Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Permaculture fosters community.  Generally speaking, our present western society doesn't.  I was raised (like the vast majority of my generation) to go it alone.  Alone not in the literal sense ~ alone, as in "build your empire, nose to the grindstone, make it happen on your own steam".   Work hard to build your own wealth and your own possessions (and your debt).  The rewards will follow!  The last 22 years of marriage (and our entire adult life for that matter) has been rather busy independently doing those very things.... growing everything but a sense a sense of community.

A sense of community.  Do we even know what that is anymore?

To belong. To matter.  To care.  To notice.  To share.  To help.  To nurture.  To teach.  To learn.  To nourish.  To give.  To receive.  To laugh and cry and connect through all the stages and phases of life.

Our sense of community is dying in many neighbourhoods, towns and cities across this country and indeed, perhaps this continent.  I've asked a great many people about it and the answers aren't encouraging me.  I'm not alone in my thinking ~ that we are in fact, alone and isolated on so many levels.  We socialize via screens and fingertips, we support by "tweeting" and "liking".  Are we destined to build community through friend requests?  Is there hope for old fashioned face to face community building?

Over the weekend (in my permaculture design course), I was forced out of that familiar "independent and alone" place.  Thrust (repeatedly) into different groups (all day!) to work on brief but intense collaborative assignments for short periods of time.  Independent thinking and personal agendas did NOT help that process ONE little bit (in fact, I think it's safe to say that it HINDERED the process, restricting the outcome).  My instinct was to "do it myself" so that I could do a "better job".   The group process was painful and stressful for me.  Little did I know then, that I NEEDED to learn WHY.

The most pivotal (and powerful) exercise came later as we created a connected web of classmates.  I cringed a little (inside) when we stood in a circle and each shared a skill that we posses by verbally offering it up to the group.  Awkward.  Super awkward!  No advance notice, no time to think.  Fast exercise.  Time limit.   Just what can I DO that anyone would care about let alone want to know about?!   I offered to teach people how to grind wheat and make bread from scratch.  Someone (thankfully) was eager to learn from me so I tossed the ball of wool to her across the circle.  Whew!  She offered up her knowledge on the subject of trees and immediately, her offer was taken up by a classmate who needed her assistance. The yarn continued it's random, criss cross journey while we all thought quickly on our feet, each of us forced to jettison inhibition and any sense of valuation or comparison.  It was down to basics.

What can I do and what do I need?

By the time we reached the end of the length of wool, we were all deeply entangled and connected to one another through a very broad spectrum of skills, knowledge and experience.  What a powerful exercise in community building!  It felt GOOD to have pushed through that uncomfortable beginning which resulted in the rewarding knowledge that I was in the presence of of group of people with completely different skills and talents from my own (from carpentry and welding to art and music and everything in between!).  I felt alert, connected and energized ~ like I was an integral part of the group with the unique skills that I possess.  We felt like a community!

Sadly, what came next illustrated exactly what is happening in society today.

The instructor let go of his connection points in the web of yarn.  The wool slackened and drooped limply.  So did our faces.  Our connections weakened (but not our resolve!). We all pulled tighter to keep our remaining connections intact and strong, ready to face the rest of the exercise, but... sadly, another person let go "removing" another set of skills from the collective.   The wool once again slackened ~ this time, touching the floor in some places.  It was pretty obvious that it was futile to try and repair the damage ~ we were no longer a community and nobody was interested in even trying to repair it.  The damage was too great.  I felt exposed and raw (did anyone else?).

In closing, we were challenged by our instructor to build community in our lives by harnessing the collective power, wisdom and experience of all of our community members.  Past permaculture design course grads have offered up the same wisdom with this phrase:

"The class is as much about the people as it is the material".

I read that a few months ago but I dismissed it...  Silly, stubborn me.  It seemed too "inclusive" and dependent for me as one who prefers to (you guessed it) "go it alone".  Such an unravelling this course has been for me!   That community building exercise has sat uneasily on my mind for 3 full days.  Coupled with another harsh realization over the weekend (completely unrelated to my course but directly connected to this theme), I've realized that what I need is community.  Here I sit in my home (alone just at this minute), tapping on a keyboard, but what I need to do is get out into my community to connect with people, share my skills and learn from others.

Imagine the power of building community.  

I'm challenging you to do it!


  1. I've been thinking about this for some time myself. I feel a real lack of community, except for online and while that is great, I also want to have a flesh and blood community too. I'm shy and not very confident so haven't really pushed myself to join with others, but I know in my heart that I need it. I'm interested to follow your journey through this experience.

    cheers Kate

  2. Thats a very powerful and thought provoking post. I had a similar experience at a community permaculture course as well. A whole room full of strangers, each with the same desire to build a garden or become part of a movement within a community of being self suffient. Over two days we had a great time with each other. Today in our local paper i saw an article about an upcoming community kitchen where people can come together and learn to cook. Another opportunity to connect.

  3. This is a great, well written post Sherri.

    This is something I need to do more, mix in the community. I am a keep to myself type and I find mixing extremely difficult...shyness. I always feel awkward when challenged like you were in the web, my mind goes into meltdown...

    Thank you for sharing your permaculture experiences, I am enjoying reading them :)


  4. Have you ever seen the documentary "The Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil"? I love how this documentary connects resilience to community. It's available for free on the internet I think, you should definitely check it out!!

    1. I'll have to check that out, Selma - thank you for sharing :)

  5. That sounds like a great exercise and even without doing it, the thought will stick with me. Thanks for sharing that. I'd love to take the permaculture course one day. Is that the Gaia Master Gardener course out of Stony Plain?

    1. Hi Evelyn,

      I took the Gaia College Organic Master Gardener course in 2012 - fantastic learning - I highly recommend it. A Permaculture Design Course is different from a master gardener course. Google it for more info and if you want to read more - Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway is an excellent home gardener permaculture resource.

  6. Thank you very much for sharing this post with us. This also resonates with me, as hubby and I are new 'farmers' who are trying to be part of the local farming community while struggling with our introvert tendencies. I'll keep this in mind the next time I hesitate to attend a local farming event, or hold back from a conversation.

    Thanks again!!! - Mandi

    PS - Hubby and I grew up in the Edmonton/Westlock/Morinville area, and our families still live there. We moved to 'Northern' BC (at about the same latitude as Edmonton) and have bought 40 acres, truly going it alone, without the constant support of our families (though mine visits to help when they can) - this amplifies our need to build a network within our community, because if we get in to any kind of trouble, we'll need to rely on our neighbours and friends to get us through, at least until a family member can join us.

    1. Hi Mandi!

      Your family would be pretty close to us, then :) Push through your introvert tendencies... I really do think that the rewards of "community" will keep you motivated to plug in :)

  7. That was a really great post. Although now disabled and pretty well house-bound, I'm reaping the rewards of being part of a very caring and supportive rural community. Having been an active part of it for many years, it's only now that I realise how important it is. Enjoy the ride!

    1. Such a wonderful example of the power of community :) I am so glad to hear that you are supported - what a difference that must make to know that your community cares deeply for you.

      If I may ask, in what ways does your rural community connect and how specifically are your community members supported? Do you have a community league/association or are you simply bound by solid friendships and a give and take mentality?

      Thank you for sharing your experience - it's made me think long and hard about how I can foster community in my rural "neighbourhood"...