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 fundraising efforts made more expansive action possible. Daring to dream of healing both land and communities, we co-sponsored and sent representatives to the Global Earth Repair Conference at Port Townsend, Washington in the Spring of 2019. Vision grew in turn. Following leads generated within the board and staff, PINA’s Development Committee formalized a roster of actions it could take if funding became available. Part wish list, part imaginarium, part recipe for urgent responses to big social and environmental problems, this proactive planning became a precursor “hormone,” if you will, that catalyzed further synthesis.
Meeting online last August, our North American Leadership Summit (NALS)—which took shape as the pandemic adaptation of a planned third continental convergence—assembled nearly 200 top-flight thinkers and designers to grapple with society-wide issues such as:
community stress and healing,
the failure and renewal of agriculture,
rehydration of landscapes, and
the need to impact mainstream populations.
Curating this conversation, PINA detected patterns of emergence that illuminated a course it was already pursuing. We would energize our network to identify projects that could employ permaculture talent to heal communities and landscapes simultaneously.
An integrated programming strategy was born.
As we reached out through our growing circles to locate funding from grants and donors, we found allies who encouraged us to lift our game. Members of the board and staff went to work in earnest last winter to bring in transformative amounts of money. In June, we secured funding that more than tripled our annual turnover, which will both increase PINA’s organizational capacity and launch important programs to impact mainstream society. One is already underway.
Generating a response to wildfire
At an estimated US$200 billion, 2020 losses from wildfire—likely to worsen this year—are on track to flatten economies across the western third of North America.
PINA is launching a research effort, based in the heavily fire- prone region of southwest Oregon, to test and document an enhanced fire-mitigation protocol that can sequester carbon, bolster forest health, and expand employment in rural areas. We are actively recruiting and hiring leadership teams to thin selected plots, turn small fuels into biochar, and redistribute both the char and larger thinned stems so as to reduce runoff. After thinning, we will employ advanced biochar kilns to pyrolyze excess fuels, and lay down the resulting materials on contour. The timber stand improvement along with the increased water and nutrient retention this brings about will, we believe, stimulate better tree growth under more open conditions, and will enable us to reintroduce prescribed burns to manage the treated acreage on a sustainable basis, mimicking traditional native practices. In the long term under this protocol, many more and varied forest yields are possible.
This year’s team members will become crew leaders in 2022 for an expanded corps of volunteers, as we seek to increase the treated acreage and the corresponding data set. The Fire Ecology Restoration Project (FERP) aims to reintroduce prescribed burns in its third year to complete the cycle we believe can ultimately break the back of wildfire in the West.
We will document the process with a film, training manuals, and analytic reports, and use these to influence forest agencies and land managers. We hope to lay the foundation for longitudinal studies of forest health and carbon sequestration under these new conditions, thus strengthening the case for carbon credits to support these enhanced mitigation efforts. Millions of acres are at risk, so the potential benefit is great.
Accelerating PINA growth As part of its recent capital campaign, which enabled FERP to launch, PINA also prepared a grant proposal to create a Perennial Corps of land regenerators in the Upper Midwest farm belt, that could not only prepare black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) as well as other new agrarians to heal damaged farmland, but allow them to bring it under perennial cultivation. Some farms in the region have already begin this transition from annual monocropping, and need the support Perennial Corps could provide. Trained in these skills, graduates of the program could work with conservation districts, government agencies, and existing farms to restore soil, water, and woodland, but could also step into farming as a vocation. We have not yet secured the funding needed to launch this integrated social permaculture program, but we are actively seeking it.
To that end, our first steps in growing organizational capacity are to hire fundraising staff and to improve our communications, not only with PINA members, but with a variety of partners and with the public at large.
Growing a business, especially a non-profit enterprise such as PINA, is not easy. It requires not only investment, but new staff and new training for existing employees, contractors, and board managers. This also means new ways of working, more clearly defined structures, and stronger systems of accountability. Even though well understood in some quarters, none of this is second nature, but must be learned, and we are in no position yet to hire from the upper echelons of experienced business management, even if PINA’s board wanted to do so. Instead, we are on a determined path to promote permaculture talent and train it and ourselves to manage the challenges of growth. We will seek advice, counsel, staff, funding, and other resources to keep our means, skills, and capacities connected to our goals. With 50,000 or more graduates of the PDC in North America, we have in our midst centi-millionaires and MBAs, grantwriters and MDs, community organizers, nursery growers, graphic artists, educators, politicians, and even bankers.
Let’s get talking.
How you can help
PINA is a member organization across 23 nations of North America and Hawaii. If you are a graduate of the PDC, you are eligible to join. Your membership strengthens our network of connections. Visit pina.in/membership/. Anyone can contribute to PINA’s efforts, and believe me, though we have new sources of funding, they are still small compared to the need.
Share your knowledge and awareness PINA faces insurmountable opportunities, with the weight of history propelling it forward, but in order to succeed, we need a much finer-grained connection to work being done across North America. We have a vision to plant a million forests, which would begin with a million trees in thousands of communities. This is work requiring many hands, and we want it to endure and cool the atmosphere. If you know of cutting edge projects on climate, land repair, or community healing, please get in touch with me, especially if permaculture design or designers are involved or could help to generate solutions.
We will begin soon to survey our members and partners about potential, nascent, or ongoing projects in their regions to which PINA might lend useful support. We are hiring staff, and also welcome volunteers to help us extend and fund this network of regenerative action. Δ
Peter Bane is the Executive Director of PINA, the author of Garden Farming for Town and Country, and the former publisher and now editor emeritus of this magazine. He lives and farms in western Lower Michigan with his family. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.