The Problem with Permaculture

• Nathaniel Larson

I’m excited about permaculture. Bubbling, really, with possibilities. I wake up every morning and am thankful to have the opportunity to be co-creating a cultivated eco/social system. People come to see what we are up to and ask questions about what we are doing, what do you call it they say. Well I try my best and on my good days am able to transfer some understanding of just what we are up to. I call it ecological design or regenerative design, but more often than not I call it permaculture design.

‘Permaculture, oh I’ve heard of that,’ some say. In my mind this is a good thing, the word automatically plugs us into a network of people and places that are trying their best to create a sustainable world. A non-dogmatic decentralized pulsing spider web of a network. A network embedded in an epistemology, a way of knowing, that is entirely different than the dominant epistemology. A network on the edge of knowledge and understanding, one experimenting with design scenarios, placing elements in relationships and relationships in relationships hoping to set the stage for those emergent phenomena that living systems embody: resilience, abundance, beauty, grace. Well for some this word ‘permaculture’ is a good thing. I am finding out that for others it is not. At first I found myself befuddled, bamboozled. Huh, I would say…… Huh. I admit, my feelings were hurt. I disagreed, I defended, I debated. Negative viewpoints kept popping up.

  • ‘Ya it’s sounds like a good idea’ I would hear, ‘but no one is making a living at it’. -‘That’s the problem with permaculture; too much to integrate and too much to know’
  • It doesn’t surprise me that it’s a 10-day course. I mean isn’t that the whole point, rubber stamp the certificate to get paid and send a % to papa Mollison via the copyright.’

Why, I asked myself, all this negativity? Is permaculture flawed? Do we need to change the word that we rally behind? Or is there a different problem, a more systemic problem that such a solution would ignore? It seems to me that the problem with permaculture is a problem of perspective and human emotion. I hear so often that TV is the devil, or that it’s the school system or the medias fault, something, anything other then our selves. Well then if that’s the case, if we take away all media all televisions etc, would all our problems disappear? Would we be automatically transformed as a species, living in perfect harmony? I live without a TV, radio, or Internet. I live with a beautiful wife and a beautiful land and yet I still feel frustration, anger, and pride. The ‘problem’ that needs to be addressed is not permaculture but these basic human emotions. Now when I hear; ‘….no one is making a living at it.’ What I really here is, ‘I want to be acknowledged for what I’ve done with my piece of land.’ Unfortunately a lot of the times I hear negative comments on permaculture what I really hear is another way for people to excuse themselves from change.

Don’t get me wrong, there are challenges associated with permacultre. The social and political infrastructures make it difficult for anyone to earn a viable income on a human scale land holding. But these aren’t problems, they’re design challenges. And for those of us who like to see the positive in things we will find them in permaculture.

Nathaniel Larson is a father, brother and husband at The Draw, a land-based community on the south shore of Lake Superior, where he does his best to live a life in service to Gaia.