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The Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture Message Board › Why Bother with Permaculture?

Why Bother with Permaculture?

Lisa F.
Group Organizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 207
OK, so there is a fairly long essay that's circulating on the northeast permaculture listserv and it has elicited quite a few responses. It is an important critique of the role of permaculture in our world relative to the massive scope of change that could be necessary in order to face the problems we as a community/planet find ourselves in.

It is a bit long, but I encourage you all to read it; I have included one very cogent response at the end of the essay so please read through to the end. I have posted it as pdf on our site rather than put a superlong post on these message boards...


Note that the original essay was in response to some writings on Rob Hopkins' excellent Transition Culture site around energy descent. It was a conference that Rob helped coordinate in Kinsale in 2005 that got me going on peak oil to begin with...

Should we as a group be talking about a positive path of energy descent?

Anyway, if you're up for reading the essay, please feel free to comment here. It's from somewhat of an Australian perspective but all still applies...
A former member
Post #: 74
Thanks for bringing this up Lisa and I am in complete agreement. These have been my thoughts and I have wondered if others here feel the same. As I have come to know people a little better here, unfortunately only by their posts as I've been unable to as yet attend a get-together, I have tended to think we are in agreement. I look forward to a good discussion!
David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 77
I think anyone living on a small patch in a suburban neighborhood needs to consider the concept of "light green" very seriously. This idea mirrors my thoughts quite closely.

Are you really making a difference while still feeding the high dollar culture? Is there a compelling reason for not living in the country on a bigger piece of land managing a larger garden? Is 1/4 acre suburbia really worth it? Enough land? Enough privacy (without a fence)? Clean of lead paint, rubber dust, ersatz pollution, etc. etc?

Suburbia as we know it may be an outmoded idea. If people have pipsqueek little gardens in their yards that are not enough to share the wealth, what good is that? You may save a bit of money but is it just keeping you from buying cleaner farm products from struggling local farmers?

I'm betting that "organic" products grown in suburban soil are less clean than country farm products regardless of if they are "organic". Also, I think we need to look at the fact that "organic" in particular, and soil science in general are still based largely on 19th century ideas and knowledge.

At this point, organic is more about philosophy than science. That is not really a good thing. Case in point is the still wide divide between mycology and soil science. The fact is that these people barely know each other in the 21st century. At this point, soil scientists and gardeners only care about fungi if they are harmful. Certainly MOFGA's understanding of mycology is woefully inadequate. Practically nonexistent. Very 19th century. I was thinking only republicans want to go backwards but......

Merry's story about the guy who wanted his seaweed to be certified organic is something to think about. He explained what standards needed to be implemented because they didn't know. They implemented them and wanted to charge him for it. ?!???

Living within the existing paradigm and hatching old ideas and is easy.


BTW, I know a few people in this group have purchased "Mycelium Running". I entreat you to speak up now if it is everything I said it was.
Lisa F.
Group Organizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 209
Thanks Mary & David. How much to do (and what to do..) is a thorny question for any individual/household. I do personally believe that suburbia as we know it is absolutely obsolete to meet the challenges at hand. So, being inherently optimistic and action-oriented (for which the gods may yet cut me low:) my query is to what degree can we retrofit our current reality? I'm not a utopian or even an eco-villager. I look at myself and my neighbors on our 1/3 acres and think....hmmmm....what is possible here? Are all these people going to run out and recreate a rural lifestyle? Unlikely. So then what?

Many in the group have already heard me talk about the bell curve in this regard.... There is a slim population at one end that will make many radical changes necessary and continue to live well and happily doing so (albeit differently). At the other end of the curve will be the proverbial kickers and screamers. So that leaves the majority of folks under the bell curve who are unlikely/unable/unconvinced. If we take Maine or our bioregion as an example and look under that curve, what can we do (and what can Permaculture do) to start moving things in the direction of solving problems and developing positive/attractive solutions?

I do think we need to encourage and applaud all efforts even when they are small and try to consider them "a start" or a handle with which to grasp the next, more substantial efforts. I also feel that every person can't tackle every issue but we each need to find the piece that we CAN tackle and get started (or get more serious).

I have loads of thoughts about all of this and none black and white...I also feel like this conversation has probably happened thousands of times and in thousands of places throughout history. Is it more important now, or does every generation think that?

Right now I'm thinking: Can Maine transition to a post-carbon reality? Can we, as a group, build community and skills to help with a better path to energy descent?

Since I'm often quoting quacks/charlatans/visionaries:) ....

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Buckminster Fuller

PS: David, I've listened to several Paul Stamets lectures online and am halfway through Mycelium Running. Look forward to chatting more on this topic.
A former member
Post #: 75
Yes I watched the six part presentation this morning also. Well one thing led to another and now I am dreaming of mushroom "planting" next spring... I will make a post in an old mushroom thread.

Well, back to this topic... Just before the Iraq war started my friend Sue and I started a peace group in Boothbay Harbor, and I learned a lot. Most of it is not very encouraging either, sorry to say. When we started the group we knew we did not want it to be just a protest group. We felt it needed to be broad. We felt we needed to really DO things that were do-able. I remember saying at one point, "We are in uncharted waters here...". And so on.

We worked really hard. We kept our minds and our hearts open. We tried different styles and ended up with my daughter who is dynamic and well-liked by all using the Consensus method (which she has had training in) for our meetings. Sue is a library volunteer (she has a preschool garden class at the library in the summer and does the library gardens also) managed to get the Maine artist Natasha Mayer's exhibition in the library for a month. ( http://www.commondrea...­ ). I got Bruce Gagnon to come and speak in BBH. Many other good things... After about 15 months the group was no longer what we had envisioned and my friends and I quit going.

Believe me, I have thought a lot about this. What happened? For the most part I am just not able to sort it all out yet. The one thing I do keep coming back to is something my daughter said. She said, "New members, new members all they talk about is how to get people to come... I don't care if nobody else comes...". Her simple statement made me think a lot about how groups are always trying to recruit new members. There seems to be this mentality if only people could learn the truth they would come over to "our side"? Well, judging from our experience in forming a "peace group" that just did not happen.

BUT, on the other hand I DO believe that there are people out there who have just not as yet connected the dots (and my daughter is a good example of that!). When I was little we had an outhouse and a wood burning stove that also heated the water in the kitchen, and we milked goats for our milk. I grew up making the connection of where these things come from! That is really lacking today--water, even hot water!, comes like magic from the faucet. Wastes disappear down the toilet or garbage disposal. Milk come from a bottle at the store... And so on.

Watching the mushroom films this morning one quote really stuck with me. It was the statement that mushrooms have been around so long because they are in communication with the (Mother) earth. Certainly peoples who live in the countries that are not using the earth's resources and polluting to the extent that those of us in the US are well aware of that communication. But people like my daughter really are just not aware of the connection. They really aren't at all.

Now here is a good example:

As some of you know we have "bought the farm" here in Alna. Recently I was discussing the kitchen sink problem with my son-in-law--the sink bubbles a lot because the trap was put in way too far down the line. "Well", he said, "I'm putting in a garbage disposal anyway.". Of course I was horrified biggrin, and said, "Oh! I thought you were the composting sort of person!". Well he said, you can compost too... So you see, here he is wanting chickens, bees, solar panels, but he has not been "consciousness-ly" raised to understand that garbage disposals just do not fit into what it's all really about...?

I know he is very capable of seeing the broader picture--when my daughter met him he was practically a good little Republican till she had him read Howard Zinn and he saw the light. So I do believe that there must be plenty out there who need accurate information.

Well, I hope this strikes a chord with a few of you. I find it very, very had to put words to my thoughts and really do hesitate to post this at allconfused.
David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 78
I still have a long way to go in my life regarding "The Story of Stuff". That was a great presentation (but long for some people).

I really have gotten to a point where I feel like I have most things I want and I do think about avoiding more stuff. That said, I have a teenager and so things like Guitar Hero III and Playstation and other crap like that are still part of my life. If you have kids, stuff is inevitable. Everybody including me still wants stuff. I want less now so my attitude and spending habits are not great news for the economy. Till my son is out of college, I will need to live my life in a way that has more hustle and compromise than I would like.

I don't drive as much as many do since I work at home. Many days my vehicle does not move at all. I'm trying to make it move even less. That said, I have to drive to Augusta or Rockland to get many things. Mileage.

I'm happy with my water and disposal process now. I have very good water. I just take it from one part of my property and put it back in another part. It gets cleaned. Nutrients are returned. No water or sewer bills.

I need bigger gardens and more storage. Creating my own forest forage garden has been a slow process. Hoping for some real results this year. That said, mushroom stump culture is speculative and the spawn run can last for years before any fruit is produced. Bushes, plants, vines, trees take a few years to reach good production. Last year's weather was a huge setback for all of my projects. Didn't see it coming.

I use far more energy than I am happy with or can easily afford. Solving that problem is not easy without doing more things I can't really afford. Endothermic heating and cooling would be nice but I don't have the dough. I can afford to burn wood. I have all I need. I could just burn dead or falling wood and have more than I can use. I don't want to but may have to. I grew to really dislike burning wood for so many reasons when I lived in Gardiner.

In theory my house has some passive solar characteristics (lots of southern facing windows). It's not enough. And here's something to think about. I would have to cut quite a few trees to get maximum solar benefit. I like the trees there. They block the sights and sounds of rt.17. They are part of the positive aspects of my carbon footprint. Everybody does what they can and I still have a looooong way to go. (I really am getting around to the subject of the thread)

Here is something to think about. Permaculture is a good thing but we get so focused on the modern man made ideas that we have mostly forgotten about foraging. We all drive by thousands of tons of sustainable forage every day. Every day. Elderberries, raspberries, grapes, and all sorts of good things people don't even know are edible and good (including me). Food that comes back every year without our intervention. Even in winter. Roots, shoots, nuts, fruits, etc. etc. Untold tons of forage go by the wayside every year. Wasted. If we are good managers of our foraging, it is environmental perfection.

My property was the first property settled in Washington in the late 1700s by the Nelsons and the Butterfields. They made a life here from nothing but the virgin woods. How did they do it? We have forgotten. The natives of this country had this all figured out before the Europeans got here and screwed it up.

I bet a lot of people in this group are anti hunting. Here in Washington, we border on having too many deer and definitely have too many turkeys. Other animals that are sustainable and forageable are plentiful here. If you eat meat, you should have nothing to say. You are just paying someone else to kill your animals for you (so you don't have to watch). Further, If you don't see the deer, turkeys, etc. etc. realize that city and suburban habitat destruction has far more impact on this issue than hunting does. Cars in high population areas run over more animals than hunters take. 35 years ago there were no vultures in Maine. None. They followed the death on the roads from the southern US. No shortage of ravens either for the same reason.

Both the deer and turkey populations are on the rise and bordering on being a big problem at this point due to less hunting. I have lived in a place where the deer population was out of control (Otsego County NY). Smaller animals, more deaths (including people), car accidents, bark stripped trees, farm predation, disease etc. Turkeys are eating deer forage, farm feed, bird seed, and displacing the native ruffed grouse by taking their nesting habitat, food etc. Our state wildlife managers are very good at what they do. They are starting to lose control now because of decreased hunting resulting in burgeoning populations. Hunting manages. Cars and development just destroy.

I think everyone in permaculture (cognizant folks that they are) should consider making responsible foraging a serious part of their lives. It will add a very positve dimension to your life. Guaranteed.

David Spahr
Washington, Maine
A former member
Post #: 76
Well I read the article and the response for a second time. I would like to read all of the responses but could not find the original article at the site.

One bit of wisdom I read some time ago...don't remember who said this: People think that change comes from the top down and actually that is not the way it works at all. Change moves from bottom to top. This sort of thinking suggests that the way I live, or you live, is the only way to change the world. Talk, talk, talk, is just blah, blah, blah.

I don't know what all is taught in permaculture school, but I would guess that it is very holistic and that people who practice permaculture are aware of the fact that society must change at a very basic level.

It would seem to me that we've got several emergencies that are going to hit us hard within the next few years and if our government's response to the flooding of New Orleans was any measure of how ready we are we can expect utter chaos. Although I am an optimist by nature, I'm pretty much a pessimist when it comes to expecting any change in the power structure in this country done voluntarily. But an emergency such as a pandemic could bring the world to its knees.

BTW David, I think that anyone that eats meat should be required to kill an animal at least once in their life, or at the very least watch someone else do it. Now that's a connection you don't soon forget. The more I think about it, I think at the root of the problem is a loss of connection to the earth, it's plants and animals, including us. Oh, and fungi too!biggrin
David S.
Washington, ME
Post #: 80
I would like to point out once again that we are all walking/driving by free, sustainable, no maintainance food (and medicine) all the time. It is everywhere and it is often going to waste. I am giving serious consideration to trying to live for a month without buying food. My son will certainly hate that.

I think you are right about the killing an animal requirement. Anyone whose life included traditional farming as mine did is wholly familiar with this. I never knew my parents did not have much money when I was young. We had chickens, ducks, pigs etc. My dad hunted rabbits (they were eating our vegetable garden). We needed the food. Life in the 50s was very different. We learned the lessons of where meat comes from and why. It was never taken lightly. It was far less artificial than most of our lives are today. No styrofoam tubs or plastic wrap to pollute.

I bet when most members of this group go to a country fair and see the people with the sheep and cows and other animals they seem like people from another planet. Realize that they love their animals.

I respect it if you think it is wrong and you are a vegetarian. You live by your philosophy. Your behavior is in line with your beliefs. A tip of the hat to you. I was a vegetarian for three years. I know why I gave it up and I am at home with it.

If you are against hunting or the inevitable result of farming animals and you eat meat, you can go soak your head. What really makes me crazy is when this point of view is taken because an animal is "cute" like bambi and has big brown eyes. Cows have brown eyes too. Often those same people will not have the same feeling for a porcupine or a rat or a bug. Stepped on a cockroach or slapped a mosquito? Intellectually dishonest.

I hate hitting a squirrel or a bird with my vehicle as much as anyone. It makes me sad. I certainly do brake for animals. I would like to add that I have eaten what I hit a couple of times.

I hunt for food. Truth is I am a shitty hunter having bagged very little in many years except a couple of turkeys. Anybody who thinks deer hunting is easy certainly has not tried it. They see, smell, and hear 10 times better than we do. I'm too mesmerized by the woods and walk around too much. They hear me a mile away. I considered giving up turkey hunting because it is expensive. That said, I have a serious predation problem. There are way too many around here. The other thing people seem not to realize is the real connection with the woods and the outdoors. If I am a failure as a hunter I am always happy I did it anyway just to be outside and see the natural world (which includes very few humans). The woods are very beautiful in the fall.

I spend more time in the woods than most anyone I know. There is so much wonder out there and so many things to learn. If you do not have this type of connection, you are missing a lot. Skip the groups, camps, and workshops and go into nature. It probably is not far away. It's free. Other humans are certainly not required for peace and balance. Excellent exercise too. Walking the woods is far differnet than walking the sidewalks.

A former member
Post #: 8
Interesting topic, Lisa.

I'm a relative newbie to permaculture, but not to "sustainability" issues. In my opinion, anything that opens possibilities for ordinary people to become more self sustainable is helpful. Permaculture is one solution to our cultural problems and waiting for other factors to fall into place first is not very realistic. Kind of like waiting for Godot.

My new found philosophy is to do what I can where I am. The more people who do this, the better off we'll all be - no matter where we are.

Lisa F.
Group Organizer
Portland, ME
Post #: 212
Ted - thanks for chiming in. I am in general agreement that doing something in this regard almost always trumps doing nothing. Starting where you are (great Pema Chodron book as well, no?) is the best and, dare I say, the only practical way!

We are human animals, part of the fabric of life and therefore - just because of the sheer fact of living - we must have SOME impact. We require food, water, shelter and clothing. In order to get these, we affect other systems. How we are able to do these things, the choices we make, etc is the crux. I remember an interesting theoretical equation from an old environmental science class:

I = P x T where I is Impact, P is population and T is technology. So, if your population is high but your technology is gentle, the impact can be manageable. If your population is low, you can probably get away with using technologies that are heavier to some degree. There was a brief window in human history - say the very beginning of industrialization - when this might have been the case. But when your P is high and your T is heavy, well, you know....

I've been thinking of all this in greater depth since the film on Tuesday night, on which I should probably start a separate thread...
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