Monica Ibacache is a permaculture educator from New York City who joined the PINA Board in 2017. Monica was elected PINA Board President in September 2018.

Hi Monica, what projects are you working on these days? 

My organization, Beyond Organic Design, is a nonprofit focused on permaculture design education from pre-K to young adults. We work in urban areas, where green spaces are often very scarce.  We help youth connect to what nature, and its cycles, look like in the city. Through our course we facilitate an understanding of how nature works, helping students connect the dots between design, agriculture, sustainability and ecology. 

One of our programs is a free summer day camp in Queens, funded by city grant for the last four years. It is experiential and hands-on, including permaculture design combined with arts, design and build, and gardening and culinary skills for ages 8-10. Once our students learn these concepts, they then go home and influence their parents. Kids are changing the world, one family and one neighborhood at a time.

Our next project, starting in September, is very exciting. We will be teaching a year-long daily permaculture elective course for high schoolers, covering the 72-hr PDC curriculum, to 68 students in Queens. This is a pilot project with the PDC curriculum; but our intention is to create something that can be exported broadly.

I think it’s our duty to prepare youth for the environmental crises they are facing, and to equip them for the roles they can play in that struggle. Youth should graduate high school as informed, aware future citizens who have an understanding of problems, solutions, and policies that will make our planet home healthier for all.

As they are bombarded with climate media on all sides, kids are worried…they are scared. They have a lot to deal with, and the future is uncertain. So it’s really important that they help create solutions that are doable. 

Most people have no understanding of how food systems work, or the policy in relation to them. Part of our mission is to get kids to be more knowledgeable, and pour that knowledge back into their community. Kids are such a leverage point for change.

One barrier we face is that schools are barely funded for the basics, and permaculture education feels like an “extra.” We overcome this outdated thinking by reminding stakeholders that just as we have the responsibility to help students become literate and numerate, we also are responsible for teaching them how to take care of our shared home. This is a nut we HAVE to crack. Environmental education, especially as delivered through permacultural pedagogy addresses carbon sequestration, the climate emergency, invisible structures, etc. and can have a big effect on youth perspectives. Initiatives like ours are also a great opportunity for permaculture teachers to partner with organizations. Doing this work with schools and youth can have a strong impact on our future. The time is now!

Our longer term plans include teacher training so educators can use our curriculum themselves. We’d like to see this program in every school—everybody needs to have basic concepts of whole systems design.

After doing the PDC, many people don’t take it further than their backyards, and that’s a great start, but we need to do more. We want youth to be able to take action with holistic design across their backyards, communities, or bioregions.

Food justice also comes into play since whole systems design includes economics. Our high school is not located in a food desert; families have access to fresh, organic food. But the big question is, “Once food is available, do people have the money to buy it?” The answer in these neighborhoods is often a big “No.” 

Because we’re taking a full year of daily class time, we are able to weave more concepts into the course, including going into more depth about the built environment, regenerative food production, climate emergency, climate justice, food systems, and food justice, which will all be part of our curriculum.

All New York City public school students are required to perform 100 hours of community service before high school ends. We’ll offer a Permaculture Club after school and  some Saturdays where students will get hands-on opportunities while they fulfill those hours. We are fortunate to have a space for a food forest, and gardens on the school grounds. 

We would love to hear from anyone who has any connections to corporations or other sources of funding. Our vision can only be implemented as widely as we can fund it. We would like to partner with organizations concerned about the climate emergency and who want to prepare children for the future. 

What is PINA’s role?

Students graduating from this class will earn a PINA-recognized certificate. If they decide to continue their studies, they will be eligible for a diploma program with PINA or for credit with certain colleges and advanced trainings.

One of PINA’s newest offerings, the Diploma of Community Development, is key to addressing the issues in urban areas, and acknowledging the skill sets that designers need in order to work here. For instance, it would be difficult for me to do the design diploma because I don’t have access to a specific plot of land to design. Many urban dwellers do not have land access, and that issue must be resolved before we can do site design. The Community Development Diploma acknowledges the need for those skill sets and invisible structure designs. 

You are the President of PINA – why take on that role and what do you hope to achieve?

Electing me as President of PINA is an acknowledgement that the majority of the world’s people live in cities. We need to make permaculture more broadly known and used. We need to do programming in different formats everywhere. The role of community education and development in permaculture is really huge. Having people engaged in whole systems design processes in schools, churches, gardens, businesses, and city projects is crucial. 

Permaculture has to be talked about beyond the PDC, and in the cities where it is so badly needed. 

I’m stepping up to take on the role of President of PINA because I’m in an appropriate position—living and working in New York City—to reach these broad audiences.

We want informed, concerned citizens involved with what we do, and we want to help them.