Big Ag vs the Wildlands Re-Skillers. Interview with William Mutch, Transition Palo Alto. By Willi Paul, permaculturexchange.com
“I agree that the political and the practical (work) should be integrated, however… we are so inundated with political stuff these days (at least, I am), that it is nice to have groups which focus more on the fun aspects of activism than the more heavy-handed stuff. Transition is absolutely political, but we approach it in a different way, recruiting people by having more fun than the other folks, and we seem to be succeeding in that. Permaculture does this, too, inspiring rather than driving.
“Working groups” are Transition lingo for groups working on particular projects, and they form and dissolve as needed, and as interest waxes and wanes. The steering committee forms, and at its first meeting it plans for the day on which it will dissolve. That day is generally when four or more working groups have formed, at which point the steering committee reboots as a hub composed of representatives of the working groups. Thus, Transition Silicon Valley rebooted as a hub composed of representatives of the regional initiatives. Transition Palo Alto is considering rebooting as a group of representatives of the working groups, which are: Re-skilling; Conversation, Community, and Calling; Local Food; Media; Resilience; Film Series; and the various morphs of the various book groups.
Transition divvies its work up into “Head, Heart, and Hands”, and the working groups are also so divided, although there is some overlap between them, as well. For instance, Re-skilling is Head and Hands, CCC is primarily Heart, Film Series is Head and Heart, etc. The divisions are not so important, but they create an easier way to talk about these things to folks who are new to the community.”
— Recent William Mutch email to Willi Paul (edited)
* * * * * * *
Interview with William by Willi –
What is the history of the Peninsula Permaculture Guild? Are you reviving it – why & how?
The Peninsula Permaculture Guild has had a few different starts, and folded a few times. We are in the very beginning stages of reviving it. I want a place where permaculturists can meet and talk permaculture with each other, sharing ideas and working on projects together.
Are Guilds doing anything important in your view? If so, can you offer examples?
Currently, I have not done enough research on this, but I think the potential is huge. In the South Bay, I have a feeling of permaculturists being pretty spread out, and working in isolation from each other. Having guilds would allow us to learn each other’s strengths and specialties, so we can create a referral network and collaborate on projects. We could also offer post-PDC support for grads, offering them opportunities to get their feet wet under the guidance of more experienced practitioners.
How is the Bay Area alt listserv system working in your opinion?
I’ve been on the Transition yahoogroups, and don’t know much about the alt listservs. I think the Transition yahoogroups are working great, though. I have been thinking about doing some telephone-tree stuff, though, for the human connections they create. The internet feels pretty impersonal, sometimes.
What lists do you subscribe to and why?
I am on all of the local Transition yahoogroups. Transition is permaculture applied to city and culture design, and I am very involved in the local Transition community. We have many different working groups which are exploring and implementing various aspects of Transition work, from organizing and putting on film series, to facilitating book groups, to holding skillshares and reskilling classes.
There are folks sharing produce grown in their gardens, sharing skills around food growing, holding local-food potlucks, and thinking about local investing. Pretty much, if there’s something you’re interested in, there are folks willing to either support you or participate with you. At the heart of it, though, are the people, who are some of the most amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
Are permaculture schools, like Regenerative Design Institute, giving their students any employment assistance after graduation?
I haven’t looked into this. Some schools offer advanced trainings, which greatly increase your skill diversity as well as your marketability.
This could be another area where guilds could do great things, picking up where the design schools leave off in regards to support for grads. Another benefit of having guilds do this would be that grads would be coming from many different schools, so there would be lots of cross-pollination.
Think 30 years ahead. What does the local economy look like William? Talk about jobs and relationships please.
This area has substantially re-localized, with most of our food being grown within walking/biking distance of where we live. Most people are producing excesses of food from their yards, and trading it for food they are not growing, or for other needed items. We value skills and community over accumulation of money or material goods. Everyone knows their immediate neighbors, as well as what skills they have. Petroleum is largely a luxury item, rather than a necessity, as it is so expensive, but reserves are enough that if we really need it, we have it available. People wised up in time, and used the last of the cheap petroleum to wean themselves off of it.
There became a trend of converting money into knowledge. So, rather than hoarding money and keeping it to ourselves, we used it to pay people to teach us traditional skills. As we learned those skills, our sense of competence greatly increased, and we realized we no longer needed those massive piles of money we were hoarding, nor did we need to go into debt, as we could trade skills for skills in a timebank system. Of course, there are still folks who hoard, and they are free to do so, but for the most part, there isn’t any need to.
There is a robust network of people growing their own food, and harvesting rainwater, both actively and passively, is the norm rather than the exception. Everyone has a store of food which can last them for at least a year or two, and the excess is used as currency, as it is simply impossible for anyone to grow everything they want or need. This has created a group of folks who are constantly searching for folks with needs who can connect up with people who have excess.
Also, once people began growing their own food in earnest, there became much less need for large-scale agriculture. Big ag didn’t give up without a fight, of course, trying hard to legislate against local ag and food sharing, but in the end they became obsolete, and those who used to work for them became part of the local food-growing movement. The end of corporate personhood played a large part in this, and in many other victories. As we stopped destroying wildlands to make way for more farmland, the wildlands have been coming back, and we are coming into more of a living relationship with the land, harvesting its excess and reinvesting its surplus.
Things are not perfect, though. There are wild weather patterns, relict of the days of our climate excesses. These may calm over time, but we are working with them, instead of against or in ignorance of them, and our extended communities have the resilience that the old, fragmented neighborhoods did not. We have been forced to face the ecological destruction we caused during the Petroleum Age, but fortunately we have the tools to repair much of that damage, locally. Also, we suspect that many communities did not re-localize, and were cut off when petroleum prices soared beyond affordability. We are trying to network with them, to help, but have heard little. Fortunately, the surplus food and water we are generating mean that refugees are welcomed into our communities. We also know that should we become un-housed and forced to leave our land and supplies, we have needed skills that we can contribute wherever we settle.
Although words like Transition and Permaculture are still used, our culture still dreams of a time when those words are no longer necessary, as they will just be the way things are done.
What is sacred to you?
presence, awareness, silence
Are there new myths, symbols and songs rising from permaculture?
Many. One of my favorites is the story of the pillars which were disintegrating because of a beetle infestation. The caretakers of the pillars were at their wits-end about what to do, when along comes this fellow, and he says “I’ve got your new pillars”. Turns out, the beetle infestation happens on a several centuries long cycle. The foresters tend the trees out of which the pillars are made, in preparation for the day when the trunks are needed to make new pillars. And there they are. I’m guessing the actual story has changed and become a permaculture myth, and I have probably changed it a bit, too, but that’s what myths do. Accurate or not, that is the mindset we strive for. What is your 500-year plan for your site, how about your 1000-year plan?
WM: “I want to see permaculture practice become financially sustainable for a wider audience, and to see a web of transition towns and permaculture communities creating a resilient network that will help heal the world and its peoples.” Can you offer any concrete ideas here? (source)
The second piece is pretty much happening. It is moving out of infancy and learning its legs in the world. The Transition movement in Silicon Valley has taken off like crazy, and I think, or hope, that it’s only a matter of time before folks start wanting to pay us for our work. Right now, of course, people are paid unreal amounts of money to destroy life on the planet, but I think that will change, and may do so quickly, as more people start taking more interest in and responsibility for their world. I often feel like I’m riding a tidal wave of energy among these amazing people who are involved in this work.
* * * * * * *
William Mutch is a permaculture designer and teacher, and is very active in the local Transition movement, which applies Permaculture Design to the design of cities and cultures, moving towards relocalization and energy descent. As part of his design and teaching business, he offers regenerative maintenance, which restores the natural systems in urban landscapes. He also is learning and teaching Bird Language, as a way of reconnecting people to the land and their nonhuman neighbors, avian and others.
William Mutch, Transition Palo Alto
Permifree at yahoo.com