Permaculture Teaching Matters – Here is Why

Quand tu veux construire un bateau, ne commence pas par rassembler du bois, couper des planches et distribuer du travail, mais reveille au sein des hommes le desir de la mer grande et large.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Out of Control Baobab Trees eating the Planet
Out of Control Baobab Trees eating the Planet

Among a million other projects, I’ve been preparing a brief presentation on Rowe Morrow’s last book “Permaculture Teaching Matters”, which can be downloaded for free here:

My short presentation will happen the last day of the next Advanced Permaculture Teachers Training at O.U.R. Ecovillage, where 22 participants, the instructor (Jude from Cascadia Permaculture) and two amazing TA’s will be on place, along with my friends from O.U.R. and some other visitors.

And after a few years flirting with the idea and teaching a few “Intro to Permaculture” here and there, it is also a good moment to ask: “why does teaching permaculture matter?”

First, a few words on the main foundation of Rowe’s teaching philosophy and approach: Transformational Learning, based on Paulo Freire’s ideas and practice, well documented through his books “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Education for Critical Consciousness”, among others.

In 1963, Freire headed a literacy programme that trained more than 5 million people to read and write and for this was forced into exile by the right wing Brasilian government. His methodology was popularized in a series of books written by Anne Hope and Sally Timmel called Training for Transformation.

These books and the methodology have been used in communities in every part of the world to bring about change and to build a more just society.

There are six principles or intuitions of Freire that capture his understanding of education and change. They are:

  • The aim of education is radical transformation of our own lives, our communities, and our societies.
  • We need to identify “generative themes” as the basis for the learning process because people learn best and work hardest for change when they have strong feelings about an issue and are emotionally engaged.
  • Dialogue is essential. Learning must be participatory. The educator (or animator) creates the space for this dialogue and draws insights from everyone so that participation is authentic.
  • Use a problem-posing approach to analyze and understand the root causes of injustice. Find answers together and use them as the basis for action planning.
  • Use a reflection/ action approach – what Freire referred to as praxis – in order to create change.
  • No education is neutral – every approach supports certain values and worldviews. (taken from Rosemary’s book)

How all this connects with Permaculture?

Permaculture is transformational: when someone takes a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) or starts reading a book, watching videos and reading articles, they are transformed. If that transformation is not happening, there is no real learning.

Unfortunately, many PDCs and permaculture “teachers” have fallen into the mistake of teaching permaculture as gardening or farming; many also teach “techniques”, which are localized and specific instead of teaching ethics and principles, which are global and transferable and then make people think and feel, then solve local issues.  As a result, we have many “food forests” that end up abandoned, community gardens that become an entertaining place for middle classes while the ones who truly need them are still homeless and starving, or build cob benches in the middle of a rainy park.

But it is the “People Care” of Permaculture the piece that connects more with Transformational Learning: because permaculture is a response to the predicaments we have in the world, there is an immense need for real transformation, one that happens at the soul’s level: the way we understand and connect to others and the world. It s not just about going off the grid (and in many cases, it has nothing to do with it at all) an it is much more than embracing simplicity: permaculture is about designing systems (including human ones) that are truly sustainable and resilient. For that to happen, a huge shift needs to happen in our hearts, minds and hands: from how we feel to how we see/interpret and how we react to/design/build the world around us.

Why does teaching Permaculture matter?

The Little Prince
The Little Prince

More than ever, teaching and sharing permaculture matters: things are not changing fast enough. Those who “lead” us through the predicaments compartmentalize the concerns into boxes: “soil depletion”, “hunger”, “poverty”, climate change”, “war”, “refugees”, “economic crises”, “unemployment”, “depression”, “isolation”, “women abuse”, “child abuse” and so on…unable to match the dots, their efforts overlap, fall short or completely miss the point.

Those who see a bit further insist in presenting “solutions” that either exaggerate reality or send us through delusions and magical thinking.

An example is Naomi Klein’s last presentation at the SFU Public Square, her book “This Changes Everything” and the documentary of the same title. We don’t need to switch from fossil fuels to renewables to prevent or minimize the effects of climate change: we need to design and implement an energy descent action plan, a way to use less, consume less, need less…and at the same time, a way to completely reframe our relationship to nature and our planet (to be fair, Naomi does well in this last part).

Would Permaculture save the world from catastrophe? I doubt it would, but the more individuals and communities become aware of the issues and start making changes from consumption to production, including how we treat each other and how/where we live, the more resilient they’ll be.

The energy descent and its sibling, climate change, with all the rest of the family: biodiversity loss, pollution, resource depletion, inequality, oppression and violence will not happen all at once as many doomers and survivalists think. These things are already happening. They are happening in hiccups and affecting communities and individuals in a very unequal way. The hiccups will become more and more profound and will hit faster and sooner each time. Recovering will become more and more difficult (if it happens).

This doesn’t mean we have permission to give up, engage in eternal navel gazing or become paralyzed.

Teaching real permaculture (not techniques but the big picture/critical thinking) matters now more than ever.

Bill Mollison, one of the creators of the Permaculture concept once said: “I you have a dysfunctional institution, don’t try to change it. Rather, determine what that institution was suppose to deliver and design a better system to actually deliver that purpose or service. If you have done this correctly, then people will come to you. The old institution will eventually wither and die

While the above sounds great for those of us who are pacifists, the idea doesn’t apply to all situations. For sure not to the current predicament we have. The “old” and “dysfunctional” institution won’t wither and die so easily because even when we may be the 99%, we are not together: we even over-estimate our numbers! If you don’t believe me, just look outside your window: nothing has substantially changed since Paris COP21; even with the civil rights achievements more than 40 years ago and the “never again” Hitler era, we are witnessing the raising of a leader that openly discriminates and encourages intolerance. The “organic” movement has become a cash grab and a myth for many to “feel good” , same as with “free range” and all the other greenwashing.

We are not 99%.

A huge amount of people from all backgrounds and “levels” are engaged in a culture of consumerism and instant satisfaction.

More than half of the planet’s peoples are either employed in dull or abusive jobs that don’t allow them to reflect, engage in change or build anything new; or unemployed and desperate for a job that brings food to their tables.

About 25% of the world’s population are refugees, migrants or have been displaced by war, financial issues, unemployment, poverty, hunger, climate change, political or social issues, etc.

The middle class either looks at the other side or is so overwhelmed that hides its head in the ground through TV shows, vacations, the rat-race, drugs and the like.

Look around you and count the real amount of people who go to marches and demonstrations; how many are truly involved in the front lines or even behind as silent supporters; how many grow their own food, saw their own clothes or are engaged in bringing local energy to their communities.

Then count how many cars do you see in the street and highways every single day and hour; how many in the shopping malls or taking planes to Hawaii or Cancun.

Count the amount of powerful and rich ones, the corporations and governments lobbing for more permits and more land grabs.

We could see all this and throw the towel: there is nothing to do; people are sleepwalking into the abysm for one or other reason…

Or we can make an ethical choice and decide that no matter the results, no matter where the tipping point will appear, no matter whether we see the end of the tunnel, we are here to do the right thing.

Is for all of these ones, no matter if they are the 2, 5 or 80%, and for all those who cannot make a choice or don’t have the strength to so  yet, that Permaculture teaching matters.

Quoting Naomi Oreskes in a recent interview:

Oreskes: “It’s a cliché to say that knowledge is power. It’s not true actually. Knowledge is knowledge. In our society, knowledge resides in one place, and for the most part, power resides somewhere else. And that disconnect is really the crux of the challenge we face right now.”

Mongabay: “You want to end on that note?”

Oreskes: “No! I don’t want to end with that. What I want to say is that at the end of the day, pessimism is not acceptable. It becomes an excuse for giving up. And I reject it.”



Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
~ Rosa Luxemburg

People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.”
~ Assata Shakur

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