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Episode 002: The Permaculture Compass

em & josh Sep 10, 2019
Seeds of Tao use the permaculture compass

As permies, we LOVE projects.

Am I right? There’s always some way to improve our home, land, community, or environment around us. There are always problems we are turning into solutions and balances we are trying to implement. But sometimes it can get overwhelming. The constant pushing forward or putting out fires will eventually wear us down and potentially burn us out. That’s what happened to Josh and me in Montana. We were so full of dreams and aspirations, that it seemed worth it at the time to deal with no water heater, sketchy solar power, and hauling all of our own water to a desolate piece of property 30 minutes from town. The fact was that we dove headfirst into our dream but didn’t know how to actually accomplish it from the inside out - we had neglected the natural order of growth. After Montana nearly broke us and our marriage, we came back to Utah and gained a fresh perspective of what we did and didn’t do correctly. We have spent years analyzing our experience and growing our knowledge in the areas we had been lacking, and now it comes together in a culmination of our experience and knowledge, to a simple process, and we would like to share that with you!

The Permaculture Compass

The reason we named this episode the “Permaculture Compass” is because we have come to find through our own experiences and those of the permies we have talked to, that there are really four directions permies tend to go, and under these four directions we can create a process of execution. The four points of this compass would be Personal, Home, Community, and Necessities.

There is a process to real sustainable growth and impact, and that is exemplified in the ninth permaculture principle- “Use small and slow solutions.” Basically you need to start small, how small? As small as your own individual person. Start from the inside out- this is the Personal point on the Compass. The big game-changer in the personal sphere is mindset. A weak, negative mindset that is filled with false beliefs, negative dialogue, internal struggle, and pressure from others cannot move forward with its goals. We will go more into depth on the strategies to change your mindset, but just know that it is possible. You can train your brain to ignore negativity and press forward powerfully, creating your goals. This is where that real power for positive change happens - in the mind. A big misunderstanding about the permaculture principles is that they are only meant to be applied to a piece of land. They are very much applicable to every sphere of influence and being, as David Holmgren acknowledges in his book, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Each of the twelve principles has a place in creating a strong positive mindset, as we will go into in future episodes.

From Mindset to Home

Once we have our mindset locked down and in gear, we can expand our focus out to our home. This is the second point on the compass. Mastering our home’s use of necessities and waste helps us to start implementing the permaculture principles in a sphere that includes more than just us. For some that might include a spouse or family, or simply the home itself. This is an opportunity to apply some of the more tactile aspects of the principles - such as beginning to grow plants indoors or retrofitting your home to use less external energy. The possibilities are endless- but here in the home is a wonderful opportunity to start seeing things work together in our immediate environment. Once your immediate home is balanced and flowing, you can include any land that you have in it. Often times this is where we imagine permaculture working and thriving. There are countless documentaries and articles that discuss the application of permaculture in this type of environment. This will definitely take time to sync, but once its natural systems are thriving, it is a beautiful thing to behold.

From Home to Community

Continuing outward, the next direction on the Compass is the Community. This is where we become part of the permaculture movement. We are expanding our sphere of influence beyond our walls or fence posts, to positively influence the world around it. For some this would look like helping start a community garden in their neighborhood, or showing the mayor’s office a better way to handle storm drain runoff, the possibilities are endless here. This is where we gather our tribe to really see change happening in the world around us. Really, this part of the Compass is where many permies grew their passion for sustainability- by seeing the issues the world around us is having and finding permaculture as a solution to those problems. 

And the Necessities

So what about that fourth compass point? Doesn’t the pattern stop there? Personal, then Home, then Community - that’s it right? Well yes, and no. The fourth point on the Permaculture Compass is Necessities. Not that you have to expand beyond your community to have the necessities, but necessities are an integral part of being successful in all three of the other spheres. The main four necessities we focus on are food, fuel, shelter, and clothing. These four are absolutely necessary for each of the three previous spheres. On the Personal point, your mind must be nourished, fueled by spirit, protected from the negativity around you and clothed in positivity to be a powerful force to move forward. On the Home point, we focus on the four necessities (food, fuel, shelter, and clothing) when we build for or seek sustainability. As far as Community, the more self-sufficient a community is, the stronger it is and more able to expand its influence to the communities around it.

The Foundation for Growth

Does it all make sense now? Start with your mindset, expand out to your home and eventually your community. Along the way, make sure you’re focusing on the four necessities, food, fuel, shelter, and clothing. This will create a strong foundation for growth and positive impact. Check out the recorded episode for more details and 5 steps to reaching your awesome permie goals.


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Next Episode: Permaculture Beyond the Farm with Shelly Immel