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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
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14 thoughts on “Catch and Store Energy


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  4. Great (USEFUL) stuff in here…thank you for writing. I will refer to it.

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