Excerpted from an article and profile of Blair Evans by MATTHEW PIPER:

“Permaculture,” Blair says, “is based in systems thinking. But it’s hard to understand systems in general unless you understand one system well that you can abstract from. Unfortunately, in communities that are disenfranchised or under-resourced, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to get experience with well-functioning systems. Everybody can get some tomato plants and some worms and some soil, though, and have an extraordinarily complex system to work with and then scale up from.”

Students at Kelso, as well as members of the surrounding community who learn, design, and build at Incite Focus, often begin their permaculture education, then, in the garden, where they first learn how to operate effectively within the natural environment.

“On the one hand, the gardening projects our students work on are deep and rich enough to allow them to really understand what permaculture means and why it’s useful,” Blair says. “On the other hand, we’re in an environment in Detroit where people in very large numbers have been displaced from the position in the economy they had previously occupied and planned on continuing to occupy, and that’s because of a structural shift, not a temporary change. So how can we use permaculture to imagine what the future of Detroit for Detroiters could look like?”

That’s where the fab lab comes in. Blair believes that advances in digital production technology have reached the point at which, with an ecological approach to design and building in mind, people are now truly capable of producing most of the things they need. “Shelter, water, food, energy — these are all things that we can actually harvest and produce. They’re all around us; we’re just not properly utilizing them.”

Economically displaced Detroiters, Blair believes, should not wait for new industries to come along and absorb them into the workforce. Even if that were to happen, which he thinks unlikely, it would only return them to the fundamentally unhealthy, imbalanced system from which they were ejected in the first place.

“In permaculture,” he says, “you’re not a slave to the process. You’re a participant in the process. Behind a lot of this work is the idea of allowing people to have the opportunity to actually spend a reasonable portion of their time, a third of it, producing the things they need to live (furniture, for example, tools, even houses) themselves. Then you can spend a third of your time using the same tools to produce things that are useful for other people: community-based enterprises. Then you have another third left to to do the things that make you want to get up in the morning, usually the things your high school guidance counselor talked you out of.”

“If you’re not engaged in the rituals that touch your passions,” he says, “you’re not in a position to bring the best of yourself to anything that you do. In a large sense, then, this all comes down to creating an environment and cultural context in which people in Detroit are able to truly maximize our capacity as people.”

Read the complete article here.

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