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Podcast 051 - Toby Hemenway on the Permaculture Ethics

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Credit: Kevin Murphy

Paul reviews the third ethic with Toby Hemingway. Toby finds it ironic that people are quick to tell him he should be giving away his book as surplus. Toby goes through some history on how he got his first workshop paid for. When people come to Toby looking for a break on a price he gets upset when people are able bodied and intelligent. Asking for a subsidy should be a last resort.

Paul explains that some people are taking advantage of the third ethic and surplus. People do not have the right to come in and tell you what you have in surplus and how you should give things away. Paul and Toby discuss the difference between a gift economy and a theft economy. Toby explains how an ethic works and how it is meant to serve the community. Ethics are not meant to serve a person.

Paul Wonders if it is possible to practice permaculture without hearing of the three ethics. Toby thinks that people can do well in permaculture if they already have a good set of base ethics to work from. Paul gives an example of how helping a farmer to use some permaculture methods can help him make more profit is a good way to help create surplus. How by getting rid of the Monsanto crops and replace them with permaculture crops is a good way to get things moving in the right direction. Toby feels that farms evolve over time and how permaculture can be applied to the farm and economics and soils and many other things in life. Toby explains how Monsanto is not paying attention to their systems. Toby feels that we are not taught to be critical thinkers in school. As the ethics serve us as individuals then we are probably not applying them properly.

Toby feels that people come to permaculture when there is a need for it. Mainstream is not going to embrace permaculture until they need it. Toby didn't come to permaculture for the ethics, he came to it because if offered many things that he liked, such as edge and other multi function systems. Toby feels that Sepp Holzer practices permaculture based largely on observation. Toby explains how his system involves a great deal of observation and how the system needs to evolve based on additional observations.

Paul discusses profit and asks for Toby's opinion on profit and permaculture. Toby feels that when two parties agree to a price there should be a fair exchange. Toby feels it is his right to sell a book to a person as he choses. Toby does believe in the zero sum game.

Paul asks Toby some tough questions on a topic that Toby and Paul do not agree on. The term Permaculture Certification Course and the term designer is discussed. Toby feels that a two week course is not really enough. Presenting yourself as a certified designer after taking a two week course is not sufficient. Toby feels that you need to have more experience. Toby feels you need several years of experience before you can claim to be a designer. A certified Landscape Designer who has taken a PDC has some previous design experience. Paul feels that Toby's opinion is reasonable. Paul mentions that there was some talk about making some official titles and unfortunately the ship for the term "Designer" has already sailed. Toby feels that the Permaculture Institute can take steps to create a list of people and qualify them as a teacher/designer. The topic of registration and certification is discussed between Paul and Toby. Toby feels that if you can teach the class and the students enjoy the material and you know the material/chapters then you can claim to be a Permaculture Teacher/Instructor. Toby feels it should be self policing. If you look at the Landscape Architects and how they are set up, it is a pretty good system. Paul knows of some Permaculture Teachers who are not good and do not instruct properly and do not know what they are doing. Toby feels that the word does get out and the community learns pretty quickly. Toby endorses Scott Pitman as a good person to steer the Institute and if people are not following the PDC curriculum then they should not claim to be teaching a PDC course.

Toby discusses Bill Mollison and some of his interactions with him. At 83 Bill is moving a little slow but still Toby feels Paul should travel to Austrailia to meet Bill. Toby reiterates that if the ethics are only serving you then you are probably not doing things properly. Paul feels that it is important to record Toby and how he feels and how this podcast can help keep people on the proper course of action. Serving the larger community should be the goal. Taking someone else's stuff and giving it away is not sharing of resources. If taking the designers manual and sharing it with other people, then you should give credit where it is due. Paul asks if someone copies Toby's book and use it on a website, Toby is ok with that, but if you distribute it, you need the author/creators permission. Paul discusses what his boundaries are with respect to using material he has created. Toby seems to be a little looser than Paul with regards to distribution. Toby gives some guidelines as far as how much is to much when taking his material and sharing. Paul explains how at they delete taken material and ban the user. Paul requests that other pod people keep an eye out for bad behavior regarding stolen material. Paul explains how people should support websites by contacting the sponsors of that website. Toby discusses how it is the material creator's right to give what they decide how much to give away. The author retains the right to give away what the author wants.

Relevant Threads

The Third Ethic
Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway
Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Design

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I think Monsanto couldn't apply the principles because it's not competing on flavor or nutrition but on price/quantity.  And an agribusiness and a thousand-acre farmer are two very different things anyway.

There is a danger someone can benefit from a tool that allows some manipulation, or push the feedback away for a while.  But teaching them to observe is still the best available option.

Also, the $4000 ham thing is a transitional tool.  In the post-money future, we can all have husp-level food for free.  For now the best tool to get there may be to charge a healthy price.  To show other farmers an example of prosperous farming.  Even reinvestment of money eventually can be transitioned to reinvestment of trust/people-power/time.  

And rushing this transition, either rushing self or other, slows things down .  

Now if the $4000 ham costs $3000 to market and advertise, and costs emotional weight then it may be a problem masquerading as a solution.  If it sells relatively easily, it pays your tax bill for a year and seeds and translations of Sepp's next book and...
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