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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Social Permaculture: : The Newest Frontier of Sustainable Design

Apr 02, 2016 02:07AM ● By Eliot Snaith and Celine Currier

The term permaculture has gradually been working its way into our social vocabulary. Permaculture is defined as the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. Permaculture practices adopt the natural and cyclical principles at work in the natural world. Social permaculture applies the same approach to social systems as permaculture does to agricultural systems. Social permaculture integrates the individuals and various systems operating within our social community into a ‘permanent culture’ that is more reflective of the balanced and effective systems in the natural world.

Foundational to agricultural permaculture techniques is the observation and understanding of relationships. In America, the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is incredibly common. As a culture we understand that our well-being is dependent on our relationships with others. Working within the paradigm of social permaculture, people begin to develop strong reflective habits. As these new outlooks take root, we are better able to recognize “toxic relationships” within our lives. Unfortunately, even when we recognize toxic influences, we often either lack the self confidence to stand in our power and make changes that create new space in our lives. Sometimes we also come up against the socially created notions of “rugged individualism” that ensnare us in harsh self-judgments. Whether we react to toxicity in our lives with fear or egotism, we are prevented from building stronger, more sustainable social networks and, ultimately, from following our dreams.

Social permaculture offers a set of strategies for managing social landscapes using the cornerstone ideas of agricultural permaculture. Some social permaculture groups may focus more on institutional policy or leadership training but, on a comprehensive level, social permaculture starts with the self. At its best, social permaculture nurtures individual growth and development, while weaving together social networks of individuals; those networks, when bonded, create the catalyst needed for personal and social reforms.

So often within the sustainability movement we see passionate people coming together with rational and reasonable ideas only for the project to become derailed due to breakdowns in communication. In trying to create sustainable models for agriculture and urban development, these groups overlook the network of communication lines between themselves and their colleagues. Communication with others and ourselves is difficult, but we can use the models provided to us by nature to learn, implement and cultivate more productive and sustainable social networks. Essentially, all of our economic, cultural and political troubles boil down to an issue in human communication.

To begin, we start at the highest zone use (zone 0 or 1) that requires the most attention. In agricultural permaculture, this covers the home or the area where we spend the most time. In social permaculture, the zone of highest use is the Self. We first begin to consciously assess the Self and begin to nurture it in ways that optimize health, a process often referred to as self-care. Social permaculture leads this self-exploration within a group setting in order to create healthy boundaries between people and their egos and insecurities. By both bearing witness and being witnessed in the process of self-assessment, we can avoid the pitfalls that often impede the progress of the aspirant. This social aspect of personal growth is important to avoid the fears that arise from emotional isolation, such as anxiety, narcissism, paranoia and depression. Social permaculture addresses the health of the microcosm (the individual self) and then applies the same principles to the macrocosm of the greater human community. It is essential that we always come back to reconvene with ourselves; the system within ourselves needs to be healthy before we begin to develop dynamic and lasting bonds with others.

Exposure to the concepts and strategies in social permaculture alone can nurture major positive life transformations for many individuals. Social permaculture also offers the opportunity to be a part of a group where we can safely practice strategies for healthy social landscape management. Part self-help course and part support group, social permaculture classes offer a place to develop our highest potential selves.

Because of the necessary emphasis on self-assessment and growth, social permaculture best serves those who feel on the verge of transition or feel ready to begin a new chapter in life. Anyone who is feeling called toward personal growth, transformation or the need for cathartic release is primed to benefit the most out of social permaculture programs. Anyone seeking feedback on a personal project, making social connections, deepening their existing relationships or seeking guidance in personal development is also a perfect candidate for social permaculture curriculums. The key to great change is to already have an open mind.

By subtly changing our perspective on our relationships with ourselves, others and the environment around us, we can transform our experiences so that they pave the path to personal growth and development. Through engaging with this synthesis of ancient and modern human understanding, we are pioneering the newest frontier in developing a healthy, permanent culture for ourselves and the world around us.

Explore social permaculture in sustainable living at Sticks and Stones Farm in Newtown and http://www.AzothProject.comAZOTH Project workshops/retreats. For more information, visit

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