Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Divided we fall? Does Regenerative Agriculture need a good dose of Marketing?

What if human civilization was wiped out because ‘Permaculture’ was a weird word?

What if the atmosphere of the planet burns off into space because the people who did know what needed to be done were squabbling over what to call doing it?

I am a babe in the Permaculture food forest woods – like some of you, I’ve always been interested in the natural world, came across Geoff Lawton’s videos, and ended up taking the Online 2014 Permaculture Design Course.

I’ve done my design, tried to explain Permaculture to a lot of people, and followed a lot of like minded groups on Facebook and other places.

And then was struck by the fact that as confusing a word as ‘Permaculture’ is – there’s about twenty other words, than mean almost the same thing.

Restorarion agriculture? Regrarianism? Agroforestry? Beyond Organic? Silvoculture? Agroecology? Biodynamic? The Amish version: Advancing Eco Agriculture. The list goes on and on. And these are only SOME of the English ones…

To reach the tipping point Geoff Lawton talks about for sustainable agricultural and food growing practices to go mainstream it would help if we could simplify the message.

In looking up the origins of these various strands of sustainable food growing systems I had to revisit the three ethics of Permaculture, which, as a newcomer, I’m not proud to admit I’d forgotten about.

Earth Care, People Care and Return of Surplus.

Earth Care – that the systems we design should not harm the Earth, but rather help all living systems.

People care – that our systems are designed to feed people, AND to provide safe, healthy places to live and meaningful lives within them…

And Return of Surplus – that in order to care for the Earth and it’s people, we must constantly return energy and materials to the environment to allow it to gain in fertility and abundance.

Now these ethics do distinguish Permaculture from similar, strictly technical food growing systems – but they are also a little hard to explain, and unfortunately, not something everyone is able to accept.

To my mind the overarching theme that unites permaculture and other sustainable food growing systems is: “Feeding people without harming the planet”. Already there’s an obstacle here for going mainstream because a lot of people don’t believe that industrial agriculture IS harming the planet. And like it or not, we may never convince them otherwise.

If our primary goal is keeping the Earth liveable, we might just need a little marketing to reach a wider audience.

And part of that work, might make a few people very uncomfortable.

We might have to set aside some of what is so near and dear to us about the ethical foundations of permaculture, in order to reach people who quite frankly philosophically and constitutively will never proactively accept people care and earth care as the same moral imperatives that we do.

In talking to a friend about the urgency of action on climate change to help people in countries at risk his response was: “But I have enough trouble caring about other Canadians”. And he’s a very nice guy. Generous, caring, etc.
So how can we get these people onside?
How about money?
If we can demonstrate that sustainable food growing systems are more profitable than business as usual, well then a whole extra tranche of people might suddenly become interested.

I know a lot of people will object to this, arguing, rightly to my way of thinking but not to everybody’s, that the pursuit of profits at all cost has gotten us into this mess.

And I will admit I’ve not thought about this long enough to think through all of the repercussions of what I’m proposing. I’m hoping this will trigger a debate on what I do think is a fundamental challenge to shift people towards sustainable food growing systems to avert environmental catastrophe.

We don’t all share the same motivations. The ethical motivations that attract some of us to permaculture might actual repel others from coming on board. “Too hippy, communist, etc.”

So what do you think?

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