Let’s Talk People Care: Decolonizing Permaculture
“There hasn’t been enough work done around permaculture principles translating them for the people care ethic, so now there’s this misconception that permaculture is about farming and gardening, which it isn’t―it’s mostly about relationships. It’s about looking at systemic problems and finding relationship-based whole system solutions―and one of most vital systemic issues, along with the status of women, is cultural and racial inequity.” ~ Pandora Thomas, permaculturist and activist
I still remember how excited I was about my first PDC. I had decided to risk money I didn’t have and time away from my family for the first time in my life. I had read books, watched videos and tried a few things myself, but I wasn’t prepared for the shock of a full PDC.
My experience was bitter sweet: I ended up confused and disappointed even when I was being exposed to huge paradigm shifts: the best quality of my first permaculture teacher was his ability to bring others to teach most modules (something that as a teacher myself I highly recommend, as no-one knows it all, more when you are new at teaching). The settings were amazing, we went to both city and rural “demos” and were exposed to many ways to “do” permaculture. The structure of the course and the “container”, however, made me feel unsafe, inadequate and disempowered: I recall a time when all the participants were supposed to bring or rent bikes to visit different demos in one afternoon. The fact that two of us lived really far and didn’t have working bikes (nor cars to transport them) and, in my case, felt unsafe of riding in traffic, wasn’t considered. I was told that “in the future, all will have to ride bikes” so I better catch up! That was the first time I thought: this type of “permaculture” isn’t then for the elder, the sick, the chronic pain ones, the disabled, the ones who didn’t have the privilege to learn how to bike (or buy/rent one)…
In many occasions, I voiced concerns about what I saw as imposed (on the landscape or a community) and not very sustainable or resilient (example: bikes are great, but they are not made of air…not all tools work in all settings). But soon I learned there was not much room for discussion…I was a bit different from the rest, who were mostly young, childless and white, Canadian middle-class people: I was an immigrant, had an accent, was older and suffered from chronic pain and health issues.
I never saw any of those 12+ participants again and from social media learned that many went back to their lives. Many expressed frustrations with permaculture and didn’t practice again. After years of studying with other mentors as a learner, teacher assistant or co-instructor, I started noticing all the core pieces we missed in that first PDC, with People Care being the most visible of them all.
I had similar experiences in many other groups: some people always had the louder voices and self-appointed themselves as leaders. There was a double standard even for some who wrote nice books and articles and called themselves social justice or Earth warriors: in most cases, people were expected to know the ropes and codes of conduct that small elite had already achieved: if you didn’t bring that, you were not part of the club…
Is this a signature of human beings? Inevitable? That we create silos, become self-righteous and discriminate those who don’t “fit”?
I don’t think so…I’ve learned that behaviours follow structures and systems, and structures and systems follow stories: when you want to change a pattern, you need to change not only the visible, acting pattern, but the structures and systems in your life that make it possible and even desirable. You also have to change the story that makes those patterns OK, credible, acceptable, even admirable. Otherwise, you end up with “do as I say but not as I do” attitude.
And this is exactly what we are un-doing in this first ever online all-women-led PDC: we are teaching permaculture, but we are also examining the stories, the structures, the systems and re-designing the patterns that have historically declared that women, and particular old women, women of colour, women with chronic health issues, and those in visible and invisible “minorities”, including the LGBTQ community, those living below poverty levels, those working survival jobs, those who couldn’t afford school, are disposable, non-important…because at the end of the day, that is what’s People Care and Fair Share mean: we don’t need more swales or herb spirals, we need compassionate but brave people who invite everyone to the table and explore together what’s what their lives, livelihoods, landscapes and communities need.
Join us! Let’s change the stories we tell, the structures and systems, the patterns, the outcome…