— Peter Bane

PINA Executive Director’s Report

Spring 2021

For many, 2020 was a lost year. We mourn the loss of friends, family, and relationships that took a back seat to social hygiene. PINA’s plans for a continental convergence in Colorado in August took a sharp and swift turn last March when the first wave of Covid-19 cases washed over North American countries. Pandemic privations heightened everyone’s hunger for connection, so our online Summit August 20-23 was successful by all accounts. It drew 179 registrants for sessions on Mainstream Action, Regenerative Agriculture, Energy and Infrastructure, Community Trauma and Adaptation, and much more. To see what you may have missed, visit North American Leadership Summit to find the portal for recorded sessions.

New directions

During 2020, we brought Elizabeth Lynch, a permaculture teacher and farmer living near Pittsburgh, onto our staff. Many of you met her in working groups for the North American Leadership Summit (NALS). She has taken over the office responsibilities so ably exercised for nearly eight years by Melanie Mindlin, our former Administrator, and public inquiries to PINA are now directed to Elizabeth. Melanie remains on staff as our Diploma Program Coordinator, and continues to advise us across a broad range of subjects.

Evaluating the progress we have made in recent years, our board met virtually last September to plan a way forward. What has emerged in 2021 is not what we had first thought — more summits, including several that would have taken place in the past winter months. These did not launch for a variety of reasons, but we are delighted to report that our long-term goal of demonstrating permaculture’s relevance to earth repair and community development has drawn much closer, much faster than we foresaw.

For the past two years, our Development Committee has been drafting a “wish list” document, laying out what we might do with various sums of money: $50,000, $100,000, a quarter million, a million, and more. This might seem fanciful for a young organization whose budget has yet to reach six figures, but it is in fact prudent and responsive to our large mission of lifting permaculture’s public profile and employing graduates in life-affirming work for people and planet. Looking over the horizon at emerging trends, we and you, our members, are well aware of the scope of need in the world today as humanity faces growing and interlocking crises of the environment, the economy, human health, agriculture, and every aspect of civilization.

Land and community repair move center stage

So it is with great pleasure that I can report here that PINA will be launching two major projects in the coming six months to address urgent issues in land use management and social equity. We have already raised money from donors and are in conversation with others to back research into improved methods of fire risk mitigation in western forests, and to assist landowners and aspiring farmers of color in the Upper Midwest to gain skills, invest in natural capital systems, and aid transitions to perennial agriculture.

Our Fire Ecology project, based in southern Oregon but expected to extend to trainings in Colorado as well, is a direct response to the mounting crisis of wildfire, which by some estimates last year cost $200 billion dollars in total damage. After a century of public policy to suppress fire, western forests hold an immense overburden of flammable fuels that industry and government officials increasingly acknowledge must be reduced. Because of climate change, southern Oregon is one of the most vulnerable regions of the continent to increased wildfire risk. It happens to be home to our corporate office (in Ashland), and the social, organizational, and ecological conditions there seem propitious for this effort. 

These fire-adapted ecosystems were traditionally managed by indigenous peoples through regular low-intensity burns, which reset favorable conditions for economic plants and prey animals. Those time-tested methods, if widely applied today, would likely exacerbate an already hazardous situation. But we would like to see progress toward the controlled and adaptive use of fire to limit danger and enhance forest health, so we must embrace a period of transition during which hundreds of millions of acres must be carefully rid of their excess fuel burden. Institutional pressures for this are mounting, and we believe permaculture can make a strategic contribution.

Key interventions

PINA proposes to enhance the standard slash-and-burn methods promoted and subsidized by NRCS and state forestry departments; we will evaluate the costs and effectiveness of pyrolyzing small fuels, redistributing biochar to the forest floor, and laying larger materials on contour to retain runoff and collect silt and mulch. This offers the possibility of capturing from 40-75% of the carbon presently released to the atmosphere by standard mitigation efforts, to say nothing of reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, which is even more costly to our future. By Year Three of the program, we hope to be showing the effectiveness of controlled burns on acres treated by our enhanced protocol.

This research will be guided by academic advisors, promoted to NRCS and local forestry officials and private groups with environmental interests, and will be designed to gather as large a data set as funding permits to show the carbon sequestering, smoke-reducing, soil-building, and employment benefits of these improved methods. We will develop training materials and programs for forestry workers, assay the costs and labor requirements, document the techniques and results in published papers and films, and will work to disseminate our findings to all sectors of western land-use management through conference presentations, a speakers bureau, and other means.

While this is underway during winter months, our Perennial Corps program, centered in the Twin Cities, will build on existing networks of farmland transition to perennial agriculture to build skills for would-be farmers and ecological service providers of color, people whose communities have been subject to discrimination and displacement from the land, and whose health and well being have suffered correspondingly. Racial and economic injustice remain a scourge in our post-colonial cultures, and we cannot claim to be practicing permanent culture and permanent agriculture unless we are prepared to work actively for justice at the same time. 

Walking our talk

Minneapolis was the epicenter of the recent wave of protest against racial injustice, triggered by the murder of George Floyd. It is also the hub of a growing, multi-decadal effort to reform agriculture economically, socially, and ecologically. New farming collaboratives, some composed primarily of people of color—moving out from small urban start-up farms, thousands of acres of farmland passing from family hands into new stewardship, a strong, multi-regional movement to restore the agrarian commons, and farmers actively working to grow and market perennial crops that can supplant the conventional ravages of chemical corn and soybeans provide a rich and promising mix of possibilities which we hope to help catalyze into healthy broadscale transformation.

The Perennial Corps will be training at the same time it is planting and harvesting windbreaks, riparian buffers, new perennial crops, and practicing effective land management skills for a truly climate-responsive 21st century agriculture in the heartland of the continent. The first two years of this program will center on recruitment of participants, farms, and partnerships, and on action learning, but by Year Three, we hope to be ready to transfer what we have learned to other regions where similar forces are at work.

How you can help

PINA expects to have adequate funding for the first year of both these programs, and we have been offered additional support to grow our organizational capacity and thus to continue raising funds to extend these programs, but we welcome contributions of any size, from members, friends, and the interested public. Smaller donations may be made through our Fund for Regeneration at pina.in at any time. To direct larger giving, for charitable deductions, bequests, and for other helpful inquiries, please contact me at ed@pina.in.

In the coming weeks, we will be posting opportunities to get involved in these programs at our Job Kiosk. Please lend your help and support to these worthy projects in any way you can.

We have a number of other exciting programs in development that we hope we can bring on line in 2022 and beyond in public education, water management, and climate mitigation. These promise new learning, new careers, and greater prominence for permaculture ethics in action. We are your trade association, advocating and working to help permaculture thinking drive public policy and private action. Our diploma programs support professional development and are open to all PDC graduates in a variety of disciplines. We value your membership, your inputs, and most importantly, the many forms of positive change you are helping to bring about. We hope you will share our excitement about these new developments, keep your eyes on PINA, and encourage your permaculture colleagues to join us.