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purple permaculture vs. brown permaculture  RSS feed

 
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Rhys Firth,

This is because too many people keep trying to even judge permaculture (which is decentralized anarchism) though the socio/economic/geopolitical lens of modern day politics.

It is quite simple really now that I get it. So many want to impose their will on permaculture, and it just will not allow any imposition upon itself. No one is in charge, and based on how it was founded no one can ever be. There is no hierarchy, there can't be any. Leaders are selected by those that follow them, for a time and cast aside if said leadership becomes weak, arrogant or simply deemed no longer necessary. Leaders are true leaders, they have NO AUTHORITY, only positive social capital.

Again what the purples really are is bureaucrats. They want committees, rules, forced "social justice", government involvement, a place to sit and have a job whether it is necessary or not, equal results vs. equal opportunity. It must be maddening, a bean or an apple tree doesn't care if you are white or black, rich or poor, smart or dumb, ugly or handsome, well liked or despised, etc, etc, etc. No committee or governing body can order a pear or a persimmon to produce!

Permaculture isn't even really about plants it is about a scientific based design and troubleshooting methodology. It is a tool to be used, you can impose about as much of the state or societies will over permaculture as you can over algebra. This must be absolutely maddening to the person that got involved to fight climate change and provide social justice when they learn that they are free to do that, but no one else is required to do it with them or more accurately for them.
 
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I started this thread and opened with the following thought:

I wonder: with this tool, can we better embrace permaculture? Rather than dropping the word, can we say that some people are more purple, and others are more brown? Can we then say "this conference is a bit on the purple side" or "this conference is very brown." So that people can have some idea what they might be getting into?

I'm hoping that this spectrum tool can help so that there are fewer people that will reject permaculture as a whole because there exists a permaculture person/book/event that is on the other side of the spectrum.



While I agree that the the phrase "purple breathers" started with Larry Santoyo, my impression is that he thinks of this as a rather boolean attribute: you either are, or you are not. And it sets up the idea of "good" vs. "bad", or, more accurately, "permaculture" vs. "not permaculture".

I started this thread by using this phrasing as a foundation, but trying to expand a bit ... in my own weird way to make my own weird point. So I set aside "purple breather" and moved on to "purple" vs. "brown" and proposed that as part of this weird idea that it is not boolean, but, rather, a spectrum. Some people are more purple than brown; some more brown than purple; some a are super purple and some are super brown. And they can all function under the permaculture umbrella.

Part of what I am trying to do is to say that I would prefer that when one person points at another and says "that's not permaculture" that the person with the finger is making the error.

The point of this thread is the parades of people all pointing at others and saying "that's not permaculture." And what we desperately need is a slight shift in the wording to "that's not how I do permaculture."

The mission of this thread is to find a way to make permaculture a household word. I think that this means reducing the infighting so more time can be spent on doing epic shit and reaching more people.

It is my arrogant and obnoxious opinion that while the phrase "purple breather" brings some clarity to the game it also brings some divisiveness. I think it does well to meet Larry's humor needs - which are huge and awesome. At the same time I think moving into the "purple/brown spectrum" thing helps improve our vocabulary so that we can collectively move forward rather than trying to force others to live the path we choose for ourselves.


 
paul wheaton
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Anecdotal evidence doesn't count.



Anecdotal evidence does count. Especially on this site.

Anecdotal evidence is a type of trial and error. A precursor to a more formal trial and error phase.

People are trying to move things forward with innovation. A lot of times the innovation comes 20 years before the peer reviewed white paper.

Speculation, hypothesis, theory and crazy ideas are all part of the scientific method.


Farmers don't care about youtube - they care about what the agroeconomists say.



It depends on the farmer. It is true that most farmers won't move an inch from what their extension agent recommends. But then there are also farmers that have their secret trick to higher yields and/or higher profits - which did not come from the official ag folks. Part of this is that you get paid a lot more per pound if you do well and all the other farmers do poorly.





 
paul wheaton
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Possibly worth mentioning: my impression is that "purple" seems to be a lot more in the US. Apparently, there is very little purple outside the US. So, as we explore this topic, that might be a good thing to keep in mind.
 
paul wheaton
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But many of these people - at least some of the ones I've met - are very jugdemental, and patronizing etc.



(Leaving aside my whole rant on the word "judgemental" ....)

I think that people on the purple side of the spectrum can point to people on the brown side of the spectrum and say "judgemental and patronizing". And then people on the brown side can point to people on the purple side and say the same thing.



I wish to introduce another thought ....

- - - - - - - -

Let us suppose that we have two people: Ferd and Gert. One is purple and one is brown. For the sake of this exercise, it doesn't matter which is which.

Scenario A: Ferd points to Gert and says "that's not permaculture" and Gert points to Ferd and says "that's not permaculture". Debate ensues. Each party builds an army of friends to get in on the debate and debate ad infinitum. The debate rages on for years and years. Outside observers see the debate and come to the conclusion "permaculture is about being angry."

Scenario B: Ferd points to Gert and says "that's not how I do permaculture" and there is a brief discussion of the alternatives. In the end each party has an unchanged philosophy. Or not.

It is my opinion that Scenario A is happening far too often. And, I hope that on these forums we have a strong shift toward scenario B.

 
paul wheaton
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How do you know if you are purple? If you are getting shit done, and more concerned about what you can do rather than what other people should not do, you are not a purple breather!



I think there are two things at play here. One, is Larry Santoyo's "purple breather" and the other is the thing I propsed a few years ago that builds a new direction in Larry's stuff, the "purple vs. brown."

With Larry's stuff, you are either a purple breather, or you are not. Boolean. Yes or No. On or off. True or false. So, it is possible that your test is perfect for "purple breather."

But with this thread I started my own variation which is the "purple vs. brown" and a major point of this thought experiment is the concept of "the spectrum". It is not possible to be 100.000% purple or 100.000% brown. Therefore, by definition, everybody has a little purple and a little brown.

We could come up with a metric of "how purple are you?" There could be a large wand with a meter on it that we can wave over somebody and it the meter shows a value of 1 to 99. The purple-o-meter.

So I think it possible to ask "How do you know if you are a purple breather?" but it would be a flawed questions to ask "How do you know if you are purple?" But you could ask "How do you find out how purple you are?"

(sorry, my engineering brain needs to push for clarity on this sort of thing)
 
paul wheaton
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John Saltveit wrote:I think that labeling some people as "right wing" and others as "kooky liberals" does little good in permaculture.



My favorite part of this is where he feeds my engineering brain with "I think".


When I visit my uncle richard, he dismisses my positions because I am clearly a conservative extremist like my uncle doug.

When I visit my uncle doug, he dismisses my positions because I am clearly a liberal extremist like my uncle richard.

So, with these two wonderful people, I don't get to really have a position. The frustrating part is that it seems that so much of what they are concerned with is tied to politics and I feel pretty non-political.





 
paul wheaton
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If you agree with David, then there is genuinely no point in convincing conventional farmers to shift to permaculture. Why? Because the entire current fossil fuel driven paradigm is already in a slow, inevitable, collapse.



I like the idea that that "our friends" might buy into what we are saying and dodge that bullet.

In other words, we don't have to convince everybody. If we push this information out there and 90% of the people reading it label it as horseshit, that works for me.
 
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I've never even said the word permaculture to anyone but my wife. I doubt anyone around here has even heard the word so color doesn't really matter. I'm living off grid doing organic gardening as far as anyone's concerned. Homesteading and doing things the old way. That, they understand. I'm hoping to get my neighbors to quit using white powdery substances on their gardens.
 
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Here's another problem with labels... what is one persons left wing is anothers right wing. I live in New Zealand, we're not a representative democracy, we're a Democratic Socialist Constitutional Monarchy. What here passes as a Right Wing Conservative is politicly to the left of the US Left Wing Kooky Liberals.

Just like politics, Permaculture views can vary between countries, What is Purple to one country/culture can look rather brown to a country where the culture is more purple in and of itself. Illinois and it's horizon to horizon sheets of grain will look very strange to a mainstream chemag farmer from the vinyards of italy whose 40 acres of grapes keeps his family fed and clothed with agricultural techniques the romans would have recognised and the Illinois farm consider woo-woo purple rainbows-from-the-arse...



Rhys, you've got a great point. We Americans tend to forget that there's a great big world out there, with some seriously different ways to look at things!

I'm just a dilettante with a quarter acre (whose previous acre of gorgeous edible landscaping was bulldozed back to lawn by the new owners) so I'll sit on the sidelines for most of this, but I'm thrilled to hear that at least some big players are looking at what Mark Shepard has done and seeing the potential.

I am also a fan of the shades of gray, or in this case purple and brown. I don't like dividing up the world into us and them. I remember how (when I lived in Illinois) I used to subscribe to this really left wing periodical, because it made me feel like less of a wacko. See, every so often I'd read things in there and think whoa, that's a bridge too far, and thus I'd realize I am actually far from the total left end of the political spectrum. (To the young people: this was pre-internet.) My friends in Illinois all thought I was the epitome of a purple hippie commie! After I moved to the west coast (the first time) I didn't feel the need to keep up that subscription. Now I'm the salt of the earth common sense midwesterner. . . it's all a matter of perspective.
 
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In my area there has been a "rebirth" of farming... sort of. What I mean is that the old farmers are dying off and the young folks are moving out of the area to pursue "real jobs". What we have here is a vacuum of food producers of any sort. At the same time there are a lot of new "back-to-the-landers" with some start up funds and a dreams that are moving in from other states. A lot of them want to be Organic, do the right things and save the planet... blah blah blah. Most show up, blow their cash on some seeds, tractors, chemicals amendments (organic or otherwise) and packaging for their produce. By the end of the first year they are in debt, and have to get a real job off farm. Then they become part time homesteaders until the farm gets repossessed.


That being the case I feel like the best methodology for me is to intercept these newbies before they get to the soil and help them to see things a little differently. I don't ever bring up the "P" word because it tends to freak people out. It's too much to digest at once. I mostly just say... " this is how it was done before our grandparents time, when food was awesome and people were genuine". That usually enough to keep people listening for a few extra minutes. Maybe it's just long enough to convince them to try a polyculture of some sort.

Having said that: When I hear this purple vs brown spectrum stuff, my immediate thought is that it is a spectrum. The Brown is what you DO and purple is how you FEEL.

So the Purple me says "It's so sad that so many people are hungry and miserable I feel like I should be doing more to help. The future depends on it."

Then the Brown me says " Figure it out, then get off you ass and go do something about it. There's no time to be standing around yapping about the problem... solve it!"

It's all good to "feel", but you also have to "DO".

To my mind, purples are feelers and browns are doers.

Here in the US we have more "feeler/purple" because we really haven't had to buckle down and DO anything serious for decades. We've been feeding off of the doer/brown people from all over the world. Take that as you will.


 
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My interpretation of Paul's original post is that it's not about using labeling to be divisive, but using to help us better find the events and people we'll connect with best within the larger permaculture umbrella. Calling someone "purple" or "brown" in that sense is not a value judgement. To me, Jack's long screed about "purple breathers" is bringing in judgement and divisiveness and redefining the terms differently from what Paul originally proposed. Labels are useful and being able to put a label to someone's approach and say "that's not what I'm interested in, I'll stay away from that forum thread/event/book" lets subgroups within permaculture get really into that aspect they're interested in without constant intrusions of people who want to argue with their basic approach. I think that's pretty cool. We have a lot of different value systems and motivations that are all compatible with the basic permaculture values but not necessarily with each other. And that's okay. There are plenty of things that some permies like to talk about that piss me off, so I've started just avoiding those discussions and I find I'm much happier.
 
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What I have seen several times:
People who knew nothing about agriculture, or even gardening, and say they do permaculture after a PDC....

It seems that permaculture is like a quick way into doing something you were unable to do, and think you are going to do it better than "conventional" agricultors.
A pdc does not tell to grow plants but organizes what else you should already know. ok, it tells some tricks and some techniques.
The former knowledge about agriculture is not to be discarded, but to be organized and used in a more permanent way.
Do not reinvent the wheel.

Be practical.
And do not forget about taking care of humans, of ourselves.
We are part of the land and of the animals that have to be given the best life style for prospering!
 
paul wheaton
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I removed a post earlier in this thread because it seem to be focused more on asking me about moderation standards then the topic on hand. Here was the only relevant part. If people want to talk about my moderation standards, please do so in the tinkering Forum.


would you say that anyone who ascribes to Steiner's Biodynamic approach to agriculture would fall squarely into the Purple Permie category?



No.
 
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I was put off the idea of permaculture for 20 years until I heard Jack Spirko talking about it on his podcasts. I always thought it was some hippy rubbish involving rituals and dancing naked at midnight or something but Jack taught me it was more about science and common sense etc.

I wish I could have heard Jack's podcasts back in the 80s when I first became aware of the term. I would be a lot further forward in life now if I did.

Thanks Jack. You have done more than most to bring permaculture into the mainstream.

Paul
 
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I scanned through this entire thread and still have no idea if I am more purple or more brown.
 
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Peter Ellis wrote:I think a big piece of differing views in Permaculture - and the entire human population, for that matter - can be found in our perspective on Holmgren's view of an Energy Descent future. If you agree with David, then there is genuinely no point in convincing conventional farmers to shift to permaculture. Why? Because the entire current fossil fuel driven paradigm is already in a slow, inevitable, collapse. In an energy poor future, the entire Big Ag system will disappear, the distribution networks will fail, and everything will need to be provided on a local basis.

Spiritual, non-spiritual, pragmatist, idealist - whatever. When the paradigm changes and we revert back to regional and local systems, when globalization collapses because the energy to transport stuff around the globe cheaply is no longer there, the labels are not going to matter. Boots on the ground getting local systems running on permaculture design principles are going to matter.


A big question mark hangs over the assumption that oil will run out, big-ag will fail, and local production will inevitably emerge as the only viable option.

In many countries, wind, solar, pumped-hydro and batteries have already proven that they can displace fossil fuels for grid power.  Tractor manufacturers like John Deere have been developing electric tractors for years, and some seem to be on the verge of releasing them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ev0sbYQAJQk).  It seems entirely probable — likely in fact — that big-ag will just transition from fossil fuels to 'ever more green' grid electricity.

The simple reality is that a large and ever-increasing fraction of the population lives in cities where it is impossible to grow meaningful amounts of food.  Cities thus demand an efficient food chain.  Efficiency is most easily accomplished via specialisation.  Ag specialisation means monocrops.

It is the mere existence and expansion of cities that is driving monoculture farming (and all of the negative aspects associated with it).

Unless society is willing to voluntarily eliminate cities and disperse its population, I see no way that big-ag will fail and lead to local production/permaculture being adopted by virtue of being the only viable option remaining.  Since populations are easier to economically control and manage in big cities, governments are mad-keen on supporting the growth of big cities — so they will simply do what it takes to ensure that transition away from oil is relatively smooth.  (Is it mere coincidence that Trump made the US military's stay in Afghanistan permanent shortly attending a meeting about their $1 trillion worth of Lithium reserves?  I think not.)

Because polycultures are central to permaculture, it can never be efficient.  Wildly productive, yes, but not efficient.  Because polycultures are complex, they are harder to manage.  The combination of the two means that the average farmer isn't going to adopt permaculture holus-bolus — it fails the fundamental tests.  Purple permaculture has nothing whatsoever to do with the efficient production and management of monocrops, so purple permies stigmatise permaculture in the eyes of regular farmers. "Yeah, we'd like to accept you as a contestant for Miss World, but that foot-wide boil on your neck kinda makes us want to puke so... no."

Brown permies have the potential to get regular farmers to accept and adopt some permaculture principles and practices — the prime candidates being the ones that can be implemented cheaply and won't noticeably increase the mental or physical burden going forward.

So, if the trend for population migration into cities continues, and the trend for grid power becoming greener continues, and the trend for vehicle manufacturers to develop electric vehicles continues, then big-ag will continue to dominate and I don't think that permaculture will have any meaningful effect upon the world unless it focuses on the development and formalisation of principles and practices that can be accepted and adopted by big-ag at minimal risk and expense.

If there is insufficient (permie) community interest in — effectively — helping big-ag become more profitable (and less evil at the same time), then I don't think permaculture has any role in future society except as an alternative for the disillusioned.  If that's the case, then permaculture is reduced to a lifestyle choice...  and that is a fundamentally different thing than was envisaged by its creators.  If permaculture is to be nothing more than an alternative, healthy, harmless, guilt-free, lifestyle choice then whether you are brown or purple really makes no difference.  It also makes no difference if permaculture ultimately splits — having chosen not to fight the war for meaningful large-scale change, then is no need for 'the troops' to be united.  Indeed, not pursuing an agenda to change big-ag makes unity irrelevant.

PS: For sustainable, small-scale polyculture to take over from big-ag and become the dominant agricultural model in the West, nearly all cities (population > 10,000) need to cease to exist.  Even if we hand-wave away the cause, consider the dispersion effect.  Hundreds of millions of unskilled (perhaps armed) city-slickers flooding into the country in search of food and a new place to live.  To the best of my knowledge, permaculture currently says nothing about coping with such a dispersion.  Does brown vs purple really matter when day after day, week after week, refugees from the cities start camping in your fields and eating your produce?  Anyone that believes big-ag will crash needs to give serious thought about surviving the flood of refugees that would inevitably follow.
 
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Wow. What a thread. I just finished reading through it for the first time. I didn't realise I agreed with Jack Spirko on so many issues.

I am pretty brown. I just have to say that outright, but anyone who's interacted with me on this site would know that by now.

For me, the delineation between purple and brown, and my issues with the purple, stem from approaches to explanation and quantification. To some, it is sin beyond imagining to try and determine how a thing works scientifically if it is seen as a spiritual thing in their eyes.

I have a need to understand the mechanics behind a thing so that should something go wrong, or not fit the specific scenario, it can be troubleshot and the problem remedied.

If your methods are ritualistic and require, say, specific materials and times of year, and you mess up on the timing or the materials aren't available, or for some other reason the ritual doesn't work, your only recourse is to wait for the next ritualistically appropriate window of time and perform the ritual again. You can neither reliably substitute materials or accelerate processes because you don't really know what's going on.

As mentioned by many others, if you can't explain permacultural techniques scientifically so that, say, a knowledgeable person at the local ag extension office can verify the validity of what you're saying to a bunch of farmers just trying to pay off their debts a little faster, you aren't going to reach those farmers. They won't benefit from the help you could be giving them.

So by that token, being obstructively purple in one's representation of permaculture could be seen as contravening the second ethic.

As to some of your points, Tim, I don't think that it is impossible to urbanise without monoculture. The alley-cropping model speaks to that specifically. Trees of different species can be used in the same row, or there could be a single crop per trophic level to facilitate mechanical harvesting. A curated understory could be employed, producing a different berry crop per side at a time throughout most of the season, and incorporating perennial and self-seeding understory soil building plants. Alleys could be a tractor pass or two wide, and tire ruts could be planned paths and transitional strips, doubling as pollinator habitat, with some preferential seeding.

Jack might disagree with the specifics of my ideas, but much of what I describe falls under the type of thing he was talking about in his earlier posts regarding converting conventional ag to something much better, and talking to the farmer in his idiom, and that of the government money guys.

My take on the whole re-naming issue is this: Permaculture is a brand. I think we have a responsibility to promote it to those who can do the most with it, for their good, and the good of all.

Those people are farmers, on any scale.

In my opinion, if what we are saying about permaculture isn't doing this, we are doing permaculture a disservice by saying it.

For me, I like to feel the purple part of permaculture while I'm in the middle of doing it, hip-deep in a future hugelbeet or on my knees planting seed. That is where I reject thought. I have no need to quantify or analyse the feeling of doing permaculture, of seeing and smelling and experiencing the fact that my methods have increased soil vitality. There is where I revel in experience. That is my purple side, and to anthropomorphise it or to bend it to someone else's model is just anathema.

For me, the brown makes sense. If you need to ask why, look at the hands of a true brown. There will be dirt under torn fingernails, and ground into the fine creases of the skin.

-CK
 
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