Permaculture is Leadership

For students of Leadership, the study of Permaculture is an extremely complimentary pursuit.

Most recent and poignant leadership thought focuses on servant leadership – as Simon Sinek says, “Leaders who get the most from their people are leaders who care the most about their people.” Sinek’s (pronounced Sin-ek) approach to leadership is predicated on the idea that people need to feel inspired by a vision, or a nearly intangible “why” before they are ready to be moved to action. This means learning about your people, and what they need. This means people-care.

People care is a central tenet of Permaculture. People care, animal care, and earth care are what make many Permaculturists tick. We realize that without a healthy environment, which we can promote through responsible and holistic land-management practices, there can be no true people care. What good does it do to to provide for a human’s needs, and provide care, if you are participating in a system that is fundamentally destroying the environment for their children, or if the sustenance you are giving them comes at the cost of losing future fertility? So, real leadership is also helping people to realize how they fit into the web of life, and how they can help perpetuate abundance for themselves, as well as their descendants.

We protect our own, and in turn, others watch our back. That is the essence of what makes humans so successful. Alone, we can accomplish little. I tried to move sections of a downed tree into the back of my truck this past weekend. I got exactly two rounds of pine before I decided I’d rather have a healthy back than several more potential seats for my backyard gathering area. Had I a friend to help, however, I am certain we could have harvested much more. Had I a group, with the understanding that we’d all like places to sit in the future (and some fuel for a fire around which we might sit), we could have made use of the entire motherland. It is the power of teamwork that helps a group to survive against the odds, and to work with resources in a way that will benefit the entire group – and even allow us to thrive.

Realizing that, as the sum total of humanity, we are one giant tribe who all need the same basic things – clean water, nutrient-dense foods, safe shelter, community, and the ability to realize our own potential, we will also realize that we need work together to take care of each other, our planet, and interact with nature respectfully. That, friends, is Permaculture. Permaculture is leadership.

Space War!!! And, Writing Journals

Part of the leadership training I help provide to mid-grade Air Force and other budding leaders is a lesson on introspection. In the course of this class, we discuss the importance of knowing one’s self, and techniques that can be used to increase self-knowledge. Introspection isn’t easy, but it’s highly necessary, especially in any position where a leader might encounter uncomfortable and unpredictable situations. In such endeavors, the only thing a person might be able to control is their own person, and their reactions to what chaos is happening around them. While you may never know how you’ll feel when the shit hits the fan (a disconcerting notion), through self study you improve your ability to observe changes in yourself, and thus your ability to self-correct away from a dangerous or exacerbating decision.

Journaling, the recording of personal thoughts, is a time-tested tool in the pursuit of gaining insight. We don’t mandate prayer, meditation, living in a cabin in the woods for a year, or any of the other techniques that arise in the discussion, but we do ask for each student to write at least twice a week, and submit those journals. I make a covenant with my students: since I’ll be reading their inner-most thoughts, they get to read mine as well. I allow one free-write journal, but I use the other one as a tool to further learning, especially on topics about which we have to cut the discussion short (there are only so many useful hours in a classroom). This means, I write the same journals as my students, and I offer to let them read mine if they ask. Usually they don’t, but I’m always ready if they do.

This week, I asked my class to consider the implications of a war in space, through the lens of their own lives. “Imagining you are at your home station, what would you do if a war broke out in space tomorrow?” Many of their jobs require them to use space based assets on the regular, but I wanted them to imagine the personal impact of such an event. I usually ask my classes to imagine at least one post-apocalyptic scenario, whether it is their actions on a 3rd day without power, the detonation of an EMP device in the atmosphere over the USA, the zombie apocalypse, or the realization that the earth is actually flat – and I frequently get very imaginative answers. My answer to these questions doesn’t change much, despite the varied scenarios. Here it is.

I start with my family. I explain to them that things are never going to be the same, but that it’s going to be ok. We are going to have to be patient with each other, and ourselves, because the paradigm has fundamentally shifted. We are going to keep our heads, and make good choices. We are going to survive. This means not only sticking together ourselves, but banding together with other people – it’s what humans do.

Assuming the car won’t start, and we don’t have a pre-existing, self sustaining community nearby, we are going to have to start one ourselves. So, I go to the neighbors. I talk to all of them individually, and explain that I can help them through the times ahead, because I’ve been developing skills that may come in handy now. I can help them purify water. I can teach them how to plant food, help it grow, and preserve it. I can show them basic defense skills. I have experience with off-the-grid living arrangements. I can help people come together, and use teamwork to overcome difficult situations. I invite them to a meeting later on to talk with other neighbors about how we are going to handle this situation as a group.

We have our meeting mid day, or whenever the weather is best. I’ll have it at my place. During the gathering, we introduce members of the neighborhood to those they haven’t yet met. We discuss our various useful skills, and any relevant experience we have. We’ll need carpenters, gardeners, teachers, childcare providers, cooks, and lots of willing hands to get us going as a community. We take stock of what we already have, in the way of materials, tools that will work, weapons, and fixtures that may come in useful (greenhouses, pools, cellars, fields, etc). We leave with an understanding of our neighbors, and a plan to increase our survival ability.

Work begins the next day, as we fortify our community, liberating as much available labor as possible by leaving the cooking and  childcare in the hands of a capable few, and dispatching a small look-out party to patrol, and make contact with anyone we haven’t yet found who may need help.

We have lots to do – soil to prep, houses to retrofit, wood to gather, water purification systems to build, sanitation systems to modify, and esprit de corps to improve. If we stick together, we can do it, as people always have.

A Vision of a Few Years from Now

You are waking up with the sun, a bit earlier than usual. Your partner is sleeping nearby. It’s a Spring morning, and while you know the weather is still a bit brisk, you step out of bed onto a still-warm floor. Just outside your bedroom is the kitchen. You add a few sticks to the embers in the stove, which ensures the hydronic floor will be toasty when your partner gets up too. You pour some freshly filtered water into a kettle, and place it on the stove’s hotplate to prepare your morning beverage of choice.

While the water heats up, you have a few minutes to close your eyes again, and hear the sound of birdsong faintly through the thick walls of your abode. When you open them, you notice the sun is coming through your window at a less direct angle than last week. You use some of the chilled milk delivered last night for your beverage, and reflect: yes, Spring is coming. Soon, with the arrival of warmer weather, your home will no longer receive so many beams through the window, as your living roof absorbs the majority of the heat poured down from the skies. You’ll stay cool this summer, but for now, you need a coat to go outside, so you grab it and step out the door.

Right outside your front door is a glassed in room. A drop of condensation falls from the ceiling into the pond as you pass by, and fish scatter to the corners of their habitat. Soon, there will be enough sun to power on the pump, and the sounds of trickling water flowing through rocks and past roots will fill this atrium. Grabbing a bowl of sprouts from a tray, you put on your coat as you exit this space, into the morning chill.

Dew glistens on your herbs, and the smells of lemon balm, rosemary, sage, mint, and thyme waft up to you as you make your way through your front yard. A chicken clucks at your rustling, as you make your way toward the coop. The chickens are helping you get ready for Spring, too. You lift the roof on the nesting box and see three eggs, brown, turquoise, and pink. You put them in your pocket. The sprouts you brought from the greenhouse go into the coop, and a few hungry chickens descend on them, scratching through the earth with their claws as they hungrily peck at the activated seeds. Tomorrow, you’ll move the coop a bit further, and where the chickens have been, you’ll be able to introduce some lettuce, kale, and maybe even a few squash seeds. Your neighbors say it’s likely not to freeze again this year.

And there’s a neighbor now! Living this close to your friends certainly has its benefits, as he’s been up longer than you, and you are starting to smell something delicious for breakfast, coming from the direction of his house. He invites you to eat, and you discuss last night’s music over your meal. Laughter, and the realization you both probably want to take it easy tonight – maybe just fire up the hot tub. For now, the weather is nice, and getting better. He’ll help you open the gate to let the sheep into their next field, and make sure the new lamb stays with her mother.

Looks like it’s going to be a good day.