Interview with Koreen Brennan, Co-Organizer: 2014 North American Permaculture Convergence. Harmony Park, Clarks Grove, MN, 8/29 – 31, 2014. By Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com Magazine
“North American Permaculture Convergence (NAPC) as an egalitarian community. We view the NAPC event as a gathering of the tribe. A meeting of a peer group. We value everyone’s input and participation. Come because you are excited about participating. Everyone has something to share. We are all part of the permaculture community. Gatherings and festivals are one of the most important parts of being human. Particularly when it is a gathering of your own “culture” or subculture. You feel safe there and belong. People from the same profession getting together is inspiring, empowering and offers a way to exchange information and make connections that can never be achieved via internet or technology.”
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Interview with Koreen by Willi
Can the earth be a keystone species?
Interesting question. Viewed as an organism, the earth has the ability to create balance in its ecosystems and that is a core role played by keystone species; there are self-correcting mechanisms built in to her systems that we as a race appear to be far from understanding. The capacity of the earth to heal damage is quite stunning. How far that can go, in spite of the abuse being heaped upon her, is a question that has not yet been answered. We have seen where some of her limitations lie in areas of desertification that aren't recovering without assistance, dead lakes, etc. When thinking about keystone species, the questions that arise for me are: How can we, as a race, become more of a keystone species ourselves - facilitating balance instead of destroying it? What can we, as designers of systems, do to bring this about?
How is permaculture a “healing force?” Are these spiritual in nature? Any examples to share?
Good permaculture design facilitates the healing of damage that nature has not been able to heal on its own. It makes sense that if we have the knowledge of how to help the earth regenerate that we should use that.
We all have our own criteria for what we consider spiritual. Certainly there are phenomena in the healing areas that are not fully explained by the material sciences. I think that many of us have worked with plants that responded positively to love and attention in spite of lack of water, nutrition, or sunlight, as one example. I think a great question to ask at the convergence and elsewhere would be, "How can we increase our capacity to heal, as individuals, and as a movement?" I have my own feelings about that, others have their own feelings. Together, we can perhaps come up with answers that are greater than the sum of parts. That act would fit my personal definition of something that is spiritual.
This type of work is best done in person, which is one reason why I feel that convergences are important. There are connections that are created when we meet together, that are difficult to replicate long distance but that can be carried forward from that initial meeting.
We are striving to create frameworks that will support the work of taking these deeper conversations somewhere useful. One thing the convergence is offering is facilitation and space to form working groups. Michael Pilarski can be contacted by anyone interested in forming a working group on any topic. (friendsofthetrees at yahoo). We will also have roundtables. If anyone wants to facilitate a roundtable, please apply on our web site under "presentations."
Time has speeded up substantially since the 1960's. How can you help people make better observations in this ecosystem?
That is an amazing question! Thank you for being observant and thoughtful enough to ask it.
Internally, our own movement is expanding exponentially and we can either be thoughtful and observe the patterns, or we can experience the patterns of expansion without observation or thoughtful design. We are moving to the next stage of succession. What stage are we in? Where are we going? How will we get there? This subject is shaping up to be a major point of discussion at the convergence, from a number of angles. For instance, the Permaculture Institute of North America will present some design proposals on this topic.
I think we can increase our observational capacity if we work together more closely. The first step to doing so may be to talk to each other. And share data - this includes regional site assessment information, successful actions, potential points of collaboration. Some areas are doing that more than others and we can learn from one another. Cultural acceleration can feel overwhelming. It can be less so with cooperation. I believe that those movements that are taking the time to create strong collaborative/mutually beneficial systems are more likely to flourish over time.
We can also be smart about what we are spending our time observing - in this world of information overload, one can get distracted by the weed seeds blowing by and not notice the condition of the soil at all (as a metaphor).
Many of us are doing some great observation at a local or regional level, but there are trends that are occurring on broader levels as well, and those are energies in the system. Depending on your situation, to ignore them could be analogous to ignoring what's going on upstream on the Mississippi and only paying attention to the part of it you can see, if you have a farm on its banks. That can be a good way to get blindsided.
Some permaculture designers are doing some incredible things at local levels that are never heard of by the larger community. How can we increase our capacity to share successful actions? Some people feel that we should stick to our regional areas, but no other major movement on the planet is doing that. Activists are cooperating with each other on deeper levels and across issues, corporations and even governments are doing so. But many of our economic and social models are almost completely isolated to the level of one or two person organizations. How can we apply permaculture design principles to our movement, as a whole? What opportunities are there to integrate, not segregate? Sharing successful actions doesn't mean we have to lose or weaken our local identities or networks, especially if integration on larger levels is approached from the viewpoint of strengthening local networks.
The systems that we are dealing with have leverage points at state, national or international levels in a number of cases. We need to understand the macro patterns, in order to design effectively. Not everybody wants to do that, but some of us need to.
And finally, observing the acceleration of tech, of communications, of culture, I feel that the main thing that is missing is ethics. What if permaculture ethics were at the heart of every major decision making process? That is a beautiful vision. It's also a leverage point, something we can focus on as a body, and we can work toward getting our fellow humans to see the advantages of such a viewpoint. I'm encouraged by the growing number of people outside of our movement who also see the importance of including people care, earth care and being wise about the use of surplus in the conversation.
What are some of the common symbols in permaculture?
Mollison's egg, and Holmgren's 12 principles and permaculture flower stand out for me as icons.
Is permaculture for the rich?
It is a people's practice that can be used by anyone regardless of circumstance. I have a project at Pine Ridge reservation and have worked in Haiti - two of the poorest areas in the western hemisphere. We have used the waste stream in both places to improve conditions and opportunities. I believe we can do more to make permaculture more broadly accessible regardless of income level, and to reach out to include a broader diversity of people. This is one issue that will be discussed at the convergence.
I feel that social and economic injustices can be very effectively addressed by permaculture.
There are historical patterns, institutional patterns and other aspects that may not be obvious or easily understood, but nevertheless, affect energy distribution substantially. Designs can fail when these are not fully taken into account.
I personally know very few wealthy people who have taken an interest in permaculture. The rich may have the capacity to do more damage because of the energy (money, land, etc) that they control, but also could accomplish much good, by how they use their funds and assets. There are some large cattle ranchers who are using Holistic Management to heal their ecosystems and watersheds, and this is a positive trend. There is an ethical investors movement that is a relatively new energy in the system. The jury is still out as to how well these trends will work over time. We need better methods of linking available assets (land, finance) to worthy projects.
Are you advocating a return to older values / times as much as well as a shift forward to new ones? Can you offer examples of both?
Yes, both, absolutely! We have a history in our movement that many newer designers are not aware of. Michael Pilarski, one of the core organizers of the convergence and a 30+ year veteran permaculture designer, is collating a history of the movement in the US. He has formed a working group on that topic. Other elders will speak about where have we come from? What is the framework on which this movement has been built? How can we honor the workability of that framework, be conscious of it, and best utilize it to carry us forward?
Elders councils are cultural models that have stood the test of time over thousands of years. Scott Pittman has proposed a meeting of elders at this convergence and many North American elders are attending.
Older values are important in a larger sense too - there is much indigenous knowledge that we have lost touch with as a culture that is really vital to our survival. It's important to keep in touch with our roots and to understand them.
On the other hand, within our movement, we have some bright, creative younger energy in our ranks. How can this energy be integrated for maximum benefit for all concerned? How can we be optimally resilient and respond with intelligent design to our own succession process? How can we find an optimum balance between this new energy, and the fresh viewpoints that it brings, and the knowledge and experience of elders?
In field work and design, many designers stay current with cutting edge soil science, as well as scientific developments in regard to the built environment, energy, etc. The convergence will host activities regarding scientific research in the permaculture movement to facilitate that energy.
The lessons from history and the experience viewpoint of elders can help us make the best decisions about the issues we are facing and we all can learn valuable lessons from fresh viewpoints. How can we integrate these aspects better?
Are there different regional or international practices in permaculture that folks need to understand?
Every region has its unique culture, and unique needs and resources. So yes, there are differences. There is a lot of cultural diversity within many regions as well. I say,"Vive le difference!"
Let's embrace the diversity, and welcome it as something that is healthy for the system, rather than resisting it. What do we really need to agree on? I would say that we need to agree to use what works, not what doesn't, and to keep observing to make sure we notice when it's not working. Beyond that? Let's discuss!
How is the Convergence an example of localization?
The Convergence is already starting to strengthen beneficial connections in the Midwest regions, and we will have a bioregional breakout session, but beyond that, I don't know that it is a good example. And that is where I may differ from how some permaculturists see things.
I clearly see the benefits of localization and do many things to forward that concept in my personal and professional life. But I also think there is a time when we need to gather together in a larger group and look at the big picture - from pattern to detail, right? Macro to micro. There is a balance. Some indigenous tribes had major meetings and gatherings across tribal lines to address issues common to all of them or concerning all of them. Out of those meetings (like the Iroquois Confederacy) came some of the most brilliant structures and decisions ever. That is one role I feel that the North American Permaculture Convergence could play.
We're mindful of the ecological footprint of people getting there, we're working to reduce that, and we're designing the event with the end goal that it will be maximally beneficial, productive and useful to people. I.e., Worth It. In order to ensure we achieve that, we have been soliciting feedback and co-creative input, and we continue to do so.
I am a producing kids media. Is there enough material out there to help kids grow up with permaculture?
That is great! I'm excited to hear that, Willi! That can be a real paradigm shifting niche - looking forward to seeing what you create. Kids' response to permaculture is so amazing. I am not aware of all the material that may exist, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that there is plenty of room for more quality material - we are far from the point of saturation.
The convergence is partnering with a pre-event training workshop specifically for teachers of children, where some of the material that does exist will be shared. There is a growing body of teachers bringing permaculture to kids, and the workshop will share some of the successful actions. A number of convergence attendees are interested in this topic, and there may be sessions on it.
What are your permaculture strategies when combating climate change? Do they relate to the ethics and principles?
I think that permaculture ethics are one of the most brilliant aspects of permaculture and alone have the potential to create major change. Education and raising awareness are key, ethics are key, and the principles applied are what will enable real mitigation of any and all ecological damage we are doing to this planet. All of them together create a powerful package. I have generally seen people respond with a lot of willingness and understanding when they are educated about how ecosystems work and given tools they can use to remedy the damage. When they don't have the tools, when they don't understand the interrelationships, it's harder to have the discussion.
For me, it is helpful to look at climate change in a whole systems context. Because permaculture addresses whole systems, it is often the case that the same remedies that address water depletion, soil depletion, pollution, and other environmental degradation also address atmospheric imbalances. Again, let's integrate these things. We need to stop abusing the earth. This is a sensible viewpoint. When people see that there are tools to do so and that they can use them, they become a lot more interested.
Some people think that the tipping point has passed and we cannot avoid experiencing an ecological meltdown, some think we still have time to turn things around. I don't engage in those arguments. I believe that regardless of which extreme it is or if things fall somewhere in between those extremes, we have an obligation to spread a viewpoint of ethical living and to provide knowledge of how to use the tools that better enable people to live that way - as widely and as deeply as possible, and that is where I try to stay focused.
Do you agree that permaculture and Transition could benefit from new (formalized) celebrations, annual events and holidays?
Sure - I think it could help in a number of ways. Maybe that's something that could be proposed at the convergence, by a working group or roundtable.
And by the way, people can start linking up with working groups now. Don't feel you have to wait until the convergence. The convergence will be a time to cross pollinate across regions, to meet face to face and create deeper relationships, to be introduced to what people are working on, to learn from each other, to meet new people, to celebrate. The longer term work will be done to some degree before and especially after the convergence. We are striving to look at how this energy can best be captured, and to be thoughtful designers with it. There is only so much that can be accomplished in three days.
This is one purpose of our Facebook group, to allow discussions to start now (and there are some occurring there).
Is the Convergence an incubator? A teaching space?
Both! It's a gathering of professionals, but it is also open to new designers and to people without design certificates as well who have been using or studying permaculture. We are striving to apply the principle of integrate, don't segregate and to design the convergence to offer something meaningful for just about everyone. This is your convergence. What is most important to you? We have been listening, and will continue to do so.
We will have a number of experienced presenters there and many learning opportunities such as designer showcase (where people can display their designs and discuss). We will have hands on activities.
But we will also have working groups, roundtables, facilitated networking areas, a Tea Room and other activities that will enable people to make valuable connections and actually get some work done, or just enjoy each other's company. We are hoping this venue will serve as a catalyst or jumping off point for many wonderful future relationships and happenings in the movement!
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Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed, Willi. You offered many thought provoking questions! We hope to see you and many others at the Convergence at the end of August!
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Koreen’s Bio -
Koreen has extensive experience in both permaculture design and in education. She has been active in alternative education for 20 years and has taught permaculture design in Miami, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, Sarasota, Pine Ridge Lakota reservation, Gulf Coast University, Cuba and Tuskegee University. She is a passionate speaker, and has given hundreds of hours of lectures on permaculture. She has founded, owned and run permaculture nurseries and a design and education business.
Koreen has a wide range of experience and expertise, from administering and organizing major projects and events, to nature awareness, to conflict resolution so finds herself taking on diverse projects at times. She organized permaculture style disaster relief for thousands of Haitians living in camps after the earthquake in 2010, has planted thousands of trees in different locations in the US, and is currently co-organizing the North American Permaculture Convergence and a major natural building project at Pine Ridge reservation. She has advised on public projects at schools, universities and on the Florida House "Green Home" project in Sarasota. She strongly believes in the power of community and cooperation, and enjoys collaborating with others on projects, teaching and design work.
North American Permaculture Convergence
Harmony Park, Clarks Grove, MN, 8/29 – 31, 2014
Info at northamericanpermaculture.org
North American Permaculture Convergence
Director, Permaculture Design and Education, Quality Control
Koreen at growpermaculture.com
New Mythologist & Transition Entrepreneur
newmythologist.com | PlanetShifter.com Magazine | openmythsource.com
@planetshifter @openmythsource @PermacultureXch
415-407-4688 | pscompub at gmail.com
Super interesting interview, Willi, thanks to both of you.