Re: Article "The 'Sustainable (R)evolution' Book Project"

Stefan Pasti
Posted May 10, 2009 from United States

Response to Article “The ‘Sustainable (R)evolution’ Book Project” (at the Permaculture Research Institute website) by Craig Mackintosh

Although I cannot offer any financial support for this good project, I appreciate the valuable contribution this book can make: profiling “Permaculture in Practice Around the World” can change people’s understanding about the “energy needed for quality of life” equation. I hope this particular book project receives much assistance, and is well received by people in many fields of activity. My main reason for writing a response, however, is because I have had some thoughts on the kind of Permaculture book I would like to see, but have not seen; and I thought it might be appropriate to share those comments here. I believe there are ways these comments can be interesting to permaculture practitioners who are wondering about what other ways they can contribute to the evolution of Permaculture as a concept.

I believe there are many elements of permaculture design that have contributed to whole ecosystem thinking, community sustainability, self-sufficiency, and food security. I have noticed photographs and commentary of some of Geoff Lawton’s work on this website (especially the truly remarkable work in Iran). I have also seen glimpses of the far-reaching implications of permaculture principles in the international work of Bill Mollison, Albert Bates, and SEED International, through the projects of many other permaculture practitioners, and by way of workshops and applications in ecovillage settings. In addition, I have read articles on the Permaculture Activist website, and accessed descriptions of many permaculture activities on the “Planetary Permaculture Network” also at that website. And I have looked into 5-10 of the most popular books association with Permaculture.

And yet… I still find it difficult to have a feel for the nature and character of the role for Permaculture—within the context of the many, other diverse fields of activity that are essential to overcoming the challenges of our times. Whether it is a need for a greater understanding for the position of Permaculture within the “big picture” of the restructuring work ahead, or the actual relations between Permaculture activity, and other, also essential activity… or a clearer recognition of the critical work in other fields which will be necessary to bring out the potential of Permaculture… or whether it is something else again, I do not know. But, as an indication of where my lack of understanding may be, here are some of the questions I have about the field of Permaculture which I am still unclear about.

1) In the process of restructuring local economies—or in building up of communities with a variety of problem areas—what parts of the wholistic approach are permaculture-related, and what parts are other elements of community building?

2) How do each of the different parts of a restructuring a local economy or community building process come to appreciate and value the contributions of the others?

3) How does the restructuring or community building process come to be viewed as one in which all of the various diverse groups which make up the community are represented, and thus a process which at least has the potential for an outcome that benefits all groups?

4) Who are the most visible and responsible representatives of the field of Permaculture activity? What is the body of knowledge recognized by the majority of Permaculture practitioners as representing instruction that can be properly certified as Permaculture instruction? Is it likely this body of knowledge will be released into the public domain, to be transformed according to the needs of the times, or is it most important that it be maintained in the sense of a registered trademark? (Can open sourcing social solution approaches be useful in developing the concept, or would that be counterproductive? For more on this open sourcing concept, see article “Open Sourcing Social Solutions” by Charlie Brown in MIT Press Journals Summer, 2007 at )

5) How could more educational institutions—and especially neighborhood learning centers—become demonstration sites for the advantages of the ecological wisdom that permaculture represents?

6) What particular educational institutions are acting as the “cultural historians” of Permaculture activity, where journalists and researchers can find easy access to clear, introductory material, relevant statistics, and well organized archives?

Of the different thoughts I have had along these lines, and along other lines related to Permaculture, the most consistent idea that has come up is the need for a “Permaculture Reader”, which provides for the general reader in areas of environmental challenges, community revitalization, economic restructuring, and personal lifestyle considerations something of the many different voices, settings, applications, and personal experiences that represent the field of Permaculture activity. As a discussion which would highlight the value of such a “Reader”, I highly recommend the not-unrelated article by Dr. Kenneth Kraft (from the Journal of Buddhist Ethics in year 2000) titled “New Voices in Engaged Buddhist Studies” (located here: ). I sincerely believe that people who do have a look at that article will see that there are many different contributions by many different people that define a field of activity—and that some actions are critical to helping good work “arrive” in the collective consciousness of a community of people, or a culture. One of the “readers” Dr. Kraft refers to in the article (see footnote 19) is titled The “Engaged Buddhist Reader” edited by Arnold Kotler, much of which is available via Google Books here: . The back cover of this book includes the following: “When Parallax Press was founded in 1986, there were few books on engaged Buddhism, a term coined by Thich Nhat Hahn in the 1950’s. Parallax Press has since published sixty books on the subject, and a worldwide movement is underway. ‘Engaged Buddhist Reader’ represents the ‘cream’ of these sixty works, offering a comprehensive glimpse of the range of perspectives and insights on socially engaged Buddhism, a Buddhism that is not just in meditation halls, but which pervades our everyday lives and concerns.”

I also have much appreciation for the “Organized Learning” structure which accompanies the “Action Learning” concept incorporated into Gaia University coursework (see ), and I believe that such a organizational structure can be helpful to the creation of “Permaculture Guilds”. Probably there already have been many work-study arrangements which have been made for those people who have the interest but not the resources to acquire permaculture practitioner skills; but these arrangements could possibly be further developed [in ways similar to how the night schools worked at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (which came into being as a land grant school) and Tuskegee University, founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington. (Note: The early beginnings of Tuskegee University may make interesting reading, especially for instructors trying to earn a living teaching Permaculture, and so I have included some excerpts here.)]

“My first task was to find a place in which to open the school. After looking the town over with some care, the most suitable place that could be secured seemed to be a rather dilapidated shanty near the coloured Methodist church, together with the church itself as a sort of assembly-room. Both the church and the shanty were in about as bad condition as was possible. I recall that during the first months of school that I taught in this building it was in such poor repair that, whenever it rained, one of the older students would very kindly leave his lessons and hold an umbrella over me while I heard the recitations of the others.” (from Chapter 7)

“From the very beginning, at Tuskegee, I was determined to have the students do not only the agricultural and domestic work, but to have them erect their own buildings.” (from Chapter 10)

“The making of these bricks taught me an important lesson in regard to the relations of the two races in the South. Many white people who had had no contact with the school, and perhaps no sympathy with it, came to us to buy bricks because they found out that ours were good bricks. They discovered that we were supplying a real want in the community. The making of these bricks caused many of the white residents of the neighbourhood to begin to feel that the education of the Negro was not making him worthless, but that in educating our students we were adding something to the wealth and comfort of the community. As the people of the neighbourhood came to us to buy bricks, we got acquainted with them; they traded with us and we with them. Our business interests became intermingled. We had something which they wanted; they had something which we wanted. This, in a large measure, helped to lay the foundation for the pleasant relations that have continued to exist between us and the white people in that section, and which now extend throughout the South.” (from Chapter 10)

“The same principle of industrial education has been carried out in the building of our own wagons, carts, and buggies, from the first. We now own and use on our farm and about the school dozens of these vehicles, and every one of them has been built by the hands of the students. Aside from this, we help supply the local market with these vehicles. The supplying of them to the people in the community has had the same effect as the supplying of bricks, and the man who learns at Tuskegee to build and repair wagons and carts is regarded as a benefactor by both races in the community where he goes. The people with whom he lives and works are going to think twice before they part with such a man.” (from Chapter 10)

It is also clear to me that there is a humanitarian aid element to the field of Permaculture activity which can help make it possible for steady state economies to be established in areas that have had long histories of complex, intractable problems. Probably there are case studies which document some of the work which has already been done along these lines; it also seems likely that partnerships between researchers in universities and practitioners in the field could result in the development of “virtuous cycle” indicators.

By including these kind of comments here, I am not only describing aspects of Permaculture that I have not yet found in a book through my own personal research, but aspects of Permaculture which can relate to and link with whole worlds of challenges and achievement which have taken place in the distant past, and the not so distant past. There is much in the way of positive exchange which can take place between the past and the present, as well as between different cultures, and different fields of activity. I realize that these particular comments may not have a direct connection with the proposed publication “The ‘Sustainable (R)evolution’ Book Project”; nevertheless, there may be readers of this who might, as a result, see more of the many branches of growth that exist, or are possible in the future, in the field of Permaculture than they have before, and maybe that is a contribution to the good work being done. I hope so.

With Kind Regards,

Stefan Pasti .

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