Practical Permaculture – Permaculture is NOT Trademarked

big pumpkin

I grew this 2000 lb. pumpkin in my ass using the principles of permaculture… Moving it was the easy part… Take my $1000 class to find out how…

Permaculture is not vegetarianism… It’s not veganism… It’s not new-age… It’s not even peaceful… To me… It’s the heavy metal of gardening… Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture is a bad ass… The man has the ability to change climates… He is a self-made millionaire… And the man has composted human bodies before…  On a different note… Bill Mollison is a brilliant business man… If you don’t realize how “big business” permaculture has become… Then I’m going to seriously disappoint you with this post… I’m starting to see permaculture and permaculturists as “the man”… And occasionally… The man needs to be brought to his knees…

In my city, Pittsburgh, the permaculture people who I have met so far have for the most part been elitist, condescending, and downright rude… Now I’m not saying that all permaculturists are like that… I’m just saying… If my perceptions of a movement that I deeply believe in are this swayed… What in the hell do you expect other people to think… 

The permaculture design certificate course… Supposedly life saving information… Proprietary… Bullshit… Read any detailed gardening book and you will find the exact same information… Just with different terminology… Permaculture had to separate itself somehow… They want there $1000 dollar course to actually mean something… I did not have to spend $1000 to learn how to garden… Why should I pay a grand to practice something that I was doing long before I knew the word permaculture?.. And long before most PDC recipients had ever touched a shovel… To be honest… I don’t… And I won’t…

So here it goes… And I know I am going to piss people off with this… Permaculture is NOT a trademarked word… I can use it all I want… Permaculture… Huh huh… Permaculture… Permaculture… Look here… I’ll even alter it… Permabastard… Permabitch… You can’t do a thing… The fact that you would even try to trademark these principles is a vulgar testament to your greed… If you people were so interested in saving the world… Trademarks would be the last FUCKING thing on your mind… Not a single country in the world was willing to grant “anyone” a trademark on permaculture… Think about that…

CherryJeanette

“Welcome Home” – © chriscondello 2013 – Jeanette Street – Wilkinsburg, PA

Let’s talk about permaculture books for a second… I have read as many as I have been able to get my hands on… I have watched all of the propaganda films… I have even watched 2 72 hour PDC courses… One taught by Bill Mollison… And one taught in a university setting in North Carolina… This does not make me an expert by any means… But I will say there is very little proprietary information in any of these books… I find the exact same information in my Better Homes and Gardens books… But since reading any book that mentions pesticides is taboo with the permaculturists… They will never even know…

I see the PDC on the same level as a 2 year associates degree school… You know… The kind you see commercials for at 2 AM on TV… I have some bad news people… That course doesn’t mean a god damn thing… It is a pyramid scheme… You get taught information by a teacher… Then given a certificate to teach other people… The pyramid keeps growing as more people learn… And ultimately… Bill Mollison sells books… While sitting at the top of his pyramid… Laughing…

Never put more energy into something than you can get out of it… I know people who spend more time in the compost heap then they spend in the garden… Don’t be one of those people… Permaculture is about using resources wisely… Sadly… Money is one of those resources… I just don’t see how a class that costs $1000 dollars is solving any problems… To me… That is helping the elite few who can afford to pay that… Not the people who need this information to survive… If you can afford to take that class… You can afford to feed yourself…

I’m not saying I wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to take the course… But I “literally” can’t afford it… I would take every class that I could… But I can’t afford it… So I will just have to live with all the PDC recipients calling me a hack and refusing to talk to me… Even though they talked to me before they were the elite few…

Earth Care… People Care… Fair Share… My rosy red ass… More like… Bottom Line… Bottom Line… Bottom Line… Get real people…

Now I’m not saying permaculture or permaculturists are bad people or have bad intentions… What I am saying is we all need to get off our high horses… This is not special information… It is standard information… Just organized in a brilliant way… By a brilliant businessman… With an awesome name… That’s it people… Get over it…

Plum

“Perfectly Plum” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA

The deeper I have gotten in the permaculture world… The less I have liked it… And not so much permaculture… But the people involved… When someone asks a permaculture question… The answer should never be… “Take my permaculture course and I’ll tell you”… You know what I have to say about that… ASK ME… I’ll tell you anything you want to know about permaculture for free… Anytime… Anywhere…

In the past year… I have received a bunch of emails from people asking me about permaculture gardens that they had installed by the so-called permaculture designers… People are not typically happy with these systems after a year or two… They typically do not look nice… And permaculture is starting to get a bad name… Just because a plant is native… Does not mean it is not invasive… Just because a teacher tells you about a plant that did well in one location… Does not guarantee it will do good anywhere else…

So keep making those mistakes PDC people… Because your mistakes… Are my future work… Because fixing your mistakes… Is slowly becoming my business… Dont hire a permaculture designer when what you are really looking for is a Gardener with a solid understanding of what is good… And what is absolute SHIT in the permaculture world…

I am not the only person with this sentiment… There are a lot of us… Typically we are explained as disgruntled… Or unsuccessful practices… I have had nothing but success… My gripe does not come from permaculture… It comes from the people involved… When the permaculture people show me love… I will show them love… But until then… This is how it has got to be…

Again… I am not saying permaculture is bad… In fact… I think just the opposite… What I am saying is… Do not fall for the lie that the only way to be a permaculture designer is through a $1000 dollar course… I get that PDC’s need to make money too… It is a sentiment that has been plastered all over the internet by them… But they shouldnt be making money with a scam gardening course… Just saying…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello – sans pdc since 1981 and proud of it

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24 thoughts on “Practical Permaculture – Permaculture is NOT Trademarked

  1. Im a permaculture teacher for the last 6 years, studied and worked with Bill Mollison, Sepp Holzer, Rosemary Morrow, Doug Bullock, darren Dougherty and others…i agree with some of the points you make…people come to permaculture and to the PDC and bring their personality, the same way that some permaculture teachers manifest that and the same way that you took your personality also to your “garden”, ive taught in the andes to poor quechua farmers for free, the students with the money were payng for the farmers to atend and i taught in the amazon jungle to people with the water full of oil from oil companies…i understand your frustration and i share the same emotions towards the money making personality, but permaculture is not Bill Mollison or any other permaculturist, permaculture is all of us and its a lot more than just gardening…if you want to do a PDC you can come to do one of mine … i wont charge you, maybe that will help you understand that there are different aproaches the same way that there are different people 😉 Permahug. Helder Valente

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  2. Sprock3t says:

    Also you all mention PYRAMID scheme,
    Please mention one institution around today that is not a PRYAMID scheme?????

    Everything is built up like a pyramid- our jobs, our communities, our friendships, our economics, everything……
    Top 1% of the world’s population Control 39% of World’s Wealth

    This is the Biggest PYRAMID scheme I can find, but I here no one, and I mean no one here complaining about that,

    I’m just saying things could always be worse and they will eventually get worse unless we apply Permaculture principles the best way we can and according to what works for our unique situation to the best of our abilities.

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  3. Sprock3t says:

    I think it is a bit of a double standard that is being shown here towards Permaculture and I feel that most people really are missing the point. Permaculture is nothing new, and even Bill Morrison mentions this in his book, It is a collection of ideas that have been working for many years and that have been very successful in sustaining the earth, people, and fair share. Of course you do not have to take the course to learn about these principles, but you also do not have to go to school or to college either to get a degree in order to practice most careers as well. Anything can be learnt by reading books, and practicing extensively. The main point about the PDC, is that it is an introduction for people who are new to the concepts and are looking for a way to get a good solid foundation in the principles by someone in the know……
    This is how all traditional knowledge has been passed down, from the wise old man or woman to the student, and then it’s just that, KNOWLEDGE, so it must be mixed with experience and time in order to become WISDOM…..There are good and bad in everything, and you usually only find what you are looking for, and I feel that most of the examples here are based on bad examples in the Permaculture world, but this is life and applies to every field of knowledge… Permaculture is not just gardening my friends, it is a philosophy, and the principles can be applied to just about every aspect of our lives. To just get caught up on the gardening aspect is totally a waste of time in my honest opinion, and I think the important thing is that nothing is FREE in life, I think people who always want things for free are the main reason why we have so many problems in the world right now, Life is about exchange, about giving and taking, to expect everything for free is such a selfish, one sided relationship and I really hope that we can all learn and apply permaculture principles in order to make the world a better place

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  4. niccolox says:

    the institution of permaculture is a pyramid scheme run by a used ideas salesmen re-selling an out-dated syncretic and nostalgic mix of new age mystique and ecological doctrine from the 70s

    however, many of the concepts are sound and the network has many good people, its just shameful that the informal and formal private elite networks that dominate the pyramid marketing scheme aspect have such impunity

    there must be a permaculture 99% of disgruntled permies who love the underlying concepts and more so the practice but HATE the elitist new age pay me money bullshit

    big props to you my friend, you made me belly laugh !

    so true, so true

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  5. Tropical Farmer says:

    Some of the ideas behind “permaculture” is in the right place however many concepts are total crap.
    Fancy little mandala vege gardens probably work in backyard suburbia but in the real world or in my experience of owning acres of tropical rainforest in NE Australia they don’t and won’t.

    Don’t get me wrong ok but some concepts seem like they are imagined up by someone with no on the land practical experience.
    To much emphasis on “design” rather than experience/practical in the real world. To much emphasis on the buzzword of the month like “swales”, “hugelkulture” or whatever the latest fad is.

    For example I love the seed balls “idea”!

    Ever seen what happens when you seed ball land in the tropics that has wildlife? That night every seedball is eaten by mice, rats, bandicoots, kangaroos and your back to square one.

    Green mulch sounds great too! oh crap the native animals ate it all again LOL.
    Might work in a backyard with no wildlife but out there in the wild it don’t.
    Weed supression, Now that is a real ripper and I could write a couple of pages easily on it. May be another day I think…

    Some principles are good like mulching, compost, shade / nitrogen fixing trees and many more. But that doesn’t need a buzzword. Its just common sense and you certainly don’t need to spend money to get a piece of worthless paper to learn it.

    Ive been shaping my land for 7 years now and have a large food forest / agroforestry on most of the land of fruits, tropical vegetables, flowers, spices and medicinal plants.In that time I have learn’t lots but made plenty of mistakes along the way, these days I find myself looking back at what more older cultures do like the polynesians, indonesians, south americans do more in terms of food forests and village gardening than I do refering to permaculture. Its practical and been in use in the real world for 100’s even 1000’s of years.
    Half the new concepts are stolen from older ideas and had a new buzzword applied to them as something new. Look at hugelkulture for example.
    Anyway bit of a rant but thats the way it is.
    I agree with what you said and thats why I have never taken a PDC. I would wager my left testical any day of the week that I have more knowledge of the land and what works and what doesn’t than someone with a couple of 10 grand certs under their belt.
    Money can’t buy you experience – nor common sense.

    Now get back out there on your land because thats where one learns, not off some idiot charging money for common sense concepts and fancy buzzwords and paper ideas.

    Peace

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  6. Chris thanks for this post. We wrote a similar post about the ‘buy this, buy that’-mentality of permaculture-adepts. It is this greed that is ruining the world and they copy this bad behavior.
    So sad that when people have a good idea, like permaculture the fall for the marketing and guru-doctrine. This way nothing is going to change.
    So keep up the good work and stay open minded. The world needs gardeners like you. PP

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  7. Chris thanks for writing this, a similar ‘post’ I have written in my own head and churned over for several months, but you had the balls to just put it out there. Well done.

    In most respects I can hardly even bear to hear the word Permaculture anymore, and the word ‘permies’ just makes me squirm, all things ‘permacultural’ also turns my stomach, and yet I also love the practise of it, and the ethos, and the principles. really it is just the word Permaculture that has been bastardised by many, and made into some exclusive and elitist club. Whenever anything whiffs of a club or an exclusive group it makes me want to go in the complete opposite direction, but here, in the ‘permaculture’ world I find I don’t want to flee, I just want to remain alert and question everything. And so, here I am organising, publicising and promoting courses (which are hopefully more accesible than $1000!!) and involved in planning a rather grand permaculture convergence!! The reason? Because it continues to challenge me, make me question myself and others, and if anything has the capacity to do that then I think it is useful, and I am learning sooooo much, in so many ways. And I think the more people who are involved in the practise who question the elitism, the better!!

    I am not a seasoned gardener, or a vegan, and I am definitely NOT a Permie!!! But my own self-taught path has brought me to this junction where I see I can bring all of my skills together and express them holistically and a permaculture based theory seems to align itself fairly well to how I wish to proceed in this life.

    Keep up the good work 😉

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  8. Deano says:

    Hi
    First of all accept some love from this Permaculturalist and then perhaps return some. A really interesting post and I agree with a lot of what you say. I too have compared the system to a pyramid sales scheme. Often people seem to transition from novice to expert over the course of a 2 week course. In reality it is just a skim over some interesting ideas.
    One key mistake, often made by permaculturalists is confusing tools and techniques with design. It is at it’s heart a design system, and one that I’ve found to be very effective for me. However there is quite a bit of Cult in PermaCULTure. An insistence that perennials are better than annuals, that no dig is the only way to grow stuff, all chemicals are evil etc. spring to my mind.
    So sorry that your experience has not been positive, and hopefully that will balance itself out over time.
    Wishing you well
    Deano
    http://sustainablesmallholding.org/

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  9. Ma Larkin says:

    Excellent post . I have shared it . Thank you

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  10. Sarah Correa says:

    Hi Chris, I totally agree with you!
    I have been trying to piece together the permaculture puzzle for the past few years – not wanting to pay $1000 for a permaculture course. Any snippet of information that I seem to stumble upon from these courses seems to be very common sense techniques and information with a fancy word attached to it. Given the current world climate and situation I feel this knowledge should be freely available for all. I have found the best way to obtain this knowledge is to ask our ‘elders’ who farmed before the days of chemicals, heavy machinery and garbage collection!
    X Sarah

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  11. While I have learned much from reading what others have done, I find that I learn best from simply observing how Mother Nature herself does it. People tend to unnecessarily complicate everything, to make themselves look educated or to justify the money they charge for courses?!

    And, yes people with money to burn looking to someone else to design a garden for them will always be disappointed. You have to get your own hands in the dirt to learn the lessons! When the permaculture ‘fad’ dies out–and it will–those of us doing it naturally, will still be standing; doing what we do!

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  12. gem says:

    I appreciate your candor and honesty. I think it is a good illustration of patterns in human culture and society. I also agree with you that nothing about this is really new but if we try to shove an entirely new old way of ecological existence into the current paradigm .. trouble will ensue! Mark Shepard of Restoration Agriculture talks about learning to distinguish an observation from a concept and something that anyone who wants a better life and self determination better learn.

    Terrific site Chris. I look forward to spending some time here. I’ll have some questions I’m sure. I love your open source approach and that is my way as well. Self-education should be encouraged in every way possible and it means the most to those that need it the most. Paying it forward is still a great way to live.

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  13. growitt says:

    It is good to see some critical thinking – ‘Self regulate and accept feedback’ is one of the 12 permaculture principles explained by David Holmgren – the co-founder of the permaculture movement.
    I had the opportunity to complete a PDC course in New Zealand earlier this year. We were fortunate to have tutors who did not ram any particular belief system down our throats – the focus was on the design system that is permaculture, as it should be.
    I am a qualified horticulturist with 20 years experience, so I didn’t attend to learn about gardening. The main benefits for me personally were 1. to meet interesting people and have some thought-provoking discussions, 2. to start thinking more holistically – in a long-term, whole-systems way, and 3. to be inspired to help others to live in a way that is easier on themselves and the planet – for free.
    While I too have observed people calling themselves permaculturists who seem to be trying to make more than their fair share of money out of selling it, I have also met many good people who will gladly share any information they have.
    As will most things in life, it seems to come back to balance. When I have seen examples of permaculture not working well, it is generally because people are not keeping ALL of the 12 principles in balance. Like the spokes of a wheel – if some are longer or shorter than the others, it will make for a very bumpy ride!

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  14. janpenguin says:

    What I understand is Permaculture add few things into Natural farming. I consider my teacher of Permaculture was Masanobu Fukuoka. Even though I only met him on a PDF book. The book is available on the net. After I read few chapters of The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, it literally electrified my mind.

    Most people are stupid. That’s fact. Every area I look into I find exact same pattern, which is there comes one or few master pops out bringing paradigm changing theory or technology. Then the followers of the master creates a religious organization that worships the master.

    I can’t blame them what they do. Because past history has been showing how collective intelligence of humanity ends up blind belief system. For example, in modern science if an individual challenges Issac Newton’s theory of physics, it’s irrelevant the individual’s alternative theory is right or wrong, massive ridicule and vicious attack comes first until the person erased by scientific community.

    Permaculture area probably has exact problem when knowledgeable, open minder person like Chris has experienced and observed. Only difference between Permaculture and conventional agriculture is how to look at the nature. Knowledge of local plants and animals, climate, with honest labor must be followed by coming years.

    Conventional farming is to me abomination against the nature. Over thousands years humans have been stupidly destroying environment and killing many creatures. Industrial farming accelerated the rate of destruction for food production. When I found this I couldn’t believe in myself but I had to admit after talking with old farmers, some farming methodologies used by few hundred years ago.

    One simple example is monocropping. In natural condition it’s a sign of unnatural, poor health of a biosphere. To grow only selected crops, humans must go against the nature. Fresh farm land increases productivity then it drops. Organic farming supplies nutrition to the land but again it can’t fix unbalanced biosphere.

    A real farm land must have all green stuff: trees, plants, weeds, and natural water source, birds, and many insects IMHO. For instance, both western and eastern agriculture recommends cutting down trees. Why? Because old farmers thought trees block sun light so it decrease crop yielding. As spring starts what farmers do first is to destroy soil world wide.

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  15. Ted Swagerty says:

    This is a great criticism. AND we can criticize. It’s not against the rules! In fact, it makes the entire permaculture movement stronger.

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  16. petrujviljoen says:

    In a field that I know nothing about. Know zilch about gardening or permaculture. So can’t comment. The like button didn’t load. Just: well done.

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  17. Isaac Hill says:

    I think that you have some misconceptions about permaculture as well as some valid points. For instance, in watching Geoff Lawton’s new videos on “surviving the crisis” it seemed to me that it was really just an advertisement for his online PDC appealing to the fear of impending crisis. On the other hand, Geoff has done a lot of good work on the ground and trained a lot of great teachers and practicioners of permaculture. As far as the PDC goes, it’s a 2 week course… can you really expect it to teach everything a person needs to know about permaculture? It’s meant as an introduction/initiation. What the person does before, during and after the PDC is up to them. There are many people who take a PDC and do nothing with it, there are many people who read the books and experience the practice on their own and don’t need a PDC. The PDC is supposed to give a framework or a language for designing a garden, learning how to actually garden takes years of practice and experience. As far as the 1000 dollars, it’s a lot to a lot of people, nothing to some people, and is usually negotiable. I took the PDC at Darrell Frey’s farm for free because I interned all summer at his farm. The internship was more valuable to me than the PDC because I learned how a real-life permaculture farm experiment functioned. As far as the people go, the permaculturists that I know (and there are many permaculturists in Pittsburgh whom I consider friends) are nothing like how you describe them. For the most part the ones I know are senstive, intelligent people who may appear aloof to you more from their own anxieties than from a sense of elitism. The other thing is that permaculture is not centralized, is not hierarchical, and it is impossible to classify permaculturists on the whole. Look at the difference between Paul Wheaton and Eric Toensmeier for instance, you have a guy who loves Ayn Rand and rugged individualism on one hand, and a sensitive plant person on the other. Permaculturists are as heterogeneous as can be. I think you have a lot of bluster and argument and red herrings, without much substance to your complaints.

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  18. marco t says:

    Chris, thank you again for another very relevant post. I have been having the same thoughts recently, as I was pondering about removing all permaculture references from my own blog.
    Sometimes permaculture seems more like a religion than anything else, as you say, it’s standard information packaged in a different way. Your observation about permaculture being a pyramid scheme is spot on, the product of a garden should be food, but for some it’s tempting, how much food do you need to grow to make the same 1000$ you can get from one person attending a course?
    Having said all that, most of the people I met through it are sincere and committed, I just have a different view from them, I am so glad to read your post as it confirms my own thoughts.
    The knowledge I need now I can only get from my own experience and from people that actually grow food, regardless of whether they are permies or not. One of my main inspirations here in Thailand is an old Thai couple I met through a friend, their garden is truly amazing, their management of the interactions between different plants is borne of years of experience, needless to say they have no idea permaculture exists and yet…

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  19. Shauna says:

    Wow. It sucks that you’re surrounded by so much negativity when it comes to permies. I’ve actually had nothing but good experiences with all of the permaculturalists I’ve met, learned from, and worked beside. The woman who organized our class got sponsors in the community to offer scholarships to those of us who couldn’t afford it. My friend who taught the class was paid for his time teaching us immeasurable lessons and I feel good about that. In my perfect world everything is free, especially knowledge. BUT in this world we live in people gotta make a paycheck and if their skill is teaching and spreading knowledge, then I say, “Right on! Pay that man!” Many of the people in my class had never touched a plant that wasn’t wrapped in plastic and I saw them planting and building beds and identifying wild plants! I know you know how amazing that can be. For them and me it was the PDC that opened us up to that: to a new way of thinking, of seeing. I’m proud of my certificate: not because it makes me part of an elite group of self proclaimed know-it-alls, but because I set out to do a thing and I completed it AND because it changed my life. Permaculture has been so much more for me than that which applies to ag/gardening techniques. For me it’s a whole new outlook on this mess we’re in. It’s all about applying the principles for me. They hang on my mirror I look at every morning. I apply them in the way I work, the way I communicate with others, and how I treat myself. I’m pretty sure I learned that from the guy that got paid to teach my PDC. It’s a damn shame that not everyone has had this same experience with it. I think it could change the world.

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  20. Rosie says:

    I will admit I have never even looked at Permaculture. I grew up on a farm. Our food came from the land. We knew what was used in and on the land. I knew what my cows, pigs, chickens all ate, and just how yummy they tasted. To substain this life style is a huge amount of work, and is not always cheep in the short run. My parents could not maintain this lifestyle when they lost their free labor (the kids). I think anyone who wishes to know how to grow a plant, a vegtable, or a flower should be able to find the information to do so, and not have to pay someone. Teach a man to fish, and feed him for a life time. Thanks Chris for writing this, again educating the masses…

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  21. Mallow says:

    I wholeheartedly concur! I only recently (like in the past month kinda recent) discovered that permaculture is an established practise but I’ve been following it since I started growing a year or so ago, the core ideals to me are common sense but I wouldn’t spend money on a fancy course for it, information should be free especially the knowledge of how to feed and heal your family… I naively assumed that gardeners were those who lived close to nature observing the natural patterns and then recreating them, propogating more and more of it but I’ve learned that typically it has less to do with self-sustainability sharing and working alongside the earth but more about subduing it and making it work for YOU, squeezing money out of it with ornamentals and tools and blah, it’s rather upsetting because there’s less and less of the good stuff as a result…

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  22. Chris, man, you make me laugh. I 125% agree with you. I was fortunate enough to be able to take a class awhile back. I have an undergrad in ag/horticulture and have been studying and gardening for quite some time as well. It is amazing the amount of warm fuzzy propaganda that comes out from these classes. Concepts such as you have to be vegan to be hardcore, you have to be an activist, one gal was proud that she and her best friend burned down a place that was GMO… makes my stomach cringe. None the less, I sat through the course and the last three classes were not about the earth but social justice (ie propaganda films). I am down with social justice but not 16 hours of the same thing in different format. At the end, I was really really thankful that I was sponsored. You got something right going on with you, keep doing what you’re doing. I think your journey is pretty stellar.

    -Chris

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