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Re: The Permaculture Institute
In a message dated 10/12/97 11:27:06 AM, you wrote:
>It's interesting to hear some feedback about the Permaculture Institute set
>up by Scott and Bill. My hunch is that they felt there was a need for a
>national permaculture group, not to call the shots but rather to provide
>information and help coordinate projects.
>Do you think there should be a national permaculture organization? There
>could even be several of them. Just because someone makes an organization
>national in scope doesn't mean that it's the only one that can exist.
> KIRBY [@ Cross Timbers Permaculture Inst. on Lake Buchanan, TX;
>512-756-7878; web address csf.colorado.edu/perma/]
I'm going to pass on the issue of whether or not Bill and Scott would want to
control North American permaculture. This is a personality issue, and not
appropriate for a public debate unless some truely awful things are done. I'm
sure some altruistic reasons are generally part of the overall motivation.
The fact is that the first step for the group was to promote an Australian
permaculturist, not American teachers. (This has been the pattern with most
of the North American Institutes Bill established, so I can't really see
thinking that it was just to launch the institute.) Giving certificates to a
group of 125 smacks something like the loaves and fishes story. It is hard
to see how Bill evaluated the qualifications of these individuals before
issuing certificates. So we have an institute that promotes zero standards
for certification. How useful to North American permaculture!
With 2,500 people reportedly having taken certificate permaculture courses in
North America, it would seem that there is a body of people to consult.
Permaculture is based on emulating the efficient ways of Nature. Nature
uses anarchistic designs, not hierachical designs. The very structure of a
501(c)3 violates permaculture. Maybe one is useful--I'll grant that, and
I'll grant that purity never, to my knowledge, occurs in Nature. However
there are better ways to short circuit hierachical (and patriachical)
structures than having two men who are promoted by the "National"
organization, appoint themselves to the board, and then a woman who does the
organizational work of secretary/treasurer. Probably I miss some subtlety
Until someone shows me the light, I guess this is the way I see it. I don't
doubt that Bill also wants permaculture to prosper in North America. But his
design is bad in this case. He isn't using the principles he taught to me
and many, many others.
I hadn't considered the latest incarnation of what started out as NAP (North
American Permaculture) many years back as relevant enough to have an opinion
on until I was denied access to my own work on the permaculture directory.
Four people (and maybe some unsung others behind the scenes) have
contributed to the directory, whose long-awaited next edition seems to be in
some weird limbo. (It would take about two weeks to get it out.) Guy
Baldwin originated the directory in the 1980s. At that time I probably was
doing most of the permaculture outreach in North America and I use the list
several times. I always requested address corrections from the post office,
an extremely expensive service. I supported this important resoruce in every
way I could, appreciative of Guy's efforts on a vital but essentially
thankless task. Guy sold the directory to Peter Bane at the same time he
sold the Activist. I used Peter's information several times and went to some
troubles to see to it that both Guy and Peter got copies of address
corrections, to save money from being spent twice for the same info, as well
as to make sure that addresses were not lost. I put in more work when Peter
passed the list onto John making sure that John has every bit of info I had,
looking up on my rather large database (about 35,000 names and addresses) to
see if I had current addresses of "missing" people, etc. It was my opinion
that this work was to continue to be of benefit to the entire permaculture
Last month I asked John to rent me the entire list--typically we have charged
one another around 8-10 cents per address within the movement to rent lists.
He said no, policies have changed, and now only the new Institute can have
the list. John cited his opinion that Bill Mollison is "commander-in-chief"
in his explanation--I confess to being so dumbstruck by the military allusion
that I missed what Bill's role is, if any, in our constriction of any
permaculturists right to network with the rest of us. According to John,
Peter and Guy can't have the whole list either.
John did give me Florida addresses (since I am in Florida) and email
addresses since I teach an online course. I appreciate this much and of
course I continue to send corrections on that information. We do have about
1,000 permaculture graduate addresses from various sources, most of which we
cannot sell or rent due to agreements, and we used these, as we wanted to
announce our new center to the entire movement. Most of you have seen that
letter. Nothing subversive about it. About 1/8 of the addresses were out of
date resulting in a great deal of wasted money and resources (address
corrections for first mail cost $.50 plus the original postage plus the
printing costs--adds up quickly. We aren't rich.)
With the updated info Johh has, we could have avoided most of these bad
addresses and paid a lesser sum to John for his troubles instead of the post
office, which is a black hole as far as permaculture is concerned. John
would have more update info without the expense, too, as you can be damn sure
now we will not send address corrections without something back.
The addresses are something generated by a very broad base of permaculture
teachers which we all expected would continue to be available to any
permaculturist for any reason. Now the Institute, which had no role in any
of this work or expense, controls the list, at least de facto. Bill is cited
in the justification by John, who has been previously very cooperative. OK,
I didn't need to publish this, but you did ask, your question seemed sincere,
and therefore I felt honorbound to give you an adequate answer.
I went through this in more detail once, less detail another time and both
messages crashed. AOL has crappy software, in my opinion, and it has been
eating up my time today. So if I sound a bit peevish, AOL gets 99 percent of
As I explained in a more considered version of this note, this sort of thing
is to be expected. Years ago I did not understand that, and was upset when
permaculture people acted contrary to our principles. Now I see that we come
out of the Western anti-culture and that baggage is around for us to trip
over, which we do with regularity that is comical from a distance. It seems
we need to look more closely at what we bring--corporate structures, desire
to control networking information, seeing people who want training as an
income opportunity (not necessary for personal wealth--we've got that far),
and start to unpack and through out some of the necessary luggage. The
patterns from which we arise will continue to permeate our movement for a
long time to come, in my opnion. The best way to deal with them is to point
them our each time we notice them and see if there is not some alternate way
to do things better.
I have presented these views because they were requested. I'm not interested
in a debate. Flamers can have the field to themselves. I've been observing
these issues since 1981 so it may do to pause, even if you disagree, and see
if there might be something valid in my opinions. Personally, I've concluded
that the way to change these things is to change them in myself. So I'll
continue to work with John instead of blowing him off as I would have 10
years ago. I'll do him one better. However I can see that there may be
alternate directories developed as people decide that they have something to
say to North American permaculturists as a group. And Kirby your idea of
several national or continental organizations will be a fantasy if people
can't contact one another to contact them.
Our own work has been, in part, concerned with developing other forms of data
bases that will enable all manner of connections. We encourage people to
contact one another, indivudally and as groups, to form their own webs of
exchange and cooperation, for example through our TRIP (The Resources of
International Permaculture) directory. We publish the information, anyone
can use it, and we'll sell a disk with the information to anyone who wants
it. The course graduate directory used to be available on a similar basis.
Now that the new Institute has formed it is not.
Anyone who wants to contact John Irwin directly for clarification can email
him at firstname.lastname@example.org John is a good guy who is trying to do
his bit. I sure disagree with his decisions, but I would feel badly if
anyone flamed him because of this post. I'd be delighted to read some
clarification in this discussion group as I am at a loss as to what purpose
constricting our ability to network serves.
I didn't do very well staying out of this discussion, but you can belive I am
going to try harder. The time spent away from implementing our design isn't
worth discussion of something that will self-destruct, with any luck, in a
few years anyway.
For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and now correspondence
courses via email. Next starts in Oct. 1997. Internships available.
Copyright, 1997, Dan & Cynthia Hemenway, P.O. Box 52, Sparr FL 32192 USA
We don't have time to rush.