Monthly Archives: September 2014

Reflections on the 1st North American Permaculture Convergence

by Sandy Cruz

Wow! Having recently returned from 9 rugged days on the road and at the NAPC camp in Minnesota, there’s a lot to digest.

What incredible fun to be among more than 400 other permies at one time and place! The energy was expansive and light-hearted for the most part, and re-inspired many participants to return home energized to carry the permaculture movement forward.

The gorgeous lake-side acres of Harmony Park included a large amphitheater with no walls, a few open sheds, and some large open tents and awnings set up by NAPC. Already soggy from a violent lightning storm in Iowa, our 7-person RV carpool arrived at the convergence to set up camp in a torrential, thunderous downpour that lasted for a good chunk of the weekend. The only indoor spaces were the port-a-potties and a few shower stalls. With everything sodden for days, my home-made peach leather turned slimy, while my dried tomatoes were much improved.

The NAPC staff organized a myriad of circles, group activities, panels, discussions, breakout sessions, films, speakers, exhibits, open space opportunities and music galore. Participants were unremittingly cheerful despite the challenging weather. A few people stayed at motels some distance away, definitely more comfortable but missing much of the event’s vibrant energy, music and mingling far into the night.

Aside from areas geographically close to Harmony Park, Colorado seemed to have the largest contingent. It was heartening yet bittersweet to reconnect with so many friends, students and coworkers from my previous life, and to hear about the many important and exciting projects they are involved in.

After all these years, it was a pleasure to finally meet Scott Pittman. He joined our Colorado breakout caucus since there was little participation from New Mexico. I’m paraphrasing here, but Scott stated that our most important work as permaculturists at this time is to open our hearts. He also said that we need to do much more work in designing Invisible Structures, which has been largely neglected in many PDCs. Scott said that we need to put permaculture structures in place to run parallel with mainstream institutions, so that we’re ready when masses of people begin turning to permaculture — which will be soon.

Following some recent previews, PINA — the Permaculture Institute of North America — formally unveiled its organization at NAPC and began accepting memberships. After years of design and planning, all six members of PINA’s founding board were present. One goal was to assess the state of potential regional permaculture organizations — regional hubs, as PINA calls them — across the continent. At PINA’s presentation, breakout groups from each region discussed their status and considered potential next steps in forming a hub organization.

One major milestone at NAPC was an impromptu dinner attended by most of the PINA board, people from the Permaculture International USA (PIUSA), and representation from Gaia University — three organizations working with a permaculture diploma process. Although I missed the dinner, I hear that there was much agreement and potential collaboration among all three groups, greatly to the benefit of all permaculturists in North America.

Various working groups also met over meals during the convergence, and reported back to everyone at the closing circle. These teams will hopefully continue to move ahead after NAPC. And PINA will continue working with the breakout regional groups it identified to form permaculture hub organizations.

Edges which many of us have ignored were openly challenged at this convergence. There was a session on women in permaculture, race and privilege were discussed in various contexts, disability issues were recognized, economic inequality loomed large, and age differences elicited a strong response, as some youth felt left out of the conversation. The morning circle on Sunday and the closing circle that afternoon addressed these concerns to some extent, and several people committed to keep working on them — to broaden the permaculture movement, and to encourage more diversity and discussion at the next convergence. We can’t just leave it to these folks, though — to build a truly viable, broadscale movement, healing issues of rank is something for all of us to contemplate, to include in our designs for invisible structures, and to implement.

During the final breakout session, some of us reviewed the convergence and discussed the qualities of an ideal site for a future continental event. I, of course, recommended holding it in Colorado, while interesting possibilities were also offered for Mexico and Utah. No decisions were made about location, but 2016 seems a likely choice for the timing.

This gathering was a huge success in furthering the evolution of permaculture in North America by leaps and bounds. Connections were made, schisms healed, deficiencies noted, and plans launched. Permaculture arts and music were in evidence, and I look forward to experiencing much more of our community’s emerging culture at future convergences.

Many thanks to Gene, who tended our homestead while I went galavanting across the country; to my RV hosts, Kirsten and Rennie; and to fellow passengers Suzy, Davey, Patrick and Coco (who we left at the gas station in Nebraska) for a wonderful adventure. It was really great to get back to a dry place!

My deepest gratitude to the people behind NAPC — Monica Ibacache, Koreen Brennan, Michael Pilarski, Adam Brock, Sarah Ashley Baxendell and Mario Yanez — who hatched the plan for NAPC at the International Permaculture Convergence in Cuba last November. Although time was short and the challenge immense, the NAPC team pulled off a massive, ground-breaking, and highly inspiring event. Thanks also to Harmony Park, event sponsors, presenters, musicians, kitchen staff, work traders, the guy who pumped the port-a-potties every morning, and to everyone else who contributed.

Hope to see you at the next NAPC!

Perennially —

Sandy