“I’m under no illusion that the future will be a neat and tidy or desirable world. We will gain a lot of things through necessity and a lot of them through all sorts of fragile dysfunction—not because they’re bad ideas but because they will inevitably be adopted in a chaotic, reactive way. I think permaculture will become much stronger and more significant because the ideas behind it will grow rapidly as the system becomes more fragile.” ~ David Holmgren, co-founder of permaculture
I started this blog around two years ago with a post titled “The Challenge of Permaculture”. I had just translated David Holmgren’s Crash on Demand and my dream was to leave my day job and start implementing permaculture not only in my life but in my community.
I wanted to teach PDC’s in a different way from what I had experienced myself and make them not only affordable but also much more inclusive, I had prepared myself through two PDCs (one still incomplete) and a Permaculture Teachers Training. I had in my back all my experience as a teacher and community worker/counsellor and workshop facilitator and I also had experience teaching food sovereignty workshops, first aid and emergency preparedness…what could fail?
But then I hit a wall: the same reasons that keep so many others enslave in “mainstream” are enslaving me. I created this blog and called it “Mainstream Permaculture”: as a middle-class, married with children, full-time worker and living in the suburbs middle-age woman, I knew very well what the challenges were for people to plan and start an energy descent action plan. I also knew why many experience permaculture as detached and elitist: people who are too young (i.e. children), too old (seniors), not fit or healthy or are too poor or too committed as slaves of a work schedule, pay, etc. are automatically left behind. Many don’t feel represented or taken into account. Many see some permaculturists as too weird, too radical and sometimes self-righteous and judgmental. Others feel this is too difficult and unachievable for them as they see themselves as weak, unskilled, too tired or dependent of a system that’s killing them and making them unhappy.
I have read stories of people who felt oppressed and abused in PDCs or other permaculture projects and many left behind by either the action or inaction of those who should know better: even words can hurt when we don’t acknowledge our own privilege and assume that others have the same level of ability or access to things as we do.
In the two years that passed since my first post here, I’ve continued teaching food sovereignty and gardening workshops, volunteering for projects and more PDC assistance teaching and joined many different social-media groups. It has been challenging and demanding: I spend almost every weekend, evening, vacation and day off on planning, designing and implementing these workshops or approaching similar projects and communities. I’ve also spent money in books, tools and skills-training to equip myself, it hasn’t been easy.
In the groups I’ve met (online or in person) I have also encountered many who were becoming disillusioned and unhappy with the ways permaculture was being taught and implemented: issues with the inclusion of women, minority groups, children and seniors, people with disabilities or chronic health issues, etc. many of the issues were concerned with the very nature of permaculture: taught as a sort of “organic gardening/farming” or where only techniques are taught in a highly dogmatic way without caring for the ethics or principles.
At the same time, I have been lucky enough to see the opposite: the emergence of social and inner permaculture and transition and being part of truly caring and supportive permaculture groups and communities.
This week, I read this interview with David Homlgren and a reader from my first post asked for specific ways to make permaculture more accessible, more inclusive.
I don’t have the answers…part of my continuous struggle is the question in my mind/heart: should I leave all mainstream behind and embrace my own permaculture path or should I stay behind to support those who can’t afford to leave and will be more affected by what’s coming?
Here I what I think needs to be done to not only spread permaculture but also make it more inclusive and less elitist or cult-like:
Certificates and show-offs won’t really matter. While they are important if you are to apply for grants or approach other potential supporters from government or non-profit agencies and organizations, they won’t make any difference in the long term.
In a way, I have navigated a bit far from permaculture and allowed myself to explore other areas, areas that may be better aligned with my personality, age, health and natural gifts. I tried too hard to learn horticulture from a formal institution and while it was useful and fun (also frustrating in many ways), it showed me my path was not in designing landscapes or working long hours in gardens and farms.
Allow this process to happen to you to, and allow the Earth to tell you what your call is. She will share that everyone else out there has one call too, and they deserve to be integrated and celebrated, not segregated and punished for not being a perfect picture of what a permaculturist is (whatever this picture is).
In the end, it won’t matter if the people and ecosystems survived and thrived because of permaculture or something else; what will really matter is that we supported them both to do so.