All posts by jesse

2022 PDC

We are excited to return to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Education center in Unity for a live, in-person Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course. After two years of all Zoom all the time, hopefully we can agree that something substantive is lost when we’re not in “meatspace” together, face to face. There’s a lot to human communication that gets lost when it’s mediated through a screen, and we have always believed that in-person instruction is inherently superior.

We are hosting Maine’s PDC through the Maine Ecological Design School, our new educational imprint. The course will convene over a series of 5 weekends from May through August.

Permaculture is a holistic system of ecological design for regenerative land use and sustainable living. It’s about the design of healthy landscapes that produce an abundance of food, fuel, fiber and medicine for people, wildlife, and livestock. This 100-hour certification program will feature workshops, films, lectures, hands-on skill sharing, site visits and a capstone practicum with a live client or a design project of your choosing.

The Maine PDC convenes the weekend of May 21-22 and will continue over 4 (two and three day) weekends: June 11-12, July 8-10 and 29-31, and August 26-28.  Sliding scale tuition and solidarity pricing are available. Tuition range is $1250-$1875. To learn more and register visit

Garden Tours 2021

Please join us for a few garden tours on Saturday August 21 from 10-2 and on Tuesday August 24 from 6-7:30pm. Attendance is free but registration is required so we can adequately plan logistics for an expected high turnout in a tight space. Register with The Resilience Hub for August 21 and register with MOFGA for August 24. Hillside gardens may be challenging for people with mobility issues. No dogs. Park on the side of the road or in the car park if you can find a spot. We are expecting high turnout and we will cycle small groups through the garden tour. If you miss a tour, stick around and we will repeat it.

We have been practicing permaculture design for clients since 2009 and began construction of our homestead in 2010. We are about 11 years into our co-evolutionary dance with this landscape and look forward to sharing our successes and failures. The aesthetic we are cultivating here is one of woodland ecosystem with a mix of trees and shrubs along with perennial meadow polycultures. Much of it is edible, medicinal or important for wildlife. It’s pretty much an edible jungle. We’re trying to demonstrate a vision of regenerative landscape management that takes us away from lawn and tillage agriculture and toward a perennial horticultural vision of hunting, gathering and gardening using the forest and other patterns in nature as our inspiration. Along the way the landscape has rewilded, and so have we to some degree. We’d love to tell you about it in unvarnished terms. See you then!

Resilience Hub event page for Sat Aug 21 10-2

MOFGA’s Gather and Grow: Tour Jesse’s Permaculture Gardens
August 24 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Join us for a tour of a permaculture homestead designed and built by Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design.
Jesse’s tour will highlight the joys of eating wild meadow plants, his pollinator gardens, water catchment systems and the aesthetic of woodland and meadow ecosystems that he evokes in his spaces. We’ll also take a look at his perennial forest garden and annual plantings.
This event is free but registration is required.
Questions? Please email

Embracing 4 Ethics of Permaculture

This article was originally printed in Permaculture Design Magazine issue #110, Winter 2019, the Permaculture Ethics issue.

As permaculture becomes more popular and gains greater recognition with a mainstream audience here in North America, I find that it’s helpful to have your “elevator speech” ready-to-hand to quickly define it when it comes up in casual conversation. I usually speak about permaculture in concrete terms at first using keywords like “edible landscaping” or “edible ecosystem design,” while dancing around the more abstract idea of whole systems design. If the people I’m talking to seem interested and want to talk more, then I move up in abstraction to talk in terms of “ethically bounded ecological design framework.” Normally, you hear that there are three ethics to permaculture: Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share. Sometimes you hear it as Earth Care, People Care and Future Care. The first two ethics are easy to explain, easy to understand and they usually only need a sentence of explanation. A lay person can quickly and intuitively grasp the meaning behind Earth Care and People Care.

Fair Share or Future Care are less easy to explain or understand in this 30-second “elevator speech” scenario in an American context. Even when I have a longer format to explain permaculture to an interested audience, that third ethic needs 2-3 sentences because it attempts to unite two separate ideas into one ethic. Indeed, compared to the first two ethics, the third ethic can sound almost abstruse: “set limits to consumption and reproduction and redistribute surplus.”  As permaculture gains more attention from a more mainstream lay American audience, we can’t have the core philosophy of our design discipline sound abstract.

One of the things that sets permaculture apart from other design disciplines is the fact that it is an ethically bounded system of ecological design. Think of a set of concentric rings or a spiral. At the center are the ethics. Spiraling outward are the design principles, pattern literacy, goals, strategies, and finally the concrete aspects like techniques and tools. Ethics are at the core of permaculture design, and I think they are in need of a slight revision for an American audience.

Here in the United States, our self-conception of being the exception to all rules (both ecological and economic) runs very deep. For ease of explanation and understanding and to directly challenge the American resistance to accepting any kind of limits I propose breaking that third ethic into two. I was originally introduced to the concept of four ethics in permaculture by this image drawn by someone named Christine and found in the wilds of the internet. I don’t know the original creator of this image, but the signature looks like it has an original creation date of 2002. It keeps the rhyming convention because everyone seems to like that. So the four ethics in this proposal are Care, Care, Share, Aware: Care for the Earth, Care for the People, Share the Surplus, Aware-ness of Limits. Based on David Holmgren’s ethics, and broke into four pieces, this is the gist:

Care for the Earth – rebuild and regenerate ecosystem health (after Holmgren). This icon represents the earth and all the biological and ecological processes that keep us alive on this spaceship. In this case it’s focused on plants, but it also includes all insect, bird, wildlife, and elements that make for a healthy ecosystem. The imperative here is to take responsibility and do our part to regenerate the health of ecosystems immediately all around us.


Care for the People – look after self, kin and community; and treat all beings with respect. This icon shows two people with love on their minds and in their hearts. This love extends to all human people who are alive now or who are about to be born. It extends to future generations and it extends to all the people: human people, tree people, finned people, feathered people, furry people, creepy-crawly people, etc. As Holmgren says, “If people’s needs are met in compassionate and simple ways, the environment surrounding them will prosper.” It’s a natural complement to Earth Care and should include frameworks of social justice.


Share the surplus – in times of abundance, share with others and invest in the first two ethics. This ethic is about a principle of generosity. At different seasons of the year, or in different seasons of one’s life you might experience abundance. Maybe its an abundance from the garden or an abundance of time, money, attention or just hugs. Share that abundance and invest it as you see fit into the first two ethics. This icon is a representation of the “pay it forward” ethic as goodwill spreads throughout a social network in direct and indirect ways.


Aware(ness) of limits – set limits to consumption and reproduction on this finite planet. Everyone knows the sun sets every day. Everyone knows there are boundaries to an island. This icon represents those common knowledge boundaries to remind us of the limits inherent on this finite planet. And even if the sun should set on our species, we should still commit to live an ethical life while we can.


With this slight adjustment, it makes the ethics easier to explain to a lay audience new to permaculture. At one explanatory sentence apiece (with only one semicolon), it also makes the concepts behind the ethics instantly accessible to that lay audience, largely achieved by separating those concepts originally condensed in the Fair Share ethic. As permaculture becomes more popular here in North America, it becomes a conceptual and technical solution set to which people look in times of crisis. The ethics must be central to maintain the integrity of the idea and the solutions that go along with it. The ethics are the axiological foundation of permaculture’s attempt at re-membering an ecological culture rooted to place and acting in right relationship with all beings. We base our values of good and bad on these ethics, which in turn help to determine good and ethical behavior in the world.

The role of catalytic change in the PDC

Part of the allure and impact of permaculture is it’s ability to be a source of meaning for people. The power of the permaculture design certification (PDC) course lies in it’s potential as a catalytic paradigm shift for the participants. In a PDC people often walk away with their worldview expanded, and they are given a solution set to help them adapt to a changing world. This is especially true of an in-person or “meatspace” course, as opposed to online. In the courses we teach with The Resilience Hub we often begin with the “Problem Game,” taught to us by our colleague Dave Jacke. It’s a cathartic exercise to let all the participants in the course talk about the problems of the world as they see them. Popcorn style, people talk in a sentence or two about the big problems in the world. They tend to fall into different categories of biodevastation, economic, political, technological, cultural and mythical problems. Then as a group we discuss how they are connected, and at some point we find that all these problems are connected at the cultural and mythical levels. As an exercise, it is a group catharsis to get all our anxieties off our chest and to look at the problems of the world full in the face and feel the gravity of the converging shitstorms of peak oil, climate change, economic contraction, resource wars, political/cultural upheaval, corporate greed & power, Big Brother, the Nanny State and so on.

If we do our jobs right as “facilitators of educational events” we change the course of people’s lives and give them a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in a chaotic world. If we do our jobs right, we leverage that catharsis to make it catalytic and initiate a permanent change in thought and behavior. More people are attracted to permaculture because of crisis at some scale whether that’s individual and personal or collective and societal. This makes sense given the decline and fall stage of empire we are seeing unfold now. While the physical “collapse” of empires takes an average of 200 years, collapse of meaning can happen much faster.

Meaning, purpose and religion as a category of human experience

It’s important not to understate the importance of meaning and purpose to a culture, and to consider the consequences when meaning and purpose collapse. In most individuals and societies, the wellspring of meaning and purpose comes not from rational or logical thought or understanding of the universe. Meaning and purpose come from narrative, metaphor and myth we generate as a result of inferring patterns out of the chaos of sensory stimuli from the universe. Pattern recognition is a deeply ingrained habit of the human mind. We then weave narratives about how these patterns relate to generate coherent stories as to WHY we are here and WHAT our purpose is in this absurd accident of existence.

I think of this deep source that generates meaning for our lives and sets of values regarding how we should act as “religious inspiration.” It is the ultimate source of human motivation and behavior. It is a significant force that shapes society and the material world. Try not to be too offended by my use of the word religion in this sense. I think that to be human is to be a religious animal, and even if the gods we worship are merely atoms, gravity, electrical forces and spirals of DNA; they still fill that devotional category of human experience. So I’m using religion broadly to refer to this deep wellspring of meaning, metaphysical narrative and purpose. For many people that involves one or many gods. For others, there are no gods but science, technology and a humanistic philosophy of progress to fill that same space. It is of critical importance to remember that many structures and normative behaviors of our society are inherited from a previous religious form. While the theistic aspects may have been stripped, the effect on meaning and purpose are the same. The myth/religion of progress is an example of such a non-theistic or civil religion.

Dimensions of religion as a category of human experience:

  • Ethics and values like the “golden rule”
  • Morals, concepts, behaviors like virtue, nobility, the good life
  • Core beliefs that are seen as self-evidently good, true and sacred by which all standards of goodness and truth are measured.
  • Sacred scriptures like the Bible or the Declaration of Independence
  • Holy actors, saints and martyrs like Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Ceremony, formal rites and ritual drama like the pledge of allegiance and voting
  • Binary opposition to it’s shadow form like Christianity/Satanism, Socialism/Capitalism, Progress/Apocalypse

Examples of civil religions:

  • Marxism and socialism which are complete with a secular rapture they call “The Revolution,” as well as a strong evangelical component.
  • Nationalism like Americanism with its historical exceptionalism and self-evidently positive notions of grandeur embodied in concepts like Manifest Destiny
  • The myth of progress with its faith in Star Trek fantasies and a technology-based Rapture where we metamorphosize (or is it metastasize?) and expand across the solar system.

Assaulting the Myth of Progress

I’m focusing on a North American audience here based on my observations as a permaculture teacher and northeast regional network organizer. As a broad and general observation, Americans don’t like limits and have a deep faith-based commitment to the civil (non-theistic) religion of progress. I can even hear it in some permaculture discourse where people try to cast energy descent in progressive terms like, “A future of less energy could be better than the one we have now.” Again, I’m using religion here as a broad category of human experience from which we draw sources of deep meaning and values. Think of religion as an ultimate source of human motivation and behavior that explains our metaphysical position in the cosmos and gives us narrative meaning. It doesn’t have to be rational or conform to the real world. You can see religion as a force that shapes our thinking, behavior, society and the material world.

An explicit and central awareness of limits can be a helpful antidote to this religion of progress. As infrastructure, economy, democracy and basic respectful social relations break down, this causes a collapse of meaning in our lives. The world we’ve been conditioned to expect has not come to pass and a central organizing myth of our age is losing hold on our imagination and causing chaos. If anyone remembers the overly optimistic technological predictions from the 50’s and 60’s you might remember promises of nuclear power too cheap to be worth charging for, future generations earning more than their parents, weekend vacations to the moon and your own personal jetpack. It’s no wonder people are miffed—where are those jetpacks we were promised?!

If faith in progress is waning, if the ascendant god of the industrial age is dying, what then? Do we continue our collapse into nihilism or find a replacement? Both will likely occur in the short term (100 years or so). Whatever organizing principle of the imagination replaces faith in progress, it must be more adaptive to the existing conditions of decline and fall, brought to you by the twin shitstorms of climate chaos and energy peak.

As a central ethical feature of permaculture design, an awareness of and respect for limits acts as a helpful antidote to this blind faith in progress with greater explanatory power for the world we find ourselves in. After all:

  • We are finite individuals with a finite life span
  • We live on a finite planet with finite resources
  • There are limits to how much I can know and understand
  • There are limits to biodiversity imposed by climate and geography
  • There are limits to the design process. At some point you must stop designing and begin implementing.
  • There are limits to technique: you can’t put a swale and a hugel mound everywhere. Techniques are not universally applicable or appropriate.
  • There are limits to industrial society, globalization, technology and democracy


There is a difference between growth, evolution and progress. Growth is a natural occurrence as any organism grows. Evolution can be beneficial when it is successful adaptation to ecological conditions. Progress in it’s highest narrative grandeur is seen as inevitable ascension toward higher forms of technological godliness where everyone gets to practice the “American Dream” of unlimited consumption. Discussion of limits is largely taboo here in industrialized North America, and so is a critique of progress. In economics there is only talk of growth and expansion (as if an ideology of cancer). In “progressive” politics social diversity, multiculturalism and openness are ends in and of themselves. In technology, it is a continuous rise of humanity from the caves to the stars. Mother Culture whispers in our ear that progress is inevitable and always good. It is taboo to disagree with the god-like thought form of progress. But that’s exactly why we should go where the taboo lies and interrogate. We should go where the shadow dwells (in the Jungian sense) to find that which is repressed or ignored. Evolution, power and wisdom could be a beneficial result. As children, limits are imposed from the outside, like from a parent or caregiver. As adults, limits and discipline are often self-imposed. As a society we need to develop sensible self-imposed limitations because if and when the Earth Mother imposes limitations on an industrial human culture grown too big for their britches, you can rest assured it will be a severe beat-down. Nature bats last, so the saying goes.

To revisit the image we started with of concentric rings with the ethics at the core, now we have the design principles, pattern literacy, strategies of implementation and techniques of management revolving around and bounded by these four ethics. Principles of good design and how to apply pattern literacy to design solutions closely follow the ethical core of permaculture. A strategic sequence of implementation is guided by clearly articulated goals and flows from principles and pattern fluency. Tools of installation and techniques of management form the final and most concrete aspects of this model. Note that tools and techniques find use once some amount of design thinking and strategic planning has occurred.

I submit to you that adding an awareness of limits as a discrete and explicit ethic of permaculture design provides a necessary antidote to the religion of progress found in many industrialized societies and will enhance our design practice and culture jamming work at this stage in our planetary history. This explicit ethic of bringing awareness to limits will help us re-member ecologically sensitive cultures rooted to living soil in the places we live. We stand for what we stand on.


Jesse Watson is a permaculture designer, teacher and builder living and working in Rockland Maine, occupied Penobscot territory. He operates Midcoast Permaculture Design (, serving residential, farm and institutional clients. He helps facilitate permaculture design certificate (PDC) courses with The Resilience Hub, based in Portland. He now serves on the board of directors of PAN, the Permaculture Association of the Northeast. He was instrumental in passing a locally binding food sovereignty ordinance in his town in May 2018 and likes to envision forest gardens in every backyard with reinvigorated and interdependent home economies.

Jason Daniels is a graphic designer living and working near the Salish Sea of Washington State. He created the illustrations in this article and you can follow him on Instagram.




Summer PDC 2019

Be part of creating a better future. Change the way you see the world.

Join The Resilience Hub & Midcoast Permaculture as they surpass their 20th internationally-recognized Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course. This one-weekend-per-month format is ideal for anyone who would not typically be able to take two weeks off from life/work to take an “immersion” PDC.

Please take some time to review all the information about this course on our website before registering!  When you’re ready to register, click here.

Our summer Maine PDC this year returns to MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center in Unity, Maine. The expansive campus and spacious buildings make for an ideal learning environment within traveling distance to many field trip sites.

Course Dates (Please mark your calendar!):

May 18-19

June 29-30

July 12, 13, 14

July 26, 27, 28

Aug 23, 24, 25

Before you register, make sure you check our Sliding Scale Tiered Pricing structure for the PDC Tuition. Based on your household size and income, you will either be TIER #1, #2 or #3 which affects the total price you will pay for the PDC.

The Resilience Hub is one of the most experienced permaculture design and education groups in the Northeast US, though there are many other great ones! We strive to achieve very high quality in our programs and are committed to continuous improvement.

PDC Overview and General Information – Course Topics, Learning Environment, Teaching Team, Testimonials

Choosing a PDC – Learning Outcomes, Who Should Attend, Time Commitments, Career Pathways & more

Course Logistics – Schedule & Flow, Food & Hospitality, Accommodation, Transportation, etc.

Enrollment & Registration Details – Course Costs, Sliding Scale, Work Study & Discounts, Attendance Policy, etc.

Our courses typically sell out so make sure you register and make a deposit to hold your space.

Food Sovereignty as a step toward community resilience


When we want to support local agriculture we think first to plant a garden or organize a farmers market. But rarely do we take the next logical step, which is to use local law to protect that sustainable agriculture system that we’re trying to build. When we don’t take that step, agribusiness corporations step into the vacuum that’s created to monopolize food access. As our farming practices return to decentralized production, so too must the decision-making about that food.

La Via Campesina, an international peasant and indigenous farmers movement, coined the term “Food Sovereignty” in 1996 which they defined as the “right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to market forces.” Unlike the food security movement, aimed at ensuring that people have enough to eat, food sovereignty focuses on the question of who controls local food and agriculture policy. Who holds the power to determine those policies? Who sets goals and designs policy? Politicians? Corporations? Or the people directly affected by such policies?

As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said, “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.” Let’s remember some examples of corporate attempts at control over food systems:

  • Genetic engineering and forms of biopiracy like seed patenting
  • Financial instruments preying on farmers like the revolving wheel of debt
  • Encouraging dependence on high-energy inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) often leveraging influence over university and extension agency experts to promote their use
  • Collusion with government to regulate out of existence the small family farm by insisting on a “level playing field” (that is industrial in scale). The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the latest example of this.
  • Crafting a narrative of food safety that implies all food producers are producing for national and global markets, and that all operations therefore require bureaucratic oversight and expensive equipment to ensure food safety.
  • The well-known revolving door between agribusiness and regulatory agencies that write, implement and enforce food system policy

Big solutions to big problems often recreate the problem in a new form. Small scale solutions have the advantage of being site- and situation-specific and being more amenable to incremental organic adaptation with less risk of failure causing higher order systemic failures. For example, a local raw milk Community Supported Agriculture system has some real (very low) risk of causing illness but large scale corporate supply systems of industrial milk have created problems where large numbers of people spread across countries become sick before corrective responses can be enacted. A vision of small-scale site-specific corrective action is offered by the political project of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is based on the right of peoples to define their own food systems and to develop policies on how food is produced, distributed and consumed. It is above all a political call for action that it is based on empowerment processes and the generation of critical knowledge in support of the collective and popular construction of alternatives.

Food Sovereignty as it has emerged in Maine is the concept that people who eat and those who grow food should be at the heart of designing food systems policy instead of large-scale industrial “food commodity” manufacturers or government bureaucracies. Food sovereignty as a political movement asserts the right of people in a geographic place to grow food, save seed and exchange products of the home economy free from government interference as long as sales are direct from producer to patron. All other food production regulations apply if you are selling to retail venues like restaurants and grocery stores.

In this Friday, April 15, 2016 photo, a sign gives notice to customers at the Quill’s End Farm, a small family run operation in Penobscot, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

This concept has yielded a strategy asserting a legal space usually within a municipality where residents have the guaranteed right to save seeds, grow their own food, and exchange it with each other in face-to-face venues (like roadside stands, church potlucks, and farmer’s markets). The strategy was borne out of resisting corporate control of our food systems in our home towns using locally binding law, which is much more accessible than state or federal levels of legislation. In Maine it takes the form of municipal ordinances. These ordinances are rights-based rather than regulatory in nature.

Instead of regulating what you can and can’t do, a rights-based ordinance leverages language usually found in state constitutions that declare the inherent right of the people of a state to self-governance. Rights-based ordinances declare and secure rights in a positive and guaranteed way. In the United States, authority is often delegated throughout the varying levels of government. In home rule states, authority in matters of self-governance are decentralized to the local level, and people within a municipality can create governance as they see fit so long as it doesn’t conflict with or frustrate the purpose of higher state or federal legislation. On matters of food and water, it is sometimes unclear who has the ultimate jurisdiction to make these sorts of policy decisions. We assert that if there is any uncertainty about what polity has the decision-making authority regarding matters of food and water, that authority should devolve to the local level. Rights-based ordinances (RBOs) secure these rights over the supposed rights of corporations and claimed authority of regulatory agencies, which are often not legitimate and dominated by corporate influence. RBOs reinforce the civil and political rights of people in their communities and allow them to make determinations about the health, safety and welfare of their town.

Food sovereignty has enjoyed a good deal of success in Maine because of a number of factors. Culturally, Mainers are an independent lot and maintain traditions of homesteading, self-reliance and self-governance. Many towns practice direct democracy at the municipal level. The process for getting on the agenda before a select board or city council is straightforward, accessible and often welcome. In both statute and constitution, the state of Maine grants authority to towns to pass ordinances that deal with matters “local in nature” that affect health, safety and welfare. It would seem that there are no matters more local in nature than the procurement of food and water for general welfare. When it comes to designing food policy, the idea here is to privilege the voices of consumers and primary small-scale producers that directly feed local patrons, rather than corporate agribusiness or entrenched government bureaucracies. Many farms are small-scale family owned operations, and Maine enjoys a relatively youthful farmer demographic that is actually getting younger, bucking the national trend. There are even cases of people relocating to Maine specifically to begin an agricultural enterprise because their town has passed a food sovereignty ordinance.

Heather and Phil Retberg of Quill’s End Farm were instrumental in crafting Maine’s first food sovereignty ordinance

These food sovereignty ordinances in Maine are formally titled the Local Food and Community Self Governance Ordinance (LFCSGO). The LFCSGO used language from rights-based ordinances in Shapleigh and Newfield, Maine as a template. These RBOs prevented Nestle from taking water from their shared aquifer to bottle and sell back to them. These were ordinances drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which pioneered the use of RBOs in places as near as Pennsylvania and as far as Ecuador. Food freedom bill proposals from Wyoming and Florida also provided inspiration for the text of the LFCSGO. (source link)

First formulated in 2011 as a response to industrial scale food processing regulations applied to small-scale operations, the LFCSGO was first passed in Sedgwick, Penobscot and Blue Hill and quickly spread to other towns in a process called “horizontal diffusion.” A key feature is that the ordinance language is usually uniform across different towns because we all use the same ordinance template as a starting point. “Horizontal diffusion” occurs in the context of a “standard of uniformity.” When ordinances spread town-to-town across the state in a bottom-up fashion, it is helpful to selectmen, councilors, and legislators to see standardized and uniform language. If officials see a precedent from another municipality, they are more likely to adopt it.

These ordinances have always been about small scale and face-to-face sales directly to patrons of the farm. The idea of making exemptions from corporate and industrial style regulations struck a nerve with Mainers. The LFCSGO was adopted in many towns across the state as activists flooded the state capital to pass state-level legislation that mirrored the town ordinance in spirit and content. State-level bills were narrowly defeated in 2012 and 2014, and then finally in late 2017, the legislature passed what ultimately became The Maine Food Sovereignty Act. This process is called “vertical integration.” Unfortunately, it had to be amended in a special session to take some food out of “food sovereignty” because the USDA, a federal agency, claims jurisdiction over the regulations around animal slaughter. So while The Maine Food Sovereignty Act doesn’t pertain to meat sales, it does recognize and codify the long standing tradition of face-to-face sales at local venues of all other locally-produced food.

So we have a focus on local rules for local food grown by small-scale operators using bottom-up democracy in action by leveraging local, state and federal law. The exciting pattern that emerged was “horizontal policy diffusion” (influence on other localities facing similar situations) resulting in “vertical policy integration” (influence on policy design and implementation at upper political and administrative levels), largely made possible by a “standard of uniformity” (most food sovereignty ordinances use the same language set forth in the LFCSGO template). We think the time is right to spread these sorts legal strategies to help rebuild local economies, especially to other home rule states.


Why You Should Care (source link)

Industrial Agriculture Is Not Sustainable

Our current system of agriculture, which substitutes chemicals for living soil, is not sustainable. It is killing soil, creating dead zones in the oceans, pouring greenhouse gases into the environment, and destroying biodiversity. The earth is our only home, and we must learn to relate to it as a living system, not as an environment we can exploit for profit, while killing its ability to regenerate.

Corporate Agriculture Is Not Healthy

We are having epidemics of health problems created by modern agriculture, especially obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Many of these problems are the result of marketing unhealthy food directly to children. We need healthy soil to raise healthful food, both plant and animal. When food-borne pathogen outbreaks occur within our large-scale industrial system, it can make large numbers of people sick before recalls are issued.

Local Food Brings Local Prosperity

Our oligarchic food system sucks money out of our local communities and concentrates it in the hands of a few multi-national corporations. Eating locally-produced food circulates money locally and strengthens local economies. A thriving local food system means more jobs and a more vibrant and healthy economy. It also builds the resiliency needed when times get tough. Local food tastes good, too!

Food Strengthens Communities

Breaking bread together is a time-honored way of celebrating life in community. Church suppers, bake sales, Grange pig roasts, potlucks and other gatherings bring people together. It is hard to be disagreeable to people when you are all eating together! And when people care about food, they care about people and find ways to make sure that everyone gets to eat.

What you can do
Talk to your neighbors about this issue to get them interested. Rally a few friends and learn what it takes to bring legislation before your town government. Sometimes government officials will say that you can’t make these kind of policy changes. Do it anyway! Find allies both in town and in town government. Use the LFCSGO template as a starting point. If you live in Maine, you benefit by using this template because it has been passed in over 40 towns. Make sure your legislation protects sales at roadside stands, church potlucks, and farmer’s markets (all of which are allowed under the 2017 Maine Food Sovereignty Act). If you live outside of Maine, the language may largely apply, and you can customize it to make your own template to share across towns. Learn about your state’s laws and find leverage points in agricultural related statutes. Once you get familiar with the legal language, you can hone your arguments using various levels of law. After that, use the tools of rhetoric and debate to start conversations and build a local coalition to bring locally binding food sovereignty legislation to your town.


Here are a few ways to talk about food sovereignty with your neighbors

What it is

  • A rights-based ordinance, using locally binding law to secure rights for residents. It is not regulatory, does not add to responsibilities and services of government, and creates no bureaucracy. It has the force of law and goes beyond a municipal resolution or statement of support.
  • It is scale-dependent. It applies to products of the home economy. If you want to sell to restaurants or retail distributors like grocery stores, all other food production regulations can apply.
  • It is compliant with federal constitutional law, state constitutional law, and state statutes in Maine. It is a targeted application of the Home Rule law giving municipalities and counties the right to exempt direct farm-to-consumer sales, roadside farm stands, farmers markets and community potlucks from regulations designed for industrial-scale producers.
  • It is traditionalist. It protects our way of life, local culture, food sources, the right to grow and exchange food, and the right to a local food economy.

What it does

  • This reduces the regulatory burden for the small (or new) farmer. It would allow small-scale farmers to begin operating without the need to install costly commercial equipment or facilities for each separate operation.  It lowers the barrier to entry into the marketplace and allows new farmers easier access to direct-sales markets. This has tangible economic benefits by circulating money in the local economy.
  • It places emphasis on responsibility of producers and patrons. It is a push-back against the bureaucratization of everyday life, and enshrines the legitimacy of handshake deals and direct “me-to-thee” relationships.
  • “Me-to-thee” transactions are based on trust.  The local food movement is reconstituting a culture of independence, self-reliance, freedom of choice, and responsibility.  Producers are responsible for producing high-quality safe food. Consumers are responsible for the choices they make.
  • As an issue it can unite people across the political spectrum (after all, everyone has to eat!). The rhetoric of sustainability and resilience can appeal to liberals and leftists while the rhetoric of preserving tradition and independence and eliminating barriers to trade can appeal to libertarians and conservatives.
  • Localized food systems are resilient against economic, environmental, and other stressors. We don’t know what our climate, economy, or society will look like in 20 or 50 years, and we should build systems and structures (not just related to food) that will lead to prosperity in a variety of futures, some of which may involve the weakening of national and global supply lines.
  • A strong local food economy can attract people and new business to town. It will incentivize the growth of food-related business. It will reinforce your town’s position as a leader in local food culture.
  • We need more farmers and more food producers.  The food economy forms the bedrock foundation of any economy.  Without food, no one works. This ordinance would set the conditions for a much more resilient food system in Maine of small-scale distributed production and peer-to-peer sales.  This ordinance would set the conditions not only for a resilient food system, but also a more resilient localized economy.
  • It improves access to locally grown food too, by the way.

What it does not do

  • This does not apply to producers who wish to sell to a retailer or distributor like a restaurant or grocery store.  Again, it is a scale-dependent idea.
  • It does not exempt the municipality as a whole from state and federal food regulations. It only exempts small-scale growers making direct-to-patron transactions.
  • It is not without risks. We can’t protect people from everything.  The preferred yardstick in the discussion of risk analysis is raw vs. pasteurized milk. Your risk of being struck by lightning is greater than your risk of getting sick from raw milk. The risk you take every day driving in a car is greater. The risks to food safety are overblown by fear mongering, especially given the food pathogen outbreaks already common to our globalized, industrial food commodity system that can poison large numbers of people.

We’ve tried big, centralized food manufacturing, now let’s try local and decentralized food culture, as we have for most of human history! This sort of ordinance creates the legal space for products of the home economy to easily change hands between neighbors. Ultimately this ordinance that enshrines food sovereignty stems from a vision of how we can structure society to meet our basic needs. A broad sketch of this vision looks small in scale, localized, decentralized, with food production distributed throughout the landscape. The vision we find most attractive comes from agroecology and permaculture design that incorporates good landscape design with perennial food producing trees, shrubs and herbs. We imagine biologically diverse garden landscapes in every back yard with fruits, nuts and spices dripping from the branches and poultry or some other small livestock foraging in the understory. This vision integrates biological diversity with economic resilience and personal responsibility. The resources to help you pass an ordinance like this are ready to hand.

Please reach out and pass one in your town!

Further reading:
Templates and organizing resources for creating food sovereignty ordinances in your town

Deep back story of food sovereignty

This issue of Justice Rising is packed with information about the local food ordinance and some of the important issues that are related to it.

This article traces the history of how meat production, processing, and distribution was made possible by USDA regulation
This article traces a longer history including the emergence of the supermarket, as well as the constitutional basis for food sovereignty as an inalienable right

Home Rule in the United States

List of New England Home Rule States:



Rhode Island



New York

New Jersey



Notable absences


New Hampshire


Jesse Watson is a permaculture designer, teacher and builder living and working in Rockland Maine, where we passed the LFCSGO in May 2018. He operates Midcoast Permaculture Design (, serving residential, farm and institutional clients. He helps facilitate permaculture design certificate (PDC) courses with The Resilience Hub, based in Portland. He now serves on the board of directors of PAN, the Permaculture Association of the Northeast.

Who should control our food system?

By Nathan Davis and Jesse Labbe-Watson | Dec 01, 2016       Original link

This question is at the core of the movement for food sovereignty in Maine and around the world. Food sovereignty is the assertion of local control over our food system, and the assertion against control by big agribusiness and nonlocal corporate interests. Eighteen municipalities in Maine have passed food sovereignty ordinances, and food sovereignty is now before the Rockland City Council. Rockland would be the largest community in Maine to pass a food sovereignty ordinance, and the first city to do so. We strongly support food sovereignty, and we think that the proposed food sovereignty ordinance deserves the Council’s support.

The movement for food sovereignty in Maine began in 2009, when Heather Retberg at Quill’s End Farm in Penobscot wanted to sell raw milk directly to her neighbors. She became frustrated when state regulators required her to obtain a permit that would have demanded expensive investment far beyond what her small-scale sales could justify. It seemed ludicrous that regulations created for and by the factory farm industry would be applied to neighbor-to-neighbor transactions. So Heather and other like-minded farmers and consumers drafted what became the first food sovereignty ordinance in the state. This ordinance has become a model for ordinances in communities throughout Maine, including the one before our City Council.

The preamble to the ordinance begins as follows: “We the People of Rockland, Knox County, Maine have the right to grow, produce, process, sell, purchase and consume local foods thus promoting self-reliance, the preservation of our local food economy, family farms, and local food traditions.” It then continues with philosophical and legal justification (drawing upon the Maine Constitution and Maine Revised Statutes) before arriving at the core statements of law: “Producers or processors of local foods in the City of Rockland are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that the transaction is only between the producer or processor and a patron when the food is sold for home consumption”; and “Producers or processors of local foods in the City of Rockland are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that their products are prepared for, consumed, or sold at a community social event.” The ordinance thus covers only transactions in which there is little or no separation between producer and consumer. It applies to neither third-party distributors, grocery stores, nor restaurants. It relies on – and strengthens – the feedback loops and bonds of community that nourish local business and form the fabric of traditional Maine life.

Food sovereignty supports economic development, environmental sustainability, community resilience, food security, local control, and individual liberty:

  • It combats control of our food and our government by large unaccountable corporations. It’s no secret that big agribusiness drives government food policy. As President Obama stated in a recent interview, “For a long time, agribusiness has had obviously a prominent seat at the table in Congress. It’s bipartisan.” Food sovereignty aims to remove regulatory burdens appropriate to large industrial-scale food production from small farms and producers (and ONLY from small farms and producers).
  • Huge monoculture farms produce well-documented negative environmental effects. Food sovereignty encourages diverse, small crops rather than uniform, large ones. It promotes active and careful stewardship of our farmland and natural resources by encouraging tight feedback loops between patrons and farmers.
  • Localized food systems are resilient against economic, environmental, and other stressors. We don’t know what our climate, economy, or society will look like in 20 or 50 years, and we should build systems and structures (not just related to food) that will lead to prosperity in a variety of futures, some of which may involve the weakening of national and global supply lines.
  • A food sovereignty ordinance in Rockland would reinforce our position as a leader in local food culture, which attracts visitors, new residents, and investment to our community.
  • Food sovereignty preserves Maine’s traditional food heritage and folkways, which are among the reasons that Maine is a great place to live.
  • Food sovereignty guarantees in local law the right for people to choose where they obtain their food and how that food is produced. If you want to get your food from a big store, you can do that. If you want to support a young farmer in the startup phase of their business, you are free to do that as well. A food sovereignty ordinance reduces the capital-intensive barriers to entry that many small farmers struggle with and also codifies the right of farmers to be able to sell directly to patrons who willingly support them.
  • Local law is the next frontier and most powerful current tool for protecting a sustainable agriculture system made resilient by diversified small-scale producers exercising their own right to self-determination.
  • This ordinance supports local businesses in the growing agricultural sector of Maine’s economy. By extension, it supports all local businesses, because if people can’t eat nourishing food, they can’t work or live here.

You may have heard of the “Farmer Brown” case decided by the Maine Supreme Court in 2014 against a seller of raw milk in Blue Hill. Contrary to some accounts, the Court did NOT strike down the food sovereignty ordinance in Blue Hill, nor did it strike down any food sovereignty ordinance elsewhere. Rockland would not contravene the Court’s decision by passing this ordinance. Government regulations around food safety arose in the early 1900s in response to centralized industrial meatpacking plants and have never been designed for small-scale direct farm-to-patron sales. The original motivation for food safety regulations like the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1907 was for government to provide oversight in situations where the consumer could not do that for themselves. A food sovereignty ordinance clarifies where government oversight is needed and where it isn’t. Under this ordinance, direct patrons of local farms would essentially regulate how farms produce food by taking their business to farms they trust in a true free market.

Food is one of the most immediate and intimate aspects of human life. Let’s celebrate that immediacy rather than ceding it to structures and systems built to mitigate the worst aspects of the industrial food systems of the past. Small farms drive Maine’s economy and attract young people to our state, and their numbers are increasing. Let’s keep it that way.

Nathan Davis and Jesse Labbe-Watson both live in Rockland. Davis is a co-founder of Renew Rockland, which has proposed a food sovereignty ordinance for the city. Labbe-Watson is the founder of Midcoast Permaculture, current board president of the Permaculture Association of the Northeast, and an expert in designing and building regenerative food systems for home and farm clients.


Morgan Bay Zendo Applied Design course

Applied Permaculture Design for the Morgan Bay Zendo

This course is unique because:

  • It’s an exercise in applied permaculture design — learn by doing it!  The goals for this project are already clearly stated and we have a base map in hand.  This allow us to systematically work through a landscape analysis and design process using the Regrarians adaptation of the Scales of Permanence.
  • You will gain a systematic understanding for how to analyze the ecological context of your site, how to design, and what steps to take first during the installation phases
  • This is a home-scale application to a community center, incorporating multi-strata home gardening techniques to add resilience and perennial crops to the system.
  • Using Art of Hosting techniques, we will facilitate the design as it emerges out of the creativity of the group.
  • We will dive into a thorough treatment of the design process so that we can dispel the anxiety of not knowing where to start
  • 12 contact hours

The Zendo is located in the coastal town of Surry, Maine, and offers an opportunity for people to practice Buddhist meditation whatever their background or faith may be. Zendo practice includes elements from Zen, Ch’an and Vipassana schools of Buddhism.

In addition to the meditation hall itself, there is a complex of buildings, housing a meeting hall, kitchen, apartment, showers, and toilets. Four small cabins and a field for tent camping are located within a short distance of the main buildings and provide sleeping accommodations during retreats. A pond, moss garden, and wooded paths complement the facilities. Improvements are ongoing and are undertaken largely by volunteers.

The workshop will focus on design and implementation of edible perennial polycultures at the Zen center, using permaculture as the basis for our design. Permaculture is a design method and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats while increasing ecosystem health. It is a synthesis of wise human behavior taken from both modern and ancient sources of inspiration.

Students often come away from our workshops with new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting in the world. We strive to give participants in our workshops a positive vision for the future and practical tools to make it so.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Designing for Resilience & Sustainability
  • Home/Garden/Farm Applications
  • Introduction to the food forest concept
  • Permaculture design methodology
  • Reading the landscape and data collection
  • Landscape analysis using the Scales of Permanence
  • Tree Crops & Perennial Food Systems
  • Installation and maintenance using instant succession
  • Dispel Feelings of Not Knowing ‘Where to Start’
  • Community engagement practices

This course is good for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. Orchardists, nursery people, and gardeners interested in perennial crops will take a special interest in this alternative way of designing a perennial-based system.

Link to testimonials:

Registration and lodging information:

For tickets, click here.

The workshop will take place at the Morgan Bay Zendo located in the coastal town of Surry, Maine

Arrival is scheduled for Saturday morning June 23.  Class runs 9-5.

The course ends Sunday afternoon June 24.  Runs from 9-4.

The workshop fee of $250 per person includes tuition and one meal. Expected number of course participants: 10-15.

Regular Fee: $250

Intro to Permaculture on Hurricane Island

Learn the basics of Permaculture design on Hurricane Island–a Maine coast island retreat

Unique characteristics of this course:

  • Learn foundational practices of the design process including goal setting, observation exercises and base mapping considerations
  • Gain a systematic understanding for how to analyze the ecological context of your site, how to design, and what steps to take first during the installation phases
  • Retreat setting on an idyllic island on the coast of Midcoast Maine with meals catered for us.  Learn about off-grid electrical and composting waste systems.
  • Dive into a thorough treatment of the design process so that we can dispel the anxiety of not knowing where to start
  • Use the island camp as a thought experiment.  So we can be creative in our design ideas while we practice designing for resilience!
  • 12 contact hours

Spend 2 days on beautiful Hurricane Island gaining first-hand understanding of Permaculture design with Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design. Participants will learn how to design their home gardens for resilience and sustainability.  Permaculture is a regenerative design system and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats while increasing ecosystem health.  It is a synthesis of wise human behavior taken from both modern and ancient sources of inspiration.

Topics include:

  • Designing for Resilience & Sustainability
  • Permaculture Design Methodology
  • Goal Articulation
  • Analysis Techniques and Options
  • Tree Crops & Perennial Food Systems
  • Home/Garden/Farm Applications
  • Reading the Landscape and Data Collection
  • Real Life Examples and Strategies
  • Dispel Feelings of Not Knowing ‘Where to Start’

**Please plan to depart from Hurricane’s mainland office (19 Commercial St, Rockland, ME) for transport out to Hurricane Island on the first day of your program. The boat will depart from the mainland at 5pm on the June 8, 2018. Please plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure time. Your return transport will depart Hurricane Island at 3:30pm on the last day of the program, returning you to the mainland around 4:30pm. PLEASE PLAN ACCORDINGLY. More information is provided upon registration. Please reach out with questions to or 207 867 6050.**

Where & When: Weekend of June 8-10, 2018 on Hurricane Island

Cost: $425 for 3 days.  Includes all transportation to/from the island, food, housing, course materials, access to staff and facilities.  12 contact hours. Limited to 15 participants

Facilitated by Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design, the Midcoast’s premier edible landscape design firm

Students often come away from our courses with new ways of seeing, thinking and acting in the world.  We strive to give participants in our courses a positive vision for the future and practical tools to make it so.  Register at the link below!

Co-sponsored by:  Midcoast Permaculture Design and Hurricane Island

Link to testimonials:

For more information please email or


Food Forest Design Intensive with Maine Farmland Trust

This weekend workshop will be an exercise in applied permaculture design to a working farm called Rolling Acres in Jefferson.  We will host a workshop that facilitates the design of a food forest whose products will be used to help supply a food bank program called Veggies for All.

This course is unique because:

  • It’s an exercise in applied permaculture design — learn by doing it!  The goals for this project are already clearly stated and we have a base map in hand.  This allow us to systematically work through a landscape analysis and design process using the Regrarians adaptation of the Scales of Permanence.
  • This is a farm-scale application to an existing farming operation, incorporating agroforestry techniques to add resilience and perennial crops to the system.
  • Using Art of Hosting techniques, we will facilitate the design as it emerges out of the creativity of the group.
  •  We are considering permaculture as concept art applied to landscape design and land management planning to tie into the arts programming that also happens at the Fiore Arts Center. 
  • 12 contact hours

While many of us think of fields and forests as separate places, food forests are systems that combine the production goals of agriculture with the layered and dynamic patterns we see in the forest. Explore this concept and practice its applications with Maine Farmland Trust and Jesse Watson of Midcoast Permaculture Design during a weekend Food Forest Design Intensive, May 4-6, 2018 at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm in Jefferson.

The Fiore Art Center and Veggies For All, both programs of MFT, have been working together for the past two years to envision a collaboration which would bring back active farming to Rolling Acres Farm, while simultaneously allowing for possible diversification of Veggies For All.

The workshop will focus on design and implementation of a hypothetical “food bank food forest” at the art center, using permaculture as the basis for our design. Permaculture is a design method and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats while increasing ecosystem health. It is a synthesis of wise human behavior taken from both modern and ancient sources of inspiration.

Students often come away from our workshops with new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting in the world.  We strive to give participants in our workshops a positive vision for the future and practical tools to make it so.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Introduction to the food forest concept
  • Permaculture design methodology
  • Reading the landscape and data collection
  • Landscape analysis using the Scales of Permanence
  • Perennial polyculture design
  • Agroforestry farm practices
  • Keyline patterning
  • Installation and maintenance using instant succession
  • Community engagement practices

This course is good for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. Orchardists, nursery people, and farmers interested in perennial crops will take a special interest in this alternative way of designing a perennial-based system.

Link to testimonials:

Registration and lodging information:

The workshop will take place at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm, located at 152 Punk Point Rd. in Jefferson. For pictures of the location and rooms:

Arrival is scheduled for Friday evening: 4-5:30 pm.

The course ends Sunday afternoon at 4 pm.

The workshop fee of $335 per person includes tuition, lodging in shared rooms, as well as all meals (except for our Friday evening potluck). Expected number of course participants: 10-18.

Regular Fee: $335

MFT members receive a 10% discount off the Regular Fee. 

The scholarship positions for this course have been filled. Please contact to inquire about alternatives.

For more information, contact Anna Witholt Abaldo, co-director of the Fiore Art Center by e-mail at or call  207-338-6575, ext. 112.

Permaculture at Camden Adult Ed Spring 2018

Beginning in March, we are returning to the Camden Adult Education program to offer an 8 hour lecture and discussion series introducing permaculture design.  This is a super affordable class to get an introduction to permaculture design and how to apply it in your life and garden!

Permaculture is a design system and set of techniques for creating resilient human habitats and healthy ecosystems. It is modeled on ecological principles and offers a design methodology for water, access, shelter, food production, culture and economics. In this abbreviated course students will gain a strong foundation for applying permaculture ethics and design principles. We will cover topics including: a permaculture design process, forest gardens and perennial polycultures, water management, earthworks, pattern literacy, and workflow management. We will also visit a local demonstration site in the spring to see permaculture in action! Registration $35. 4 weeks 6:00-8:00 p.m. Begins Tues 3/6 and runs through Tues 3/27.

Click here to register today!