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Posted - 10/01/2015
Earthseed Consulting - Caribbean Pause Impacts by Pandora Thomas
When given the opportunity to “Pause” oftentimes it doesn’t really register that a pause was needed. This was exactly the case for our team from Earthseed Consulting and the Black Permaculture Network.

Our initial plan was to travel to Barbados and end in Jamaica with a retreat - a turn of events, including the leaving of one of our key contacts in Barbados and creation of new relationships in Jamaica, transformed our "pause" into something even more powerful and impactful than we could have envisioned.

A lot of the work of Earthseed Consulting and the Black Permaculture Network is about designing relevant and inspiring programming that spurs climate action for diverse communities. In the case of communities of color, oftentimes the current frame of organizing does not resonate when we ask people to care about “Carbon” or “Emissions”.  What we have found is that we have to go the people's hearts and what they do care about- their communities and cultures.  By traveling to the Caribbean we witnessed first hand that there is a growing network of people committed to climate action in ways that resonate with a diverse audience, and also that this commitment is the seed for growing our movements.

When we arrived at the 2 sites in Jamaica that we visited (and planned to do training for) we were actually shown that in terms of taking action around climate change in the Caribbean, Jamaica has people walking the talk.  Because the land is such an integral part of everyone’s existence there are many people attempting to carry on traditions they learned from their families, and also make them relevant for the challenges we face today.  We also found that without rooting any movement for sustainability in supporting the needs of the people on the ground, oftentimes our work-desired outcomes would be unfulfilled.
Zimbali Farms:
We first visited and stayed at a site called “Zimbali Farms”.   We were excited to work with them because it is owned by a woman, Alicia, who has been raised on the land in Jamaica and designed her farm in a way that is inspiring and beautiful. zimbali_1.png

Situated in a lush tropical forest high in the “Canaan Valley” they have designed a teaching farm to transform first hand the potential effect of climate change on communities.  They depend on the rains to feed their crops and water catchment systems.  

zimbali2.pngThey run off of solar power so as not to depend on the local grid for their power. They are growing an assortment of perennial crops to feed the visitors to their site and also some from the local community. Most of the materials they have used to design their site are resourced from on-site.zimbali3.png

They hire locally and support their local economy by continuing the flow of dollars through the hands of the nearby community.  They integrate culture, food and celebration to teaching about the earth and her systems. They also educate visitors about organic Jamaican cuisine options and alternatives to food sources from outside the community.  This was true resilience and it reflected the Jamaican perspective it was rooted in! It inspired us to begin to outline zimbali4.pnghow our educational programs can continue to be rooted how are communities already have resilience and where we can reclaim these practices to continue to frame climate change solutions not just as a problem- but as an opportunity to live a thriving life that does not harm any aspect of our ecosystems.  We discussed working with our network to bring delegations down and also possibly sponsoring a permaculture course at their site to grow their resilience capacity.  We ended up learning more from Zimbali

Farms about designing for resilience and relevance than we taught them, as this often times is the humbling case.

SOCIAL PERMACULTURE at Blue Paradise Farms:blue.png
We went as a crew to do a “site visit” with the hopes of creating a design for Blue Paradise Mountain Retreat Center.  Upon arrival we found that the site is in fact in an earlier phase then we had assumed- but just like everyone’s favorite permaculture principle we turned a possible “problem” into a solution.  It was a downpour so we were unable to view the whole site as desired- but as a “Social Permaculture” teacher I took the opportunity to interview the sites most amazing resource- the people. There were 2 interns and 2 community members there. We talked about their ideas for the site, what should and could happen, what roles they want to play and also what types of elements could and shouldn’t be added.  They shared that prior to our visit they weren’t sure of their roles and were really appreciative of the opportunity to share their ideas.  It was really powerful to be able to report this back to the owner in a way that showed her that the land is the gift and also the people that love that land are the greatest gift.  My design proposal for her was not the traditional type, with a map that outlined different elements placed around buildings but it actually encouraged starting the design “in partnership” with the people that live there every day.  Who am I to come for one day and design the site- that actually goes against permaculture principles.  

Reflection and Renewal:
We all walked away feeling so grateful that this trip took place in the spring, a time of renewal and rebirth. This was Regions first time outside of the United States.  As a father and local community leader who is working to transform the impact the prison industrial complex has on black lives and also as a permaculture teacher with his own farm it was very educational and regenerating for his spirit, but also for his design thinking in moving forward around these issues in Oakland.

We held our first ever Black Permaculture Network Retreat. During the retreat we laid out all of our individual and collective successes and challenges and also connected the dots around the potential of our roles as leaders and supporting the larger community. We asked the following questions:
•    What have we designed that is working
•    What patterns do we need to transform
•    How do we support the existing leadership in growing their skills
•    How do we grow the impact of our network(specifically around permacultures role within climate change)
•    What resources are needed to continue this work
The retreat helped us as gain clarity around our work and enabled us to be effective in supporting the vision and scope of the larger network.  We walked away with plans of action that were all rooted in the idea that “We have everything we need to thrive”.  We committed to hold this mantra in our work with our communities around sustainability.  The fruit that has grown from this experience is how we would measure the success of our trip.

From Design to Action:
Since our trip we have already had movement around growing the effectiveness and impact of our network.  We have successfully:
•    Redesigned and relaunched our website
•    Grown the core leadership membership of the network by three-fold
•    Our network is now having “BPN” meetups all over the world
•    Our members are presenting at conferences and workshops
•    Consistently holding monthly meetings to co-design our network
•    Co-designed language and helped in writing a statement that directly links the role of permaculture design and action around climate change(the document created will be presented in Paris as part of a larger whole system approach strategy).  This statement will also be used to design a “Climate Change Working Group Strategy” to begin to disseminate these solutions. Our role as the Black permaculture Network includes ensuring that diverse communities are at the core of this movement.
Because we believe that permaculture design as a system holds the key to enabling our communities to meet our needs and also live within natural restraints we want to continue to grow leadership in ways that are linked to skill building.  With that in mind we have designed the next aspects of our educational programming:
•    Designing and hosting “Introduction to Permaculture Trainings” monthly for local communities- these will take place at urban farms run by members of our network
•    Hosting a permaculture teacher training specifically for Black leadership from around the country(possible date summer 2016).
•    Designing a “carbon farming 101” course(title will be different) to disseminate to current permaculture and agroecologists in our network and beyond.
•    Since our inception we have given away 30 scholarships to individuals around the country to receive training and skill building- we have a goal of giving 20 scholarships in 2016, and subsequently growing our capacity to fund them in the future.

Taking the time hit the pause button has enabled us to feel more gratitude for all that we have access to, and also understand that we are not alone in this movement to transform our world in ways that are rooted in inspired action.  Moving forward we have committed to continue to pause, regenerate, and reflect on our successes and challenges in ways that nourish our hearts, bodies and minds and also lead to growing the impact of our work. Thank you to Invoking the Pause for this valuable lesson!