Kareen will is one of our co-instructors at this summer's Montana Practical Permaculture Design Course in Bozeman, MT from June 16-30, 2017. Enjoy the interview and then click on this link to find out more info on the course.
What is your background, and how did you find the path to Permaculture?
I grew up in the suburbs of a small town outside of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. My mother had a garden when we were young and I can still remember rummaging through our raspberry patch, digging up potatoes, and picking peas off the vine. My mom was the definition of a homemaker extraordinaire; she baked bread, canned food, made pasta, pies, jellies and jams. She refused to buy us brand name clothing and instead, we shopped at thrift stores. Before it was common to reduce, reuse and recycle, my mom reused plastic bags and gave us cloth lunch totes to take to school.
However, as I was growing up, I didn't appreciate my mom's values, skills and knowledge. Although having a garden was fun and her bread was delicious, I still wanted the pop tarts and fruit loops from our neighbors' pantry. Though I didn't learn all I could have from my mom's treasure box of knowledge, in hindsight I realize that those values left their mark.
Fast forward to my early twenties and after completing a Bachelor's in Environmental Science, I was 'derailed' from my academic path when I took a trip to Latin America. After that trip, I became deeply involved in social justice and human rights work. I spent a year as a human rights observer in Guatemala, learning from and living with indigenous people who had survived a terrible civil war. I came back to the US as an idealistic, self-righteous young woman, wanting to effect change, protest, and raise awareness about the impact that US foreign policy was having on Latin America. I was outraged by the free trade agreements that were impoverishing indigenous farmers even further, that were forcing them out of subsistence lifestyles and into farming for export. I began teaching workshops to high school students about the effects of globalization, wealth disparity and encouraging them to think critically about the issues. In my conversations with high school students, however, I frequently received the feedback, 'well, there isn't much that we can do about it,' and I realized that what was lacking were concrete solutions and examples of how to respond to an ever increasing globalized and unequal world of "haves" and "have nots."
My anger and helplessness grew alongside the world's problems. Burned out, I took a step back and realized that I had spent most of my twenties being "against" someone or something.
This is when I ran across the course, Gandhi and Globalization, offered by Dr. Vandana Shiva at her learning center and organic farm in India. Dr. Shiva's organic farm promotes chemical-free agriculture, saves seeds, and defends people's food rights and food sovereignty. The learning experience was eye-opening. Using Gandhi's philosophy as an example, the course encouraged localized economies, growing our own food and taking responsibility for our own existence. It showed me how these actions could easily be applied to the current reality of globalization.
A couple years later, I quit my job working for a social justice organization and moved to work on an organic farm in Western Massachusetts. It was one of the hardest but best decisions of my life. I followed up my studies by taking a permaculture design course in New Zealand and traveled around New Zealand and Australia working on permaculture farms.
After returning to the US and experimenting in my own garden for a few years, I decided to take my permaculture education to the next level and participated in a 10-week long advanced permaculture training at the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia with renowned designer, Geoff Lawton. Not long after returning from that experience in 2011, I founded my own business, Broken Ground, in Bozeman, and have been teaching and coaching people on how to grow their own food and best design resilient and regenerative landscapes.
The world's problems persist. Every day, we are faced with issues of war, terrorism, hurricanes, drought, and global epidemics. Yet, I feel more grateful, hopeful and empowered than I did in my twenties because I am now participating in part of the solution. Permaculture gave me an outlet, a way to create abundance instead of feeling helpless. With the food that I pull out of my garden every season, I feel more confident of my path and the need to be an example of what is possible, to inspire hope for change, create community, and encourage more and more people to live simpler, healthier lifestyles.
I envision a world where community is created around growing food, where we value our farmers and the land, where 'progress' in our society is not measured by how much money we make or what we own but by who we are and how we contribute in a meaningful way to the world.
Describe what you have going on on your property. What is the overall vision for your place?
I live with my partner and stepson on a ¾ acre suburban lot in Bozeman. We are converting the yard into a cold climate permaculture demonstration site. The site already illustrates different design and growing techniques that are water-efficient, energy and resource-conserving and allow individuals to grow a good percentage of their own food in their backyards. It includes annual and perennial edible gardens, a food forest, chicken coop, greenhouse, greywater system and pond.
Our long-term goal is that the property serve as a source of inspiration and abundance; a place where people can learn and get inspired to grow. It reflects the inner and the outer work necessary to live a more regenerative lifestyle.
What advice would you give a budding permaculturist/gardener/farmer?
First, if you can, start a garden, even if it's just a few veggies in containers. It will be your best teacher and will start to make what you learn about permaculture and gardening more tangible.
Read books or check out the resources available online. There is so much available out there via books, videos, podcasts, and films.
Take a PDC if you want to delve deeper into the field. The information you gain and the connections you create during a PDC are great ways to jumpstart a career in permaculture. Then, as soon as possible, start applying permaculture principles in your life whether it's through designing, gardening, or community-building. In many ways, we are pioneers in this field. We need more and more people experimenting on their land and in their communities, applying permaculture principles to design healthier, more resilient lives.