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Permaculturists in Sunday Times – Living Fluidly

(IM)PERMANENCE film was noticed by the Sunday Times who featured our family in an article regarding "living fluidly".

by Richard Perkins

In case you didn’t catch the article in the Sunday Times last week, our family was featured in an article about living fluidly, how a generation of people are now forging new ways to interact to meet their needs in these uncertain times. To add to this I wished to further explain some of the design thinking behind developing poly-income streams, how and why I connect different aspects of my life together so there is functional interconnection with meeting various goals whilst moving me towards my highest visions and aspirations.

Primarily I’m a permaculture teacher and designer, shifting focus from small scale community resilience to working on broad acre applications of regenerative design to aid the unstable farming situation undermining food security and ecosystemic health around the globe at an alarming rate. We currently lose 24 billion tons of topsoil down rivers and streams each year and wash out minerals and fertilisers to compound this problem with detrimental effects on river/marine ecosystems. Capital, input and machine-intensive western styles of agriculture produce food mountains through subsidy programs that debase "developing" countries’ production and allow corporations to control vast seed markets to the risk of all of us. The problems are vast and the time to repair systems is short. Farming is one thing we all very clearly rely upon as a fundamental foundation for our lifestyle, and it’s one topic that is rarely investigated, celebrated or considered on a day-to-day basis for most people.

In order to engage with what I feel is the foundation of civilisation as we know it, I have had to be creative. Primarily working with people from all walks of life to educate around all aspects of regenerative design, I have been developing strategies and means to engage farmers as well as reconnecting farmers with the public through local and appropriate marketing. I have had to be very creative to develop a livelihood that will meet my families needs whilst allowing me to carve out a career and path for myself.

I have developed a healthy poly-income stream that functionally weaves my learning pathway to my income streams. I’m committed to life long learning, I love the process of transcending old ideas and including new frameworks and skills as I study more and more diverse areas. The more diverse subjects I study, the more I find everything I learn feeds into everything else I understand. It’s the benefit of developing a holistic world view — everything is startlingly interconnected.

We have taught permaculture design to hundreds of students in the past few years, from 25 different countries in all different climates. It’s the same story wherever you go. Food quality is degrading, soils are dead, disease and sicknesses are more common and widespread, water is getting very expensive and privatized, ecosystems are compromised, pollution is catastrophic, doctors know more about sickness than health, corporations and science seem to tackle symptoms, never causes, and people are disconnected from each other and from nature. We’re left with violence, greed, poverty, hunger. I could go on all day, but it’s inspiration, it means we cannot stop working yet. The most destitute person we come across is the measure of how well our community is doing. There is lifetimes of work to do!

What I find beautiful about permaculture design is the fact that it’s a connecting discipline. It allows people to connect dots between all the various aspects of their lives and hopefully step into a more holistic world view. That’s when it gets really powerful, when people start experiencing and acting from that place. It’s a marked shift and represents a breakthrough and transition in culture. I also work as a mentor for diploma students in this field, having developed a new framework this year working with students to apply ecological thinking into different areas of their lives. It’s exciting work and means I stay connected to students for 2 years or more, and we have instantly seen benefits from applying design to the process.

I have studied up to MSc level, Integrative Eco Social Design at Gaia University, a pioneering institution, who I think prefer the term uninstitution. It gets expensive to study when you don’t have the support of student loans. So we get creative. Everything I study feeds into the courses I teach so I have to teach more courses if I wish to study myself. I synthesize that information really well by going through it clearly for others. I offer consultancy regarding permaculture design and regenerative agricultural practices, and this also feeds into learning and running workshops and courses. It all stacks together and cycles round and round building up resilience and stability like the ecological systems I study. In fact the only way you can design for permanence, long term stability and resilience against fluctuations in resources, markets, outside influences, etc, is to mimic nature as deeply as possible in terms of diversity, inclusion, collaboration and functionally interconnecting all the elements involved. It’s fairly simple in many senses, but it is juxtaposed against the entire world view that my schooling represented. That’s a hard nut to crack. Once it’s cracked it does not take long to blow the whole thing open.

Perhaps the simplest yet most powerful shift that happened for me was to throw out perfectionism that had been driven home through fear in my school years. Turn the old saying around, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly”. There is a lot of truth in that. Get it out there and develop it over time. Refine it and tweak it as you go. That’s what healthy ecosystemic design is all about. You get comfortable making mistakes and learning from them. It’s a far more productive state. I think I came across it as the 80:20 business model, 80% of sales tend to come from 20% of goods, 80% of complaints come from 20% of customers. I unlearnt all that perfectionist, stifling and creatively sterile conditioning right there. It’s exponentially empowering to bust through something like that. It’s an amazing feeling to reach a place where now all I learn feeds into all I do for “work” — all the “work” I do feeds back to my learning.

Between teaching courses I make yurts from wood I coppice or buy in and sew the thick canvases on an old hand powered Singer sewing machine. I have great fun building beautiful homes and event spaces out of plants! It all started as I used to live in one for a couple of winters down in Sussex. It is very profitable if you have the space and commitment to tie thousands of knots patiently. I used to live with donkeys who would strip the bark from the poles for me which saved a lot of time and gave them the mineral boost they were looking for. That’s something I can pick up whenever we need a lump of cash. It’s a personal business, word of mouth.

We have also been developing narrowboats, renovating and servicing and preparing them for young people and families who cannot afford to get into the housing market. It’s a lovely way to live. It’s not for everyone but this is our third boat and I can make far better returns than you could in bricks and mortar. It’s a great way to build assets for people who have a few basic skills with their hands. Not only is it empowering to learn to meet all your needs for yourself, once you build up practical skills and knowledge you become a much more useful member of your community. It opens up many other revenue streams too. For example, after wiring up all the boats I have owned, I’m pretty confident with electrics. I can take or leave little jobs up and down the cut and add a bit of diversity into my working calendar. Electricians are not so cheap! Mostly it’s about trading, that’s the power of the personal connections that only come with local and small business. Every course we run involves various work trades that allow us to have other needs met in exchange for our time. It works very well because we are in complete control of how money flows in our life as a self-employed family. First we set about reducing all our needs, then we designed ways to make enough money to live without extending greatly. Then we know what we have to do if we want to put aside a greater amount at any time. Life feels a lot simpler and fulfilling when you can be flexible in how you interact with individual customers who naturally all have different needs and resources! People would have been used to working like this a couple of generations ago. We have lost a lot of spirit in the rush for progress.

And that’s the beauty we are finding in this designed approach, where learning and income are totally inseparable. Life becomes a lot more fluid, a lot more interesting and engaged with more people in different circumstances. There’s no debt from studying deeply into all kinds of fields. There’s no work to do, just more friends to meet. Work and learning and having fun with a diverse mixture of people blend into one. There’s no separation. Michelle and I both wanted to be around as our daughter grows up. That meant creating and designing our "work" wherever we are and minimizing all our needs in the first place.

Ultimately we want to be on land and impart the practical skills and knowledge that create a lasting sense of security and well being, growing food and meeting needs with what is around, naturally. Our main goal with our daughter is simply to show a child how to be resilient and functional and contribute real value to her community. The foundation to this is access to land. It’s pretty simple. I had the rare luxury of being brought up in close contact with the natural world and away from the distraction of television and computers. I’m sure my brain works faster for it. Most people do not know that you can meet most of your supply line needs and deal with most of your pollution in a garden. That makes a lot of people insecure and work much harder than they need to. We relate to money in an ecosystemic way too, which is why I guess we interact with it differently to a lot of folks.

Money has been in our focus recently as we have been engaging in crowd-sourcing for the global film trip we are about to embark on in March, and putting away money for a land trust for when we find where we wish to settle. Regarding the film trip, people interested in what we are going to be exploring or excited by the notion that anything is possible contribute a very small amount of cash in return for an online documentary series and articles, photographs, interviews, etc. It’s about keeping money moving and making things happen. Six of our friends have raised money like this successfully for projects since, which we are very happy about. There is no commitment to a bank loan, no having to ask parents for a big loan, it’s just simple mutual benefit and investment in other forms of capital. We tend to think of capital as just money and cash or digits. But what about tangible goods, culture, connections, networks, information and experience? These are clearly all forms of capital that can be traded and utilized or are just useful in their own right.

We envision leaving a legacy of very tangible assets for our daughter. By that I mean things you can eat, things that can house you naturally, things that can keep you warm, things you can swap and trade locally with neighbors. Truly tangible assets do not depreciate and degrade or fluctuate due to the influence of global super-computer networks. Everything functions in very complex interconnected webs in ecosystems. That’s how different forms of capital work too. We have spent a large amount of our money filming our courses this year to make a free online version as many people said they would love to come but cannot afford it, and that’s despite the fact that we run some of the cheapest accredited courses in the world. We’re not investing in financial capital here, we are investing in open sourced and freely distributed information. Our future depends on a lot more people understanding and implementing systems that mimic the natural orders we can observe around us from the smallest cells to enormous galaxies. We are investing in a shared future that is for ourselves as much as others. We are using financial capital to leverage cultural and social capital gains, if that makes sense.

That’s how the film trip came about in the first place. It’s the most exciting, interesting and functionally engaged way we could think of moving to America! We raise the money and do lots of work for the benefit of many. It’s pretty simple. It’s a great model too — energy flows back to people who can gain extensive insight and hopefully a lot of entertainment for over a year with as little as a $1 donated. We learn a lot and build up contacts and connections whilst evaluating best practices in all kinds of fields we are interested in. We get to travel the world before we really should settle down for our daughters sake. We learn to make films and who knows what else on our way. It’s powerful, that’s why it’s working and others are finding it’s working for them too. There are online platforms you can use too to promote projects like this, but we prioritized maximizing the amount of money that goes straight into the project, so we have done everything ourselves so far. It’s reassuring that this model works, that others obviously believe in it. It inspires me to keep learning and keep encouraging others to take control of how they manage their lives.

One Comment

  1. Wow! Awesome! I love the tie-ins. Mmmmmm, yum, interconnectness of systems is so true. And we can apply the same patterns to our lives as a small fractal within the larger fractal. That’s why it works. Because it has flow, integrity and natural elements behind it. Thank you for this article! Much blessings to you and your family on your adventure!

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