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.

Taking Stock/Mindfulness Meditation

A slice of my life in time.
A slice of my life in time.

Warning: I reread this today before posting. Only read this if you want an exposure to the patterned chaos in my mind that creates my reality and spurs my life choices. You’ve been cautioned.

Before starting any project, design, life change, whatever – it is a good idea to take stock of what is around. You need to know where you are and what you have if you want to have any success improving your situation. You also have to know where you want to go – more on that later. The the military teaches SWOT analysis to budding strategic thinkers. This methodology asks planners to think through their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Permaculture teaches an “observe, then interact” methodology. A close friend of mine recently shared some of his company’s risk assessment techniques with me as we mulled over a joint project. There plenty of ways to think through projects and take stock of resources, so I probably don’t need to be creating a new one. But I have decided to riff on what I’ve learned, and experiment with an orienting tool that mirrors some of the mindfulness meditations I’ve been doing lately. By the end of this exercise, I believe I’ll have improved situational and self awareness, as well as some nascent options for what to do and what directions I might move.

This methodology will address three realms to help me think about my life:

  1. My physical situation (what things are around me that I notice, what can I use, what access I have right now)
  2. Mental state (how am I currently thinking about the world)
  3. Activities (where I am applying myself and expending energy on a regular basis)

I’m going to go through these in stream of consciousness style, listing what comes to mind, acknowledging it, and moving along. With no further ado:

Physical (nouns in my life that catch my attention)

  • A solar powered rain collecting greenhouse supporting utility trailer that I currently live in, and all systems associated with it. Right now my charge controller is broken. I should really get that fixed.
  • 40 foot diesel former school bus. Currently rented. Now thinking about vehicles.
  • Small car. In wife’s care. Not readily accessible to me, because I live across the country (for now).
  • Big Truck. Good for moving stuff.
  • Dog. She does not like to ride in the truck. Strange dog, but she is nice to my chickens now.
  • 20-60 chickens. Mostly for the eggs they lay. Some of them are geographically separated too. Going to focus on what is immediately around.
  • Unknown number of ducks. Also for eggs, and slug control.
  • Rest of the flock: guinea fowl, goose
  • Left over fencing
  • Plenty of lumber left over from various projects. Not so relevant right now. New direction.
  • Machete
  • 25 shovels. Should make a garden party a real possibility.
  • Wheelbarrows. Assorted other garden tools including vicious looking tiller. I’m more interested in no-till methods but I’ll happily experiment with tilling this spring.
  • Jewelry case/organizer full of heirloom seeds. I need to check germination rates.
  • Fermented foods in the fridge. I need to get some now. I’m hungry.
  • … and back
  • Smart watch. More useful than I thought it’d be. Keeps me on track. Probably the only reason I’m focused enough to do this journal entry now.
  • Computer. Very powerful tool. Very potent distractions abound from this devise as well.
  • Baby toys. Manufactured distractions meant to facilitate learning and separate parents from money. I will keep them around in anticipation of more babies wanting to use them.
  • Berkey Ceramic Water Filter. Just as shiny as baby toys, but probably way more useful. People of all ages need clean water.
  • Lots of  sweat pants. Good for doing work.
  • Collection of used diapers. Humanure experiment. I need to check on this and maybe turn it (stir it up to help the decomposition) soon.
  • 10,000 worms in various bins. I should make sure they have enough cardboard to eat, and pour water through my expermental worm tea making bin.
  • Inflatable swimming pool with gold fish. I haven’t fed them anything but they have grown. I also have no mosquito larva in the swimming pool, so this particular experiment is working. Grow bed is working OK.
  • Plants in pots. When will I need to put them in the Greencave?
  • Plastic sheeting. I should probably replace some of the Greencave’s roof with the sheeting.
  • Some houses. Very useful for people who want regular shelter. Easier to rent than the school bus.
  • Stuff that I need to ferment. I’d like to make kombucha again. I wonder if my cabbage has recovered from the cabbage moth larva that decimated it earlier this summer. The kale is coming back nicely.
  • Jambox. Time to listen to some music.

Now the gears are really turning. That list got me thinking about the multitude of stuff I need to do to maintain this… stuff, and I probably could have continued to list objects around me for practically ever.. Now, however, it is time to shift those gears: how am I thinking about the rest of the world, and how I fit into it? What thoughts, if any, seem to recur to me?

Mental

  • What should I be doing with my time right now? What is the best way for me to be most effective? How will this behavior benefit my family?
  • Is this a valuable way to spend my time? What is this gaining me? Money? Enjoyment? Learning?
  • Where are my keys? Phone? Wallet? Wits?
  • Am I remembering to fully breathe?
  • Why did I just read ____ on wikipedia for an extended period of time?
  • Am I missing something important that is happening in the world? I should check the News/Facebook/my email/the time/my calendar/the window
  • What’s the weather going to be like? Do I need to water my plants?
  • I like this song. I’d like to hear it again (currently, Kelis – Fourth of July Calvin Harris Remix.)
  • Don’t clench you jaw.
  • Did I get enough exercise today? This one is easy to answer- I have it outsourced to an app on my phone.
  • How can I stack the function of whatever I am thinking of doing next?
  • Is it too early to drink beer right now?

It seems a few things are missing from this list. I would have liked to have the thought “How is my wife doing?” be more on my mind. I am going to be sure to include that going forward in my life.

Activities/Energy

Apart from the energy spent responding to my endless mental dialogue, I am usually acutely aware of the ebb and flow of my daily energy levels, and where the energy goes. Here’s the list of things that consume me, or my time, on a nearly daily basis:

  • I respond to the challenges of my paid job, as a Flight Commander in the Air Force. This means preparing for lessons, grading papers, receiving and giving training to ensure a positive, and relatively seamless experience for my students. This is draining.
  • I communicate with my loved ones. It is not always easy to tear myself away from other pressing issues to sit and have a truly focused conversation, but it is essential to maintaining stability and happiness, upon which the rest of my life is and can be built. Depending on how the conversation goes, which is usually a rehash of whatever is going on in our respective lives, I leave these conversations either with more energy or less.
  • Daydreaming. Brainstorming ways to solve the myriad problems or issues I allow into my life with the various experiments I have going. I come away from the time I spend doing this usually rejuvenated.
  • I accomplish small tasks physical tasks. I feed the chickens, I water the plants, I do laundry (but I do not fold it). I clean stuff. I prepare meals. Accomplishing these maintenance activities makes me feel better about myself and give me satisfaction. I space these things out so I can feel a small bit of psychological reward whenever I am frustrated with something else. Sometimes these tasks also directly create value. I prefer tasks that incorporate
  • I address issues that have cropped up in my administrative role as landlord and/or human resources manger at Farmpound (an experimental, intentional community/homestead… more on that later). This means paying bills, reiterating expectations to people, checking in on project progress, or dealing with catastrophes of a domestic nature. This is the most sapping part of my daily life. I am working to reframe some of these activities as the most opportune learning points/practice points. This is where real leadership is needed, and it’s hard.
  • I work out. Yes, I do lift, bro. For the last 20 years of my life, I have been trying to get into running. I still haven’t, but I make myself do it anyway.

Conclusions:

Preliminarily, this feels like a beneficial exercise. I feel much more at peace, as I often do after mindfulness sessions. I also have the advantage of being able to revisit this in a week, possibly do the same thing, and track any changes. I’m not sure I should let my wife read this, but I doubt she has time to do it anyway. I’ll put it in an email to her and sneak it in to get feedback. I’m not really sure I should post this, either, but I’m going to because I do try to get outside my comfort zone on a daily basis. With the restored mental clarity and recognition of many things around me (which seem to be incredibly varied and random), I’m feeling like I can tackle just about anything.

A few things I’m feeling like I’ll do this year now:

-Learn how to pour concrete better this year.

-Find and propagate pawpaw trees

-Sell something using the internet (eggs?)

 

More goals next time.

Final note:

I tagged Leadership, Permaculture, Tech, and Wellness in this one because most of the stuff in this torrent of consciousness pertains to at least one, if not more of those. I’m pretty nervous to post this up.