• John Wages

PINA: New Structures for Permaculture Impact

PINA: New Structures for Permaculture Impact by Peter Bane

ON THE STRENGTH OF ITS IDEAS and their relevance to people’s lived experience, permaculture spread around the world with minimal formal structure, using an each-one-teach-one extension process. It relied on individuals to innovate and persuade their own communities. In large part, this was intended to circumvent or subvert the dominate power structures of society, and to avoid drawing negative attention to a movement that had few resources with which to defend itself against predation. Against the odds Despite a cultural inclination toward individual action that seems woven into its DNA, the permaculture movement has given rise to formal structures: institutes emerged and have persisted in Britain, in Europe, and on a primarily local level in North America. In Australia and North America, connecting structures such as the Permaculture Institute, Pc Intl. Journal, Permaculture Drylands, and others were created, flourished for 10-20 years, and disappeared; some have been recreated under new names and with new principals. Skepticism about hierarchies and a lack of resources kept these efforts limited.


The world emerging around us today, however, is very different from that of the 70s and 80s, even if it grows directly from the historical forces then at play. The long- anticipated and slow-walking global crisis announced in 1972 by The Limits to Growth (downloadable PDF) a world of resource constraints, population pressures, and universal pollution—is fast coming into its adolescence. Left uninterrupted, it will mature into a behemoth that can lay humanity low. Large segments of the world’s literate population are now aware that collective action is imperative if we are to make any useful response to climate heating and the staggering costs it holds in store for us all.

With almost daily demonstrations of nature’s fury, the economic calculus is shifting: if towns, industries, and landscapes can be destroyed in a matter of hours or days, then business-as-usual may no longer be affordable. Repair and prevention look like the better bet. Permaculture activists are getting organized.

The permaculture movement grows up In the wake of the global financial crisis of the 2000s, Permaculture Institute of North America returned from the dead (an earlier PINA had hosted the 2nd Intl. Convergence in the Pacific Northwest in 1986, and spawned the precursor of this magazine, Permaculture Activist, as its newsletter, before going out of business in 1989). Taking a new body as an Oregon mutual benefit corporation, PINA came together from the efforts of veteran teachers and designers, partly as a response to the corruption and commercialization of the permaculture design course. They looked over the horizon at global trends, examined the movement for its shortcomings, and resolved to create a platform for action. In 2009, the vision of a continental organization upholding diplomas and fostering communication seemed both madly insupportable and barely adequate at the same time. Three years later, PINA was chartered to do the improbable.

Taking charge of our future As it gained members, expanded its board, and began to exercise its mandate, PINA gradually lifted its eyes to new horizons in keeping with the growing threats to peace, justice, the biosphere, and humanity. By meeting fellow activists face- to-face at the North American Permaculture Convergences (I and II), unprecedented events in themselves, PINA’s board members were able to channel a more expansive vision, one rooted in Permaculture’s original design: Earth Repair. The organization’s initial mission of recognizing professional excellence and expanding communications now looks instrumental rather than central. To make an impact on society at the scale and speed demanded by cascading environmental, social, and political crises, PINA saw that it needed to find and mobilize the continental movement’s far flung leadership. Who knew how to do real work? Who could scale up to address communities, watersheds, and whole regions? What tools were at hand? And what visions had been gestating in unseen corners? Could they offer potent hope in a dark time?

We began recruiting and qualifying diplomates in 2014, and have awarded more than 70 diplomas in six specializations to date with additional candidates working to complete theirs.


Design contests spark awareness Gathering board members from coast to coast and Great Lakes to Gulf at mid-continent, PINA took two consequential decisions at its strategic board retreat in September 2018: 1) it announced a design contest with a $5,000 prize to the best small-scale design, and 2) it hired a coordinator, now executive director (this author), to stimulate integration and action by the organization.


The first of these steps grew membership and revealed a wealth of design talent stretching from Alaska to Puerto Rico and Guatemala to Maine. One result of that is our Integrated Earthworks video (https://pina.in/2018-2019-design-contest-archive/ or on YouTube: https://youtu.be/UGbbWZL1AbE) about the 2018 prize-winning project, a high-quality educational film that has been viewed about 200,000 times in the past nine months. The second decision created a channel for PINA to address that talented community. By embracing higher levels of organization and function within PINA, we attracted resources from many quarters.

Taken together, these efforts are beginning to bear important fruit.

Conferences and summits concentrate vision PINA’s fundraisin