OAEC is a non-profit education center in Sonoma County that works to promote ecologically and culturally resilient communities. Learn more.
“One of the most powerful instruments of oppression has been to tear people away from the land. From the perspective of healing and rebuilding oppressed communities comes Liberation Permaculture – a read of Permaculture that is about self-reclamation, cultural survival and independence. It is a direct challenge to the current social, economic and political system.”
-Carla Pérez, Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project
The Roots of Liberation Permaculture
After years of training individuals in Permaculture Design at our 80-acre site, OAEC staff began to ask, “How can we actively bring the principles of Permaculture to whole communities, especially the marginalized and displaced?”
In 2006, this question sparked a dialogue between OAEC’s Executive Director Dave Henson and Movement Generation (MG), an organization that bridges the gap between current social and ecological issues in working class communities in the Bay Area. The conversation illuminated the fact that social justice issues (such as a lack of jobs and affordable housing, the loss of land sovereignty, and unequal access to healthcare) and the worldwide ecological crisis stem from the same problem—the mismanagement and dysfunction of the global-scale economic system.
Instead of fighting the system with the daunting task of organizing global resistance, however, the group recognized that real change would come from local action. By empowering Bay Area communities to overcome ecological and social degradation with small-scale solutions that they themselves could implement, MG and OAEC realized that we could provide a “think it yourself” methodology for communities around the world ready to create change in their regions.
As Permaculture Design represents a big picture, systems-thinking approach to problem solving, MG and OAEC labeled the new methodology Liberation Permaculture—the notion that oppressed people can draw upon ancient methods of living in balance with their environment to build resilience and regain social, political and economic independence.
“Permaculture, being a design system for creating regenerative human settlements, is a key instrument for communities in developing small-scale solutions,” says Carla Pérez, co-director of the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project. According to Pérez, the current “long chain” economic model of supply and demand and its often toxic side effects, such as environmentally hazardous resource extraction and cheap labor, most deeply affect marginalized communities.
Permaculture, on the other hand, is a “zero-waste model”—it challenges us to use resources in our immediate surroundings instead of relying on an unjust, unaccountable system of mass production and distribution for our needs. “As opposed to the individualism and compartmentalization of the global system, Permaculture is based on collaboration and care for all People,” Pérez says.
Permaculture for the People
The Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project and the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center first unveiled Liberation Permaculture in April of 2010 through a 2-week intensive called “Permaculture for the People.” The course was offered to targeted participants—groups of organizing staff and member-leaders from community-based social justice organizations such as POWER (San Francisco) and Urban Tilth (Richmond).
The course’s Permaculture Design projects centered on the physical sites occupied by the participating organizations, with an understanding that participants would incorporate the principles of Permaculture into their social justice work after the course was over.
“The course was unique in that it was divided between a rural and an urban setting,” says Pérez. “After a week at OAEC, the group made its way back to the city, where participants spent time doing planning and sector mapping at their design sites.”
MG and OAEC encouraged participants to stay in touch after the course, especially about how to implement resilience-based strategies in their work in an ongoing way. This opened the door for several collaborations in the past 3 years, such as Urban Tilth’s “all hands on deck” work parties to turn an abandoned school’s baseball field into a community farm.
Liberation Permaculture is also manifested through MG’s Earth Skills Training Program, which Pérez coordinates. “The trainings are a space for people to reconnect to some of the basic resources we once knew how to use to provide for our own needs,” says Pérez.
These free, equal-access sessions are held in spaces run by organizations looking for help with implementing Permaculture Designs. The People’s Grocery in West Oakland hosted a rainwater harvesting training, for instance, and the catchment system set up during the training now irrigates their garden. Other training sessions have focused on urban beekeeping, soil building, composting, greywater installation, and plant medicine.
“Earth Skills training is not just skills training,” Pérez explains. “Every skill is deeply contextualized and politicized. One beehive is not going to save the world and restore biological diversity. What we’re building is people’s awareness of and ability to provide their own needs from local resources, and a willingness to collaborate with each other on a small scale. That’s what makes it important.”
The Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project’s work over the past few years represents OAEC’s burgeoning ambition to foster community-wide resilience by influencing targeted community “change agents”—from social justice organizers through Liberation Permaculture to educator teams through our School Garden Teacher Trainings.
As a global transition away from destructive ecological and socioeconomic practices becomes increasingly vital, OAEC sees Permaculture as a key framework for envisioning and enacting holistic solutions to the problems of our time.