I was recently asked by “permaculture actionary” Delvin Solkinson to provide some words for a newsletter promoting the next Rainbow Serpent Festival at which I’ll be speaking (several times). Very normal that a previous participant at one of our Advanced Permaculture Principles Courses should be asking me for a piece for an event he has the job to promote. Except for the fact that Delvin is based in the rainforests of British Columbia, Canada and the event is Rainbow Serpent Festival, that is held each dry dusty January in our bioregional backyard.
My reply was “Delvin, You ask difficult questions. Attached are a few words for your “Trans Pacific Partnership” project producing a local festival mag from the west coast of Canada.” Inevitably, I said too much for Delvin to use in full, but he thought it should be available somewhere, so here it is.
What are the roots or foundations of Permaculture?
Permaculture emerged from the fusion and ferment of environmental thinking of the 1970’s. It can be thought of as applied systems ecology with a strong debt to the work of Howard Odum. In another sense it was a branch of the tree of organic agriculture, with roots in many industrialised countries, in the early 20th century informed by pioneering work on sustainable agriculture by F.H. King who wrote Farmers of Forty Centuries; Permanent Agriculture in China, Japan and Korea. The emphasis on perennial plants, especially trees, was strongly informed by Russell Smiths Tree Crops; A Permanent Agriculture and the resurgence in interest in Economic Botany (useful plants), and indigenous use of plants and land management. As a social movement permaculture originated in the Counterculture applying an activist strategy to create the world we wanted rather than fighting to stop the world we didn’t want. Early “back to the land” self sufficiency efforts outside the mainstream economy provided a context for early application of permaculture concepts. Although not overtly political, permaculture was influenced by both Anarchist and Libertarian philosophies.
What is the best way to become a permaculture actionary or ‘get on the ground’?
There are many different entry points to becoming a “permaculture actionary”. For some it starts with books, for others it is social and practical immersion without over intellectualizing, for many it is a Permaculture Design Course. Whatever the starting point, it should become clear that the most important application of permaculture ethics and principles is to the self, through a process of self audit of our needs, wants, dependencies, creative and productive outputs and byproducts of our very existence. Getting grounded in this way is the start of a personal retro-fit or redesign process which does not require that we wait until we own land or are with the right crowd. We can be our own guinea pigs in creating a better world. It is not necessary to tell the whole world first up but it certainly helps to connect with like-minded people for ideas and inspiration in building skills and capacities to help ourselves and others adapt to a rapidly changing world.
What is the future of permaculture that you would most like to see?
My hopes for permaculture range from the most general to the most specific. As a concept I hope it continues to be informed and infused with creative thinking and activism that arises from outside its own self-referenced world . In this way it will avoid stagnation in thinking and action and continue to exhibit hybrid vigour that can respond to a rapidly changing world. This inclusive mentality that acknowledges like minded concepts and networks reduces the problems of “turf warfare” between pioneering concepts that colonise the psycho social margins of mainstream society.
This holistic “jack of all trades” scope of permaculture needs to be balanced by a “mastery of one”. For each of us the calling and contribution to a better world will be many and varied. My hope is that enough permaculture practitioners dedicate their lives to making the founding permaculture vision of truly productive bioregional tree crop agricultures a reality able to survive the rigours of climate change and energy descent. Can we do the hard yards such that reality can match the rhetoric?
These ideas are further explored in
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