I spent the past weekend at the Green Phoenix Permaculture Design Course in High Falls, NY. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Kay Cafasso, our lead instructor, has done an incredible job in teaching, administering the course, and providing some really great guest speakers. Our first weekend had Chris Jackson and Tama Jackson (no relation) as guest instructors. This past weekend Connor Steadman taught us about the geological history of New York — both how our landscape affected human settlement in different ways, and how we affected the landscape in return. We shared fantastic dishes of food that we all prepared, and became immersed in meaningful conversation with each other during our breaks. The most empowering thing of all about taking a PDC is being surrounded by 25-30 other people who are as passionate to learn about permaculture as you are. If you have the opportunity to take one, do it.
At one point on this Saturday, another member of our group mentioned trying to find a kindergarten program that emphasized giving children time to explore “wild” areas as central to the curriculum. This immediately sparked a connection for me, because my 4-1/2 year old daughter is always asking to go into the small woodlot behind our house. She asks me to take her in there, often when I’m already engaged in something else. Sometimes I cave in and say yes. If I say no, she asks if she can follow the dogs if they go in the woods. By hook or crook, she’s determined to explore “wild” places.
Today, she and I explored back there for about 20 minutes, until the sun was barely creeping over the horizon and the coming darkness chased us inside. We followed the dogs’ trails throughout the woodlot, stopping here and there to look more closely at a moss-covered log, peek at the rich humus soil of the forest floor, or gaze up at the tall oaks in awe. Through her eyes, forests are places of wonder, beauty and grandeur — and fun!
I was blessed to have a tract of woods over 2 miles deep behind the house I grew up in, all the way back to the Allegany River in Western Pennsylvania. Two nearby friends and I spent hours and hours in those woods every year. We would just explore, climb, dam up creeks, catch crayfish, crawl through ice caves — whatever the area had to offer. Every summer we hiked the length of the creek, all the way to the river. Sometimes I would just walk the woods by myself. Even back then, they were a source for all of the things that my daughter sees in them now.
Our relationship with our earth is deep and timeless. Children don’t have to meditate on that — it’s just something that comes instinctual to them. Our “civilized” world is what tries to sever that connection, and losing it is harmful to our state of being. Permaculture is a way that we can try to re-grow and strengthen that connection.
Geoff Lawton spoke with Paul Wheaton about how permaculture was being taught in the curriculum in an increasing number of Australian schools. It wasn’t taught there because the administrators and communities of Australia were suddenly all permaculturalists. It ended up being taught because there was a drastic difference in the students who participated. They became more focused, acted out much less frequently, and as a result were more effective learners. I think a large part of the success of those programs is that the students were given opportunities and cooperative activities that reconnected them with the earth and each other.
It’s never too early for us to encourage our children to bond with their environment. I took my daughter to the vegetable garden a few weeks back and showed her a section of one of the beds that is going to be “hers” this year. It’s just a small section, an “L” about 20 square feet worth. She was definitely excited when I told her, but it will be really amazing to see her reaction as she watches some of her seeds turn into full plants over the summer.
What I think is really amazing about those schoolchildren in Australia and our own children is how much better they will be at this than we are. Most of us who practice permaculture come to it in adulthood, and we have to unlearn many of the things civilization has schooled us in as well as re-learn our place in our environment. They’re learning it when their brains are developing. Permaculture for them will be much more intuitive than it is for most of us. I can only feel optimistic when I think about what kind of things these kids are going to do when they’re my age, when they have another 30 years of life under their belts. If we’re going to change the world through permaculture, at least part of that change has to take its cue from our children — because in many ways they already know better than we do.