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The Growth of Permaculture – Peter Bane

Peter Bane stewards a 2/3 acre mini-farm on the outskirts of Bloomington, Indiana with his partner Keith Johnson. They are also developing a 10-acre garden farm in west Michigan. He is the author of the Permaculture Handbook, and an excellent resource for our Great Lakes bio-region. More than 20 years of teaching and nearly 25 years as publisher of Permaculture Activist magazine have given him valuable perspective on the impact and importance of permaculture design. Here he discusses the history and future of permaculture education, while showing examples of permaculture design.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is both a design system and a social movement aimed at energy curtailment in the face of climate change and the depletion of planetary resources. It originated in Australia with David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the early 70s but has spread around the world. It came to the USA in 1980. Many view it as one of the most important social innovations of the late 20th century.

Permaculture reproduces itself primarily through a system of grassroots education: intensive design courses lasting 72 hours or more are taught in a variety of settings, often private, sometimes academic. These present a distillation of ecological science and economic geography, and require students to practice holistic thinking and design in a cooperative context.

permaculture workshop

Students immersed in the forest garden experience the details of establishing integrated systems.

Residential courses especially create a vehicle for change in diet, cultural assumptions, and social relations while showing how to read and transform landscapes and settlements. Formats vary, but every instructor is supposed to be a graduate of the course itself and should have had several years training and experience before leading one.

Who Teaches Permaculture Courses?

Most courses are taught by teams of senior and junior teachers working together in a traditional setting where mastery is gained by modeling and supporting more accomplished practitioners. This both enables the teachers to give their best and exposes students to diverse voices and perspectives.

Every permaculture teacher must also be a designer. He or she needs to have put permaculture ethics and principles to work at home and for clients and to have learned methods of holistic problem-solving. The better teachers will have experience in a wide range of settings and disciplines: rural, urban, and suburban; agricultural, technical, and organizational. However, no one can claim to be an expert in all the elements of a complex post-modern culture, which permaculture design aims to create. Thus, team teaching is an important strategy for overcoming individual limitations.

What does the Permaculture Design Course Teach?

Though many who are drawn to permaculture hope to grow fabulous amounts of high quality produce or build sophisticated and low-cost housing and structures that harvest natural energies, the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) itself provides only a cursory exposure to these methods of work.

Rather than enabling students to “get their hands dirty,” the PDC provides a setting for accelerated and holistic learning with a focus on the deliberate transformation of cultural and economic practices. This induces a shift in perception and thinking that challenges and stimulates the creative capacities of all who partake.

06 Pond Microclimate

Element interaction and microclimates: Water supports life and buffers temperatures as do greenhouse covers. Their microclimates support greater diversity, meeting multiple needs.

Of course new systems of food-growing, building, appropriate technologies, and better ways of relating to each other will be required to sustain humanity through the coming decades of energy descent, but before we can implement these life changes, we must change our minds which have been shaped by damaged environments and faulty memes, embedded in a culture of violence and domination.

It follows from this program, that skilled permaculture design teachers are capable of marshaling information with empathy and insight to the learning process, can respond both to individuals and to the tenor of a group, and can move fluidly from big ideas and global perspectives to the details of backyard applications. It necessarily takes some years for this kind of gift or calling to ripen.

Permaculturists in North America

As a result of the multi-modal demands of permaculture teaching: integrity in living, design practice, communication skills, leadership and confidence, and the ability to invest in and create one’s own livelihood, expansion of the teacher corps has been slow. There may be six dozen senior teachers in North America with two to three times that many active apprentice or journeyman teachers among a community of graduates that may number 15-30,000.

The number of working designers is harder to assay because their professional achievements are less widely broadcast. More could move into teaching and design if the opportunities to do so could be expanded, and if they had some guidance.

05 Vines:Trellis

Multiple functions: Deciduous grape vines turn summer heat into shade and fruit by design.

This is happening to a degree already as interest in cultural repair and landscape regeneration grows. But in the do-it-yourself spirit of American society, some are stepping up to meet a perceived need with limited preparation, and increasingly we are seeing the term “permaculture” associated with make-it-up, on-the-fly, and wildly syncretic ambitions. Sadly, the ethical basis of the design system is sometimes ignored, rendering the work ineffective or destructive.

As a response to these emerging conditions, groups of senior teachers—those who have worked in the field for 20 years or more and who are widely known and respected—have begun to articulate systems for ensuring better teaching and higher levels of integrity in design practice. I belong to one of these working groups, called PINA (Permaculture Institute of North America).

Who is PINA?

Our six-person board is expanding, but already includes men and women from across the continent: Penny Livingston of California, Jude Hobbs of Oregon, Sandy Cruz of Colorado, Wayne Weiseman of Illinois and Wisconsin, myself in Indiana and Michigan, and Darrell Frey of Pennsylvania. We envision a continental network of self-organized regions, each administering its own educational programs and trainings under the aegis of a continentally supported global standard.

The Permaculture Institute – USA, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico and headed by a three-man board consisting of Scott Pittman, Toby Hemenway, and Larry Santoyo, shares many of the same aims for quality education and we are working to some extent in concert, though with different organizational structures and protocols.

07 Bees by Pond

Valuing the marginal: Small and inconspicuous players in the system, such as bees, can greatly enhance productivity.

PINA has been in process for several years. It is incorporated as a member-service non-profit, or mutual benefit corporation, under Oregon law, and operates in the same tax category as the Chamber of Commerce and various professional standards groups. Our work to date has been to develop systems for continuing education in permaculture and for highlighting professional excellence.

In this we have focused on the Diploma, a credential granted to experienced practitioners who have graduated from the PDC and done two or more years of focused, self-directed work under the guidance of a field advisor and various mentors. We believe that upholding a professional credential for teachers will, in particular, help to ensure the quality of training in the PDC.

The Diploma’s 2500-hour commitment is roughly equivalent to a two-year or Associates Degree in the academic world, but we are specifically avoiding the rigidities of the university accreditation system, and are also hoping to sidestep many of its other costs and limitations. Initially, we are setting out standards for the Diplomas in Design and Education, with the expectation that 10 or more other specialized areas of work such as Media, Community Development, Research, and Architecture will be supported in time.

Why Professional Standards?

Many interested in permaculture like its lack of structure, open boundaries, and every-person orientation. Do it in your backyard. There is power in the freedom to experiment, but as any good builder can attest, there are many areas of work where it pays not to “reinvent the wheel.” Methods of enduring value have been discovered, developed, and perfected. In the basic arts of living, these are only rarely superceded by dramatically improved technologies or understandings.

09 Cistern:RootCell

Capturing and storing energy, stacking functions: Thermal mass in stored water can protect an insulated, above-ground root cellar through the coldest temperatures in southern Indiana.

Professionalism implies commitment to quality, and under the PINA standard, requires peer review in a community context. Not everyone wanting to use permaculture thinking or methods needs to be vetted, but those who are teaching others or who are selling their services should know what they are doing. Structured guidance and support can make a huge difference.

Based on a standard of teaching 10 courses or producing 10 designs, the Diploma protocols aim to ensure that graduates will have passed a critical threshold in self-awareness and confidence under the tutelage of more experienced practitioners. Specific trainings in teaching practice or advanced design methods are offered as a valuable supplement to this experiential track.

We also look for evidence of integrity in practice, range of experience, critical and original thinking, and dissemination or outreach to the public and one’s community, many of the same qualities that good education seeks to draw forth.

PINA expects to have its protocols completed and ready for publication by the end of August and to preview them to attendees of the 1st North American Permaculture Convergence (NAPC), to be held August 29-31 at Clark’s Grove in southern Minnesota. More information about PINA and the Diploma can be found at its website.

 

Peter will lead a team of experienced instructors to give the PDC at Adrian, Michigan July 13-19 and July 27-August 1. Registration is open for either or both parts of the course. Contact Marie Fleming, flemingmf@earthlink.net or 812-360-8689 for details. Peter will also facilitate a Teacher Training course with Sandy Cruz at Ann Arbor, Michigan November 9-13. Contact the author at pcactivist@mindspring.com, 812-335-0383.

All photos courtesy Peter Bane and Permaculture Activist

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