The three ethics of permaculture are often summarized as Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. People care starts with us, as human beings, and extends to our relationship with ourselves, our family and friends, our wider community, and the world at large. It is the acknowledgment that we are social creatures and the recognition that we cannot effectively live by the other two ethics, if we are not cooperatively creating the social environment where people’s basic needs are met. People care is simultaneously about self-empowerment/personal growth and collective collaboration/interpersonal growth. I like to call it social permaculture. It is the core of social justice work. And it is often hard work. It is changing the way that we live and treat each other. It’s about transforming our inner yards so that we thrive alongside the physical gardens we care for.

This year has been a big year at Planting Justice. We turned four and our team of 19 staff members, have now all been with Planting Justice for at least a year.  After last years growth spurt, we decided it was time to put more priority on the ethic of people care within our organization. We took time out during our busiest season, to all come together to do the work of social permaculture. This marked the first time the entire PJ staff had come together into one room. The amazing folks at Be Present Inc. (, led us through a two and a half day training where we learned about and practiced using the Be Present Empowerment Model. This model is composed of three interwoven steps, or strands, that are incredible tools for creating and sustaining social change. The three strands are a) Knowing yourself outside of the distress of oppression, b) Listening in a conscious and present state, and c) Build effective relationships and sustain true alliances. With the guidance of the Be Present trainers, we used the model to open up authentic dialogue around the mission and work of Planting Justice, and address the impacts that such issues as race, gender, class, power, etc. have on our well-being and effectiveness as part of a social change movement.


We started the workshop by collectively creating an intentional community space and engaging in deep sharing about ourselves. Each person brought forth an item or an offering and shared about its meaning in their life. Opening into this kind of vulnerable heart space was powerful and we used this container to remind ourselves about who we really are when challenging moments emerged. It allowed us to strengthen our foundation and ground it in love, trust, and connection. As the workshop went on, we explored our histories and how they have been impacting our present. We unpacked some of our stories to better our ability to really consciously listen to one other. We all took risks to step outside of our comfort zones towards our growing edges. Together we talked about our values, our motivations, and our inspiration around the work we do at Planting Justice. We explored issues that were impacting our relationships and ability to sustainably work together in order to learn about what experiences are affecting positive movement. Finally, we talked about the future of PJ, our vision, our organizational structure, and the practices that we want to put in place to move forward more collaboratively. The workshop was incredibly meaningful and has had huge positive impact on us all. We have since begun monthly full staff meetings where we hold space to continue opening up with each other and talk about the ways in which we want to shape our organization as we move ahead.

As you read through the principles of permaculture below, how do those principles apply in the context of the ethic of people care? And how do they apply in your life personally?

  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

-source wikipedia

If you are interested in learning more about Be Present, there are free monthly introductory sessions in the East Bay. Feel free to contact or for details.

If you would like to support us in continuing our training in social permaculture with Be Present Inc., please consider making a donation by calling Tomas Moreno, our Membership Director.