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adapting permaculture talk to your culture  RSS feed

 
Leila Rich
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I've just read a post about how different groups have very different takes on permaculture, and I thought a kind of amorphous thread on the 'culture' part of permaculture could be interesting.
I don't have anything specific in mind, but we're from all over the place and I'd be fascinated to try and get a picture of how people adapt the talk (not techniques) side of it to their location.
In NZ, there seems to be general public acceptance that organic is a good idea. Then the debates start on cost, labour, feeding the world, etc, etc
Maybe because we're so close to the Australia, the home of permaculture, a reasonable amount of people have at least heard of it, and tend to think of it as a kind of super-organics, rather than a bunch of hippie moon-worshippers. (for the record, I'd call myself a hippie; I'm not hippie-bashing...)
While I'm not interested in tying permaculture to the term 'organic', which I think is pretty bastardised and meaningless, I'm ok if the average punter thinks of me as being simply extra-organic.
Here's a few permacultur-y things that appeal to local culture:
A couple of generation's ago, many people had serious gardens, and there's heaps of interest again, but without the 24-D's and hours behind a rotary hoe (tiller?)
NZers have a tradition of small-animal keeping. Not so long ago, many urban families had chickens, bees, rabbits...
Rainwater collection and liniting water is considered a pretty 'normal' idea, although most people don't actually do it.

 
Ray Cover
Posts: 132
Location: Missouri
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Hey Leila,

Since the other thread earlier today I have been giving this some more serious thought.

Just thinking about my local community/culture, here are some of my observations. First off, Missouri is not called the Show Me State for nothing. There must be something in the water here but we do tend to be skeptical of things until they are PROVEN to us. Yes that is a generalization and doesn't hold for everyone and I find the younger generation to be more open to new things than us older folks. Anytime something new comes along that has the potential to replace the "tried and true" way that Grandpa and Dad did it there is going to be a fair amount of skepticism to begin with.

As I mentioned in the other thread, my first impression of permaculture left me not impressed because I was left with that hippie moon worshiper impression. Now the more I learn the more I realize that first impression wasn't fair or correct. But that was the initial impression I had. Now hippies don't bother me. I make my living as an artist and in my professional life I have several "hippies" around me and I'll hug your neck just the same as I would the redneck farm boy down the road (although he would probably look at me with great suspicion :-0 ). That being said, I personally have a very conservative world view and was not interested in that initial impression I had of permaculture. Many of the conservative rural folks around here would feel the same way and those are actually the folks with the sized chunks of land who could pull it off. So to my thinking it would have to come down to marketing the get rid of any first impressions that tied it to ANY particular group.

What I am trying to say is this. If it comes across as a liberal idea conservatives are not going to like it. If it comes across as a conservative idea liberals are going to be suspect of it. If it comes across as a Communists idea Capitalist are going to be wary of it, etc. etc. It needs to be promoted in such a way to make it universally appealing and loose the "hippie religion" first impression.

Promoting it as a lifestyle, philosophy or an ethic would counterproductive here. I think you could get more mileage out of it calling it a "farming design system" or a "high yield agriculture method". I grew up in the woods, we had property but did not farm in the traditional sense. We grew food for ourselves but not for market. My dad was a competitive shooter and his main reason for having land was to have his own rifle range to practice on not to "farm". So as a young man I worked for the farmers whose property surrounded ours. One thing I can tell you about those farmers is they were all very conservative minded, very frugal, and very practical. Practical to the point that if it didn't work it wasn't welcome. Their livelihood was dependent on getting the most out of their labor/land and there was no room for "fanciful ideas". If you can make permaculture appeal to them on that basis you MAY win some converts.

Granted I am still new at this and I still have a lot to get my head wrapped around so I am certainly not an expert. These are just my observations of my local culture.

As little as I know of permaculture at this point the one thing that I think woudl be the hardest sell would the the integrated planting. Not because its a bad idea but from a practical business point of view it looks as if makes harvesting on a production scale a real labor intensive pain.

Those are my thoughts now I'm going to bed.

Ray
 
Leila Rich
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Glad I dragged you over to this thread Ray, I've been thinking about this one too...
A really major difference I notice between the USA and NZ is the (to me) extreme demarcation between 'conservative' and 'liberal'. Before anyone gets hot under the collar, I'm talking small c and l here...
Actually, I can't think of a NZer I've heard describing themselves as conservative! Over here, it's generally used disparagingly, like "he's so coservative I bet he ..."
Ray Cover wrote:
As little as I know of permaculture at this point the one thing that I think woudl be the hardest sell would the the integrated planting. Not because its a bad idea but from a practical business point of view it looks as if makes harvesting on a production scale a real labor intensive pain.

Yip, I also think this is one of the main things that has proponents tying themselves in knots. As far as I'm concerned, broadscale permaculture requires a massive paradigm shift and there's really no way to just plonk it over currently accepted practice, people need to change their thinking on all sorts of stuff.
But on a small scale, it's much less extreme, especially as one can emphasise the 'show me' elements: improved yield, major savings on ferts/'cides/water ($)
There's a pretty major dairy industry here, and money's the driver. Dairy has been a major polluter for years, but farmers are starting to realise that riparian planting and protection, once a day milking, good pasture management and all that, actually add up to some serious cash in the bank.
Our culture is based on a (semi-fanasy) about our rural roots, and if there was a community that would use the small-c conservative, farmers are it. So convincing farmers that there's more efficient methods, without scaring them off, is key.
 
Brenda Groth
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maybe not so much "culture' here as adapting to my "climate". Most permaculture info is from a climate very different to mine..I found that gaia's garden and Sepp Holtzer's info were the most helpful in dealing with our climate in relation to permaculture..as I live in Michigan which is a cold temperate climate and so totally different from the Bill Molllison info and even much colder than the PNW info...our zonal region is closer to Sepp Holtzer however he lives on a mountain and I live in a wet cold valley..so there are really NO written books on permaculture that I have read that deal with our climate.
 
Ben Stallings
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Location: Emporia, KS
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I live in Emporia, a small town in eastern Kansas. It's a university town, but still conservative enough that no one can get elected to city council without swearing never to raise taxes for any reason whatsoever -- and the lack of taxes shows painfully in the quality of our parks, library, snow removal, etc. We are about 80 minutes' drive from Lawrence, which is a comparative hotbed of permaculture and Transition activity. I'm the only person practicing permaculture per se in Emporia, though we have half a dozen farmers and uncounted gardeners committed to organic methods. I've taught continuing-education classes offering an intro to permaculture, and they have been well received... even though people are not practicing most of what they learned in the classes, they at least understand what I'm talking about now -- and they tell their friends -- so that there's a critical mass of people in town now who know what permaculture is and is not, which is great.

Mother Earth News is available at a number of newsstands in town. I'm not sure who reads it, but someone must buy it or they wouldn't carry it, right? The current issue mentions permaculture at least two or three times, and given how often that publication recycles the same material I bet it's mentioned it before, so that's helping to raise awareness as well.

Our local library doesn't have any permaculture books. I've thought about buying & donating them, but having worked in a library I know that books that aren't frequently checked out -- or that someone on staff suspects won't be -- may be sold off without notifying the donor, so instead I've opted for making lots of Interlibrary Loan requests for these books, to show the local library that there is demand. Most of them come from Salina, another comparative hotbed of activity.

I've tried to organize my permaculture-aware friends into carpools to events in Lawrence and Salina, but thus far I have had no luck. I can't justify traveling that far (what zone is that, XIII?) by myself to learn about how I should be doing stuff locally!
 
Brandis Roush
Posts: 37
Location: Central Minnesota
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I think this is fascinating.

I grew up in Nebraska, not too far from the Kansas border- I even graduated college in Manhattan, KS (same thing- college town, but still super conservative, it was my own personal hell...). As in Missouri and Kansas, Nebraska (and North Central Kansas, where my in laws are from) are super conservative and practical. My dad is one of those farmers, and what the poster from Missouri (sorry, I forgot the name!) said is spot on. He would never think to change his methods because to his standards they work, and he's not going to take a gamble when it comes to providing for his family. The riskiest things he has done are introducing sunflowers and popcorn into his repertoire of planting, and I made the mistake of suggesting he start looking into grassfed beef- it wasn't well recieved, even though I don't think it would be that hard for him to make the transition (but still, I get that it would be harder than he wants it to be, he would have to switch breeds of cattle and do more intensive pasture management...). Most of the farmers in the midwest that I know- all of my dad's friends and neighbors, my uncle, all my uncle's five boys- think organic is a joke, there would be no way of convincing them to even listen to anything more radical like permaculture (not that I think it's radical, but they would).

Thankfully, I live 700 miles away in much more liberal central (twin cities adjacent) Minnesota. There is a definite open mindedness here at the least when it comes to more natural and organic methods, and at best the food they produce is in high demand. Which means that it is both easier for me to find the kinds of food I want to feed my family, and that when I talk about permaculture here the only real obstacle is the perception of what a yard should look like, since everyone here seems to be really into nicely edged flower beds, trees in nice neat lines, and of course well manicured lawns.

Either way, I try to avoid using the word permaculture as much as possible, because I think that since most people don't know exactly what it is the word is alienating. I try to explain what I'm doing first (create self sustaining low maintenance food production systems... even that sounds stuffy, but I try to explain more about how I do that than actually using those words). Most people just smile and nod. Often I worry that coming from me any concept is going to be dismissed by 90% of the people I know, because I do things that most of society views to be extreme or outside the norm.

Also, and I don't know if this is related to this topic, but I find that it's hard to break into permaculture in more depth (deeper than Gaia's gardens) because of the cost of all the classes and workshops around here. I don't want to be a permaculture consultant, so I can't justify spending $2000 on a class, but I want the info taught in the class so I can apply it to my own property. I think the gap is too wide, and there are no classes that seem to be aimed a people like me- people with a little chunk of property (not urban, there are a few urban classes) who want to learn more about permaculture and how to transition their yard without taking out a second mortgage on their house.

Oh, and a tiny side note, since you mentioned Mother Earth News- It could just be the fact that it is published in Topeka, so they sell it because it's a local publication. Or perhaps there are 3 hippies in town (said lovingly, because I do consider myself to be a hippy) and they keep them in stock for them. I ADORE Mother Earth News, and one of my claims to "fame" is that a very good friend of mine back in NE is the nephew of the Editor (yep, I realize, that's a pretty lame claim...).
 
Ben Stallings
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Location: Emporia, KS
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It is a shame that so many permaculture classes are priced so high. The requirement of having a $$$$ PDC under your belt before you teach permaculture by that name seems to encourage qualified instructors to price classes high, to make back their investment, plus there is a tendency to try to teach everything in one course instead of breaking it down into smaller ones. I'm sure this is a topic that's been explored elsewhere on the forums, so I don't want to reopen it here.

What I do want to do is promote offering short, cheap classes on a variety of topics related to permaculture (but not about permaculture, therefore you don't need a PDC to teach them) at your local tech college or library or your own home or wherever cheap classes are offered. Obtain a yield for your efforts, but make the barrier for entry as low as possible. Get people's contact info. Build a network.

There's a lot of resistance (and rightly so) to mixing spirituality into permaculture classes, but there's nothing to stop you mixing permaculture into spirituality classes. Call it "living systems theory" or "creation science" or "tuning into the Force" or whatever words get you in the door and prevent you getting thrown out of it. Teach the chicken diagram, but put the congregation or a misunderstood subculture or an individual in the center instead of a chicken. Teach zones and sectors. Then go to a Rotary club or Main Street association and teach the same thing with a business at the center and call it the Ecology of Commerce or some such. I've taught permaculture to the Unitarian Universalist Association and to the American Art Therapy Association by just changing the details of the exercises a bit, and the workshops were always well received.

The thing is, even in provincial, conservative, isolated small towns there is an existing ecology of social structures. Ignoring that existing structure as irrelevant would be as foolish as ignoring the existing flora and fauna at a design site. Consider its needs -- how can you spin permaculture to meet those needs? Consider its products -- what can it do for you and your work? Then plug in.
 
Ray Cover
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Location: Missouri
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Just as an observation I would like to point out that conservative people are not bad people. They are doing what they perceive as best for their families and business practices and community. Different people view the world in different ways. Think of it as a human form of "integrated planting"

Something you mentioned about classes caught my attention.

Only a person really committed to learning permaculture is going to lay out 2K for a seminar week. The casual "I wander what this is about" guy is never going to hand over that pile of cash to fill a curiosity.

How about developing curriculum for a class to be taught in local community colleges or agg schools. That way you are going to get more of the younger generation of farmers introduced to the idea. I know of several farm kids form my area who go to college to study agriculture so they can better help run the family farm. If part of that agg program included a couple classes on alternative farming techniques. ie permaculture, then you have at least exposed a fairly wide range or traditional farmers to the idea.

I have grown up doing all kinds of metal work. The one skill I have never developed is the ability to weld. I'm not going to take a week off work and pay 2K to go to a welding seminar. I am considering forking over a few hundred dollars to take an evening class in welding at my local community college.

I bet if someone could establish such a program there would be people interested in taking a permaculture evening class or even an organic gardening class that emphasizes permacutlure.
 
Ray Cover
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Great minds think alike Ben. We must have been typing that at the same time.

I think your spot on. If you want the concepts to spread forget the permacutlure name if it has those requirements tied to it and teach the concepts through a venue that is likely to reach the masses. To my thinking the concepts are what are important not what they are called.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Ben Stallings wrote:It is a shame that so many permaculture classes are priced so high. The requirement of having a $$$$ PDC under your belt before you teach permaculture by that name seems to encourage qualified instructors to price classes high, to make back their investment, plus there is a tendency to try to teach everything in one course instead of breaking it down into smaller ones.


This from the PRI website:

If you teach a “permaculture” course without having attended a “permaculture design certificate course” yourself and you teach within the ethics of permaculture and just call it a course on permaculture, then nobody cares. To issue a “Permaculture Design Course” certificate you would have to print it yourself and your students would have to verify that you covered the 14 chapters of “The Permaculture Designers Manual” before they would be eligible for a “Permaculture Diploma” see http://www.tagari.com for details.

If you are teaching or operating a business under the name of permaculture but outside the ethics then you will be challenged by the movement and our supporters and even the British government has been challenge and made to change the definition of permaculture within the court of law. There is every skill set and profession amongst the graduates of the PDC globally who support the movement and are prepared to protect its integrity. This was a very clever strategy created by Bill Mollison to protect the movement as it grew into its present form with 1000’s of PDC’s being taught every day.

Comment by Geoff Lawton — January 16, 2010 @ 2:14 pm


Emphasis mine. According to geoff lawton, who should know, it is okay to teach permaculture without a PDC, if you teach within the ethics of permaculture.

Link to the page on which the quote resides: http://permaculture.org.au/2010/01/12/peter-ellyard-talks-to-geoff-lawton/#comments
 
Tyler Ludens
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This website might be helpful for some people: http://creationcare.org/
 
Nick Garbarino
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This is a great thread. Thanks, Leila, for starting it. Here in Florida, I find that the terms "permaculture" and "food forest" are completely foriegn to almost everybody. Sure, there are some permie hotbeds here and there around the state, but it has not even come close to moving into the mainstream yet. I say yet because I believe that when peak oil happens (whenever that is), and the price of everything from fuel to food to fertilizer, etc goes way up, a lot more people are going to become unemployed, and people will be forced to find ways to eat that they can afford. Backyard gardening and community supported agriculture will be even more suited for permaculture than they are now. Both conservatives and liberals have to eat.

I think it is best to look at permaculture as an advanced form of agriculture, and avoid mixing it up with things like culture, way of life, philosphy, etc. because it does begin to sound like hippie religion to a lot of people. I don't even think the term "permaculture" is the best term for gaining broad public acceptance because it sounds too technical. "Food forest" sounds too hippie-ish. I can't come up with a better term than "sustainable gardening" or "sustainable agriculture". Even the word "sustainable" gets a lot of conservatives on guard, at least here in America's red and purple states.

The world seems to be heading into unknown territory at some point in the future, and by then the background for this discussion may be quite different. All the demographic trends that I have seen for the U.S. show that the country is moving slowly in the direction of being more progressive. Changes come about a lot like continental drift. It is excruciatingly slow, but given time, it is transformative.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Permaculture is more than gardening, but if you're just focusing on the gardening part, you could call it something like "resilient gardening." The word "resilient" doesn't have any political baggage as far as I know.....If you want to focus on design of how people live but fear permaculture has too much baggage, what about something like "resilient living design." Of course it limits you a lot not to be able to refer to the huge mass of permaculture examples and research.......but at least you won't have to use the word "permaculture".....
 
Leila Rich
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NZ was settled by the Maori about 800 years ago and Europeans 150-odd years ago. Typically, it's since Europeans arrived that there's been massive damage to the land.
I think a real benefit of being a 'young nation' is we're not too stuck in our ways and we tend to be reasonably receptive to change.
That's a bit meta really
 
Ray Cover
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Nick Garbarino wrote:This is a great thread. Thanks, Leila, for starting it. Here in Florida, I find that the terms "permaculture" and "food forest" are completely foriegn to almost everybody. Sure, there are some permie hotbeds here and there around the state, but it has not even come close to moving into the mainstream yet. I say yet because I believe that when peak oil happens (whenever that is), and the price of everything from fuel to food to fertilizer, etc goes way up, a lot more people are going to become unemployed, and people will be forced to find ways to eat that they can afford. Backyard gardening and community supported agriculture will be even more suited for permaculture than they are now. Both conservatives and liberals have to eat.

I think it is best to look at permaculture as an advanced form of agriculture, and avoid mixing it up with things like culture, way of life, philosphy, etc. because it does begin to sound like hippie religion to a lot of people. I don't even think the term "permaculture" is the best term for gaining broad public acceptance because it sounds too technical. "Food forest" sounds too hippie-ish. I can't come up with a better term than "sustainable gardening" or "sustainable agriculture". Even the word "sustainable" gets a lot of conservatives on guard, at least here in America's red and purple states.

The world seems to be heading into unknown territory at some point in the future, and by then the background for this discussion may be quite different. All the demographic trends that I have seen for the U.S. show that the country is moving slowly in the direction of being more progressive. Changes come about a lot like continental drift. It is excruciatingly slow, but given time, it is transformative.


I like a lot of what you say Nick and I think you pretty much summed up what initially turned me off. The whole way of life ,philosophy, how to live thing is where you lose a lot of people. That initial impression that I had was from some of this type wording. It wasn't the planting or growing methods or the integration of crops and livestock that turned me off it was the "way of life", "lifestyle" language that turned me off. When that kind of language is used its easily read as, "these people are trying to tell me how to live my life". Its very short stones throw from that to, "these people are trying to tell my how to think and how to beleive". For a lot of people "thems fightin words".

From what I read permaculture is localized to individual climates and that makes perfect sense from a growing/gardening perspective. Doesn't it make as much sense to permacutlure to be localized as to the individuals local cultures using it.

I can see a group of pagan or flower children or atheist comunees absolutely embracing permaculture.

I can also see a very conservative Christian community embracing it as well....but not if they think it is tied to atheist or pagan practices.

That's where your going to loose people by using wording like you mentioned. You can give evidence to people to convince them of the validity of the methodology and get them little by little to put those methods into practice. But walls go up the second people think you are trying to tell them how to live, think or beleive.

Sell the methodology but let permaculture adapt to whatever lifestyle/belief system a local community has just like it adapts to whatever climate that community has.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Permaculture was invented as a design system based on a set of ethics. Those ethics are not religious, but they are philosophical.
 
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