For the past several months I’ve been having conversations with a friend, Dave Jacke, who is a long-time designer of landscape ecosystems via his firm, Dynamics Ecological Design, of Montague, Massachusetts. In his long career in circles — he’s the author of a classic book Edible Forest Gardens — Dave came to realize that a “landscape-only” approach to ecosystem design is inadequate. It doesn’t deal with human social dynamics and their effects on ecosystems. For my part, I have come to realize that I need to know more about the deep, long-term functioning of ecosystems. I am especially interested in learning concepts and vocabularies that some in permaculture circles use.

So Dave and I decided to share our mutual interests and ignorance, and host a public workshop to investigate this critical nexus between nature and humanity (which of course are not so separate and independent, after all). Our workshop is called “Reinventing the Commons:  Social Ecosystems for Local Stewardship & Planetary Survival.”

The event will consist of a Friday evening talk by each of us on January 20, 2017, and an all-day participatory workshop the next day, January 21, at the Montague (Massachusetts) Common Hall (“Grange”). Pre-registration is required; the public lectures will be $10; the workshop & public lectures $85 to $125.  More details here or by writing Dave Jacke at [email protected]. Or register through Brown Paper Tickets (fees apply) at

Here is our overview of the workshop and the ground we wish to cover.

For all its benefits, the dominance of capitalist economics has also generated a world of predatory, extractive markets based on short-term self-interest that is literally destroying the planet. What feasible alternatives exist? This workshop will explore the potential of the commons as a practical and fair system of local provisioning, governance, and culture for transforming society.

From early in human cultural evolution until only a few centuries ago, the vast majority of resources was held and managed in common. Certain groups of people formed agreements about how to use and manage specific shared resources, from woodlands and farm fields to pastures and water, and they managed those resources sustainably for generations. It took the privateers hundreds of years to consolidate their power, control the structures of the state, and exploit cheap energy to destroy the commons systems of Europe and the global South. The unbridled privatization and commoditization of commons that inaugurated the Industrial Revolution continues today, with catastrophic results for planetary ecosystems and social well-being.

Reinventing “commoning” can begin to counterbalance these market and state forces. Commons systems provide human-scaled social structures for shared resource management and the nurturing of community relationships. They foster regenerative stewardship, ethical long-term relationships, and the common good. Commoning requires cultures of skillful social negotiation and coordination, and the development of trust and shared purpose. The question is: How can we consciously, creatively, and practically adapt and reintegrate practices and patterns of commoning into our modern cultural contexts?

This evening talk and participatory one-day workshop will engage that question.

The two-hour Friday evening public talk will introduce the essence of the problems we face and how commoning can help us solve them.  We’ll also explore some of the history, principles, and concepts of commoning as a new and old social form, and examine a few case studies of commons systems that can inspire us and give us practical direction.  You can register for the Friday evening talk by itself and come away with new eyes, hope for a better future, and sense of how we might get there.

The Saturday workshop will build on Friday evening’s talk through lectures, discussions, exercises, and case studies in an environment fostering co-learning and co-creation. How do principles of ecology and the commons converge? What do commons systems entail philosophically and experientially, and imply politically and culturally? What contemporary, cross-cultural examples exist? We’ll also explore how we might apply commons principles to the design of Brook’s Bend Farm, a nascent community farm in Montague, MA. Workshop leaders David Bollier and Dave Jacke will combine forces and ideas with participants to see what we can learn together as we begin to reinvent commoning here and now.

You can attend the Friday night talk by itself, or come for Friday night and the Saturday workshop as a package, which includes a soup lunch on Saturday.

Facilitator Bios:

Independent scholar, activist, and blogger David Bollier focuses on the commons as a new paradigm of economics, politics, and culture. He pursues this work primarily as co-founder of the Commons Strategies Group, an advocacy/consulting project, and as Director of the Reinventing the Commons Program at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.  Bollier has written or edited eight books on the commons, including Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons (2014) and, with co-editor Silke Helfrich, Patterns of Commoning (2015). He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, and blogs at

Dave Jacke has studied and practiced ecological culture design since the mid-1970s, sometimes under the banner of permaculture, but mostly through his firm Dynamics Ecological Design.  Since writing the now-classic two-volume tome Edible Forest Gardens with Eric Toensmeier, he has come to firmly believe that we must spend at least as much time designing our human social structures as our ecological landscapes. Dave’s research on ancient land use in Britain led him to appreciate the long, close relationship between commoning and land management practices like coppicing, both of which will likely become essential again in the near future.

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