PUTTING PERMACULTURE INTO PRACTICE

WORDS & IMAGES: KATE WEINER

I recently wrapped up a two-week Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) course. It was the kind of life changing experience that I'm still absorbing. I loved learning about holistic land management and greywater systems. I loved finding a crew of people who are as passionate as they are playful. I loved exploring strategies to really do what I dream; to build, bit by bit, a world that heals and not harms. And I loved the mornings when I'd walk with my friend to the icy cold pond and watch the sun slowly light the trees. 

As our incredible network of contributors explores in Loam: Permaculture in Practice, permaculture is tense territory. Mainstream permaculture teachers routinely credit Bill Mollison and David Holmgren (two white men) as the co-creators of permaculture. This invisibilization of the indigenous communities who have shaped permaculture across centuries is an act of incredible social and ecological injustice. As practitioners of permaculture, it's vital that we work to challenge the colonization of indigenous wisdom. 

In some ways, my course confronted these tensions. We listened to an incredible lecture from Carla Perez of Movement Generation whose words revolutionized my world (as Perez argues, if it's the right thing to do, we have every right to do it). And in some ways, my course didn't. The vast majority of our teachers were white and we didn't have dedicated class time to digging deep into the problematization of permaculture. 

I wrestled with these contradictions throughout the course and continue to! But I think the gift that these dissonances gave me is an understanding of what it's like to exist at the intersection of a great rift and still find opportunities to regenerate and renew. My PDC course granted me the opportunity to inhabit imperfect action; to recognize the struggles in this movement, search for the possibilities in permaculture, and cultivate the capacity to decolonize my way of thinking and change my way of living. I am so enormously grateful to the many teachers—animal, vegetables, and minerals—who made my PDC a rich foray into reimagining the world I'm in. 

The most tender moments throughout my stay were in nature. Soaking up a starry night sky. Rubbing a soft leaf of lambs ear against my cheek. Digging into a bowl of edible flowers mapped by blue borage and golden calendula. Diving stark naked into the pond with friends and coming up for air in a sudden swoop, electrified and shivering and laughing. I grew up steeped in the outdoors but my life has been localized more and more in relationship to screens. It felt soul-nourishing to be far from that blue light, to be where I always dream I am during restless workdays. 

Leaving the course was so hard. I didn't want to say goodbye to learning something wild and wondrous every hour of the day. I knew I would miss my new friends, whose passions—for tracking, homesteading, gardening, and art—filled me with such hope for humans. I loved walking through the North Garden in the sweet spring rain and watching the buds transform into blooms. I cherished the nights we spent gathered around the fire, listening to music and laughing; and the nights when we partied in the big barn, silly dancing and sipping on wine. I'm lucky to live in a city alive with trees and sprawling parks and thriving community gardens. But it was so special to not hear cars chasing pavement when I went to sleep. 

Now that I am home, nestled in my bed, surrounded by my plant babies, I am searching for opportunities to sustain this energy and sense of resilience. On our last day of class, we talked about small steps we could take to ease our transition. Mine was to repot my snake plant Bianca. I haven't done that yet, but I did buy a set of watercolors from my favorite local art supply so I could paint the places and plants that give me life. 

I still don't know where I want to take this sweet fireball in my soul. But I do know the questions that will guide me: How can I live in a way that restores interconnected ecosystems? What tangible actions can I take, every damn day, to sustain the natural beauty that fills my heart whole? How can I work with others to transform our destructive narrative toward a story of regeneration? It is so easy to fall apart at the tragedies that flood through our world every day. But paralysis is a luxury. And so long as I have this present moment, I want to do everything I can to make the systems that shape our world more just and compassionate and abundant.