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In 2015 I released 55 episodes. Followers to the show on Facebook and Twitter more than doubled, and listenership is now at over 15,000 per episode, also doubling since the start of the year.
This episode is a best of and overview of the preceding twelve months. In preparing the list of what to include, it became a survey of what was popular on the podcast, and in our particular slice of the permaculture community represented by where things have gone, and your interests in reaching out to have certain guests on the air.
If you’re new to permaculture or this podcast, the various interviews reviewed here and listed in the Resource section at the bottom of the show notes page provide a beginning to explore the archives, which contain hundreds of hours of interviews with a broad cross section of permaculture practitioners, authors, scientists, and others who are all dedicated to creating a better world.
Every time I sit down to look over the year that came before, I always toss around different ideas of what to include and how to best represent the trends and ideas, without giving a blow by blow of every topic and conversation. I really enjoy every interview and episode that gets released, so would just list them in order if I had my druthers, but that’s not that interesting.
Instead, I have to use some kind of metric or decision making process to decide what to share. That might be something like total listens to a given episode, but that gives preference to something that was released earlier in the year. Comments are great, but vary widely, and the more polarizing a guest is leads to more feedback. Even with that feedback, what source to judge from? Though some replies are left on the website, most of the responses continue to come directly to me via email, but some interviews, like that with Jason Godesky, generate a lot of interest on Facebook.
So for this year I’m going to look at the topics that trended as the most popular subjects on the show, include a few of my personal favorites, and close with the guest who continues to be the most popular on the show.
By far the topic that got the most attention was foraging and rewilding. Every time this subject came up new suggestions poured in for people to reach out to for interviews, other books and articles to read, or different angles to address this idea of primal reconnection to ourselves and the land. The two conversations with Peter Michael Bauer were some of the most downloaded and commented on interviews of the year. Peter’s first conversation in March, providing an introduction to human rewilding and the intersection with permaculture, was so well received that he returned in November to explore the difference between rewilding the land and how that differs from un-domesticating ourselves.
Dina Falconi, author of Foraging and Feasting, was the other guest garnered a lot of attention. Her discussion of food as medicine, the idea of developing and using master recipes, and the distinction between a plant as food or a culinary addition resonated with many people.
From the landscape and the self we move to human society and our cultural stories, which played a big part this year in the discussions about social permaculture. Where these most connected were when many voices came together as one in the round table recordings. Repeatedly I’ve heard from you that you listened to those over and over again, including the two conversations with Ben Weiss and Dave Jacke, one of which included Charles Eisenstein; the journey to the Riverside Project in West Virginia where Nicole Luttrell, Jesse Wyner, Ashley Davis, and Diane Blust joined me for another two pieces that started talking about permaculture, but settled into a what it means to call a place home; and then the largest round table yet, with the Clear Creek community outside of Berea, Kentucky. Though each one touched on very different ideas the space created by coming together felt like you were invited to be a part of the circle to sit, ask questions, and listen. In some case we were able to do that by including your questions as you tweeted or posted comments to Facebook while the interviews were recorded.
Along with those, the social and cultural side were pushed to the edge in the discussion of with Jason Godesky. Though on the surface we talked about narrative, mythmaking, and how we can accomplish that through games such as his own The Fifth World, there was a deeper exploration of push-pull experienced between waking up and turning on lights and having on demand hot water and how to live a life that isn’t just a reduced consumption that is still damaging, but something more regenerative. I’m thankful for the voice Jason brought to the table that day, after we’d already had a long weekend at Save Against Fear, and were still able to look at the difference between the modern versus the traditional; holistic compared to reductionist; and personal responsibility versus systemic hegemony.
Moving outside of the topics of interest, there are three episodes I feel deserve mentioned here as ones you should listen to if you haven’t heard them, or listen to them again if you have. The first is Joshua Peaceseeker Hughes and our overview of modern permaculture that resulted in the first episode explicitly looking at the need for Transitional Ethics during this time of transformation. His personal story created an acknowledgement that we can do more, but that doing so involves making an active choice. To embody permaculture and live it intentionally, but not to abuse ourselves for being citizens of the world we find ourselves in.
The second was when I returned to the Faith and Earth Care series through the interview with Dillon Cruz. I was initially a little hesitant about releasing the conversation because this series as a whole usually generates a lot of feedback, often negatively. Dillon’s time on the air did bring a number of replies, often private via email, but in a different way. His raw voice and self awareness lead to responses that stretched across a variety of religious traditions, and gave form to an expression of faith as a way to tend the world we are given that is a personal pursuit compatible with designing the world we want to live in. There was no hatemail this time around for covering spirituality within permaculture, but, then again, this wasn’t that kind of conversation.
The final of the stand-alone, stand-out episodes, comes from time spent with Eric and Victoria of Charm City Farms, in Baltimore, Maryland. In particular it was Victoria’s personal journey that opened a space to hear a voice that sounded similar to our own. She came from a place where she could make any of a number of choices towards the life she lived, and worked through the struggles of what path lead to a sense of self and right livelihood.
Every time I sit down with a microphone I never know what will wind up being recorded or where the interview will go. That day in Baltimore lead to something special and I’m grateful to Victoria for allowing me to share that with you.
Now that I’ve covered the episodes I heard from you about, there are two that were some of my personal favorites. Those were with Holly Brown of Island Creek Farm, and talking with Toby Hemenway about The Permaculture City.
Holly means so much to my own journey as a permaculture practitioner not only for the content of the conversation you can listen to, but also because of the way that we spent our the time together the day we met. She was the last stop on my journey through Virginia visiting with permaculture farmers and homesteaders, that started with Lee and Dave O’Neill of Radical Roots several days earlier.
That morning, as I drove out to her farm, I found myself a little road weary and ready to start the trek back up North on Interstate 81 to Pennsylvania. I love to drive, it’s something instilled in me by my father at a young age as I sat in the back of classic American muscle, and later Swedish GT cars, and then my own life as a gear-head behind the wheel of Japanese sports cars and GT cars of my own, but I despise getting on I-81 for more than an hour or so, and the thought of four hours from Virginia back home that day felt like a stretch of my own personal hell laid out in asphalt.
While winding my way through back roads, already running late after sitting in traffic while trying to leave Roanoke, I began to question this last stop of the day, and whether to reschedule with Holly for another time. The closer I got to the farm the roads got narrower and the speed limits much lower, and I still didn’t know what I would find, or how this last conversation would close out a whirlwind journey, my first time taking the podcast on the road to visit, talk, and document in person. Finally, after nearly two hours in the car for what should have taken less than an hour, I rounded the last turn and came to the Island Creek. After backing up a bit because I missed the lane, for the first time I saw why Holly and her farm were recommended as a place to visit. The site was gorgeous, and there, out in the fields, were a pair of souls working the land with their hands, skin deeply tanned from time spent out of doors. Shortly they would be revealed as Holly and one of her farm interns.
Within moments of meeting, after Holly and her intern finished the harvesting and business for the day, Holly and I stepped into the small home she shares with her husband and children, a home built by their hands on land donated to their family as a wedding gift, and ate a lunch of vegetable curry, topped with yogurt she made from raw milk sourced from another nearby farm, and paired with a salad of her own variety of mixed greens. Before the interview, we sat and talked about children, family, and life. Afterwards, while touring the farm where I got to eat my first fresh fig right, pulled right off the tree, we discussed the politics of being a permaculture farmer in an area with a conservative view of farming that views modern, industrial drive agriculture as the only way; and how to make the choices required to have a successful permaculture farm that runs counter to those ideas that others see as norms, reinforced by our society we live in. Though that all happened outside of the conversation you can listen to on the show, many of the tenets and tone you’ll find there. Holly is someone I look forward to visiting again to sit down and continue to push the edges of what it means to embody permaculture as a small-scale farmer working the land, fueled by calories not fossil fuels. The impact of that day is also why you’ll see the picture of Holly’s farm as the cover image of this episode.
On the other side of that, looking at living in a rural setting, was Toby Hemenway. Well known and carrying high regarded within our community, I’d chased him off and on through the years for an interview, but we never quite connected. I’ll admit to never being a fan of Gaia’s Garden, but The Permaculture City was like talking with an old friend, which was what the resulting interview felt like. Warm and gracious, but a bit heretical because Toby did the math and raised questions about the practicality and sustainability of the permaculture dream of going off-grid, returning to the land, and seeking self-sufficiency. As he says in the book, he’s done subsistence farming, and it isn’t a joy by any sense of the imagination, it’s hard work that many of us are not realistically ready for, so what can we do to do us and what we are ready for and good at?
This latest work also took permaculture a step further out of the landscape, to areas where there may be no soil to grow in, or if we’re not suited to it, may honestly be a waste of our time and energy. What then?
What do we do to still live in a regenerative manner, during this period of transition, to lessen our consumption and impacts, when the answer is counter to so many years of conversation and literature on what we’re told permaculture is supposed to be, and what it is supposed to look like? Deep down we’ve known the truth, the answers, we’ve heard it before through people like Bob Theis imploring that we don’t go out and inflict ourselves on a piece of land that doesn’t need us, or Dave Jacke addressing that what we called Invisible Structures for so long need to be framed for what they are, social and economic systems. And here in his book and conversation with me, was the number one selling author on the subject of permaculture calling all of that into question, and asking us to examine our own choices. Here were some of my doubts about the permaculture narrative given a voice. Was my mind blown? Yeah, just a little, and it’s what has taken me a road to continue to stand in two worlds and create a place, through the podcast, to look at these bigger pictures and questions so we can build permanent culture, rather than just insuring we achieve permanent agriculture.
With all those voices and conversations and the others in the archives, can you guess who the number one guest of all time on the show is out of the last five years, and so receives an honorable mention?
Are you shocked at all if I say Ethan Hughes?
His insight and thoughts continue to connect with so many people, including to my surprise, a number of folks from Australia and New Zealand. The work of his, to embrace and embody permaculture in a way that is personally fulfilling, but non-proselytizing, shows a different way forward. I might not ever to live the way he does, because as Eric Toensmeier and I have talked about I like electricity and the ability to communicate worldwide instantaneously via the internet, his actions help me get a little bit closer to where I want to be every time we talk or I listen back over the public interviews. It’s why I picked up the phone and called him to talk about my desire here in Pennsylvania to create an urban demonstration site and semi-intentional community.
As that phone call drew to a close, and he’d shared a number of insights in how to start a project like that, the conversation lead to us talking about writing, in particular a book about his personal journey, but with the practical insights necessary so anyone can create change where they are, as conventionally or radically as they like. Even more to my surprise, Ethan asked me to be his partner on the project, which resulted in what we’re calling The Possibility Handbook. As a new year dawns, so does a new project, and I leave for The Possibility Alliance on January 15, 2016 to sit down, off-grid, and record with Ethan.
If you would like to learn more about The Possibility Handbook in particular, visit the thepermaculturepodcast.com/book. There you can listen to a short interview with Mr. Hughes discussing the contents we’ll cover, and what he hopes to accomplish by bringing this into the world. You’ll also find information and links on how to take part in a listener-only crowdfunding campaign where you’ll receive early access to the book materials as they become available, and exclusive content that will not be offered anywhere but there.
In drawing this to a close, I want to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of the the show over the years by donating, sharing links, and reaching out to me via email or phone, or by taking the time to put a letter in the mail. All of it has made this podcast a success in ways that I never imagined in October of 2010 when I first sat down with an inexpensive USB headset and an old Linux laptop to start talking about Permaculture.
Episode 1506: Island Creek Farm with Holly Brown
Episode 1513: Rewilding Permaculture with Peter Michael Bauer
Episode 1516: Foraging and Feasting with Dina Falconi
Episode 1524: Right Livelihood with Ben Weiss, Dave Jacke, and Charles Eisenstein
Episode 1526: Getting right with ourselves & building community featuring Ben Weiss & Dave Jacke
Episode 1530: Urban Permaculture in Baltimore, Maryland (Charm City Farms)
Episode 1532: The Permaculture City with Toby Hemenway
Episode 1538: Community Building (Clear Creek Round Table)
Episode 1540: Myth Making and Storytelling with Jason Godesky
Episode 1541: The Riverside Project Round Table (Part 1)
Episode 1543: Transitional Ethics with Joshua Peaceseeker Hughes
Episode 1544: Home (The Riverside Project Round Table Part 2)
Episode 1546: Human vs. Conservation Rewilding
Episode 1548: The Greatest Commandment with Dillon Cruz