- positives, challenges and suggestions for a more inclusive permaculture
(This blog post is also available as a PDF here )
(Mainly UK-focused, though many aspects applicable to other countries too.)
Since becoming very unwell and disabled nearly two years ago, I have learnt very quickly about what it means to be a person with disabilities attempting to navigate everyday life – and within that life, being unable to access many of the things I had previously taken for granted. Given that permaculture knowledge, experience, events and demonstration sites were previously a big part of my life, I have become increasingly aware of how difficult it would be for me to now access many of these things; in some cases it would be impossible. If I can’t participate in these events that are so important in my life, I wondered how many other people are also struggling to engage and connect with permaculture because of chronic illness and/or disability.
As I started thinking about this in more depth, I set up a Facebook group with the intention of connecting with other people in the permaculture community with chronic illness and/or disability. (CI/D).
(Recently, after some discussion in the Facebook group, it was decided that it made sense to add “neurodiversity” to the name and themes of the group too. The topic of neurodiversity inclusion isn’t discussed in this article, as the decision to add neurodiversity to the subject content in the Facebook group was made once I had started writing this post up. Many of the issues mentioned here – though not all of them – will also be relevant to neurodivergent people)
If at this point you need more information about the definitions of chronic illness and disability then please see the links shared in "Designing Solutions", further on in this article.
In addition to setting up the group, I went on to openly ask some questions about accessing permaculture for people with CI/D in several UK focused Facebook groups about permaculture and also via a post on the Permaculture Association (Britain) online noticeboard. People were invited to respond to the following questions, either in public in the group or by emailing me. In total, 47 people (mainly from the UK) responded in one of these ways. The aim of this information-gathering was to access reflections on experiences; it was a place to start a conversation rather than to undertake a structured research project.
Here are the summaries and direct (anonymous) quotes of the responses to each question.
(This article is quite lengthy, as I wanted to be able to include the voices of as many people as possible.)
1) Do you identify as having a chronic illness and/or disability?
A diverse range of chronic illnesses and/or disabilities were included in the response to this question. These included physical illnesses, mental illnesses, learning disabilities (including dyslexia) and physical disabilities. Several people were keen to include neurodiversity as a disability too, as they pointed out that the education and benefits systems in the UK treat it as such. Many people also said that their illness and/or disability was a ‘hidden’ one, meaning that other people couldn’t immediately tell if the person with the chronic illness and/or disability had extra needs. A common theme evolved around many people feeling disabled by their environment, which frequently does not allow differently abled people to participate in life as they need to or would like to. Anyone has the potential to have additional needs and people with chronic illness and/or disability should be accepted to self define this, and not judged by others in doing so.
Some people who responded didn’t identify as having a CI/D, though they had witnessed the experiences of people with CI/D accessing permaculture events and demonstration sites.
2) Do you have examples of where accessing permaculture knowledge, demonstration sites and events have been adapted to the needs of someone with a chronic illness and/or disability? This might be your own needs, or someone else you have observed being supported well.
Several people mentioned great examples of how their needs relating to CI/D had been met at a variety of permaculture events and sites. These included:
There were also a couple of examples of places that had easily accessible compost toilets.
Some statements made were:
3) Have you, or anybody else you have witnessed, been unable to access permaculture knowledge and/or demonstration sites and/or events because of your chronic illness and/or disability?
Some statements that reflect general themes were:
The attitudes of other people
Many people have health conditions where their symptoms are variable. Some found that the lack of understanding about this meant that they felt uncomfortable and judged if they couldn’t join in with an activity when the previous day they had been able to. Some examples given were:
4) What changes could be made in order for you, or other people with chronic illness and/or disability, to be able to further access permaculture knowledge and/or demonstration sites and/or events?
One very common theme emerging from the reflections people shared with me is that permaculture should be about designing systems that showcase inclusivity.
Although every person with CI/D is an individual with unique experiences and needs, there are some common symptoms, issues and requirements for many folk. The following easily accessible resources are some favourites of mine, and can help you to understand more about these.
The Mighty – online community of support and awareness raising about disability, disease and mental health.
Stickman Communications – communicating about disability with style and humour
Chronic Illness Inclusion Project
Permaculture, Chronic Illness, Neurodiversity and Disability Facebook group
Suggestions to improve access to permaculture knowledge, events and demonstration sites in general in the permaculture community/movement
(These suggestions are also available as a PDF here )
Top tips for permaculture events/courses facilitators and permaculture demonstration sites
(These top tips are also available as a PDF here)
This article and its suggestions have been designed to act as a starting point for further discussions and design work around access to permaculture for people with chronic illness and/or disability. Over the next few weeks, I will also be recording a spoken-voice version of the article content for my planned YouTube channel. I openly welcome feedback and /or suggestions for further blog posts/articles. Feel free to contact me by email or via my social media platforms.
One of my visions/aims for this year is to increase my knowledge about herbs. How to grow them, preserve them and use them for treating illness and improving health and wellbeing. I became really inspired by the work of Jekka McVicar a few months ago when I listened to an episode of BBC Radio Four 's The Food Programme about her. And reading a book written by Jekka seemed a very obvious first step for me and my learning. Jekka's Complete Herb Book, published in association with the Royal Horticultural Society, is a beautiful work of reference. 150 different herbs are presented in two page spreads and include; the common names, various species, history, cultivation, propagation and harvesting. And then for each herb medicinal, culinary and wellbeing topics are detailed in a really accessible way.
I've set myself a task of learning about a different herb each day, and it's already becoming a lovely and productive part of my mornings. The book also has sections on harvesting, preserving, making natural dyes common pests and diseases relating to herbs, a comprehensive yearly calendar and my big favourite...a gorgeous twelve page section on herb garden design, (including growing herbs in pots/containers).
I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I would say my knowledge about herb growing and use, is pretty patchy and fairly close to the beginner stage of understanding, application and confidence. Jekka's Complete Herb Book with its easy layout and stunning photos and illustrations already feels like it's going to be the ideal tool for my learning and my enjoyment of that learning. It's the kind of resource that would make a great present too. I've linked the book to the hugely dominating seller of all things online, but as ever, if you can, get your local bookshop to order a copy for you and know you've supported a business in your community where each sale matters.
A year long course by the Permaculture Women's Guild
I'm really excited to be illustrating this amazing online course being offered by the Permaculture Women's Guild. The course starts March 15th 2019 and folk will be able to start at their own pace anytime from that date. Students are invited to :-
"Design Your Garden, Home, and Community to be more sustainable, ecological, and regenerative!"
For more details, including how to sign up, visit the Permaculture Women's Guild website, where you will also find lots more courses and opportunities on offer too.
Earth Based Spirituality & Permaculture
I love to use the solar and lunar cycles and circles within Earth based spirituality, as a grounding tool and guidance for my permaculture projects. This weekend has been the wheel of the year festival, of Earth awakening, Imbolc. Here in Yorkshire, Northern England, there are signs of life emerging into the new light, from their long rest through the cold, dark, shortest days. At Imbolc, we can connect with the nature around us, observing and interacting, and slowly move forwards to the energy of spring. The earliest of seeds sown for edible gardens are starting to germinate and we too can plant and nurture our inner seeds of visions for our work and life, and watch them germinate over the coming weeks.
The Imbolc new moon arrives today its the perfect time to use the rising energy for new beginnings. and a perfect time for reflection and planning.
Here are some of the ways I have been using the energies of Imbolc in my permaculture projects and including my own wellbeing.-
I spent some time grounding and allowing my creative thoughts to flow without constraint, about the directions I would like my permaculture projects and life to take. I created this space with the five elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Spirit plus 2 oracle cards I had chosen, to help provide an extra layer of visioning and focus. I will be keeping this alter space as it is until the Spring Equinox in 6 weeks time. Seeing it on a regular basis, and as a tool for further reflection and grounding, will help me to continue to connect with the new ways forward in my projects on a regular basis. And, in turn regular connection can often mean that my visions and goals for my life and permaculture projects are become an achievable reality.
I have been using this "4 questions" reflection tool with focus on my permaculture work, and from the reflection, applying self regulation, and accepting feedback, have designed a realistic plan about creating and implementing new elements in each permaculture project. The plan is in my journal which is the "hub", the centre of my life! and I look at it many times each day. So again, observing it on a regular basis means that my aims and goals for each project are more likely to be achieved.
Sowing actual seeds! For the last 2 years my edible gardening permaculture project has been on pause, as I've been too unwell to be able to do any physical gardening. And currently I don't have a garden of my own. Over the last few months my health has slowly been improving and I have been feeling a strong pull to get growing food again, and creatively using and responding to change. Peppers (including chillis) and tomatoes like as long a season to grow as possible so I will be planting these hardy varieties from Real Seeds over the next week. I'm also going to start sprouting seeds and pulses again for daily use as a delicious and super nutritious addition to my diet. I've stocked up on sprouting seeds packs from Tamar Organics and really looking forward to getting them growing. For more ideas about connecting with nature inside if you are unable to be outside, see an article I wrote "Bringing Nature Inside"
So here are a few of the ways I have been using energies and characteristics of Imbolc in both my permaculture and general life projects. Please feel free to have a go at applying any of these Ideas to your own life and work.
Permaculture Tool Review
I bought these beautiful “Life Design” cards by Lisa Mcloughlin Art a few days ago and they are already becoming one of my new favourite things! - Lisa describes the cards as “a personal development companion and oracle for support and guidance” and to help “weave a different story” - the cards are created to be web like in their use and contain gorgeous images depicting permaculture design, permaculture principles, seasonal inspiration and astrological signs of psychological processes that are common to us all. A handy guidebook introducing ideas for how to use the cards for both personal and group work/use, and brief descriptions of each card’s functions is included with the card deck. I’m already starting to see how useful these cards will be for regular life planning and reflection, along with project designing too.
"Life Design," (and other wonderful nature inspired), card decks, are available from Etsy via Lisa's website - www.lisamcloughlinart.com🙌🏽🌀
One of the life tools I like to create at the start of a calendar year is choosing a focus word for that year. I create some art or craft work at the end of December or start of January, which goes on to become my daily reminder about my focus word and the energy behind it. It's a tool that has worked really well for me for several years now, no matter what is going on in my life at the time. My focus word for 2018 was "Creativity" - and when I chose this word in the January, I had no idea that the daily doodling I did, and shared on social media to help my emotional and cognitive wellbeing, would evolve into requests for Illustration work for prints, books and online courses by the start of 2019! While I'm sure this didn't just happen because of my chosen word, it certainly helped me to regularly connect with the intention behind it. So this year I have chosen "Activist", Activism is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as, "the use of direct and noticeable action to achieve a result, usually a political or social one." Throughout my life I have nearly always been involved in various types of activism about issues close to my heart and spirit. Over the past decade this has very much been connected to my development as a permaculture practitioner and educator. I'm hoping that choosing this word as my focus in the coming months, will enable me to design my new form of activism, as part of my plan to continue to thrive while being unwell with Lyme Disease.
Over the last year I have been following the work of illustrator and online Mental Health Activist, Make Daisy Chains and also the Craftivism movement, especially the work of the Craftivism Collective Both of these are part of my inspiration for these first weeks of the year as I begin to design the early part of the journey, my focus word for 2019 will take. Im hoping to use the Wheel of the Year, Earth based festivals for times of reflection about my current permaculture projects, and how these are influenced by my new focus word. I plan to document the main topics of that reflective process, within future blog posts here.
Water in Plain Sight
Judith D. Schwartz
St Martin’s Press July 2016
Water in Plain Sight is another engaging informative work from Judith D Schwartz. It furthers many of the issues she explored in her 2013 book Cows Save The Planet, alongside discussing some very timely new topics.
In Water in Plain Sight we learn many disturbing and essential to understand accounts about how our global history of violence towards our planet, in the form of agricultural practices, hunting and deforestation are drastically altering access to water. Then contributing to the destruction of our land and communities via political turbulence, discrimination, conflict and suffering on massive scales.
Judith takes us on a journey around the globe, Zimbabwe, Mexico, California, Ohio, Texas, Western Australia and introduces us to a wonderfully diverse group of people who are demonstrating some amazing ways of how they are re-engaging with the natural cycles of water, particularly in slowing water cycles down. In turn these scientists, farmers and caretakers of land tell the stories of soil, water and community regeneration through their practices.
The most powerful message I gained from Judith’s book though, is that drought is due to how soil holds and moves water, rather than a lack of rainfall, and that this flow and cycle is crucial to take into account in combating climate change.
Schwartz’s writing style as an Investigative Journalist, as in Cows Save The Planet, cleverly connects a huge amount of widely researched material which links the personal and the political. She ensures that the messages in her work are accessible to all of us, regardless of how much we already know about global water/drought subjects.
Reading and then rereading Schwartz’s work has again given me inspiration to make some very real positive changes in our communities and lands. I can recommend it to all. Water in Plain Sight provides us with motivation and hope, in the form of a whole global toolbox of solutions to actively heal our planet with.
This book review also appeared in Permaculture Magazine in 2016 and in the Permaculture Women Magazine @ Medium
My Winter Solstice Doodle Prints , are available to buy now, with 100% of the profit going to support Manorlands Hospice, in Oxenhope, West Yorkshire. (England).You can find out about the amazing services Manorlands provides via the link tagged in this post . Its an organisation very close to my heart, as I've nursed in various roles at Manorlands over the last 15 years, and it's been a wonderful place to work.
The Winter Solstice Doodles are A4 in size on recycled card and Footprint Workers Co operative in Leeds have done a fab job in transforming my creativity into beautiful prints. They've been a great organisation to work with and I can very much recommend them.
Prints are £12.50 each which includes £2.50 for printing, packaging and postage in the UK, and £10 donated directly to Manorlands.
If you are on a low income, prints are available at a reduced price of £7.50 which includes £2.50 for printing, packaging and postage in the UK, and £5 donated directly to Manorlands.
If you would like a print, but are unable to afford the reduced price, or you would like to buy several prints, then please contact me and we can chat about this.
Payment is via PayPal. Please send me a direct message on Facebook or Instagram or via email, with your order, including a postal address, and I will let you know PayPal details.
Using Permaculture To Create A New Planner & Reflection Tool
As part of my portfolio of designs for my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, one of my favourite design created was a Reflection and Planner Journal , (This link isnt accesible on a mobile phone). This tool totally changed the way that I achieved the goals and intentions I set in my life and work. I have used versions of this design ever since. I also know that several friends have also used their own versions of the tool as well, with really positive feedback.
One thing I found when I first became very unwell and unable to work, last year, was that my Reflection and Planner Journal no longer felt as useful. The large spaces to fill on the pages, plus some of the content, was a constant reminder about how much my life had adversely changed through my illness. In addition the A4 size paper was becoming more and more difficult to physically manage to use as my movement, even when resting in bed, was very limited.
So I set about on a redesign! - I wanted one easily accessible place where I could record plans, ideas, reflections and resources ,using a variety of creative ways of documenting.
A friend had introduced me to the concept of Bullet Journaling several months before and I’d been considering it as something that I could well adapt to suite my own needs. Many commercially produced 'Dot Journals' typically used in bullet journaling, are A5 size, which means much easier accessibility in relation to my health needs.
The Design Web
I’m a keen fan of Looby Macnamara’s 'Design Web'- the Design Process at the core of her book People and Permaculture, for anything related to using permaculture design as a way of improving our own lives. So it was an obvious choice for me to use the Design Web to guide the design of my new Planner & Reflection Tool.
First of all, I decided to name my new Planner and Reflection Tool a 'Seed Journal' – a space to vision and record ideas, observations and reflections, many of which could become actual projects and designs, if, or when the conditions were optimal for them to germinate and grow. I purchased an A5 Dot Journal to try for the first time. (There are many different brands of these journals available. Purchasing one from a stationary shop local to you if at all possible, rather than from big multinationals, will obviously keep more money in your local community. )
Here is a summary of how I have used, (and sometimes creatively adapted), various Anchor Points from the Design Web as a core part of my Seed Journal Tool.
Seed Journal Overview
Ideas & Actions
Project Pages - Examples of these in my Seed Journal are :- Design pages, (a space to document information relating to a specific design); Blog post ideas; Lunar & Solar Cycles; Social media planning; Learning notes about a particular topic; Budgeting; Log of useful resources; Mindmap of project ideas for next year.
This Anchor Point for me is a reminder about how important creativity is in my life. And each week I try and engage in some artwork that is just for the sole purpose of taking a break, often I will listen to some relaxing meditation music at the same time, and then I glue the creative piece into my Seed Journal.
I use this Anchor Point to focus on recording daily activities that are important to me, and symptoms of my illness. It’s a really useful way to look at the patterns and connections between them, then making changes for the next month as suggestions and solutions emerge.
I find spending time on indepth visioning for the month ahead, a creative and inspiring way to design beyond the edges of my comfort zone, as well as considering aspects of my life and work that may of had very little attention recently. I use a mix of Mother Peace Tarot Cards, various decks of Oracle cards, Gaia Craft Permaculture Principle Cards and Group Works Cards.
Goals &/or Intentions
Actually not an Anchor Point in the Design Web, but nearly always part of a permaculture design. I like to use the SMART acronym for goal setting . This link is a great one for expanding on the typical: - Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Measurable; Time bound. The monthly overview in this image above is collaged from the wonderful Earth Pathways Diary
Ideas & Actions
I have a page each month where I can literally write down ideas as they come into my head. Then at the start of each week I consider how they might fit into the days ahead, or possible connections with project pages in my Seed Journal
At the end of each month I spend dedicated time on reflecting how the month has gone, and link to my goals and patterns for the month. I like using Roses, Buds and Thorns reflection tool here, but it's also a great opportunity to try out some of the others too, for example PMI (Pluses Minuses, Interesting) or SWOC (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Constraints).
Weekly & Daily Journal
The small spaces in this layout work really well for me. Enough room to document, without too much space to feel overwhelmed about filling it! It takes me about 10 minutes to draw this out each week. It can be a good opportunity for thinking about intentions for the week ahead.
Not officially part of the Design Web, but an additional section I use to capture the general overview of the week, for example, significant moon phases, festivals, celebrations or other important times.
As part of my ongoing learning and growing as a permaculture practitioner I like to focus on a particular Permaculture Principle each week, and spend time throughout the week reflecting on how this principle can be used in the different areas of my own life, community (online and face to face), and globally. It can be a useful focus for me when I am not well enough to engage in much physical activity, (I have called this my ‘structured daydreaming’ tool, a redefinition of 'not feeling well enough to do anything'). Sometimes I journal about my thoughts relating to principles, especially if it seems like it would be a good reflection to ‘capture’ for future projects. And on other occasions, I choose a permaculture principle I know is going to be a useful one for specific plans for the week. At other times I use the wonderful Gaia Craft Permaculture Principle Cards to inspire me.
I use this space to document a particular quote, poem, song lyrics or anything else that resonates with me at this time. Reminding myself about it each day really helps to ingrain its meaning and connection for me in my life.
Ideas & Actions
I use these Anchor Points together. This space is for ideas for action throughout the day, plus a log of other actions that occurred without plan, throughout the day.
People I want/need to connect with during that day. And then at the end of the day, additional people who I connected with.
I really like using tarot and oracle cards as part of my daily routine, to inspire and perhaps encourage thinking and reflecting outside of my comfort zone. I briefly record these reflections here.
I use the Roses Thorns and Buds reflection tool to do a mini-reflection for each day.
Not an Anchor Point in the Design Web – but I find it useful to have a separate section to be clear about which permaculture projects I am focusing on each day/week.
Space for daily gratitude.
Some Thoughts To End With
So, this was a brief exploration through, how my new Seed Journal Tool, guided by the a people focused permaculture design process, the Design Web, works incredibly well for me. Implementing this design has been a really useful reminder of how ecological principles and the Permaculture Ethics of People Care, Fairshares and Earth Care, can be used in healing, resilience building and regeneration of ourselves. I've been using my Seed Journal, including, overtime, several useful changes, for 9 months now. Its emerged into a really positive core aspect of how I am adapting my life to several major life events, in particular the onset of chronic illness, over the last two years. Rather than a prescriptive ‘how to’, this blog is very much about sharing ideas that may inspire you, and could well be adapted for your own life.
In case you missed the link earlier on in this post, you can buy People and Permaculture by Looby Macnamara, featuring masses more information about using the Design Web for people focused Permaculture Design, from the Permaculture Market.
" How can we be build a new world when people are so deeply damaged by the old? ”
City of Refuge is Starhawk’s powerful and profound sequel to the Fifth Sacred Thing. It’s actually the 3rd novel of the story that begins in the 1960’s in Walking To Mercury. Although there is been a gap of over 20 years since Fifth Sacred Thing was published It expertly flows to take up the story as if it were written to further the tale of a much more recent novel.
Set in California 2049, the scene is set of a land of great contrasts. Califia in the North, protects the Elements, the four sacred things –air, fire, water, and earth—and values diversity, community, sharing power and responsibility. The Southlands are ruled by a fascist regime in which a small minority hold financial control, children are bred to be soldiers and disposable sex slaves - and rape is a seen as a reward. The lands and communities of the South are toxic and dying, those in the North resilient and abundantly diverse.
It’s a novel for anyone who is passionate about the future of our Earth and her communities. Starhawk tells the story through and in, webs and connections, of love, power and magic. She brings us hope through the many examples of solutions of healing and regeneration described . Although fiction, City of Refuge is so relevant to real life – hauntingly so at times. The challenge of inciting revolution in such a society as the Southlands, by building a city of refuge within it, is an ethically complex task for revolutionaries of the North . It is hugely inspiring to all of us who are working hard to create social and environmental change.
Many of the most horrifying elements of the book (violence and oppression of both land and people), are so, because they are not far in reality to the world we live in today. In comparison, the story also holds many beautiful descriptions of what large scale communities and land use designed with permaculture principles and ethics, can be like. Starhawk’s fiction is a deeply inspiring look at what is actually possible for a solutions focused healthy future.
In the afterword of the book, Starhawk summarises how the changes in our world over the last twenty years have influenced her thinking as an activist, ecofeminist, pagan and teacher and then how she approached writing the book .One major factor is that California Is now year on year living the very real impact of climate change, which was still only a growing concept in the early 90’s when the Fifth Sacred Thing was written. Another challenging subject explored well in the book is Non Violence and its place in a healing world – given the severity of aggression used to control whole communities here in 2016, is it truly possible for the story’s Army of Liberation to use non violent only tactics?
City of Refuge can certainly be enjoyed as a stand alone book and by folk who have never heard of permaculture. There are also many beautiful layers that we as permaculture designers and practitioners will appreciate to a new level as the story weaves through the principles, ethics and many, many design elements and systems as a permaculture designer and activist, I find everything I love in this novel: powerful story-telling toward a different and better future, deep respect for the power of growing and sharing health promoting food, liberated sexual images and identities, genuine love and care for the characters and plenty of plot twists which meant I really didn’t want the story to end .
Starhawks work has been a major influence in my life since my teens and I’ve been looking forward to the City of Refuge ever since I knew of its creation. In all honesty I can say its one of the best novels I’ve ever read. My reactions to the story line: - fear, horror, humour, hope, pride, determination and extreme grief changed from one hour to the next – the 650 page book was hard to put down! I’m now looking forward to re reading both Walking to Mercury and The Fifth Sacred Thing, before taking my time with a more slower, thoughtful read of City of Refuge again. I know those creative layers hold many more pause times for reflection, visioning and designing for healing our broken Earth.
Starhawk talks about writing the City of Refuge in this link
This book review also appeared in Permaculture Magazine Spring 2016
Welcome to my new blog, born at the festival of Samhain 2018, the Pagan New Year. Here I aim to share regular everyday examples of how permaculture can provide healing and regeneration for ourselves, our communities and our planet.
Sign up for my monthly newsletter, Full Moon Flourish. Here I will be sharing updates about my creative permaculture projects, plus links to inspiring work from other women in permaculture.