
Wash the cabbage, remove the largest outer leaves and set it aside. Slice the cabbages in half and carve out the small, hard core. Some people include this in the kraut, but I find it doesn't ferment as well as the rest.
Taking your time, slice up the cabbage into very thin strips. Mix both colors into the large bowl, adding a dash of salt to each handful of cabbage.
When all of the cabbage is in the bowl, sprinkle the remainder of the salt over the top.
Squeeze and rub the cabbage with your hands, using your thumbs to work the salt into the leaves. Keep doing this until the cabbage feels wet and slippery, and the colors darken. This is the "cabbage massage" — the most important part of the kraut-making process.
DO NOT add water, vinegar, or any other liquid. This will cause your kraut to mold. Use only vegetables and salt.
Pack the cabbage into the large Mason jar, using the wooden dowel (or Tabasco bottle) to smash down each layer. If you have been thorough with your cabbage massage, a foamy liquid will start to form around the leaves as you pack them into the jar. Keep smashing and packing until all of the cabbage is rammed into the jar. Leave an inch or two of space at the top.
Rub salt on both sides of a few of the large cabbage leaves set aside at the beginning and place them over the top of the packed cabbage to create a leaf-lid that sits just under the top of the liquid level.
Now fill the smaller jar with water and seal it with a tight lid. Place this jar inside the mouth of the larger kraut jar to weigh the large leaves down on top of the kraut.
Wash and dry the steel bowl and place it under the jars to catch any liquid that overflows during the fermentation process. If you have ants, put a little water in the bottom of the bowl to trap them before they can crawl up into your kraut.
Drape your cotton cloth over the whole contraption to keep out bugs but allow in the happy ambient yeasts and bacteria that will help your kraut thrive. Keep it in a cool, dark place. Warm temperatures speed up the fermentation process, cold weather slows it down and super-hot weather could kill it.
Once or twice a day, uncover the kraut and remove the smaller jar and large lid-leaves. Smash the cabbage down. Smash, smash, smash! Wipe away any overflow liquid, replace the lid-leaves and smaller jar, and re-cover.
After about 5 days, begin tasting the kraut. My preferred flavor usually happens around 7 to 10 days. Longer fermentation time will usually yield stronger flavor and softer kraut.
Shorter time means lighter flavor and crunchier kraut. But if you let it go too long, it will get mushy and not so yummy. When it gets to the place where you love it, cap the large jar with a snug lid and refrigerate it.
If a murky film or fuzzy mold forms on the top or sides of your jars, don't worry. Just wipe it away with a clean cloth or carefully remove it with a spoon. If the kraut seems too dry, smash it more and perhaps add a pinch more salt.
That's it! My favorite way to eat it? Try mixing 1 part fresh kraut, 1 part chopped avocado and 1 part grated beets. Scoop this mixture into a boat of Romaine lettuce for a delectable, rainbow-colored, crunchy raw food snack.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
#foodforest #fermentation #sauerkraut
This resource is brought to you by
Food Not Lawns,
Permaculture Women's Guild, and Heather Jo Flores.
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