My heroine & guruette:Alicia Bay Laurel #AliciaBayLaurel . In 1970 she wrote the handwritten, hand-drawn Living On The Earth. In recently re-reading it I became very unhappy with myself. So today I sought redemption. I split Russian olive firewood. I had forgotten the Zen of wood chopping, hurt my shoulder, regrouped and finished in the breath of it. I turned off the furnace and the fire is built and ready. Humble but proud, I then made my first attempt at homemade hummus…it turned out amazing!! Im adding avocado and will try very hard to not eat the entire batch for dinner!!! Next: making flatbread from scratch. Don’t get me wrong; there will always be a grocery list (especially with our growing season!!) This was a really good day. Tomorrow: More wood; buffaloberry jam; plumbing new rain/irrigation barrels… as the next sub-freezing snow event floats in. (My deepest thanks to Don who replaced the old busted ax handle and sharpened the blade.🙏)
“Each plant in each specific location under each specific moment of conditions responds specifically. You can work to create the best set of circumstances to support and encourage the best ecology for that plant even to its best death. Study in-depth or take a seed and stick it in the ground and water it. Then observe, learn, try again. When you figure it out the 8 year cycle of grasshoppers will pop. You will do everything you can and still be overwhelmed. You will wait a year and start over. Thus is nature. Live IN it. Don’t get too cerebral. Stay light on your feet and ready to learn. Or else you will miss the important stuff. Then pick that sweet ripe berry or grape, eat it and smile. The End… and The Beginning.”
The life of plants is not a mystery, but it is completely enmeshing. I believe that all approaches to horticulture should be held up to a very wise bit of advice:”Do not believe in what you have heard; do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; do not believe anything because it is rumored and spoken of by many; do not believe merely because the written statement of some old sage is produced; do not believe in conjectures; do not believe merely in the authority of your teachers and elders. After observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it”. Who knew Gautama Buddha was a gardener… in other words, take that seed, stick it in the soil, tend to it and see what happens. Oh and don’t wash your hands right away. Moon or no moon.
A culture of personality, permaculture Fathers and their “North of the 38th Parallel” off-spring (again I have to say no Earth Mothers here) have found notoriety through online videos, bits and pieces of beautiful, lush and verdant landscape. One Father that has intrigued me for some time is Geoff Lawton. His most well-known project is the Jordan Valley Project covered in several videos entitled “Greening the Desert.” I think this project is a great example of how social science and community organizing must be part of this work…well, at least if you want to share the wealth.
Shortly after my first viewing of “Greening the Desert” One, Two and the updates, I began to wonder what had happened that the site had not continued to be treated under the permaculture practices and why the funding had been discontinued. Why had new funding sources not been developed?
The issue of funding and what may have happened to the original source for the first Jordan Valley site is touched on when the narrator of the video states that a second site is being considered which will be obtained with funds directly from the Permaculture Research Institute – the organization closely associated with Geoff Lawton. There were references to having control over the funding so that an outside funding source would not be able to discontinue funding or control how a site is developed.
The majority of articles and videos about the Jordan Valley project present it as a huge success, if not inspirational. According to these sources all of the practices implemented worked, even if for a limited time. Success seemed to be measured by the growth of the plants, by the presence of moisture. By carefully worded subtitles on the screen it was implied that the human community had abandoned the project site. We see bare cropping areas, a facility that had been built as a training facility, and goats wandering freely, allowed to browse wherever, when ever. An article entitled “Permaculture Greens the Jordanian Desert, But Why Are People Wary?” by Sami Grover, dated October 14, 2010 states:
“While the drip irrigation systems demonstrated in the video are impressive, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the project is reliant on volunteer labor from abroad—while the volunteers describe how the local population has a hard time understanding the idea of saving and using rain water. It’s yet another reminder that outsiders can only do so much when it comes to ‘development’ work—ultimately we have to find solutions that communities will adopt and run with themselves.”
“The second rule: Never go outside the experience of your people.” This quote is from Saul Alinsky, one of the greatest community organizers of the 20th century. Along with horticulture and soil science, anyone hoping to share the concepts of permaculture in an effort to improve the quality of life on this planet NEEDS to read Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Where ever you see the word “enemy” in that text insert the words “fear/ignorance”.
If, for whatever reason, we believe that it is our mission to “help” those who we perceive to be leading impoverished lives, we had better first find out how those communities see themselves. We may believe that our methods and behaviors will bring what we have defined as a ‘better quality of life’. It is only self-serving and narcissistic to assume that we know best. If we have tools to offer we let others know of them and watch vigilantly for a door to open. Even then, we must enter with humility and with many questions and an open mind so that we provide only that which is asked and in such a way as to support the values of the community asking. Authority is never in the outsider. The safety offered by authority is the only way that a community will take the risk to try something outside of their experience even if that thing may provide them with some relief.
From the minimal research I have done for this review I believe that Mr. Lawton will only find his form of “success” by being more in control of his project site and by inviting “the choir” to come to the site to do all of the ground work. As a last note, there was one website which was extremely caustic in its reports of Lawton’s lack of “people skills” and his disrespectful treatment of “students” who paid high fees to “learn” at his facility. In every report there is a thread of truth and a great deal of the author’s perception and interpretation. If only a thread is true, it was a sad and damaging report. Another Internet site offered an email from Scott Pittman, Director, Permaculture Institute, dated December 24 2010 which not only questioned Lawton’s motives and ethics, but grieved the loss of Bill Mollison as an active member of the international movement. Apparently his skill at pedagogy and his work with people was a substantially positive influence in the movement.
It is a sad commentary on the permaculture movement that the most well known “teachers” do no advise their “students” to always think critically, testing ideas and applications as the Buddha advised his followers:
“When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.” – The Kalama Sutra