Written by Doug Crouch

The basis of Permaculture are the ethics that Mollison and Holmgren diligently investigated to be reflective of the crossover of all cultures.  It became in its shortened, tagline like way, to “earth care, people care and fair share”.  We examine the last one, fair share, it’s often how we can achieve the first two.  There has been an evolution of this ethic and it is seen in the following:

  • Set Limits to Population and Consumption: A Designers Manual, Bill Mollison 1981
  • Return of surplus of time, money, and materials towards this ends (earth care and people care): Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison 1991
  • Fair Share: Set Limits and Redistribute Surplus. Permaculture: Principles and pathways beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren 2002
  • Limit consumption, redistribute excess. The way I state it normally


Historical Background

Many cultures had traditions of redistributing surplus to avoid extreme hierarchical concentrations of power.  One of the ones I studied whilst in University was from the Indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest of North America.  The best fisher people were given the best fishing holes and the worst vice versa.  In our current hierarchical society of gross wealth inequality that would have meant the lesser valued people would starve while the ones with this great skill and great real estate (think location, location, location of modern society), would have accumulated vast forms of wealth and would prosper at the expense of others.  Instead they had a once a year festival/ work party called a potlatch, where the modern word potluck comes from. There they had cultural events and practices like smoking salmon to preserve them in their great spawning runs and exchanging forms of wealth.  And the fish resource, their staple crop, was redistributed so no person would starve.  Call it socialism or communism, the lesser people didn’t have to work in drudgery to afford to buy fish from the higher people in what would be analogous to how capitalism works.  All work mattered and there was a sharing of surplus to ensure healthy populations and time could then be spent in functional arts and crafts, aesthetic art, and spiritual investigation.

Potlatch Ceremony depiction

Philanthropy and many forms of Capitol Holistic Perspective on Wealth

Over the years of exploring a more holistic viewpoint of wealth, we have come to understand that many forms of capital exist.  The stories are far too often from travelers seeing how other cultures give when they have so little and happiness seems to be achieved by a simpler life.  Yet in western culture the long running examination on status has been how many assets you have obtained, which in return gives you your status symbol.  However, the backlash on that perspective is growing stronger as you can’t eat money, health isn’t measured in money, and so on and so on.  In highly developed, industrialized societies we have forgone a holistic long-term perspective on wealth for a short-term, instant gratification system that creates a sense of scarcity.  Abundance thinking can be achieved even when you have very little and this scarcity mind-set is what creates conditions for the rat race of society.  Bob Marley said in his track Rat Race the following:

Don’t forget your history;
Know your destiny:
In the abundance of water,
The fool is thirsty.
Rat race, rat race, rat race!

Rat race!
Oh, it’s a disgrace
To see the human-race
In a rat race, rat race!

Even those who appear to have so much are often not truly wealthy because their wealth is leveraged by debt.  So they own nothing and the banks are actually getting rich off of their excessive lifestyles. Those with vast stockpiles of financial wealth are analogous to kings and they need their serfs to support the kingdom.

Harvest from an Urban Food Forest in Iowa, USA 2009

However, in the West, especially in the states, a cultural tradition that was born is philanthropy.  We never fully trusted the government so we decided to put money into organizations that more aligned with our viewpoints.  This helped to spur and continue many social revolutions which come through the non-profit and foundation sector.  Of course some of this is just used as a tax shelter but some use it for true good.  So if you have excess income consider giving to a charity/ non profit/association/ NGO that aligns with your views and propels these ethics forward. Now we can begin to also examine how our abundance and fair share capacity goes beyond just financial capital.  It has been said that many forms of wealth exist, which resonates with me.  I don’t have deep pocket books yet I have tremendous wealth compared to many around the planet.  I remember and state that so I can stay in a state of abundance or love, not scarcity and fear, and am more willing to share.  Fair share.  Remember how your parents taught

A local non profit in my hometown that i have given lots of my time to and buy some trees from through our non profit nursery

you to share when you were a kid?  Furthermore I can share my wealth which I do mainly through conscious consumption,  buying products and services I believe in to further help them out.  I also can volunteer my time, which I have done a tremendous amount of over the years.  With that time often comes my intellectual capital as I am willing to share my wealth of knowledge of ecological and social systems (including this online book).  I also volunteer my time with labour, which equates to my health capital as well because I am in shape and have the capacity to work really hard with garnered skills.  I also leverage social capital from time to time as when you give to others your time, your knowledge, your energy they are likely to reciprocate that.  I am a connector of people through my vast social network, both live and virtual.  These are just a few forms but I am wealthy beyond most even though I don’t have much of a bank account, a flash car, or even a stable place to live.  But that remembrance is very important, especially in the west, where time and money are intermixed in a toxic concoction of scarcity.

A Companies Philosophy Plants Trees

Ecosia, a company I almost got a job through, is an interesting example of Fair Share economics.  Rather than pocketing huge profits and growing for the sake of growth, analogous to cancer, Ecosia generates revenues from web searches, just as Google, Yahoo, or Bing does. However, instead of the normal growth model, this B-corp, invests their money with NGO’s and other organizations for tree planting through a very sound philanthropic fair share model.  Millions of trees have been planted across the world through this model and employment is created through it.  Not only are people in these locales getting jobs, their ecosystems are being regenerated meaning food and water resources are being heightened.  I mean it’s a simple model but with fair share in mind, it’s a brilliant redistribution of surplus.  So stop saying google it, Ecosia it!


Personal example

To be transparent, my financial income comes mainly from teaching, consulting and project management.  I don’t really work conventionally where I am getting paid most days of the year.  I do only a handful of weeks of paid work throughout the year normally and the rest are building towards something. The paid work might be teaching a PDC or planting trees through my eco landscaping implementation services.  So I make chunks of money here and there and live simply

Our solar system that i gifted 1/3 of its total cost through my profits at my former project in Portugal

keeping my overhead low so I can practice philanthropy again with my money, time and knowledge, etc and build long term systems that Permaculture reinforces.  So when I do teach a PDC and make money, I do donate money back to the host site, usually 10% of my profit, to help them further their permaculture aims.  Why?  Because I know without their interconnectivity of working together I couldn’t make any money (TreeYo).  I also know the quality of a PDC is enhanced through well-developed host sites. Thus people are learning actively through site tours but understanding patterns on a subconscious level.  So my donations back have helped to buy solar panels, have helped to plant thousands of trees, have helped give others work in right livelihood. I could take all the money and assume that through my conscious consumption that I am doing enough already.  However I choose to give money so that it circulates, it’s a representation of the energy cycling principle.  Having money or time or knowledge sitting idle is a form of entropy in a way.  Get your wealth out there in a holistic way and it is sure to come back to you.

(below pictures of tree planting in Slovakia at the 2017 PDC, which my fair share donation paid for)

Cultural Events to Help Facilitate- Permablitz

Permablitz’s or Action Days have helped facilitate this process of fair share many times within the Permaculture movement. Remember as the Transition Towns movement says about cultural reformation, you have a personal level responsibility, a community engagement level, and a government response.  So yes we can take shorter showers and wait for administrations to fulfill campaign promises but we can also go to these calls of action on the community level known as Permablitz’s. I first got acquainted with them in New Zealand back in 2007 during my stint of 19 months there farming and stewarding land. We would be hosted by a site, which was organized through a permaculture guild, have a tour of the land, have a meal, and either do hands on or have some discussion or say a seed swap depending on the seasons.  In my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA when I was working for the Urban ag company called Urban Greens

2013 Permablitz for building swales, Cincinnati, USA

back in 2013, we organized a Permablitz at the Bond Hill Garden.  I had already done fair share by planting fruit trees out of my own pocket to share with the community there the financial abundance I was bringing in.  So a group of 20 or so people did exactly that, had a tour of the garden to see how it fit into the Urban Greens model of leased land from the city. We explained the problem we were addressing through this hands on mission (a seepage spring and runoff soaking parts of the garden) and then did it.  We had a meal and voila, we got a big swale implemented to slow, spread and sink this water.  Another picture you will see below is from a students garden in Coastal Southern Portugal.  After teaching a PDC in Spain in Early 2017, I went on a tour in Portugal, on my own dime, of past projects and visiting students and their projects.  They hosted me well and I was there to give free advice to help propel them and their sites towards their goals.  In one of the instances we were in need of some local labour to help the site progress quickly so we organized a permablitz and with a crew of only nine we were able to get a large portion of the sunken beds implemented. The site has extremely sandy soil, farming the beach essentially, so we were working on building soil for the future farming area.  Josse, the landowner, leveraged his social capital in the area and we had good times ending with some food and some beers.  One last instance was at a yoga retreat I was being employed at in Southern Spain in 2016 and ’17.  The founder was leading a yoga teachers training and at the end of that we did a karma yoga session or permablitz on the land to implement sunken beds as well.  Even though most had never picked up tools in their lives, I led a group of about 10 women in an intensive digging, mounding, and adding organic matter session of about two and half hours and got a tremendous amount of work done.  And we had a lot of fun doing it as they were giving back to the site that had hosted them for the last three weeks.  All examples of how community propels sites forward, a barn raising atmosphere of the modern day.

Regenerative Investment

Thus if you are sitting on vast stockpiles of financial capital you also have an ability to spur society in the direction you want it to go again by philanthropy and conscious consumption.  You also have the ability to invest in projects and people. You can donate, lend money on low or no interest, gift money, or start a project.  People create permaculture projects not just machines, tools, and plant purchases.  It is people who plant, people who manage and often in permaculture people who harvest and process.  Without people the system is stunted, people are indeed a form of use of biological resources principle.  Without proper timing and management, biological resources turn toxic so investing in people is a huge boon to the planet. I have found even within Permaculture projects, the owners, are more likely to invest in machinery than in people, especially when they only know about Permaculture but don’t really embody it. So see people as your greatest asset, not just a fancy tractor.

Slow Money example

The real question becomes how do we use our capital to care for the earth and people, and again not just financially.  This holistic mindset of capital allows us to see our riches in many forms and allows us to be drivers of change.  Hoarding is instinctual, but also is to care for others, including the life that is formed through Planet Earth.  Bill Mollison also stated the life ethic and we must ensure that our choices, no one is perfect, spur life not diminish it.  And I mean this in a holistic way, not a linear one.  So how will your life be one of fair share or redistribution of surplus? How will you limit your consumption or direct it in a way that is conscious?  That article on Conscious consumption is definitely intertwined with this fair share economics model but it goes beyond just this.  Its a philosophy of ethical behavior.

Written by Doug Crouch

Header art by Emily Hunt