The Challenge of Permaculture

This is my first post in this new blog. A timely one considering that next Saturday I will be formally presenting an introduction to Permaculture at the Grassroots Yoga Festival.

I would like to start my post with a question: what is Permaculture?

Most permaculturists struggle with this question when somebody (not a permaculturista) asks them what it is…

Permaculture use to be a “cult” word, something practiced by the fringes, something ignored by mainstream, sometimes too obscure, too hippie or too vague for most to grasp or worry about.

Then it started to emerge as a sustainable approach to gardening or farming, and it is still conceived by many as an elitist, a bit new-agey lifestyle that includes back-to-land, off the grid, self-sufficient and all-natural building and living.

And there is where the challenge resides: how an average middle class, Western-like person (and many non Western who had adopted Western-lifestyles with mortgages, shopping malls and individual cars) can even dream on changing their ways into back-to-land, off the grid, self-sufficient?

And it may become more complicated for those who may need it more: how can an average low-class or even terribly poor person from anywhere in the world even dream of becoming self-sufficient and going back to a land that was stolen from them when living off the grid is not the last fashion to follow but their everyday reality where there is water and food scarcity, seeds and tools are nowhere to be found or too expensive and energy is needed to heat, cool or bring some comfort to lives who are already tired of so much chronic hunger, illness, working for others for nothing and so on?

Don’t get me wrong: I love Permaculture and think it is one of the best approaches for the predicaments we currently face and the ones future generations will face. Most of Permaculture is based on common sense, ethics and critical thinking.

But the way it has been practiced by some has made it elitist and difficult to grasp. Even the PDCs (Permaculture Design Certificates) are out of reach for many of those who desperately need it, and the things taught are not necessarily a practical way to get from where they currently are to where they could or should be.

Most Permaculture students (at least this is true in North America) end the course excited and inspired but with no practical tools or ideas of how to apply this to their lives and communities. In most cases, some don’t have the call or the skills to farm, build a cob house or repair anything. And in many, many cases, they don’t have access to land.

Making Permaculture elitist has another problem: we miss on those segments who may feel disconnected or ignored by how Permaculture is (mainly) presented: immigrants and refugees, children, aging people, people with physical or mental disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, obesity and other conditions, people from minority groups, the unemployed and homeless, those who are not “fit” for a combination of factors and those who don’t know or can’t ride bikes, sleep in tents, etc.

Permaculture is missing at least 80% of those who may need it most; in a time where the ones who will be most impacted (by climate change, resource scarcity and so on) are exactly those who either don’t know it exist and how it can help them or can’t afford to learn and live a “Permaculture life”.

My goal in this blog is to:

  1. Make a case for Permaculture going mainstream (why do we need it and where)
  2. Share my own experiments and struggles as a middle-class person going into Permaculture (a experience I started in late 2011 and has not ended)
  3. Share not only Permaculture ethics and principles (which can be found anywhere in the internet and by reading Permaculture books) but how they can be utilized in the decision-making process for designing from an edible garden to a complete lifestyle change, including change in livelihood, parenting, energy use and conservation, etc)

A secondary goal for this blog is to create a community of regular people from all backgrounds who are initially not “eligible” for Permaculture but who want to not only explore but utilize Permaculture strategies to better navigate the many world challenges and add their tiny individual efforts to the healing of the world.

Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn come to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” ~ Robert Baden-Powell. Founder of the Scouts Movement

3 Comments on “The Challenge of Permaculture

  1. Hello! Great blog. Can you give examples or direct me to another one of your blog posts that gives examples of ways to make permaculture less elitist from your view. I see this as the elephant in the room in most permaculture groups in the U.S. And would like some info on how to flush it down the toilet. Personally, I’m sick of the idea of having to convince the elite class to make things happen. And while I may be a white male I hope to use my priveledge to empower others.
    Thank you for starting this conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi John,
      First of all, I want to thank you for reminding me of this post I wrote about two years ago. Re-reading my own post reminded me why I created this blog in the first place. Have I been successful with my goals? Not at all! My permaculture knowledge and network have both expanded, but I have been unable to make permaculture more “mainstream” and reach those who are always left behind.
      You ask me how to make permaculture less elitist and I promise a blog post for you, but I won’t have all the answers and that is the main issue that has made permaculture so elitist: pretending we have all the answers, ignoring and oppressing those who were there before. To know how to make it less elitist we need to start by the first permaculture principle: observing and interacting. This includes listening and being humble. Permaculture is a toolkit, not a panacea. Permaculture is based in ecology and systems and it shouldn’t be a dogma. There are many other things to consider so I better write a blog with my own observations from these two last years and my own experience. I would also like to open up the dialog to other permaculturists who have similar questions and may have their own experiences to share.
      Thanks again,


  2. Pingback: Mainstream Permaculture – An honest review – Mainstream Permaculture

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