You are a Seed Keeper — that’s a pretty cool job title. Can you tell us more about what you do?
I come from a place called Akwesasne, which is an indigenous Mohawk community near the Canadian border. Traditionally, we are an agricultural nation so caring for seeds and for the Earth in general aligns with our cultural values and has been handed down from one generation to the next over millennia. There’s a lineage of people cultivating relationship to their food and to the Mother Earth. We have quite a number of heritage and traditional varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, tobacco and other plants that have been specifically handed down through many generations over the last several thousand years as a part of our traditional food ways. I have the great honor of being one of the seed keepers of the Mohawk people which means that, together with others, I am making sure that the seeds stay alive and healthy and that they’re given freely within our community, as well as passed down to the next generations.
Sounds like a true passion.
It is a real passion. Due to the impacts of colonization and acculturation many of native North American food systems have been dismantled and unfortunately, they are not a part of our everyday life anymore. As a teenager I didn’t really have access to a lot of the traditional foods and to the cultural memory that goes with them. As a young woman I became interested in traditional farming and wanted to learn more about where our food comes from and to create more sovereignty and freedom through cultivation. That’s how I opened this Pandora’s box of the world of heirloom seeds… and wow!
It turns out that not only do seeds have this incredible diversity — a prism of different colors and shapes and sizes and places where they grow best and communities that they come from — but that they also carry stories and beautiful lineages of relationships.
For Mohawk people agriculture was historically at the center of our culture and I was very curious why it no longer was a significant part of my life and how I could reengage and restore that relationship and connection to the land. So I began to ask people, gather seeds and learn more and more about my responsibility to care for them. It led me on a 20-year-long path to being a seed keeper. Being an educator and a mentor constitutes a central part of this role. I am helping people who are in a similar situation I was 20 years ago — curious but not having access to knowledge or seeds. I am passing this knowledge I received from the elders and mentors of mine within the community because I honor the importance of keeping these traditional seeds alive together with the cultural memory that is attached to them.
It is. I run a seed co-operative. We have a 10-acre farm that focuses on stewardship of seeds and education of people about seed care and growing food in holistic ways. I am also the national program coordinator for the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network — a program of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, which works with a number of different tribal communities to create seed libraries and banks and also to build mentorship networks to leverage resources around policy for protecting our seeds against biopiracy, biocolonialism and patenting. I travel all over North America to see tribal communities and facilitate workshops and conversations around how communities are creating these resources in their lives. So that’s my work in a nutshell. It’s complex and multilayered but it’s also a beautiful path to follow. The seeds have guided me well along my path.
So would you say that seed keeping could be seen as a decolonization
To me decolonization is the foundation of the seed sovereignty movement. But I also like to put a positive spin on it: it’s re-indigenising.
We are claiming back our traditions and rehydrating those original agreements that we had with the plants and with our ancestors but also with our descendants. It doesn’t happen only in Native American nations. Across the globe communities start to recognize the importance of durable, resilient, local food systems. Local engagement has been growing the incredible momentum in the last several decades. The Seed Freedom Movement is a part of it because we recognize that we cannot have a durable and resilient local food system if we don’t have locally adapted seeds that are a part of it. Seeds are the foundation of agriculture but they also encode a memory of the land, the climate, the weather, as well as people’s cultural values, aesthetics and stories. And now people of all generations are coming together to recognize the importance of seed heritage, to create new ways to counteract the globalization and industrialization of our food systems, to resist monocultures. At the heart of what I do is the creation of the seed literacy. Even if you’re not a farmer or a gardener, seed is a vitally important thing in your life because we all eat.
Among Mohawk people the women were traditionally responsible for seed keeping. Is it still the case within this modern growing movement?
Historically in most cultures — although I can confidently talk only about the Mohawks — seeds were considered feminine. It relates to our own reproductive system — it’s the woman who carries the seed. If you look botanically, it’s the female part of the plant that is creating the seed, so this is a feminine expression of the plant’s life cycle. In our tradition and in many cultures and traditions across the globe seeds have traditionally been considered a feminine aspect of the agricultural system and largely it’s been the responsibility of women to care for them.
In your writing you are using this beautiful word — rematriation.
We’ve been using it in a lot of different contexts. Primarily it’s about restoring the feminine back into our lives through our food systems and recognizing that many of the industrial global food systems are very patriarchal, so it’s about creating that balance. Our traditional knowledge wasn’t about women being more powerful than men or the other way round. The point was to maintain that egalitarian balance between the masculine and the feminine.
Rematriation in relation to seeds is about bringing the seeds back home into their original context and into their communities of origin. Speaking more broadly, rematriation is about restoring that feminine energy back into our lives and our communities.
I learned of the word through a man named Martin Prechtel. In my latest blog post I quote a piece from his book “The Unlikely Peace of Cuchamaquic” — he speaks very eloquently about the idea of rematriation, about that holy feminine being restored back into our lives. Among native peoples we talk a lot about repatriation of things back into our communities. So in this case we decided to use a more feminine word. It’s inspired by the work of Martin Prechtel but also by the legacy and lineage within indigenous communities.
Is it relatively easy to engage young people in such work?
For many years there had been this generation gap. Older people were keeping traditions and seeds alive but younger ones didn’t engage, didn’t see it as relevant. But now I’m witnessing a resurgence of the movement among the younger folks in tribal and farming communities but also in a more mainstream culture. People are waking up to the fact that the monocropped way of life and industrialization of everything is damaging not only to the nature but also to our relationship with the world. Young people these days are inheriting a world that is deeply troubled. In a way they know they have to do something and they are enraged. Stewarding seeds is such a powerful, beautiful and inspiring path to follow. It’s a hopeful form of activism. It’s very tangible and it creates something positive to work for instead of working against something else.
We have to be good future ancestors and responsible descendants, so it’s our responsibility to care for the seeds to make sure that younger generations and future generations that we might not know yet have them.
I have a teenage daughter who’s been growing up on a seed farm so this way of eating is her life from day one. She has a great passion for the culinary arts. She wants to be a chef. There’s a spectrum of ways in which young people can engage in this kind of work. If you’re interested in farming or gardening, that’s great but you might as well be a chef, an artist, an activist, a public speaker. There are many different ways to contribute. A lot of our work in the seed sovereignty movement evolves around inclusivity — how we can acknowledge the gifts that different people can bring to the table and how to make sure that a well-rounded resilient food system has many people contributing in various creative ways so it’s not only about growing food.
You also say that seeds are living beings and our relatives. Can you unpack it a bit for people who haven’t grown up within a Native American community and may have a problem with relating to it?
Sure. All of us — and that includes everyone who is reading it now — descend from a lineage of people who had a very intimate relationship with plants. It’s just in the last couple of hundred years of human history we’ve been looking at seeds and food in general as a commodity as opposed to something that was an integral part of our life that we shared. It used to be a commons, a collective inheritance. A long time ago our ancestors — mine, yours, everyone else’s — made agreements with plants that they would take care of each other. There is this intimacy, there are familial relationships that are encoded in creation stories that are held within many different ancestries and bloodlines.
So when I say that seeds are sacred because they are living relatives, I mean it wholeheartedly. That’s how I view seeds and that’s how pretty much all of humanity saw seeds up to a certain point.
Then it started to get industrialized and commodified and our collective view of what seeds represented has changed. I like to remind people that 200 years ago in the United States and in Europe there were no seed companies. People shared and traded seeds instead. I like to tell people to think deeply about their relationship with their food and with the seeds that make this food. If you trace back different cultural lineages, you’ll see that plants and seeds played significant roles in cosmologies and worldviews. In the Mohawk creation story such foods as corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and strawberries figure prominently. They grew from the body of the daughter of the original woman as a gift to her sons. These foods would then sustain them for the rest of their time here on Earth and they literally grew from her flesh and bones. So in our cosmology we see them as our relatives. We have an agreement with them that they would nourish us every day but we have to give back. That’s a reciprocal relationship.
So now, in North America but also globally, we need to rethink and rewrite the narrative of our relationship with food and seed. At the moment there is a dominant narrative in the Western world that sees plants as dead inanimate objects that we just grow, harvest, mechanize and exploit. But that dominant narrative is really just a shallow facade around a much deeper relationship that humans have had with plants for a lot longer. So in our educational seed co-operative Sierra Seeds we challenge that dominant narrative.
This is a radically different view to the one held by mainstream agricultural companies. You are promoting it now not only through Sierra Seeds in the US — recently you joined the faculty of over 40 women who teach the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course where you run a module on seed keeping. It is not a regular part of the PDC curriculum, is it?
It isn’t indeed. Permaculture is a fantastic curriculum and a beautiful pedagogy — a wonderful system of knowledge that has been distilled down from a much larger traditional ecological body of knowledge originating all around the world and I think many of us within the movement acknowledge that. There is a very particular curriculum of 72 hours of teaching that accompanies the PDC and seed stewardship isn’t a part of it but then… how can it not be a part of it? Seed stewardship should be an integral part of every farmer’s garden and it was — until a hundred or two hundred years ago. So when we’re talking about permaculture and creating holistic food systems, the seed has an inherent place within it. People need to know how to steward seed and how to cultivate seed that’s regionally adapted to a very specific place and to their own unique low input permaculture system. So I approached the creators of this course and said: “Hey, what if we include a module on holistic seed stewardship?”.
The seed is the beginning. It’s so vitally important to the foundation of all food systems but at the same time most seeds available now aren’t adapted to low input polyculture or permaculture systems.
They have been bred and selected for monoculture in a very different farming system. That’s why I think that for people who are meant to obtain a certificate in permaculture design it’s important not to forget about saving seeds. I feel super thrilled to contribute to this course and hold a little corner of that space to really honor the seeds and all that they give us.
One more thing… I’m sure that everyone who got to this point of our conversation feels like me. I buy the majority of my vegetables from a local farming co-operative so the veggies I eat are local, culturally appropriate and organic. But as a city dweller with a small garden I throw away most of these really good seeds and now I feel super-bad. Any advice for folks like me?
The beautiful thing about this growing seed sovereignty movement is that there are many different community projects and initiatives that are springing up wherever people come together to think creatively about how we can develop more access to good seeds within our communities. So in a lot of places, especially in urban environments, there are seed libraries and seed exchange — places where people help to facilitate the distribution and collection of these seeds. So I would recommend that folks, who don’t have a lot of capacity in their life to do a lot of seed stewardship in their own garden or allotment, connect with the wider community. Seed libraries are popping up — it’s worth to look for a local one and share your surplus of seeds there.
The beauty of a seed is that it multiplies exponentially. It is a wonderful example of the natural abundance of the Earth and I think it is also a beautiful expression of the gift economy. Even keepers like myself always have more seeds than we need. It inspires me to be generous and to give seeds outside of my own home farm. The seeds teach us to be generous and to share our abundance with other people and this is really the true nature of things. We live in a society where the dominant narrative is based on scarcity and austerity, so we need to start paying attention to seeds because they remind us of the inherent generosity of the Earth and of our own inherently generous nature.
#seedstewardship #permaculturewomen #seedsaving #decolonization
To find out more about Rowen and the projects she’s involved in, have a look at the Sierra Seeds website. Rowen is also one of the tutors in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Certificate course.
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
with Becky Ellis
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
The permaculture movement began as a re-imagining of agrarian landscapes but it has exciting emancipatory potential in re-imagining how cities might become places in which humans and nature co-create and co-operate. Urban permaculture allows us to create ecologically regenerative spaces in our individual lives and in collective spaces.
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. 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 cob structures.
In cities, access to land is one of the biggest obstacles for people hoping to practice permaculture. 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 (for example, animals considered ‘livestock’).
In this mini class we will discuss strategies for accessing land in cities.
Although access to land for urban agriculture projects can be an obstacle, people have found a variety of creative ways to overcome this barrier.
Additionally, there is a growing movement 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 councilors.
Now that we’ve discussed strategies for accessing land in cities it’s time for you to explore these strategies first hand. A recommended way to start would be to find an urban permaculture project and volunteer for one hour. Do whatever is needed but be sure to talk to people about their experiences while you work alongside them. If you can’t find an urban permaculture project, find a community garden or urban farm.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Urban Permaculture module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Becky Ellis.
Becky Ellis is a permaculture educator and community activist in London, Ontario, Canada. Becky is a PhD candidate in Human Geography at Western University. Her research project is focused on the relationship between people and urban bees. Becky maintains the blog Permaculture for the People https://permacultureforthepeople.org and regularly gives workshops and presentations about urban permaculture, community gardening, and gentle beekeeping. She embraces the challenge of bringing permaculture (and honeybees!) to the suburbs.
Further reading on this topic:
Thomas, Pandora and Starhawk. “Black Lives Matter: A permaculture perspective”. Permaculture magazine. July 11, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2017. A statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter activists. A must read.
Flores, Heather. Food not Lawns: How to run your yard into a garden and your neighbourhood into a community. Chelsea Green, 2006. A fabulous, in-depth guide to permaculture, especially focused on cities by our very own Heather Jo Fores. This book has a very good focus on community organizing - unlike some permaculture books it does not simply focus on transforming private spaces. It’s so inspiring that it spawned, Food not Lawns activist groups throughout the continent.
Piven, Frances Fox and Richard Cloward. Poor People’s Movements: Why they succeed, how they fail. Vintage Books, 1977. This is another older book that is a classic. In this book Piven and Cloward examine movements of and BY poor people. This book has been deeply influential and also puts forward the argument that poor people’s movements must be self-organized not implemented for them by well-meaning (or not) do-gooders. One of my favourite activist organizations is part of this movement - the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
#urbanpermaculture #communitylandtrusts #guerrillagardening #publicland #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns
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
Global Economic Crisis
You could say that I probably got into Permaculture through the economical doorway. I was working in real estate when the 2007–2009 global economic crisis hit and although it didn’t (immediately) pose a financial problem to me (I had earned well in the rise up to the crisis), it sure did leave a foul taste in my mouth on the social side of things. I had to fire people on the sales team, work the very few leads out there still double as hard, withstand lies told to customers by colleagues of other real estate agencies down the road as we were all after the same few “fish” in the sea,… it sure felt like it was a war zone out there, where everyone was competing for their share of the sinking cheesecake. This is the moment when I stepped out of the branch and went looking for a Change.
Right now, house sales have gone up again here on the Balearic Islands and tourism never stopped growing due to other areas in the Mediterranean Sea Basin like Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and even Greece still being somewhat uncertain holiday destinations due to terrorist acts and refugees from Syria. Unemployment is down, spending is up once more and the papers talk about yet another record hitting season this 2018. We are out of the dark hole they say…
The global economic crisis of some ten years ago might seem over when you read through this little list, but it surely still is fresh on my mind, and I am actually even weary about a next one being right around the corner.
House sales are up to foreign buyers only.
Tourism is putting an extreme strain on the island’s resources, starting with water and on a par: long term residential rental properties are almost impossible to pay now.
Jobs are aplenty yes but wages haven’t gone up, so spending power is lower for locals and the doctors have had a ball writing sick notes last summer 2017 due to burnout.
Growth is something very natural. In nature, things don’t keep on growing forever though. Plants grow, people grow… and then… they die. It’s the cycle of life. An old growth forest is a system that is made up of many elements, some are in their growth phase, others are in their decline phase. Between them all, they keep the system going.
This stage of collaboration and accepting that there necessarily are phases of decline or cycles (the plants in decline become the soil and nutrition for the new plants) is something we humans have not yet understood as a species. If we want to avoid the decline of the entire system (our planet) we better hurry up to get to that stage of understanding.
Just as with the Social or Political Invisible Structures, we need to know exactly what it is we are working with when talking about the Economic Systems so that we can make a hypothesis as to why things are out of whack, to then start working on our design to get back on track (Permaculture Principle “Observe & Interact” at work).
As I got more familiar with the principle “The Problem is the Solution”, I got more and more interested in the Economy and how our current capitalist model is pushing us beyond the limits of our ecosystem. I wanted to be able to design our way out of the mess and therefore had to start with … observation and analyzing. I personally learnt an enormous amount about the economy of today through taking the Integral Permaculture Academy’s mini-course on “Eco-Economy”.
I have recently finished a 6 month stretch of working on a module for a spectacular Online Permaculture Design Course that I co-facilitate together with 40 other female Permaculture Women’s Guild Designers from all over the world. It sure was spectacular on the Invisible Structures side of things, which is what my module focuses on, together with the Design for our Inner Landscape. In the course I talk about all of those Invisible Structures, but as a colleague goes into much more detail about the Economic Systems in her module, I brought my thoughts on those systems into this Medium post.
Let’s look at some of the most important concepts we need to understand before we can start any design involving the Economic Invisible Structures.
When we think about the economy, often we think about money. What is money? Money as such is definitely not a bad thing. It is one form of energy that circulates through our system. It is a store of value that we collectively assigned to it, and it is based on confidence.
It was designed to make connections possible between humans over larger distances.
What history tells us is that when our horizons expanded and direct bartering on the road got too hard (it isn’t always easy to find the person who has exactly what you want and you have exactly what she wants when you are traveling), some items got introduced that were recognized to have value elsewhere too. So “money” came into being.
Today’s money however has little to do with that original trust in a seashell or a block of salt that goes back 5000 years. These days we might do good in not placing too much of our confidence in money, as any Argentinian person can probably tell you (the peso suffered massive inflation in 1990 and has been unstable for a while).
Why not? Money these days is made up out of thin air and it is not the government printing our notes as some people believe. It is the bank that types in some numbers on a screen and as by magic you have money in your account.
For the privilege of them giving you something they actually don’t have themselves, they also charge you interest, and you are saddled with a debt. In the latest crisis many people lost their homes to the banks. So the banks end up winning always: they either get money in return for the thin air they created your loan from, or they get a property! To top it off, when they then fly too high and burn their wings, our (tax payers’) money (borrowed from them with interest and/or worked very hard for) is then used to bail them out of trouble.
Whenever I tell this story or write it down, I feel that this currently is the biggest story we need to share, and make people aware of. Debt is not natural, therefore it is not sustainable.
Why is this not front page news everywhere?
Apart from many invested interests (pun intended) I believe it is because we lack new, positive stories. We need success stories, examples of good practices, a practical design to do it better. Something achievable to work towards.
We maybe feel that getting out of this mess is too big a task for us, and that we are firmly held in the grips of our debt. But there are many examples out there of complementary and local currencies in operation.
Small steps may take us a long way (small and slow solutions are the way to go!). Going back to our basic needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), we must be able to make the distinction between them and our wants, as Max-Neef points out, and particularly realize the impact elsewhere in the system of our ways of satisfying our “needs”. The comparison between Maslow’s and Max-Neef’s needs becomes necessary in today’s economic system, and you can read about it in this other Medium Article by Neha Khandelwal.
I mostly graphically represent this by drawing two apples on the board. One of them is the Apple-logo. The younger students I work with tend to immediately recognize that one. The other apple, the one that you can eat, is always second… and no I don’t think that has to do with my drawing skills. Which of those apples is a basic need and which represents a “want”?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that “wants” are all bad. Of course I want to stay in touch with people, work from home, record my photographs and speak to my family in Belgium. I can do all that on any brand of computer though, or if I really do value the apple logo enough to pay the higher price for it, then I maybe don’t have to change the model for a new one every time one comes out…
Apples aside, it’s known that the capitalist system we live in purchases growth. Therefore “they” must sell more. Marketing helps them to achieve that. The system plays on our “wants”, and we are led to believe that we can satisfy our needs with items such as an iPhone or food packaged in colorful boxes.
The more “wants” we have, and we will — because our needs are often not satisfied, the more we have to recur to interest based loans, or in other words, we are spending money we don’t have whilst at the same time sending money up the chain (of those bankers and the already wealthy corporate world that sells us such items).
Maybe we should re-educate ourselves, and understand that capitalism is a polarizing system. Ever more money is flowing up that chain to the top, it surely isn’t trickling down as what they want us to believe. The divide is getting bigger. More and more people end up underneath the poverty line. Being in debt becomes a social epidemic with a lot of consequences (think Big Pharma, junk food chains causing loss of our soil as well as loss of our health, crime…)
But enough of the doomsday information overload. Permaculture is about solutions. Here I’d like to present you some very simple steps to boost your confidence in taking control over the Economic Invisible Structures in your design.
Solutions: Sustainable Economy
When looking at your personal economy, it’s good to have a base understanding of the following concepts.
Invest in & like Ecosystems
Invest in Ecosystems: buy livestock, trees, plants, seeds, buy land and steward it, buy local produce from your farmer, study local flora and get really good at foraging (there is so much free food all around!)…
The point being: you won’t be able to eat those classic motorbikes or those tons of designer handbags when the going gets tough and nobody around you has any cash to buy them off you.
Invest like Ecosystems: Diversify! Use the principle of redundancy and diversity, which create stability and resilience, have different income streams, your skill base might be a good start or you might want to check out the 8 forms of Capital by Ethan Roland. Sign up for your local LET group or Time Bank*. Up the faith and jump out of your comfort zone.
Also look at where your passion lies, and see if you could make it into an income stream. Design your Right Livelihood. It’s good to be using several economic systems and currencies at the same time, so you will not depend on any one system alone. Capitalism is not going to go away any time soon, but on its own, it’s too fragile a society we’d be living in, not resilient at all.
Live within your limits
Know what you have (your resource base — and don’t forget foraging, free food!) and don’t cross your limits. It’s exactly what we have to do on the planetary level, so we might as well start with ourselves. Another solution lies in how you act as a consumer. How about giving yourself enough time to think it through before you make a purchase.
There is a set of questions you could run through before actually buying anything, which could go something like this: Do I need this (basic needs!)? Do I maybe already own something like it (know your resource base!)? Can I borrow this from someone I know? Can I source this from a second hand store? Can I actually afford it? Etc.
If you have already crossed your limits, look at designing your way back up to the black numbers rather than stay in the red. It might be daunting but there is professional help out there too. As before, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It is not worth suffering over it for any longer than need be.
As we have crossed our limits as a society a while back (currently we are using 3.6 planets’ worth of resources as a species), the only option for those of us in the developed world is Degrowth. It is not going to be a choice anymore any time soon, so we best get used to it now already.
Would you be involved in arms or drugs trafficking? Would you invest in deforestation or petroleum companies that chop big chunks of the amazon down? Would you support big pharmaceutical companies that are under the suspicion of actually wanting to keep us sick as a society, and now even are one and the same as the big agro companies that destroy the livelihoods of our local farmers? I am guessing your answer to there questions is no.
You then need to know that your bank might be involved in them and that this is probably where your money is being used, because those are the investments that give most returns.
So if you don’t want to invest in those activities, di-vest your money out of your bank. It’s a job and a half yes, but it is doable and it is very much worth it. Being honest here, I have not yet been able to move my own mortgage to another bank.
Check out your area for ethical banks through this link if you are in Europe.
Also vote with your money. Try to buy local products as much as you can. Steer away from big corporations that are known to play a huge part in destroying our environment, our social networks or our public health and don’t invest anymore in the likes of Coca Cola, Monsanto, Nestlé and many other brands that are often one and the same as can be seen on some chart images that float around the web.
Share your surplus
Don’t charge interest on any personal loan you may give a friend or family member, your abundance now is reinvested in a cycle that will cultivate social capital and it wíll return to you!
Don’t have a massive savings account: Debt is unnatural, so is hoarding. Even a hamster self-regulates and stops eating so much (and therefore hiding food) when the warmth of spring returns. You can have a saving accounts or a piggy bank by all means, it is a sign of a good Design for Catastrophe/Resilience, but anything more than that is based on fear and is not helping the local economy. Money is a flow of energy, and like anything stagnant, it stops working. One note of 10€ in your bank account is just that… 10€. If you spend 10€ in your local economy, it jumps up in value to 100€ just by passing through the hands of 10 people. Remember the principle of cycling energy.
Don’t charge for any spaces you might have available to share, or charge only a fair price to share in the costs: On this note, I can tell you about how our association PermaMed’s demo sites are on property that has been donated to us, or assigned to us to steward if you will, and there is even a “Land-bank” here on the island of Mallorca, where property that cannot be tended to by the owners is offered to people who are looking for a piece of “dirt” to grow food on, mostly just charging the cost of the water or agreeing on a part of the harvest to go to the owner.
Share your crop: you have loads of almonds, apricots, tomatoes, leeks, corn cobs… at the same time? Are you seriously going to can them all? Why not share what you can’t eat, and get some diversity in return. And as the saying goes: where 2 eat, 3 can eat too. Never hesitate to invite someone to your table and share a meal.
On the other hand, don’t stretch yourself to share what you actually really can’t (again, I am a good example of doing just that), because as one Permaculture Design Course teacher of mine likes to say: “You can’t be green, if you are in the red”, so it would be a priority to not be in the red. Guard your limits. Just as with your physical and emotional boundaries for your Inner Landscape Design, these limits are important for the longevity of your projects.
More detailed information on the Economic Systems in the mark of the Permaculture Invisible Structures can be found in Lucie Bardos’ latest Medium article. She is one of my 40 international & expert co-facilitators in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course which has just opened for early bird enrollment.
I myself take you on a journey through the Inner Landscape and we look at the Invisible Structures in general, explore what they area within the social, economic and political dimensions, and how we can design for them in our projects. Wanna join us on this tremendous learning experience? Click on this link for the complete information.
Dana Meadows was hugely important to the birth of Permaculture, by co-authoring the “Limits to Growth” Report of the Club of Rome in 1972. Together with the looming oil crisis of 1973, this stimulated Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to get designing for a permanent agriculture. This is her take on Sustainable Economies.
Helena Norbert-Hodge is a very inspirational lady as is the film she made in Ladakh: The Economics of Happiness.
Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economy works with boundaries and basic human needs. Fantastic! She also offers loads of economic history and poses some neat questions.
Ellen McArthur’s Circular Economy was presented to me at the R.I.E. gathering in 2015 (Iberian Ecovillage Reunion) in Navarra, Spain. Based on the principles of cycling energy and producing no waste.
Hazel Henderson states that our economy is based on a big invisible layer that she calls the “Love Economy”. Riane Eisler builds on this in her Tedx talk on The Caring Economy. They both refer back to the backbone of our society being… the women… Caring & Loving… invisible in the GDP.
Some ideas for improving access to nature connection if you, or someone you are close to, has an illness or disability meaning they find it difficult to be outdoors.
Studies over the last few years have consistently demonstrated that being in nature is beneficial for both our physical and emotional health. From my own observations, I would also add that for many people connecting with the other living parts of Earth also brings increased levels of wellbeing to both the spiritual and social aspects of our lives too.
In my work as a palliative care nurse and as an unpaid Carer of several family members I have witnessed many instances where, being able to be creative about how to connect with nature, can positively influence the quality of life for people who are too unwell or disabled to spend time outside on a regular basis.
Over the past year I have become very unwell and currently spend most of my time in bed. This has given me a great opportunity to reflect further about how disabled people, who for whatever reasons find being outside challenging, can benefit from nature connection.
These are some of the ideas I have collated. Most of which I use in my own life too.
Have beautifully fragranced flowers or pots of herbs inside of a space where you spend a lot of your time. Or perhaps use essential oils in a diffuser, bath, or on a tissue. Essential oils can also help as part of a well-being plan, and some should be used with caution as they can have adverse side effects for you and people/pets around you if their use is not understood well. I can recommend permaculture practitioner and qualified aromatherapist Dave Jackson for guidance and advice. He’s based in Cambridge England, and really happy to provide video consultations for folk who aren’t local to him. Dave’s details are in the resources section below.
Ask a visiting (in real life, or digital) friend or family member to tell you about their experiences of spending time in nature. I’ve found that this can also be a great distraction from the focus always being about my illness too.
Listen to a guided mediation involving sounds of nature: the noise of the sea, river waterfalls, bird song, gentle breeze through long grasses and rain.
Watch films and TV programs about nature. Listen to radio programs and podcasts about the great outdoors
Observe patterns in nature through a window. Watch the earth cycles, seasons and changing skies.
Be creative about nature inspiration such as art, doodling, writing, textile crafts, singing, playing a musical instrument, making a collage, wildlife themed colouring books. I have also found that giving myself thinking and daydreaming time about walks, daytrips, holidays, sunny days, deep snow, summer rain, storms and gardens, for example, has been a wonderful thing to do when more practical activities are too exhausting or painful.
Have houseplants in a space in the home where you spend a lot of time, which as well as lovely to see, also help to clean the air inside from potential toxins.
With help if needed, create a nature space/table/shelf in a place where you can see it often. Ideas of things to include could be a vase of local flowers, photos, small twigs/branches in a vase, stones, shells, herbs to dry. I have such a space and love to adapt it as the seasons change.
If you are someone who has experience and knowledge about gardening, farming or other nature related activities and knowledge, could you mentor or teach others who would like to learn? Again, this could be face to face, or via digital (or written) communication: — Creating a blog, social media space or writing an article for a local paper, newsletter, or specialist publication.
Sprout seeds and pulses and/or grow herbs on a kitchen windowsill. Really easy to do by yourself, or by someone who helps you. Results in fresh, nutritious home grown food throughout the year.
Reading books, magazines and blogs about nature. Look at nature focused photos and art. Connecting with nature focused social media spaces. Perhaps find (or create) spaces on social media where there are others who are also enjoying and appreciating nature from indoors.
Eat seasonal food and drinks and/or source your food from local growers, farmers and preservers.
Be aware of any sadness, grief or loss you feel about not being able to connect with nature outdoors. Even reading this short article may generate difficult emotions. And that’s ok. I’ve found that talking it through with someone close to you or writing, drawing or any other creative expression can really help, as do other ideas mentioned here.
As well as hopefully providing some useful ideas relating to nature connection and immersion, an additional function of this article is to inspire further discussion about the urgent need for permaculture practitioners to address issues of privilege in accessing permaculture.
There are a huge diverse number of resources relating to the ideas I have written about in this article. If you need some extra inspiration or a starting point. Here are some of my current favourites.
Dave Jackson Aromatherapisthttps://cambridgearomatherapy.com/2012/08/01/cambridge-aromatherapy/
Writing by Flo Scott — Flo has written a number of articles in Permaculture Magazine and also has her own blog at http://permaculturedesigner.co.uk In particular check out Flo’s most recent post “Top 5 things to do in an Indoor Garden”
BBC Radio programmes — all of the following are available as podcasts (or on iplayer for those in the UK) at https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/new
Plus books and YouTube films by Alys
Permaculture Magazine — available via paper or digital subscription plus lots of free content at https://www.permaculture.co.uk/
Lots of fantastic books at Green Shopping https://www.green-shopping.co.uk/
One of my current favourite books from Green Shopping, including many, many gorgeous photos, is No Dig Organic Home and Garden by Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty
‘She Explores’ podcast https://she-explores.com/podcast/
Facebook Group — I have recently created a Facebook Group Permaculture, Chronic illness and Disability, for anyone with an interest in the topic to join. There is already a very friendly and solutions focused culture emerging there, so please come along and join in if you are interested.
Kt Shepherd is a Permaculture Practitioner. You can discover more about her projects and permaculture interests at https://www.ktshepherdpermaculture.com and via her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
All artwork and photos in this article by Kt Shepherd
#permaculture #wellness #gardeningwithdisabilities #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen
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 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
with Silvia di Blasio
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
The Art of Hosting (AoH) is a series of practices, ways of thinking and methodologies to facilitate addressing challenges and decisions collectively.
Social permaculture includes how we host ourselves and others, how we face challenges, make decisions and govern ourselves in non-hierarchical, non-oppressive ways. It shares the systems’ view of life that is central to permaculture design and includes ever-evolving practices, methodologies and ways of thinking that will stretch your edges and expand your sense of connection, compassion and belonging.
If you have had the opportunity to engage in community work, group work in any type of organization or even be part of a permablitz, project or gathering, you may have noticed that things may not always go as you expect: people are always at the center of any decision-making process, design, communication and governance processes and those processes are what represent the challenge.
In the introduction to the Art of Hosting, you will learn the roots, principles and practices and will begin to explore methods used to deal with people. In these times, we need different tools, as the old have proven to be sustaining an oppressive system created to perpetuate the privileges of a few. The Art of Hosting is an evolving toolbox that explores these new tools in a compassionate, caring yet courageous and sometimes risky way: “stay with the fire” is one of the AoH mottos, you’ll learn this and more in this exciting introductory module.
The Art of Hosting, known as AoH, emerged from the perception of a shift that involved both the breaking down of many systems and simultaneously something else emerging, giving way to lots of uncertainty and chaos of values, beliefs, governance processes and many other dynamics: what in permaculture is called a growing edge.
This shift was also sensed at all levels: from individual to collective consciousness, to how structures and organizations work, govern themselves, make decisions and connect to each other and the natural world.
Suddenly, hierarchies, dynamics and beliefs that have sustained an entire civilization started to crumble. New and complex challenges emerged and the old ways to view and solve problems no longer worked.
Groups of community leaders from all around the world started to connect, first through email, then through mailing lists, then the first gathering was organized.
But, what exactly is the Art of Hosting?
The AoH is defined as “an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges.”
The aim is to harness the collective wisdom and self-organization capacity of groups, a complete detachment from top-down, hierarchical leadership and organization patterns. It is an invitation to explore and embrace the paradoxes of chaos and order, leading and following, confusion and clarity, sacred and irreverent, content and process, and many more.
The emerging patterns of the AoH, like in permaculture, emerge from observing and understanding nature and specifically systems, as human systems are not different from those in nature.
The AoH starts with some assumptions:
In the AoH, people come through an invitation, and they respond as co-hosts themselves: they bring their projects, challenges and concerns. While learning or practicing new techniques, ways of thinking and methodologies, they connect deeper to themselves, each other and nature.
There are no leaders in the AoH, only hosts. As the name indicates, the AoH is an art that considers how each one of us host ourselves and how we host others. It covers how we show up, dress, behave, listen and respond, participate and contribute, and how we acknowledge, observe and respect the land, and the history and the peoples (human and non-human) who are hosting us.
In permaculture, we can say that the AoH is embedded in some of its principles and ethics: before we even start visioning, we need to observe and interact or be aware of not only who we are but also the land, the community and the systems we want to design for.
The AoH approach is organic, leads by trust and by hosting (yourself and others, including the land and other beings). It works through networks and seeks questions and navigates challenges. It makes decisions through consultations, while knowing that no solution is perfect or forever, but always a trial: the best solution is that which works for now. It motivates through engagement and ownership, and follows purpose and caring. Action and results may come later.
Now that are you are familiarized with the overall concept of the AoH to learn more about it you can visit the The Art of Hosting Official Website and browse through the different sub-page and resource areas to learn more about the different methodologies and techniques.
See if there is an AoH happening close to your community. Check for groups already practicing the diverse methods, such as The Circle Way, and consider joining them.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Social Permaculture: The Art of Hosting module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Silvia Di Blasio.
Silvia Di Blasio is a permaculture practitioner, teacher and consultant and life and career coach. Silvia specializes in inner and social permaculture and is also a passionate practitioner, instructor and advocate for food sovereignty and disaster preparedness/planning as a starting point for building individual and community resilience. Silvia lives in Canada, where she works with immigrants and refugees, collaborates with the education and events of a local ecovillage, writes, blogs, facilitates workshops and co-coordinates the network of the Work that Reconnects. Silvia is also part of the local Art of Hosting and Art of Mentoring networks.
Further reading on this topic:
Baldwin, Christina, Linnea, Ann, The Circle Way—A Leader in Every Chair
Brown, Juanita, David Isaacs, The World Café—Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
#socialjustice #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture #socialpermaculture #theartofhosting
This resource is brought to you by
Food Not Lawns,
Permaculture Women's Guild, and Heather Jo Flores.
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