Reviving the Gift Economy

(As a reminder, we will be having a free tour this Sunday at 9:00 AM, with a focus on “Water Wise Forest Gardening.” For information, please see

When we’re two or three years old, the very first thing we are taught is to give. In our families, we are shown how to give. We learn that when we receive something that we really cherish and we really care about, that it is the first thing we should give up, because our community is to be cherished on that level. Our people and our land is be cherished on that level. And if we don’t know how to give like that, we are poor. We are in poverty. We might hoard all the things that we think our family or our business needs, but we are poor.

~Jeanette Armstrong, explaining the gift economy of her tribe, the Sylix People of Brittish Colombia 
Kim and I have recently been letting people know that we would like to do more Permaculture consultation and design work, as well as possibly taking on some project management and installation jobs. Almost immediately, folks started getting in touch with us because they want to do something and Permaculture lets them actively engage in building a better world, by starting right outside their front door. It is inspiring to meet people who want to start taking responsibility for meeting their needs in more ethical ways by reconnecting and cooperating with nature. It’s a true privilege to help them out when I can. 

One thing we can all do to build a saner, kinder world is give more. I’m convinced of that. 
Climate change, soil depletion, poverty, oppression, war, environmental degredation, ecosystem collapse, mass extinctions, unemployment, cancer, heart disease–none of these are problems. 

It’s vitally important that we understand that. These are all symptoms of one underlying problem: the exploitive system we use to meet our needs is broken and it’s literally killing us. 

But we can’t help but feed and support this broken system every day simply by meeting our needs through it. This system causes us to do harm each time we buy shoes, or drive to the grocery store. And this system is a “hungry ghost,” with an endless appitite, demanding more and more of us each year. 
This system devours the things we used to do for each other freely, simply because we were human and we could, and it replaces these “gifts” with “goods and services.” Rapidly, the daily acts that used to make up our culture are converted into “economic transactions” and added to the “formal economy,” where they feed the beast, and cause us to do eachother violence. 
So whenever we find ways to meet our needs outside this formal economy we starve the beast, and strike right to the heart of the true problem, through a garden, or by collecting rain water, by exchanging services with a neighbor, or by generously receiving a gift. And while the beast grows ever weaker and less able to meet our needs, in these ways we can build a new, healthy economy together, right underneath the old failing one. 
At Lillie House we have begun, very clumsily, to open ourselves to the spirit of giving freely when we’re able, and to accept trades and exchanges whenever possible. For me, this seems especially important to information and basic consultation. If I honestly believe I’ve learned information that can change your life, improve your health and make you happier–and I do believe this–then what kind of jerk would I be to withhold that from people who couldn’t afford to pay me? So, along with our friend PJ, we have made our classes and tours free for anyone to attend, and we give out a large amount of free information and advice at these. Plants and seeds are made available for trade or suggested donation, but are often given freely as well. 
We are happy to accept gifts or donations from people who would like to support these free educational opportunities or express their gratitude for what they’ve learned.  
You’ll notice that there are also no “ads” or subscriptions on this blog. It has been a great pleasure to learn that there are folks actually reading it and valuing it. And to everyone who’s reached out to encourage me in my writing here, I’m deeply grateful. 
And to continue this experiment, right now we’re happily giving free “consultations” when possible. This is a sevice that similarly experienced Permaculture Designers typically charge between $120-175/hour for. But it seems sad that we must charge eachother these days just for the chance to meet, connect and have a conversation. Again, if this is a service you value and would like to support, or you would like to show your gratitude, it would be very kind of you, and helpful for us to receive a gift, donation or exchange. 
Or perhaps you will “pay it forward” and do your part to revive the our local “gift economy.” 
We were told by my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my uncles, that giving is the only way to be human, that if you don’t know that giving is essential to survival, then you don’t know how to be human yet. 

~Jeanette Armstrong


For more information on the importance of reviving the “gift economy,” including the “indigenous perspective” quoted above, check out:
For the essay by Jeanette Armstrong, go to:

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