As Permaculture Design represents a big picture, systems-thinking approach to problem solving, MG and the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center are working with a methodology we’ve labeled Liberation Permaculture—the notion that oppressed people can draw upon ancient methods of living in balance with their environment to build resilience and regain social, political and economic independence.
“Permaculture, being a design system for creating regenerative human settlements, is a key instrument for communities in developing small-scale solutions,” says Carla Pérez, co-director of theMovement Generation Justice & Ecology Project. According to Pérez, the current “long chain” economic model of supply and demand and its often toxic side effects, such as environmentally hazardous resource extraction and cheap labor, most deeply affect marginalized communities.
Permaculture for the People
The Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project and the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center first unveiled Liberation Permaculture in April of 2010 through a 2-week intensive called “Permaculture for the People.” The course was offered to targeted participants—groups of organizing staff and member-leaders from community-based social justice organizations such as POWER (San Francisco) and Urban Tilth(Richmond).
The course’s Permaculture Design projects centered on the physical sites occupied by the participating organizations, with an understanding that participants would incorporate the principles of Permaculture into their social justice work after the course was over.
“The course was unique in that it was divided between a rural and an urban setting,” says Pérez. “After a week at OAEC, the group made its way back to the city, where participants spent time doing planning and sector mapping at their design sites.”
MG and OAEC encouraged participants to stay in touch after the course, especially about how to implement resilience-based strategies in their work in an ongoing way. This opened the door for several collaborations in the past 3 years, such as Urban Tilth’s “all hands on deck” work parties to turn an abandoned school’s baseball field into a community farm.
Liberation Permaculture is also manifested through MG’s Earth Skills Training Program, which Pérez coordinates. “The trainings are a space for people to reconnect to some of the basic resources we once knew how to use to provide for our own needs,” says Pérez.
These free, equal-access sessions are held in spaces run by organizations looking for help with implementing Permaculture Designs. The People’s Grocery in West Oakland hosted a rainwater harvesting training, for instance, and the catchment system set up during the training now irrigates their garden. Other training sessions have focused on urban beekeeping, soil building, composting, greywater installation, and plant medicine.
“Earth Skills training is not just skills training,” Pérez explains. “Every skill is deeply contextualized and politicized. One beehive is not going to save the world and restore biological diversity. What we’re building is people’s awareness of and ability to provide their own needs from local resources, and a willingness to collaborate with each other on a small scale. That’s what makes it important.”
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