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Text courtesy of Synergetic Press
Social Forestry: Tending the Land as People of Place is a must-have for anyone who wants a reciprocating relationship with their communities, themselves, and most importantly their awe-inspiring forests and landscapes.

Social Forestry connects villages and communities to their land and adjoining bodies of water. Concepts include forest management, protection, and regeneration of deforested lands with the objective of improving the rural, environmental, and social development. Through ecological assessment, carbon sequestration, and generating wildcrafts, people re-establish their wonder in the woods.

Author Tomi Hazel Vaarde, collaborator of Siskiyou Permaculture, uses poetry,  photographs, drawings, and data to outline philosophies and concepts of Social Forestry. By weaving culturally sensitive stories, myths, and lessons from a range of customs and traditions including North American Indigenous communities and Vaarde’s own Quaker upbringing, Vaarde explores how holistic land and community management approaches can facilitate resolution of some of our most dire local and global crises. The writer’s work is critical to overcoming eco-grief while instilling necessary changes to the West Coast landscape for fire mitigation and restoration of complex forest systems for generations to come.

Many Indigenous peoples have learned regenerative management by living for generations in and with a sense of place, but few examples of whole-system planning and participation are evident in modern society. Climate adaptation, human survival, and the maintenance of biodiversity that supports life on Earth require radical, back-to-the-roots grounding and intentional dedication. Social Forestry helps readers remember the ways of the wild while implementing local food production, collaboration with conservation efforts, forest management, and stabilization of headwaters to build resilience for the long term. To live in harmony with our surroundings, we need to re-skill, always remembering those who came before us and acting in ways that honor traditional wisdom of people and place.


Inside this luminous guide, you will find practical placemaking advice, ancient lore, and a humor that shimmers. Receive these generous offerings—a lifetime of wisdom from an elder, a teacher of permaculture, and radical changemaker like no other—and you will be transformed. Together we listen to the earth, we understand where we belong, and we find our way home again.

—Helena Norberg-Hodge, Director of Local Futures and author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh

Social Forestry by Tomi Hazel Vaarde is a book of hope. Hazel shows how our relationship with the Earth and her forests does not have to be an extractive one leading to destruction. Through cooperating together we can regenerate our forests and rewild ourselves and the land, growing hope as ecosystems recover while empires crumble.

—Vandana Shiva, PhD, author of Agroecology and Regenerative Agriculture: Sustainable Solutions for Hunger, Poverty, and Climate Change

About the author:

Hazel is a long time resident of the Southern Oregon/Mount Shasta bioregion, first settling there in the early 1970’s. They are currently focused on Social Forestry, restoring Oak/Pine Savannah, fuel hazard management, wildcrafting, wildlife conservation, and desert forest water management.

They have been advising farms, stewarding forests, and teaching Environmental Sciences for more than fifty years.
After having earned degrees in Forestry and Systematic Botany from Syracuse University and SUNY College of Forestry in 1969, Hazel taught Wild Edible Plants and Woods-lore at Laney College in Oakland, California in the early 1970’s. After helping Bill Mollison teach the first Permaculture Design Course at Evergreen State College in 1982, they have been instrumental in teaching and spreading Permaculture practices ever since.

Hazel has taught dozens of Permaculture courses over the last 37 years, primarily in Southern Oregon and Northern California. These include the PDC, Permaculture Teachers Training, and advanced courses in Optical Surveying, Social Forestry, and Farm Planning. They were a frequent guest instructor for Toby Hemenway Permaculture design courses offered in the Northwest.

Published by Synergetic Press
456 pages

Where to get it?
Here on Permies with a special discount
Synergetic Press

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I give this book 6 out of 10 acorns.

This 474 page book contains both practical, permaculture approaches, and also a strong First Nations' approach to restoring the land. Within this book, there are concepts or practical skills described with incredible detail including clear diagrams and pictures, and then other concepts where I was stumped by my language skills and the diagram I so needed to sort the words out, was strangely lacking. The introduction did state that this is a book which needs to be read again and again, with the reader gaining more insight progressively. There are certainly lessons included in these pages which will take time and patience to incorporate truly into most people's mindsets.

The introduction is trying to get across a lot of important concepts, but since it is using pathways I was unfamiliar with, I would not be concerned if you find it quite overwhelming. That said, here's a little help: the author repeatedly refers to "posters", however, the index does *not* tell you where these can be found.
Posters 1-13 can be found between pages 138 and 139
Posters 14-30 can be found between pages 330 and 331

One of the difficult concepts for many is that, "words and literature can be too narrow or distracting: to truly mature our understanding of natural complexity and our potential for wise behavior, we have to allow the symbols of deep evolutions, of natural relationships, to reveal truths of Place." (pg 16) The author wants people to learn how to observe nature and think - not give a recipe to be followed.

At times, some of the language is not as inclusive as I would prefer to see here on permies. I understand that when a pendulum has swung too far in one direction, it is difficult to impossible not to expect it to swing to the other, however, to benefit from the good in this book, one has to understand and accept that. Some of the words and concepts are written from a mind-set that is very different from what I grew up with, but some are concepts that although different from my youth, are ones I had embraced before reading this book. For example, I had already seen the wisdom in referring to non-humans as "people". I had come to the conclusion that humans aren't the center of the Universe and that we need to be better neighbors. We need to understand, support, and accept the needs of the Beaver People, the Bear People, the Hummingbird people, etc, if we wish to heal our planet.

An important concept that this book is based on is the "drainage basin". This involves orienting one's approach to rehabilitating the land based on geographic limits - all the land that drains from high points to the exit point - rather than human artificial lines drawn regardless of the hills, valleys, creeks, streams and meadows.

Another important concept is that of "becoming People of Place". The author describes 10 steps towards that goal:
1. State the intention.
2. Learn the names and stories of All Beings of Place.
3. Learn what happened where you are now.
4. Stay home and dress up!
5. Travel outside your drainage basin seldom.
6. Reduce energy import dependence.
7. Consider what ecological-restoration might mean.
8. Support biodiversity.
9. Read the treaties.
10. Establish Drainage Basin Councils.

Chapter 3 introduces what it means to have a "nest-home" in a forest. For example, they are up-front in saying, "We have found that the chores of "simple living" take about four hours a day and so we are lucky to get 4-6 hours a day to work on projects." (pg 77) And, "This is a big part of social forestry; we all have a lot to learn about getting along with the landscape and each other. Hyper-individualistic moderns are insensitive to others and self-centered in their priorities." (pg 79)

The Chapter on Forestry Work covers interconnected concepts such as how Mollison's "sectors" relates to "natural flow of tasks," relates to "travel routes," relates to Indigenous approach to using Story-Telling or Song Lines (Australian) to remember routes and skills and pass important knowledge down centuries of experience. Within one community and one drainage basin, you can have nomadic, semi-nomadic and stationary locations and participants. Current North American approaches tend to focus solely on "permanent" housing/locations, when in fact, large numbers are shifting to nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles because "permanent" is not affordable or available to many.

However, modern humans have lost much of that knowledge, as they observe on pg 163 "Once again, as we often find in teaching, some folks do not want to learn how to think, they just want to have the recipes." I found these words abrupt and unhelpful. I don't disagree with the observation, but it would have been much more helpful for my own growth and my ability to support the growth of others, if this concept included ideas of how to help people move past the "recipe" mindset and shift to the "how to think" mindset.

There is a specific chapter on charcoal production which is comprehensive. True to the underlying concepts the book is based on, they keep their approach "human sized". They talk about the benefit of charcoal as carbon sequestration and soil microbe support and how much longer biochar lasts in the soil compared to most other forms of carbon.
"Chain saws are inelegant short-cuts and do not actually save energy, if we look at all the manufacturing, marketing, and mining that goes into their "convenience". Efficiency can be the cloak that hides the loss of multiple-values and careful-attention." (pg 227) The chapter also includes an explanation and the significance of the different colours of smoke.

Likewise there is a specific chapter about fire - that many landscapes were managed by fire and that the loss of those practices have created many problems, which coupled with warmer, dryer weather, have created huge fires in my province in the last few decades. There is no easy way back - it will take hard work and effort to transition not just the forest itself, but the way humans interact with forests on a long term basis. Our focus on short-term monetary gains needs to be replaced with much longer sight lines.

This book covers many topics which overlap like wavy versions of Ven diagrams (who says we need to use precise circles?) The introduction is correct about the need to read and re-read the whole and the parts and consider that we are on a journey to repair our planet, starting with the Tree People.
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Thank you for bringing this book to our attention.

Having given it a speed read, I am now re-reading in order to appreciate more deeply the story telling style, together with the knowledge.

I find the story telling approach encourages one to slow down, and in that process the stories stick! I am not a verbal learner and yet story telling is a verbal process -- so this is an exciting experience.

Of course once I have thoroughly milked this book, my review will go in the book review forum: a place where I have found many more great books.
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This sounds awesome!  Anyone know where this is currently in practice?
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Tina Wolf wrote:This sounds awesome!  Anyone know where this is currently in practice?

Apart from Tomi Hazel's own area, you could look at Robert Pokachinni's project thread here perhaps.
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