Leadership, Part 1
I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately. It sounds trite and cliche to say there are leaders and there are followers, because that isn't quite it. There are people that do lead, naturally, and well. There are people that lead through bullying and domination. There are people that think they are leaders, but hide behind the pretense of busy-ness and important-ness. There are also those that are naturally charismatic, and some sense of leadership just happens because that is how our society tends to work.
I think many of us work with people with some sense of intuition. I know at 55 years old, I can gauge a person within a few minutes, and rarely am I wrong. What we call our intuition is based on thousands of minutes and hours of our life experiences, culminating in an innate understanding of a persons behaviors and likely behaviors based on body language, verbal cues, choice of words, attitudes, and how they interact with others. Leadership, I think, takes those experiences of social cues and human behaviors, and works to identify and leverage the strengths of those we are working with, to attain a result through a common goal. Leadership is not so hard in a space of people of all of the same backgrounds and experiences - and goals. The problems happen when there are individuals with different experiences that impact how they interact and work with others, when there are individuals with their own agendas, and when there are individuals who are dominating, aggressive, manipulative, or who rock the boat when their personal power issues and struggles impact a group. We all know what it is like to work with someone that dominates rather than collaborates, who bullies or forces rather than communicates, or who attacks and belittles others rather than working together and lifting people up. Many people also confuse pushing papers and doing office tasks with leadership. They are two distinctly different things, and leaders must have skills beyond organizing papers and making spreadsheets. Leadership requires trust, collaboration, vision, respect for others, and, that intuition of experience. Leadership is not a solo endeavor or about the one, but about the many.
So, what does this have to do with growing, permaculture, herbalism, and community action? So often we see leaders in this community who don't have good leadership qualities, who do not inspire or lead by example and don't collaborate. We see people who are considered experts who are abusive and who harm others. Many of us are educated in facts of our industries, but not in human interaction, community building, developing collaborative environments, or leadership. But I think we should be.
In Permaculture, we work within the concept of Social Permaculture, which includes areas such as egalitarian leadership, building communities, right livelihood, reciprocity, and re-imagining social structures and societies. To do all of that, we have to look to leadership as a piece in the collaborative puzzle, guiding, mentoring, supporting, and engaging, instead of dominating, overseeing, forcing, and bossing. In permaculture we look to the ecological principles to guide how we understand the world around us, and create communities that work. In this model leadership is not about lording over, but playing a role in the success of an entire community (or family or workplace or group or school or event). It is about understanding different learning styles, different communication styles, and the needs of the whole. In our actions, as in permaculture, we look to REGENERATIVE practices, which includes human interactions. In sustainable practices we only maintain the status quo, but in regenerative practices, we improve and grow, and create a better system than existed when we started. In permaculture that might mean we reduce plastic or compost or divert waste into resources. In communities we might practice kindness, value knowledge over material wealth, look to collaborative groups rather than hierarchical structures to create a movement. Creating strong teams and partnerships that build resilience, belonging, community, and right relationships, builds forward supporting all involved.
Some might think the concept of leadership at all, especially in non hierarchical collaborate groups seems hypocritical. But leadership does not mean a singular person dominating in a top down way, and leadership can be a collaborative group dynamic of shared responsibilities and mentorship using regenerative practices and philosophies to create dynamic working relationships and community minded models. In the methodology The Art of Hosting, they break it down and remove the word leader completely, just calling people hosts. With any group of humans working together, we have to form some kind of agreement and consensus to move forward and grow/proceed. Traditional top down leadership forces a dynamic and power structure that reinforces a lot of our societal norms, whereas
The Art of Hosting is described as “an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges.”
While tossing out the old and bringing in the new paradigms can help people overcome some of the power struggles of hierarchy, leadership still happens in a group dynamic, in encouraging others to listen, to show respect, to take turns, to concede and debate fairly and consistently, and I think we can keep the word if we rethink and restructure how we approach it. To develop new leaders in our communities that are collaborative and regenerative minded is important. To form new regenerative leadership systems that drive our schools, organizations, clubs, groups, and communities, could create communities that work better together, reduce conflict and power struggles, and create a more sustainable future.
One book I have been reading is The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander. My husband recently picked it up because it is being used in software engineering. When I told him it has been in the permaculture community for a few decades, he looked at me like I was crazy. After all, what does architecture and systems have to do with permaculture. But patterns, order, communities, and symmetry in the whole is as much about philosophy and community and leadership as it is about ... buildings. I hope to share more about that book, and others, as I have been working through a big stack of reading.
We define organic order as the kind of order that is achieved when there is a perfect balance between the needs of the parts, and the needs of the whole." ~Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building
I hope to continue this thread, to talk more about leadership and collaborative environments, and building better teams. Permaculture principles extend to leadership, community building, relationships, teamwork, and regenerative processes. By talking about this, thinking about it, and creating new systems, we can create the work and life environments that are better for everyone.
This is the time of year for garden dreaming, but also for optimism, high hopes, and taking time to look at and consider the grand plan. We like to grow our plantings annually so we can establish things over time, not have any total loss if one year is a bad one weather or pest-wise, we don't have too much work all at once, and so there is not too much water demand all at once if we have a dry year (new plantings often need more consistent watering until established).
We always have our master plan in mind, but we also need to evaluate how things went every year and change based on data. If we install new bed areas and the soil or drainage or light or wildlife just make it a bad place, we need to move and adapt. One of the areas of adaptability is our orchards. We did plant tree orchard space in the front, and bush orchard in back. We underplanted existing mulberry, black cherry, choke cherry, and apple trees, but some of the underplantings were destroyed by wildlife - we also had a very wildly fluctuating weather season from extreme cold and snow in May to record heat in June. The deer also keep eating the baby trees and bushes, and there is not enough chicken wire in the world to wrap as much as we have planted as tall as is needed (we put tree guards and hardware cloth around a lot, which is ugly, but they still ate the tops). So, this year I hope to layout a lot of no dig contours to connect the bush orchard and retain moisture, create mounded planting areas for the underplantings to be expanded with plants the deer do not like, and then also work to put in temporary fencing around them in certain times of year.
We also are planting more trees, and we need to fertilize and supplement existing trees as they are growing slowly due to the deer damage. All of the bushes planted within the brambles and medicinal beds are doing well, as the deer don't really like getting in there except in winter, and the groundhogs and voles and field mice and rabbits do get in there, but the coltsfoot, walking onions, and thyme seems to keep them from doing much. The mint on the other side seems to keep them back as well. I thought wormwood would be a good deterrent, but it seems
Our goal as a UpS Botanical Sanctuary is, and has always been, to preserve endangered and at-risk plants, and use our space for education and support of conservation. OVer the past 3 years we have planted a lot more at risk plants throughout our wooded area and in a few new areas established for prairie/sun and shaded spots.
I know long lists of plantings are not the most exciting, but I like having this all written down in this space, so that it is there for me to look back on the future, and to also offer some kind of overview or look into the process of others wanting to do this type of work and planting more integrated permaculture layered gardens with a focus on also plant conservation and not just food and medicine.
So, last year we added a lot of native and medicinal at-risk plants - we won't know how well they are doing until this year and future years as they get established. A few things we planted in 2022 (many of these we plant more every year to grow the planting areas):
That adds to the ongoing list of the UpS species-at-risk we are growing:
Planting bare root and seeds of these natives and at risk plants means we don't always know how they are doing for a while. We planted our first wild ramps, ginseng, blue cohosh, black cohosh, wild ginger, goldenseal, and more back in 2019, and I just saw new plants emerging just last year, so they are actually alive and spreading, but it will be many more years before they become a large developed stand.
We also are focusing on the Wisconsin's Natural Heritage Working List to plant "species legally designated as "Endangered" or "Threatened" as well as species in the advisory "Special Concern" category" in the state of Wisconsin that often have also been used historically as medicinal plants by the indigenous people of this area for millennia. Wisconsin native plants we are working on growing and establishing here at Lunar Hollow include:
Every year I cold stratify natives around this time of by year as most need 30-60-90 days of cold moist stratification before being planted to break their dormancy cycle. They always say put all the seeds into a baggie with moist potting soil or sand, but I can't ever find the seeds again and end up with waste as I end up with a lot of seeds in one potting cell and none in another when I have to just divide the soil and plant it (except for larger seeds which I can see and manually extract). This year I decided to use some old pill containers. Each little cell is big enough for a spoonful of potting soil that I moistened in a bowl, and then each cell gets a few seeds. If you were planting thousands of seedlings this would not work, but I am always planting 4-6-8 of each thing, and planting them out annually to slowly grow and expand natives, so this seemed like a good idea. I labeled each section of seed by name and how long they need to stratify. I put each tray in a baggie to retain moisture and popped them in the fridge. I am hoping this makes the planting into seed trays easier and more consistent!
In addition to starting from seed, I also purchase spring shipped bare root plants that should arrive in spring to go in ground. So, other new plants coming in this spring for bare root plantings include:
And of course I order potatoes, onions, and other spring planting food plants as well.
So, that is a start. I am beginning to organize all of my food seeds from the last few years, clear out varieties that didn't grow well or we didn't like. Adding new things as we get input from the family. And putting everything into my folder system to be ready for seed starting. The grow light setup is up and ready, and we have a few new lights to try out this year as well. We always grow a lot of things, but for this year we hope to increase our storage veggies. We had a bad squash year last year, so we are moving the whole thing to a new spot and will see if we get luckier when the surrounding farms are on soybeans and not corn, as the corn rootworms took over our squash last year and most of the farms in our immediate area were on corn, so we think the weather made for a huge year for them and they strayed to our acreage. Most of the farms around here rotate so if it was a big corn year it should be a soy year, and we shall see. The good thing is that means I can grow our own sweet corn, as we choose to grow heirloom sweet corn only in soy years to prevent cross pollination.
I'll be sharing more about what we are growing food-wise soon. I will also post herb lists soon -as well as my Grow a Row choices for donating. I always try to grow enough for my family for an entire year without needing to purchase anything from a store that we could grow here (basically grow enough to be entirely self-sufficient in dried herbs), and then also grow enough extra to donate some. Wisconsin had a big update on cottage food laws, so I may also be selling dried herbs, herbal teas and spice blends, and other herbal products next year. We shall see! All of that impacts our expansion plans and beds, so we may look to adding many more no dig spaces to grow even more herbs depending on how this all goes. Exciting!
Do you grow any at-risk plants in your gardens?
I have always struggled with darkness. I love winter - the fluffy snow, the excitement of big snowstorms, the silence of the world in the snow, the tracks on the snow of all of the wild visitors, the smell of crisp clean air, the break from the same thing day after day. I love sitting by the fire with calm music, a cup of steaming tea, and a book. Living in the country I love winter even more. The hard work and heat of the summer gone, forcing us inside for more domestic pursuits such as baking and homekeeping. Winter is the time for art and writing and books. The time for baking and stitching and sitting down. But that said, I also struggle with darkness. If it snowed every 2 or 3 days all winter followed by the post-snow sunshine and blue skies, I would be OK. But we do tend to get months of cloudy days. Combining gray and darkness is hard for me. So, I look at snow as my relief, the bright spots between the repeated gray cord on the string of lights.
This year we got a light therapy light. We have all been sitting in front of the light a half hour a day at least. And of course we are all still trying to get outside, take walks, enjoy the quiet, and do a lot of baking. But since it does not get light until pretty late and is still dark before 5pm, the light is helping us continue. We have had so much gray and so many fog warnings this January so far, that the light is a relief. So is garden planning, seed sorting, art making, bread baking, and spending time with my teens.
So I will still enjoy the snow, the quiet, the fluffy snowflakes swirling, the crisp cold air, the crunch of snow under my mukluks, and the sunshine when it comes, I also feel like I have another tool in my toolbox to help get through the long winter.
What do you do to get through the darkest days of the year?
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, permaculture designer, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two unschooled teens in south central Wisconsin.