Permaculture or Spermaculture?

Confronting patriarchy in Western permaculture and alternative food movements.

  • “Spermaculture is a term coined by women and queer folks to name the ways that permaculture projects are often dominated by white, middle-class men who [can be] outspoken and overbearing.”
    Photo by Trina Moyles
  • Ford and other permaculturists claim women’s contributions to the permaculture and local food system movements are immense, yet they are under-represented in forms of dissemination and recognition, including at conferences and in courses, textbooks, and online.
    Photo by Trina Moy

For Halena Seiferling, a master’s of policy studies student at Simon Fraser University, it’s a question generated not from facts or statistics, but from one of the most essential principles of permaculture: observation.

“I started to wonder about some of the voices, typically male, that were leading the conversation about challenging local food systems,” Seiferling says. “They seemed to favor liberalism over facing and actually addressing social injustice.”

Seiferling began her permaculture education four years ago in Cuba, the island nation that’s been internationally recognized for surviving a crash in oil imports (following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which began in 1989) in part by undoing and diversifying conventional agriculture, and also by institutionalizing permaculture, a holistic and sustainable food systems design for achieving “permanent culture.”

In May 2011, Seiferling was among 10 Canadian women selected to participate in a permaculture design course (PDC) at the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity (FANJ) in Sancti Spiritus. Together, the Canadian women collaborated with Cuban permaculturalists to design and transform a peri-urban farm into a permaculture system, integrating ethics of transforming waste into wealth and maximizing biodiversity. “The Cubans were surprised that our group was made up of women only,” recalls Seiferling.

But the program’s Canadian coordinator, Ron Berezan, a permaculture designer and instructor with The Urban Farmer in Powell River, British Columbia, was not at all surprised by the gender imbalance in Seiferling’s program.

“In most [permaculture design] courses I’ve taught and organized, there have been more female students than male students. It’s actually disconcerting to me that we can’t get more men to take the courses,” says Berezan, who’s been teaching permaculture in western Canada and Cuba for almost 10 years.

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