The TH Interview: Maddy Harland of Permaculture Magazine, part two

Maddy Harland is the editor of UK-based Permaculture Magazine (PM), solutions for sustainable living (previously featured on TreeHugger here), which she founded with her partner Tim in 1992. PM has an international focus and covers all aspects of sustainable living, from permaculture gardening and small scale sustainable agriculture to green building, low-impact transport and community action. The magazine has 100,000 readers world wide, and has been successfully distributed in the USA since 2003. It is now also available through a network of international wholesalers in many other countries, including Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, New Zealand and Australia.

Maddy is also a co-founder with her partner, Tim, of Permanent Publications, a company dedicated to publishing environmental books, and she was cited for a 'Special Commendation' at the Triodos Bank Women's Ethical Business Awards at the Globe Theatre, London. She is also a founder member of Gaia Education, an international team of educators developing curricula and courses on the Sustainable Development of Urban and Rural Settlements, and she helped found the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, UK.

In the first part of this two-part interview, Maddy discussed the origins of Permaculture Magazine, the recent upsurge of interest in sustainability, and she gave her own personal definition of permaculture. She also discussed what makes the magazine so popular, and revealed the ways in which they try to keep their operations sustainable. In part two, Maddy talks about the diversity of approaches to permaculture that exist, the emotional aspects of environmental activism, and the future of Permaculture Magazine. As usual, we also ask Maddy about her top tips for creating a better, greener world.
Photo of Maddy Harland by Penny Rose
TH: The high-tech, modern projects of the Bioregional Development Group, the community oriented grassroots action of Transition Towns, and low-impact, back-to-the-land groups living in traditional roundhouses have all been inspired by permaculture. Are they part of the same movement, or very separate takes on a similar concept?

MH: Bioregional are known for their BedZED development but that is not the whole story. They have done wonderful work on regenerating the lavender industry in their locality, relocalising the supply of charcoal and regenerating the coppice industry in Britain and getting urban wood recycling projects up and running. The founders, Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone, fully acknowledge their permaculture roots. Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transitions movement, regards himself as an out-and-out permaculture practitioner. And, of course, Tony Wrench, one of our book authors, is a deeply creative permaculturist.

What all these projects have in common is that their founders did the 72-hour Full Permaculture Design Course that is taught all over the world. They then went on to apply the principles of permaculture — like resourcing locally, creating beneficial relationships, energy cycling etc. — into their projects. Inevitably, how people apply the principles of integrated design will vary enormously. In our case, we took the course, came home and set about designing not only a house and garden but a book and magazine publishing company as well.

TH: In your editorials, you often address the emotional aspects of fighting for sustainability. Why is this so important, and how can we stay sane and focused, in the face of huge threats such as climate change?

MH: As you say, the threats to our very survival are profound. Though I hold an optimistic view that the human race is capable of growth and transition, this is far from guaranteed. We have to cut our emissions by at least 90%, and very quickly, to stem the tide of global climate change. Otherwise, it is agreed that a 6 degree rise will eliminate 95% of the species on the planet, including us. We are faced with either birthing a new civilization or attending our own collective funeral. This is enormous psychological material to deal with. It is too easy to either go into denial or depression when faced with the enormity of the events that are unfolding in our lifetime. This is why I focus on emotional sustainability as much as ecological good practise. The first ethic of permaculture is Earth Care. The second is People Care. The third is a synthesis of the two: Fair Shares. My editorials reach out and speak to our readers and they in return respond to them deeply. I get emails and letters from all over the world speaking of the need for this approach.

I am also a great admirer of the deep ecologist, Joanna Macy, and her empowerment process called 'The Work That Reconnects'. I know it is effective having done the work myself. It is easy to be an eco-activist (which is really what I am) for a few years, maybe a decade and then burn out. The challenge is to work year in year out, at times struggling personally and often financially, bring up children, stay with a partner and deepen that relationship and keep on learning and growing. So really, I am only writing, like most authors, about my own inner experiences and lessons but I know that my journey is relevant to, and shared by, many.

It's no good living in a lovely eco-house with a productive edible garden and being angry, alienated and alone! Ultimately, real sustainability is about community and our ability to create it. We have to start by learning to love and co-operate with ourselves. Then we can care for and co-operate with others.

TH: Where would you like to see Permaculture Magazine in 10 years time?

MH: I'd like to see it healthy, vibrant and with a continually evolving content and vision and I don't necessarily need to be its editor or publisher. Permaculture Magazine is very much one of Tim and my 'children' and we want it to grow up and leave home one day.

One of my proudest moments was when my Brazilian friend, May East, showed me the Brazilian permaculture magazine and said it had been inspired by our work. Every country should have its own publication. In the near future, I hope permaculture will be properly understood by the mainstream, just as more natural and complementary forms of medicine are accepted now. Permaculturists the world over are visionaries. I believe our time is coming.

TH: What are the most important actions that people can take to create a more sustainable, fairer world? How does Permaculture Magazine help people in taking these steps?

MH: We have to start at our own back door. If we can grow some food then let's do so. It accounts for about 30% of our ecological footprint. Then look at transport, home heating, the work you do. Can you design a lifestyle that reduces your impact? After self-assessment comes community engagement. How can I make my village, town, city a better place to live and who else is thinking the same kind of thoughts?

How do we help people take these steps at Permaculture Magazine? We provide practical information, written by people who walk their talk. We search for projects that are achievable, low cost and effective: rainwater harvesting, self-build cob ovens and masonry stoves, wildlife habitat creation to increase biodiversity in the garden, articles on materials and techniques for self-build and house renovation, interesting and useful edible plants, how to set up community gardens, even how to inspire a whole town or city to reduce CO2... The list is as long as our imagination.

But we are not just about information and techniques that can be applied at home or locally. We are also deepening our understanding of how people and communities can work together to develop more creative, harmonious and abundant lifestyles. So we publish stories about urban community projects that combine good practice and techniques with rebuilding community inner city Britain or the USA and in the Amazon and Congo as well. In the latest issue, for example, we have a story of how a permaculture field school in Indonesia is helping survivors to rebuild their lives after the tsunami. Run by local people, this project is literally turning former guerrilla snipers into gardeners and community activists. This is a story of hope from a place that has been deeply traumatised. Does this kind of project costs huge amounts of money? No. It requires imagination and the support and engagement of local people.

People throughout the world need to hear these stories. The mainstream media feeds us with a diet of despair and division. That's what sells newspapers and TV programmes. We are here to demonstrate a different reality: a reality of involvement instead of alienation, one of hope instead of despair. We are asking people not to focus on what is wrong with everything but to focus on what can be done and find people of like-mind to co-operate with. We are here on this earth to heal, not harm. As the Dalai Lama said, "A positive future cannot emerge from the mind of anger and despair."
For part one of this interview, in which Maddy discussed the origins of Permaculture Magazine, the recent upsurge of interest in sustainability, and she gave her own personal definition of permaculture, follow this link.

More information on permaculture and Permaculture Magazine can be found here. For North American readers, Permaculture Magazine is available throughout America and Canada on discerning newsstands or by subscription via the Magazine CyberCenter. Permaculture Magazine is published by Permanent Publications whose books on permaculture are also available in North America via Chelsea Green.

Tags: Fair Trade | Permaculture | TH Interview

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