Design Process not Procedure

Dan Palmer invites us to discover the design process beyond a rigid set of procedures. And design for highly complex and evolving living systems.

The late Dan palmer sensed a strong distinction between procedure and process.

Evolutionary Design Process Versus Control Thinking

Here is some of what Dan shared “I’m passionately interested in permaculture design and particularly permaculture design process like how is it that we go about realizing permaculture’s potential. How is it that we get from someone arriving on some land that they want to evolve with, and make more productive, to being in the game and having some things growing and letting the system continue to evolve. “

“When we want to do something – we default to a procedure. A procedure is like a recipe or a model it’s a linear sequence of steps. ‘Step one for example – Step one: Observe, Step two: Design. Step three: Implement, Step four: Evaluate … Just like – Step one: mix the banana and the flour, Step two: add the eggs that sort of thing.”

Geared up for Procedural Thinking

“We’re very geared. Actually geared is the right word. Because it’s a mechanical analogy and procedures are kind of mechanical in the way they work. Or mechanistic. And so often when I see people talking about process and design process and giving examples of permaculture design process – that’s not what they’re talking about. To me, what they’re talking about is a procedure.

And there’s nothing wrong with procedures they’re great. Just the other day I tried cooking something I hadn’t cooked before and I needed a procedure right. Yeah if I just launched into I would I’ve got myself in a lot of trouble. So, I was very grateful.

So, there’s a place and a huge value in procedures. There’s also a huge danger, a huge risk if we mistake procedure for process. And what we can do is – ‘here’s my permaculture design procedure and it’s better than yours, and it’s better than theirs and…. we don’t want to jump from step four to step six, we need to do step five.” The risk comes from imposing a procedure.

Design Process Happens in the Now

“Process is adapted to the moment. And it’s like a constant dance that I’ll pull in procedures as appropriate. But I’ll also be very ready to drop them and let them go. And to do whatever is the right thing to do next.

“I came across a beautiful quote about this from Carol Sanford. I’m reading through her book The Regenerative Business. She said “Processes occur in real time within the changing circumstances of the real world. They are not procedures. One of the unfortunate residues of the mechanistic way of thinking is that most organizations (we could say that most of us) try to turn processes, which are alive and based on what is happening in the moment, into procedures which are predetermined. And, I love this bit: Processes require people to be present and awake. Procedures put people to sleep and make them mechanical.

dancing ferments

“I love the idea of processes that mean we’re awake and we’re conscious, and we’re aware, and we’re alive. We don’t know what wants to happen next. We’re discovering it.

Process Enables Co-evolution

“One way of thinking about it is getting like helping design or set up processes of co-evolution between human health and ecosystem health these are the kind of processes that humans always stewarded up to… That entails a fundamental transformation of our entire way of being as humans.”

“A lot of the conversation for me [about design process] is first getting that penny to drop that this is not a copy and paste-able bullet point list that you can just take out whatever you’re doing teaching your permaculture design course today drop the list I’ll give you in and do that tomorrow. This is a process that will unfold indefinitely and it will be years before perhaps it really starts to sink in. It’s baby steps. It’s a big process.”

Illawarra Flame tree seedpod

Procedures are timely. Know when to use them.

“I have had a lot of conversations with people who say we need procedure. Yet often the procedures we default to, are… mechanical. They’re starting with fragmented, separate elements.. and gluing them together. As opposed to the idea of transforming whole systems and working with all the energies of a place as a coherent whole.”

“If you’re interested in permaculture you’ve signed up for some tricky stuff. Permaculture is not rocket science. It’s actually a lot more complex. Because it involves soil biota and biology and water flow. And it involves so many different disciplines in a flowing integrated way that it’s hugely complex. When you’re dealing with any kind of complexity you can’t predict it. No one can predict it.”

Planning is Essential. Plans are Useless

“We’re engaged in planning. And we get enough clarity about what makes sense to do for the next one, two or maybe three.. steps. Then, of course, we’ll keep planning. Because the plan (if we had one) would have changed. Things evolve so fast. Particularly when you’re dealing with biological systems, with gardens and all that. It has to be a very dynamic ongoing planning and doing process. No fixed or static plan is ever going to last for that long.

“And the trap, of course, is if you’ve got one (a plan) you can fall in love with it and continue to force it on the situation. Even when the situation’s like “no thanks – this doesn’t work anymore, things have changed: the climate’s changed, the soil has changed, the water cycles changed” That’s a big one, isn’t it? That’s huge.

[This shift in thinking is] “a design process transfusion”.

Dan Palmer
Gilly’s Kitchen design plans, work and social connections – a co-evolution

Co-Evolution Goal of the Design Process

Dan warned “This is closely related to the existential crisis humanity finds itself in. Unless we can shift out of mechanistic procedures into living processes we can’t actually get to the beautiful, heart-stopping possibilities that permaculture is all about: getting back into a co-evolutionary dance with the rest of life.”

You can support Dan Palmer‘s family and donate to makingpermaculturestronger.net to maintain the library of his work.

Growing Food Indoors

A Great Indoor Permaculture Adventure

Growing food indoors is easy, costs very little and gives us immediate health benefits. 

Like most things we do in Permaculture, there are multiple benefits to every action. Growing food indoors cuts our waste and supplies nutritious food. And indoor permaculture also provides opportunities for design practice, mindfulness, and self-reliance. And we can surround ourselves with naturally cleaned air.

Quick Design Tools For Indoor Food Production

Indoor food growing benefits from a these permaculture design principles:  Zoning, Stacking and Mindfulness through Observation.

Indoor Food Zones

When we design a Permaculture project, we set aside zones according to how often we will use something. Items that need a lot of care or provide us with lots of interaction and reward go into Zone 1. The items that don’t need much attention or prefer we ignore them go into the furthest recesses of our space.

Zone 1 – Your Nursery

Rooms with sunlight deserve to be decorated with young plants. The indoor garden ‘nursery’ houses your new seedlings and chitting off-cuts. Growing food indoors is easy if you simply buy plants. However, you can raise a lot of plants without expense by propagating from the foods you buy at the grocery store.

Zone 2 – Shrubbery

Smaller plants include Aloe Vera, spring onions, Peppermint, Ginger, Turmeric, KangKong, Thai Basil, tiny Tomatoes, Chives, Garlic chives (essential for savoury pancakes) and Sweet Potato. Medium size plants include Taro, Monstera Deliciosa and Sugarcane. The easiest plants to grow are those that thrive in muddy water. Sugarcane, Peppermint and spring onions will grow in water.

Position each plant according to how much sunlight it needs. As a general rule, the lighter the leaf of a plant then the more sunlight it needs. Those plants with dark-coloured leaves tolerate shade. 

Zone 3 – ‘Canopy’ Trees

There are some larger plants that thrive indoors. These include Fig, Coffee bushes, Lime tree, Mulberry, Curry Leaf, Banana and Bamboo. Banana plants are quick growing and the leaves are useful to wrap foods. Bamboo is a delightful tea rich in Silicone to make your hair shine. Zone 3 plants need to be back from the window, allowing the littler shrubbery and nursery sufficient access.

Big plants need big pots otherwise the tall plants fall over. However, big pots don’t have to be dragged into the home. Here’s a lighter trick you can use. Keep your larger potted plants in a snug bucket of water and drill a hole in the side of the bucket at the level of the bottom of the pot. There are varieties of wicking pots to try. Wicking pots are heavy because they hold water underneath the suspended potted plant. Additionally, closed wicking pots conserve water and because the water is not open to the air, they do not encourage mosquitos.

Sweet tiny banana grown in Mt Kembla
Sweet tiny banana

Zone 4 – Productive Dark Pockets

Areas in the home that are dark are ideal for ferments, sprouts and mushrooms. South Korea still has tunnels that were used during the war. Each soldier was issued with bean seeds to sprouts whilst they were underground. Luckily, sprouts are more nutritious than the seed by itself

Dark areas can also include an indoor worm farm. However, for good hygiene practices, keep food products such as the mushroom farm in a separate room from waste processing such as Bokashi or worm-farm.

Zone 5 – Keeping a Healthy Wilderness

Dust balls, insects and fungi will still reside in your home. You can still keep the home clean as well as keeping it green. The easiest way to remove bugs is by vacuuming. If you need to spray pests, use Methylated spirits. On the whole, there are fewer pests on indoor plants than outdoors plants. The key to good pest control is diversity. Have a wide variety of plants and avoid monocropping.

Stacking

Stacking your potted plants is a great way to save space and water. Simply put small pots on the surface of larger pots. The smaller pots can drain into the bigger pot, and provide some cooling mulch. The little pots will also enjoy the lift, getting closer to any natural light. If you only have a high window, you can hang pots. As the plant grows you slowly lower the pot. This is particularly useful for growing vines such as grapevine.

Stacking is a utilised in our indoor worm-farm. The upper level is a potted herb, the next level down contains the worm farm. At the bottom is a reservoir holding the fertilised water.

Mindfulness and Mental Vigour

The act of caring for something (such as our favourite food plant) improves our mental well being. Seeing the progress of our seeds is a slow yet rewarding mindful exercise.

Best of all, an indoor plant is a gentle reminder of our own need for natural light and regular water. When the plant is happy, the conditions are better for us too.

Difference Between Organic Gardening and Permaculture

Design Matters

Not everyone has the potential live in an environment that can be certified organic. Most regions suffer from rain or wind-borne contaminants. However, through Permaculture design we can make our patch greener and more sustainable.

Design features of Permaculture:

  1. It has an ethical core. The test is: if it isn’t good for the earth and good for people in a fair share, then don’t use it.
  2. Each site is design to imitate Natural Systems. Permaculture uses biological resources and natural energies and observes the clever ways nature responds and adapts. Nature cycles the energy resulting in now waste. Efficiency is Natural.
  3. Permaculture uses a set of Principles, Strategies and Techniques

Integration is Key

Permaculture uses organic gardening practices but it goes beyond. It integrates the garden and home to create a lifestyle that impacts less on the environment.

The Permaculture garden is more than an organic garden. Although organic food production often has many innovative elements, a Permaculture designed garden joins each of the elements into functional relationships.

Being Mindful

Permaculture design is mindful of our relationship with our environment.  We see we are living in a period of energy resource limits. And we acknowledge that emissions are contributing to the heating the planet. Many of us are feeling the changes and seeing our environments polluted.  Whilst a few wealthy people have the resources to ignore climate change, most of the world’s people cannot. Rich people can relocate, get air-conditioning,  and import truck-loads of water.  But even the wealthy cannot fix nitrous oxide build-up or save their beach homes from collapse.

Big, Little, and More

Permaculture thinking can be applied to many physical and social structures. It is energy-wise and collaborative to minimise the impact of a culture on the surrounding environment. A good permaculture design has great potential. It can connect neighbours. The biggest Permaculture site in the world, The Chikukwa Project, has helped the whole community.

Permaculture design has:

  • Focus on closing the nutrient and water loop by using waste, and reducing the dependence on inputs.
  • Creation of healthier soil and diversity of produce.Our Permaculture Design and Demonstration Site.
  • Responsibility for waste. There is an aim to eliminate waste. i.e. no excess nitrogen nor weed seed, released.
  • Variety keeps residents engaged and excited about growing their food.
  • Imitating nature by conserving the soil and water, and genetic capital. There is an intensive use of space. Plants are allowed to set seed and are inter-planted for pest control. You are unlikely to see food plants in rows. The permaculture site will look more like a food-forest with some open glades full of herbs and perennials.
  • Optimisation of natural energies, e.g. wind, dust, leaves, bird droppings.
  • Nutritious food and habitat for people AND native animals and birds.
  • experimental permaculture chickenDependence on observation. Permaculture design is a mixed technology.  Bill Mollison (co-founder of permaculture movement) said that permaculture, like a bicycle, it is adaptable and has great potential but is only as good as the user.
  • Minimal risk. If we fail at permaculture, nature simply takes over. The soil will continue to heal, the forests grow and someone else can step in to rebuild our efforts.
difference between organic gardening and Permaculture.
ORGANIC Gardening can have higher single species yield whereas Permaculture has more species due to the principle of building diversity.

What’s the difference between Organic Farming and Permaculture?

Closed and Open Nutrient Cycling

There is a significant difference between closed and open food-production systems. In a truly closed system (one in vacuum or in space) energy is not lost it is simply transferred from one being or element to another. In a permaculture system, (which can never be fully closed), energy is ideally used by one element effectively and passed on for the benefit of the next before it leaves the system.

Organic Farming promotes the use of natural fertilisers, making use of the natural carbon cycle so that waste from plants becomes the food (fertiliser) of another. In organic farming however, as with ALL farming, minerals are being lost from the farm every time a truck load of produce is carted to market.

The Ideal Permaculture ‘Farm’ brings production of food closer to consumers and the consumer’s wastes back into the cycle. It also reduces the energy wasted in transporting the foods by producing the foods where the people are. In permaculture, the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs.

Soft Technology Tea - Tea doesn't have to cost the earth
Tea doesn’t have to cost the earth

When is Permaculture not Organic?

There will be times when a permaculture system is not strictly organic:

  • when we use local resources rather than imported certified organic resources
  • When we want to increase diversity by bringing in unusual plants/seeds from a non-organic plant supplier
  • Permaculture is capable of enhancing a supply and converting it to organic. for example: when we grow food-plants along polluted river or roadsides to filter out toxins and break them down to safer levels. We know we may not be able to eat these plants but we can keep them as our ‘catastrophe’ backup.

Essentially Permaculture aims to close the energy loop by working with what we have.

Compost is pretty hot stuff

Fostering A Culture of Community Recycling

This is not usually due to an intentional use of pesticides, but often due to the use of a by-product that would otherwise be wasted. We could use old shoes as pots for plants, an old truck tyre/tire to hold the edges of a pond. Sometimes the choices are difficult and we have to do a quick cost/benefit analysis. For example: At Silk Farm we use recycled oil (to make fire starters) and the oil cans (for our simple worm-farm towers) from a non-certified organic restaurant who sometimes uses leaves and fruits from our garden. This ‘trade’ stimulates our local relationship and fosters a culture of resourcefulness.

Permaculture Can Actively Convert Resources

worm towers

We would need to weigh the benefit of a using a free local waste (ie. horse manure) versus supporting a good organic supplier who may be in another country. When we design well, the permaculture system can act as a cleanser or processing agent. Sometimes, we can transform then utilise a polluted waste (within what is realistic achievable).  In the case of the horse manure, we could ask the owner about their anti-worming medication, check that it can be broken down by high-temperature composting then go about re mediating it before using it.  Good permaculture design will aim to have a better output than input. Organic gardening may not have checks to reduce the system’s impact on the wider natural system.

Build you knowledge about permaculture by doing a permaculture design course with us.

And you can build your design skills with our Design-Think-Tank Sessions.

Great Green Business

lloyd-and-J

Hard Look At Very Personal Business

Permaculture strives to design a healthier environment and society. Regenerative farming has come along quickly but  social permaculture designs have been a bit slower to emerge.  Peaceful societies are less destructive to the environment. Good business models, valued workers and clean work environments are good for everyone.

New Models

One fundamental permaculture strategy is to make small changes where they are most effective.  Lets take a peek at an industry that could do with a little greening: the beauty industry.  The beauty industry touches everyone. It has been slow to move on social and environmental issues yet, these small changes can have a huge effect.  Freeing people of toxic chemicals, and poor work conditions has resounding benefits.

eco-hair studio business model

Ecological and Social Style

In salons around the world, customers pay a small fortune to look good. Unfortunately the average hair stylist is poorly paid, often earning less than the minimum wage. This glamorous carer rarely gets a meal break, is standing all day and exposed to horrendous chemicals including formaldehyde. The beauty industry is not famous for the way it treats the workers or the chemicals is pours into the environment. But change is in.

Lloyd KK Eco-Studio Stylist and owner Lloyd KK took the plunge and opened the first eco-hair studio in his region.  He “wanted to use chemicals that have a low environmental impact, that were plant-based and renewable. ” He noticed “the green chemistry colours also have a shinier, more natural feeling results…Previously, I used to have chemical reactions to other colours, ie itchy hands/skin, skin peeling and puffy itchy face. These colours do not cause any of these reactions”

How To Avoid ‘Environmental’ Smoke and Mirrors

retrofitting saves dollar and wasteFor the rare business owner who wants to improve their environmental credentials there are very few models to follow. On the other hand, there are a lot of ‘green’ imposters.

Firstly, Lloyd set about retrofitting old furniture, researched composting systems and trailed low-toxic products. Then he researched and assessed environmental costs of consumables and how to recycle them. He also chose green power and low-cost lighting. Finally he set up systems to minimise waste in the business.

In summary, the process of greening traditional businesses like the hair industry will become easier. As customers demand ecological responsibility and value healthy practice, the suppliers will adapt.

For businesses wanting to lead the change and reduce environmental costs we recommend international Quality Environmental Systems [EMS]. You can achieve self-assessment or simply use the system as a guide.

Ultimately, being prepared to up-cycle, retrofit and adapt equipment will reduce environmental costs, build a better culture and save your business money.

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