Widening My Circle

I know I’ve been really quiet since starting the PDC.  One reason I think is became I’m synthesizing so much of my earlier permaculture learning with that provided in the class. Through my previously study, I had a great deal of information. I did a lot of study on my own. The way it is coming together in the PDC (particularly through the order in which the instructors present the information  in the PDC)  is giving me new insights into permaculture beyond the garden.   I think I’m waiting for the new learning from the PDC to catch up with the study I had done.

Secondly over the past month, I’ve determined that this blog needs to have a broader focus; that ultimately I have a broader area of  interest than what I’ve been talking about so far.

My original about me/about the blog statement says:

I am interested in investigating permaculture’s relevance to household renovation, municipal water and waste water system design and the transition economy in an urban/suburban context.

Really I am interested in learning about ways and systems to shift our minds not only toward a transition economy but to a more self-determined economy and consciousness. Permaculture as it is typically defined is a subset of this discussion.

Widening the Circle from Resurrection Fern

One of my earlier and most popular posts talked about the book … and the echo followsThis post  focused on  the way that rural poor people in India, Africa Central and  South America were using “permaculture solutions” to make decisions about and gain greater control over the factors that effect their lives. My focus in this blog thus far has been a focus on permaculture to the urban/suburban context because that’s where I live. Nevertheless the solutions of these so-called “third world” people are of interest because we in  the so-called “developed world” who are interested in permaculture are engaging the same forces as we attempt to make this shift to a transition economy.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  

Albert Einstein

Right now I’m struggling a little to articulate the concepts in my mind fully but know from here on out this blog will be covering a little broader territory. I’m sure I will get clearer as I continue to post.

Musings on Polyculture — Part 2

Anyway, here are the musings. For some reason the book The Elephant and the Flea by Charles Hardy came to mind. Hardy talks about the decline in conventional full-time jobs and the  shift to what he calls “portfolio work”, a collection of different bits and pieces of self-employed, part-time, temp paid work and volunteer work.  Hardy says:

“Already, by 1996, in Britain 67 percent o f British businesses had only one employee, the owner and in 1994 so-called micro-enterprises employing less than five people made up 89 percent of all businesses.”

Hardy suggests that we are moving from an economy dominated by large corporations (elephants) to one where portfolio work predominates (fleas). Though Hardy doesn’t say this, the elephants aspire to  a global scope of activities while the fleas tend to focus more locally.

I’ve certainly moved for working for an elephant for the life of a flea. Right now my portfolio of activities include:

  • paid work as non-profit consultant
  • contract work for a specific non-profit
  • volunteer work for a program that one day may turn into a paid position
  • unpaid work on this blog
  • networking
  • creating a permaculture homestead

All of these positions revolve around the interest areas of sustainability and permaculture.

When I worked for the corporation I did one thing, paid work for the corporation.

What’s my point?

  • Elephants are dependent on both peak oil and global capital to survive. They are more likely to collapse should these “petroleum-based fertilizers” no longer be available. They are more susceptible to such diseases as credit default swaps and stock price drops due to global currency fluctuations.   We see that today. As the stock market crashes or Italy (or Greece or whoever) defaults on their debt, the elephants fall.  Main street is only affected to the extent that they have bought into a parasitic reliance on the elephant or the resource systems supporting the elephant. (Rapidly rising oil prices affect us only to the extent that we haven’t invested in renewable energy sources.)
  • Portfolio life requires a different view of networking.  In the corporation, you as the individual tie into the network established by the corporation. This network is basically the energy circulation system of the elephant; the network that keeps the animal functioning. To the extent there is networking outside of the corporation, it is with other elephants – suppliers, regulators, distributors. As a flea, you are part of a  networking ecosystem on your own.  Networking is critical but the network tends to be more multipurpose. Fleas who attend at networking sessions with a lot of representatives of elephants, tend to be undervalued.

Fleas need to create out a local ecosystem composed of a variety of “plants” of various sizes and types: an internet community,meetup groups, traditional non profits and small businesses. Fleas need to seek out enterprises that are either physically local or “conceptually local”, online all revolving around the common theme. These enterprises will offer a nourishing environment with minimal energy expenditure.

  • Portfolio life is less secure, at least initially. Hardy says:

“Many will choose to live all their lives as fleas, valuing the freedom of independence over the dubious security of employment.”

I’ve found this to be true at least initially. But once you set up the network ( like once the mixed vegetable garden takes hold), it should require less energy to maintain, be more resistant to the shocks of rising oil prices and produce a greater yield.  This portfolio life is another strategy of the finance and economic petal of the permaculture flower.

Musings on Polyculture — Part 1

… and the echo follows, Permaculture North and South

Yesterday I attended a lecture in Atlanta  by author Nic Paget-Clarke. Nic’s new book entitled … and the echo follows was the basis of his lecture.  Both the book and the lecture explored the relationship between food and democracy. For over 15 years, Nic has been involved with farmers, peasants and farm collectives worldwide as the publisher of the web magazine, In Motion.  The book compiles photographs, stories, interviews and learnings gleaned from his work.

Democracy in its true sense allows people to collectively make decisions about the factors that affect their lives.  Nic has observed that people interested in achieving greater democracy were often involved in food production.  Both farmers and activists for democracy are concerned with the same three things, land, diversity and culture.

The book examines the contrast between 5  pairs of opposing global forces in pictures and through interviews:

  • Agribusiness and the Green Revolution vs Agroecology
  • “Free Trade” vs Food Sovereignty
  • Central Government Control vs Autonomy
  • Alienation vs Connection and Creativity
  • Vertical Integration vs Networks of People

Nic Paget-Clarke

Although Nic never used the term permaculture, much of his talk was about the global movement toward agroecology as a reaction to the negative impacts of agribusiness and the green revolution.

The technology he calls agroecology is very much akin to permaculture.  Before the lecture I had never heard the term before but since learned it is a science that applies ecological principles to food, fuel, fiber, and pharmaceuticals production. The system seems to be grounded in agronomy and focus on farm rather than household production.

Connections with the Permaculture Flower

In reviewing my notes on what he said and trying to think how I would connect his discussion to permaculture materials, I realized that the permaculture flower would be a good way to look at some of the concepts he presented.  According to the Permaculture Principles website:

(The permaculture flower illustrates that) the permaculture journey begins with the Ethics and Design Principles and moves through the key domains required to create a sustainable culture. The evolutionary spiral path connects these domains, initially at a personal and local level, and then proceeding to the collective and global level.

The key domains it names are:

  1. finance and economics
  2. health and spiritual well-being
  3. education and culture
  4. tools and technologies
  5. building
  6. land and nature stewardship
  7. land tenure and community governance

Holmgren has identified a few specific fields, design systems and solutions associated with each domain within the  wider view of permaculture.

Looking at them now, these  solutions are obviously those that the people of  Europe, North America and Australia primarily use. These are the parts of the world where permaculture seems to have been most strongly embraced up until now.

Nic’s presentation focused on domains 1, 3, 6 and 7 from the points of view of farmers and peasants in Africa, South America, central America and India as well as family farmers in North America. The strategies he covers in the book and their associated domains of influence are:

  • Opposition to so-called “fair trade” agreements and agroecological farming  – Domain 1 (finance and economics)
  •  Art and other creative culturally-based  strategies to combat alienation, the connection between food and culture and  equality of women – Domain 3 (education and culture)
  •  Seed saving and food sovereignty (Rather than growing an export crop for money and then buying imported food; the food you need to eat is grown locally.) – Domain 6 (land and nature stewardship)
  •  Agrarian reform, land ownership, local autonomy, cooperatives and networks – Domain 7 (land tenure and community governance)

As this blog continues I’m hoping it will continue to be a place to capture global permaculture strategies not just northern ones. Listening to Nic’s lecture let me know how much this permaculture movement (under whatever name you call it) is a global one . The forces, the effects of which are so clearly identifiable in the global South are also impacting us here in the North.  This book provides valuable food for thought as we all try to add permaculture to our lives.