Permablitzes are the New Barn Raisings

Imagine about thirty people showing up at your house or apartment on a Saturday morning, checking out your place over coffee, then breaking out into teams to get things done to help you grow food, get off of fossil fuels and reduce the cost of living in your home.  Maybe they installed garden beds and planted trees.  Perhaps one gang built and sited a chicken coop, a greenhouse or a rainwater collection system.  Another kept busy digging a pond to grow aquatic edibles and attract pollinators.  Your house may have gotten weatherized or, when things got really exciting, a solar system was installed.  The materials for the project were largely donated or salvaged and labor was all volunteer.  All in all, nearly 200 labor hours were concentrated on helping you live well in ever more challenging times.

Welcome to the “permablitz.”  So far this year, it has happened to Liz, Jean-Francois, Will, Carol, Michael, Malory and Morgyn, Leslie and her family, and a block of folks living in the East Bayside neighborhood.  And there are still two more of these events scheduled to happen before the snow flies.  And that’s just in the Portland area.

Permablitzes are essentially work parties based on based on permaculture (a type of design method that tends to weigh in heavily on food production, renewable energy and reduced labor over time).  While no two permaculture designs are the same, most of the permablitzes around here have focused on gardens, trees, food forests, backyard chickens, composting, rain barrels and the like.  Groups in Belfast and as far north as The County have been on this year’s permablitz radar as well.

It’s all about reciprocity and the ability to work and learn side-by-side, breaking bread together and concrete results that very day.  Folks who show up for permablitzes know that they are making a deposit in the social capital account from which they can withdraw later.  Maybe their house will get blitzed next spring.

 This idea is not new.  But, in fairness, many of us have become estranged from a past in which our neighbors and friends would muck in together to help out one family, knowing that the effort would be returned when needed.  I harbor no romantic nostalgia for ye olden days when all was harmonious and perfect – as if! – but I do appreciate how isolated we have become from one another and the many ways that makes us weaker as individuals, households and communities.  This makes us especially vulnerable if tough times darken our dooryards and, for many of us, that is already happening.  The economy, the climate, the stress of just trying to make ends meet in a world built on systems that are one unexpected event away from failing us.

Resilience is really the ability to weather challenging times and bounce back from adverse conditions and disruptions.  Think of Hurricane Sandy.  Think of Katrina.  Boulder.  Fukushima?  I don’t know about you but I’d rather be five years too early than two days too late.

Permablitzes are just one of the ways that Mainers are taking it upon themselves to roll up their sleeves and help each other out, getting ready for tough times but also creating pretty awesome results if those tough times decide not to arrive on our doorsteps.  More examples of on-the-ground resilience-building in Maine, learned from our ancestors or created completely anew, will be featured on this blog.  Feel free to get in touch.

Lisa Fernandes

About Lisa Fernandes

Lisa and her family grow more food than they know what to do with on their 1/3-acre plot just outside of Portland. She also organizes The Resilience Hub and Portland Maine Permaculture while keeping her hands deep into local economy, local food, renewable energy and re-skilling networks throughout the region. She blogs here about Mainers rolling up their sleeves and working together to create a more resilient world and being better able to navigate the many challenges coming our way.