My Writings. My Thoughts.
Each summer for the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching a permaculture design course with Steve Gabriel of Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute. He’s an inspiring, dedicated, and thoughtful teacher. I’m happy to say that he’s also part of the crew of up and coming permaculturists who are helping reconnect permaculture with scientific research.
He’s currently working on a book on forest farming – the cultivation of crops in the forest understory, with Cornell professor Ken Mudge. They are running a crowdfunding campaign in order to visit and document forest farming operations across the US. Their work is worth your support.
Then head on over and check out the short video and other info at their crowdfunding campaign.
You won’t regret it.
“Permaculture and Slavery: A Systems Analysis” kicks off a welcome and badly needed discussion of the legacy of African slavery in the development of the US economy – all through the energetic lens of systems ecology, long beloved by permaculturists. Go check it out. You’ll find me in the comments.
From the fine people at Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute – with whom I teach every summer.
The Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute (FLPCI) and The Permaculture Institute of the North East (PINE) are delighted to offer four fellowships for the upcoming Permaculture Design Certification course (PDC) offered this summer, in upstate New York from July 26th through August 11th.
This fellowship is both need-based and merit-based. It aims to support community organizers, educators, and activists to share their permaculture knowledge with their communities. We encourage fellows to use their earnings as seed money for community-based permaculture education and activism.
Women, people of color, and individuals from other historically marginalized groups are strongly encouraged to apply.
We will begin selecting applicants on a rolling basis after April 17, 2013.
More information can be found at http://
Summary: Neil Bertrando just authored a great article, in which he adapts my adaptation of the Scale of Permanence to generate some extremely useful strategic discussion of permaculture education and research in the USA. The content of his article is worthy of it’s own discussion, but here I’m just discussing method.
Over the past few years I’ve been ‘experimenting’ with the underlying structure of Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence - trying to see what it is about it that makes it so compelling and useful for site analysis and design. My interest has been to see what concepts it might be related to in other disciplines, and how it might be applied in other domains than landscape planning. I’ve come to think of the Scale of Permanence as a form of ordered constraint analysis. At it’s most general, it involves identifying all the most pertinent factors that shape the possibilities and potentials of the design challenge, and then ordering them by malleability. Notice that I say ‘malleable’ rather than ‘changeable,’ since some of the most dynamic conditions may also be the least responsive to our efforts to influence them – e.g. climate, or floodplain hydrology (Hi, Keith Morris!). The process of identification and ordering structures the investigation of the design context – aka site analysis – and the ordered list structures the sequence of the design process. In Yeoman’s Keyline system – and thereby in permaculture, which imported Keyline wholesale – we design around the least malleable constraints first (climate, in the case of site design) and then proceed stepwise through list.
The first time the generalized take on the SoP saw the light of day was at the School for Designing a Society (where I taught a ‘liberation ecology’ course in the Fall of 2011), and then in a more realized form at Financial Permaculture, in Miami last month. Our design group in Miami used it as a way of structuring the strategic business planning process for the Earth Learning Farm at Verde Gardens – and it seemed like it worked well. (Our design team definitely kicked ass, but that was influenced by multiple factors.) Now, to my excitement, one of the design team participants has adapted the adaptation for another design context. Neil Bertrando just authored a great article, in which he uses a version of ordered constraint analysis to generate some extremely useful strategic discussion of permaculture education and research in the USA. (The content of that article is worthy of it’s own discussion, but for now I’m just focusing on method.)
Just returned from Miami and the Financial Permaculture course. Just catching up with life, and realized I forgot to post a link to the very fun interview I did with Scott Mann at Permaculture Podcast a few weeks ago.
Check it out! http://www.thepermaculturepodcast.com/2013/rafter/
My guest for this episode is Rafter Sass Furguson, a PhD student at the University of Illinois whose doctoral thesis involves visiting and documenting 50 self-identified permaculture farms across the United States. Though that work forms the body of our discussion, along the way we touch on science literacy, permaculture education, crowd-funding of scientific research, permaculture and metaphysics, farms and financial permaculture, and his work as an agroecologist and how that discipline informs his teaching and practice of permaculture. Quite a bit to cover in the 45 minutes or so of our conversation.
As Scott notes, the interview is actually a pretty good introduction and overview to my work – for anyone seeking something along those lines.
Some thoughts on making the investment:
• $657 for 5 full days (and evenings) with an (ahem) star-studded 16+ person teaching team is impressively cheap.
• Food is included in that figure – lodging is $165 for dorm-style, $60 for camping, or you can arrange your own.
• If you enter LIBECOL at registration, they’ll knock $80 off your tuition.
• Scholarships are available.
• If you refer others to the event, your tuition will be reduced by 10% of whatever they pay.
I’m teaching this workshop for expenses only* because I’m excited about this format and teaching team – and because, as I’ve mentioned in other posts – I think it’s getting at the heart of the economic bottleneck that regenerative businesses are facing. I think it’s going to be an amazing event.
*Expenses, in this case, means that I’ll be provided with food and lodging, and most of my travel expenses will be paid for. Teachers also get 10% of tuition paid by students they refer to the course. In my case, it will probably amount to enough to cover another slice my remaining travel costs. It’s worth it!
Permaculturists face a wicked contradiction. We want to create, and support the creation of, businesses and organizations that point the way toward a new way of doing things. If we want to claim that permaculture is ‘design that meets human needs while increasing ecosystem health,’ then we need to be able to demonstrate how the enterprises we design are meeting this description. Otherwise, our ethics aren’t meaningful, and the claims we make about the value of permaculture aren’t credible.
The trick is that these enterprises also have to thrive right now, under industrial capitalism. If no one but the independently wealthy can use permaculture systems to both survive the current society and transition to whatever comes next, then permaculture isn’t much help at all. I don’t want to make lifeboats and pleasure gardens for the rich, and I don’t want to have to wait until after the apocolypse for permaculture to make good economic sense.
So there is our contradiction: we have to make truly regenerative enterprises that can succeed right now, enmeshed in a grossly degenerative socio-economic system. We have to make a future that can survive the present. I’m grateful that the Financial Permaculture series is helping address this challenge directly and with great intelligence – which is why I’m teaching at the upcoming course for expenses only.
The permaculture literature mostly deals with the tools and the opportunities available – so I’m going to keep focussing on the challenges. With this post I hope to frame some questions, and generate discussion, about the challenges we face – particularly the two major challenges that I see for permaculture farms (and for the many who work and farm permaculture-style without having been influenced by permaculture proper).
- At the scale of the farm itself, very few planning tools exist to support the level of diversification that permaculture farms will usually show. Even fewer tools exist to support successional budgeting and planning for perennial systems – the yields of which will change over time. Permaculturists who integrate animal, perennial, and annual production face a significant challenge in figuring out how to integrate the tools that are available – or create their own – so that they can do the necessary planning to ensure the viability of their business.
- Beyond the farm boundaries, permaculturists find themselves in competition with cheap industrial food, whose price is subsisidized by cheap oil (and the wars that secure it), pollution, exploited labor, and tax dollars (via government subsidies). We have the local and slow food movements to thank for a growing base of educated consumers who will pay a ‘premium’ (ha!) for food whose price isn’t kept artificially low by degenerative practices – but these niche markets don’t exist everywhere, and they won’t get us all the way to where we need to go.
So how do we adapt and combine existing farm business planning tools for permaculture systems? How do we adapt and combine progressive business models that will permit regenerative enterprisees to thrive in the current system? What have you seen work, or fail?
Here is a lightly-revised version of “Putting Some Teeth in the Permaculture Ethics,” originally published on my old website in 2010 (then republished on this revamped site last August). I’m revisiting it here because it’s been on my mind, as I prepare for teaching at Financial Permaculture 2013, Jan.21-25, in Miami. This course is addressing one of the big gaps, and areas of great innovation, in the evolution of the permaculture framework.
We are in the grips of a paradox. In order to designing projects and businesses that can help regenerate landscapes and communities, we have to design projects that are socially and ecologically sustainable. But these projects must also be able to thrive right now, in our current society that often seems to reward exploitation and destruction before anything else. Reconciling this contradiction in our design work requires new ways of thinking, above and beyond the tools that permaculture has historically offered to the design of human settlements. In order to address the ethical questions and standards that I raise below, we must incorporate strategies for surviving and growing in the current financial system while we work to replace it.
This is, in part, why I’m excited about the upcoming course (and why I’m teaching for expenses only). I think that FPC2013 is helping navigate that paradox. Hope to see you there!
(Psst! If you are going, enter LIBECOL at registration for an $80 discount.)
What follows is the new edition of Putting Some Teeth in the Permaculture Ethics…
(1) Care for the Earth
(2) Care for People
(3) Redistribute Surplus
Changing the Face of Farming concluded tonight, at a triumphant 173% of our original funding goal, or $8645.
That this was accomplished without any donations over $500, and very few over $100, is a testament to the power of both crowdfunding and the permaculture network. 164 separate individuals contributed to the campaign! It’s a rare privilege to get to thank 164 people for their support of your work.
A great unexpected benefit of this project has been the opportunity to connect with so many inspired and inspiring people, about the importance of all our work – and the place of this research within the much greater project of shifting our world in the direction of a just and sustainable society. I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity to connect with so many kindred spirits.
It’s worth noting that, as a result, I’m also way behind on email.So if I’m taking a while to get back to you, please know that I’m slowly and methodically catching up. I’m grateful for your patience, and for being in touch.