I have recently moved to the Dominican Republic to pursue a project and have been fortunate enough to meet the creative and productive soul that is The Growing Dutchman, Chris Kaput. We’ve been able to put our heads together and the ball’s already rolling…

One of the important and until recently neglected areas of permaculture that needs much evaluation and a plethora of innovative minds is social permaculture. Encompassing everything abstract that embroils human beings, social permaculture looks to evaluate and devise social and economic systems. From structures of governance to methods of resolving conflict, from techniques for creating a sustainable livelihood to systems for fair sharing profit, social permaculture is a difficult topic to master, especially with the extremely complex and seemingly spontaneous behaviour of human beings.

Going It Alone

From the outset, as an individual embarking on a permaculture journey, making social connections is important to gain social power through networks and communities, both locally and globally. I know that I am not the only person who has experienced the loneliness of this life, heavy like the burden we shoulder when we agree to enter this uphill struggle to overturn the paradigms of destructive systems within our world.

More than once I have heard the heart-wrenching stories of people saying that they felt themselves to be crazy due to their belief in this way of life on account of the blatant ridicule and dejection of their peers. In fact, when I was completing my PDC, this was a topic that came up so often.

One of the most interesting and authentic cats on our course was a Romanian guy called Liviu, who explained to me that in his culture farmers are considered peasants, and the very concept that he would choose this life and see it as the means to repair the world and provide freedom made him fit for a mental institution in the eyes of his friends. He spoke of the judging looks from shop vendors when he entered their premises with dirty clothes, silently disregarding him and considering him disreputable. He spoke of the loneliness he felt when he walked his gardens, knowing nobody within his remit shared in his passion. And most importantly, he talked passionately and vividly about the invigoration he felt having been afforded the opportunity to spend time with 24 other people from all walks of life who also indulged in his passion.

Liviu, like many others, demonstrates the importance of social connections. Not only as a way to help us find some sense of much needed human belonging, but also as a way to make this work. With a battery of cliches at my fingertips, I’ll plump for the simple adage that ‘many hands make light work’.

Switching the Lights on in the Dominican Republic

Embarking on this journey alone has been tough and definitely lonely. My outer mirage of tough girl ‘I don’t need nobody’ independence has wavered a few times while I’ve been 24/7 alone on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the intricate spider of social media affords us the ability to connect with strangers who share in our passions. While forums may offer remote help, certain social media outlets can provide us with direct connections and a chance to meet new people.

When I tentatively released my debut post on the Facebook group ‘Permacultura en Rep. Dominicana’, after having reread and re-typed it about 48 times to make sure that the 5 lines of garbled Spanish came across as the cool, laid-back and knowledgeable permaculture wizardess that I so clearly am, I expected maybe the odd ‘like’ or ‘Welcome new friend’. Instead, I was inundated with welcoming messages and people adding me to find out more about my project, with serious offers to visit and help out in anyway they could. Something I had not expected from this island, I must say.

One of those friendly faces was Chris Kaput, who immediately offered to link together seeing as we were located conveniently to one another. Not only did we have coffee to chat, he also took a trip out to the farm to help me consider the lay of the land (leading to him losing the soles on his shoes as we chased the floodplains to understand the water flows!). This was followed up swiftly by an invitation to co-host a workshop with him at Sacred Women’s Fest.

From Abstract Connections to Productive Skill-Sharing

While social connections can help us in a myriad of ways, from helping to get physical work done to providing us with skills outside of our remit, my most recent experience with Chris has shown that ‘two heads are better than one.’

While we each have our own projects to focus on, by combining our skills, we have been able to lend a hand to each other while picking each others’ noggins. This weekend, having been set back by car troubles that prevented us from delivering said workshop, we set about to apply our time to other areas of our projects that needed to be pursued.

I am up to my neck in trying to develop a rainwater harvesting system for 7.3 acres of land that currently experiences serious flooding and erosion during rainstorms, followed by long periods of drought that mimic desertification during dry season. While the tropical climate inherently means that much of the nutrients is stored in the plants, the fast-pace rushing water is eroding the beds and large areas of the land, bypassing the trees and heading straight for the neighbour’s property. Essentially, all our hard work is being reaped by the guy below.

Concurrently, Chris is looking to improve his own city property to model it as a shining example of urban permaculture while simultaneously providing online resources that demonstrate how to do this, highlighting the reality of the evolutionary journey of a permaculturist; kerfuffles, mistakes, and all! One of his pressing projects was to build a pallet wood deck to provide a place for humans to chill while the plants can thrive in the remaining space. He’s also looking to consider better use of the garden space.

So while we were held up by the mechanic’s late arrival, we decided to put our skills together and really stack functions to get two jobs done at once. While I helped Chris build his deck (mainly working as a human level to level out the deck sections he had already prepared), we discussed the water systems at my place and the functionality of his garden. While this doesn’t seem all that innovative as an idea, the hands-on work really gets your juices flowing as the blood is able to circulate around the body, opening the blood vessels in the brain and inducing those ‘Eureka moments’.

Having recently read Brad Lancaster’s Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, I felt I had a pretty good beginner’s grasp of water systems, but implementing them into the site becomes a whole different story. By having someone to work with who has viewed the same plot of land with different eyes, we were able to both bring our own individual insights into the plan. Moreover, in true devil’s advocate style, I found that Chris was able to really question the final plan I was considering. His input helped me to consider feedback loops of which I hadn’t thought, while simultaneously teaching me to break it down simply and clearly so that my clients would be able to understand.

And while all these discussions were going on, we managed to craft a deck and plant a cover crop of mung beans and mustard, which are already happily sprouting away!

For me, this demonstrates that by stacking our time together, we could also stack our functions and collaborate to offer each other’s skills. This skill-sharing helps to build upon individual innovation; after all, we can’t think of everything ourselves. With that in mind, consciously and pro-actively making social connections is integral to creating a truly productive permaculture community; both locally to you and as a worldwide entity and supportive family.

It’s not about ego. It’s not about your name in flashing lights above a swale telling people that this was solely your idea and you’re the go-to-guy for permaculturing the world into a new age of regeneration. It’s about getting this done and getting it done right, having thought of all the feedback loops and building systems that meet the needs of everyone with the help of everyone. So we don’t mess it up all over again.

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