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The Current State of the Permaculture Movement vs. Our Goal to Change the World for the Better  RSS feed

 
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Hello fellow permies!

I wanted to make you aware of an interesting discussion that is happening concerning the current state of the permaculture movement and it's ability to effect large-scale societal change. We originally published an article called "How to Fix the World with Permaculture." That article was picked up and published by Invironment, an online publication. One of the editors at Invironment, who is also a Permaculture Designer, published a response piece entitled "Why Permaculture Can't Fix the World." We then published a new article called "Can Permaculture Fundamentally Fix Civilization?" which addresses the concerns raised and clarifies specifically how we plan to implement permaculture at a large-scale level. We'd love your feedback on this important tactical discussion!

 
pollinator
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I am currently reading your articles and the responses (counter articles) and enjoying them.  I do have a question.  Could you please elaborate on this?  "I can grow a significant portion of my food in a window that takes four square feet of space."?  The reason I ask is because these are the exact type statements that, in my mind, set the permaculture movement backwards.  I obviously don't need to be convinced that permaculture is a good thing.  It is the over-blown claims made by permaculturists that turn many people away, and I can't see how that statement can be anywhere near true.
 
pollinator
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Hi John,

I liked your rebuttal points.  It seems that some people see the term "permaculture" as a finite, narrow definition when in reality it's a much more encompassing term similar to "animal husbandry".  Permaculture means many different things to many different people. I like Mr. Wheaton's scale as a description of people at different stages of permaculture.  For myself, permaculture is very close to the two words it is derived from-"permanent agriculture".  I like blackberries, strawberries, cherries, apples, asparagus, etc.  I would like very much to have "permanent" access to these things.  I do not like the traditional modes of raising these plants which involve copious use of tilling, pesticides, pruning, and fertilizers.   I would like my plantings to be more "permanent" in that after planting, less "artificial" intervention is needed from me and that my whole garden/food forest proceeds in a manner much more in line with nature and I won't have to plant again anytime soon. There is still a lot of work involved, sometimes as much or more than an ordinary garden, but it comes at different times and in different ways.  

There also seems to be a perception by many people that permaculture's holy grail is producing all the food that you eat yourself.  But I really don't think that's the goal of all permaculturists.  Most of us are just trying to bring a little diversity into our gardens/diets/life and hopefully letting nature work for us instead of against us.  I don't know if it can save the world or not, but I do like having my own slice of heaven just outside my backdoor. If I can eventually produce all the food I eat, that will be great, if not, I still think my life is better by being involved in nature.

A couple of other points that you might use in future rebuttals:
1. That permaculture is geared towards folks with deep pockets just isn't true.  There are many, many people out there using it's concepts to live. My grandparents were very poor and the last year he worked before getting social security, my grandfather earned only $1,700.00 for the entire year.  He had never even heard the word permaculture, but he used it's principles to produce his own food.  He had planted trees, berry bushes, an annual garden, he fished, and hunted, all of which allowed him and my grandmother to eat that year and many others.   It may seem that because not everyone owns land, that it might not be possible for someone to raise a garden or do this work, but it can be done.  There are billions of "dead" spaces that could be brought to life in this country alone.  You just have to get creative.  
2.  I think most people get there impression of permaculture from a book or an hour long youtube video.  Like any presentation about any topic, you will be presented the highs and the lows of the topic on a much abbreviated scale with the emphasis on the highs. That's just the nature of a good presentation.   But instead of taking away the impression that permaculture can save the world, I think they should look at it as "this is what's possible, this is what we should explore".  Permaculture is a relatively new concept that is in it's infancy as a philosophy or science.  Even if permaculture doesn't "save the world", I don't think anyone would argue that the world wouldn't be a much better place if there was more of it.
3. The hippie connection:  If the authors have ever watched one of Paul's talks, they will know right away that many of us are not exactly kumbaya type people. Most of us have our heads down looking at the earth, not up in the clouds.

Just my thoughts on the articles you posted links to.

 
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hi John,

welcome to permies

a couple of threads here for reference

https://permies.com/t/67811/Darrell-Frey-Michelle-Czolba-authors
https://permies.com/t/67828/Shade-food-forest
https://permies.com/t/67535/profitable-Permaculture-Farms#569982

and another "criticism"
https://theculturalwilderness.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/feedback-on-the-forest-garden/comment-page-1/#comment-93



forest gardens, like everything else, depends upon where
just because they "work" in Atlanta doesn't mean they will
be useful other places


forest gardens  tend to be for self sufficiency rather than commercial enterprises
much of current permaculture, especially here in the USA, as evidence by
Paul's recent "PDC for homesteaders" tend to be just that (self sufficiency)

butnot everyone wants to drop everything and move to the woods with a composting toilet

one of permaculture's problems is  this bi-polar vision of wanting to change the world by making
everyone "off grid homesteaders"

If you or others , IMHO, (to avoid being pinged for not being nice)
want to  actually make a difference, you have to take permaculture
mainstream. This requires accepting criticism as a way to get better,
rejecting any information that is either oversold or not true
AND separating actual functional practices from woowoo


the man with the "herb spiral" haircut


and maybe even a name change

 
John Oden
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Thank you for your comments! Permies is such an amazing resource for public discussion. Let's dive right on in:

I am currently reading your articles and the responses (counter articles) and enjoying them.  I do have a question.  Could you please elaborate on this?  "I can grow a significant portion of my food in a window that takes four square feet of space."?  The reason I ask is because these are the exact type statements that, in my mind, set the permaculture movement backwards.  I obviously don't need to be convinced that permaculture is a good thing.  It is the over-blown claims made by permaculturists that turn many people away, and I can't see how that statement can be anywhere near true.



Todd,

I've given a lot of thought to that sentence in light of your comment:

1) I'm thinking it would be helpful for me to write a stand-alone article which analyzes in a rigorous way what the potential yields are that can be achieved with permaculture at various land scales. I'll get started documenting that immediately, so if anyone has a property on which they have been measuring their yields, please get in touch with me. I have some good data points from my own experiments since my primary focus until now has been pushing how intensive I can get my urban production going.

2) I agree that the sentence came off as unnecessarily hyperbolic. I have updated the paragraph to the following:

The basic argument here is that it’s hard to measure the agricultural efficiency of a dense food forest compared to a mono-cropped field. Do we honestly think this is a problem at all? I can grow a noticeable portion of my food in a window. We have previously documented an Urban Food Wall concept that takes 11 square feet of growing space. We then open-sourced our design, free to everyone, in our article “How to Grow Your Own Food When You Have Limited Space”. We are actively pushing ourselves to develop more and more advanced urban agricultural technologies. Also, I think it’s helpful to note that in these examples, all of these spaces had zero agricultural productivity before. With permaculture we have access to far more land because we can use small bits which are considered unusable via conventional thinking.

3) To directly answer your question, when I originally made the statement I was thinking of our bookshelf garden. It's a book-shelf with 4 growing areas, each of which are just under four feet wide by one feet in depth. So the trick is using the vertical space with the small square footage. In light of your comment, though, I remeasured and had forgotten that the water reservoir at the bottom was more than 1 foot in depth (let's call it two feet by four feet). As such, the proper dimensions are closer to eight square feet in total, which is still a very efficient use of space. Here is a video of 1/8 of that garden - the back half of one of the four shelves:



From this garden, we were able to produce enough micro greens for two people to eat 1/2 a bowl of micro greens in a salad every single day. We got continuous production by rotating where we were harvesting inside the garden and from replanting when we harvested. We are in the middle of rebuilding the system to increase efficiencies in our version 2. We theorize that adding climbers, runners, and tubers would be possible with zero additional space. I'm looking forward to reporting the results of that experiment in about a month when the results are evident.

- Transition to Second Reply -



Marcus,

Your story about your grandparents really resonated with me. Maybe it would be helpful to begin assembling a series of vignettes that studies individual example families / sites like this so we can smash permaculture stereotypes.

I also agree with your second point that even if permaculture doesn't save the world, it's still incremental progress in a good direction. I do personally think it can save the world, though

On the "hippie connection"... I'm conflicted because I want to network together the hippies and the more typical people into an effective coalition. However, I'm repeatedly observing that permaculture is perceived as a hippie movement when first encountered and that this is causing friction for more mainstream people to take it seriously. I would welcome any thoughts as to how we pro-actively deal with that branding issue as permaculture expands.

- Transition to Third Reply -



Duane,

I'm looking forward to exploring these links in detail!

forest gardens, like everything else, depends upon where
just because they "work" in Atlanta doesn't mean they will
be useful other places



I agree and disagree. Clearly food forests won't work north of the arctic circle and on the South Pole. Aside from that, though, my understanding is that a food forest can effectively grow anywhere on earth that has land or non-saline water from the equator into the subtropics and throughout the temperate zones. I don't know what percentage that is of earth's landmass, but I would guess it would be about 85% or more. We also know from greening the desert that with a lot of planning we could establish food forests in the desert regions. Rather than saying food forests don't work everywhere, I would think it would be more accurate to say that the specific plants in each bioregion would be totally different. Yes, I totally agree with that. Am I understanding what you meant correctly?

butnot everyone wants to drop everything and move to the woods with a composting toilet



I would agree and actually rephrase as "Most people do not want to go live in the middle of nowhere." The people who do want to do that are the pioneer species (following Paul's analogy). However, I do think the average person would be interested in a turn-key, established  permaculture property if it was located in a city, a suburb, or a well established large ecovillage that maybe wasn't called an ecovillage. At Aspire, our mission is to develop all of these sorts of properties. I think an interesting hybrid idea is to pair a collection of sub-urban lots with a larger tract of land outside of the city so that residents can get the benefit of both urban and rural. I'm still flushing out the specific details as to how that would work.

one of permaculture's problems is  this bi-polar vision of wanting to change the world by making
everyone "off grid homesteaders"



I agree and I specifically don't want to do this. I want to get permaculture to reach critical mass in the cultural consciousness by demonstrating that it can deliver on what people actually want, rather than convincing them that they want something else than they think they want. My intuition is that the average person would love a permaculture property, already developed and established, with automation to handle the upkeep, located in suburbia. However, the average person does not want to have to build that property for themselves. To me, this is the market opportunity where hopefully we can determine a cost efficient way to deliver that sort of turn-key permaculture experience.

If you or others ... want to  actually make a difference, you have to take permaculture mainstream.



I agree and I WOULD LOVE PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT SPECIFICALLY WOULD BE REQUIRED TO TAKE PERMACULTURE MAINSTREAM.

This requires accepting criticism as a way to get better,
rejecting any information that is either oversold or not true
AND separating actual functional practices from woowoo



I love this idea. Does anyone have any thoughts as to a formal process we could use to start separating actual functional practices from the woowoo? I think a rigorous testing process for permaculture's claims would be huge in terms of establishing credibility more generally.
 
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On the "hippie connection"... I'm conflicted because I want to network together the hippies and the more typical people into an effective coalition. However, I'm repeatedly observing that permaculture is perceived as a hippie movement when first encountered and that this is causing friction for more mainstream people to take it seriously. I would welcome any thoughts as to how we pro-actively deal with that branding issue as permaculture expands.



3. The hippie connection:  If the authors have ever watched one of Paul's talks, they will know right away that many of us are not exactly kumbaya type people. Most of us have our heads down looking at the earth, not up in the clouds.




This comes up so often....I think, maybe, that folks who let a stereotype keep them from a movement, or from even learning a bit about it, aren't anywhere near ready to learn something new.  

I think it's a mistake to continue to use a stereotype to discuss and to put the blame for why permaculture doesn't take off.

I think that only accepting 'folks that look like us' has caused a world of problems for all, everywhere in the world aside from permaculture....for some, maybe if the hippie stereotype were gone, some might not like that maybe others in permaculture wore suits occasionally and their job was in a corporation, etc....or had short hair...all sorts of judgements *could* be made on how someone looks and how they live their life, earn their living, etc.....I just think it's not a healthy way to look at and solve the problem of why permaculture doesn't take off in the mainstream.

Growing organic food was considered a 'hippie' movement (even though it's origin was much earlier) and look at Organics now that it went mainstream...not necessarily an improvement  

Other than that, I'm always glad to gather ideas on how to approach people who might be interested in permaculture......



 
duane hennon
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   On the "hippie connection"... I'm conflicted because I want to network together the hippies and the more typical people into an effective coalition. However, I'm repeatedly observing that permaculture is perceived as a hippie movement when first encountered and that this is causing friction for more mainstream people to take it seriously. I would welcome any thoughts as to how we pro-actively deal with that branding issue as permaculture expands.



   3. The hippie connection:  If the authors have ever watched one of Paul's talks, they will know right away that many of us are not exactly kumbaya type people. Most of us have our heads down looking at the earth, not up in the clouds.




This comes up so often....I think, maybe, that folks who let a stereotype keep them from a movement, or from even learning a bit about it, aren't anywhere near ready to learn something new.  

I think it's a mistake to continue to use a stereotype to discuss and to put the blame for why permaculture doesn't take off.  



so why doesn't "permaculture take off" ?

in the world of sales
it is the one doing the selling that  has the problem
blaming people (customers) for having a bad perception of permaculture
is a sure way to keep it small.
it is not the people's (customers) problem if they are turned off
by a gruff man in sops constantly swearing
they can (and do) just go somewhere else to spend their
time and money


also this might be of help

https://www.enchantingmarketing.com/features-and-benefits/

features and benefits
 
Judith Browning
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duane hennon wrote:


   On the "hippie connection"... I'm conflicted because I want to network together the hippies and the more typical people into an effective coalition. However, I'm repeatedly observing that permaculture is perceived as a hippie movement when first encountered and that this is causing friction for more mainstream people to take it seriously. I would welcome any thoughts as to how we pro-actively deal with that branding issue as permaculture expands.



   3. The hippie connection:  If the authors have ever watched one of Paul's talks, they will know right away that many of us are not exactly kumbaya type people. Most of us have our heads down looking at the earth, not up in the clouds.




This comes up so often....I think, maybe, that folks who let a stereotype keep them from a movement, or from even learning a bit about it, aren't anywhere near ready to learn something new.  

I think it's a mistake to continue to use a stereotype to discuss and to put the blame for why permaculture doesn't take off.  



so why doesn't "permaculture take off" ?

in the world of sales
it is the one doing the selling that  has the problem
blaming people (customers) for having a bad perception of permaculture
is a sure way to keep it small.
it is not the people's (customers) problem if they are turned off
by a gruff man in sops constantly swearing
they can (and do) just go somewhere else to spend their
time and money


also this might be of help

https://www.enchantingmarketing.com/features-and-benefits/

features and benefits



I guess I don't worry about 'selling' permaculture in general...I think most of us are doing what we can, as we can in our own way.    If I were new to the concept, what would put me off from the beginning would be pressure...... to be told what to do and how to do it, how to 'be'.....I like the idea of permaculture ideas just sort of infiltrating minds gradually over time.
 
Todd Parr
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John Oden wrote:

Todd,

I've given a lot of thought to that sentence in light of your comment:

1) I'm thinking it would be helpful for me to write a stand-alone article which analyzes in a rigorous way what the potential yields are that can be achieved with permaculture at various land scales. I'll get started documenting that immediately, so if anyone has a property on which they have been measuring their yields, please get in touch with me. I have some good data points from my own experiments since my primary focus until now has been pushing how intensive I can get my urban production going.

2) I agree that the sentence came off as unnecessarily hyperbolic. I have updated the paragraph to the following:

The basic argument here is that it’s hard to measure the agricultural efficiency of a dense food forest compared to a mono-cropped field. Do we honestly think this is a problem at all? I can grow a noticeable portion of my food in a window. We have previously documented an Urban Food Wall concept that takes 11 square feet of growing space. We then open-sourced our design, free to everyone, in our article “How to Grow Your Own Food When You Have Limited Space”. We are actively pushing ourselves to develop more and more advanced urban agricultural technologies. Also, I think it’s helpful to note that in these examples, all of these spaces had zero agricultural productivity before. With permaculture we have access to far more land because we can use small bits which are considered unusable via conventional thinking.

3) To directly answer your question, when I originally made the statement I was thinking of our bookshelf garden. It's a book-shelf with 4 growing areas, each of which are just under four feet wide by one feet in depth. So the trick is using the vertical space with the small square footage. In light of your comment, though, I remeasured and had forgotten that the water reservoir at the bottom was more than 1 foot in depth (let's call it two feet by four feet). As such, the proper dimensions are closer to eight square feet in total, which is still a very efficient use of space. Here is a video of 1/8 of that garden - the back half of one of the four shelves:



From this garden, we were able to produce enough micro greens for two people to eat 1/2 a bowl of micro greens in a salad every single day. We got continuous production by rotating where we were harvesting inside the garden and from replanting when we harvested. We are in the middle of rebuilding the system to increase efficiencies in our version 2. We theorize that adding climbers, runners, and tubers would be possible with zero additional space. I'm looking forward to reporting the results of that experiment in about a month when the results are evident.



John, thanks for the post, and the links.  I enjoyed them and I really like your "microponics" setup.  I'm looking forward to the results of your new experiment as well.
 
John Oden
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Hello everyone!

I just finished a video podcast covering this discussion, so I thought I would go ahead and post it here:



If you want to subscribe to the audio version of the podcast, you can do that by clicking here.
 
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