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Permaculture as a Tool in the Hand Basket of Social Forestry

By Chloe Buzzotta

September 12, 2023 | Sustainability & Ecology

A parallel concept to permaculture, social forestry is defined as a practice that interweaves rewilding, becoming a people of place, and relationships between humans and other more-than-human beings. As author Tomi Hazel Vaarde describes it in their new book, “Social Forestry is a study of cultural adaptations on forested landscapes that reaches back deep into human evolution and traditional cultures.”

Hazel Vaarde, also known as Tom Ward, has influenced the trajectory of permaculture in North America since the early 60s. They have mentored permaculture leaders such as Toby Hemenway and Penny Livingston. Because of their credentials and years of experience, what Vaarde states about permaculture is revelatory. 

Permaculture is a tool in the handbasket of Social Forestry.

They go on to write, “Permaculture as an educational experience has inspired generations of participants to widen their perspectives. The Permaculture course is a fantastic survey of systems thinking. The skills of observation, mapping, and using principles and patterns to understand relationships is essential to any culture of place. The accumulated collection of tactics specific to multiple locations as reviewed in the Permaculture course is a library of suggestions we all can learn from.”

Bottom line: “Permaculture is full of treasures and stories that try to move alienated moderns with fragmented relationships toward survival and healing.”

If we are to take the advice from this renowned elder, it would seem that permaculture is not the end goal. It is just the beginning. Permaculture is the story of seven generations and Social Forestry is the story of human evolution. 

In Hazel’s book, they often refer to the concept of “people of place.” According to Karen Taylor, one of Hazel’s mentees, it is the act of having relationships with more than just humans, a deep connection that encompasses the land and all beings. This is one of the primary goals of Social Forestry. When we go a step further than site analysis and design we need to focus on where we live and our relationship to it. We can then move beyond just our relationship with the plants, animals, weather patterns towards how we can support them as humans. 

We are at a critical crossroads, do we continue on a path of hyperindividualism and instant gratification or do we begin focusing on our relationships to each other and our planet? Even in the permaculture movement, there is still a stuckness around the theme of what the Earth can do for us, as opposed to explorations of how we can exist as interdependent, kincentric beings. 

In reflecting on the impact of embodying the tenets of social forestry, I leave us with a question to ponder: “How can we shift away from hyperindividualism and towards an embrace of connection with each other and our planet?” 

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Chloe Buzzotta

Marketing & Community Engagement Coordinator

Chloe is a pivotal voice within the Ecovillage movement. For 10 years, she has traveled to ecovillages worldwide as a consultant. With her strength in organizational development, she has implemented clarity and infrastructure for 15+ organizations and communities. She’s involved with the Global Ecovillage Network, Austin Permaculture Guild, and more.


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