Finding a New Niche

Submitted by Ben Stallings on Wed, 04/28/2021 - 09:43

Since moving to Omaha in 2018, I've been slow to re-establish my permaculture consultancy here. On the one hand it's frustrating: I'm eager to make a difference! But on the other hand, there are a number of good reasons to take it slow. Here are some of them.

  • Permaculture is about becoming indigenous to a place, and Omaha is a different place from Emporia. The soil has less clay, the winters are longer, and there's a history of lead pollution, to name just a few factors. As one of my friends put it, "Permaculture is a tool to decolonize the western mind," and the colonial mindset tells us that one place is the same as another. A lot of damage has been done by that mindset, and to escape it we must fully belong to a place.
  • The permaculture principles admonish us to observe and interact and to start small and build on success. I'm doing those things on our own urban lot and on my in-laws' land in a nearby small town. When I have taken on consulting or teaching work locally, I've learned as much from doing it as I've taught my clients or students.
  • The human ecosystem is at least as important as the natural one in determining a niche. There are other permaculture designers established in town as well as ecological landscapers, but additionally there are Native American tribes and environmental organizations with deep roots in the area. It would be foolish of me to position myself in opposition to or competition with a potential ally.
  • The time wasn't right. When the pandemic hit in early 2020 I realized belatedly that, had I been positioned better in advance, I could have been more useful to my community. But I had my own health concerns to consider, and any notions I might have had about what the community would need in a crisis quickly got muddied by the reality of it. Now that we've had a year to reflect on what happens in a crisis, we're all better prepared to respond to the next one.

In short, while it often feels like I'm spending too much time putting down roots and too little on growing the visible part of the business, I am confident that this is just what permaculture has taught me to do. Onward and upward!