"State of Our Permaculture Union". Interview with Lisa DePiano, Permaculturist & Keynote Speaker, 2012 NE Permaculture Convergence by Willi Paul, Permaculture Exchange
“Permaculture is more than just gardening. It is a vision, a design system and a movement. Over the last decade, we have seen the movement grow and expand in ways we never imagined. This past year permaculture made national news for its contributions to the Occupy Movement and was recognized by the White House. This groundswell of activity puts permaculture at a tipping point. How can we use our ethics, principles, design process and lessons learned from allied movements to guide us in the years to come?” - Lisa DePiano
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Interview with Lisa by Willi
What are 2 - 3 key patterns in your career so far?
* Make less than $20,000 a year
* Talk with others about what we would like to see in our community and work together to make it happen
* Surround myself with people that both challenge and inspire me
I am intrigued by your view that “humans are the keystone species for building ecological culture.” What are the alternatives, if any?
Our current social and political belief system—paints “humans” as a cancer on the planet and the ones to blame for ecological and human suffering. Not only is this incorrect it lets the root causes of ecological devastation and inequality off that hook and has us distracted, blaming each other, particularly people with less social, political and economic power.
We need to reframe our role into that of a keystone species—humans are good and we can bring the health and balance back into our world.
As a community organizer and whole systems thinker I am constantly thinking about leverage points, small changes in a system that will have profound effects. This underlying human and nature philosophy is one of those leverage points. It is where most of our current socio-political beliefs come from and shifting this will have profound effects.
How does mythology play a role in your vision? Can you imagine new stories from permaculturists in what most consider a science-based practice?
New stories are a key part of bringing forward a regenerative, ecologically and socially just culture. Not only to contradict the stories of scarcity and fear that keep us from actualizing our true potential but to build a movement that can imagine something different. Our shared collective dreams are the seeds of revolution. They help us through tough times and can remind us what we are working towards.
One of the most important stories to tell is one that is not a myth based on our history. For the last 200,000 years humans have lived in egalitarian societies. These societies, cultures around the globe, had many differences but they had several things in common. Equal access to material goods i.e. shared food, reciprocity, mutual aid. No idea of individual ownership, they used things when they needed it and put it back when it was done. Hording or accumulating goods was seen as antisocial behavior. This means that the last 500 years of social inequality has been an aberration. We are not “naturally” greedy.
Access to land is a big challenge. Ask the WholeFoods folks and the Occupy the Farm group in Albany, CA. How does permaculture increase its “socio – political acreage”?
Use our principle of edge effect to build mutually beneficial coalitions with other allied movements: Solidarity Economy, Occupy, Participatory Budgeting, Food Justice, Master Gardeners, Unions….
Do you have any ideas on how we are going to transform the oil industry-dominated industrial & urban landscape to a “permaculture oasis”?
Yes, check out a public food forest I helped create in Massachusetts, at Montview Neighborhood Farm.
Do you see a global financial and/or climate crash integrated with the so-called “transition” now under way? What impact will these events have on capitalism in your locality?
It’s important to remember that for many people living at the margins the crash occurred long ago. The economic crash that is happening now is hitting the middle class. We can learn a lot from people who have had to survive at the edges of this system. We need to rebuild our local economies with jobs that will stay in the community and that come from our regions assets, invest in worker owned businesses, become producers, build relationships, increase access to jobs for formally incarcerated, and figure out mechanism to share surplus and continue to invest in solutions. We can’t just shift to a new cultural paradigm out of fear of a crash but because it’s a better way to live.
Are we headed back to a tribal way of life? Do you live aspects of this way now?
I think there is a danger in exodicizing or romanticizing other cultures. There are many things about tribal culture that we would not want to go back to. They can however provide inspiration and lessons and perhaps most importantly illustrate other ways of living.
Permaculture without land is like a Hummer without gas! How can we create new relationships (i.e. - laws?) that will open up new sites, especially in the cities?
We need to re-frame the belief that you need to have land to practice Permaculture and that Permaculture is just about growing food. Permaculture is a framework, a way of thinking. Many people have taken this framework and turned a problem like access to land into solutions. There are countless examples of people gardening on rooftops, in containers on porches, people with land matching up with people with the desire and skills to grow food, people taking care of neglected public fruit trees and public forests. Build relationships not laws and things will open up.
Is the Occupy movement opening channels for the permaculture community or just the opposite?
The occupy movement is a disturbance in the system. It has called attention to the gross inequality in created a highly visible opportunity. It made us pay attention to the process to use our public spaces to assemble. Just like a fire in a forest it is an opening to create something different. We can have a mutually beneficial relationship with the occupy movement. We can help them make connections between different problems and the skills to design and implement solutions that illustrate that another world is possible.
Are we headed to City Councils and State Houses as permaculturists? Can we choose to avoid the political fights ahead?
Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
I believe that we need change from both inside the system, like the participatory budgeting that is happening in New York and Chicago, and on the outside. I find that I am most effective somewhere on the edge. I believe that as a movement permaculture changes things by building beautiful, productive, abundant realities that defy the myth of scarcity and illustrate abundance, that build cleaner soil, water, air. We create businesses and economies that turn waste into resources, that share the surplus and that are rooted in the assets of a community. We do our own healing work. We build solidarity with other movements for social, economic and environmental justice. We speak our truths. We have fun.
How do you propose to install sustainability processes that remain vibrant after “you leave?”
Most projects “break up” not because we don’t have the right technologies but because of social dynamics. These are the most important and difficult and exciting things to design for! Read Starhawks book the Empowerment Manual. Design for social succession! Remember that sometimes projects don’t need to last forever to be effective.
Green technology, while possibly cost-effective, often breaks or runs out of juice. Your thoughts?
Green technology or Green capitalism is not the answer to our problems. It is a band-aid on a gushing wound. We can’t get tricked into thinking that it’s the answer. It doesn’t question the "grow or die economy." Permaculture teaches us about small and slow solutions and appropriate technology.
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Lisa’s Bio -
Lisa DePiano is a certified permaculture designer, teacher and faculty member for the Yestermorrow Design/Build School and the University of Massachusetts . She is co-founder of the Montview Neighborhood Farm, a human powered urban-farm and edible forest garden in the Connecticut River Valley, and rode with the worker-owned collective Pedal People. She has a M.A. in Regional Planning and studied permaculture with Starhawk, Penny Livingston Stark, and Dave Jacke. She loves working with communities to create the world they want to live in and has taught all over the United States - from the Menominee Nation to Alaska and New York City. She currently runs the Mobile Design Lab which focuses on participatory design and education and is the lead instructor for Permaculture f.e.a.s.t .