Why Do Permaculture?
The Diverse Beauty of Our Work
Regardless of how we might teach it, there’s not one singular way of doing permaculture. That ship sailed long ago. You can find a core of design principles at least referenced by many different folks, but the implementation of those principles and the patterns we develop them through vary as much as the ecosystems we’re all working with.
Like nature, permaculture is messy. Our practice of creating and sustaining more harmonious ways of living is a work-in-progress. And all this is okay. The dominant culture we’re all leaving is on its self-destruct sequence, and all the experiments we’re putting our lives into replacing it with are the only way through it.
I don’t share all this to be pessimistic or to denigrate any specific projects for not being ‘enough.’ I do share it because I think that in order for us to get the most out of this work we do, for our work to be most effective for us and our ecosystems, and for our own participation in this work to be emotionally sustainable for us to continue, it’s critical that we knowingly embrace our why. And it’s important that we recognize the innate diversity to those whys and the journeys that bring us each here.
Labors of Love
Not many folks are making a killing from permaculture. And that’s honestly all good because it shows that we’re achieving goals of self-sufficiency, not commodification and wealth hoarding. At the same time, that means that a lot of the hands-on work in permaculture can be a labor of love, especially in the beginning stages of a project before a steady yield is obtained. And when you’re working for free, you’ve got to know why you’re doing it and you’ve got to see how the work you’re doing that day is growing your why into the future, otherwise you’re never going to find the motivation to get up in the morning.
I’ve been there before. I’ve been involved in projects that I eventually realized were out of alignment with my core values, that weren’t giving me joy or a significant yield, and that were demanding too much of my time to not provide a balance one way or another. Leaving can be one of the most challenging things we do, yet leaving is at the root of this work, isn’t it? We’re all leaving the dominant culture by one garden or another. I mean, permaculture is challenging us to cultivate a healthier relationship to nature, and the core of that relationship is a restoration of our lives to the ecosystem. If our work is out of balance with that, then we’re out of balance, and there’s no restoration happening. It’s just alternative labor. And that’s not our ecological niche.
Knowing the why that bring us to this work gives us a vision and values to fall back on. Our why helps us stay oriented in our relationship between self and ecology. Our why gives us a means to hold our projects and ourselves accountable.
Why I Do This
For me there has always been something perverse in dominant culture that I have intuitively desired to reject. I’m happiest on a mountain trail or in a canoe. I’m happy with my hands and feet in the soil, counting worms, and planting for bees.
When I was a teenager, my dream version of adult me worked in fields of leafy greens, broke gender norms, made and dyed all their own clothes, and smiled from a face cracked by deep and tanned laugh lines. In those days, there was a lot of dreaming—a lot of imagery and visualization—needed to know what my why looked like. It wasn’t until adulthood turned out differently, that caring for my health independently became necessary, and when taking stock of the ways modern civilization sickened me—not just metaphorically, but physically in disabling illnesses—that I realized it wasn’t just a dream I had, it was a need communicated from my very soul.
Over time it’s become more and more impossible to avoid the destructive reality of modern living played out in not just our bodies but the disappearing wild and the entire planet herself. In the face of climate data and other observations, I cannot muster the passivity to remain indifferent. And just as well, I cannot muster the disempowerment to restrict my work to social media outrage or lobbying the powers that be. There is an unavoidable connection between my health, the planet’s health, and all the soils and waters and wild things between us. And it must be cared for, now.
From all of that my passion for tending and teaching a vegan permaculture emerges. My need to get roots in the soil, to collect data on low-tech, no-till, stock-free gardening, to welcome and tend the indigenous wild in all its forms, and to divest entirely from this destructive civilization we are born into—all are responses to this immediate ecological health crisis affecting Earth and all her children. Multi-species wellness. Tikkun olam. This is why I’m in this movement. This is why I do this work.
Claim Your Niche
Whether we’re confident enough to own them at any given moment, we all have stories. We are all motivated by goals and core values. Nature is calling forth a neurodiverse ocean to play her long-game of life on this planet.
You can be in permaculture without knowing why. You can explore and feel it out. You can get involved in as many projects as you’re able to. And at the end of the day, I can guarantee that if you don’t know why you’re doing it, and if the work you choose to do isn’t in alignment to that why, you won’t find happiness doing any of it.
This type of work—this type of world-repairing—can be absolutely joyful. That soul level happiness is a currency the dominant culture rarely capitalizes on. I find it in the work I do now at my house and in the wild spaces near me. I can see my deep laugh lines forming. I know what joy feels like. And I’ll know it when I find it in other projects that call on me.
My hope is that you find the same. My hope is that you know your why and know how to listen for the work that aligns to it.
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Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org