Pondering permaculture, profit, and homesteading

A very knowledgeable fellow permie in the Transformative Adventures group hailed this <link to 53-minute video titled “Homestead Paradise, got barren land, purchased it at a profit”> as “one of our best permaculture sites.” (“Our” being the global permaculture movement.)

OK so I watched the first minute or so and already what I would consider the most “permaculture” aspect of it seems to fall apart, when the group of 3 young couples/families who started to buy a piece of land together (yayy!! great to hear! we need more of this!) ends up falling apart, and it’s just one couple living on acres of remote land. I would tentatively say this looks like a good and admirable example of permaculture-informed land restoration, but seems lacking in the community aspect which has tended to be the most scarce and most sorely needed aspect of permaculture.

— BUT without wading through an entire 53-minute video (which I may at some point be up for but probably no time soon), I freely admit my conclusion might be premature. I’m going to see if I can find a website or something where I can read about these folks, as I tend to find videos tedious & too time-consuming unless they are super short.

It could be that they are building community by becoming part of the social/economic ecosystem of the nearest town or something.

Another factor in whether or not it’s permaculture, is the notion of “profit.” Is profit inherently anti-permaculture? Some would say yes; some might say it depends what they are doing with the “profits.” If they are returning profits as surplus to the land and community, then yes that could be a good demonstration of the third ethic of permaculture design.

One thing inherently anti-permaculture is the “homestead” concept and word, which originates with our pioneer/colonizer culture roots. The colonizer government encouraged and incentivized our European-American settler ancestors to spread themselves very thinly across huge expanses of the continent as part of its policy to eradicate indigenous peoples. I do think more of us in the permaculture movement are catching on to this and are shifting out of the “homestead” terminology and mind-set. The lack of community created by this settlement pattern was not only genocidal to indigenous peoples and destructive of the land; it also had a deeply harmful impact on the settlers themselves, in terms of lack of community. Something that persists to this day among us Anglo/Euro-Americans.

Final note: From his voice and vibe, the guy does sound like a genuinely nice person rather than some rah-rah permie braggy bro who are so common in the “permaculture homestead” neighborhood of YouTube.

PS. Here is a permaculture success story I would like to see: Several people/couples/families embark on a plan to purchase a piece of land together, but their plans run aground on interpersonal conflict. Here’s how they SURMOUNTED their differences, formed a pod, and restored the land while becoming an asset to the surrounding social ecosystem too.

Better yet, I would like to see land “ownership” cease to be a thing, and am listening to indigenous people to find out more about how we can bring this about.

Update: A fellow member of the TA group commented in response to my comment: “Jenny Nazak I think you should reserve your judgement until you see his system and watch the video, I did find some of your conclusions here premature and acknowledged by the video itself.” — In reply, I thanked him and told him I accept his word. (If I get around to wading through that 53-minute video, I’ll update my observations as needed.)

Update 1/7/23: After letting it percolate, I realize my critique is directed at us as the permaculture design movement, rather than directed at this site or its occupants. Specifically, I see a problem with the term “permaculture site” as we are using it in the permaculture design movement.

In the permaculture design movement, the phrase “permaculture site” has come to be used to signify a (typically rural) agricultural site or a “homestead.” The more accurate term would be “permaculture-inspired farm,” “permaculture food forest,” and so on.

It might seem like I’m nitpicking, but bear with me.

Permaculture is a set of design principles and ethics that are meant to sustainably address basic human needs: food, water, shelter, transportation, energy, community.

The principles and ethics of permaculture design are applicable to all facets of the human-built environment. It’s possible (and desirable) to apply permaculture principles to the design of neighborhoods, factories, organizations, shopping centers, power plants, banking, and just about anything else we humans create.

It has therefore always irked me to no end that we as a movement have developed a habit of synonymizing “permaculture site” with “rural agricultural homestead.” It’s very damaging to the movement, and it detracts from a lot of people’s excellent and much-needed work on the many other aspects needed for a sustainable culture.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard someone apologetically say they weren’t “doing permaculture” because they weren’t growing food on a site in a certain type of manner. Meanwhile, they were operating a tool lending library, or coordinating shared transportation with neighbors, or helping kids with reading, or leading people on urban foraging walks, or having a whole nesting stack of family-owned local businesses that are supporting multiple households while leaking immense value, and compounding value, into the wider community (Eric B, I’m talking to you!). All of that IS DOING PERMACULTURE — and yet even people who have taken a PDC and been involved with the permaculture design movement for years, applying the principles and ethics to enrich their communities and design their own lives, are prone to fall into the vegetable apology fallacy. Ugh! Can we stop this please!

To get back to the original seed of this post … the site hailed as “one of our best permaculture sites” looks to be a fine example of permaculture-informed agriculture and land restoration, and furthermore it looks like someone is making a livelihood of it. Right livelihood is a key concept in permaculture.

Saying “farm inspired by the principles and ethics of permaculture design” is sort of a mouthful though. I think “permaculture farm” is acceptable shorthand. And in a similar vein: permaculture food forest; permaculture land-restoration site; permaculture eco-restoration project.

And, along these lines, I’m looking forward to seeing some forward-thinking developer build a permaculture apartment complex in my neighborhood, as we need more housing and more density in the urban core area of our little city. I would also love to see, in walking distance on one of the many vacant parcels of commercially zoned land in my neighborhood, a permaculture shopping center where the businesses form a mutually supportive social and economic ecosystem amongst themselves, as well as meeting the basic everyday needs of customers.

I actually think the Strong Towns movement is very much doing permaculture, though they don’t officially call it that. (I saw a great article on their blog awhile back that summarizes how Strong Towns principles overlap with the permaculture design principles.)

Permaculture sites can come in every imaginable variety, to meet an array of human needs. What kinds of permaculture sites would you like to see or build in your neighborhood?

In closing, a quote from Bill Mollison, co-originator of the permaculture design principles, ethics, and movement: “You can read 1000 books on organic gardening. Permaculture is about where you bank your money and how you spend it.”

Further Exploration:

• List of articles at Strong Towns that reference permaculture: https://actionlab.strongtowns.org/hc/en-us/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&query=permaculture (Thanks so much Sandy K!)