Designing for Limitations

I have been thinking a lot about People Care recently. People care is the Permaculture ethic I feel gets the least attention. There seems to be an assumption in popular Permaculture thinking that it takes care of itself if the systems we design are done so properly. To an extent, I believe this is true. When we are working in line with nature, we work within the patterns of the created world and this results in a level of harmony that has the effect of caring for the people within the system. But my concern is that we are still designing for the strongest amongst us and not for those with limitations.

Many criticisms of Permaculture and regenerative agriculture coming from the outside that I have heard have to do with the feasibility of maintaining the outlandishly intensive ecosystems we have so lovingly and intentionally created. I have to say I agree.

The Reality of Limitation

Full disclosure: I started out farming as a healthy idealistic young woman who assumed I would work hard now while my body was able, to establish a system that would sustain itself with minimal input from me as I aged. Since we bought our property and began our venture into farming, I have spent over half of our time here in a state of partial or full blindness, and debilitating pain and illness that knock me out for weeks at a time. My pursuit of healing in all the areas of my life has led me to reevaluate realistic expectations of my body and read my design sensibilities through a lens of gentleness and compassion.

My own new limitations have led me to think about "the least" among us who deserve the hope of abundance that can be achieved in transforming their lives to be in tune with the patterns of the earth. How do we design for the poor? The old? The physically injured? The emotionally devastated? The mentally challenged? Children? Immigrants? Refugees? Criminals? People in the margins are so often forgotten because the honest truth is, People Care is not sexy. 

Where's the Instagram feed showing angry youth ripping out a perfectly planted garden in a fit of emotion they don't know what to do with? A woman in a wheel chair trying to navigate a tightly planted food oasis to no avail? An older man hopping on his tractor because that's all his limited breathing will allow for? A young woman who's grief is so great that organizing her mind and body to start seeds is an insurmountable task?

It should also be said that our culture's pursuit of improving our lives through better nutrition, meaningful work, etc. has in some ways inspired legalism and shaming. No food is actually "healthy" in and of itself. Some are definitely always unhealthy, but perhaps us being individuals means that there is no one diet that everyone should be adhering to. Our bodies are broken and it is possible (gasp!) that diet might not take away that reality. Along with our bodies, the stories of our land are all unique and should be approached and managed as such. While pursuing ethical living, let's not subtly condemn or exclude one another along the way.

Limitation Inspires Creativity

I would love this to be an ongoing discussion in our community starting today. We all are sensitive to the needs of different groups of people just as we have leanings towards different aspects of food production. The real key is beginning to function in community. None of us, limited in obvious ways or not, are capable of meeting all of our own needs forever. We shouldn't even be shooting for that. We should find our role in the greater community that we live in and encourage others to do the same. We should begin to explore ways to care for others that are not self promoting and may even be un-sexy enough to not be worth posting on the internet. 

I hope this inspires creativity towards better deign as well! In the short time we have been doing our business we have begun one long term and one developing partnership with older people, which has been a surprise blessing. One couple and a single woman who both had parts of their properties out of production and deep desires to steward it well without the means to do it. We are learning to care for one another's needs, which will not be without difficulty I'm sure, but we are committed to trying and learning and hopefully having some success along the way.