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Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

Category            Permaculture Principles

“The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the seventh generation.”

Some might read this title as “self-control” and “critique”, and I love the fact that it is addressed early in the principles, because this one is key to understanding social permaculture and ‘invisible structures’.  Heard that one mentioned yet?  It’s permaculture jargon, to be sure—and it’s also something very important to know and pay attention to.  If we are to actually create the kind of change, to transition this entire planet from the energy-sucking waste pit it has become, into the harmonious, beautiful, regenerative place we know it can be—we had better understand something about people, and how they develop these ‘invisible structures’.

Principle #4 does not, in fact, refer to self-control—it is a re-iteration and a deeper understanding of ‘observe and interact’—this is the second turn of the spiral, where we go back and look again with new eyes at what we perceived before.  This is the “Hotel California” mentioned in the last section, where you can check-out but never leave–the part about where we come to recognize that we all come into every situation with our own ideas, experiences, and expectations—which may or may not be met there.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Ok, perhaps a bit overly dramatic, but the fact is—no one likes to be criticized, we all take things personally, and it takes a very long time to get to the point where one can truly self-regulate on a consistent basis—we all have bad days—I’m sure even the Dalai Lama gets irritated once in a while.  The point is to be aware of this rule—that, as permaculturists we strive to maintain a higher standard—one which allows us space to step back and re-evaluate with no judgment.   We ALL make mistakes—what this principle speaks of is the ability to open our minds to the possibility that there may just be another way, one that hadn’t occurred to us before.  This does not mean we need to go around pointing out others’ flaws, no–in fact—noticing what we consider ‘mistakes’ or ‘weaknesses’ or other character flaws can often give us great insight into our own foibles.  If not for community, how little opportunity we would have to grow as individuals!  This is one of the great values to ‘community’, and one of my personal favorite aspects of all of the permaculture courses and convergences I’ve attended—that sharing of ideas, leading to growth of each individual as well as the whole.

Personally, I’m a bit of a hermit—introvert for certain, far more comfortable in my home environment than out with people, as a rule.  There are, however, some acute disadvantages to being a ‘homebody’, which is why I choose to involve myself in many communities.  We think we get it right, those of us who are thinkers and planners and analyzers—but we must actually apply those thoughts and plans and hypothesis, because only half of the equation has taken place—the scientific method requires testing.  Sometimes over, and over and over again, until we get it right—and even then, adjustments must be made.  ‘Organic’ means that the system develops on its own—more of an evolution than an application, and what we do as designers is try to come as close to an organic system as we possibly can, mimicking the patterns of Mother Nature.  We are so embedded by adulthood into the systems we were raised in–the challenge to continually review and revise our social interactions, especially, can be daunting.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”


If this had happened, more, at the Cuba convergence—we would not have spent half our time in lines, or waiting on buses.  We might not have missed half of the farms we intended to see.  Perhaps we might have had the time to implement some permaculture project designs, if we had not been forced to contribute so much energy to helping provide sustenance to those with specific dietary preferences, or translation for language barriers.  The old saying ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ no longer applies in the world we are creating—not if Rome is the one responsible for the breakdown of society, the economy, or our planet.  Now is when we make the choice to make a different choice, and that means constantly questioning our own thoughts and actions, and learning to listen carefully to others.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

This is us, after all, isn’t it—permaculturists, on the whole?  We are so fired up, especially during and after one of our gatherings, that the energy must dissipate somehow, somewhere.  Often that appears to be on one another, or on an unsuspecting public, still feeling their way along with blinders on.  It is our responsibility to help them to clear vision, however, not to bat them over the head with concepts they have no tools yet to understand.  (This, by the way, is me speaking of myself—this is where I fall down, over and over again—in making the assumption that the person I’m having a conversation with has come to that place having traveled the same road, which is rarely the case.)  So, I find myself applying this principle again and again—self regulation, and the harder one—accepting feedback, which I have learned to ask for when appropriate.

Here are four words to remember and to use with impunity whenever faced with the necessity to change some course of action or design—four simple words, which can change the outcome of any difficult situation:

“I made a mistake.”

Now, the next step is simple—make a new choice, change the line of the swale, the angle of the gutter, the composition of the soil, the mode of communication—change your mind, and others may as well.


“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost

(Or, as my dad likes to say:  “If you see a fork in the road, what do you do?”  …”pick it up.”)                              Image

Thanks to my dear friend Jemma Sinclair, for always helping me to see the road less traveled, and to remain happy with that choice.

Read the Series:

Introduction:  “Unplugging”

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change


© Loretta Buckner, 2014, We Grow From Here

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Loretta Buckner and WeGrowFromHere.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.





Obtain a Yield

Category            Permaculture Principles

“You can’t work on an empty stomach.”

Any gardener is keenly aware of the end product they intend to harvest at the end of any season. Only a generation or so ago, it was commonplace for a family to supplement the food on their table quite heavily from their own gardens, particularly during time of war—you may be familiar with the “Victory Gardens” during the World Wars, or may even have parents or grandparents who did this. The yield from a garden is very simple: stretch the food budget, add vitamins and minerals to the diet, eat well. The ‘gazintas’ in this scenario are also pretty easy to see—a good gardener, after all, is a soil-tender, right? We know what the soil is to start with, and we augment with other essential nutrients for the plants to thrive. We give the plants enough water and light, and some sort of protection from predators. All are elements of the formula for ‘gardening’. The formula for larger-scale, or market gardening/farming is much the same—the desired yield in this case is one or more steps up—have enough harvest to sell to the public and obtain a yield in cash or trade. In permaculture, regardless of what system we are designing, our first desired yield must always be to provide for our own essential needs. Thus, if one gardens, one ought to expect a yield equivalent to a substantial portion of our food supply—75% at least, to have a resounding impact, both on household budget as well as the local market. Whether we choose to grow it ourselves or support a local farm or garden, our food supply needs to be the very top priority. The greatest possible impact on both our health and the health of the planet means the highest possible proportion of our food must be unpackaged and unshipped. Even so, in practice, I have observed that many people, having taken one or even more permaculture courses, may make a few minor changes in their lifestyle, but for all intents and purposes, go back to ‘business as usual’—slap a coat of paint on it, cover it with a band-aid. The most common post-PDC* scenario I have witnessed is the ‘fired-up activist’, who goes forth, waving his or her newly-stoked passion for the planet in anyone’s face they see, while stuffing their own with junk food–chemical-laden packaged products purchased at ‘big box’ stores.

They may attend many permie-style gatherings where seeds and plants and growing tips are exchanged, but the essential lifestyle and #1 priority is still a J.O.B. ‘to pay the bills’, and everything else comes second. The ‘second generation’ may still be dependent upon some parental input, financially, therefore have less debt and more personal freedom, but also far less experience actually putting food on the table. So, then, what is the desired yield of a PDC graduate? How can we expect any freshly coined permaculture designer to provide for their own needs, without going back to a J.O.B.?

Simple, really: teach them to fish. Or some other sustainable means of subsistence—whether it be growing food, creating some useful product, or teaching what they know and do best. The best teachers are the doers—those who have and do actually ‘walk the walk’—

Those Who Can, Do—Those Who Can Do More, Teach.

Thus the yield is far greater then 1 + 1 = 2, this is potential exponential growth—this is Fibonacci-style yield: 1+1+2+3+5+8+13+21+34. This is the process of nature, of natural patterns. When we keep things to ourselves, when the harvest is hoarded, ultimately we end up sitting on a huge pile of dung—ok, compost, maybe, but even that becomes useless if not utilized to nourish the soil and grow more plants. Does this mean that everyone must be a teacher? No—but those who do need to be acutely aware of the outcomes of their classes—the harvest from each and every student having basked in their light. This means that those who teach permaculture also need to be taking some responsibility for the skills which the students leave the class with, regardless of the tools they came in holding—by the time they walk out, they should have a fully-stocked toolbox. In our current economic climate, this toolbox must contain true ‘tools of the trade’, which means economic survival skills—a mindset for the self-employed. Those who graduate with a PDC had better be self-motivated and disciplined enough to get up in the morning and ‘feed the children’ or they will be hungry and the cupboards will be bare.


One of my absolute favorite highlights at the IPCC 11 (International Permaculture convergence) in Cuba last fall was one of the sessions, in which a young man (far too young for such wisdom, thought I), stood up and said: “I like to think in terms of yields—when I attend a class and might have otherwise been disappointed by the content, I look instead at what other outcomes there may have been. Often, the yield is patience.” The entire conference and convergence was just this sort of lesson for many, and most of all, a chance to break free of ethnocentricities. Sharing a ‘harvest’ in group sessions is how we become aware of the differences in perception. Everyone perceives things differently—four people may attend the same lecture and come away with four different observations. One of the most powerful tools any culture has is the arts, because of this factor of insight—have you ever shared a popular song interpretation with a group of friends? Try “Hotel California” sometime. Sharing these perceptions with others is also a crucial part of the creative learning process—case in point, recently we began poetry potlucks at the ‘Casa Seranita’ eCo-house, and these evenings have been not only entertaining, but certainly have helped simmer my own creative juices. Being in a group of people willing to bare their souls and expose their vulnerability doesn’t hurt, either—but that is for another post—for now, let us feast on this bountiful harvest! For the whole series of Permaculture Principles: Permaculture Principles: Unplugging

  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch and Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

    *PDC: Permaculture Design Course

©Loretta Buckner, We Grow From Here, Inc. (No part of this may be reproduced without express permission of the creator.)


Catch and Store Energy

Category            Permaculture Principles

“Make hay while the sun shines.”

The first law of thermodynamics, also known as Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy can be neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.

All systems create waste—natural systems evolve ways of dealing with the waste, unless something (like us) disrupts the balance. Take just a moment and think about your own personal wastestream—where does the water go, when you’re brushing your teeth? What happens to the packaging you discard, whether you choose to recycle or not? What kind of energy does it take to convert the waste product into something else useful, and what does that process do to the environment? How much energy did it take to transport the products we buy? We call these factors “true cost accounting” in permaculture.

What of the energy we use in our day-to-day interactions with other people? Have you ever experienced a group process which left you completely depleted? What about the opposite—a collaborative effort which you walked away from, completely inspired and on fire to DO something?

These are all forms of energy—the energy in manufactured products, the energy in all of our human social interactions and transactions, and the energy exchanged in any group experience—all forms of energy—all subject to “…can be neither created nor destroyed…only transferred or changed from one form to another.” It’s easy to see this in, say water—heat transforms it to vapor, cold turns it to solid—ice. What is completely fascinating to me, however, is how the entire spectrum of social interaction also follows the very same principle, thus, my interest in Social Permaculture.

In “The Collaborative Organization” By Rachel Conerly, Tim Kelley and John Mitchell, they establish five elements for creating functional collaborative systems:

Element 1: Identify the Problem (to which I would add, for permaculture design application: ALL clients, and potential clients.)

Element 2: Involve all Relevant Stakeholders (and identify ‘levels’ of involvement)

Element 3: Form the Collaborative Team (or teams, for each level)

Element 4: Create a Collaborative Plan

Element 5: Design and Facilitate Collaborative Meetings

I have been involved in many collaborative efforts personally, both prior to my ‘immersion’ last year, and within the permie landscape—helping to plan the Florida Convergence, the North American convergence, the creation of a Florida Guild, and on a smaller and more personal level, in attempting to create a team of professionals to work on local projects in both Florida and North Carolina. The process has been challenging on so many more levels than anticipated—for instance, the NC project, “Ollie’s Heartland”, puts me right in the middle as both client and collaborator. The farm which is being permacultured is my father’s farm—formerly known as “Donniesbrook Farm”, it has been his traditional organic market farm for the past five years. Now 82, with failing eyesight and health issues, he is no longer able to keep up the pace, therefore I have agreed to help. The question in this particular example is the same one I believe 99% of PDC graduates face each time they take a step to become more ‘professional’: “How do I help people, teach permaculture principles, and still make a living?”

This is what this project, and it’s ‘mother’, “Casa SerAnita” address, specifically—and this is Social and Financial Permaculture in practice. Both projects have started from nothing–zero impact and zero budget, and I intend to prove that, not only is it possible to create a sustainable food system, but it is also possible to create a regenerative business model. Thus, these are both ‘incubators’—’Casa’ is a small business incubator, and “Ollie’s Heartland” is a small farm incubator. Within the next six months, we should have positive support of my theory that, not only can permaculture careers be established successfully, but that they can also be sustained long-term and ultimately be regenerative.

So…how do we ‘catch and store’ energy in collaborative efforts? Here are five crucial factors I have identified:

  1. Carefully screen individuals for the core group, seeking those who have well-defined personal goals as well as an ability to listen to other’s ideas.
  2. Be specific in requesting a commitment of time and input from each participant. Choose a communication platform which works for everyone.
  3. Respect each member of the group, and allow every person to have a ‘voice’. No one voice gets more time than another, no one is louder than another. A ‘talking stick’ is one way to allow this form of communication.
  4. Begin each meeting with a ‘temperature check’ for each individual, and end each with some form of yield, or ‘harvest’, along with the ‘seeds’ for future planning and planting.
  5. Consider appointing a formal ‘facilitator‘—someone who is not invested in the project personally, who can guide the participants objectively.

The process of self-selection is important for objectives which are not specifically yield-related for each individual, however in collaborative efforts such as these incubators, it is important to establish a specific commitment from those involved, who stand to reap the benefits. During the screening process, not only can a level of rapport between all participants be assessed, but also each person’s willingness to compromise if necessary. Once the first two hurdles have been navigated, the rest are more or less ‘window dressing’—the way to keep meetings and tasks on topic and productive.

Photo (C) April Sampson-Kelly
[1] The proposed theme was created and designed together by Permaculture activists April Sampson-Kelly and Loretta Buckner, and Film director Gillian Leahy who collectively hold the copyright with permission for use solely by Narsanna Koppula and Aranya, as the hosting organisation for IPC17-India.

One of the single-most influential experiences I had while in Cuba was to witness several collaborative processes, in addition to observing consensus applied successfully, even in a semi-hostile environment. The focus was on selection of the 2017 IPCC, for which there were two contenders: Argentina and India. There were daily open space discussions, during which representatives from each location presented, having passed the basic requirements for hosting an international event. After four days of presentations and deliberation, the self-selected committee came to their consensus recommendation: India in 2017.

At the General Assembly on the final day of the convergence, a polite yet energetic crowd of several hundred reacted to the news with a surge of murmuring protest, the underlying dissonance hummed to the tune of “you didn’t ask ME!”

The surprise at the recommendation for some was in considering the large South American attendance at the Cuba conference—many would have assumed that Argentina would be selected. The choice, however, was based on far more factors than convenience for those in attendance, and these were all presented to the hundreds of convention attendees in a succinct, diplomatic fashion. Quite simply, Asia has been under-represented in any international permaculture gathering, and this was the eloquent refrain which ultimately composed a harmonious assembly.

Or, perhaps it was the artwork…?

© Loretta Buckner, WeGrowFromHere.com
Read the series from the beginning:



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How to Establish a Local Permaculture Action Group

Step 1: Observe and Interact (see what groups are already out there, and where their interests intersect).

Step 2: Catch & Store Energy (meet folks face-to-face, and converse with the like-minded ones you resonate with).

Step 3: Obtain a Yield (meet with these folks–host a potluck or other gathering, find out if there is a shared common interest everyone is passionate about)

Step 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback (always be open to feedback–everyone’s voice counts–don’t insist on yours being the loudest)

Step 5: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services (harvest from within the system–what resources are available inside the group?  Begin within, then bring in outside resources only when absolutely necessary.)

Step 6:  Produce No Waste (“waste” has many definitions, don’t forget ones like time – for some people, time is their greatest asset, so be respectful of that of others,)

Step 7:  Design from Patterns to Details (K.I.S.S. principle–don’t sweat the small stuff–focus on the ‘big picture’ of what you want to achieve, while appreciating the people involved who are working toward a common goal.)

Step 8:  Integrate Rather than Segregate (if there are other groups or individuals with the same basic vision and mission, do your best to merge with them, rather than create dissension or competition).

Step 9:  Use Small and Slow Solutions (indeed–Rome was not built in a day, and we know that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, so don’t think you can change the world overnight!  Pick ONE thing, focus on that–when the resources show up for that, move on to the next thing.)

Step 10:  Use and Value Diversity (this is a reminder about ‘weeds’–in permaculture we learn to value all parts of the system equally–of you find you are thinking of any element or person as being disruptive to the system, think again–observe, step away and look at the system from a different perspective.)

Step 11:  Use Edges and Value the Marginal (no organization grows without the input of new energy–sometimes that energy may come in a form different than expected–take the time to appreciate what each and every person brings to the system, rather than rejecting the input.)

Step 12:  Creatively Use and Respond to Change (“The adoption of successful innovation in communities often follows a pattern similar to ecological succession in nature. Visionary and obsessive individuals often pioneer the solutions, but it generally requires more influential and established leaders to take up the innovation before it is widely seen as appropriate and desirable.”  ~Holmgren)

Permaculture Principles Apply to Everything!

(c) Loretta Buckner, WeGrowFromHere.com




Observe and Interact

Category            Permaculture Principles

[Installment I. in a twelve week series highlighting David Holmgren’s principles of permaculture—a’la my personal Cuban IPCC experience]

“Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship between nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration, repertoire and patterns. It is not something that is generated in isolation, but through continuous and reciprocal interaction with the subject. (“Essence of Permaculture: A summary of permaculture concepts and principles taken from ‘Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability’ by David Holmgren)

The monsoon came to Havana, the same day hundreds of permaculturists from all over the world were to transfer from the relative comfort of hotel and Casa Particular to the as-yet unknown territory of the convergence, an hour or so down the coast. We were to meet at the lobby of the Hotel Vedado early in the morning, and I gazed forlornly from a portico less than a block away out into the river, known mere hours before as “Calle 25”, which I would shortly have to ford in order to board the bus to the campismo Los Cocos. Up to now, this great adventure had unraveled with relatively few mishaps—yes, of course, there were the endless lines to buy tickets, to get in, to eat, to gain access to anyone with a clue what might be going on…but this…this development could very well be the proverbial straw.

Let me explain: See, I like the water, I do—and I sail, therefore have a basic understanding and comfort with the properties of water. What I do not like is the unplanned drenching—the kind where you might be wearing street clothes and you don’t know when, where, or how long the state of dampness might last, or when ‘dry’ would take place. My first offshore sailing experience was like this—three solid days of rain coming from every direction, no end in sight. It was uncomfortable, and highlighted item #1 which was forgotten in my haste to board the airport tram: my umbrella.

I was ok with the absence of toilet seats and often toilet paper in Havana—an adjustment, to which one simply adapts—or plan ahead and BYOTP. I grew accustomed as well to the constant queue, found ways of shifting weight, standing in modified tree pose, and overcoming the basic shyness which normally inhibits conversation with my neighbors in line. Some of the best, most interesting, and enriching relationships began in those queues! The food as well—I quickly learned where and when I would have access to something my body would not reject immediately, and whether or not Mojitos were included. (Some things are just more important than others, you know!) This is all known, in both yoga and permaculture terms, as ‘edge play’. All systems, environments, elements of the system—all things grow better, stronger, more interesting—richer, in the overlap—the margins between two zones. In short: the day to day reality of the conference would force me from my comfort zone of “observing” into the often excruciating realm of “interaction”.

The food queues at lunchtime during the conference were some of the best examples of ‘observe and interact’ I can think of in my entire Cuba experience. The first day, hundreds of people waited for what seemed an interminably long time, outside of closed doors to an as-yet unknown dining room. Some of us had already experienced some frustration with the queuing habits of the Cubans earlier that morning, while registering for the conference, and there was as yet little indication of whether or not any special provisions had been made for vegetarians, let alone those of us who, sadly, can no longer tolerate gluten. I assured myself that there would be rice, and beans in plenty, and that if the beans were indeed cooked with pork, that my system would somehow not reject it. There would be food I could eat.

Indeed, I was right—however, since there were no instructions when the gates were opened, some of us went to secure tables, while others went straight for the food buffet line. Even though I began near the front of the line outside the doors, the line at the food trough was even longer once I attempted to locate a plate. Then began the process of finding non-meat, non-wheat comestibles. Working backwards through the line seemed a great way to greet old friends and make new ones, especially since by now everyone had been waiting over an hour, and we were already late for the next scheduled presentation. Yes, that would be sarcasm…even so, aside from a few unkind comments regarding paddling upstream, I was able to secure a plate full of what appeared to be edible, digestible food. Happily, many of my co-diners at my chosen table were also in the same dietary boat as I, so we were able to guide one another to the best food choices as well. The presence of beer as a beverage choice likely assisted in the relative ease of adjustment to what became a three-hour lunch break.

The organizers were no doubt quite busy later that evening, re-designing both the disastrous and disruptive coffee break as well as the ongoing lunch procedure.

The one overriding fact which quickly became apparent throughout this entire experience was that, while discomfort creates an expanding order of difficulty to look beyond ones’ own state of being, it also opens the door to observation of the system from a multitude of perspectives. Case in point: braving the elements, to drag the suitcase up the street to join the rest of the dripping mass of humanity–huddled under the tiny canopy, packed together most intimately—the crowd bulging up the stairs and into the lobby. The half a block over cracked sidewalks and cobblestone was enough to soak me and my luggage through, in addition to dropping it twice into large puddles. Yep, that was my laptop, there, in that bag—the one that nearly floated downstream. Even so, having secured a spot where my body was mostly out of the deluge, more taxis arrived by the minute, regurgitating more people and more baggage into the swelling throng at the mouth of the dry inner sanctum. And yet—no angry words, no lost tempers, very little eyebrow-knitting or finger-pointing. And people were smiling. Permies on the whole being a ‘huggy’ bunch, I wonder if the overall air of acceptance and patience had something to do with oxytocin levels, and if being squished together like crowder peas has the same effect on our “love quotient” as a hug.

This is a very valid question, and one which Paul Zak answered most eloquently as well as scientifically in his TEDtalk, “Trust, Morality, and…Oxytocin?” in the resounding imperative. Which is something I do hope that those in the permaculture community who lobby incessantly for ‘standards’ based only on scientifically-proven curriculum might keep in mind. These same proponents for standards and regulation and so-called science are also the same people who criticize the group hugs, social interplay and ‘metaphysical’ subject matter in PDC coursework. This is what I find the most surprising, overall, as I continue to meet more permaculture people worldwide—even though the lack of coverage in PDCs of both Social Permaculture and Ethics was long ago recognized, by the founders of the movement themselves, those who choose to highlight these aspects are maligned and discredited by some of the more ‘mainstream’ tradition. Seriously—in the so-called ‘bible’ of permaculture, it is stated: “Scientists who “know” and observe, don’t usually apply their knowledge in the world. Those who “act” often don’t know or observe. [Leading to] several tragic conditions…” This is design science, a recognized methodology for designing ecological systems, including People Care, perhaps most importantly, because after all—it is we the people who are doing the observing and interacting.

The proverb ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ reminds us that the process of observing influences reality, and that we must always be circumspect about absolute truths and values.” (Holmgren)



Unplugging: No Longer Going Along for the Ride (or: “My Year of Permaculture Immersion”)

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (Albert Einstein)

This post comes from several events which occurred last year: beginning with a three-month stint of ‘walking the walk’ which meant unplugging from internet, cable, and house phone, through the process of learning and witnessing consensus decision-making in action at the IPCC in Cuba, and ending with layers upon layers of un-composted (raw) material—both literally and figuratively (a common theme in my life, you may have already noticed).

In January, I had been attempting to switch from one mega-company to another for what I then perceived to be essential services: phone, internet, and cable. Granted, I rarely watched t.v. at that point—but I had my favorite channels or shows which I would record on DVR to watch when I had time, but having an internet connection seemed inevitable and quite necessary to the ongoing requirements of a real estate broker. The house phone was a number I had kept from when my mother was still alive (she died in 2001), and which she had for over twenty years—from the time we moved to Florida in 1977. That was, in fact, the hardest aspect to let go of—I remember thinking that someone might call that number, looking for her perhaps—someone who wasn’t trying to sell her something. It never happened—not in the 13 years I had the number in my name.

So, I took the plunge—vowing to remain unplugged for as long as it took to prove to myself how unnecessary these seeming ‘conveniences’ really were. That period of time turned out to be three months. The very first thing I noticed was palpable—when the signal was stopped, there was true silence in my home for the first time since I’d moved there ten years before. It was as if some background noise—a buzz—a sound I’d been so accustomed to I no longer noticed it at all–was suddenly cut off–and only in its absence was the former presence recognized. This was rather unnerving.

The next phenomena which became immediately obvious was in my first chosen public venue for accessing the internet, a necessary evil to remain in business: The Library. Those once-hallowed halls of infinite knowledge, sacred palace of hushed tones and reverential awe…not so quiet anymore. People talk there—a lot, and not in whispers. I had my favorite spots—places where I could plug in my laptop to both power and internet if required, yet the constant and persistent chatter of the other patrons—conversations in normal voice tone, games and even Skype calls on surrounding computers, and parents scolding children—all proved to be more than I could handle on some days. More than once I found myself on my laptop in the parking lot, with a thread WiFi connection from inside the building keeping me connected.

Flash forward to something a young man —wise beyond his years, attending a workshop at the International Permaculture Convergence in Cuba said, regarding ‘yield’ and expectations: “…when I attend a class and do not get what I expected in terms of subject matter—I look to what other yields there may have been…often that yield may be patience.” Oh yes, this is one unexpected yield which permaculture as a culture on the whole produces in great quantity!

Flash back to my first PDC (Permaculture Design Course), which I completed either just prior to or even during my ‘unplugging’—this was my first experience with an immersion course in permaculture, therefore I was unsure whether the level of, or more correctly complete lack of organization, was in fact not an intentional outcome of the design. There is after all, quite a lot of discussion in the community regarding chaos and order and patterns…but, as it turned out, those involved in this particular course were fully cognizant of the lack of structure, and barely held onto what little there was in order to complete the required 72 hours. There were moments of clarity, to be sure, but an overall or underlying structure was completely absent. Here is where my personal interest in the responsibility of the teacher to the student outcomes became a high priority—several of the students already having a fairly high degree of knowledge in the subject matter have since pursued the creation of improved class and curriculum design as a result of the chaos in that class. Which brings us to the subject of integrity—a multi-faceted jewel of a word, to be sure—it is in the persistent, focused search and recognition of this singular concept which cuts to the very core of permaculture.




  1. 1.

    the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

    “he is known to be a man of integrity”

    synonyms: honestyprobityrectitudehonor, good character, principle(s),ethics, morals, righteousnessmoralityvirtuedecency, fairness,scrupulousness, sinceritytruthfulness, trustworthiness More
  2. 2.

    the state of being whole and undivided.

    “upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty”

    synonyms: unityunificationcoherencecohesiontogethernesssolidarity
    “the integrity of the federation”

At the very core of Permaculture are its ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share (or return of surplus). The entire system is taught as a structure-based design system, based on nature and organic process, but based on structure it is. One of the most basic qualities of any structure, organic or non- is INTEGRITY. Structural integrity refers to the nature of being whole, while ethical integrity is that of being morally sound, or also ‘whole’. The whole of permaculture design systems is often depicted as a flower—each overlapping petal the various branches of system design throughout culture (it’s not ‘just gardening’, you see). The backdrop, or canvas of the entire system concept is, however, the principles:

  • Observe and interact
  • Catch and store energy
  • Obtain a yield
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  • Use and value renewable resources and services
  • Produce no waste
  • Design from patterns to details
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Use small and slow solutions
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use edges and value the marginal
  • Creatively use and respond to change

We will begin covering each one of these principles in depth once a week for the next 12 weeks, so please be certain to subscribe to this blog if this material interests you!

Back to consensus, and Cuba, and composting—I have yet to write my actual blog post on my Cuba experience, partly because of time factors with the holidays, but also in great part because I know that I still have some composting to do (thus the ‘raw’). It was a big experience, and one that I feel deserves time and reflection before attempting to put it into words. In fact, I do believe that would be a great way to start on the principles, with “observe and interact”. The mass consensus demonstration fits well under “apply self-regulation and accept feedback”, so we will cover it in more detail in that post—for now, let me say that it does work—I have witnessed a consensus model in action, and on a very large scale, and it worked. Was everyone entirely happy with the outcome? Perhaps not, but they accepted it as the best solution—and that is the important factor right there. This is what we strive for in permaculture—the highest yield, the best environment for not only the majority, but for everyone.

And that, my friends, is what permaculture, and regenerative systems design is all about!