‘Strive to survive causing least suffering as possible’
Flux of Pink Indians
The ethics and principles of permaculture both in terms of the outputs from a functioning design system and in taking these tools and guidelines on board in our daily activities can be both emancipatory and liberating for many different reasons. Permaculture is integrated thinking and acting within a mutually beneficial flow of relationships that springs from the principles and ethics as we apply them to real world situations.
These ethics and principles are for all not the few, they are for the development of permanent cultures and not empires and civilizations that are built to fail, and within our contemporary situation they put the healthy continuity of the planet, ourselves and every other living thing before profit and the dangerous illusion of infinite growth on a finite planet, both of which are killing us and every living thing on our planet.
Radical by Design
If one of the key goals of permaculture is that local communities generate their own living resources their selves within their local geographical community using resources available to them within these locales, then immediately we become a threat to the system and its model of employment, the way uses resources and the way it uses us through locked in wage Labour. If we are all generating our own resources and power then who will toil at the call centres and warehouses? and how would banks and credit services operate when communities did not need their services? Our very existence as functioning and thriving communities informed by permaculture ethics and principles is the biggest possible threat to a prevailing political ideology that requires divide and fragmentation of communities and over consumption in order for it to function.
The heavily built up urban environments where many of us live and everywhere else that we have touched are in dire need of ecological repair, using permaculture design we are able to help rebuild localised eco systems whilst growing our own food and other resources at the same time, as we help each other to grow our own food, we also help each other to grow nature and build our relationship with it which is something that we sadly lost with our industrial civilisation and commodification of the natural world where it has been treated as nothing more than a storage depot for Market traders and corporations to dip into every time they decide to expand their empires.
But when we start connecting these ethics and principles on a micro social level to find solutions to problems associated with structured social exclusion and exploitation we are able to use our permaculture practice and thinking to begin to deal with these problems. Permaculture goes beyond empowerment when applied to those suffering multiple inequalities, it is about creating strong, close, and resilient communities that offer to varying degrees some seperation from the locked in effect of capitalism and wage slavery.
Liberation permaculture has been prevalent within some contemporary work related to multiple inter-related issues of feminism, the rights of animals, race and ethnicity, and the abolition of prisons, my angle for this particular exploration is about applying permaculture practice to economically disadvantaged communities who are never likely to access permaculture in the same manner as people from more economically and educationally advantaged backgrounds.
As a working class man born in a Kersal tower block in Salford and subsequently spending the next twenty odd years of my life there, Liberation permaculture for me is about connecting with low income, unemployed people, which includes: refugees, people suffering with substance misuse, people with mental health issues. our work is to help to generate edible and medicinal plants in their gardens as a starting point for taking the power back. If you are downtrodden for whatever reason and you have access to cleanly grown healthy food, then you have some well being and are able to continue to fight the forces of oppression. In the coming blogs I will share examples of how we have worked with different communities from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Sow and Grow Project
In 2011 our small community group Bolton Urban Growers were contacted by National criminal justice charity NACRO to deliver a gardening project for hardcore ex-offenders in East Manchester. Before starting this project the brief from NACRO what they wanted me to teach the lads in their Hostels how to grow food and make things with the food, for me this was a chance to strip permaculture down to its bare bones, no whiteboard work, no visual aids, just planting and preparing edibles and conversation. Had I delivered the course in a similar manner to a PDC it wouldn’t have made any sense to the lads, most of whom spent little time in formal education and most of adult lives serving long sentences. As an adult/community education tutor this work enabled me to explore open dialogue pedagogies, where there was no hierarchy between myself, the tutor and the lads as the students.
Practical skills, conversations and confidence
On one occasion when the lads had made their own bread, one of them jumped up and down waving his loaf of bread in the air straight from the oven like he’d won the world cup, I asked him if he enjoyed baking it, he said that it was the only thing he had ever made in his life apart from a cup of tea, he was so pleased with his achievement his face was lit up with a huge grin that remained on his face for the rest of the session . In future sessions this lad became more dexterous and confident and ended up volunteering to work on a community garden project in South Manchester.
One of the lads from the project also contacted me a few months after it had ended telling me that his gas had been cut off by his supplier in the middle of winter and that he made his own rocket stove and cooked his meals on it in his back garden, and that he’d been doing it for weeks, and that the action of doing it got him out of the house. I don’t for a minute think that permaculture changed the lives of the lads in any significant way, but during a short period of a couple of hours a week over a spring and summer a considerable amount of learning happened and by the time the project ended the lads knew the basics of food growing, cooking and some medicinal preparations. Most of the lads said that they would continue growing food once they were rehoused in the future.