Permaculture thinking helps us connect with each other and with nature. principles. The ethics defy the notion of self-sufficiency. Instead, they foster respect and build community. Kerrie Anderson of Synergy Permaculture Australia lives and grows on the Central Coast of NSW, Australia. Her work has nurtured hundreds of others learn, grow and thrive. Here, in her own words, Kerrie tells us how she works to efficiently connect with others.
Ethics at core of everything
The strength of Permaculture is the three ethics at the core of everything we do. And while they might seem quite simplistic to people, if you’re just looking at them from a superficial level. Of course, the deeper you delve, the more complex you realize they are. And they are all-encompassing. And that was definitely the aha! moment for me. Having an ethical foundation or centre is probably a better way to describe it. Because we know it’s not a building block it’s literally core to everything we do. So it informs all my decisions in my life and and that makes sense to me to bring them back to those three core ethics.
Strive to Connect
Somebody once asked me what’s my superpower with permaculture? I think it’s connection. So, connecting people with the content of what permaculture is and and really the feeling, like I really always try and work with my heart. Obviously, the head’s very important and the knowledge and and the skills that just working with the heart of why do people want to learn more about permaculture why do they want to weave it into their life and base their life around it. Then creating that with the heart really inspires people and enthuses people. And for me, that’s really central. A lot of people have the misconception that permaculture is is about just organic edible gardening, which of course we know, is much broader than that.
Build to Connect
Permaculture is about connection. Not just with the planet with nature, but with human nature as well. So, I realized very quickly that social permaculture, actually yes, is an area of permaculture that’s really often overlooked. But is so critically important we can get every other aspect of our practice, you know, spot on. We know the ideas, we’ve got the design down, and know the principles and ethics and we’re working with them. But if we’re not working with people in an effective and meaningful way, learning how to accept diversity in human behaviour and human interaction. And how to work with groups and how to connect with people about this message. Then, we’re not going to go anywhere as a permaculture movement.
We have to lead by example. For me, I guess coming from a Healthcare model where I was that old-fashioned nurse having to care for people, learning a lot about human nature in that medical system and human frailties and and how to communicate with people well. That helped keep me in good stead. But also my personal practices of practicing heartfulness meditations helps.
Connect with the Good stuff
I’m always about trying to let go of patterns that don’t serve my behaviour. And in my communication doing better and being aware of other people. And aware of how they’re feeling in certain circumstances has been fundamental. So, I think that really helped inform my teaching style and who I am as a person. And I keep trying to always bring it back to that. So, even if you’re on the head level staff and you’re giving the theory and getting the practicing with students that you’re always very mindful of that people care. And with the Permaculture fair-share ethic. And most of all, you’re modelling that. By having that consciousness of diversity and and designing the coursework for everybody.
Prolific advocate, Albert Bates is famous for his work promoting Biochar and much more, Here he talks about his 4 stages of life and how he stays hopeful. Each stage of our lives has is a unique facet. Many of the key elders in the Permaculture movement began with an awareness, grew hopeful, then skilled and empowered. Finally they seek to be sharing and nurturing others. Here are Albert Bates 4 stages of his amazing life – in his own words.
Highlights of his career so far
Albert says his life is a work in progress. “I just turned 76 a week ago and I figure I got another 25 years So I got a quarter of my life still to go. And I’m having to figure out what can I do that would be different. And better. How can I do a a fourth act here. And up my game.
The Game of Life – Stage 1
So, let’s go back first stage of the game childhood through you know holding onto your mother’s skirt up to where you’re able to cause real trouble and then um I went to law school with the idea of being perhaps a one of the first cannabis attorneys who would uh who would redirect the legal system to make uh psychedelics legal that didn’t pan out all that well they didn’t Legalize It by the time I got out of law school so a lot of my courses that I took were wasted. But I got out of law school and I decided to put the city out of my blood get away from it for a while.
Walking in Elders Footsteps
So. I hiked the Appalachian Trail from north to south. That’s a trail that runs down to eastern North America along the Appalachian Ridge 200 miles. And this formed a circular perspective because my great great great great great great great great great great grandfather [Seven Generations removed] was Issachar Bates who was a Shaker poet.
Issachar was a revolutionary war soldier with George Washington throwing off the British yoke and he then fell in love with the Shakers and started to dance. He was a fife and violin player, a dancer and singer. And he wrote 400 Shaker hymns and became a missionary for the Shakers. The Shakers sent him on these long treks out to talk to the colonies. Out into the distant wilderness. He walked the Appalachian Trail [probably the same route I took out into the Ohio Valley]. This was in the late part of the 18th century.
He set up two utopian communal colonies in the wilderness. And had a confab with the prophet who was the brother of Tecumseh and was thinking about throwing off the American yolk. He was a protector of the native peoples, as well.
I found that I had these commonalities in my life. And I was recapitulating my ancestors journey through life. Editorial note: Lucky for Albert Bates, the family did not stay celibate, else he would not have been born.
Common Trails with Ancestors
Here was I, walking the same Mountain trails, starting utopian communities in the wilderness, learning to make friends with adversaries [in our case the redneck Tennesseans who didn’t understand hippies]. And so, I was finding myself in my second phase age 25 to 50.
Second Life Stage – Building Community
Life in that Community Building phase, I was developing the the farm as a village. We were developing businesses like our mushroom people business that was doing medicinal forest mushrooms. And our second Foundation was a charitable organization. And our Plenty which is our International charity. I had no use as a lawyer it at first. But after several years at the farm we started noticing that there were these things called nuclear plants popping up like mushrooms after a rain around us.
And I said we had to do something about that. Those are pretty nasty and so I got asked to go out and stop that stop that nonsense. I I handled nuclear cases as a law project it was called the Natural Rights Center. And we fought four times in the United States Supreme Court. We ended the Tennessee Valley Authority’s nuclear program which had had 20 reactors scheduled. And we fought them to a standstill in North America.
I then left out of stress and got more into my mushroom business. I found the law office thing was fine for a number of years. Then, I was like the warrior in Bill Mollison’s ‘Travels in Dreams’.
After my life as a lawyer I got into regenerative agriculture. And back into the the basics of of agroforestry. And I started working with Chris Nesbitt down in Belize Maya Mountain Research Farm. Chris is a big agroforestry guy using traditional Mayan style that a lot of has gone extinct. But Chris is revitalizing it for climate resilience. So, I’m still working with Chris. Even today doing Ridge to Reef programs to restore the Mayan coral reef.
Life Stage 3 – 50 years Young and Beyond
In this stage I was focused pretty much on climate change full time. I began to live as an emergency planetary technician. So, they’ve you know they dispatched my ambulance to this particular planet. And I’m doing triage. I’m figuring out what we got to do here to stabilize the patient. And I’m using all of the various means of drawdown that Paul Hawkens talks about.
Natural Climate Solutions
I have a full kit of natural climate solutions in my jump bag. And the main thing that I’m probably best known for is biochar. I’ve written a number of books on it. Mexico is my Hemingway machine, my writing space for this age of 76 and beyond.
A number of years ago I wrote Climate in Crisis forwarded by Al Gore. This was my first book on climate. It came out the same year as I met Bill Mollison 1990. I probably had it with me when I saw him. And then, the next book I’m known for is the biochar solution this one came around 2010 after I went to a permaculture gathering in Brazil.
Biochar and Me
Andre Suarez introduced me to Terra Preta – the dark earth of the Indians and that led me to the biochar solution. Then more recently we started looking at the non-agricultural uses of biochar. Which led us to this book Burn : Using Fire to Cool the Earthwhich is now out in German. By the way, if you want to understand the German word for burn is cool down. That’s the translation! Soon it’s going to be translated into Chinese and Italian. And during the run up to the Paris agreement [I was going to the U.N regularly to the conferences], I wrote the story of how they got to the Paris agreement .
Planetary Technician Processes
While I’ve been in here in Mexico I’ve come out with a book number of series on planetary technician processes. One of those is transforming plastic. It is about how to take plastic and turn it from a problem to a solution.
And as this relates to the oceans, I wrote the dark side of the ocean which talks about the so-called blue economy or blue carbon. The idea that that the oceans are infinite. But they’re not. And how we’re actually destroying them. But we don’t see the destruction. It talks about alkalinity and salinity, sea level rise and extinction of of marine mammals.
And because it’s so interesting I decided we needed to create some children’s books. So I started making books for middle school. You could learn about the ocean, and cuddly sea animals. And understand the effects of pollution and maybe what you’re doing what you’re what you’re sending down the trash chute. And then, I wrote a book called Taming Plastic for kids – how they can do reduce their microplastic footprints. Showing how they can separate their different kinds of plastics and find things useful things to do, shaping a new future by using the recycled plastic.
Finally, here, during the pandemic, I came up with a book on a history of plagues. And it’s also about surviving this one. And how we’re failing on the plague the same way we’re failing on the climate. I have problems with the ways millions of people are dying from stupidity.
Beginning the 4th Phase – Publishing
What I’m doing in my fourth phase is publishing. And a lot of why I’m anxious and eager and grateful to get it out to a larger number of people. So it doesn’t just die with me!
How do you stay hopeful?
Cultivating a sense of humour helps. As does a Buddhist non-attachment. You know, we may have been screwed before I was born. The trajectory we were on could well have been set well before I was born and I’m just along for the ride. Now, I have a bailing bucket in his sinking ship. So, I’m gonna bail. Because it makes me feel good to be doing something positive. As long as I have the ability to do something I’m going to keep doing it.
If we have just the slimmest of chances that maybe we can have more forest. We can use algae. We can pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And we can change our lifestyle. Lets do it.
At some point we will need to. So, it’s necessary that we we show the way. For that reason I stay hopeful. I know that it’s it’s more fun to get up in the morning with a spring in your step because you got something good you can be doing.
Make Life Fun
Part of the solution has to be making it fun. If it isn’t fun – nobody’s going to do it. So, finding solutions is one thing. But then, finding ways to make solutions fun – that’s even more important. And that’s why I write kids books. And that’s why I work with Chris Nesbitt at the Maya Mountain Research Farm. Because he has children’s programs. We do this in Tennessee – we have the Eco Village training Center with a lot of programs with the farm school. And we make it fun.
You know, we make it so that you can get into the mud and make Cobb buildings. And get all muddy. Get your face all muddy and have a party. All of that is is really important. Because if it ain’t fun – ain’t nobody gonna do it!
Rowe challenges Permaculture Teachers to think globally thanks to her work with refugees in Bangladesh, Greece, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and more.
Global Thinking Learned From Refugees
Rosemary tells us “I could see how very Western, middle-class permaculture was, where, in those countries people might say air pollution is easy to fix – just don’t drive cars. But my mind is global now and considers whether such statements are true across the world. My mind is less western. I’ll say, “Well, no, air pollution is not easy to solve for a refugees in Sri Lanka, in Dhaka in Bangladesh, or in Afghanistan. Because all you have there to burn may be plastic bags, to keep warm, or to cook your food. The air pollution from plastic is and poor quality coke is dangerous. Unknowable numbers of people die of air pollution every year. Don’t accept the western response to a problem as global. Certainly don’t teach it as if it is. Western solutions are not always valuable globally”
Evolving from individuality
There are a couple of big contrasts for me. One is the language of individuality which runs through all western speech such as, “My garden, My fruit trees, My place, My chickens, My everything!” Yet most of the people I work with speak of “Our community, Our chickens, Our fruit trees. They’re not consciously ‘eco-villagers’ but they think of themselves with others. And, when you’re living in Afghanistan you live in a compound with either your husband, your children, your brothers and sisters and their children. There can be 20 people sharing a bathroom and toilet. And they speak of We. The extreme individuality of westerners doesn’t help permaculture. It is very possessive.
Individuality’ affects the Permaculture curriculum
I have changed my teaching methods. Yes, you still design your place and that’s yours, but you also need to work with your street and neighbourhood. It may be street trees, it might be verge gardens. It could be growing food for surplus and sharing so people can pick apples or oranges freely. In my case it’s kiwi fruit. You think of how your abundance can serve your local community. Move from ‘me’ to ‘we’.
The Third Ethic of permaculture – Fair Share
And another thing is the way people I’ve been working with for the past decade or so, are working naturally and extensively with the third ethic of permaculture and the gift economy than westerners do. There isn’t so much talk about money. People would like to have money and better incomes but much of the conversation is about giving and lending, swapping and working together.
Refugee Ecosystem Thinking
The third ethic, distribute surplus to need, as it is written into permaculture, is derived from ecosystem structures. Create no pollution with your surplus. Use everything completely and pass on what you’re not using – that’s your surplus to need. Westerners want to grow an individual garden, retrofit a house or farm. They struggle more with the Third Ethic. We need to create the conditions under which people can flourish and you can do this living the Third Ethic.
No More ‘Sages’
Originally I came up with some very chalk talk ‘Sage on the stage style of teaching’ which I felt was directly opposed to care of people. Teaching is often seen as “I’ve got the knowledge!” I think teaching, which behaves as if there’s care of people, would listen to what they know, what they want to offer and what their queries are.
But these learner centred methods give much more noisy, discussing, interactive classroom. And really, if you are teaching because you want people to look at you, listen to you, or you regard yourself as the source of all knowledge, then you’re not taking care of people. It’s not respectful to just deliver content as if people did not arrive with knowledge and experience. Bored students are sending you the message, ‘I know, I know’.’
Be Respectful, Keen and Deliver Quality Content
Another reason is to change my teaching process was about the quality of knowledge….We have a wonderful curriculum which doesn’t need much alteration. We can add up to date research. Be very, very keen, moral and accurate about content which further confirms permaculture and is growing in depth and, breadth. Deliver quality courses. This is true for everyone, not just for refugees but especially for them. However you need the process we’ve been talking about. – processes of teaching which demonstrates care of people and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to learn, does learn and and can express themselves. It’s harder than chalk-and-talk, but once you get good at it, it comes quickly and is deeply satisfying. The process I use comes from a ‘create peace background’ called Alternatives to Violence (AVP).
How do you get to help Refugees?
I’m invited and hosted by NGOs (non-government organisations). You can’t turn up at the gates of a refugee camp say “Hey, here I am, I’ve come to teach you permaculture and I’ve got all this good stuff for you and you need me!’. Realistically, there’s a whole process to go through. We have just finished a book called Teaching Permaculture in Refugee camps and it sets out what you need to do to follow this vocation.
Multipurpose for each visit
I work out multiple tasks for each visit. I never go and return with one objective. So, I look at other projects. I spend time with the host community, offering seminars with local permaculture groups and looking at new projects.
Refugee Camp Conditions
The conditions are often hard. The food can get to the point when you look at yellow dall heavily laced with chili in week five and think ‘I can’t eat this anymore.’ But you serve yourself some because you’ve got a big session coming up. You can’t afford to be hungry and lightheaded. Someone has prepared the food and others would be grateful for it. You may share a room at night with as many as six others and there can be whining mosquitoes, barking dogs, there are mice in your luggage and other mysterious noises. I’ve had rats run over my mosquito net, and a huge cockroach inside it.
Challenges working with refugees – Put your needs aside
We ran into a two week long missionary program in Cox’s Bazar. This Islamic program was presented on public loudspeakers. They broadcast loudly all day, and all night. from slightly out-of-sync speakers in the five neighbouring mosques beginning at 3.45 am. You wake up – reach for your ear plugs and mutter “Oh no, I need my sleep!” Well it doesn’t matter what you need – you will still do a full day’s work to the best of your ability and without complaint.
A Secret to a Meaningful Teaching Projects – include NGO Staff
One secret to a really good project is that your host wants you because they know permaculture will significantly give better quality lives. Always include NGO staff as course participants because when the course finishes they will write project proposals to continue permaculture. They know what they need and want and can usually get resources.
Include Local Inhabitants with Refugee Participants
Include local inhabitants because, as it happened in Greece, the Moria refugee camp. The camp was burnt down. And then the day centre was burnt down. People were walking around Lesvos without food, papers and records and then a group of Nazi Greeks started bashing people. The local residents who had been in the refugee classes set up centres for them. They found a couple of acres of land where people could live safely and grow food and learn how to develop incomes.
Support Local Leaders
When covid came to the camps, local people were those who took over because the NGO staff left. To maintain the project needs local components to continue. When I come home we include those NGO leaders into the Permaculture for the Refugees group and we continue talking and mentoring. We have left them two thousand dollars each course and ask them write a permaculture project proposals saying ” Here’s the money, write up a project you really need here: the project you want. Send us photographs and a few words as a report over the next two years.”
Bright Futures for Refugees
Nearly two years later in Bangladesh they’re implementing big permaculture projects. They’ve multiplied and multiplied. Permaculture is everywhere in some camps. This way of working is important to embed permaculture in the NGO. And in the country. Yes, you can tell people to set up a garden and so on. But, it wont endure unless you’ve included local people, taught the NGO staff. And, left some funds and left permaculture in/with the people in the country who will take it over and scale it up.
We’d like to see all NGO organisations who work with refugees make permaculture training compulsory for their staff. We believe we’d see a real change in lives, incomes, satisfaction and even joy, by all who were engaged in social and environmental transformation of refugee lives and camps.”
Giving can break expectations and enrich relationships. But best of all, the gift economy has the power to manifest system change.
Giving is system changing because it provides an opportunity to break expectations. Here is the chance to go above and beyond.
Gift Economy Unwraps a Fair Share
One of the principles of permaculture is to share surplus and distribute a fairer share of resources. The gift economy and volunteering are easy ways to give away surplus good and services. It is also a way to show support of others. Being supportive is an undervalued style of giving. By being kind and supportive you won’t get famous. But, help is delivered quickly when and where it is needed.
Traditional Gift Economies
Gift giving is a huge part of many cultures and economies. For instance, in Japan it is customary to give a gift to say you are sorry. Or to say welcome or thank you. In fact, it is traditional in Japan to remember the trading of gifts and services. A formal register often records who owes whom. And this register between families and neighbours is often kept for centuries.
In Australia, it is common to give money for a major event like a wedding or to use their bridal registry. But this monetary gift doesn’t explore our relationship with the receiver. In nearly all traditional giving situations we can’t give too much (for fear of making the receiver feel obligated). And we can’t give too little (for fear of looking mean).
But we can be assured that nearly everyone enjoys colourful memories and hearty food.
Gift Economy versus Monetary Economy
The gift economy uses gift giving and services instead of money. Terry Leahy talks about the gift economy as a pathway out of capitalism. So, let’s tackle the elephant in the room -money. Money separates us from our work. And this is evident when we’re buying something. We rarely ever ask “who made this?” Or “Who mined the materials?” Or, “who invented the software?” Yet marketers know that buyers care a lot about who branded the item.
Advertisers know that the look of the product creates an emotional response. And this response overrides many other factors such as the durability efficiency and price. And in all honesty, a car that ‘travels faster than human reaction time’ is not only unsustainable [because it is more likely to crash], it’s lethal. Although it runs on more environmental energy, the real environmental question is “can it sustain itself and sustain life?”
Money Disregards Environmental Justice
The monetary economy deals poorly with environmental Injustice issues. Yes, we have compensation and legal systems to repay losses. But the monetary system can’t afford to factor in these costs up front, before they happen. And there are a few companies who willingly incorporate environmental and safety quality systems. Only regulation and legal structures encourage us to buy from environmentally responsible quality manufacturers?
Greed is Not the Evil. The Problem is the System Without Ethics
The monetary market requires that companies buy goods cheaply and sell them at a higher price. Terry says “Greed is not the evil here”. Instead, the system is the problem because the monetary system sustains only companies with highest profits it weeds out those who can’t compete. At an individual level we can be ethical in our choices. This makes a difference if we buy direct from the producer because especially when we give feedback. But, as Terry Leahy points out, big companies that make decisions based on ethics, completely destabilise the monetary market.
Hidden Economic Power of Volunteers in Gift Economy
Carers and rescue teams who provide safety nets are nearly all volunteers. The vast collective of volunteers are integral to our recovery and resilience. One in three people in Australia volunteer their time. This is a huge contribution to our economy. Especially through increasing climate change disasters.
Give a Little or a Lot
In the gift economy you can produce as much as you like. There’s no motive to produce unnecessary stuff. And prestige comes from producing stuff that doesn’t damage the environment. Studies by social ecologists such as Terry Leahy revealed two-track thinking. 50 percent of people want a system change like a regulated green economy but only 15 of those people actually vote for it. Because, in the second track of our thinking we’re worrying about jobs, safety comfort and perhaps, even a luxurious retirement or staying in what we see as our normal life even though the planet is not capable of sustaining the normal.
Fortunately, the gift economy is the easiest economy to dip your toes into. If you want to have a go at making a change, this is easy. And it’s not going to cost you the earth. Look around and see what you can make, share or give away. And volunteer your time. In 1916, Lily Hardy Hammond wrote about Paying it Forward in her book called In the Garden of Delight. This means, instead of paying somebody back, you give something forward. So when you’re giving gifts of kindness and distributing your wealth on a regular basis you are enriching the world acts of kindness every day.