Permaculture: Use It or Lose It

What’s the Purpose of Learning Permaculture?

There is no longer time to waste nor any need to accumulate more evidence of disasters; the time for action is here” ~ Bill Mollison (Permaculture, a designers’ manual, p. 1)

The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for your own existence and that of your children. Make it now.” ~ Bill Mollison (Permaculture, a designers’ manual, p. 1)

This book is much about solutions than about problems, more about what we can do in the present situation than about how we came to be in it in the first place. Yet there’s no escaping the fact that the Earth is in dire state, and getting worse. In the twenty-three years I’ve been actively involved in the ecological movement almost every aspect of planetary health has got worse.

This raises the question: is it all worth it? If we do our best to heal the Earth and make our place in her a sustainable one, is there a good chance that we will succeed? Or is it a forlorn hope? It’s a big question, and one which can lead to depression if we look at the facts honestly and dispassionately. But to my mind it’s the wrong question. Even if we could answer it –and we can never know anything about the future for certain – it would beg the question, How do I want to live my life?” ~ Patrick Whitefield in his introduction to his “The Earth Care Manual” book…(the emphasis is mine)

the thinker

I’m just coming back from a family trip to Gabriola Island, one of the wonderful Gulf Islands in BC that I love so much (one day I may even move to one of them, still not sure which one)…our family trips are not “vacation” in the sense most people consider these “breaks”: at least for me, these trips are an opportunity to explore how other people live their lives, give both my body and my mind a break from everyday struggles and preoccupations and reflect on what I’m doing with the time that has been given to me…

I would like to dedicate this post to those who have asked me about my Permaculture training or practices, my struggles, mistakes and successes, whether PDCs should be free of charge, who is “the best” Pc teacher, whether taking a PDC is worth or even necessary and what to do after you have finished one…but beyond that, I want to dedicate it to those who understand the struggles and realities of the current status of our world, those young (and not so young) who are struggling because don’t see the meaning in their “fight”…this is for you all, thank you for being there for me and for others. You have taught me that I’m not alone.

I took my first formal PDC in 2013 and started the second one (which I have not finished yet) the same year. I took an advanced PDC training (PcTT or Permaculture Teachers Training) in 2014 and then became a TA for the same in 2015. In between, I’ve taking many isolated modules (such as Urban Permaculture with Toby Hemenway or Transition Training with Naresh Giagrande, among others). I am also registered (but idle for the moment) to complete a diploma in Permaculture with my mentor Delvin Solkinson from the Sunshine Coast. I have dozens of books, videos, magazines and documentaries on Permaculture, organic gardening, growing food, homesteading, food preservation, natural building, wilderness first aid, survivalism and the like.

But if you ask me, training doesn’t accomplish anything: Permaculture is not something to check out of the “to do” list and then hang on the wall among other certificates and degrees. Neither is it an accumulation of empty academic knowledge or “how to’s” that you memorize and recite by heart.  Permaculture asks to be lived, it was created and designed as a response to the predicaments and challenges brought about by us and taking shape as climate change, resource depletion, biodiversity loss and social inequity, among others…

Permaculture is a thinking process, a worldview, an explanation on how things really work and a response to the questions “how to live our lives” (probably the most responsible and appropriate one given current world circumstances)

Unfortunately, as many other important concepts and approaches of the past, it has been hijacked by those who can only see business and gains but are unable to see the meaning and purpose of this terrific tool. There are also many who think it has to be “regulated” and even see it as a profession.

I know I’ll be scratching many itches here, but after some years of thought and observation, I have come to the conclusion that trying to “regulate” or standardize something that was created to navigate, minimize and even challenge altogether the paradigms that brought us to the complex mess we have today, it is a living contradiction: you can’t “regulate” something that is organic, revolutionary and has the potential to completely turn this system upside-down.

I know people who never took (or started but never finished) a PDC but who I consider the best permaculturists I’ve known so far: they just live it!

“The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions” ~ Bill Mollison (Permaculture, a designers’ manual, p. x)

Whether you have already taken a PDC and are wondering how to “apply” it to your life or you are considering to take one; whether you wonder whether it is worth the investment (some PDCs are really expensive) or you may do better by reading the books, watching related videos and start applying the concepts, here is how you can “use it or lose it”:

  • Take some time to observe your own life: how and where you live, where your energy, water, food, goods and services come from, how they are produced, who produces them and how they are disposed when done (“waste”). This observation and the interaction with people and research sources will provide you with the foundations of what you may want to change to become more responsible and interdependent, proactive, regenerative and creative as opposed to dependent, reactive, passive and destructive.
  • Take inventory of what you are and what you have: how old are you? Are you living with someone? Do you have dependants? How is your health? Do you have obligations such as mortgage or other debts? What are your assets in terms of tools, stuff, money, time, skills, networks, friends, etc? This will give you an idea of where you stand and similar to the Permaculture chicken analysis, you’ll see your products, needs, inherent characteristics, etc. and will be able to start planning how to tap into them.
  • Read the essentials: I recommend taking the time to really read Mollison’s Designer’s Manual and/or Intro to Permaculture and Holmgren’s Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability; you can also read “The Permaculture Handbook” by Peter Bane, Toby Hemenway’s “Gaia’s GardenThe Earth Care Manual” by Patrick Whitefield and “Earth user’s guide to Permaculture” by Rosemary Morrow…for those interested in Social/Psychological Permaculture, I recommend “People & Permaculture” by Looby Mcnamara. Reading IS important but even more important is that you REFLECT, TAKE NOTES and then APPLY what resonates with you, taking notes again on your results and observations and making decisions on what would work where you live and considering your particular circumstances. Do not follow formulas, they never work!
  • Start by building resilience in your own life: more than stuff, you’ll need skills. More than structures and kits, you’ll need awareness and the right attitude; more than wealth and big yields, you’ll need a caring and supporting network…
  • Imagine yourself as the landscape: start small and slow(as you would in a landscape design); work with what you are and have (as opposed to wishing what you are not and have not) and pair “solutions” with problems instead of trying to source out what you need or what you produce. I.e., you can “solve” the problem of “waste” on old clothing/sheets and blankets by making napkins, tablecloths, blankets, crochet area rugs, individuals, bags and even drapes for your windows…pick one “problem” in your life at a time and try to pair it with a potential “solution”
  • When designing and planning your life, take some time to consider both Permaculture ethics (Earth, People, Future/Fair) and Permaculture principles. Ask yourself how your design, choice or solution matched with them or whether there are any contradictions…use them not as a straitjacket but as a “test” tool
  • Start making small changes to the basic on your life: water, food, shelter, energy, communication, transportation, income source, entertainment, waste: what small changes can you make today? In one week? One month? One year? One decade?
  • Think outside the box and beyond what is in front of you and accept transitional solutions: I can’t formally harvest rainwater/grey-water because it goes against the townhouse complex by-laws. But I can use barrels and redirect the water in other ways: it may be messier and not a perfect solution, but I accomplish almost the same goal, which is saving water and using renewable resources appropriately.
  • Stay non-judgemental: unless you were born in a Permaculture-like household and community, chances are that you are and will never be the “perfect” permaculturist…not even Bill Mollison, David Holmgren or any of the big practitioners and teachers lead a “perfectly sustainable” and “resilient” life: we are in this together and looking for scapegoats, blame and competition doesn’t help the cause. People are all at different levels of awareness and for many, making behavioural or attitudinal changes is a much harder task: think how those immersed in debt, caring for aging parents or a disabled family member, those who suffer from health issues or are themselves already old or disabled, even those who look healthy and wealthy may have their own story…support them in their path and be there to answer questions and guide by example whenever is requested. Judge doesn’t help and contradicts the “People Care” ethic as well as the “integrate rather than segregate” and “Use and value diversity”
  • Stop thinking “future” such as in “when I have this I may be able to…” and do what you can with what you have right now. Dreaming and hoping are OK as long as they are active hope and dreaming: what are you doing today with what you have that leads to what you want/wish in the future?
  • Read, learn and share what others are doing within the Permaculture world such as the last article from “Permaculture Magazine” on Alleviating poverty with Permaculture or the people from IDEP projects using Permaculture in disaster management/recovery and IDEP and their free resources (ebooks on how to teach/implement permaculture in rural and impoverished areas)…these stories may inspire you to find what’s needed in your community. Maybe changing a friend’s patio into a vegetable garden or converting a senior’s backyard into a productive urban farm would do, in some cases bigger projects may be required…
  • Reach out: Permaculture is not a solitary practice, it is not an elitist decision to “go off the grid” and “back to the land” forgetting about others in your family, neighbourhood, community, country…Permaculture was never designed as a “selfie” while the ship was shrinking. Remember “People Care”? Before you decide to abandon the ship and save yourself, it may be good to remember that there is no island around…only ship wreck stuff to hang on for a bit longer, and that may not represent Permaculture…

Whatever you do and decide, remember what’s Permaculture for…you can always learn techniques and strategies by watching videos or volunteering at a local farm, community garden or perma-blitz, but the underlying principles and ethics are things you’ll have to reflect and apply in an endless exploration of your relationship with this Earth, its inhabitants and the future…

The good life is never stable, never secure, never easy and never ended. It is a series of steps or stages, one leading into the other and all, in their outcome, adding, not subtracting; augmenting, not diminishing; building, not destroying; creating, not annihilating.” ~ Scott and Helen Nearing (“The Good Life”)

2 Comments on “Permaculture: Use It or Lose It

  1. Yes, permaculture is a life philosophy rather than a certificate on a wall. I am going to do a PDC next year and am looking forward to it so that I can reach out to others of the same mind. I think I have learned a lot by reading and still have much to learn about ways of growing food even. However, being with others is the most powerful force on the journey….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As always, I appreciate your thought-provoking, honest discussions, Sylvia. I also appreciate the resource summary and analyses you shared in this post. It’s something I plan to revisit when winter comes and I have time to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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