On honouring Indigenous Tradition, Ancestors, Spirit and Intuition in our Permaculture Design Processes with Laura Adams

In this episode we explore part of what it means, or might mean, to bring indigenous perspectives to permaculture design with Laura Adams from Seven Winds LLC in Maryland, USA. This episode started with an email from Laura sharing some thoughts on the last episode:

Greetings Dan,I have been listening to your podcast with great interest over the last several months whilst taking part in Geoff Lawton’s online PDC.  (Although I have been exploring permaculture for many years) I am also a supporter of and very excited about the Reading Landscape Film, congratulations on making the goal.  I was prompted to send this note when I heard the most recent podcast you released regarding a conversation with your core group about systems thinking and more.  In that podcast you encouraged your listeners to hit pause and answer the question(s) themselves prior to continuing to passively listen which led me to engage with the conversation more actively and I thought there may be a value in sharing a perspective.

I agree with you that when you prod systems thinking, it quickly dissolves back to parts, and I believe this is because it evolved from parts thinking (or mechanistic thinking) in the first place. However generative or regenerative thinking is totally different (until the word gets co-opted). I come at permaculture from the perspective of a cultural and spiritual root which is Kongo-Taino out of the Caribbean. When we look at something (be it a person, place, river, mountain, event), the first thing we acknowledge is that it is “Un Misterios” (effectively a spirit) and we know that we cannot possibly understand it fully and if we pull it into its parts, the essence of it (the spirit) will disappear on us. The mode of approach is one of listening and sensing and letting it tell us about itself, knowing that this process could be indefinite. Over time that place (or person, animal, what have you) slowly reveals different aspects or understandings of itself to us, if we continue to pay attention (or “follow the trail”).

For sake of illustration, let’s say we are talking about a particular land, it could be a “property” a landowner has purchased. Your typical permaculture designer is going to go in and analyze it for water, access, structures and the various desires the landowner expresses interest in. This is a big improvement on blindly going in a throwing structures and access wherever. However, the land itself has its own spirit, as does everyone who lives on it. I really do not see that permaculture as taught even tries to understand this. The reason is simple, it cannot be measured, easily seen, or “proven”. This is where Indigenous or Re-indigenized culture clashes with Permaculture. I understand that people want to shy away from terms that cannot fully be defined such as “spirit” (or even essence). However geometry is built upon three undefined terms- a point, line and plane.  I do understand why permaculture teachers do not want to get into these waters, (there would be a big backlash and accusations of pseudoscience). Yet, permaculture wants to cosy up with Indigenous cultures (and it should do this to reach its potential). However, if you do want to cosy up with Indigenous cultures, then you have to be ready to see life as infinite worlds within worlds, each one essentially Un Misterios.

Keep up the good work!

Seven Winds LLC

To which I replied:

Laura thank you so much for your beautiful email where everything you share resonates with and inspires me deeply. Isn’t it such a muddle how we find ourselves trying to force the deep beautiful mysterious and sacred essence-spirit of a place into our puny little mechanical containers and how in doing so we cut ourselves off from perhaps the most deeply nourishing and soul-warming energies there are to access as a human being (namely relaxing back into the larger pattern of life).
Un Misterios. Love it.

Two questions. First, would you consider sharing your words as a comment on the shownotes – I want to welcome reflections such as these (which in part help me feel less alone and crazy) on the site, and hope they will in turn prompt related reflections from others. Second, would you be up for getting on a call about this stuff some time that we record toward the possibility of feeding into a future episode?

Warmly, to stay in touch, and thank you again for reaching out and for supporting the Reading Landscape film!


Luckily for me Laura agreed to a chat and so we booked in and recorded what became this episode. Afterward Laura then followed up with this comment:

Dan, It was lovely chatting with you earlier this week. Our conversation sparked some further pondering on the essence of design not just for utilitarian purposes but as a pathway to deeper connection to the heart of life. I respect that you have the courage to put yourself out there as a professional in this regard, as to an extent it is a lot easier to keep one’s profession and one’s personal design practice separate out of concern that one’s personal design practice will not be accepted professionally. My personal design practice is significantly different from my professional one, as I prefer allowing the design to evolve spontaneously within the natural rhythm of action- contemplation (reflection)-action… rather than plan it out on paper. 

Attached you will see two photos. The first is a African American cemetery circa 1850 on our lane. The spiky plant around the grave markers is Yucca filamentosa (Spanish Bayonet). It was planted for protection and connects to Bantu use of Draceana spp -used for the same purposes of protection and marking entrances and boundaries. The cemetery is the boundary between life and death and the Yucca simultaneously marks this important boundary. 

The second photo is of my husband’s [Jose Running Water Centeno] burial mound. Its design began on the day he placed a very large boulder to mark a place he called “Mundo sobre Mundo” (World within Worlds). There is now a small hut right in front of that boulder. Once he was buried, I placed other large boulders which were already in proximity to create the mound itself. The design itself is ever evolving, as elements continue to gather to his mound. Four Yucca (these ones are variegated) plants surround the mound, serving the same purpose as in the old cemetery. 

I believe you are on a wonderful path by choosing to forgo the idea of a “master plan” and embrace an ongoing relationship with your clients and their land. This approach feels a lot more genuine to what I think people want permaculture to be, a pathway back to connection with land and self. I am also well aware that it takes much more creative effort to have an ongoing relationship with clients than a quick in and out. I wanted to share these visuals, as a small contribution to your process and a thank you.

Be well, Laura

Inquiring into Systems Thinking with the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community (E64)

In a world first for this project, this episode shares one of last year’s sessions with the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community.

Huge thanks to Han Kortekaas, Ronella Gomez, Nicholas Franz, Zola Rose, Barry Gibson, Jon Buttery, Arthur Buitelaar, Dan Milne, Byron Birss & Joel Mortimer for co-creating this with me and for their gracious permission to share here. Here are some of us during a more recent session.

Learn more about the Making Permaculture Stronger Developmental Community here.

Below is the section on systems thinking in the book Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom & Dave Boehnlein (p. 18) that is mentioned during this episode. This section is viewable as a free preview at google books. Similarly, you can also check out page 20 of Toby Hemenway’s The Permaculture City here if you like.

Reading Landscape with David Holmgren Videos

Hey all. So in this post I want to share some of the videos we’ve been putting together as part of the current fundraising push for the Reading Landscape Film project. Reading landscape (or unpacking the energies of a situation in general) is a foundational skill in healthy design process and I’m happy to be helping bring David Holmgren’s work and abilities with it more into the open. Please consider supporting us!

Meantime I wanted to let you know that while things have been quiet on the surface, a lot of substantial blog posts and podcast episodes are brewing right now so stay tuned for some making permaculture stronger action the likes of which ain’t never been seen (or heard) before.

Best, Dan

Overall project intro
DH on weeds.
‘Reading’ the history of a magnificent tree.
Reading the suburbs.
Seeing landscape as process
An eight-year-old who knows more about his local ecosystem than most adults!

Five Principles of Healthy Design Process with John Carruthers

In this episode my friend John Carruthers shares five insights or principles he’s distilled during five years of developing a 70-acre property in Central Victoria, Australia. It was an honour to act for a part of the journey as what John describes as a ‘robust river guide,’ and I am so thrilled to see John and his partner Rosie in full stewardship of their own process and the beautiful forms that are emerging from it.

Here is the video we mention several times in the chat – thanks to John for permission to share it here.

John also sent these further notes:

a) the deep ripping across the southern half of the property begun this year is an “option value” decision because it’s an excellent BNS (Best Next Step) for almost any other activity thereafter, be it cover-crop pre-pasture, shelter belt tree planting, or agroforestry or silvopasture. It’s a valuable precursor step.

b) The widely-spaced keylined beds in one paddock is where we’ve begun planting oaks, silky oaks, cedar and native pines as a long-term (inter-generational) agroforestry / silvopasture trial. We have planted several hundred this year and forecast planting three times that over a few years. The oaks are being planted from acorns we collected and germinated. This first planting is our BNS before switching focus to the house site early next year.

Also the quote I cited “I count him braver who overcomes his desires, than who conquers his enemies – for the hardest victory is over self” is by Aristotle NOT Socrates – as I may have suggested 🙂

If anyone is interested in connecting with John or in the services of drone pilot and film maker Peter Watts send me a message and I can connect you.

I also tracked down this video of my first visit to Limestone road, which we talk about in the chat too.

and I found this one also:

Finally I am excited to announce that today is the first day of our in-house six week crowd funding campaign for the Reading Landscape Documentary Film project. Come get amongst!

Tyson Yunkaporta on permaculture, systems thinking & the pattern of creation (E62)

It was my pleasure to yarn with Sand Talk author Tyson Yunkaporta on permaculture and much else. Tyson’s perspective complements and contrasts with that of Leah Penniman in the last episode. Please do tell me what you got from the chat in the comments below!

Tyson Yunkaporta

Permaculture isn’t a form of gardening – it’s a method of inquiry about relationships – that’s all it is. And it’s awesome and in that way it’s similar to traditional ecological knowledge from all over the planet and it’s a constantly shifting evolving body of knowledge too, that’s never the same in the same place twice. Love it!

Tyson Yunkaporta

The above quote comes from this talk between Tyson and my friends at the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance:

Also a big shout out to my my three friends Woody, Meg and Patrick who make up Artist as Family who Tyson speaks about in the yarn. Coincidentally Woody is to appear in our upcoming documentary film about reading landscape. To learn more about that project visit the website www.ReadingLandscape.org and either subscribe to the newsletter or donate to get invited to a free project zoom call on July 15, 2021, with David Holmgren, filmmaker Dave Meagher, and myself.

Leah Penniman from Soul Fire Farm on Permaculture, Decolonisation, and Re-Indigenising

It was a deep honour to have Leah Penniman from Soul Fire Farm join me for this conversation. Along with Leah’s beautiful sharing, I was grateful for the feelings the conversation evoked (many of which only emerged when I listened to our chat again afterwards). I feel like I gained some powerful waypoints in navigating the journey back home. A journey I’m sure I’m not alone in craving.

I also appreciated hearing the heartache Leah has around certain patterns she perceives permaculture to be perpetuating. My focus in the conversation was about inviting and engaging with Leah’s perspective. A perspective which comes from her standing outside permaculture and looking in. I would love to hear your perspective in the comments below. What of Leah’s experience of permaculture resonates with your own? What, if anything, doesn’t? What impact, if any, does you listening to this episode have on your journey forward?

Learn more about Soul Fire Farm here, and check out a rich trove of Leah sharings on youtube here. This one’s a goodie:

And here’s one helpful summary vid in which Leah shares the Soul Fire Farm journey:

Also here’s a link to the work of Toshi Reagon (see also Toshi’s Opera about Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower Opera) that Leah recommends during our chat. Which, by the way, I must mention happened way back on January 8th, 2021.

What did this conversation evoke in you? Would you like to hear more conversations of this nature on the show? Should I share Tyson Yunkaporta’s perspectives on the same matters in the next episode? Please let me know in a comment below!

Engaging the Design Web with Looby Macnamara (e60)

In this conversation, which follows on from the previous episode, explores Looby Macnamara’s design web. We dive into the topic of emergent design process, and in particular Looby’s design web approach to designing anything. I was pleasantly surprised to discover in my preparations for this chat that Looby is a co-traveller in the realm of design process innovation, earnestly striving via the design web to get free of traps such as:

  • Viewing design process as a linear sequence of steps
  • The logical fallacy of having “design” be one of the steps within the whole “design” process
  • Having observation as a step as if at some point you stop observing
  • Getting too prescriptive about the end state you are heading toward
  • Separating planning from action in ways that cripple the possibility of the best outcomes and discoveries
  • Getting paralysed by complexity
  • Getting stuck in one’s head
  • Mechanical (as opposed to biological and ecological) metaphors

Learn more about Looby’s work including books and courses at her Cultural Emergence site here. Also if you’re keen to have Looby support you / us in applying the design web to something in our own lives, make a comment below and if there is enough interest and enthusiasm we’ll make it so!

Here is the design web:

Looby Macnamara’s Design Web

Here is a juicy quote I pulled out from Looby’s latest book Cultural Emergence:

The Design Web is a non-linear process with non-linear outcomes and possibilities. Emergent design reflects the flexibility and unexpectedness of Cultural Emergence. It allows for solutions to emerge that take the design in a new direction. It is organic, responsive, adaptive, fluid, flowing and dynamic. As the design emerges we continue to weave our way between the anchor points. An attitude of emergence enables us to flow and move with what is arising. It recognises that things are not always as they seem, there is more to discover and be revealed. The process is alchemical with surprises along the way.

Designing regenerative cultures is an ongoing process of emergence, not a permanent destination. We are designing for and with living systems that are organic, dynamic and unpredictable. We are setting direction and intentions. It is an invitation for change, rather than being exact or prescriptive.

Looby Macnamara in Cultural Emergence

An Emergent Conversation with Looby Macnamara (e59)

For some years I’ve been itching to get permaculture designer, teacher and author Looby Macnamara on the show and that dream has finally come true. Not only that, we had such a lovely chat we’ve already booked in a second conversation, where Looby will take us through what she calls her permaculture design web.

Find out more about Looby’s books and other work at her personal website here.

Looby – image source

Find out about Looby’s colleague in cultural emergence, Jon Young, at his website here.

And here is an image of Looby’s permaculture design web that I am excited to explore in our next chat.

Here’s vid of Looby introducing Cultural Emergence

Enjoy the episode, leave a comment, and catch you in episode 60!

In Dialogue with Takota Coen about Permaculture’s Potential (E58)

I recently enjoyed the first of what I hope will be many lovely conversations with Takota Coen about permaculture’s potential. Takota is co-author of the new design process book Building Your Permaculture Property. In Takota’s words, we “talk about how a lack of a living, adaptive process is holding permaculture back from reaching its fullest potential, and what we can all do about it.” Here’s the youtube version, here’s Takota’s podcast where this chat was originally shared, and you can learn more about what I’m calling Living Design Process here. Enjoy and please do leave a comment sharing what you make of the stuff we explore!

Dan and Takota mid-chat

Michael Wardle: Professional Permaculture Designer and Educator (E57)

Greetings all. In this episode I get to ask my friend and colleague Michael Wardle from Savour Soil Permaculture all kinds of questions about the history and current state of his work as a professional permaculture designer and educator. Lots of great perspectives and hard-earned learnings in this one – I look forward to seeing what you make of it in the comments!

Michael with one of his teachers :-).

You can check out Michael’s facebook page here and his website here, including his design consultancy offerings and a section with a bunch of edible gardening tips here. Michael also has a youtube channel with videos such as this one dropping thick and fast: