Growing Northeast Permaculture from a Network to a System of Influence
written by Lisa DePiano and Jesse Watson
Over 30 people, including PAN board members Jesse Watson, Liz Kelly and Lisa DePiano and former board members, Lisa Fernandes and Jono Neiger, gathered seaside on the coast of Maine over a blustery November weekend to attend the Art of Hosting Training, “The Art of Collaborative Leadership in Uncertain Times”, organized by the Resilience Hub. We learned a series of collaborative leadership facilitation techniques designed to tap into the collective intelligence of diverse groups to create strategies and actions for complex issues. These techniques have been successfully applied at the grassroots, governmental, NGO and corporate levels. These methodologies are for facilitating conversations in groups of all scales and have resulted in collective clarity, wise action, and sustainable workable solutions to the most complex problems.
From the art of hosting manual, Why Art of Hosting?
- New Solutions are needed
- New Solutions grow between Chaos and Order
- Conversations Matter
- Meaningful Conversations Lead to Wise Actions
- Organizations are Living Systems
The trainers modeled collaborative leadership by inviting attendees to join them in facilitation techniques such as Open Space Technology and World Cafe. We also explored theories of social change including the Two Loops model of systems change. Trainers modeled the Two Loops by scribing it out on the floor with painters’ tape. Attendees were able to place themselves along the two loops, one loop representing a system in decline and the other loop representing a new system emerging. We discussed the roles that networks can play in shifting to a new system. One example of evolution is how a group can evolve from a community of innovators to a community that learns together. In the first stage, the participants are innovative individuals learning side by side. In the next phase, those individual learners knit themselves together into a cohesive network of mutual aid in the learning process. Eventually this community that learns together becomes a community of practice. Once real life experiences and “dirt time” have informed the community of practice, it can then can make the next phase change into a system of influence on the larger society.
Our permaculture network in the Northeast has been organized for over a decade. In the early days when we were smaller, we met face to face in local groups and started to develop relationships of trust and mutual aid. Often these relationships resulted in shared knowledge and shared work to build demonstration sites. Those local groups and other interested individuals came together at an annual summer regional convergence. The summer convergence was rotationally hosted around the region and was located in emerging permaculture hubs. The convergence has been hosted in New Hampshire, Western MA, New York, Eastern MA, Maine and Quebec. Aside from being a social celebration, networking event and skills share, it was a strategy to support the growth of a new permaculture hub. In order to facilitate online region-wide communication, the Northeast Permaculture email listserve became the primary vehicle for people in our region to coalesce into a community that learns together. Now with social media, the opportunities for individuals to join networks that learn together are even more robust. We can find many examples of groups on different social media platforms that routinely share techniques, experiments and best practices whether we are talking about garden and land care techniques, agricultural trades or hosting and group facilitation practices.
Because PAN is a regional network steward we can take this high level perspective and see the overall landscape shifting. As we were reflecting on this Two Loops model, it occurred to us that this loose network and the people in it have helped transition Permaculture from a community of learners, to a network that learns together, to a community of practice. It also appears that we are showing the signs of changing into a system of influence as we can now see permaculture making an impact with award winning books and documentary films. Permaculture is also represented at universities, in cooperative extension agencies, at major conferences, land trusts and in larger food systems organizations. We can see the shift in language coming out of the technical bulletins from the National Agroforestry Center which is housed within the USDA. Not to mention the tremendous interest from farmers in diversifying production models into perennial cropping systems. We see permaculture influencing business models and new businesses emerging in municipal planning, landscape architecture and design firms as well as in the landscape design/build/land care industry. We are seeing a demographic shift in the populations of students that come through grassroots PDCs as well. PDC students used to be on the margins of society and we saw lots of back-to-the-land type homesteaders, gardeners and farmers. Now we are routinely seeing engineers, architects and other professionals seeking out this kind of whole systems design approach (in addition to as well as the usual radical suspects).
In the food sovereignty movement, we call this process “horizontal diffusion, resulting in vertical integration.” As an example in Maine, food sovereignty ordinances spread virally from town to town until the state government took notice and decided that it was time to recognize this wave of interest in designing locally responsible food systems. In 2017 the Maine legislature successfully passed legislation recognizing the authority of local municipalities to exempt small scale producers from industrial scale production and infrastructure requirements. The win in this case was the devolving of authority to the local level within a rights-based legal framework, and it all started with grassroots community organizing.
This is a pattern familiar to most of us as permaculture designers. It is the rhizome or the mycelial mat that quietly and humbly spreads under foot and unseen until just the right environmental conditions arrive and fruiting bodies emerge seemingly everywhere overnight. As a northeast network, we have nodes throughout the region, and PAN can help you connect to an educational resource near you. Join us today and become part of this system of influence to help make larger societal change for the better.