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Regenerating livelihoods in cities

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

COMING UP! Sunday, March 13, 1:30-3pm at HATCH Workshop, 40 South Union St., Stockton: "Regenerating Livelihoods in Cities," a round-table discussion about urban permaculture facilitated by Mark Mardon, with Eric Firpo, Clifton Maxwell, Patricia Miller, Jacqueline Bahnsen, Elazar Abraham, and other seasoned permaculture practitioners.

Stockton mural by Sunroop Kaur @loquacious_lines

Permaculture is a design system. It is not theory, it is practice. It strives for positive results. The first step is careful observation. On a plot of land, it's a survey of the terrain, an accounting of all that the terrain holds, and the designing of ways to maximize the long-term benefits of the land.

So it is with urban permaculture, the craft, art, and science of surveying your neighborhood, tallying what's there, and designing ways of maximizing the benefits of the neighborhood for everyone.

On that plot of farmland, you might want to plant a perennial food forest. Likewise in that neighborhood, you might want to encourage the planting of perennial food trees.

As a kid, I spent countless hours traipsing through Ponderosa Pine forests in Northern Arizona, and through the state's southern deserts. I was a nature kid, a free-range kid, and that close exposure to unsullied nature nurtured who I am.

Fast forward to today, gaining elderhood, infused with decades of witnessing, experiencing, and testifying to the glory and wonder of nature, I've turned my attention to the affect cities and neighborhoods have on the people who dwell in them. Because I have long been one of those people.

At a certain point after decades of living in a big city, I became aware that I knew nothing about food. I knew something about preparing it, but nothing about cultivating it or preserving it or maximizing its benefits. Though I had plenty of wilderness experience, I had no farming exposure or experience, nor even a vegetable garden in my life. From being a nature kid, I had gone on to live the life if a city dweller with a particular blindness to how city dwellers sustain themselves ... or, rather, how the system sustains the people, inadequately.

Which leads me to permaculture, because I quickly realized that food mass-produced on an industrial scale is not the same as food grown on a small nontoxic scale. My first foray into the world of permaculture took place, not in Australia from whence the word originated, but in Oakland, California, where I met backyard gardeners, mostly people of color, who were transforming neglected neighborhoods into oases of small gardens and enterprises. They were planting victory gardens! They were making and selling crafts! They were organizing themselves into work teams, conducting skill-share sessions, and consciously networking like-minded businesses into thriving urban ecosystems. They were doing just what their ancestors had done so often in desperate days of privation. They realized that to be self-sufficient meant cooperating to create food security. It meant growing jobs.

The growers of Oakland were not working in isolation. They were busy networking, creating small businesses and enterprises to generate greater success for craftspeople and entrepreneurs, and to improve livelihoods and products and services throughout their communities. Folks were finding their niches in this system, and spirits were high.

Small businesses and communities are more nimble and better able to adapt to environmental, social and political change. While big industry is plodding along with crude technological improvements and greenwashing, communities and small businesses are voraciously transforming our lifestyles with efficiency modifications, health conscious choices, and community minded green jobs.

Potlatch: A Model for Urban Sustainability

Here is a hypothetical scenario, based on actual observation of what works. Let's take this as one possible model for an urban permaculture design:

Let's call our model Potlatch, which will be not an organization, but a description of citizens coming together to design functioning urban ecosystems and sustainable economies.

We're talking urban homesteaders and back-yard gardeners; naturopaths practicing their herbal, yogic, Taoist, and other healing arts; intentional communities pooling the skills and resources of carpenters, electricians, solar installers, plumbers, chefs, caregivers, gardeners, and community organizers; organic restaurants drawing upon locally grown produce; wildcrafters drawing subsistence from the land; healing herb cultivators, including organic, outdoor medical cannabis growers; women's child-care collectives; artisans and craftspeople hosting crafts nights and skill shares; galleries, clubs and theaters showcasing local art, music and film dedicated to peace and community; and much more.

This Potlatch brings together interdependent and interrelated businesses and organizations, each providing their own specific products and services but together functioning as a health and wellness ecosystem.

This is one possible approach to urban permaculture, an approach that could work in Stockton -- that actually is working right now in Downtown Stockton where artists and entrepreneurs are staging a cultural and economic renaissance.

In the United Kingdom, folks are developing an approach called Universal Basic Everything. This trades on the concept of the commons and people working together and something called "doughnut economics" to create an outcome similar to what we've been exploring in the idea of Potlatch.

Many ideas exist for restructuring urban economies. The ideas that serve people best are those they devise themselves.

With the ever-growing need for conservation of energy and resources, , we have the opportunity to consciously connect and carefully design businesses and communities for even greater efficiency and productivity along with reduced environmental impacts.

We want to mimic the delicate web of connectivity that provides health and well-being in natural ecosystems. By mimicking these systems we can provide health and well-being to our communities and the environment

Americans now believe that work should be an expression of unique and personal gifts that they can offer society and their environment.

Communities and small businesses are moving toward organic foods, fitness and concepts of right livelihood.

A new socially motivated, healthy workforce is primed to be highly effective in dealing with today’s pressing planetary challenges.

We envision nurseries and farms linked to local restaurants. Yoga/tai chi centers linked to herbal dispensaries. Low impact. Local. Simple. Tap into community knowledge base. Model for other communities.

We see the huge movement toward permaculture, backyard vegetable gardens, the slow food movement, homesteading, alternative healing centers, sustainable technologies, craft making, barter systems, and more.

We want the environmental movement to embrace social justice, but more than that, to embrace the creation of a new economy for those struggling in the current unfortunate climate.

We see how huge a movement there already is toward the creation of this new economy, and we are much encouraged by its creativity and energy.

Through potlucks, skill-sharing sessions, workshops and networking we citizens can tap that energy to help foster the creation of intentional community and ecological empowerment.

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