Don't Let the Bread Go Stale...
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
On the evening of the final day of IPC India, pull a white plastic chair out from under the thatch roof of a makeshift classroom and set it along the edge between a garden and a path. Have a seat as the sun sets and the evening stirs.
Departure tends to begin before we notice, drawing attention inward before heaving and arcing out from the center. Clusters have formed, and invisible networks have been laid like buried fiber optics to ensure connectivity—but the true test of continuity will be memory and its application: not only of the points on the map, but of the experience of the pathways taken between them.
There have been as many themes as countries represented at the Convergence this week. Engagement has been paramount—and it has come in several forms: group discussions on cultural sensitivity and decolonization in permaculture; panels on the role of quantitative research and science in systems evaluation; narratives of intergenerationality and succession within student-teacher dynamics. And, most simply and consistently, engagement has been the watchword in all the ways in which we have approached and been approached by one another in the spaces between formality. This networking is where much unexpected thinking has occurred—or occurred to us. It is where we have offered ourselves, our learning, our reactions—and where we have chosen to abide in what others have offered.
This cascading engagement with a global community has proven fruitful in numerous individualized ways. However, it is important to continue to critically reflect upon the relevance and importance of such broad and intensive organizing. During Closing Ceremonies, host and organizer Narsanna Koppula expressed his personal belief in the higher value of regional over global organizing—and his enduring doubt over the primacy of IPC events. The question, again, is hung out not to dry, but to be beaten with the wooden stick of reflection. A focus on 'localization' is essential to the permaculture community, and it behooves us to dedicate the great majority of our time to strengthening these networks close to home.
However, this is not to omit the pursuit of global organizing. Instead, we are encouraged to become more creative, more mindful, and less refractory in our advances. Progress' tendency is to run rampant as a function of technological advance, whereas our principles should heed consideration of the appropriateness of all technologies—to ensure application, not exploitation. We should be calculated, measured, and responsive to feedback. Now is as good a time as any to question the airplane.
One of the week's recurrent themes has been this question of how to organize locally such that our clustered networks convey a unified voice applicable and relevant to a globalized communications infrastructure. Permaculture, in envisioning new systems and arrangements of interaction, governance, management, and personal relationships, serves most its own mission when it begins with integration. This means applying itself to the world as it is right now, while building a resilient preparedness for the world as it is anticipated to become. As loudly as you shout, if you face down an empty street at night, no one will hear you. Engage on the terms that exist as a starting point. Build trust and maintain it.
This directive of integration is profoundly reinforced by the various professionals—engineers,
teachers, social workers, media, tech, landscape architects, builders, community organizers, doctors, activists, and many more—who bolster the mission of permaculture not by self-identifying as permaculturists, but by putting into actual practice the ethics and principles that define it.
Permaculture as a movement, if it is to remain effective and influential in the lives of individual people and the communities they inhabit, must "stay dangerous," as Rafter Ferguson re-emphasized for us. Perceptions of permaculture must continue to reflect an ongoing dialectic with society as it is and as it is changing. Permaculture's strength lies in part in its ability to inform institutional process while remaining fluent along the edges and margins of society. It is neither outcast nor mainstream, but an approach that admits passage between these two spheres. It would be a failure of adaptive education—and resilience—were permaculture to limit itself to an internal dialogue. The great strength and malleability of spirals and concentric forms is the perspective they provide to view the center from within and without—to move between higher and lower spheres of influence, choosing where and how to apply energy based on an holistic knowledge and experience with the system as a whole.
But even this twisting thought is too simplistic. Much as I can say, it will never be enough. I depend on you to speak, to buoy the democracy of this movement. And if in my speaking I fail to hear you, the movement sinks. As much as we listen to each other in this global space created for a week's time—and we should remain listening, as to the calls ringing out from Zones 4 and 5—we are best suited to where we are most of the time: our communities.
Still, it is an important function of the IPC to stand in new relation to and to expound upon the narratives we hear from afar, so that we understand patterns as they exist elsewhere and how they form themes relevant to all of us. This brief period of exchange should not detract from our local focus, but raise the level of its dimensionality.
Indeed, for a thing to be good does not mean that it must be universal. Especially regarding global travel and the expenditure of a high level of resources and a high impact, we should bear in mind—we should remember and be informed by—our privilege. And with this acknowledgment, we should learn how to divert, repurpose, or upcycle this privilege to new and diverse uses—and users. How can I translate my privilege so to undermine its validity and open access to more and diverse voices?
Invited to the closing ceremony was a contingent of 200 local and regional Telangana farmers. The Convergence-goers asked them a series of questions. "We are ready to share our knowledge," they said, "about seed saving, sowing, plant identification." These are questions we should all prepare ourselves to answer: What am I ready to share with you? And: Am I prepared to learn from you?
Take a moment by the fire. It is late at night—nearly midnight. The moon approaches fullness, shrouded by a rising wave of weighted clouds. The day and evening have proceeded through formality, graciousness, and closing—culminating in ecstatic dance inspired by the percussive theater of local tribal performers. Cycling into the familiarity and nostalgia of our dinners together, a concentration is building around the warmth of an open fire.
Amidst the music and singing that emerges—narratives of many cultures in song—two children under 15 and of different nations squat together tending to something. Unprompted, they are rehearsing the ironworking lesson learned during the day from local villagers. Carefully pulling coals from the fire, they construct a small open-air oven nestled in the granite stone marking the first concentric ring out from the fire. With a small hammer and a length of metal rod, the children take turns heating, hammering, shaping, and sharing their learned knowledge.
Whether these children become ironworkers or not is less essential. What matters is that, when they see a fire, they now see its potential. They see the power and utility of the heat, the tools that it can form, and the utility of those tools. This recognition is a gateway to alternatives. They are like the builders who can see all at once the home, the two-by-fours, the timber forest, the soil that grew the trees, and the landscape that held ground before the logging industry intervened. It is not that we should always seek to be led back to a time before industry, but that this knowledge of history and process should inform how industry grows, declines, and reforms in perpetuity.
As was spoken by several people at several times throughout the week, it is by succession, through the education, training, and trust bestowed upon our younger generations, that we ourselves re-learn how to root. It may sound like an unhinging of linear time, but it will be the work of future generations to ensure the soil around our roots does not erode any further—that, in fact, the topsoil grows. It is up to us to teach them how to do this—or at the very least to show them the fire.
Christopher Nesbitt spoke to this point during the Conference when he emphasized the difference between restoration and rehabilitation. With regard to the establishment of diverse perennial-based food systems, there may be no going back, but we have the tools to shape a new way forward. He shared an anecdote of a brief encounter late in the life of his mentor and friend Pablo Cal. One afternoon he found Pablo—at that time in his early 80s—watering a crop of mahogany trees germinated in containers. Chris asked him what he was doing watering trees that would not fruit in his lifetime. Pablo responded, "I have work left in my body. I have nothing better to do today. So I am going to water my mahogany trees."
An ethic and intention becomes unconscious when we learn to observe the way natural systems proceed and then choose to integrate ourselves into them. When we see the fire for its many uses, and the timber for its roots in the soil, and the young saplings for the meals our grandchildren will share with their neighbors, then we have witnessed regeneration.
What follows then is an imperative to tell stories. And, for the love of the earth, tell a story! Tell it though your hands, in the classroom, in the field, and on the street. There is no inappropriate medium for narrative. A diversity of languages is an extremely healthy condition.
It would have pulled more hours than are in a day to have brought to you all that was felt and known at IPC India. And, even then, it would have been limited by my perspective. This is as it should be. Experiences are meant to be lived where they are, with narratives intended to convey the patterns of meaning and details of relevance. Things—meaning moments, lessons, people, and places—will always be missed. There will always be cracks to slip through. This constraint of understanding reveres mystery, an essential component of knowledge—and an important point of departure for creative thought.
So stay creative. And do as Rowe Morrow asks us and bring this creativity—bring permaculture—to the wicked problems of right now.
For those interested in supporting Permaculture's next global summit in Argentina, I encourage you to contact the hosts directly:
Beatriz Ramírez Cruz
And I encourage you as well to shape the message of permaculture where you are. Don't let the bread go stale.
Thank you, be well, and stay in touch.