Personal Permaculture 1: Observe and Interact

During the first discussion of the Personal Permaculture group, after hearing the principles and ethics, people shared their thoughts about the principle of observation and interaction. A couple of things struck me as particularly important areas to pay attention to this month: measurement, tracking and how we talk about sustainability (we personally, and the media in general).


When my household participated in the Three Actions Project, we had to do a lot of measuring to document progress toward our sustainability goals. While the organizers considered measurement the easiest task for each category of action, we found meaningful measurement to be difficult. Sure, I can weigh the garbage each week, but in order to actually reduce the amount of garbage leaving the house I needed to know about it in much more detail so I could devise strategies to avoid it. In the case of measuring our electricity use, I found detailed tracking of time we used each electrical device to be impossible. I needed to take a bigger picture view and I needed broader actions to address it. Group member Curt recommended the book “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business,” by Douglas Hubbard.


Measuring doesn’t do much good if I don’t actually write things down and then learn from that data. I started the last growing season with the best of intentions but by the end of the season I had yet to write anything down. I vowed to do better this year so I spent a lot of time looking for the perfect garden journal. I think I’ve found it. I downloaded the Garden Planner from Northwest Edible Life. I like that I can choose to print only those sections I need and I can print additional pages when I need them.

As I prepare to expand the garden again this year I need to track sun and shade patterns more closely. Friend Marcie said that she used Google Sketchup to design her yard and it showed her where the sun and shade were throughout the year.

Someone else mentioned that they found it valuable to listen to Jim Gilbert, a naturalist with WCCO radio. Our crazily changing climate is making it hard to know when to plant. But even if we can’t read the signs, there are other parts of the natural system that can. We need to regain the skill of observing nature.

Observing our Personal and Cultural Conversation

Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly aware of the ways in which our public conversation makes the status quo seem inevitable and change seem impossible. It’s particularly distressing when I hear those who are involved in the sustainability movement say things that undermine change.

For example, I have repeatedly heard people say solar power is only for rich people. I’ve even heard people who sell solar say this. STOP IT! There are plenty of middle class people who can afford a trip to Europe, a Caribbean cruise, a masters’ degree or a destination wedding. A lot of people CHOOSE to buy a new car or an ATV or a motorcycle.  They could choose to put that money toward a more secure energy future and they might think to do so if we stopped making it sound worse than it is.

Every year people die and some of their relatives inherit money. That’s been the case for many whose parents died in their 70s, 80s and 90s. I understand that fewer boomers expect to leave their children an inheritance, some because the financial downturn of 2008 devastated their retirement.

Most people who receive an inheritance spend it in less than two years, often on wasteful things or risky investments. How tragically short-sighted. Wouldn’t it do your father proud it know that his life’s work had made it possible for his grandchildren to have a future, and for his great grandchildren to be born? And yet our cultural conversation – emblazoned on pricey sweatshirts – whimsically assures us that it’s good to be “spending my children’s inheritance” on whatever we want.

I’m reading “The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy: Skills for a Changing World.” One passage in the introduction hit me hard — it included the phrase, the ‘death of birth.’ Ultimately, this is the future we face unless we can turn things around very, very soon.

One of my goals for this month is to observe the messages I see on Facebook, hear on the radio, and see on television. Following on that observation, I intend to interact with the speaker or writer. Climate change is a reality. It is our present and our future. But some part of our future remains to be created. Let’s be careful about how we talk about it. Let’s give ourselves a chance for success.

4 thoughts on “Personal Permaculture 1: Observe and Interact

  1. theresa

    Leslie and Tina, Great post and comment. Wow, Tina you even made me observe even more things with all your comments. My observations for myself: I expect immediate results, with little input from me, I am too quick to talk rather than listen, I am surrounded by many people who really do feel the same way I do about many things. My goal with #1 is to observe more, pay more attention and then really to decide to act or not. To not just gloss over the observation.
    I enjoyed our first meeting so much and really learned from everyone. There are many times during the day when I find I am surrounded by many people who are not that interested in sustainability, gardening, social connections, resiliency etc. Sometimes this gets me down. The problems seem so large and complicated and looming over all of us. But after more careful observation (and listening to folks at the meeting) I realize that while it may be true that many people are not involved, I am involved. My little efforts do count. I can impact others just by my attitude and way of life. I will lead more by example. Thanks Leslie for setting this up. It is a great adventure!


    1. Leslie MacKenzie

      Thank YOU Theresa for being willing to do prep work for this ongoing group. I am connecting with your statement about observing and then deciding to act or not to act. I worked in media ethics for many years. As a result I am very sensitive to media bias. I see it, I get mad, and yet I rarely do anything. This year I should – I WILL – decide to take action when the issue is as important as climate change or energy.


  2. Quantina Jones

    The first Saturday meeting was very exciting for me. There were so many opinions and ideas on this year’s 12 Principles of Permaculture that I am inspired to not only challenge myself but also my family. Finding a way to transition into a sustainable lifestyle is based on so many factors. Especially when the ethics and design principles around permaculture are so conceptually diverse and wide spread just as much as they are personalized and based on particular locations.

    Since our challenge this month is observing and Interacting, I wanted to start by stating that pondering the why and how of things has always been a part of who I am. It’s a trait that is not going away any time soon. I made a decision to become more engaged in my local community after observing how distant and even leery we have become as a society. The way we internalize the media we see and hear on a daily basis determines for a lot of us how safe we feel as individuals, families, and communities.

    The media has played such a huge part in our lives we have become ultra sensitive to some things more than others. On the same token we have become desensitized. This affects how we see and interact with others which make it harder to engage and have meaningful conversations on topics like sustainability.

    My personal challenge this month will be to confront perceptions that I have and that others may have about me. I will make attempts to have more meaningful conversations instead of pointless surface talk.
    The perception of what I am or what I should be, or how I may react or am supposed to react is something that I’ve had many discussions about at home. I realize that the more I engage in activities like gardening, food advocacy, and even Transition Longfellow that I may be challenging or even changing someone else’s opinion of who a person that looks like me or talks like me is supposed to be.

    I may not change how a city at large feels about eating Dino kale, cutting out artificial ingredients in food, or even taking time to watch how a mother and father starling work feverishly to raise a squawking chick; but I may be able to change a few people in my family or even in my own neighborhood. They will in turn pass on what they have learned or been exposed to and change will happen.

    It was great seeing in person and listening to other Transition Longfellow participants who I’ve only seen on one or two screens (i.e. Smartphone or computer)



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