What Permaculture Got Wrong | Shades of Green Blog


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Hi there! Welcome to the PawPaw Patch blog, a place to learn and grow. We've been up to this for a while, so I want to share what we've learned in the field so we can accelerate change together. Stay a while and say hello!

Hi, I'm Brandy.



What Permaculture Got Wrong

Dec 1, 2020

A true and radical transition goes so much deeper than ecological health, and yet it begins with rooting and relating to the land that supports us.

So many times, I’ve wanted to separate from this word permaculture. 

And then I ask myself⏤am I fleeing? In my mind, to flee is to refuse to lean into discomfort. I feel a deep grief in using a word that is inherently antithetical to centering indigenous voices. Permaculture is a word created by white men to over-simplify and make palatable what indigenous people have always known, so it can be received by modernized, post-industrial, capitalist ears. There’s so much more that’s needed than permaculture if we are to truly find our way back to the Big Story and the deep knowing that it’s all alive, interconnected, and intelligent. 

So, then, what did permaculture get wrong? Firstly, it’s not gonna save anyone or anything. I think it’s a start, but it is not the destination. A true and radical transition goes so much deeper than ecological health, and yet it begins with rooting and relating to the land that supports us. The land that is us. Indo-European “to be” languages are the languages of colonizing⏤they separate humans from home⏤and to try to put words to something inherently connected using a language that is intrinsically disconnected is paradoxical at best. 

There’s a grinding deep in my soul that simultaneously feels like a prolonged ancestral trauma that manifests as a need to flee and a longing to be from somewhere. That is something whiteness robs from the world, and staying put is to push against the current that drives whiteness to continually find the next “pristine” place and suck the life out of it to try to absorb the “goodness” and repudiate the “badness,” just as it always has. But perhaps healing begins with holding two dissonant thoughts as true at the same time.

I continue to use the word permaculture, even as I see its limitations, because I think it’s vital to our collective healing to build bridges from where we are to where we are going. From the beginning of starting Shades of Green, I have felt that it is my duty not to be a gatekeeper but to help put back together “a world that is clouded by amnesia,” as one of my teachers, Martin Prechtel, says. 

As a white, modern person in a city, living a life of commerce, I feel an obligation to constantly unpack and unlearn so that I can find ways to push against the current of amnesia that tries to forget in order to be comfortable⏤the amnesia of forgetting the heartbreak of being so uprooted and disconnected from the earth-loving, life-giving cultures we came from and supplanted into one built on greed, consumerism, and extraction of people and land. 

If we genuinely want a just world, the only way forward that I see is to lean into discomfort. Acknowledging our shortcomings and mistakes is uncomfortable. Feeling our grief is uncomfortable. Staying put is uncomfortable, but building a relationship with the home that supports us and is within us is to resist. The radical act of staying put allows us to remake home and to root deeply into a place⏤to belong to the land, rather than the other way around. 


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  1. aaron pincus says:

    I truly sense your words bursting into thousands of fields of flowers that feed bees of future seasons. And
    future season of our children, and future seasons of their children.

    And your words cut to the deep hurt of being in a culture driven by “whiteness”: maybe the biggest eraser of the more beautiful life-giving cultures which I long to be part of.

  2. Mark Ogilvie says:

    Brandy, your struggle is ours. Your words remind me of the homeplace-centered essays of Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry, an imperfect man, but a man of heart and vision and to me, a role model, as are you. As we grow toward the light, our own leaves and branches may momentarily block our view, but we shall regain our purpose and direction if we continue steadfast in the knowledge that we are part of something greater than ourselves and greater than the dissonance of our plastic culture.

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