I just returned from the 11th International Permaculture Convergence, held in Cuba. Hearing stories of Cuban friends' relationship to money got me thinking about the permaculture principle of "catch and store energy." One of the most consequential "energy" flows on this planet is –– you guessed it –– Money.
Paulo Mellett, a financial permaculturist who works with the UK-based LUSH cosmetics company said, "A lack of Money isn't the problem. There is money out there. Increasingly with these converging crises, more and more people are looking for solutions. The permaculture community has the solutions, but we need to better articulate these solutions to make them visible, replicable, and functional."
And, financially viable.
In a great interview with Mark Shepard, the author of Restoration Agriculture, he argues that the solution lies in creating models that teach people how to access this financial abundance that Paulo references, for themselves.
"Teaching people how to pay their own bills by starting their own businesses that provide goods and services to others while creating Permaculture Paradises is people care.” -Mark Shepard (excerpted from Chuck Burr's interview with Shepard on Resilience.org)
In Cuba, we visited Organiponico Vivero Alamar, just outside of Havana, where we met Isis Maria Salcines Milla, the daughter of Miguel Salcines, President and Founder of the farm. She shared with us that the farm employs 185 workers, 45 of whom are woman, and describes the many versatile income-generating skills that these workers learn, including how to make added-value products like vinegar and pickles. She also described the incredible worker-benefits including special schedules for women with children and an innovative profit-sharing program for the workers.
Two other regenerative enterprise examples discussed by Paulo at IPC 11 were the following:
Recover Peru, a nonprofit that Mellett works with, who is producing high-value Rosewood oil using restoration forestry. Rosewood trees are in small supply due a history of massive over-harvesting for both the oils and high-value hardwood, and this solution-oriented enterprise helps Peru grow more than just financial capital. As Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua describe in their 8 Forms of capital, Recover is helping to grow abundant cultural, intellectual, and living capital too.
Likewise for The Ghana Permaculture Institute. Through diversified funding streams, GPI has incubated four primary permaculture-based businesses –– a nursery tree enterprise (that has distributed 80 million trees throughout Ghana!), a mushroom cultivation project, a natural Moringa enterprise, and a women's ethical revolving loan enterprise.
On a bike ride in Viñales Valley near the end of my trip, I happened upon a fruit stand where I struck up a conversation with a farmer, Alberto Vitamines. Alberto's nickname of "Vitamines" stems from his commitment to health in all forms – nutrition, spiritual, and the health of the earth. We spent an entire day enjoying bananas, pineapples, coconut, hand-grown cigars, participating in the roasting, grinding, and drinking of some of his home-grown coffee, and enjoying a home-cooked meal from this Paladar.
At the end of the day, as we see time and time again in the natural world, these "Enterprise Ecologies" as Paulo calls them, are all about relationships. As Paulo says of "Don't try and do it all yourself, because we can't –– we need to collaborate with as many people as possible. It needs to be something more than just on the personal level. Plan it as a business. Do the homework. Design the whole enterprise, not just the system on the land. Then the one informs the development of the other." –Paulo Mellett