The Values Below the Surface of Permaculture Publishing

Maddy Harland
Thursday, 2nd December 2021

Who are Permaculture Magazine? What other work do we do? And why does this matter? Maddy Harland introduces you to the less obvious values behind the people who have been promoting and publishing about permaculture for 30 years.

We have recently undertaken a process that you might consider very corporate, namely rebranding. But for us, it is just a new way of presenting ourselves to the world, a way that reflects our values rather than tries to sell you even more stuff you don't want.

Years ago we tried to find a face that integrated the three aspects of our work: Permaculture Magazine, our book publishing at Permanent Publications, and our online retailing service, now called Permaculture Market. We often heard that magazine readers didn’t realise that we have also been a book publisher since 1990, and our book buyers didn’t realise we are also PM, or that the e-commerce site was us too! Clearly, we needed to harmonise our many faces, but somehow we couldn’t find a visual language that could bring our work into a coherent whole.

This year, a conversation with regenerative land manager and writer, Rebecca Hosking revealed that there is farmer/designer/artist, Dougie Le Ber, in Devon who splits his time tending to his land with helping small land-based enterprises and charities with their branding. So Tim and I began a conversation with him to explore who we are and what we do. We staggered our appointments with him between his other commitments, like building hugelbeds. It felt grounded and intuitively we knew we had found someone who not only speaks our language, he lives it.

After over 30 years of publishing, Dougie helped us to integrate what we do. The cornerstone is not just us, but you, our readers and contributors. We are a publishing house that spreads solutions and is deeply rooted within a field of unique and diverse writers. We share our collective knowledge to grow an intentional relationship with our natural world. We encourage and empower people to build upon what has been learned and to go out and ‘do’. Whilst we enjoy testing theories, we celebrate actual ‘on the ground practices’ and the lessons learnt from doing. We are here to document this, not just for a few years, but over decades and share this knowledge as widely as possible through different medias. That is what this magazine, our books, our YouTube channel and our social media is all about.

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The fundamental principle of equality with all species

Dougie saw us as birds, carrying wild seeds across a regenerating landscape, one that human beings are not separate from but belong in. He has therefore woven in a bird/book motif within an ecosystem across the different aspects of our work. This speaks of a fundamental principle for me: we humans have no inherent right to hold dominion over the Earth and other races and species (as so many of us were taught), we are only a part of its vast and deliciously complex, nested systems. The idea that we ultimately control these systems is like thinking we can control hurricanes, volcanoes or the Gulf Stream. This has been humanity’s terrible hubris. Climate science shows us that we might predict cause and effect with some accuracy but there are still many unknowns. Take a dive into Deep Adaptation and you will soon appreciate the peril of casual assumption.

We do not and cannot fully understand the cause and effect at work within these complex systems of the Earth and, as much as we permaculturists might celebrate caring for the Earth as a foundational ethic, we must never forget that the Earth cares for us and is our only home. Because within this tiny phrase lies a profound truth: we are cared for by our planet Earth, it isn’t the other way round, and the nurture we receive requires reciprocity. This is a sacred relationship, and by ‘sacred’ I am stretching beyond the concepts of holy or hallowed to the Old Latin word of sakros, from sākris (Proto-Italian), and back to seh₂k (Proto-Indo-European), which means ‘to sanctify, to make a treaty’. We are engaged in a primordial treaty with the Earth. The Earth cares for us and we are required to care for the Earth, but humanity’s story has demonstrated that our ability to honour treaties is dangerously flawed. We break them when it doesn’t suit us; for land, natural resources, wealth, ethnic cleansing and dominion over others.

As Linda Hogan, Chickasaw poet and novelist, so beautifully says, “A change is required of us, a healing of the betrayed trust between humans and Earth. Caretaking is the utmost spiritual and physical responsibility of our time, and perhaps stewardship is finally our place in the web of life, our work, the solution to the mystery of what we are. There are so many holes in the universe that will never again be filled, and each of them forces us to question why we permitted such loss, such tearing away at the fabric of life, and how we will live with our planet in the future.”1

The perennial questions of “Who am I? Why am I here?” has driven and troubled us all since we first awoke in the landscape of consciousness. The answer is beneath our feet, in the call of birds, the wavering air wafted by feathered intimacy, in the song of the stream as it flows downwards to merge with the river that merges with the sea. We don’t have all the solutions but we do have a point of departure away from the divided ways of dominion and destruction, the beginning of a long fireside conversation that can stretch far into the future, and the muscle memory of doing and being. We need to spend the rest of our lives re-establishing right relationship with the Earth, with the other species with which we share this planet, and with our fellow human beings.

1    Dwellings, Linda Hogan, WW Norton & Co Ltd, 1995

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