Permaculture Education and Community Asset Maps

by Lucie Bardos (MRP Intern)

Pc-Icons-Principle-1The first of David Holmgren’s list of twelve permaculture principles that we apply when designing sustainable systems is observe and interact. Observe…. interact… easy peasy, right? Actually, it is often counterintuitive to do this given today’s immediate-results-driven-world; when we want something done, we want it done a.s.a.p; we want to get the show on the road and we often feel pressure to do so. However, permaculture wisdom teaches us that adopting an observation-driven approach to completing tasks almost always results better, more effective and holistic decision-making and design, which is better for humans and the rest of the planet.

With that in mind, Many Rivers Permaculture has embarked on the journey of creating a curriculum for a permaculture/transition camp which will encourage participants to learn about nature, themselves and their community through permaculture-based teaching methods emphasizing imagination, creativity and collaboration. In the spirit of Holmgren’s first permaculture principle, we have decided to observe our surroundings by first of all creating a community asset map of all the potential partners that are within reach and could help us make this project a reality. We are observing and asking: who is out there that can contribute ideas, space, resources, funding, or can insert themselves into the flow of this project in a mutually beneficial way?

DSC01374But hold on – what exactly is a community asset map and where does it come from? Good question! Community Asset Mapping or Social Asset Mapping is part of a process called Asset Based Community Development or Whole Community Organizing. Yes, those are a lot of fancy words and terminology, but what they really mean is a shift away from a deficiency-based model of community development towards a capacity-based one. That is to say that instead of asking ourselves: what is lacking? What do we need? (This process is sometimes called a ‘needs assessment’) we ask: what are our assets? What already makes this community special/vibrant/diverse? This simple shift leads to empowering and valuing those people, skills and organizations that are already present in the community. The community asset map itself is just a visual representation of those elements, which can take on many different forms based on the purpose of each individual map. The same difficult obstacles can be tackled using this approach as using the deficiency-based approach, but in a more meaningful, collaborative and positive way, utilizing local resources rather than distantly located solutions, and making known (or creating) the network between the different assets present in the community.

The mapping process for us has made us aware of just how many people in Guelph are working on alternative education systems, permaculture, outdoor education, and helping reach out to those members of the community who may not have as much privilege as others or who may be marginalized in one way or another. It is our hope that we will be able to connect some of these initiatives in a cooperative way as we build and implement the permaculture/transition camp curriculum.

Now you have a basic idea of what a community asset map is and why we are making one, so we would like to extend this formal invitation to you to come and collaborate! If you would like to learn more about the permaculture/transition camp, would like to put yourself on our community asset map, or would like to work in partnership with us in any other way, give us a shout!