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Western MA Permaculture Message Board › Next Steps for Organizing the WMass Permaculture Community!

Next Steps for Organizing the WMass Permaculture Community! We want to hear from you!

Jamie P.
Northampton, MA
Post #: 1
Hello All!
A small group of folks recently met in Northampton to discuss some of the needs of the existing permaculture community in western Mass and ways in which it might be strengthened. The notes below are a summary of the meeting and the opinions of those in attendance.

There was a general discussion of the formation of the permaculture "guild" community roughly ten years ago, which began with a small group of people who wanted to support each other in starting permaculture demonstration sites across the region.These sites have become hugely successful tools for educating folks from all across the northeast and beyond about the tenants of permaculture and provide a great opportunity for many to see permaculture "in action" and to learn-by-doing. A few of these original guild organizers and a few new members are representatives on a loosely organized Steering Committee, and the group discussed how these members might serve more of an active role, or if a steering committee is the right structure for our community.

The group discussed that while there are many people across the region working on various projects, tackling important issues, and offering many exciting events for people to attend, there seems to be something missing that is tying it all together. Could a more centralized hub or group of core organizers help make better connections between disparate and diffuse projects and make it easier for new people to get involved? A common theme that was discussed was bringing people together to collaborate on common projects and achieve common goals. What is the community "hub" for permaculture?

Currently, the existing organizing tools being employed are: the wmass permaculture guild listserv with over 900 members, the Western Mass Permaculture Meetup Group with 150 members, the NE Permaculture NING, and a facebook group. How well are these tools serving the permaculture community? Are they helping to forge connections? These tools seem to be adequate in getting the word out about projects and events, but are not as effective as is desirable for forging connections between and among people and groups. The group discussed the model currently being employed in Portland, Maine, which is based around 3 core organizers and a Meetup Group called "Resilience Hub" which has over 1200 members and is entirely event-based (with virtually no process-oriented meetings). The MeetUp tool helps their community organize 40-50 events per year and has been very effective in strengthening community resilience in Portland over the last seven years.

Resources in the WMass Permaculture Community:

  • 5 colleges/schools
  • Media (local radio, TV, newspapers)
  • Knowledge permaculture folks (WMass is one of the most active permaculture communities in the country!)
  • Demonstration sites
  • WesternMass Pemaculture on Facebook, Northeast Permaculture NING, Western MA Permaculture MeetUp Group, wmass permaculture guild listserv
  • Energetic people/potential interns & volunteers
  • Land/people with yards

Top Needs for the Permaculture Community:

  • Accessibility/Recruitment: Easier way for people to find out about permaculture/get involved
  • Connecting and building relationships: Work less in isolation
  • A core group of organizers with some accountability and compensation. (What were the barriers for the sterring committee—how can it be fair and equitable? What’s the current structure? How does it get passed on? How can organizers not get burnt out?
  • Ways to have meaningful work and make a living
  • Measurable/tangible/quantifiable goals for what we want to achieve (e.g., X members, X gardens planted per season, X events per year)
  • Power to delegate resources
  • Ways to make decisions (effective structure vs. hierarchy)

Actionable Items/Next Steps:

  • Join the Western MA Permaculture MeetUp Group (­) and get everyone you know to join.
  • Have another larger event to continue to this conversation. This event could gather many more community members "in the spirit of coming together" to meet, set goals, and help to answer many of these core questions. This could be either the first of a large annual meeting, or the first of a series of smaller meetings that could bring people together more regularly. Draw the old crowd and the new crowd together. What are some goals for this meeting?

Let's utilize this discussion board to continue this conversation! Please add your thoughts/ideas/suggestions about ways to strengthen our community and what the goals of the next gathering might be.

Thank you for contributing your ideas! (If you are interested in being an organizer of the next meeting, please contact
Dan B.
user 66482002
Northampton, MA
Post #: 1
I'm continually struck that the "bottlenecks" to more widespread and effective embrace/application of "sustainability" and permaculture practices are not necessarily lack of interest, knowledge, land, seeds, personnel or even money. Thank you Jamie and all, for keeping up this important (net)-work and helping strengthen our social, practical and organizational connections. The toughest nut is always the "people aspect". Ah, people! Keep Laughing Dog Farm in mind for future meetups or another permie pow-wow. Best to all... DD
A former member
Post #: 1
I appreciate this update on the meeting very much. Thanks for writing it up, Jamie, and thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts. I agree with Dan B. about that people aspect.... man, is it hard, and worthy of focus. May conversations continue, and I hope to be able to attend future gatherings.
Jen Hartley
A former member
Post #: 5
I'll jump on the bandwagon for the people aspect of permaculture. I'm grateful to know there are so many folks out there doing so much to advance this approach. As an introvert, it's naturally difficult for me to just GO to some of these events. As a newbie, I often feel intimidated by all those who have been giving so much for so long, while I've just been plugging away on my own personal dream coming true. I wonder whether there might also be too many opportunities? Choosing, when people's time might be limited, is often difficult as well. I know from past experience how easy it is to get burned out when I start committing to too many organizations that further my interests, so I am now much more careful to the opposite extreme. I know I was grateful to see a permaculture thread at NOFA this past year. One of my organic farmer co-workers has become intrigued, both through my mention and through workshops at NOFA, and has begun exploring permaculture and planting fruit trees to make a start. That seems to be a very vibrant, active community of like-minded folks, and it's not a bad place for all us permie oriented folks to connect as well.
Jessica T.
user 43013122
Northampton, MA
Post #: 1
Jono Niger was kind enough to answer my questions regarding the current steering committee for the Western MA Permaculture Guild, and shared his suggestions for moving forward. See his answers below.

Thanks for getting in touch. I had hoped to come to the meeting but couldn't make it. Hope we can continue to meet and get folks together. That to me is the biggest need right now, just to gather with folks and get to know each other outside all the digital communications etc.

As far as the steering committee, here's a short bit and I'd be glad to talk more with folks about it.
There is no active steering committee right now. I think the last iteration was with Keith Zaltzberg, Mary Johnson, and I think there were one or two others. This was probably two years ago. I was part of a steering committee several years before that and we had a pretty active group. I was also involved in the guild when we convened an organizing group to host the regional convergence in 2008.

We considered a steering committee a good tool to facilitate communication for the guild. Something not too heavy handed or hierarchical. Just folks facilitating the larger group activity. The steering committee was made of volunteers, no pay, and the decision making was up to that group. We changed positions by simply asking if anyone else wanted to be part of it and it seemed to work. Though in this last iteration the energy petered out, i'm not sure why.

I'd rather schedule another gathering time to answer more questions, gotta get back to work.

I would say, however, that you all should feel free to "convene" yourselves as a steering committee, or other facilitating group, and go ahead with re-energizing the local area network. There are lots of new folks with lots of new energy and there's nothing to be lost by moving ahead. I don't think there are any toes to be stepped on if you keep in communication (through the list serve or other emails and events) about what's happening. And also by hosting or calling some "get-togethers" for folks to meet and talk together.

Thanks for your efforts.


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