Anarchism & Permaculture: Why growing up an anarchist has made me a better permaculture designer

RTF ladyThe weekend after next two rad events are happening in my favourite city – Bristol Anarchist Bookfair and the National Permaculture Diploma Gathering. Both are usually two of my favourite events but unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be getting to either due to the ongoing pain in my intercostal muscles. So I thought the least I can do is shamefully promote them both.

This post intends to share my love for both anarchism and permaculture and why the relationship between them keeps me up at night.

I joined the Anarchist Federation and the Anarchist Youth Network as a young teenager (circa 13-14 years old). While a lot of people have a jaunt at socialism or the Green Party and other escapades and find themselves radicalised by increasing dissolution with liberal ideas, I found I dove into the deep end.

And so began a lifelong love affair with ideas and action that questioned the legitimacy and role of a state, the capitalist economic system and all other forms of intersecting oppression, like racism, sexism and human supremacy.

I hungered for an understanding of all the fucked up things I’d seen or gone through.

Anarchism was my first introduction to thinking in systems. For many, permaculture is revelatory because people start to connect dots and see in wholes. While I didn’t gain an informed ecological understanding of these concepts until studying permaculture, anarchism really opened my eyes to seeing the world in the contexts of relationships and interconnectivity.

As a kid you suck things up like a sponge. The books I read, conversations I had with elders, even the music I listened to… I was given the tools to observe social landscapes. To see the flows of power and domination in the world.

Observation is one of the founding principles of permaculture. This skill introduced itself in my life through the encouragement to observe ruthlessly and question critically. Every biased source or comment in every media article, every act of police brutality, every interaction with people surviving domestic abuse… All of these were intense exercises in observation as my anarchist worldview pushed me to try to understand root causes, systemic reasons for things and potential collective responses.

Permaculture is founded on three core ethics, which at times can feel frustratingly weak and unclear. However none of these ethical frameworks are new, when they have been at the core of social struggles for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

While the anarchist movement has its people care failings, especially relating to power and privilege, it’s always been for me the antidote to the brutal atomised dehumanising existence of modern capitalist society. Re-designing the world where people are prioritised over profit is a core goal of both anarchism and permaculture.

Earth care once again is an increasingly apparent frontline for those fighting domination, whether it’s communities fighting fracking, pipelines or nuclear power. I know that many incredibly dedicated anarchists are powerhouse community organisers in these struggles. It was anarchism that introduced me to ideas of human supremacy, animal liberation and radical ecology.

Finally ‘fair shares’ the most nebulous of the permaculture ethics is central to anarchist struggles to redistribute wealth. Anarchist values have inspired the establishment and ongoing experimentation in creating models that more evenly share power and resources, whether these are housing or food cooperatives or horizontal collective’s challenging the division of labour.

Another core principe of permaculture is using and valuing diversity. From its birth, anarchism has been a huge melting pot of ideas and influences, from Russian immigrants into the US to decolonisation struggles in India. Most exciting of all is that anarchism has resisted a platform or manifesto. There is no policed unification of ideas, that X is anarchism and this is the doctrine. While many criticise anarchism for this, I’ve always felt it’s its biggest strength. Anarchists have the political maturity and deep commitment to true liberation to know that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Yes there are patterns, principles and examples we can and must learn from. But we are in no position to be specialists in social change or tell people how to live.

Errico Malatesta was the first anarchist writer I read when I was a kid and it was his trusting of people and their capacity to self organise that really inspired me. He had little concern with proposing detailed descriptions of how we would organise society when we seized the means of production because he trusted that people are completely capable of working it out collectively (as they already do in so many areas of life).

Likewise with permaculture, there is a recognition that every system will be unique while understanding the usefulness of wider patterns. Permaculture embraces that there is health and richness in diversity, just like anarchism does in wider society(s).

permaculture-imageThe most visible offerings of permaculture to anarchists is a comprehensive toolbox of various practical solutions that can create more liberating ways of life. The most invisible to those less engaged or put off by permaculture’s image, but what I think is the most useful and transformational, is the design process.

The variety of tools and frameworks used to make strategic decisions and the overall design processes, have huge radical application. Imagine if every organiser just thought that little bit smarter about leverage, or if every collective re-designed themselves to integrate better people care to prevent burnout, or if whole social movements focused on re-designing aspects of society rather than just fighting fires. Learning about design and applying design to my life is probably one of the most transformational gifts I’ve ever been given (cheers HMP).

As an agroecologist, what excites me most about permaculture is that it is pioneering a totally different pattern of land use that can directly contest capitalist agriculture. How we get our food is central to upholding so many different pillars of oppression, from slavery and colonialism to wars over petroleum. Changing how we produce food and relate to the land could cascade and bring so many other revolutionary changes to our lives.

But without political literacy, and a commitment to understanding power relationships in our society, permaculture will not achieve its goals no matter how hard it tries. Sowing the seeds of permaculture, of a completely re-designed society and relationship to the land, into the fertile soil of anarchism that has been fed by hundreds of years of resistance in working for social change, maybe, just maybe, something truly revolutionary will grow.

To learn more about anarchism check out Bristol Anarchist Bookfair: http://www.bristolanarchistbookfair.org/

To learn more about permaculture check out my section here, or sites like the Permaculture Association, Permaculture Magazine or radical designers like Graham Burnett who are exploring more critically the politics of permaculture.

Practical Design Workshop for Avalon Wildflower Park

When: Monday 18th January, 9.00 – 5pm

Where: Avalon Wildflower Park Opposite the Red Brick Building, Glastonbury

Avalon Wildflower Park is a new community project opposite the Red Brick Building. The former BMX
track, now overgrown, is unloved and neglected. Our vision is to transform it into a haven of native plants, buzzing with life. We want to create a beautiful, fun and ecologically vibrant learning and community space.

This practical design workshop, led by an experienced designer, will be an opportunity to aid the planning & re- design of the area while supporting people to learn new skills. The course will include:

• What is design?
• Mapping techniques & how to create a base map
• Basic practical site surveying skills
• Undertaking client interviews & researching community needs
• Practical ways of surveying plants and vegetation
• A short introduction to how water moves through a landscape

Cost: The course is free for adults in receipt of state benefits, otherwise £10-£50 donation. Bring lunch to share. Booking essential.

To book: please email Nicole: eat@feedavalon.org.uk

This course is financially supported by Somerset Skills & Learning CIC.

AWP Design Workshop

Pollinators need our help! Don’t miss the Planting for Pollinators Course in March

12096537_535841139906824_7929396075940987737_nWhen: Thursday 3rd March 2016, 9.30 – 5pm

Where: At Brook End LAND Centre Compton Dundon, Near Street & Glastonbury

What: Avalon Wildflower Park is a new community project opposite the Red Brick Building. The former BMX track, now overgrown, is unloved and neglected. Our vision is to transform it into a haven of native plants, buzzing with life. We want to create a beautiful, fun and ecologically vibrant learning and community space.

As part of this project we have organised a course about planting for pollinators. Pollinating insects need our help!

About the Course

• Learn which plant families are useful to pollinating insects
• How to make your growing space more pollinator- friendly.
• Learn about how to provide food plants, colour schemes that bees can ‘see’, the best flower shapes, plants for a longer flowering season and growing refuges for overwintering insects.
• Learn how to design beautiful borders, beetle banks and other wildlife features, such as bee ‘hotels’
• Learn how to encourage solitary bees to breed in your growing space and will look at natural bee keeping methods.

Cost: The course is free for adults in receipt of state benefits, otherwise £10-£50 donation. Bring lunch to share. Booking essential.

How to book: To book please email Nicole: eat@feedavalon.org.uk

The course is supported by Somerset Skills & Learning CIC.

Pollinators Course

Dates announced for the Vegan Permaculture Design Course 2016

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Very excited to announce the dates for the Vegan Permaculture Design Course 2016! If you are interested in booking please email nicole@emptycagesdesign.org ASAP.

Do you seek to live compassionately without the unnecessary exploitation of people, animals and the environment? Are you concerned about climate change, peak oil and future generations? Are you interested in changing how we interact with other species, ecosystems and our human communities?

Then this full permaculture design course is for you.

Course Content

The course will be covering universal permaculture ethics, principles and design methods, however please note the focus will be on non-animal based and stock-free systems & alternatives to animal exploitation.

The broad curriculum introduces all aspects of regenerative design and living in a participatory & enlivening way through group work, design practice, practicals & site visits. Areas of learning include the permaculture design process, surveying skills, soils, kitchen gardening, climate & microclimate, agroforestry & forest gardening, energy, water & sewage management, sustainable economics, bioregionalism, community organising, systems thinking, sustainable building, energy & transport plus much more…

IMG_5330Empowerment is the essence of this Design Course, and practical and theoretical teaching methods are used to create an experience that is fun, lively & inclusive, using group work, discussion, observation, guided walks, ‘hands on’ practical activities, lectures, videos, and slides as learning methods during course sessions. Participants will also work together on applied design activities that will consolidate all of the learning content and empower students to take permaculture back into their own homes, gardens, lives & community, providing essential skills for thriving in the post-peak oil world.

Course Dates & Location

Part one: 9 – 13 July (5 days)

Part two: 6 – 10 August (5 days)

Brook End, is a 4 acre smallholding and LAND demonstration centre designed & managed on plant-based permaculture principles 5 miles from Glastonbury in Somerset. Accommodation is camping, with hot showers, wood-fired sauna & beautiful local walks. Local B&Bs can be recommended. All catering will be vegan with as much as possible grown on site & sourced from local growers.

Michele & Nicole will be growing most of the food for the course & Michele will be making delicious vegan meals.

Tutors

Lead Tutor Graham Burnett has been teaching permaculture since 1998, is a holder of the Diploma in Permaculture Design and author of Permaculture A Beginner’s Guide and the Vegan Book of Permaculture. He runs Spiralseed an ethical venture working in partnership with others who share concerns around social and environmental justice. www.spiralseed.co.uk

 

Supporting Tutor Nicole Vosper is a vegan organic grower, community organiser and permaculture practitioner based in Somerset. She sees land-based struggle & living as an essential step towards animal liberation. www.emptycagesdesign.org

Cost

£550 for 10 day course. There are also three 50% subsidised places & two expenses only places. These are on a first come first served basis. Please enquire for more details.

Accreditation

This is a full Permaculture Design Course accredited by the Permaculture Association GB.

Course participants will be awarded the Permaculture Association (Britain)’s internationally recognised Certificate in Permaculture Design (NB, to be awarded the certificate you must attend a minimum of 70% of the course and complete a group design presentation at the end of the course).

How to Book

Email nicole@emptycagesdesign.org for an application form.

Keyline Design course with Owen Hablutzel

IMG_3239Last week I attended a three day course in Somerset with Owen Hablutzel from California. The course was about Keyline Design; a template for whole-farm planning using Yeoman’s scale of permanence and other dynamic design tools.

The course was structured around Yeoman’s scale of permanence. We worked through all the different factors that influence land-based decision making, from climate to soils. Owen shared his experiences of consultancy work and we had practical tasks like learning how to use different surveying tools. We looked at how key line design can help us in creating systems that are increasingly resilient in our changing socio-economic and unprecedented physical climate change. Through managing wholes we can navigate complexity.

IMG_3244A key part of key line is understanding geography; observing ridges and valleys, landshapes and water lines. These observations help us identify key points and key lines. The key point is basically the point of deposition, where materials, such as soil participles, are no longer being transported. Something I really enjoyed about the course was the emphasis on social geography and how the social and economic climates are just important to consider as the ecological ones. They aren’t separate and we need to survey and observe all of it extensively to make informed decisions.

We looked at the water aims of a key line system; maintaining household and farm water supply, improving the water cycle and putting water to work. Owen described it as, “Working with the self-organised properties of water”.

The primary ways to meet these aims are keeping the soil covered, optimising transpiration, building soil water holding capacity and utilising the geography of our landscapes to aid water catchment and storage. Through dams, ponds and planting patterns all of this can be strengthened.

We then covered roads and access. There were multiple factors at play but one permaculture principle stuck in my mind – that we can stack functions and make roads multifunctional. Roads can aid us in channeling and diverting water.

Agroforestry was the next area we covered. It reaffirmed to me the power of polycultural assemblies! Owen introduced criteria of what defines an agroforestry system (compared to just say trees in a field). Agroforestry systems are intention, intensive, integrative and interactive. Practices include windbreaks, riparian forest buffers, forest farming, alley cropping and wood pasture. He shared a photo of incredible ribbon forests and the natural patterns of windbreaks that nature has created.

Next up was soils, something I can never get enough of. Thankfully my inner soil geek was satisfied as we looked at soil formation essentials and the impact of the Yeoman’s plough. Owen describes it as a revolutionary piece of agricultural equipment. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a real-life plough but did witness a sub soiler in action.

Overall I learnt a huge amount and am looking forward to taking on more broad scale projects where I can apply my learning.

For more regenerative agriculture courses in the UK visit: http://www.regenerativeagriculture.co.uk

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Regenerative Agriculture – a talk in Somerset

From: http://www.regenerativeagriculture.co.uk/index.php/course-calendar

Regenerative Agriculture – a talk with questions

with Owen Hablutzel, introduced by Graham Harvey

Monday 29th June 2015 at 7.30pm at The Silver Street Centre, Wiveliscombe

IMG_3279How can farming:
– regenerate soils, increasing soil organic matter, restoring mineral cycles and eliminating erosion?
– restore water cycles, preventing flooding and ameliorating drought?
– thrive alongside wildlife?
– help with climate change?
– do this at the same time as being more productive for those farming/managing the land and all of us who rely on it?

What is our part in this – whoever we are?

Owen Hablutzel is an independent international consultant, trainer and facilitator specialising in whole-system transformation toward robust land health, social co-creative capacity, and whole ecosystem stewardship. In particular he integrates different insights into regenerative agricultural practices and resiliency, merging them into his ‘Dynamic Design’ process.

This talk is towards the end of a UK training and visiting tour and is an opportunity to gain an insight to the breadth and spectrum of tools we can use to leverage our agroecological systems. Owen will highlight many of the potentials to realise improved productivity alongside environmental and social benefits, and then he and Graham Harvey (who will also introduce Owen) will take questions from the audience.

Please allow plenty of time to park and arrive for a prompt start at 7:30pm.

Tea/Coffee and biscuits.

Cost: £7.50 (Concessions)

For more details/to reserve a seat please contact:
Natasha: 07866 674205 or
email