2019 A Season of Transformative Adventures

Transformative Adventures: Foraging, gardening, natural farming, Permaculture

Announcing our 2019 season schedule of Transformative Adventures! 
This season, we’re offering 4 major courses, along with a few online programs, additional classes, and some free foraging walks. 
2019 Programs:
1. Community Supported Permaculture Program: Our innovative program on forest gardening/natural gardening, including seeds, plants, consultation and a full season of classes. (3rd Saturdays, May- November.)
2. Adventures in Home Herbalism (with Art of Health):
five classes, monthy foraging, gardening and preparation techniques, packaged with seeds, plants, and a collection of medicines including lotions, salves, oils, vinegars, tinctures and more. (2nd Saturdays, May – September.)
3. Season-long MODULAR Permaculture Design Certificate Course.
4. PDC Modual for students who have completed our gardening program.

2019 Programs Now Open

Ok, we haven’t officially started promoting these yet, but if you find yourself here, take a look at our 2019 programs, which we’ve just opened up. We’ll officially start promoting these soon, so keep a look out, keep in touch, and let us know if you have any questions.

The FIRE Path to Freedom – Part 2 FIRE or FREE?

In part 1, we discussed how changing our relationship with money and work is one of the key leverage points for transforming our lives, our society and the world. We explained that designing our interaction with money is a leverage point for creating viral change, because it has a huge “payback” for individuals, can help us fund our dreams, has a huge impact on the success of our projects, and it can be a fun adventure, too. 
“Hey, wait – sure it can help us invest in successful community organizing and regenerative projects, but money? An adventure?” 
Yes! Once we understand how we are trapped by money, held by the chains of consumer culture, then setting ourself and others free is the very definition of adventure, you Bilbo Baggins you, and experiencing the rewards of our own efforts as we watch our debt disappear and our freedom grow, can indeed be fun, or at least engaging. And plotting out that escape route through Permaculture and investing in manifesting the kind of world we want to see is incredibly enriching. 
For most of us who are already interested in things like simplicity, Permaculture or homesteading, the first thing we need to realize is this is not the same old kind of smarmy Think and Get Rich Secret 7 Rules for Vision Boards, fire-walking kind of consumption-driven money advice. And this isn’t an article proposing a hyper-capitalist approach to living or Permaculture.
For many in the current generation, the goal is “FIRE” Financial Independence Retire Early, which, for many, is different than the standard meaning of “retirement.” It means getting out of consumer culture and living simply to gain the freedom to work on what you want, when you want, and how you want. Breaking that down, Financial Independence means you’ve lowered your cost of living and saved enough that your income from your investments and savings cover your expenses. For example, using the “4% rule,” a rough rule of thumb discussed in the FIRE movement, if you require $20,000/year to live on, you will be able to retire with $500k or less in savings. IN other words, multiply your yearly costs by 25 and that’s how much savings you will need. With $500k in the bank, you would be free to put your full-time efforts into Permaculture, regenerative agriculture, cultural creation, or otherwise building a better world for yourself, your family and your community. (Check out this article or more information on the realities on the 4% rule, or you can play around with this FIRE Calc to see for yourself.)

This is the kind of perspective you’ll find eloquently drawn out in the new addition of YMOYL, by Vicki Robin. The book even highlights the stories of a few homesteaders and organic farmers who were able to pursue their land-based work on financially stable ground, due to their Financial Independence. 
But, from a Permaculture perspective it might be helpful to analyze this paradigm further, to maximize how it meets the different kinds of goals that we might have when compared to other folks. For example, it’s clear that we’ll need to start out with a map that will get us where we want to go financially while accomplishing all the goals I began this article with in part 1: caring for people and the earth, while improving quality of life. Viral change. Leverage.
So, can we have our FIRE cake and eat it without burning down the planet and ourselves too? Does a $500,000 nest egg sound achievable for folks looking to simplify their lifestyles? Are their investments we can make that don’t make the world worse off at our expense? Can we instead invest in the kind of world we want to see? Is there a realistic plan for “Permaculture FIRE?”
My honest assessment is that Permaculture offers many ways to reduce cost of living as well as some important regenerative investments. And some will be able to happily make that happen. High earners with jobs in engineering, computers, business or medicine may be able to save up $500k in just a few years while learning some major Permaculture skills through the process of being frugal. For them, a conventional FIRE approach may be the best path to their dreams, and Permaculture might be the key to making their frugal lifestyle both fulfilling and regenerative.  
But for others of us, the dream of early retirement often represented by the FIRE movement may not be desirable, or it may only build up unrealistic expectations, especially for people who simply want to prioritize their permaculture, homesteading or simple living goals. If your income is only around $25-30k to start with, and there are good reasons to not want to do what is necessary to earn more, then consistently saving $5-10k/year could be a challenge, and at that rate it will only take, hmmm, 50 years or more to reach retirement. 
Once we free ourselves from consumer culture and realize that the question really is: “Your Money or Your Life?” then we may decide that seizing that time NOW is more important to us than the deferred reward. 
But in that case, changing our relationship with money is even more powerful and transformational. For example, the first few steps on the YMOYL path are to eliminate debt (and with it any high monthly obligations) and to save up a few months worth of expenses in an emergency fund. With no (or few) high-interest debts and a 6-month slush fund, imagine the freedom and security you’d have. Imagine what different choices you’d make if you had 6 months to find a new job if you needed to, or accept a risky new opportunity if it called. 
For many of us, our hope is that Permaculture or homesteading will be our escape plan from the rat race, not a nest egg, the stock market, and eventual retirement. What we’re suggesting is that there’s real potential to combine the tools of Permaculture with tools in YMOYL. 
This starts with the first three rungs of the Financial Independence Ladder to Freedom, as Vicki Robin calls it:
  1 Freeing your mind from money and consumer culture and building the financial intelligence necessary to see how our pavlovian programming makes us waste our life energy on things that only make us miserable, so we can start investing in what we really serves us. 
2 Get free from debt. Consumption is the carrot that keeps us wasting our lives, debt is the stick. Part of this is to change our behaviors to stop investing in our own chains, and the other part is systematically paying down debts, starting with credit cards and other high-interest loans. 
3 The third rung is to directly invest in our freedom by building up an emergency fund large enough to cover 2 months, or better yet, 5 or 6 months debt. This is the tool that allows us to say “take this job and shove it,” or to say yes to other opportunities as they arise. Imagine what you’d do if you could take a 6-month sabbatical to start a new business, find a higher-paying job, learn a new valuable skill….
I’ve come to think of these three steps as some of the most important work of Permaculture, or for anyone who wants to work to make the world a better place. With this goal accomplished, you’ll be able to bring your full self to your work, with less stress, more honesty, more freedom, more clarity, and more ability to help others make smart choices.
If these first 3 rungs have a lot to offer aspiring Permaculturists, then Permaculture Design has a lot to offer the last 2: 
4 The 4th rung involves drawing on all our non-financial forms of capital, including our knowledge, experience, natural capital, relationships, and so on. In the new edition of YMOYL, this is referred to as the ABCs of wealth.
5 The final rung is building up savings to get you to early retirement.
For some of us, this roadmap might be exactly what we need. But Permaculture design, with a rich set of tools for non-financial capital for rung 4 and a bank of viable regenerative investment opportunities for rung 5, can provide us with more options than the traditional FIRE scenarios. 
After we used the first 3 rungs of the Ladder to start freeing up our ideas around money, Kim and I realized we didn’t want to seek FIRE in the race for FI and “retirement,” we just wanted to feel FREE: Financially Resilient and Economically/Ethically Empowered. We wanted to “catch and store” (Holmgren, Principles) energies that would allow us to weather the storms of an economic system that appears to us to be failing. And we want to be resilient enough that we can survive even if important projects we take on fail, or if “life strikes” in some other expensive way. And we want to feel economically empowered. We want to be able to choose to start projects, organizations, or businesses we think are important. And we wanted to feel in control of our own economic destinies, rather than relying on other fragile systems for our livelihoods.
But we also want to be ethically empowered, so that if an employer or investment opportunity ever conflicts with our values, we can afford to say “take this job and shove it.” And finally, that word “empowered,” we want to feel like we have the agency to invest in creating the kind of lives and society we want to see. Now that’s feeling “FREE.” 
And we also wanted to begin investing in manifesting the kind of lives we wanted to live, and kind of world we wanted to live in. 
In the next article we’ll apply our Permaculture Design analysis to steps 4 and 5 of the  “Financial Independence Ladder to Freedom” (https://yourmoneyoryourlife.com/the-financial-independence-ladder-to-freedom/#comment-4142 ) give examples different forms of practical non-financial capital, look at what makes a good “regenerative investment,” and we’ll explore what Permaculture FREE scenarios could actually look like, talk numbers and look at investments and income streams in the context of Permaculture and homesteading.

The FIRE Path to Financial Freedom (and The Most Important thing We’ve Learned about Permaculture)

The FIRE Path to Freedom?

(The Most Important thing We’ve Learned about Permaculture)
Well now that’s quite a loaded headline! Clearly, we’re going to talk about money and the current popular “FIRE” (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement – but first! – what is the most important thing we’ve ever learned about Permaculture, homesteading and living with the land? What single concept has had the biggest positive impact on transforming our lives since we first heard the “P word” on WEFT Community Radio back in 2001?
The whole point of the Lillie House project as we originally envisioned it, was to create viral change by helping other people transform their lives, landscapes and society, through better connection with nature, our higher selves and our communities. We wanted to find the actions that would have the biggest effect on changing our own lives and we knew that if we could model beautiful, rich, free ways of living that had a transformational effect on the world around us, then we wouldn’t have to twist people’s arms to create change, they’d line up for it like it’s the new iPhone. 
That’s leverage.
But to do that, we knew we’d have to find a path that was accessible and replicable to as many people as possible. And we knew that path would have to help people be better off, happier and healthier at each step of the way. In Permaculture, which is a system for ecological design, we’d say people have to be able to obtain a yield (Holmgren, Permaculture Principles) from every bit of time, energy and money they invest in their transformational adventure. It’s a goal that’s more often discussed than actually pursued.
And Permaculture also taught us that we’d need to identify the key leverage points where we can get the most positive personal and societal transformation for the least effort. Such leverage points need to be high return on investment (ROI.) We’re looking for actions where we can quickly get 80% of the value from just a 20% improvement (the 80/20 principle.) That way we can make an adventure out of working on improving just one area of our lives for a while, obtain a big lasting yield from it, then move on to invest in other transformational experiences with a high ROI. 
And the very best leverage points stack functions and allow us to “Care for the Earth and Care for People” (Mollison, Holmgren, The Permaculture Designer’s Manual) while simultaneously creating lives for ourselves that are more beautiful, abundant, rich, and free
And they have to be fun. It has to be an adventure
After 10 years of observation, study and practice, and another 7 dedicated actively trying to figure out the best leverage points, we think we’ve got a good idea about what a dozen of them are and how people can best pursue them. 
Any one of these leverage points will help us build a better life, but when we stack them together, these transformational adventures create a program of study and action that can improve our lives and can make us truly powerful agents of positive change. 
I won’t take the time to go into all 12 in this article, but to understand the principle, here are our top 3 examples with a high personal and social ROI:
  1. Basic foraging, because it’s an adventure that transforms “weeds” and “wilds” into beloved friends, and helps us begin to “see nature” and beneficially tend the wilds in our communities.
  2. Extensive forms of gardening like natural gardening and forest gardening, because they teach us the most, have the highest ROI, and – unlike some other forms of gardening – they actually benefit biodiversity, clean water, and sequester carbon. And finally,
  3. Transforming our relationship with work and money. 
Phew! There’s the money. In journalistic terms that’s called “burying the lead,” but my experience in my community circles of activists, artists, artisans, homesteaders, gardeners and farmers, people just want to learn about pretty new plants and beautiful sustainable gardens while making the world a better place – AND the last thing people ever want to hear about is money. In fact, for many of us, money is a taboo topic, either just too frustrating, or even seen as the “root of all evil” (and not the tasty kind of root, either!)
But quite honestly, transforming our relationship with money is the leverage point that will likely have the most positive impact on us as individuals, on the Earth, and society at large.
(You know we are a beautiful and deeply, ahem, idealistic community when we need to convince ourselves that discussing money might be as important as eating weeds.) 
Perhaps this discomfort with money explains why some of the most deeply beautiful people I know are also in deeply precarious financial positions. 
Perhaps it explains why new farm businesses file bankruptcy at a higher rate than any other business, and even high-profile homesteads and permaculture projects fail at an alarming rate. 
And perhaps it explains why a guy who claims to have eventually worked up to making minimum wage is frequently called “the most successful farmer on the planet.”
And maybe it’s also why people are lining up to pay $1000-3,000 for online classes and “business models” openly claiming to teach how we can make around $3/hour for a whopping $10-15k/ year. Yes, look past the “earn $1,000,000 a year!” headlines and read the fine print that the big bucks are GROSS and the take home is often minimum wage.
What the prospective homesteaders and farmers buying this content really want is a ladder to freedom, a way they can escape the rat race and find a simpler way of life.
In my opinion, these would-be agents of transformative simple living are LITERALLY paying people to teach them how to fail at their goal. The reality is, it doesn’t matter how frugal you are and how much voluntary simplicity and community reliance you cultivate, if you’re planning to make $6/hour working 70 hour weeks, you probably aren’t going to stick with it for long.  
In Permaculture, this approach to “profitable farming” is called a Type 1 error: a system designed to fail. 
But at least those people are taking a stab at their dreams. Many of us are so paralyzed by our frustration with money, that we never figure out how to finance our dreams, or truly commit to taking our first steps. 
And, finally, not to put too fine a point on it, perhaps this resistance to talk about money is why so many of my incredible activist friends remain dependent upon the very same systems that they’re fighting to tear down. 
This is why transforming our relationship with work and money is so important. 
Kim and I think it’s so important that we’ve done workshops and even put together a whole free starter class to get you going. 
But in my classes and workshops, my top recommendation has always been to pick up a copy of Your Money or Your Life(YMOYL) a guide to achieving financial independence (FI) by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. These days, there’s a whole growing online community devoted to the idea of achieving “FIRE,” Financial Independence, Retire Early. This includes different strategies like Fat FIRE, where you retire with a big play fund, and Lean FIRE, where you retire into relative simple living on a smaller nest egg, and even Barista FIRE, where you continue part-time at Starbucks for insurance and supplemental income.  But still YMOYL sets the standard and focusses on changing our relationship with money. Now, Vicki Robin has a fantastic new edition of YMOYL that is even more compatible with Permaculture. This isn’t just standard retirement advice, it’s a blueprint for changing our lives and our society. In my opinion, it’s a book that should be at the very top of every activist, organizer, homesteader, aspiring farmer, and permaculturists’ reading list. 
In Part 2, I’d like to dig in a little further, introduce a few of the concepts you’ll find in YMOYL, and apply our Permaculture Design. Could  Permaculture FIRE be your path to freedom? 

And if are one of the many Permaculturists who took up the cause after achieving Financial Independence, I would like to hear from you in the comments!
Coming soon, Part 2 Permaculture FIRE or Permaculture FREEdom?

Only a Bowl of Rice – Permaculture/Homesteading Edition

Being on FB homesteading, farming and Permaculture groups, one thing I see constantly are complaints about money and work. A major reason people pursue farming in particular is to escape “the rat race.” But they never re-design their ideas about money, so either they take the leap and end up just as stressed as before, or they never figure out how to finance their dreams in the first place, and never even get started. 
There’s an ancient Chinese story Kim and I have often told ourselves when we’re stressed about money and work, to put it all in perspective.
“What have you come to ask about?”
The two young adventurers had stopped for rest on the long hillside trail to the cottage of a wise person who was renown for their wisdom and good advice. 
As they talked, the two discovered that they had essentially the same problem: they both felt frustrated by their jobs, burned out from work, poorly treated and undervalued by their supervisors. 
When they reached the cottage, they decided that they should ask their question together. As they explained their situations, the sage listened: “We get no respect! No one listens to us! They just exploit us for our labor like we’re machines. It’s unbearable and I feel like I can’t go on another day.”
The sage took a long, slow breath, then smiled. 
“Only a bowl of rice.”
The sunset filled the valley as they made their way back down the hillside, trying to decipher the advice of the sage.
“Are we only working to feed ourselves, provide our needs?”
“Most of my frustrations from work are because I’ve expected it to give me meaning, love, respect, enrichment-“
“- excitement, purpose…” the other continued. “And that is what hasn’t worked.”
“But at the end of the day, perhaps work is only a way to pay the bills.” 
The two adventurers set back home to the city with this new perspective.
The first, aware that the job was only paying the bills, let go of their unfulfilled expectations, and started seeking purpose outside of work. With a sense of meaning, respect, goals and achievement separated from money, it became easier to choose to stay in the job, and continue saving and ascending the work ladder by day. Sometimes the stress would rise, but hey, “it’s only a bowl of rice,” made it tolerable.
It took less than 24 hours for the second to tell their boss to “take this job and shove it!” They moved back home to the country and bought a small family farm on the edge of town. If work was only to pay for needs, there were better ways to do it. Here, food was free, there was no need to maintain an expensive wardrobe, or social obligations, and with an occasional renter housing paid for itself, too. Sometimes it seemed like there wasn’t enough money, but what was money, after all, than a bowl of rice?
Many years later when the farmer was visiting friends in the city, they recognized a familiar face smiling from across the bar. Reunited, the two old adventurers compared their life stories, surprised that they had interpreted the sage’s advice so differently. 
The first had gone on to eventually become well-compensated in their profession, and had the resources to become a respected artist and teacher as a second career.
The second had had a beautiful life as a respected farmer and teacher of land-based skilled trades. 
“So, which one of us was right?”
Together, they returned to the sage’s cottage on the hillside. After listening to the two stories, the old sage took a long, deep breath:
“Only a difference of perspective.”