[permaculture] Democratic solutions to Permacultures conflicts?

bwaldrop at cox.net bwaldrop at cox.net
Sun Jul 29 12:48:25 EDT 2007


I think the "top down" model is inherently a problem for permaculture.  I suspect that the strongest national organizations grow from the bottom up.  

I have some small and successful experience in organizing, most recently, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.  In the beginning, I wrestled with the idea of "who am I to get this started"?  I answered that by saying to myself, "I am the one who plants seed."  The first thing I did was start a listserv discussion group, and I sent a message to all Oklahoma area groups and listservs that I thought would be interested.

This began a cyber-discussion, which led to a series of meetings held across the state.  Each meeting elected a representative to an organizing committee.  The organizing committee began to meet every month, and within six months we had decided on our cooperative form of organization, and began selling shares.

I think that the cooperative model (speaking of the legal structure known as a cooperative) has a lot of appeal for a national permaculture organization.  The Oklahoma Food Cooperative has been self-financed from the beginning by the sale of member shares (at $50/each), and through commissions paid by the producers and customers who use our service.  We the Oklahoma Food cooperative see ourselves as a service to these producers and customers.

The downside is that donations to cooperatives are generally not tax deductible, but one advantage is the sense of actual ownership and responsibility that comes with owning "one share of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative".  I have heard that in some states it is possible to organize a "non-profit cooperative", but I don't know about the tax deductible status of such groups.  One of the other local food cooperatives in another state that is following our model is organized as a "non-profit cooperative", and I will check with them to see if they are eligible for 501-c-3 tax deductions.

Another thing we could think about might be a series of workshops to work on a permaculture design for a national permaculture organization.  This would have the advantage of supporting diverse, grassroots involvement.  Through the design process, many questions about the organization could be developed and answered, and its structure, purpose, financing and etc could be described.  A dedicated listserv for the purpose could be established to support the on-going development work.  Just as with a regular PDC, people could pay to attend these workshops, thus providing financial support for the development process.  The design could even be done as a "distance learning" event, such as the online Barking Frogs permaculture design course I have been involved with the past two years.  This would allow people with travel and time issues to participate.

I personally think the "lineage" aspect of permaculture is one of its strengths.  I suspect that while holding to core PC principles, each lineage has its own unique take on the subject matter and its application.  A workable, effective, national permaculture organization would reflect the great diversity of the permaculture movement.  One way to do that would be to identify the present teaching lineages, and then invite those lineages to appoint people to work on the permaculture design process for a national permaculture organization.  Indeed, the eventual national board of directors could be elected by the present teaching lineages..

Finally, it may be that the reason that we don't have a national permaculture organization at this time is that "the time remains premature".  Succession works in invisible structures, just as it does in meadows, prairies, forests, and permaculture projects.  Jump-starting succession is always problematic, so that may have something to do with the problems thus far.  Perhaps the time is ripe, though, for movement to a next stage.

Bob Waldrop, tadpole in training


---- toby at patternliteracy.com wrote: 
> Kevin et al,
> 
> I do think it's time for a national Pc organization in the US, and more broadly, an upgrading of what holding a PDC certificate means. Jedd made some excellent points, and as he suggests, there have been a number of attempts to form national or large regional membership organizations in the US. They have all failed. There were a couple of attempts before I was doing Pc that others can speak about, there was PINA (Pc Inst of North America) in the eighties, there is the dormant Eastern Permaculture Teachers Association, and there is the stillborn Western Permaculture Teachers Association. Principle difficulties have been burnout, lack of funding, lack of support, too little time to take on the enormous task of organizing, and difficulty in agreeing (or even determining) what the organization's function is. There is also a knee-jerk reaction: "Who are those people to create an organization?" which gets to the top-down issue. Thing is, those who are organizing would be delighted 
>  if someone else wanted to do it, but no one does.
> 
> Questions need to be answered before the process can begin: 
> 
> 1. What is the function of the organization? To police teachers and enforce how the curriculum is taught, to get accreditation or other clout behind the certificate, to offer a clearing house for course resources, to raise money for Pc projects, or something else?
> 
> 2. How will people find the time and money to begin the organizing process? We're all busy, so how do we make time to meet? And setting up a non-profit takes lawyers, a website, and other things that cost money. Do the original organizers just dig into their pockets and pay, and take time away from other projects that may be more promising than one more try at organizing? (I shelled out a couple hundred bucks of my own money for WPTA and it's simply gone.)
> 
> 3. Who gets to organize it? Even the creation of an interim board causes a certain amount of resentment among those not on the board. And how do you draw committed and talented people to the organizing committee who will stick with it? All it took to kill WPTA was for a couple of the organizers to get too busy to reply to a couple of critical emails, and the project stalled. You need those one or two people who will spearhead and drive something to its end no matter what. That really means giving up all your other projects. You must find someone willing to make that level of commitment.
> 
> 4. How are decisions made? As Jedd said, majority rule can mean 49% or more may disagree with a decision, and consensus done as a national (non-face-to-face) organization would be pretty time consuming.
> 
> I can think of lots of other questions. Of course, all of these have been answered by the many groups that have formed national organzations, so it makes you wonder why permaculturists have been unable or unwilling to do so. I think Pc has made a huge amount of progress without one, but I also suspect we'd have university-level courses, accreditation, better-funded projects, and a better reputation and track record if we did. I agree that some of the inertia has come from a lack of trust in organizations, as well as a lack of perceived need. Perhaps Pc doesn't attract good organizers, although I don't see how that can be the case. Another challenge may be a lack of understanding how (and why) to structure a grass-roots, fairly anarchic movement into a national organization. But I would support, and even aid, an effort to do so.
> 
> Toby
> http://patternliteracy.com
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