“I’ve written before about the challenges faced by permaculture enterprises. Farms, like other land-based permaculture projects, are faced with the formidable task of regenerating ecosystems and communities, while surviving in a system that rewards the destruction of the same systems. Permaculture projects have to compete with degenerative enterprises and institutions that are happy to take the efficiency ‘bonus’ from unsustainable and exploitative practices.
The consequence is that it’s hard for permaculture enterprises to keep costs as low, and therefore people with less of an economic buffer, who have to minimize costs as much as possible, find it hard to support regenerative enterprises as consumers. That’s most of the world, in case you were wondering.
So the regenerative enterprises that we would like to create have a difficult time offering products and services that most people can afford, and most people can’t afford to support the regenerative economy. If we want real change, then this impasse demands our attention. We need new strategies for scaling up from gardens. We need new institutions – ones that can provide an interface between our regenerative practices and the degenerative economy.
Permaculture’s take on institutions is not as developed as its take on landscapes. This is probably not news to anyone – but it’s important to spell it out. While some attention has always been reserved for alternative institutions (e.g. Chapter 14 in the Designers’ Manual), the focus of permaculture’s principles, strategies, and techniques, has always been on the human-landscape connection, not the human-human connection. We have to look outside permaculture for more substantive insight on these questions.
Enter Emily Kawano, and the Solidarity Economy perspective.
Emily is the director of the Center for Popular Economics and the US Solidarity Economy Network, and works with the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy. I had the opportunity to teach with Emily last January, and I don’t mind saying that it was a little bit of a revelation for me. For the first time I felt like I was encountering a way of thinking about economics that resonates with the best of permaculture thinking.
I knew that it was going to be good when the subject of capitalism was introduced in an email discussion leading up to the course (thanks to Patrick Gibbs) The discussion soon turned to whether and how naming capitalism would serve the course, particularly in terms of the risk of alienating politically mainstream attendees. I found Emily’s contribution very useful, and I’ll reproduce some of that discussion here (with her permission).”