Maddy Harland | Editorial
We humans are social animals. We like to gather and share mutual interests, talk, touch, and interact on many levels. As we near the third year of living in a pandemic, many of us yearn to meet up in person rather than share screens, and even my more solitary friends are feeling the absence of human society. There is no substitute for being together.
Our enforced solitude threatens to drain the well of hope and the lack of action at COP26, even for the most optimistic among us, continues to test our sanity. How do we cultivate hope in a world sleepwalking towards disaster? Maintaining the gaze, as activist and eco philosopher, Joanna Macy described it, is a fine art. My lifelong strategies have been to garden, to grow plants and enjoy the elements; the warm sun, soft rain and crisp winter air. I also like to make things, taking the energy out of my head and into my body. I am not an artist or a crafter but my modest creations give me a lot of pleasure. So it has been revealing to find myself unexpectedly living in temporary accommodation without my usual resources to help me find inner balance. It has made me appreciate even more the wonderful community projects and school gardens that exist all over the world that provide opportunities for people to connect with the soil, woodland and Nature. They are often run by people with a passion to power through inevitable obstacles.
Just this morning I was reading about Doug and Claire King-Smith’s community woodland project. Despite struggles with funding and planning permission for essential structures for a small forestry operation, they have restored a diseased larch monoculture and replanted a broadleaf woodland, working with their local community and volunteers to create a woodland culture on Dartmoor in the southwest of England. What I love about this project is the potent mix of habitat restoration, woodland stewardship, modest income generation, and the opening out of a private woodland for others to come and learn new skills, make friends and find solace in Nature. I know from my time at the Sustainability Centre that projects like this can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. In an age of escalating poor mental health, society needs to value these kinds of projects more.
There are similar stories of hope from the permaculture movement all over the world, of passionate individuals doing great things against the odds with little or no funding. These stories should be headline news and told with respect and nuanced subtlety. The Permaculture Magazine Prize has provided a deep well of hope for me to draw on. Over a period of three years we have awarded small bursaries (average UK£2,500 / US$3,000) unencumbered by feasibility studies, milestones, financial reporting and targets. When we set up this yearly £30,000 fund, now working in partnership with Lush Spring Prize, after due diligence we trust that the money would be cycled many times over in the local economy. We have supported small grassroots projects that offer indigenous and locally-led trainings that teach using demonstration home gardens to boost nutrition with permaculture techniques like mulching, swales, seed saving of local varieties and rainwater harvesting. Often gardens like these provide three meals a day when before only one meal was available, transforming a family’s nutrition and health, and providing some surplus to take to market. Among many other things, these trainings also encourage switching to locally adapted crops, fund plant and tree nurseries, and teach how to build fuel-efficient stoves that reduce deforestation and hours spent gathering wood. They create training hubs to demonstrate techniques and design processes by example. Methods that succeed travel across regions, exponentially improving the lives of entire communities. I have no doubt that permaculture has the power to transform lives, land and livelihoods. It should be taught in all schools and colleges, with hubs to share skills in all communities.
But we need to speak more about permaculture becoming a far more diverse movement as well. Thirty years ago there were few women permaculture teachers in the world and there were poor childcare facilities at permaculture events and courses. One of our early male book authors refused to accept me as his editor because I was a woman! Now there are many women pioneers, teachers and authors. But what of gender diversity? Of those who are non-binary, gay, transsexual? And whilst we have an inspiring network of permaculturists in Africa, South America, and Asia, permaculture is still a predominantly white movement in Europe and North America. Globally, we have to address racism and actively call out its systemic presence and work to eradicate it. In the past, when we have put a person of colour on the cover of this magazine we have sold less copies in stores. That has been the reality and it is horrible. But we are not going to stop just because it affects us economically. So if you are reading this in a store somewhere in the world, please buy this magazine and support the presence of this beautiful, talented woman on the cover.
The world is changing slowly and we are becoming more aware. ‘First Worlders’ need to expose and acknowledge our colonial past and our deeply embedded privilege. Our industrial growth model has brought many benefits. It has also brought a legacy of terrible injustices and suffering. WHO estimates 15 percent of Earth’s inhabitants have a disability, but by contrast this figure may be as high as 50 percent in indigenous communities. There remain 360 million indigenous people in the world and they host 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity on their land. Their cultures and their lands must be protected.
We can only change the world by changing ourselves. My resolution for this year is to continue to educate myself and to speak out, even when it is uncomfortable. Let’s give oxygen to inclusion and non-violence and let’s question unconscious privilege and prejudice. Let’s also remember to cultivate hope and not let our personal wells drain dry.
Maddy Harland and the Permaculture team
Permaculture is... an innovative framework for creating regenerative ways of living;
a practical method for developing ecologically harmonious,
ethical, human-scale and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.
Read more at www.permaculture.co.uk/what-is-permaculture issue 111 spring 2022
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