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Use Edges and Value the Marginal

Category            Permaculture Principles

‘Don’t think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path’

This was just too good not to share, from “Essence of Permaculture”, Holmgren:

Eastern spiritual traditions and martial arts regard peripheral vision as a critical sense that connects us to the world quite differently to focused vision.  Whatever is the object of our attention, we need to remember that it is at the edge of anything – system or medium, that the most interesting events take place; design that sees edge as an opportunity rather than a problem is more likely to be successful and adaptable. In the process, we discard the negative connotations associated with the word “marginal” in order to see the value in elements that only peripherally contribute to a function or system.in rural development work, the focus on staple crops, prime agricultural land and clearly articulated aims and values within communities frequently leads to undervaluing, ignorance and destruction of wild species, marginal spaces, along with the less visible needs of women, the disadvantaged and the landless.”

Oh, those edges…I’ve looked at edges from both sides now…and whether the margins be brambled forest or concrete jungle, this is indeed where the juicy stuff happens.  The mere mention of ‘weeds’ is enough to cause many a stalwart, upright human to bend and resemble our knuckle-dragging cousins.  Is this genetic?  I suppose I’ve been a hippie too long, because I see nothing wrong with a few green things ‘out of place’, and in fact I prefer wild overgrowth to manicured lawn.  And yes, the dirt beneath my broken fingernails is somewhat permanent–that is a fact.  The lack thereof might be more of an indication that something is out of whack.

In Early American Literature we learned that the woods represented ‘the dark side’—the wild and untamed was no-man’s land to the first European settlers in the ‘New World’.  Little did they know that the indigenous people already inhabiting the land had management systems in place, which were quickly encroached upon by the order-seeking Old Worlders.  To those who crave order, natural systems are messy and undesirable, and the ones who thrive in those untidy systems would likely be categorized as ‘marginal’, (just as ‘those dirty hippies’ and ‘Anarchists’ are labeled now).   Our society revels in drawing lines between the ‘middle’ and the edge—exemplified in the massive variety of television programming highlighting the fringe, from cop show, ‘real’ or fictional, to reality programming focusing on everything from hoarders to gun-toting survivalists.

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, The Scarlet Letter

 HoldSignSND

Who is on the fringe in your world?  Is it Auntie Mabel, of crazy cat lady fame?  Or is it the homeless guy holding the “will work for food” sign on the corner?  In the Florida Bay area we have an entire county of those marginal, fringy types—once a retirement destination, now land of the lost, haven for illicit drug trade—the highway lined with strip malls and strippers—a nutrient-rich soup, for some things.  Many of those who subscribe to permaculture principles would consider themselves as marginal, on a conventional scale, however even those on the fringe have a fringe—the possibilities for edge are everywhere.  And, as any proper queen (edge players, every one) can tell you—you just can’t have too much fringe or froth.  Therein lies one excellent example of ‘edge’ in our world—that of the gender unconventional.  The entire country if not continent has willingly divided on lines of conservative and not-so, based on a book of rules written for a culture thousands of years past.  This is not how species adapt, mind you, but it has proven very effective for filling the coffers of the few, because the way to wealth lies in creating conflict and supplying the war.

Any battleground, however, also grows lots of edges—think of all of the marginal people created by PTSD and war wounds—families torn apart scatter and create new alliances elsewhere.   Those who grew up, as I and my sister did, military brats, moved from place to place without any opportunity to put down solid roots—nothing but edge in our childhood.  This leads to a strong core, adaptability, and also extreme estrangement of any sense of community, outside of family and perhaps others in the same boat.  We’re all marginal, and we have an uncanny ability to find one another in the world—brats like me, and we’re all ‘outsiders’ to some degree.

Like Hester Prynne, heroine of The Scarlet Letter, me might heed the advice of the narrator:

”The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude!  These had been her teachers — stern and wild ones — and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”

To truly understand and appreciate the marginal, we must walk, and think, and exist for a time, outside the boundaries of what we were raised to be…to believe—that is how to embrace diversity, and value the marginal.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

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.

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Use Small and Slow Solutions

Category            Permaculture Principles

‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall’ …‘Slow and steady wins the race’

David and Goliath, the Tortoise and the Hare…our fables, myths, and legends are loaded with this one, simple lesson, which is really all about focus.  If ‘the problem is the solution’, often the perspective needs to be shifted from the external to the internal, or at the very least—to ourselves.

This one is purely simple—to make a difference, take responsibility.  Start with yourself.  Start small.

    • You want to start a garden, don’t know where to begin, and have no space?  Sprout some seeds.  Learn about the process of growing through sprouting some buckwheat, alfalfa, or mung beans—it’s quite easy, and there are dozens of websites, blogs, Youtube videos, books, and other sources to get you started.  Sprouting requires very little room, few resources, and very little capital.  You will see immediate health benefits in addition to learning something about plants.  Start sprouting.
      • Once you’ve mastered sprouting, maybe you still want to get into some dirt.  Start composting—a worm bin does not require a lot of space, although outdoor storage is advisable, in my humble opinion.  With one design element, you have suddenly integrated several important concepts—you are removing food scraps from the wastestream, and creating some terrific soil amendments for your garden—whether that garden is in containers or in the ground.  Once you’ve managed to keep some worms alive for a while, you will have also learned quite a bit about how some natural cycles work, and how important balance is to all cycles—remember the ‘wheel of life’.  Life is like a bicycle wheel…when it’s on the bike, you can actually get somewhere.
    • Don’t have the time to garden?  First of all, think twice on that one, as Mollison says:  “…everything gardens”.  Wherever it is we are choosing to focus our energy is where we are gardening, however not all gardens come with dirt or green things.  Take a moment to examine your life—where is your garden?  Is it your family?  Your job?  Your social life?  What is the output of this system—what are you harvesting?  Is it beneficial to you…to others…to the planet?  We reap what we sow…be aware of what you plant.
      • Not everyone has the desire or inclination to grow their own food, and it is not necessary to do so, although it is a good idea to know exactly where your food comes from, what’s really in it, and what it took to get it to your fork.  If you don’t know, find out—ask questions, read labels—seek local sources for the bulk of what you buy—that is far more important than growing your own food.  The impact of where we spend our dollars has far more resounding effect on our environment than any other single thing—this is how we vote.  All you have to do is take a good look at what is in your garbage—your ‘wastestream’, to know who and what you are voting for.
    • Perhaps you would like to garden, but don’t have any space, in which case there are several options available—first being the fact that it doesn’t have to take a lot of space.  Take a look at what these guys have done:  Urban Permaculture.  You can grow enough vegetables and herbs for a small family on a balcony, in containers.  Of course, the space must have adequate sunlight, so not everyone has the right living space to grow food at home.
      • So, join a local community garden—they are springing up all over, as are lists to help you find them.  Ask your local extension service—they are great sources of information on local events and spaces.  Still can’t find one?  Start one—(that’s what I did), or create an exchange service, where those who have space but don’t have the inclination to garden will exchange the space for a portion of the produce.  LocallyGrown.net is a great resource for finding some of these places as well.

These are just a few ideas to get you started, the point is to start—something.  One thing at a time—just one, with commitment.
forkIn my past I was always known as the child whose ‘eyes are bigger than her stomach,’ (although, I must say I went to took great pains to dis-prove that, literally), the one who ‘bites off more than she can chew’.  What I discovered, however, is that it really is possible, if you are patient and especially if you do not listen to the voices who judge and criticize—it is very attainable to accomplish huge things, when you take it one step at a time.  Elephant in the room?  Take small bites, chew carefully, remain focused on the outcome, rather than the task(s) at hand—if you don’t know how to get there, keep taking small steps until you do——the road will become clearer the further you travel.

Perhaps the biggest change will come

When we don’t have to change much at all.

When maniacs holler “grow, grow, grow”

We can choose to be small.

The key word may be “little,”

We only have to change a little bit.

Eat a little food, drink a little drink,

And only have to shit a little shit.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, and only have to shit a little shit.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, and only have to shit a little shit.

Early in the morning I first see the sun

I say a little prayer for the world.

I hope all the children live a long, long time,

Yes, every little boy and little girl.

I hope they learn to laugh at the way

Some wicked old words do seem to change,

‘Cause that’s what life’s all about:

To arrange an

d rearrange and rearrange.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange.

Oh-wee, oh-wye, to rearrange and rearrange and rearrange.

Words and Music by Pete Seeger (1997)

Read the Series:

Introduction:  ”Unplugging”

© 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.


5 Comments

Integrate Rather than Segregate

Category            Permaculture Principles

‘Many hands make light work’

“…in every aspect of nature, from the internal workings of organisms to whole ecosystems, we find the connections between things are as important as the things themselves. Thus the purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of other elements.” (Essence of Permaculture:  David Holmgren, et. al.)

This is permaculture design at its core—creating the entire system so that each component is so happy it performs and produces to the greatest capacity.  This goes for plants, animals, and people.  As many of us know first-hand, the people tend to bring in the greatest challenges to system design, because they come saddled with all sorts of expectations, pre-conceived notions, and often plenty of ‘life experience’ which has them convinced they know how everything should look, and behave, and think.  People come with invisible structures of their very own.

Recently it came to me that one of the reasons I found myself exhausted all the time was due to one simple change:  “Build the bridge, not BE the bridge”.  Several years ago, when I was learning about sailing, and how boats behave on the water, I made the mistake of using my arm as a dock line—I do not recommend this, by the way, in fact I strongly advise against it.  I had two others on board with me, and they had already disembarked and were on the dock, without having taken any line with them, so when I realized the boat was drifting away, I panicked and grabbed the dock, ending up suspended by fingers and toes, until came the nasty crunching sound from my shoulder.  I did not land in the water, and it did take six months to heal that arm—lucky for me, I suppose, it was the left arm.  Moral of the story, which any good sailor knows—keep your limbs away from moving parts, and never, ever, leave anything fleshy between a vessel and a dock.  Do NOT be the bridge.  Those connections between things, or people, are certainly of the utmost importance, and it is completely unnecessary for anyone to insert his or her own body parts or even less tangible stuff into that space to create the bridge—our job is to create the design so that the bridge exists, and that is all.

bridge

When we design people systems, it may seem that the danger to our physical bodies is not nearly so much at stake; however the behavior I have witnessed within social media forums might indicate otherwise.  For some unknown reason, when people begin to share their opinions it also seems inherent that certain other ‘cheeky’ body parts are also displayed.  This outcome can be attributed to several factors, most of which have been named above.  People take things personally, and we all ‘hear’ something different, because we all come from different experiences.  This is one reason that “apply self-regulation and accept feedback” is so important in social permaculture systems—we must all be willing to take a step back and understand that the others in the ‘room’ have just as much right and need to be heard as we do.  It is when we make value judgments on others that the finger-pointing starts and suddenly everyone is ‘wrong’.

Why, then, should we attempt to integrate at all, you may ask?  Not only is everything easier with numbers, but there is that other aspect which is revealed in any group—Napolean Hill called this a “Mastermind”, and had a design for what these groups should look like.  I believe in this process, and have participated in a number of different groups of this nature, with varying degrees of yield.  The variables I have observed come in for the following reasons:

  • Lack of commitment from some or all members.  A very basic, bottom-line (or ‘lowest common denominator’ as I like to say), is that all participants must be equally invested in the same desired outcome, also known as the ‘vision’.  Time and time again I have seen groups fail on this one basic point, which is also termed “a lack of alignment”.  Napolean called it “…harmonious cooperation of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task.” 
  • Lack of leadership.  I have yet to be a part of any group effort where sOMeone did not step up to take charge, at least in the short term.  This does not mean that the organization needs to be hierarchical—indeed, quite the opposite is true—leadership can be voluntary and shifted within the group, in fact it is optimal that each member agree to be the facilitator once in a while.  Learning some leadership skills never hurt anyone, nor does allowing others to take the helm from time to time.  Both positions require self-regulation, leadership more so, otherwise it becomes authoritarian.
  • Poor design.  If the goals of the group are poorly defined, this means the outcome or yield is indeterminate, and the entire process will be scrambled, as the participants each vie for their piece of the pie.  Remember to design from pattern to details, which means take the long view, first—where the bus is going needs to be determined before selecting the road to get there.
  • Unwillingness (aka ‘fear’) to make mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  We have all fallen flat on our faces at least once in our lives—if you haven’t–you need to live a little more.  Those who do more will also make more mistakes.  It’s ok—the only injury is to your ego, and most can do with a bruise or two.  The only caveat to this is when true threat of bodily harm is present—if this is a factor, the design must contain fail-safes to prevent harm.

So, does this all mean that we must integrate with everyone, all the time?  Well, let’s go back to the bus analogy—if you were to board a bus on its way to Tennessee, but you wanted to go to New Orleans, are your desires in alignment with the others on the bus?  The same goes for any other group activity—everybody must at the very least be facing in the same direction, before they get on board.

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.


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Design from Patterns to Details

Category            Permaculture Principles

“Can’t see the forest for the trees” (Essence of Permaculture, David Holmgren)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

(‘Jabberwocky’, Lewis Carroll)

Poetry utilizes some of the intrinsic patterns of humanity—we have used meter and rhyme long before written communication, because of the repetition of pattern as a mnemonic device.  Nursery rhymes were created, not only as amusements for children, but they also contain historical data as well as common-sense remedies of the day, such as the “vinegar and brown paper” headache remedy in “Jack and Jill”.  Oral traditions were used, most famously, by the early Polynesian sailors, who passed down navigation devices in songs, which were likely sung enroute from one island to another in the middle of vast oceans of water devoid of land reference.  Even the nonsensical Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is understandable, because of its regular meter and rhyme, thus transcending language—a feat any parent is likely to relate to, as we sing silliness to our infants, dogs and cats.

moonphases Patterns are everywhere in our world, readily apparent in natural systems, such as the phases of the moon, tides, seasons, and weather patterns.   The Fibonacci sequence, known in nature as “the Golden Spiral” or ratio, is present in all patterns of growth, from florets to pinecones to conch shells, as well as proportions of the human body.  Anyone who wishes to design in alignment with natural systems must, then, not only recognize and understand patterns, but also learn to apply them in both concept and practice.  Once the outline is in place, only then do we move into connecting the dots and filling in the details—to plan a garden by first choosing the elements contained within it would only be undertaken by an amateur—a true designer would begin only after a thorough site analysis.

shamrockspiral

Exponential growth is also something innate in natural systems—Gaia’s credo is “go big or go home”, which is illustrated by the unfolding of a rose, the widening arc of the spiral, the waxing of the moon.  This is not the kind of growth exemplified by our capitalistic society—an overpowering and ultimately unwieldy growth better termed as ‘cancer’.   No, the ideal natural system design would include instead not only increasing yields, but also an automatic replacement of the designer for true regenerative quality.  In nature, the pattern swells and then dies, to repeat again—over and over, each component eventually becoming a part of a future incarnation.

Nature also designs for optimization—phyllotaxis is a study of the order of leaves on a stem, the pattern being one which allows the greatest exposure to the sun and nutrients.  Similarly, the branching patterns of many plants also exhibit this type of order.

wb051369

Rather than launching into yet another ode to ‘sacred geometry’, let’s take the opportunity to apply principle #1:  Observe and Interact.  In nature, as in mathematics, growth follows certain patterns as often because of another simple factor:  growth with constraints—as Donald E. Simonek points out:  “This reveals the simple secret of spirals in nature. They often result from growth with constraints. As the nautilus grows, the open end of its shell increases in diameter, at a nearly constant rate. It is constrained to curve around the existing shell. The result is a spiral curve, something close to a logarithmic spiral, which is a Fibonacci spiral.”  In nature, there are no straight lines, no measurable, accurate, finite absolutes (well, perhaps temperature, but we’ll see about that)—everything in natural design is curved, like the planet we live on.  Grids were invented by the Romans to assist in controlling those they conquered—it being much easier to sight down a row of evenly-spaced straight streets–curved landscapes hide many activities from line of sight.  However, as we have already noted, regularity and patterns are intrinsic to our nature as humans, we are comforted by the existence of structure, whether it be visible or not.

Here’s where things get juicy in the permaculture world, because when we start talking about “growth with constraints”, well, try Googling that.  What comes up?  Article after article about economy and finance.  There’s another pattern for you—unrestrained growth leads to collapse, which is what we are witnessing right now.  The natural outcome of collapse is chaos—a scary, unrelenting absence of all which seemed to make sense in our formerly well-ordered world.  Even so, we know that order does come from chaos, it just may not do so in the time frame we prefer.

Another random-sort of thought which came to me, being a wordsmith, is the very subtle difference between “constraint” and “restraint”—to wit:

ConvsReIt would appear that the essential difference between the two words has to do with the existence of a ‘thing’ or a ‘force’, as in a device in the case of restraint, as opposed to a rule or law or force, as in constraint.   To me, being visual, I see a constraint as in natural forces—the growth of a shell in a spiral shape, for instance, or the way a river flows—never straight, but always on an “S” shaped curving pattern.  ‘Restraint’, on the other hand, I think of as a safety belt, or being held back by other people from falling or fighting.

These might be seemingly unimportant details, but when we talk about systems design, it is vital to get both the ‘big picture’—the pattern—as well as the details, right.  This is where communication, and thus the correct word or description or definition, comes in like a Tsunami—get it wrong: devastation and chaos.  Get it right, however, and you’ve not only designed a system pleasing to the client, yourself and the community, but you’ve also prepared for those pesky 100-500 year events—like the ones we are now witnessing with alarming frequency.  This does not mean we have to get it ‘right’ the first time—as we move from pattern to details, this is where the magic happens–this is where creativity and willingness to fail is an asset.  This is also where it is most beneficial to work in collaboration, in community—one the pattern is established, the more diversity invited into the mix, the better.

In people systems, as well as in nature—this is where things tend to get messy.  This is where the ‘weeds’ crop up everywhere, and we must take a step back and re-define what we think of as ‘weeds’.  This is where I find myself with my eCo-housing project “Casa Seranita”, in fact—seemingly overnight, it appears to have become a frat house, but that is only when perceiving from the ‘old paradigm’ perspective.  Yes, it is a mess, and things must be tidied, both for the benefit of the residents as well as staying below the code enforcement radar—but in that chaos lies some really interesting pioneer growth.  Or, so I hope, anyway!  This could very well become the perfect Segway to Principle #8:  “Integrate rather than Segregate”.

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.


2 Comments

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.)


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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)