“I would say that permaculture is all about attuning ourselves to the way things are, in a world that is very much in full swing, and harmonizing with that existing process in a way that meets our own needs, and the needs of those around us, simultaneously. By thinking things through very carefully before acting, and investing a lot of energy initially into a smart design, we can create highly productive systems that don’t require a lot of ongoing maintenance, and pay for themselves again and again in the energy they give back to us. That’s sustainability in action.” ~ Lunaya Shekinah of GaiaCraft
From the wondrous Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the beautiful terraced mountainsides of Tahuantinsuyo, permaculture practices have been utilized by many of our world’s most advanced civilizations throughout the ages. However, in our current age where industrialized and biochemical cultivation techniques have become the status quo in gardening and agricultural, most people are unfamiliar with its basic principles or even the term altogether. Can you perhaps define the tenets of permaculture at a foundational level for newcomers to the process? Are most permaculture techniques devised through observing and perhaps duplicating the organic regenerative processes of nature?
Yes, long before the term “permaculture” was coined by Bill Mollison, it was used as a design practice by many different advanced cultures. Indeed, the common sense of modeling our designs after the genius of nature is not new, and has always yielded the most productive, resilient, energy-efficient and beautiful systems in the garden and all aspects of human culture.
Those wanting an introduction to what permaculture is about might check out my “Introduction to Permaculture” article on Light Science. Permaculture is a design approach which can be applied to organic gardening, or any other aspect of our lives, such as our relationships, business, or life direction. By first anchoring our design in a very intensive mapping and observation process, we ground ourselves in to the lay of the land and what we have to work with. This allows us to make sensitive and informed design decisions as we integrate the substance of our observations. In permaculture, the actual application of our designs (the digging, hammering, and setting up of things) is an incredibly small part of the process, relatively speaking. Compare that to the way industrial society tends to do things, and you have a stark contrast and a clear picture of why so much damage has been done socially and environmentally at this point.
Permaculture has had so many different definitions. Quickly summing it up in a few words has become a popular art form, and the inspiring ways that people have done that are really something to behold. I would say that permaculture is all about attuning ourselves to the way things are, in a world that is very much in full swing, and harmonizing with that existing process in a way that meets our own needs, and the needs of those around us, simultaneously. By thinking things through very carefully before acting, and investing a lot of energy initially into a smart design, we can create highly productive systems that don’t require a lot of ongoing maintenance, and pay for themselves again and again in the energy they give back to us. That’s sustainability in action.
Gaiacraft is rapidly gaining the recognition as a rising star in the international permaculture movement. Through offering a wealth of valuable knowledge and tools to engage in safe, healthy, and sustainable growing practices in our homes and communities, you have demonstrated a lasting source of integrity and vision at the heart of your mission. Yet I can only surmise this momentous project derived from humble origins. How did the Gaiacraft initiative come about? What inspired the development of this instrumental permaculture program?
Delvin Solkinson and Ainsley Krone originally founded Gaiacraft in 2002 when they started a truly inspiring government funded full-time youth empowerment and Earth stewardship program called Eco-Tech. This amazing program allowed a small group of exceptional young people to transition between High School and College by doing their Permaculture Design Certification (or PDC) as a group, combined with a whole host of other life-skills to prepare them for the work force. Eco-Tech was a huge inspiration in how a community of Earth stewards could work as a collective to meet crucially important goals and drive a variety of related projects, empowering, inspiring, and educating people while linking them together as a team.
Here’s a great video about the program :
You recently released a magnificent permaculture workbook. A compendium hosting a series of vital information compiled after years of patient collaboration with many of the world’s foremost authorities on permaculture subject matter. How did the inspiration for this workbook come about?
For a couple of years I was lucky enough to be living in the same home as Delvin Solkinson, my valued colleague and one of the founders of Gaiacraft. In that time, I was a professional graphic designer and illustrator, and we were working with great dedication on several interconnected projects that involved the combination of my beautfiul design skills with Delvin’s inspired writing and research. It was a tremendously focused and productive time for us, and our seriousness about combining our talents during that unique window of opportunity helped generate a lot of momentum.
Delvin was already teaching permaculture courses, and at that time it made sense for us to look at creating universal “hand outs” for his classes which of course could be shared with anyone on our team for their use as well. I was planning to teach permaculture too, so this was also a personal investment for myself. Once we had a few of these prepared, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to create a larger body of hand outs that could eventually form a whole system such as a book. The amazing potential for these to be widely shared with the world community was a huge motivating factor for us – we felt that this project could really make a difference and wanted to ride the wave of this great idea.
As an offering to the World Community, Gaiacraft has recently released a second part in a series of free educational media platforms exploring permaculture in a new dynamic fashion. Featuring 32 principles sourced from textbooks the world over, this is perhaps the largest collection of these foundational concepts ever gathered. And not to mention, this information is being shared in the truly innovative style of a functional learning-teaching Gaiacraft card deck. What inspired the use of a card deck to introduce these important permaculture concepts? Does each card hold a separate permaculture technique, like individual recipe cards? Or are they designed to ultimately be used in conjunction with one another?
The Gaiacraft Principles Card Deck came out of that same focused time when Delvin and I were living together and brainstorming great collaborative projects to empower our practice. David Holmgren sparked our imaginations with his original idea to make a card set for teaching about the principles. We wanted to take the idea even further by including more principles and using it as a starting point for a series of interconnected learning-teaching tools that can work together. For example, one related project, not currently slated for larger distribution, is a set of cards representing elements that may be invoked in the permaculture design of a property, such as a garden, barn, areas for grazing of animals… etc. We wanted to use the principles deck not just as flash cards, but as a way of informing an educational and/or real-life exploration of a property design with dynamic moving pieces.
This is not the first card deck that Delvin and I have worked on together. We had been thinking for years about ways that a simple deck can have a myriad different functions, and in this and several other ways we were modeling the principles themselves by expanding our notion of how they could be used; It’s all about the bigger picture. The cards can be drawn at random, read as if they were pages in a book, or even handed out to friends for the sake of sharing ideas. One more example of this multi-functionality is a board game that I’m developing right now, which, kinda like Monopoly, has sets of cards that go along with it, including this one. This exciting game will act as a spring-board for a variety of new educational tools that will come into play in relation to it. Across a dynamic sheath of time, space, and consciousness, this new game will push the boundaries of how Gaiacraft education can play out in our everyday lives. Stay tuned!
It is clear that these projects required a vast amount of time, energy, and resource. Why did the Gaiacraft team ultimately choose to offer a downloadable pdf of this project for free? Can you speak toward the importance of open source sharing at this critical juncture in the human story?
Every step of the way with these projects, we’ve been wanting to expand the value in what we were already doing for ourselves and our immediate communities of students and allies. With a subject as vitally important as permaculture right now, it has always felt crucial to explore how we could not only support ourselves as teachers, but also support everyone else at the same time, no matter what their area of expertise or focus in the area. After taking a close look at our own personal goals and skillsets in relation to this, we realized that it could actually take away from our growth as teachers to charge for our work rather than giving it away for free. We knew that charging for it could cause it to reach less people and we would not get the same publicity and respect for our efforts.
To illustrate this, I want to share a quote from the Dalai Lama :
It is important that when pursing our own self-interest we should be “wise selfish” and not “foolish selfish”. Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.
I would add to the Dalai Lama’s powerful and moving words by saying that it also means being generous. As he has pointed out in his other talks, generosity begins as what he calls “generosity of the heart”, and from there can take many forms, such as material generosity. I feel that Gaiacraft is moving from that place, in our active quest to be as valuable to the world community as possible, with or without immediate financial reward.
Gaiacraft’s pioneering approach to permaculture – utilizing open source media exchange seems to hold an organic quality all its own. As mother earth lovingly provides us with abundant resources allowing us to do with it what we shall ~ the choice truly falls into our hands as to what we make of this world and life experience. In the very same spirit of this selfless offering, Gaiacraft provides a bounty of knowledge and tools for free to the collective allowing those with the passion and intention ~ yet perhaps without the investment capital to take a course or workshop ~ to begin their journey into sustainable future. Is part of your goal to present an alternative model for information exchange that is as sustainable as the practices your sharing? How do you envision reciprocity to look like through this offering…how do you envision receivers of these free educational platforms to pay it forward?
I could not agree more that open source sharing is a powerful model for the present-future of humanity. The more valuable the content is, the more powerful it becomes as a vehicle for our collective evolution. Gaiacraft can’t take credit for coming up with that, but we are so honored to be on the forefront of a movement that aims to make it very popular and commonplace, even outside of its modern birthplace of online music sharing. The practice of generosity is rewarding in a very concrete sense, although the exact ways that it comes back to you is not necessarily clear until the act has been carried out. This is a law of the universe, a simple fact of nature. All things are connected, and simple acts of love spiral out into the world and then spiral back in again. How has humanity forgotten this ancient wisdom?
Music sharing is a perfect metaphor for how this works. Napster originally popularized the commonplace nature of music piracy, and this was largely scorned and illegalized. However, the incredible way that this often generated revenue and popularity for artists who would not otherwise had a chance in the business changed the face of the music industry altogether and had a big influence on how artists choose to sell their work. Now it is a well-known practice to share music freely or by donation. A fabulous example is the enormous revenue generated by Radiohead’s groundbreaking album “In Rainbows”, which was sold online for a very small minimum donation (with the option of paying more), and managed to make millions of dollars on downloads, while selling more hard copies of the album than they had ever previously sold on their prior releases.
Such momentous projects could never have been accomplished without the help of many extraordinary minds and compassionate hearts at their core. Can you speak on the importance of collaboration and co-creativity at this very important time in our earth’s history? Are there any contributors in particular that have remained a pivotal source of inspiration and guidance for your team from its inception?
If I had to choose one thing that permaculture is all about, I would say community, if not relationships in general. As Delvin likes to phrase it, “Alone we are strong, together we are stronger”.
Since its inception with Delvin and Ainsley in 2002, the Gaiacraft crew has expanded to include many wonderful teachers and activists from all over the world. Perhaps the most exciting example is our amazing online network of permaculture allies, which we call the Gaiacraft Network Systems : http://gaiacraft.ning.com . At the moment we have 226 active members, many of whom are using the platform to blog about their own outreach and design projects, make friends with people who can actively support them on their path, share educational resources and celebrate permaculture as an integrated part of their lives. This incredible resource is sure to keep growing, and we in the core Gaiacraft crew (consisting of 13 members) are so excited to watch our collective momentum expand.
These days, with the pressing threats of possible human extinction or near-extinction, environmental disaster, and socio-economic collapse facing us as a species, the #1 most common critique of humanity’s response that I keep hearing, is the concern that most people seem to be apathetic. There are many theories about why, in particular, the notion that overwhelming grief and fear around these touchy subjects is causing people to be psychologically overloaded, leading to denial and feelings of disempowerment. There are other factors too. Yet there is no doubt that the most powerful solutions are those which can be harnessed by as many people as possible. So, how to approach making that a reality?
One permaculture principle that deserves to be noted here is called “Start Small”. For example, one of the most successful environmental movements in terms of the sheer number of people who got on board with it, was the depopularization and near elimination of Styrofoam packaging. So many people made it their personal mission to complain about the issue to stores and restaurants that it made a huge difference and the problem was largely addressed. A similar thing is happening now with plastic bags. Small issues are less overwhelming and emotionally easier to address for the masses.
Gaiacraft has always been fundamentally interested in reaching as many people as possible. We believe that fun, simple, and grounded solutions for more common, everyday issues are the way to reach the millions. Like how to make our daily salad cheaper and more delicious while maximizing the beauty and available space on our deck, or how to save money on promoting our business while fulfilling some of our other social needs in life. We feel that our efforts in this way are just in their infant stages, and by continuing to develop new projects and building from what we’ve created so far, we hope to be very widely received over the years.
We find ourselves at the epicenter of a powerful transformation unfolding within our planet, the likes of which we may have never before experienced as a species. Yet it appears more and more each day that as a collective we have a conscious choice in determining how this paradigm shift will ultimately play out. Will we continue to live as occupiers of Mother Earth under a delusion that she is ours to manipulate and control…or shall we awaken and honor the call in our hearts to become conscious stewards of our planet and all its inhabitants?
I think I speak for all of our core crew members at Gaiacraft when I say that we do believe that humanity and the biological community of this planet can survive this dangerous yet compelling rite of passage in our great time. It is very important to look honestly at the grim possibilities that our current trajectory may lead us to collectively, and yet we must also remember that a fatalistic acceptance of the worst case scenario can very truly create that reality as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Speaking very realistically, there is hope. And right now more than ever, we must cherish every last thread of that hope as our most important guide post along this awe-inspiring journey of evolution as a people.
Joanna Macy speaks of our time as a “Great Turning”, a time when humanity is finally “coming of age” on a global scale. Our new-found sense of global community propelled by the internet and gloalization, and shared international sense of environmental threat can be powerful tools for our collective awakening. As Macy points out, the baby boomers were the first generation of people to realize that humanity could be completely wiped out during the span of their expected generation. Environmentally speaking, the they have facilitated more damage to the world than any previous generation by far, coming back again to the collective, unprocessed fear and grief that seems to stop people from acting responsibly. The nuclear threat completely changed our collective psyche and launched us into a process that is very rapidly unfolding right now. I believe that is a massive process of global awakening. There is a period of shock, and then a sudden overwhelming response and great efforts to turn things around. There is still time, and I am seeing a huge wave of transformation gearing up to pour through our world with its love and desire to heal.
Be a part of that wave of healing, and rise up to the occasion now!
The great blossoming of Spring is right around the corner. Where is the Gaiacraft lightship headed next? Is your team currently offering any instructional courses, workshops, or certificate programs for those interested in pursuing a career path in permaculture?
Gaiacraft is indeed offering some exciting courses, including an advanced 2-year Permaculture Diploma course for those who have already completed their Permaculture Design Certification or PDC, and other PDC courses and shorter workshops in New York and British Columbia, Canada. My own project Light Science will also be offering a 5-week introductory course in Vancouver focusing on how to apply permaculture to our own lives, businesses and urban lifestyles. On Light Science, you can see all the currently offered courses from Gaiacraft or LS at this link :
And by signing up for our newletter, you can be kept in the loop:
We also plan to be continually coming out with new educational tools and media, so stay tuned!
Interview By Ehren Taytakura of Solpurpose and Lunaya Shekhina of Gaiacraft