Get your tin foil hat on, and strap yourself in because where we’re going, you don’t need roads. We’re going on an abstract rollercoaster ride into my mind, while I explore social permaculture and its possibilities.

While doing my Permaculture Design Course in Spain with the infamous permaculture cowboy, Doug Crouch, we were asked to complete a personal project. 5 minutes. That’s all you get to spew out the convoluted cauldron of ideas sloshing around in your brain. We were asked to take one element from our design and talk about how it was multi-functional to the site we’d designed.

A Brief Project Brief

The project involved designing an eco-village on 6 hectares of land, which had previously be used as a mono-cropped wheat field. The land is part of Suryalila Yoga Retreat and has been sitting idle since its past life as a wheat slave. Severely degraded due to its time as a poor, abused monoculture, the site is in dire need of regenerative approaches to restore the land and turn it into a diverse ecosystem which is being efficiently used. Each group was designated one hectare of the property to design.

With ideas abound and the chance to throw our imaginations down on paper, the project stipulated that we must have one place of residence and a cottage industry on our site, while also fitting neatly with the tranquil vibes of the yoga retreat.

My Final Project

My group, after careful observation and analysis of course, chose to utilise our little slice of the wheat field pie as an educational centre to teach food processing, fermentation and preservation. Quite ingenious if I do say so myself; a much needed area of education often neglected in the ‘permanant agriculture’ definition of permaculture…BUT WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THESE VEGGIES?!

When it came to selecting my individual element to show as a multifunctional wonderproduct, I felt that while 5 minutes was ample time to describe the multifunctionality of a market garden, I’d stupidly up my own personal ante to make it extremely difficult for myself totally unnecessarily. I chose to turn this quite simple project into an abstract social endeavour, exploring how the market garden can provide social multifunctionality. While not only causing that all-too-familiar brain hernia that occurs when you delve deep into the abstract, I found that with each interactional connection I managed to draw, I was faced with a new scenario which opened another vortex of intricacies to be sucked into. The old ‘edge effect’ syndrome, some might say, where new world’s of boundless and unfathomable possibilities form when two elements interact.

Hey ho, after figuratively puking Mendelbrot’s fractals all over too many pieces of paper to be considered environmentally conscious, I felt 3 zoomed-in tiers were sufficient for a 5 minute presentation, in which I neeed to speak as quickly as the 2000’s rapper, Twister.

After experiencing a sea of glassy eyes from my less-than-enthralled classmates, I attempt to break it down here for you in a more controlled and slightly more understandable manner than I flooded it in the face of my audience that day.

Section View – Core Model Energy Cycling

people+care+to+empowerment+social+permaculture
A model of community empowerment through conscious people care

In hindsight, I have a sneaking suspicion that the arrows go the wrong way. Let’s ignore that for now and pretend it’s perfect. After all it’s the thought that counts here. Graphic design is not one of my fortes…yet.

  1. PEOPLE CARE SHOULD CREATE EMPOWERMENT WHICH IN TURN SHOULD LEAD TO FURTHER PEOPLE CARE

On the highest and broadest level, this model demonstrates how a market garden can provide a site to establish people care leading to their empowerment. From helicopter parenting to hardcore socialist statism, our modern society can demonstrate the dangers of disempowering people through poorly executed systems of people care. While we often find ourselves wanting to help people by doing it for them, handing them charity, or hurling unsolicited advice, this leads to dependence…in relationships, to parents, to the state; or it leads to rebellion…the hipster movement, political rioting, increased escapism (some might say permaculture!). Empowerment requires that we create a platform where people are able to learn how to learn. This helps to create self-empowered, self-sufficient individuals who are able to work out how to develop new skills for themselves and how to solve problems or complications that may arise within their lives.

Whether people are dealing with relationship conflict, a blocked pipe, or a lack of food security, true people care looks to provide them with the learning tools, access to information, and emotional support for them to devise their own methods forward to best suit their needs. An empowered individual who has reached that position through people care given in this manner, is far more likely to respond by paying this type of people care forward than by crashing and burning in a wallowing pit of self-pity and disenfranchisement.

In terms of a market garden, our site would create a space for local people and long-term volunteers to create their own cottage industry relating to food processing, fermentation, and preservation. By providing 6 month – 1 year internships for people to devise their own small cottage industry, individuals involved in the program are able to work through the entire process of becoming self-sufficient as their own boss with their own business. From the business planning, through to the physical implementation, sourcing distributors and customers, marketing, selling the products, taking inventory, crisis planning and management, book-keeping and so on, the individual has the platform to learn all the skills while having access to educational resources to support this learning curve. A small percentage of profits made would be given to the site manager, as a means of keeping the plot economically sustainable to continue the program.

2. BY INPUTTING EDUCATION AND WIDER SOCIETY PERSPECTIVES, ENERGY IS CYCLED TO CREATE ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY AND TO GAIN LOCAL SOCIETY PERSPECTIVES

So the second tier of this ever-complicating system splits into two further tori of energy cycling. From left to right, we start by inputting education into the system. The market garden provides a platform for education. Physically, hands in the soil, sun on our backs, and sweat on our brows, the market garden provides the natural stage and lighting to highlight the complex patterns and interactions in nature; perhaps the best tool for educational liberation we can offer. While the market garden would also offer a place to provide weekend workshops and guidance from our on-site permaculturists, individuals partaking in these internship progams will be able to access these resources and pick the brains of the experts while simultaneously experiencing the educational momentum in real-time. In other words, we give them the space, the information, and the imagination for them to innovate.

Through these innovations, interns are able to build cottage industries which provide a financial income to themselves, which will be profit-shared with the project. For every jar of pickles they sell, for every gallon of garden ferment they produce, for every pack of dried fruit vended, a little income is returned back to the site to create economic sustainability. In this regard, by caring for people in a liberating manner by providing the setting for self-propelled and community-supported education, the market garden induces the energy cycle toward empowerment through economic sustainability both for the individuals themselves, and for the project. Piece of cake, right?

So let’s move on over to that second green doughnut of scrumptious complexity on the right-hand side, see if we can’t stick our teeth into that.

The yoga retreat in which this plot is situated is frequented by a plethora of international volunteers, guests, and visitors. Our PDC, alone, featured 5 continents. If only the UN was as diverse and brilliant as us 25 whippersnappers, eh. This is a clear demonstration that intentionally or not, we’re chucking wider society perspectives into this smouldering pot of permaculture. Often well-travelled, the profile of visitors and staff creates a paradigm whereby local interns are able to learn about the diverse methods of sustainability and regeneration that are employed across the globe. This input enables a shift in perspective, broadening the scope of their learning capacity. This not only links to providing further education, but by combining wider society participants with those from local geographies, it enables us to create a cycle of information exhange. The wider society perspectives help to broaden the minds of local people, while their local perspectives help to condense that wider knowledge into become locally specific. It helps to induce the exchange of globally-used permaculture principles for insider information on indigenous techniques and father-to-son secrets. That way, when said volunteers, guests, and staff move on to other corners of the globe, they can take those specific techniques with them and apply them in other similar locations exhibiting comparable microclimates.

Take it this way, say Brad Lancaster pops on over for a visit, he could be like ‘Here, mate, I notice it’s getting a little desert-y out here in Spain. Let me tell you all about the benefits of digging a swale to harvest rainwater’,  like he does in his Arizonian home; a subclimate which Spain is increasingly resembling with its vast desertification. On the flipside, our local Spanish farmer can regale him with tales of how the people have managed to farm their 300-year-old drought-hardy olives as a means of income and food security both in spite of and taking advantage of the increasing desertification.

Not only does this back and forth help to educate both parties, that education goes on to help them create better products, more comprehensively managed systems, and more effective cottage industries, thus creating further economic sustainability. Look at those people caring for each other leading to empowerment where they have the confidence to properly care for each other which leads to empowerment. And it just goes round and around, and everyone gets the empowerment and people care. It’s just too damn perfect isn’t it. Thank God, the whole world exists merely as an abstract theoretical model on paper that I pulled from my limited mind and never in messy, practical reality…

3. THE NITTY GRITTY – THE ‘HOW WOULD WE DO IT?’ THEORY

Now above we’ve explored the ‘WHAT’ and the ‘WHAT SPECIFICALLY’ that we’re trying to achieve. Now we’re looking at the ‘HOW’ (the ‘HOW SPECIFICALLY’ was certainly not going to fit into a 5 minute presentation and it led me on a serious rabbit-hole tumble when I started to consider it).

The blue tori spiral down a little further into exploring how we could induce energy cycling through modes of operation. On the first hand, again left to right, we are splitting the educational input into two main methods; a curriculum that we provide interns through workshops and more directed classes; and the personal education they can pursue themselves through the resources we offer, such as books, online resources, and expertise.

The curriculum itself enables the interns to learn the hoops through which they need to jump to create a sustainable business. This would be through offering classes and education of business planning and strategy, horticultural design and implementation, processing techniques, marketing strategies and campaign planning, book keeping, etc. By doing this, we enable them to create a business which effectively creates products.

The input of education through a curriculum leads to the output of economic sustainability through products. On a personal level, interns who are more economically secure are able to further their education, perhaps through completing a permaculture diploma or going to college, and the education we provide enables them to access the economic means to further educate themselves and so on. For the project, the creation of products create economic sustainability which enables us to continue providing education, while perhaps expanding it with our new financial means.

By creating a platform for people to educate themselves personally, through personal research, this can help contribute to academic research. Academic research may be abundant in theoretical permaculture, but living examples provide study opportunities to prove the validity of the philosophy and theory. Personal education and projects provide the opportunity for academic research to be developed, which not only serves as scientific win for permaculture, it also provides an extra source of income, through both selling that research and publishing books and information, but also through the publicity this brings, encouraging more people to embark on courses through us and to partake in internships. That academic research, of course, not only provides economic benefits, but cycles back to further the educational aspects.

OK, so let’s shift to the right side. Social power can be a difficult term to master (where of course everything up until this point has been smooth sailing and expressly simple). In basic terms, social power refers to your position in society, the connections you hold and the networks in which you thrive in. I swear I’ve bounced around so much that if social power was money, I’d definitely have a yacht.

As noted above, the guests and staff at Suryalila are often well-travelled and therefore tend to have a network of international connections. They bring these to the table, opening the doors for local people to connect more broadly, even if this is limited to online connections. However those connections are fulfilled, this enables them to gain social power further afield.

Importantly, by combining these two groups and offering these connections, local people are able to provide local connections. So if our project needs to be hooked up with a ton of manure from the local cow farmer, our local participants are far more likely to be able to provide that. This helps us to gain further local recognition to expand our reach into the local community, enabling us to provide further opportunities for education within that community while also accessing local resources. These local connections afford us the opportunity to build a better and more effective site-specific program, demonstrating permaculture and localism at its best, which helps to further entice those international participants.

The last doughnut was already covered above with that little hypothetical conversation with Brad Lancaster and the anonymous farmer. But in reference to these right-hand blue doughnuts, the wider society and local society are both served by each other, helping to keep that flow of energy, where all active participants of the program are able to educate and support each other, providing that people care that leads to empowerment through broadening knowledge and increasing economic sustainability.

In conclusion, by providing people care through creating a self-liberating platform where everybody supports each other, sharing their knowledge and experience, the market garden can become a multifunctional tool which enables empowerment through providing various cottage industries that not only educate, but also create economic sustainability, while equipping people with the experience to recreate their business operations outside of our venue.

And it’s just that easy.

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