Does Labeling Permaculture as “Easy” Set Newbies Up For Failure?
Permaculture is a fairly new concept to me – and it’s not, at the same time. The idea of working with, rather than against, nature in order to create infinitely sustainable systems makes sense to me on a basic level, even though it is not a current practice of mine. My educational background and emotional mindset bring me squarely on the path of caring for the Earth, caring for its people, and returning any sort of a surplus created back to the Earth.
It’s been an eye-opening journey to delve into the Permaculture world and realize just how deep it flows. In so few words, it seems like an ideal and easy way to live. But is it really? If it is, how can that be simply conveyed to newbies, like myself? And if it isn’t, how can Permaculturists share their ideas without turning off those who may be quickly deterred?
Composting? I do that! Forest gardening? Well, I don’t weed my garden often, so I’m basically doing that. Rainwater harvesting? I can absolutely do that – and it seems so simple. People are making much of Permaculture look easy and doable, even for those of us who are new to learning about it. In a world where DIYs are readily accessible on Pinterest, many people desire to jump into trying new things with both feet.
We want to believe that the end product we see is one that we will be able to make ourselves, and that ours will look just like the one on the screen. But there is, of course, the dreaded “Pinterest fail” and some amount of dejection that goes with it. The realization that something is not as easy as it appears can be a turn off for many of us trying to learn a new skill. In order to gain a new audience, Permaculturists need to explain the tenants of their practice without turning away people who might not immediately succeed, or who might not understand the depths that this science can go to.
Permaculture isn’t always easy. It does require some level of involvement, to be decided by the user. As Damien Bohler explains in his The Essential Practical Nature of Permaculture, “Permaculture isn’t difficult and the skills necessary to implement Permaculture design can be learned by just about anyone, yet they are skills that need to be learned. Acknowledging that there is a need to learn, there is a need to find a practical starting point, that not everyone can drop everything and immerse their life into a full-time intensive practical training…”
Permaculture is not a DIY project that should be initiated without some initial research, but it should be accessible to anyone, as long as you’re willing to work towards a goal. There are books to read, experts in the field to learn from, and courses that can take you as far as a design certificate in permaculture. To an introductory member, the amount of work can seem daunting, especially when skilled permaculturists say it’s easy.
How involved does one have to be to be considered part of this movement? Does this culture ever worry about turning people away because of how intricate it can be? It seems that those people who are able to delve deep enough to create whole complex sustainable systems should, of course, be praised (and gawked at in wonder, if you’re me) – but it would also seem that any type of permaculture project that is undertaken with positive energy should be honored and applauded. Jonathon Engels, in his If that’s not permaculture, what is?, really speaks to this idea. “Consequently, not every practitioner will embark on the same quest as the next, but it’s the collective movement towards something truly better—for ourselves, others and the planet— that results in the sort of big changes needed.”
Perhaps my unpruned trees and small compost pile are meaningful. They are important because it shows that I’m attempting to be involved in permaculture. I’m working to learn more through reading and talking to others. It is these small accomplishments that can be made to represent a larger success for new permaculturists. Whether these actions were easy for me, or were incredibly difficult due to whatever circumstances, the importance comes in the effort and the intention.
Encouragement is one of the most important messages to impart to those of us new to this philosophy. When a newbie tries to create a solar water pump system or a garden stream but fails, reassurance might make the difference between trying again and giving up entirely. Giving confidence to those of us who, effectively, don’t know what we’re doing, but know we want to try, might help us to push harder and seek out more effective methods.
It is also vital to continue to share information and training in order to get others involved. There will always be those who hope to bypass significant amounts of studying in hopes of finding a quick video that will show them what to do, but those people also deserve a fair shot at being a part of this movement. I think that’s why it’s so important to acknowledge the difficulty that encompasses much of permaculture, while also lending a supportive voice to those of us just starting. Permaculturists bring a large element of inspiration with them. Their drive and determination, when combined with understanding and support, can bring permaculture to a new generation of people hoping to solve problems as “easily” as possible.