As I continue to meet new people in the permaculture community through my interviews for Finding Country Magazine, I have noticed a common complaint: they feel isolated.
One woman from Summertown, Tennessee told me, “It’s like nobody speaks the language.”
In the countless nooks and crannies of the internet, like-minded individuals can find virtual camaraderie around any hobby or interest. However, many permaculture enthusiasts I speak with say they still struggle to educate, entertain, and inspire others in face-to-face conversation.
Why We Need a Better Way to Bring Up Permaculture
Because permaculture is part design and part science, it is difficult to explain to someone unfamiliar with the concept. Despite the obstacles, it may be worthwhile for permaculture practitioners to think more about how they explain permaculture for several reasons:
With the right approach you could be the one who finally connects the dots for someone who could benefit from practicing permaculture.
A Conversational Roadmap for Introducing Permaculture to Others
So, how do you get through people who have never heard of the word permaculture? For starters, drop the name “permaculture.” At least for now.
Like bureaucratic acronyms and buzzwords you’d hear during a business meeting, the word is meaningless to a person unfamiliar with the concept.
If you were teaching someone how to build a house, would you start by asking them to frame an entire wall? Or would it make more sense to start small, and ask them to hammer a nail into a 4x4?
Marketing strategists will tell you about the “buyer’s journey”—the industry process for structuring the message so it meets the customer at their current level of understanding how a product or service might fit into their lives.
I've been in the marketing industry for 6 years and the communications field for nearly 10 years, and I can vouch for this model of getting a message across in a way that not only inspires interest, but also action.
While you may not be trying to sell a product or service when speaking to others about permaculture, you are trying to sell an idea.
If you consider every conversation about permaculture in this transactional sort of way, you will better understand the perceptions, understanding, and engagement of potential permaculture enthusiasts.
The stripped-down version of the buyer’s journey is three parts: awareness, consideration, and decision.
Other diagrams of the buyer’s journey include intermediary steps between each stage, such as interest, intent, and evaluation. I believe awareness and interest, consideration and intent, and evaluation and decision are too intertwined to break apart into new stages of the journey.
I prefer the simplified version because, as permaculture shows us, less usually ends up being more.
The buyer’s journey will serve as a template for my conversational roadmap for introducing others to permaculture.
In the awareness stage, a person is struggling with a problem and may be actively suffering or inconvenienced.
If you run a permaculture operation and someone comes to you for help, they have likely become aware of the sensitivities in our food supply system and are seeking basic advice from someone who knows how to grow food. That person is probably not asking because you are an expert permaculturist (I know I just poked a few egos there). This is why it’s best not to come out the gate using complex terms and vague jargon.
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