Permaculture – A Personal Perspective

One becomes increasingly aware of the justifiable resentment expressed by many young people today against the  previous generations who had taken advantage of the post war era of low oil prices and easy credit, in what became known as ‘the never had it so good’ years, to land them with a heavy and increasing mortgage to be repaid. In defence it may be pointed out that it was generally accepted during those years that we were also laying down a better future for them and their children.  I was working in the Youth Employment Service at the time and in many occupations the working week was being reduced, ‘self actualisation’, and ‘job satisfaction’ were   the buzz words and Volvo was experimenting with team work away from the monotony of the production line. By 1980 it was anticipated that too much leisure would be a problem as cheap energy would help automate both home and factory, leaving individuals with time on their hands.  In our advisory work we were presented with batteries of psychometrics by the personal and occupational psychologists in order to help school leavers to better prepare for the career choices that the post war years had created. To accommodate these changes the Service was to be re-launched as ‘The Careers Service’ from April 1974, Cornwall was one of the first to advertise its brand new Service, most of my father’s relatives were living in St. Ives at the time so I applied. That was in December 1973, ironically the time when the huge increase in oil prices was announced by OPEC that took us from a relatively stable price of energy at around 5 dollars a barrel that had fuelled our utopian dreams, to well over 50 dollars per barrel when we began work in April the following year. Industry almost immediately responded by cutting recruitment. The new buzz word was ‘crisis’.  Launched, as we were, from a period of optimism we broke the word into its two constituents ‘problem + opportunity’.  Aided by a succession of national schemes of employer subsidies and sponsored work experience we endeavoured to steer schools and their pupils through a new, extended and uncertain period, of what had become known as the ‘transition from school to work’.  For the next ten years I worked in Kerrier District schools before being appointed to one of the two new management posts for the east and west of the county. That the schools appreciated what we were achieving is best expressed in excerpts from two letters I received at the time; from the head of a local school - ‘I have always been impressed with your capacity to provide first class knowledge and information very speedily.  We shall miss you.’ And from a head of upper school - ‘it has been marvellous to know that whatever the problem we could always get your help, I personally have appreciated it’.
In response, and possibly as an antidote to the demands of my new professional role, I had become attracted to the new wave of optimism engendered when the principles of permaculture were published around that time.  From then on I worked the two roles in parallel, using this ‘impossible’ piece of land here amongst the sand dunes as a test area for permaculture.  I later discovered that what had led to the flight of jobs from the economy i.e. industry’s increased energy consciousness, more and more use of automated processes and globalisation, were also how Nature had always handled its business, but crucially where industry is constantly on the look out for more profitable enterprises and locations dominated by financial interests, obeying Nature’s laws through permaculture can introduce some stability to an area and its population.  Since ‘retirement’ this is the area that I have continued to explore here on the sand dunes, presenting insights, ideas and plants to various interested individuals and groups. ’Sustainability’ may sound to be boring, but far from It -- as the originators of the principles of permaculture pointed out it takes human involvement in the land to a higher and more interesting level of involvement. The main work for the next generation I feel is to find a role in land based activities where ‘growth’ really means what it says, with more use being made of the greatest of all sources of innovation and renewable energy – humans, and to pull the two economies together so that a future vision of Utopia will have a better and more lasting chance of success.
Raymond Yarwood 2012