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Episode 056: Bringing the Center to the Edge with Joe Nisbett

Oct 06, 2020

This is a great conversation this week on the Seeds of Tao Podcast. We are talking with Joe Nisbett, a permaculture student of Geoff Lawton and recent graduate from grad school as he seeks to find his place between the edge culture of permaculture, and mainstream society. If you’d like to get in contact with Joe, you can through these channels:

[email protected]  

@joe.nisbett on Instagram

@joeneilnisbett on Facebook


If you’d like to get in contact with or learn more about the permaculture student club he founded at Auburn University, you can here:

[email protected]  

@permaculturetigers on Instagram and Facebook


 Also, for anyone thinking about these ideas of center and edgework:  Permaculture Institute of North American, North American Leadership Summit - Join the Mainstream Action working group:

Catching the Permaculture Bug

We began this episode with Joe quoting Geoff Lawton about how permaculture is a virus, once you catch it starts taking over, and you inevitably spread it to others around you. This is such a great analogy. We have had many guests on the podcast, and all of them talk about their awakening to permaculture as a life-changing event. It is so life-changing, in fact, that many people will drop their previous career or lifestyle goals, and pivot to go after new dreams of homesteading regenerative farming, and eco-villages. Sometimes their permaculture epiphany will lead them to almost completely removing themselves from society. 


Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Most of you by now know about our story and how we did exactly this, almost to a destructive extreme. Josh quit his job, we sold our home, moved into an old Airstream trailer with two little kids, and set off into the sunset to follow these new, beautiful, regenerative dreams we had barely formed. Our follow-through of that dream led us to the outskirts of society, alienating us from many people who simply thought we were crazy. For us, it definitely did not work out how we had originally planned. For others, they manage this transition much more gracefully. And for some, that’s exactly what they desire and love to do.

Furthering Your Knowledge

Once you’ve committed to living a more regenerative life, one of the next steps is making a plan to dive deeper, usually by furthering your knowledge somehow. Like most budding permies, Joe went and got his PDC to expand his knowledge of permaculture. This tends to be the traditional route for many permies, and it is a great way to better understand the movement, the theory, and the implementation of this beautiful design theory. Many people already had careers and education prior to their PDC so they either get their PDC and drop what they had been doing to follow more regenerative paths, or they continue with their career of choice, using it to fund permaculture as a hobby at home. Both methods and many other variations are totally viable and rewarding. 


Joe did something a little different. After taking his PDC he followed through his secondary and graduate education in a field he believed would help further his ability to implement permaculture as a design theory - landscape architecture. This is an interesting choice because many of us in the regenerative sphere, and permaculture especially, view the current landscape architecture field overly focused on the aesthetic and lacking the soil rehabilitation and diversification we seek to foster in a piece of land. 

The Current Design System

In the episode, Joe talked about how it was a difficult decision choosing a school to attend since he wanted a program more aligned with his regenerative values, but those schools were few and far between. He did, however, find a professor familiar with permaculture at Auburn University and decided this was his best chance. Once involved in the program Joe found that the current landscape design systems they were using were extremely focused on the looks, and not really at all aligned with his hopes of turning this into a regenerative landscape degree. 


When faced with a realization like this, there were really two choices for Joe, he could give up and take his knowledge somewhere else, or he could continue working in the trenches, hoping one day to be able to put his permaculture knowledge into use. Joe relates, “You have to have a lot of patience to put what you’re passionate about on the side and go and learn what they want you to learn.” Even still, Josh found a way to thrive in this environment, even starting a permaculture student club at the university. 

Center Work vs. Edge Work

In permaculture, we talk a lot about the value of edges. There are places where two ecosystems combine to create more diversity than either side could produce on its own. In the permaculture movement, many of us who desire a more regenerative life choose to live more at the edges of society, separated from the hum of mainstream society. Sometimes that’s a blessing, but other times it removes us from areas of potential impact. If we stay so far on the sidelines, it’s hard for us to make the societal changes necessary to shift the world into a more regenerative space. We must be careful not to remove ourselves too much, or we’re removing ourselves from the potential impact we can create.


Joe mentions many times in the episode that it isn’t a black and white choice. You don’t have to live completely in mainstream society or completely out of it. You can make a third choice, and choose to find a place where you can work towards bringing the center to the edge. You can work in whatever field you’re passionate about and find a way to bring the two worlds together for yourself. In the last MOKR Mastermind Josh talked a lot about this finding a point of convergence using Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept.

More Permies in More Fields

As a movement, we are never going to make the change we want to see if we only work on the sidelines. Integration rather than segregation, right? Joe talks about how we need more permies in more fields, helping to show their areas of work a new way to live more in harmony with the earth. We need more permie landscape architects, more permie professors, more permie politicians, more permie general contractors. It’s ok if you still desire to live a life more disconnected from society on your personal food forest oasis, but it’s also ok to find a balance between the center and the edge. It’s not a black and white choice, there are infinite shades of grey nestled in between.

From the Inside Out

Later in the episode, the conversation shifts to how we should be living permaculture in all aspects of our life, but it needs to start radiating from the inside out. We were so happy Joe brought this up because this was our big epiphany when we went on our adventures. Greater change can be achieved if we work from the inside out, predominantly from your personal Zone 0 - your mindset. This will always be your bottleneck. The stronger your mindset, the stronger your potential for impact. How do you strengthen your mindset? There are so many ways, things like empowerment, emotional release techniques, meditation, habit building, and connecting with your personal WHY. 


If you’re looking for a place to get started strengthening your mindset, we have a gift for you. Josh and I truly believe that every permie should be strengthening their mindset so that they can have the greatest impact possible. A positive impact is how we’re going to change the world. We invite you to join our FREE Dreamcatcher Mini-Course where you will learn how to develop and connect with your personal WHY, learn how to release negative thoughts so that they won’t hold you back anymore, and make an actionable plan to achieve your biggest goals. This is a Zone 0 People Care Mini-Course designed to get you moving towards your dreams. 


Also, the Seed of the Week on our YouTube Channel goes into move depth on finding your niche in the permaculture movement, check it out below!



We had such a blast this week with Joe, we hope you’ve been inspired to find your personal way to bring the Center to the Edge and create the impact you wish to see in the world.


Keep Growing Permies!


Previous Episode: Growing Dreams with Marla Cooley