If you discover during the design process that the goals are not clear, the people involved have not a clear vision and mission, what do you do?
I've been lucky to be allowed to make a permaculture proposal for the 4000m2 space surrounding a conventional farm of 40ha in the lake Geneva region, Switzerland. The farm produces asparagus, strawberries, cherries, apples, wine, hybrid seed maize and broadacre crops (early potato and wheat I think). Some of the fruit were sold through vending machines on site.
The brother owns the farm and runs the business with one full time employee and a handful of seasonal workers. Professional farmer, would love to quit conventional ag I think but does not want to take the risk with the market for organic apples being too small. His goal was to have some R&D, and more birds on the farm.
The sister is interested in permaculture, quit her full time office job to work on the farm, lives off site but in the same village. She keeps bees and is great with animals (poultry). She started a farm shop selling local, but not organic, produce, and also takes care of the vending machines, has introduced more variety there and has increased sales. Now her money has run out and she's looking for a job. She was hoping to make a living on the farm.
I've made it clear from the start that I don't want to be paid, that my goals are to produce for myself and my family, and to try things out. I'm satisfied with my veg garden and chickens, 5min from home. 300m2 is all the surface I can manage on my own.
Now, the design proposal was for an old varieties mixed orchard and market garden, some ponds and wildlife strips (hedges/tree belt). I raised the question who would do the work, and if they want to involve people from outside, and they prefer to keep it in the family. However, they don't communicate with each other very well. The brother works like a dog and does not have (make?) time for regular updates. The sister waits for a good opportunity which never comes around. The last time we met it was me that asked for some clarity for myself, and got what I asked for...
What was done in the last two years, their dad plowed and shaped 400m2 of permanent beds, installed a dripline and put up a small polytunnel they had. The sister and I planted the garden together in the first year, sharing the produce between the three families. Then she opened the shop and the unsold veg needed to be eaten, drastically reducing the interest in the garden... This year, I've done my bit on my patch and she has planted tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins to sell in her shop.
What I have observed is that this is a quite close-knit family, the nephews play together, but they don't communicate directly!?
The other aspects of the proposal were not put into action. So what we've got at the moment is not really, in my eyes, a permaculture garden. More of an organic veg patch... I don't think that the design will ever be implemented without the involvement of an outside group, which is unlikely.
My question is, could I have anticipated this in the design process? Is there a place to design the "soft skills" - such as decision making processes, conflict resolution skills, management...? How do you address such obstacles in the implementation?
As for the title - a permaculture designer who was asked for his input over the phone commented that most projects fail in the first few years because of the Pu... Facteur Humain = FHF
I’m as baffled as anyone how to create something wonderful such as implementing a Permaculture design with a group. Is there a charismatic leader? Is there a benevolent dictator, the owner landlord. Or co owners. Is there enough passion shared. Maybe it’s just not meant to happen and something else is. What does the land and people attract there? A veggie patch is a good something. Good work. Pat yourself on the back and keep open to the possibilities. Maybe you are destined to share Permaculture somewhere. Maybe not.
Sometimes there’s health issues. Or mental health issues. They can be secret. Is there enough dialogue. Hidden issues and unspoken issues can wear on people. The “unknown unknowns”. Permaculture gardens can be a lot of work at first then hopefully gets easier right!? If one can get to that phase. Together. I was stuck in the pioneering laborious stage over and over. Then overcommitted with the wrong people who had little loyalty or shared passion for Permaculture. Now I’m more cautious. So the ‘soft” issues are very important in my mind.
Be careful but also best wishes and hope your dreams for a Permaculture site bear fruit. Maybe do a postage stamp Permaculture design there on your own initiative and others will get into it again. Inspire by doing. And open up dialogue about it whenever you can. If they don’t make time to talk about it then it maybe they are not as interested as you are. Then seek out people who are.
For any work of community, I can't recommend highly enough Creating a Life Together by Diana Leafe Christian. It is a book about why so many intentional communities fail and how to avoid those failings. Though about intentional community, much of it may apply to other group endeavors.
When I have made designs for farmers and ranchers I have found, that they are used to making their own decisions and changing previous decisions at a moments notice, just to keep up mother nature. What you did was give them lesson in permaculture. You gave them a perspective on their lands potential they couldn't get in their family group. If you keep working with them and allow them to add the concepts of permaculture to their mental toolbox of how to run a farm, then more permaculture will go out on the land, but maybe not in the way you designed it. Your design was still worth it, even though it may never be actualized because of its educational value. And, to be honest all designs are flawed. We aren't God, so we can't predict everything. The more input we get, the more stable the design is, but there are parts of my design even in my backyard I am changing because of plant growth rates and family interest (things you can only figure out by trying).
I think one of the sad realities of farming is, it is not looked upon as a "normal" business. It is too bad, because it really is.
I was a manager in industry, third in line from the President of the 1000 plus employee company, and found managing a farm requires the same skills. Unfortunately, in farming, the succeeding farmer in charge of the farm lacks these skills, but was put in place because they were;
1. The eldest
2. They worked the hardest
The former is just plain silly as that is tradition and not ability based. The second is almost as silly because it is based on how hard they work, and not ability-minded.
The older I get the more I realize that phycology is EVERYTHING in almost EVERYTHING, and I wish I was more knowledgeable in that area. It is not so much "manipulation" as it figuring out how to motivate people for a common goal.
A lot of conflict on a farm has to do with the perceived sense of control. It is very possible that in showing another way of farming, that people's ego's get bruised. In a way this is normal, and must be expected. I mean suddenly you become the "expert", or the "knowledgeable one" and the one that champions the old way of doing things, feels inferior. That ultimately ends up in conflict as the former way tries to assert themselves by rallying people and family members around them, while the permicultural member of the family or group, tries to establish that there is a better way. That causes two factions to form, and then argue.