Finding My Stride via a Women's PDC

Over the past year, I had been feeling unfocused and a little bit lost to tell you the truth. Too many years of moving from place to place had made me feel tired and like I was lacking some kind of... rootedness. I think that in many ways, travel has kept me young, but it some ways it has also kept me from exploring my own adulthood. Earlier in 2017, my partner Victor and I decided to settle down in a small city called Kelowna in British Columbia, Canada. I said to myself: "I need to work on some meaningful long-term projects right about now or I'm going to go crazy!"

A couple of months ago, I signed on to support Food Not Lawns founder Heather Jo FloresPatreon page. I had been following her work through social media and was always inspired by her activism, artwork, beautiful writing, and directness. Via Patreon I gained access to the pilot project of her 60 day Decolonize Yourself Creative Immersion program which has been an incredible tool for reflection, creativity, and some serious brain storming. Through connecting to Heather on Facebook, I also got to know about the call for women to teach modules in the first ever Permaculture Design Certificate course taught exclusively by 40 women from around the world. It was all about being in the right (internet) place at the right time and BAM! - I was brought on board to develop 3hrs of online teaching materials on Reimagining Economic Systems as seen through the lens of Permaculture. As I worked on my module, I got the chance to gain even more and deeper knowledge about alternatives to capitalism and less harmful ways of participating in the economy.

I also found out that this course is SO much more than the typical 72-hr permaculture curriculum. We've added more modules on social and emotional permaculture, with a focus on solidarity, as well as tons of fun activities to help participants explore applying permaculture within their local social and environmental systems. A a couple of months into planning the course, we found out that the amazing Looby Macnamara and Maddy Harland will be contributing a module to the course. I was fortunate enough to meet both women at 2016's European Permaculture Convergence in Italy. I just love it when the universe connects you to the people you need to know in that way. 

 Searching For The Meaning Of Life (Copyright © Lucie Bardos 2017)

Searching For The Meaning Of Life (Copyright © Lucie Bardos 2017)

In case you are wondering just WHY a PDC taught only by women is needed - the truth is that the harmful and sexist patterns that exist in society are often perpetuated in alternative circles just as much as in mainstream society. Just read Trina Moyles' article "Permaculture or Spermaculture" from Briarpatch Magazine. Even within permaculture, women are underrepresented as teachers, authors, and conference speakers. We are also paid less for our work and taken less seriously just like in many other fields of work. Sigh. From personal experience I can tell you that sexism is very much alive and well within the Permaculture community. This can range from seriously creepy online trolling, to sexual harassment by prominent male permaculture teachers, to completely unintentional passive forms of exclusion when it comes to things like natural building or eco-construction. So YES, we a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y need more women teaching permaculture!! And now, this band of 40 women of the Permaculture Women's Guild are taking steps towards bridging these sexist gaps and I am so so happy to be a part of it!

The course opened for rolling enrolment Mar 1st (with early bird pricing for the first 100 students to sign up!).  The pricing is, fist of all, much lower than the average PDC, which I think is superb, but still designed to pay teachers fairly. It also allows for the course to be accessible to a wider range of folks through scholarship options. I will offer a limited amount of scholarship positions to folks who are unable to pay for the course, focusing on low income women and single mothers. If you are interested in applying for a scholarship, get in touch with me! To read more about this amazing course, click the link below. If you choose to sign up through the link, you will have me as a course mentor and I will get compensated for the time that I put into creating my module (a.k.a. many hours spent mostly joyfully, though sometimes wishing I could whack my computer with a baseball bat).

Finding My Beast

 An artistic exploration of sexuality we did as an excercise for one of our modules

An artistic exploration of sexuality we did as an excercise for one of our modules

I have been trying to decolonize my mind lately. Specifically, I have been participating in an online course, one where participants attempt to decolonize the mind in order be able to go about our life’s work in a meaningful and conscious way, to heal ourselves from the inside out so that our minds and bodies are prepared to help heal others. Our teacher, Heather Jo Flores, defines colonization as “having something that was your birthright taken without your consent, for the ongoing use and profit of others”. We have been encouraged in this course to dig deep and unravel those stories of colonization that have wrapped themselves around our minds, bodies and daily practices.

Through the exercises and reflections we have taken part in during the course, I have been able to identify my romantic life as one of the areas that for me has been affected most prominently by colonization and its associated suitcase of systemic sexism. During this course, I have asked myself to remember the most salient moments, those moments that for me were defining and had the most long-lasting implications. I have found that these memories for me were formed during my mid to late teenage years with some of my first romantic partners.

I consider it my birthright to feel desirable, confident and comfortable in my body, however it may look at a given moment in my life. I, like so many women, had this right taken away from me in large part by previous romantic partners, and it has taken me almost a decade to try and get it back. At 31 years old, I had pushed these formative memories to those dusty corners of my mind where I often forget to clean…

I was bullied by my boyfriend when I was 16. It was true that I already felt insecure when I met him, being an especially awkward and nerdy teenager, but somehow I still felt pretty desirable. We only dated for a short time but it was enough. It was too long. This person stormed out on our first date because I would not let him read my diary. This person said that I was “disgusting” and should see a doctor because the palms of my hands got sweaty whenever I was nervous. He also invented a song about how big my nose was and jokingly referred to my forehead as a keyboard when I was suffering a mild acne outbreak. I told him that this was hurtful and he said I need to learn to laugh at my imperfections. 

He pressured me to do things sexually that I was not ready to do and made me feel inferior by recounting the adventurousness of his ex girlfriend who apparently liked to do really freaky stuff. I will spare you the details. When I started considering doing some of these things with him he added that of course I would need to shave down there beforehand. I didn’t, so we didn’t. Oh man, I am SO happy that we didn’t.

The night we first kissed he told me that our mutual male friends informed him I was one of those girls that’s “only good for one night”. I remember laughing it off because I had never even done anything with any of them. I didn’t know then that he was trying to manipulate me as he would time and time again, pretty much every day that I saw him. I stayed with him because he was a really good kisser and also because at 16 the power of hormones is pretty astounding. The next month was filled with him lashing out at me for no reason and making me feel like there was something legitimately wrong with most of my body parts.

This guy was definitely the worst of the lot, but somehow I feel like it became a trend in my early dating life to chose partners who were highly manipulative and psychologically controlling. I remember being told by one partner with whom I was in a casual relationship, something along the lines of, “you know wouldn't be here with me if you weren't hot… I mean you are - from the right angle”. When we hung out with a friend of mine, he asked me later if he could get her number from me, then he looked thoughtful for a while and decided out loud, “nah she’s totally out of my league”. Then we went back to his place. 

I remember this person kissing me in the most disgusting way possible and I tried to communicate to him that this was not cool by saying “dude, it feels like you’re trying to eat my face”, to which he replied “yeah, but do you like it?”. I also remember how angry I was at myself when all I managed to answer was a hesitant “ummmm, yeah”. I felt anger and shame.

In our module on the topic of shame, Heather pointed us to a quote by Peter Michaelson who said that, “we can be entirely innocent of wrong doing, yet still feel shame. Examples include feeling shame in association with sexual functions or deficiencies, elimination processes, social ineptness, impressions of being looked down on by others and allegedly being ugly or clumsy. Hence, we often feel shame for emotional, irrational reasons.” So wise, so true. 

Not only did I feel less than through the many underhanded comments which communicated to me that I was physically not attractive and that there was something wrong with me if I didn’t want to do freaky sex stuff, but on top of that I couldn’t even communicate my true feelings about something as trivial as a bad kiss for fear of being rejected. Shame is such a nasty shrivelled cherry on top of the cake that is the emotional wear and tear caused by systemic sexism. 

As a young person, you don’t really know that these moments will go on to shape you and your relationships for the long haul. In a later, long-term relationship with a kind a decent person I found myself turning into a toxic, volatile, and mean creature. I screamed, ripped pages out of books, hit and insulted my partner whenever I felt vulnerable. I tried to get him to convince me that I was the only desirable and beautiful woman that had ever or would ever enter his life. Of course I knew that I wasn’t and that it was an absurd thing to aspire to but I clung to the notion with ferocity. I’m pretty sure I turned into the evil queen from Snow White for a while.

I am better now, way better. My current relationship is 6 years in with the most amazing person, but a good chunk of those first years was spent doing some very messy, often explosive groundwork for the years to come. What is inspiring is knowing that the way we view ourselves as romantic or sexual beings and the way that we believe others view us is very much flexible and can change if the intention and the willingness to do the work is there. It’s about being honest about the ugly things that have been done to us and the ugly things we have done to others. It’s also about forgiving ourselves for not having the guts to say no or leave someone who is no good. I have found that forgiveness is also needed on a daily basis, for those little slip ups and when old bad habits bubble up.

Something that has been a result of partaking in the Decolonize Yourself Creative Immersion for me is also a feeling of pride. The good kind! Pride because I am beginning to recognize myself as an agent of change in my own life. So many people that I know, including myself, often default to the passenger role with the view that life is happening around them and to them. One of most radical ways that we can stand up to sexism and patriarchy is to recognize ourselves as powerful beasts. 

 A rendering of my beast...

A rendering of my beast...

The concept of “the beast” is also one we have been exploring quite in depth in this immersion. We have found that sometimes our beasts take a long time to emerge, sometimes they cannot do it on their own, sometimes they are untameable and downright nasty. But if we can make them our allies, they become the kinds of beasts that transform ugly into art, that can roar at the injustice done to minds and bodies, but can also soften when needed. 

Decolonizing the mind is about recognizing and rewiring stale patterns. It is so refreshing just knowing that this work can be done, because it opens up many possibilities for change. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to reflect on myself over the past 2 months and to share some of my experiences with you. Thank you for reading!

 

If you would like additional information or have questions about my experience participating in the Decolonize Yourself Creative Immersion, do not hesitate to get in touch with me. I have an affiliate link you can sign up through which allows me to earn a commission in exchange for helping spread the word about this transformative course. Those of you who know me know that I am not much for marketing or selling things, but I can personally vouch for the quality of this program and the ethical and very personal way that it has been developed and presented by its creator.

 

 

For more great resources on decolonizing the mind and feminist perspectives, check out my friend Anni’s fantastic blog:

https://www.anniways.net/

 

And also this wonderful article by Indigenous journalist Mary Annette Pember: This November, Try Something New: Decolonize Your Mind

http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/this-november-try-something-new-decolonize-your-mind-20171113

 

Also this: The Pain We Lock Away by Peter Michaelson

http://www.whywesuffer.com/tag/guilt/

Bringing Back Reciprocity

Pre-Blog: The blog post that follows was written by myself during 2013 when I was doing some collaborations with the founders of Seedstock Community Currency in Vancouver. The original blog post can still be viewed HERE. Since 2013 the Seedstock team has gone on to work on other projects as they realized that this community currency was a little bit ahead of its time. However, the basic model in terms of the way the currency operated was very well designed and simple to understand. I think that it is an invaluable tool for lessons on how to design our economic communities. I am eternally grateful to Jordan Bober and Paola Qualizza for offering me the opportunity to work with them back in 2013. This opportunity opened my eyes and helped spark my love for the social dimensions of permaculture.

 

Upon reflection, I think that many of us will realize that we had the basic tenets of reciprocity imparted upon us as children, but that as we grew up, those values were slowly forgotten or taught out of us. Remember the days of stickers, pogs, baseball cards, stamps, and Pokemon cards?

As a child one of my favourite activities was trading stickers with my best friend on the doorsteps of the housing co-op where we lived in North Vancouver. I knew the rules of sticker trading very well, and I knew that sometimes you had to give away something valuable in order to receive what you needed to complete your collection. For example, all kids wanted the highly sought-after "oily" stickers that swirled with different colours when you pressed them with your finger. I knew that 5 fuzzy stickers equalled one "oily", and even though I hated giving up my fuzzy stickers, I knew that eventually more fuzzy ones would come my way through future trades with other friends.

I also knew that because I was trading with friends, I had to be fair and honest in my trades, because that way they would do the same and our friendship would stay strong. It did happen a few times that I was less than generous with my trading - when one of my lower quality stickers tore shortly after a trade or when I refused to trade just one of a newly bought sticker pack - resulting in a couple of days of the silent treatment from my friends. I quickly learned what to do and what not to do to maintain a healthy sticker trading relationship and friendship.

In essence, reciprocity builds trust networks and keeps greed in check. Although not utilized to its full potential in western society, reciprocity has played a major role in the stability and resilience of the First Peoples of North America. A great example of this is the Pacific Northwest Coastal First Peoples’ potlatch system. The potlatch feasts, at which surplus wealth was distributed amongst houses, neighbouring titleholders and villages, had a multitude of uses. For example, new titleholders were required to hold feasts upon receiving their title and their proprietorship depended on them being able and willing to distribute their land's wealth to others and recount the oral history of the land at these events. In this way, potlatches guarded against hoarding and diversified the wealth gained from the land.

This system also protected against the over-harvesting of resources since many resources, such as salmon, were harvested by a number of different titleholders. If one titleholder got greedy and over-harvested the resource, they would receive less from their neighbours at the potlatch events. This took the pressure off of trying to harvest as much as possible and provided insurance against loss of wealth (which was perpetually cycled amongst the neighbouring titleholders and villages) due to natural disturbances.

 "Balance" by Lucie Bardos © copyright 2017

"Balance" by Lucie Bardos © copyright 2017

Potlatches also functioned as dispute resolution meetings, allowing any attendees who wished to speak to be heard. The assembly of chiefs present at the potlatches reached governance-related decisions in public so that everyone present was aware of the resolutions being made. Furthermore, oral histories would be recounted at these events and the environmental ethics (eg. all living things have the right to exist; all living things have souls that are reincarnated over time; animal and plant systems are akin to human communities) that were present in many of these stories became a part of the collective mindset. Since titleholders were required to be knowledgeable about these stories, this ensured that they also had a strong foundation in environmental ethics.

According to Trosper (2002), the Northwest Coast First Peoples enjoyed 2000+ years of sustainability, wealth and resilience, as their communities co-existed alongside natural ecosystems. It is a shame that we, who live in the same area, with all of our amazing technology and "progress" that we have made since the colonial days, are now succumbing to the scarcity mindset. By not placing enough value and emphasis on reciprocity, we have created an environment that encourages over-harvesting, hoarding, stinginess, and leaves us always feeling like we are not getting enough.

Luckily, reciprocity is coming back into style. All kinds of nifty ideas are popping up; such as trade schools in which communities establish a space where teachers come and give lessons on things they know how to do in exchange for good/services that their students can provide. Other great examples include community-supported bakeries like as Loaf in Birmingham, UK and farms like Yummy Yards right here in Vancouver. The way it works is that people pay a fee ahead of time to help get the baker/farmer started for the season by covering his/her expenses and in exchange get fresh local bread/produce every week over a set period of time.

Different kinds of community currencies are also making their mark. Time banks, for instance, are community systems through which people exchange services measured by the time it takes to complete them (eg. one hour of ironing laundry in exchange for one hour of gardening). Another type of alternative currency is community currency; In Vancouver we have Seedstock Community Currency, which cycles through the community as it is exchanged for goods and services at participating businesses. It promotes reciprocity because the businesses that underwrite Seedstock gift it to non-profit organizations, which in turn use it for fundraising by trading it for Canadian dollars with the public or as rewards for their employees and volunteers. Businesses get free publicity on the Seedstock website and perhaps through the non-profits themselves. The Seedstock then circulates through the community and eventually comes back to the business that created it, bringing them more loyal customers.

If you have noticed, all of these initiatives encourage people to take a bit of a risk and trust that the energy they put out there will come back to them; when they see that it does, they are more likely to help others even more. Although engaging in reciprocity does come with a bit of a risk, greed and hoarding usually get weeded out and it seems to bring out the best in us, otherwise these initiatives would not work. Why is this so?

I think there are a couple of reasons: firstly, when we engage in reciprocity there is a degree of public accountability and nobody wants to seem stingy or greedy in front of other community members. Another reason is that many of these reciprocal exchanges allow people to teach, create and participate in things they love doing and are good at doing. While the standard economic system makes it hard for small businesses or individuals such as artists or artisans to thrive, reciprocity-based community initiatives put more value on what these people do and allow them to be in their element. When someone is in their element, they are usually being the person they want to be and are experiencing positive personal growth. Lastly, it feels good to receive a gift and naturally sparks the urge to give back - and it's as simple as that.

Because these projects are community-based, they keep exchange happening within the community. This strengthens the ties between community members and encourages the growth of unique community identities, in the same way as trading stickers helped maintain a balanced relationship between my friends and myself all those years ago, and in the same way as the Northwest Coastal First Peoples' potlatch systems allowed their societies to be stable and resilient for over 2000 years. Reciprocity brings us back to the abundance mindset - what's mine becomes yours or theirs and vice versa. The proof is in the pudding; reciprocity rocks so let’s get giving!

Addendum, written on Nov 22, 2017: That last sentence is super corny, and I thought about taking it out, but I wanted to leave this blog post as much in its original state as possible, so forgive me! In any case, while I still very much resonate with this blog post, I felt that I ended it a little bit bluntly. I would like to conclude this post by adding that since I wrote it in 2013, alternative economic practices such as community currencies, LETS systems, time banks, tool libraries, clothing swaps, wwoofing and others have steadily been gaining traction. All of these practices embody the concept of reciprocity and I encourage you to reflect on that and ask yourself how you could incorporate these practices into your daily life? 

To give you an example, when I was researching my masters thesis I lived in a town with a thriving time bank system. I needed to round some folks up to participate in a focus group, but I wanted to give them something in return and I had no money. Instead I offered to pay them with my time by signing up for the time bank and offering up an appropriate amount of hours of my time to anyone in the group who may have needed a job done.

Further, I would encourage you to research how Indigenous peoples in the place where you live may have practiced reciprocity in their own ways and brainstorm ways in which we can support them in their current efforts to maintain and/or revitalize their cultures.

 

Citations:

Trosper, Ronald L. "Northwest coast indigenous institutions that supported resilience and sustainability." Ecological Economics 41, no. 2 (2002): 329-344.

A Few Thoughts On "Permaculturizing" Our Local Economies

Pre-Blog: The blog post that follows was written by myself during 2013 when I was doing some collaborations with the founders of Seedstock Community Currency in Vancouver. The original blog post can still be viewed HERE. Since 2013 the Seedstock team has gone on to work on other projects as they realized that this community currency was a little bit ahead of its time. However, the basic model in terms of the way the currency operated was very well designed and simple to understand. I think that it is an invaluable tool for lessons on how to design our economic communities. I am eternally grateful to Jordan Bober and Paola Qualizza for offering me the opportunity to work with them back in 2013. This opportunity opened my eyes and helped spark my love for the social dimensions of permaculture.

 

There is no doubt about the fact that society has gotten itself into quite the environmental, health, and economic predicament over the past century or so. Our current agricultural and economic models are obsessed with market efficiency and consumerism, which means that they are great at extracting things (like resources from the Earth or labour from humans), utilizing them in the most cost-effective way, and creating a huge array of products that can be packaged and shipped anywhere in a jiffy. However, these models are seriously lacking in humanity and ethics, and value streamlined über-efficient production over things like diversity, human rights, health, and community. They are uptight, teetering and vulnerable, and are based on the assumption that cheap energy will last forever. Many people predict that they might break down a few decades from now as energy costs rise and their incapacity to change or adapt to new states spells trouble. This is why humans have begun to rethink things and devise innovative new holistic models that can be much more Earth/animal/human (aka. "life") friendly, resilient - and fun - if applied appropriately.

More and more people are becoming aware of the fact that large-scale monocrop based agriculture depletes soil, damages natural ecosystems, and produces nutrient deficient produce, among other unpleasant things. An alternative to this system, synthesized by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia during the 70's and 80's, is called Permaculture. Permaculture mainly involves modelling human-friendly horticultural systems on naturally occurring ecosystems that cycle energy and nutrients within themselves in a self-perpetuating way. This method eliminates the need for chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and creates maximum yield per minimum amount of human work.

Permaculture initially stood for "permanent agriculture" because Permaculture systems are able to exist for extended periods of time, and produce food and other essential services for human and non-human life. However, it was soon discovered that the Permaculture model could be applied not only to growing plants, but also to everything from building houses and other structures, to organizing community events, economics and even daily routine activities. It therefore came to stand for "permanent culture" and is viewed by many as a general model for all facets of sustainable living.

One component of rethinking our current economic system is the creation of community currencies. Money has come a long way since the creation of commodity currencies that were traded as unit amounts of grains, produce or livestock, to something much more elusive and intangible, something that none of us ever seem to have enough of and that all too easily slips from our fingers into the hands of the banks and credit card companies. Community currencies aim to put the original value and meaning behind money back on the table in a manner that evokes many of the same principles that inform Permaculture.

The key factor to understand is that community currencies can only be circulated within a designated community and traded for the goods and services that participating businesses pledge to offer in exchange for this currency. This means that like Permaculture systems, they create a self-perpetuating loop. To help us understand this, we might think of money as something that harbours potential energy that flows from different directions and passes through our community, which can be likened to a Permaculture garden. Some of these sources of energy in a garden might be sunlight, water, wind, or heat. Permaculture designers think up the best ways to capture the energy that flows into their system and make it work for them.

For example, they might design their garden in such a way that raised beds surrounded by large stones capture, store, and radiate the sun's heat, while large hardy trees buffer smaller garden plants from cold winds. This would create a warm microclimate that allows sun and heat loving plant communities to flourish. The trees protect the small plants, which in turn might provide pest control and nitrogen fixation for the trees; both trees and smaller plants can provide food, shelter, shade, animal fodder, and medicines for humans as well as wildlife and microbial habitat. These diverse species become linked in beneficial long-term relationships that allow the system to exist in balance over time and make good use of the energies that enter the system.

 Above image by seedstock.ca (based on a sketch by Conrad Juraschka)

Above image by seedstock.ca (based on a sketch by Conrad Juraschka)

In a similar way, humans can harness the energy of community currencies to do beneficial work within a community. Seedstock Community Currency in Vancouver, for example, can be used by the public in exchange for the goods and services offered by local businesses, or it can be used by the businesses themselves for this purpose. It can be traded for Canadian dollars in fundraising initiatives by non- profits or it can be used to create interest-free microloans for urban farmers who are willing to accept it as partial payment for their produce.

It creates publicity for local businesses and organizations, while strengthening ties between the two through gifting, and creating a stronger bond between community residents and their local businesses and organizations. These bonds create a trusting community environment and stimulate communication and cooperation, which tends to generate things like happiness and stability. They can be compared to the long-lasting bonds that exist in a well-designed Permaculture garden. People make the money work for them and keep it circulating through the system (system) as it helps make the system more resilient, stable and healthy.

So “permaculturizing” our economy might be one of the steps that we can take towards a more sustainable and socially responsible future. If we can cycle energy and grow healthy food systems in our back yards, why not use the same principles to grow healthy money systems in our communities?