On Social Permaculture

aul Hudson of Mullumbimby says permaculture must include Care for People and Fair Share of the Surplus.
aul Hudson of Mullumbimby says permaculture must include Care for People and Fair Share of the Surplus.

By Steven Saint Thomas

When Paul Hudson helped coach homeless men to compete in a Sydney soccer tournament, he says he was practicing permaculture. After all, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren identified three ethical pillars for a sustainable society: Care for the Earth, Care for People and Fair Share of the Surplus.

Hudson and other permaculturists would call the pursuit of the latter two ethical pillars “Social Permaculture.”

“Most people think of permaculture as growing something or producing a yield in fruit and veggies to eat,” says Hudson, who works in a health food store in Australia’s Byron Bay when he’s not developing his own bush homestead near Mullumbimby. “However, a successful permaculture system requires that people work together. Without an involved community where people know each other, a local food system cannot exist.”

Hudson says “community” includes people who are less fortunate – people who are homeless or without jobs, struggling with various disabilities, or from other cultures or countries. Care for People means integrating these people into society rather than shutting them out.

Street Soccer in his native Sydney was a good way to achieve this goal. Everyone is invited to play soccer and compete on teams. Tournaments are not only fun, but allow players to advance to regional play-offs, culminating in the annual Homeless World Cup.

One of the reasons Hudson likes the Street Soccer model is that it goes beyond charity and handouts. Homeless people are active participants and see the rewards of their labors.

“Welfare creates two classes: people who need the support financially and people well off enough to give it to them,” Hudson says. “Social Permaculture aims to help people reintegrate into society. That means you empower them. They’re all valuable parts of the community.”

Many Street Soccer players are also working themselves towards self-reliance by selling The Big Issue, a professionally produced street paper published in 10 countries, including Australia. Homeless or financially vulnerable people can buy copies of the paper wholesale at about half the cover price. They keep the markup as self-employed vendors.

Structured as a nonprofit organization, The Big Issue provides vendors with resources and counseling. It also sponsors 18 Street Soccer teams across Australia. People are not receiving charity, they’re simply Sharing the Surplus.

“Think about people who are on the edge, who wake up in the morning with no purpose for their day or prospects for the future,” Hudson says. “Suddenly they have employment or they are part of team surrounded with support. The track record is very good for participants getting off substance abuse or finding jobs or permanent housing.”

Hudson hasn’t gone to the mainstream World Cup, but he’s been able to attend two Homeless World Cup championships – one in Melbourne (2008) and one in Rio de Janeiro (2010). Team Australia didn’t win either one, but Hudson says the feeling of empowerment you get from representing your country on a world stage is unbeatable.

What a Food Future Plan Is and Why Having One Matters

The last remaining farm in the Colorado Springs city limits will not be enough to feed its 450,000 people.
The last remaining farm in the Colorado Springs city limits will not be enough to feed its 450,000 people.

Steven Saint Thomas

In the 1950s, there were 300 farms inside the city limits of Colorado Springs. Today, there is only one. In just a few decades, we’ve moved from a rural society where communities fed themselves to urban centers that rely on importing food to survive.

Your region may be better or worse off, depending on the state of agriculture there.

When most Americans talk about “food security,” they are referring to low-income people who live in “food deserts” and might not get much to eat. I submit that all of us are “food insecure” because we are dependent on a global food system that could break down any day.

Feeding our people in the foreseeable and distant future will be challenged by climate change and the increasing costs of fossil fuels. These challenges will best be met by a regional, collaborative effort to build a locally based, self-reliant food economy.

A Food Future Plan is a strategic approach to assessing a food system for gaps and weaknesses, creating collaborative solutions and developing a sustainable food infrastructure. To date, most governments have ignored the food system, leaving all the thinking ahead to the grassroots.

The U.S. has no federal food strategy and I can’t find any state that has developed one. Some counties and municipalities have. In Colorado Springs, a handful of permaculturists have helped form a Local Food Working Group, which is tackling this project this year.

The Local Food Working Group has identified two main priorities: improving regional food systems so that consumers can obtain locally grown food and promoting urban agriculture by teaching people how to grow their own food.

An upcoming foodshed forum will convene all major local-food system stakeholders in the four areas of food security identified at the World Summit on Food Security in 2009: availability, access, utilization, and stability.

Availability includes growing, processing and packaging the food. The main components of availability are farms and urban gardens.

Access involves transportation, distribution and marketing. These channels include wholesale and retail outlets, as well as direct sales through farm stands, community-supported agriculture (CSAs) and farmers markets.

“Utilization” refers to the health and nutritional value of the food. People need to learn how to choose and prepare healthy food rather than rely on restaurants and fast-food retailers to feed them.

Finally, stability refers to the sustainability of the food system – agriculture and water policies, the development of future farmers and managing food waste.

Gathering local-food stakeholders such as farmers, backyard homesteaders, cottage-industry producers, mom-and-pop retailers, local-sourcing restaurateurs, nutritionists and food-related nonprofits is a beginning of a Food Future plan. The process in Colorado Springs began in earnest in 2010, but stalled.

If we can complete the plan, at least we’ll have a blueprint to face the future. We might even know where our next meal will come from.