Cafe Society

GrowHaus founder Adam Brock weighs in on permaculture elitism

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There's a degree of elitism associated with permaculture. How do you address those claims? Yeah, it sucks. A lot of old-time permaculturalists didn't do a very good job of acknowledging the many indigenous practices that influenced their work, and most opportunities to learn permaculture are still only accessible to folks with a lot of money and free time. The result is a pretty white/wealthy movement at this point, with all the blind spots that the elitism entails. Of course, we're trying to do it a little differently at GrowHaus. We run our course on weekends to make it accessible to working folks, and we go out of our way to offer scholarships to emerging leaders from historically marginalized communities. In terms of the class itself, we try to teach people that you don't need a bunch of land -- you don't even need a small back yard -- to be a permaculturalist. Anybody can use permaculture techniques to heal their environments and their communities.

I've heard you refer to the issue of "food justice." What is that, exactly? I think a lot of people understand by now that the way we're growing and selling and eating food in this country -- it's just not working for most of us. Food justice is about reshaping our food system to promote well-being for all the people involved in it. It means ensuring that healthy food is available to everyone who wants it, which is part of our work at GrowHaus. It also means that all the workers involved in the food system are paid well and treated fairly; that's what the recent fast-food workers' strikes are about, and what groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are fighting for.

What's the next evolution of permaculture -- and permaculture economics? Permaculture is killing it in Denver right now. It's just been growing exponentially. Permaculture landscaping is starting to be a thing for homeowners who are sick of their lawns, and bioregional cuisine is starting to interest chefs who want to take locality to the next level. In the next few years, we're going to start seeing more demonstration sites pop up and some really innovative businesses based around permaculture principles. Groups like the Handmade Homemade Market and the Mile High Business Alliance are paving the way in creating the framework for a truly local economy, creating whole new industries around this stuff. There are also some complementary currencies set to launch here soon, which would be a huge step in realigning our economy with reality.

Where have permaculture principles been most active at the GrowHaus? It's interesting, because it's actually been less about the way we grow food, and more about the way we structure our business and work with our community. In permaculture lingo, we call that stuff the "invisible structures." We're actually starting to incorporate permaculture into the physical structures, and there are some really cool passive heating technologies and indoor food forests we'll be installing this year.

How do people integrate permaculture into their own lives? One of my permaculture mentors likes to say, "You don't do permaculture; you use it in what you do." Whatever you love doing, whatever you're good at, permaculture design gives you a framework for doing it in a way that's ecologically and socially responsible -- and in a way that's self-maintaining and resilient, like an ecosystem. You can use it to garden, of course, and you can use it to launch a business. You can use it for personal goals and life planning. I know couples that have even used it to work through relationship issues.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson