The Power of Collaboration: Why I chose to teach in the Women’s Online Permaculture Design Course

Learn about the collaborative women’s online permaculture design course

by Kareen Erbe

When I started my permaculture business, Broken Ground, in 2011, I knew very little about entrepreneurship, even less about marketing, and was clueless about how to make a living doing something I was passionate about. What I did know was that I felt compelled to teach, write, and contribute in a meaningful way to the world. Rather than bemoaning what was wrong with people, politics, and the environment, I wanted to be a part of the solution and encourage others to do the same.

To bring the idea of a business to fruition involved more education and training, support and encouragement from my husband and girlfriends, and a lot of self-talk around actually being good enough. This notion of being good enough was the most significant hurdle to starting a business. For me it manifested as “who I am to teach this topic?” or “I don’t have a website” and morphed into countless excuses to delay “my launch.” But at the root of it was a fear of putting myself out there, of being visible and of opening myself up to the judgement of others. I sat for months in paralysis, in self-doubt, and in overanalysis.

Eventually, however, the balance was tipped, where the fear of not fulfilling my dream overrode my fear of failure and visibility. I imagine I am not alone in this feeling. For me, it has always been a struggle between joining the masses and working a 9 to 5 job for ‘the man’ or creating, innovating, and dabbling along the margins in search of meaningful and fulfilling work. In starting my business, I finally and wholeheartedly chose the latter.

As permaculture practitioners, we are familiar with the value of the margins or the edges. There is more productivity, life, and diversity there. Think of the life along the shoreline of a lake as opposed to the center of it, or the edge between a forest and a meadow where the resources of both merge together. As human beings, if we’re not consistently pushing the edges of our comfort zone, we don’t grow and thrive. In stepping outside of our comfort zone, we are challenged to experiment, to solve problems, and to come up with new ideas.

Since building my business seven years ago, I’m happy to say that I sit for less time in self-doubt and have become more comfortable with visibility. Though I do a lot of solo tasks (i.e. teaching, writing, consulting), I have now become very intentional about seeking opportunities to collaborate in my business, especially with women.

As women, we naturally collaborate, support, and share. Rather than “going it alone” and competing, many women would sooner work together, to see themselves and others succeed in the process. It’s certainly not that we aren’t good enough, it’s most definitely not that we aren’t smart enough, it’s simply that we prefer the support, the community, and the richness of collaboration. After all, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

As I’ve built my business, I have gotten invaluable advice and support from other women entrepreneurs. At every step of my journey, I have appreciated a nudge, words of encouragement from a sister, and a reminder to dispense with the negative voices in my head.

Just as I’ve sought the support from other women, I’ve reciprocated it. Through my business, I have always made a point to elevate other women and their work, inviting them as guest instructors, introducing their businesses at potlucks that I organize. I see their reluctance to promote themselves, so I do it for them. Let’s face it, it has always been easier to shine the light on others rather than yourself!

When Heather Jo Flores, the organizer of the Permaculture Women’s Guild, asked me to participate in the Women’s Online Permaculture Design Course, I had the familiar “I’m not good enough” refrain resurface in my mind. However, I came back to the idea of testing my edges, stepping outside of my comfort zone, saying yes to opportunity, and saying yes to collaboration. What better chance than being able to work with a such a powerful group of women.

The Women’s Online PDC is a collaborative effort of more than 40 women from 13 countries. We have crafted an accessible, comprehensive online course for a global community of mothers, sisters, healers, activists, gardeners, and problem solvers. The goal of this PDC is to train a new generation of permaculture designers with the skills they need to not only design landscapes and create homesteads, but also to manifest personal, cultural, and ecological abundance.

The idea for this course came as a direct response to the lack of women’s visibility in the permaculture field. Though there are countless experienced women permaculture practitioners and teachers, the predominance of white men in permaculture can not be ignored. Though permaculture is about living in a new paradigm, the old paradigm of patriarchy and privilege is still very much a part of the movement.

We could talk at length about the injustice of the patriarchy, it is a global conversation that has become even more visible over the past couple years. Those of us women who work in the permaculture field have all felt it in our own ways; we have known the belittlement, the disrespect, and the lack of acknowledgement for the work that we do. It is frustrating, it is unjust, and it happens all the time. But following permaculture principles, we’re designing our way positively out of this problem and into the solution.

The Women’s Online PDC is part of the solution. It is not only about collaboration, it’s about diversity, about elevating women’s voices in permaculture, and about creating opportunities for ourselves and the students who participate in the course.

As I’ve grown my business, I’ve come to understand that if opportunities for visibility do come along, I must take them, I must step up, no matter how uncomfortable or unworthy I might feel. And as both a woman entrepreneur and permaculture practitioner, I know that these opportunities don’t always come along. When they aren’t given to me, I must make them, step outside my comfort zone, and play along the edges.

The Women’s Online PDC fits right into the wave of women’s voices who are speaking out; it is part of the groundswell of women no longer waiting for permission. It is representative of making our own way, forging our own path and shifting the paradigm of how permaculture, how business, and how collaboration are done.

So I invite you to join me along the edges, join this tribe of sisters who are doing amazing work around the planet, learn from them, practice with them, and in so doing, become a better designer, teacher, homesteader, gardener and pioneer for the planet.

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