Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community-Based Education

Thanksgiving is Over, Now What?

How can you leverage everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape?

Thanksgiving is over.

Did you and your children get enough? Give enough? Did you open your home to and give thanks for family, friends, people three degrees removed, or the bounties of Earth because the traditional customs of this holiday often calls us to do so?

Did you and your children fully live with an attitude of gratitude and feel the power, glory and story that Thanksgiving can evoke? What story was that exactly and were you touched by other’s stories? What’s the story that will endure?

Permaculture, infused into not only the learning landscape but our holistic life landscape, calls us to self-regulate to make ethical choices, take action, and live knowing “all is in relation.” To paraphrase Dr. David Blumenkrantz, we are a collection of works of human experience. In this way, we are a library of life connected to the wisdom of our ancestors and a thread into the future.

Our story emerges in relation to our shared covenant that brings our community together. We chose to co-create a shared story through a bond of ethics and thinking tools that help us go beyond scientific observations of the patterns of nature and connect us with the ancient wisdom and sacredness of all.

We are drowning in information that tells us how to do “enough”

to prove to others that we have enough,

but we are starving for the wisdom to find peace in the fact that

we are already enough.

“We are starving for wisdom.” Why is that? Perhaps what we choose to feed might be worth exploring. There is a Middle Eastern Islamic folk tale that illustrates this point more clearly. It goes like this:

Mullah Nasruddin had been working in the fields all day long. He was tired and sweaty and his clothes and shoes were covered with mud and stains. Because he had been fasting all day long, for Ramadan, he was also quite hungry.

The wealthiest man in town had invited everyone to come break their fasts in his home that evening with a huge feast. Nasruddin knew that he would be late if he went home to change his clothes before heading into town. He decided it was better to arrive in dirty clothes than to be late.

When Nasruddin arrived, the wealthy man opened the door and looked Nasruddin up and down scornfully. Without a word of welcome, he gestured for Nasruddin to come in and walked abruptly away. Nasruddin joined the throngs of people, who were all dressed in their finest clothing and the tables were laden with all sorts of delicious foods.

Despite his efforts to hurry, the seats were all taken and nobody tried to move over or make a space for Nasruddin. Nobody offered him food. Nobody spoke to him. It was as if he wasn’t even there. The other guests ignored him so completely that Nasruddin could not enjoy the food on his plate, no matter how finely prepared and how tasty it was. In fact, after only a few bites, Nasruddin was so uncomfortable that he decided to leave.

He hurried home and changed into his finest clothing, including a beautiful coat. Nasruddin returned and this time the host welcomed him with a huge smile. As Nasruddin entered, people waved and called to him from all corners of the room as they invited him to sit near them and offered him food.

Nasruddin sat down quietly. Picking up a plump fig, he carefully placed it into a coat pocket, saying, “Eat, coat, eat.” Next he took a handful of nuts and put them into the pocket, saying, “Eat, coat, eat.” Now he began to feed his coat in earnest, grabbing all sorts of foods.

One by one the guests became silent as they watched this strange behavior. Soon everyone in the room was quietly staring at Nasruddin, wondering what he was doing. The host hurried over. “Nasruddin, whatever are you doing? Why are you feeding your coat in this manner?”

“Well,” replied Nasruddin, “when I first came to this feast in my old farming clothes, I was not welcome. No one would speak with me. But when I changed into this coat, suddenly I was greeted warmly. So I realized it was not me that was welcome at this party, but my clothing. And so I am feeding my coat.”

What exactly are we “feeding” in our lives, our communities, especially at this time of year when the power, glory and story of what it means to be enough, have enough, do enough, and live enough is waiting to confront us at every turn? It can feel unescapable and in our society where connecting with and honoring the “me” may not be balanced with our responsibilities and the awesome possibilities of the “we.”

What might be possible if the story we were telling ourselves and our children is:

I am enough and you are enough and together we are more than enough.

Together we can change the story and transform the future.

What might embracing an enduring attitude of gratitude as part of a greater “we” look like? Here are three ideas that can positively impact our local communities directly:

Setting a Place at the Table

Giving to homeless shelters, food banks or soup kitchens is a wonderful way to support those in need, but for many (and especially kids) this becomes a faceless activity that doesn’t hold personal, emotional meaning. Instead, consider how you can hold a place open at your table for someone in need each and every meal.

How can you do this? Literally, set a place at your table for that “someone.” Physically creating space brings it to the forefront of our thinking each and every time we sit down to eat. Instead of plating up food, place a jar with a coin slit on the place. Each time you sit down to eat add money into the box in support of feeding just one more person.

At the end of December (or better yet January when the goodwill and giving has often tapered off) add up all that you have put into the box and find a person (or more than one) in your community to hand it to directly. Maybe you find people through your local shelter or soup kitchen or perhaps you find and thank someone like a waitress who you see working especially hard, a musician sharing her gift to make that corner of the street just a bit more beautiful or you invite a person who is asking for food to join you at the café nearby for a meal.

After personally placing some money to help in the hands of others, kids may enjoy making drawings of the people and pasting them on the jar. Continue and do this again next month.

Giving Bag

How many of us have seen someone asking for money, food, bus fare or whatever? How many of us even look at the person in the eye and greet them kindly, regardless of whether we have money to give? How can you not just give in kindness or share a dollar if you happen to have one on you, but instead be prepared to give and be awaiting the call? Keep a couple bags in the car with food, water, and warm socks and money for bus fare to give when you find someone who needs help. This is a true story that a friend shared:

Today I met a woman in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s. I was sitting in my car answering a text and she was walking between the cars. She walked up to mine and I rolled down my window. She needed money for food and a ride to a nearby town. I couldn’t give her a ride because I needed to get home to my two kids who were home sick, but I could listen to her, empathize and give her one of the bags we keep in the car with food, water, and warm socks and money for bus fare. When I got out if my car to talk to her she smiled and thanked me. “Most people just ignore me and walk away,” she said. “Another lady ordered me an Uber and when the driver arrived and saw me, he drove away.” When I got the bag out of my trunk and gave her money, she burst into tears and I gave her a hug. All it takes is kindness and knowing that we are all struggling and we can do this if we all help a little.  

Cultivate Community Supported Education (CSE)

The idea of joining a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to support our local farmers is well accepted. Why not do the same for education by cultivating Community Supported Education (CSE)? Together we can!

PERMIE KIDs is an educational resource network that inspires, supports and shares the collective wisdom of nature and community-oriented families, educators, artists and designers. Our story is one that is about community-oriented experiential education by design. The underlying ethics and values of our story are designed to help not only our family and local community, but our worldwide community remember and use what is already present in our lives and connect with the wisdom and work of others to create resilient and regenerative “learning landscapes” that help children design beautiful relationships with themselves, others and Nature.

Although PERMIE KIDs is an online space where educators, artists, musicians and more can come together and share their wisdom, this idea can also be done at a micro-level in your own local communities. Sharing and exchanging educational ideas and resources with others is not a new idea, but in a world where “me” often outweighs the “we” it takes a community organizer who can re-ignite interest and opportunities to do so. What might be possible if you were to embrace the role of community organizer and design a Community Supported Education (CSE) in your place?

What might you and your children have to share with this world that can nourish life? An attitude of gratitude nourishes life. Opportunities to embrace this are all around if we open our minds, hands and hearts.



Jen MendezJen Mendez

Jen is a wife, mother of two joyous children, experiential education mentor, and founder of PERMIE KIDs. She has a M. Ed. in International Education and has worked with children in the U.S. and overseas from early childhood through the primary years, as well as parent-educators. She integrates an ethical, design science methodology with her love for education to help others learn to design a customized education with their children that honors themselves, others, and the earth.

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