Great Rivers and Lakes Permaculture Institute is the first PINA regional hub to be formed in North America. We interviewed Rhonda Baird, its Executive Director, to find out more about the process of creating and managing a hub and what advantages there are to it.

Why did you want to be a part of a regional hub?

I wanted to be a part of a regional hub because I saw the advantage of a regional scale organization in my own area. At the time, there weren’t many active regional groups and permaculture has come more slowly into the heartland of the continent. I really want there to be more connection and support among the different locations and projects. There’s something about the scale that helps us rise above our own local struggles, but also is small enough to really be connected. I also was very attracted to the idea of regional scale work supporting diploma candidates. After teaching for more than a decade, I wanted to have a path forward to point students toward—something that had firm foundations in experience and support built in.

What advantages to you see to having a regional hub? What results have you seen for designers/educators?

As I mentioned before, I think there’s a lot of sense in connecting people within their own region for mutual support, inspiration, and sharing connections and strategies. A lot of what permaculture designers, educators, and organizers are trying to do is solve problems—and some of those are best solved at a regional scale. For example, complementary currencies might be better at a regional scale than a localized one that doesn’t have enough resilience to survive localized failures. Zoning ordinances or approaches to working with municipalities might also be better understood in in a regional setting. From a practical point of view, gatherings can happen more regularly and perhaps to better effect.

Designers and educators in our hub have benefitted from inspiring each other, celebrating successes and the pioneering work of people who took up permaculture in the 80’s and 90’s—people who are little celebrated in many ways. We are also actively working with teaching and design candidates and potential candidates to spread permaculture in the region, of course.

What do you feel makes your hub successful? What actions were taken that you feel were valuable to the process?

It takes time and persistence to hold space in creating a hub. We’ve been fortunate to have people with a variety of life experiences, long-term dedication to permaculture, and varying viewpoints persistently working together for years in the foundation of Great Rivers and Lakes Permaculture Institute. Because we have practiced permaculture principles, our work has been growing slowly, but consistently. Two things have been especially helpful, I think:

  1. prioritizing board relationships through regular calls and interactions (and projects), and gathering for board retreats
  2. making sure that there are lots of options for members and mullers to participate and offer feedback.

We’ve been hosting one or two-day gatherings in different parts of the region to get to know the communities better and support the local permaculturists, while also gathering input about how best to fulfill our mission.

What advice might you have for someone wanting to start a hub in their region?

I would say make sure there are at least two other people who are passionate about it—that’s how we started. Three of us had phone calls for an entire year before an organization was really formed. We debated a lot. I think that was necessary because we were one of the first hubs to form with PINA. Now there is more support. Second, I would say make sure that people involved are thinking critically and creatively about the whole organization. At the same time, consider how broad and connective your network can be—how many people and perspectives can be present. We have been very good about gender balance in our board throughout, for example.

Tell us a bit about your region and hub – what future goals do you have for both?

Our region embraces the Great Lakes and bridges though much of the Ohio River Valley toward the Mississippi. The six states are Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These were traditionally the forests and wooded wetlands which were home to woodland bison, migratory birds that overwinter in Central America, and a rich diversity of species which link the region. Among the hills and valleys and glacier-swept flatlands, industrial civilization stamped its mark—leaving deep gouges in land, community, and self. Today, we live in the rust belt with the get-big-or-get-out industrial farmers holding on tightly to their way of life.

Our hub brings people together from each of the six states in order to create better networks, inspire, support each other through mutual aid, and support candidates in the diploma process. Our vision is to inspire and support the membership in their permaculture journey—whether that includes professional activity or personal implementation. We believe that we can and must implement real change in our communities, implement large scale projects to address climate change and protect and rehabilitate the water, soils and ecologies of our region, and provide real support to our fellow permaculture practitioners.

We want to continue offering gatherings throughout the region two to three times per year as well as helping to fund and organize large-scale projects, work more closely with municipalities and the wealth of people doing allied work, and providing case studies and models that work for our region and welcoming new diploma holders.

Anything else you’d like to express about PINA, hubs, or your hub?

GRLPI has been very pleased to support and learn from groups mulling over forming new hubs. We’ve been willing to share public documents and spend time on the phone with organizers.