Life questions: Can you find a better self in a permaculture community?

Editor’s Note: “Life Quest(ions)” is a quest to find answers to questions many think about but often don’t get to explore. Whether the question revolves around researching a life path someone has always wanted to take or a question about whether an activist movement is truly fighting for the community they say they’re activating for, writers in Kelley Crawford’s Alternative Journalism course at Tulane University dove into research and study to find answers. You can check out the accompanying pieces and more Life Quest(ions) on ViaNolaVie’s Instagram as well. 

The pleasure of permaculture. (Photo: Pexels)

La’akea Permaculture Community, founded in 2005, is an intentional living community located 1300 feet above sea level on the Eastern side of the big island of Hawaii. The founding members equally invested in 23+ acres of land, surrounded by the lush Ohia forest and sitting on the outer edge of a dormant cinder cone volcano. The members have developed some of the land for housing and agriculture, but most remains untouched, hosting hundreds of species of native wildlife. As for the members themselves, there are 11 adults, six of whom are teachers from varying fields, and two children. Most of them are permanent members; however, some of them are part time members who split time between La’akea and elsewhere, and some temporary members come and go throughout the year. In this community, Permaculture is the foundation and catalyst for the group, the benefits of which extend far beyond environmental. I promise you, that wasn’t a sponsored ad. Rather an invitation to explore a life that can be conscious, meaningful, and fulfilling, which are qualities in our digital and globalized world that too often get lost in the seductive spell of mainstream norms, trends, capitalist systems, and media.

What makes this community special is how the benefits of their practices change people to become well rounded, happier, and more fulfilled people, free from the pressures and constraints of society.

Permaculture is formally defined as “the development of ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient”(Oxford English Dictionary ). To honor that, La’akea grows the majority of their own food, collects their water, and produces their electricity in such a way that benefits the environment. They grow a variety of crops, from herbs, to carrots, to tarot beds. They also host livestock, chickens and sheep, and keep bees. Growing their own food, cooking and eating meals together all help to strengthen the community and hold each other accountable for providing not only for yourself, but for the group, as they provide for you. “I enjoyed putting work and energy into this land, and harvesting the fruits and food of all our labor. To plant seeds and trees that will grow into the future….getting down to the Earth, dirt, sweat and blood” (Articles & Testimonials ) said temporary member Isa, who lived there in 2006.

Another woman from an interview said “growing our food together, harvesting together, eating together is something really incredible. Raising my kids in this environment has not only made them healthier and happier, but all of us” (Richard Olsen Study on Permaculture Communities ). The practice of Permaculture extends far beyond just growing your own food and collecting your own water. Member Tracy explains that “Permaculture goes deeply into human nature and redefines ourselves so that we can be with each other and the planet in a much more harmonious way” (Sharing Lives- Intentional Permaculture Community ). For members, the practice of taking and giving back to the Earth, nourishing it and caring for it is something that also is applicable for how they treat each other. 

How does our life change when we provide for ourselves? (Photo: Pexels)

Emily, a member from 2009 put it as “I came here to learn about growing things, and what I really learned about was growing people” (Articles & Testimonials). From a Harvard study and an article written by international leadership entrepreneur Brent Gleeson on qualities that will increase one’s fulfillment in life, several of them reflect the principles of permaculture. Both sources quote that one must give back for what they take, and to pursue passions bigger than yourself (Harvard Study, Brent Gleeson Article). Permaculture principally relies on giving back to the Earth what you take, and to practice Permaculture is to contribute to the larger cause of saving our precious Earth. 

For the members of La’akea, building and maintaining meaningful relationships is central to the success of the community. They do daily check-ins and meetings, where group members are encouraged to express their thoughts or grievances to the whole group and facilitate a discussion of what to improve on, what is going well, how people feel, etc. The community relies on each other for mostly everything, so the importance of fostering and strengthening trusting connections among the group cannot be overstated. In an interview with a researcher studying the community, one of the members said “Heart shares helped to create and strengthen the bonds between people instead of burying feelings and negative emotions…These authentic revelations of what we feel inside to those around us that allows everyone in the group to understand and empathize with each other’s lived experiences. ” (Richard Olsen Study on Permaculture Communities  ). Participation, understanding, and love among the group will, in turn, benefit the individual. One member described how members enter the community emotionally closed off and defensive, but through practicing and building communication and acceptance in these group practices, their mindset completely changes. Prasad Dittman, who has lived there since 2013, describes the impact of this switch. “I find in La’akea a community which supports and inspires me to live my dreams everyday. Open communication and sharing love form the basis for a life which is full of new opportunities to shine brightly and also look honestly at all my relationships. I am grateful that I am here” (Articles & Testimonials).  In his article for, Brent Gleeson presents “building relationships over possessions”, “strive to improve everyday”, and “forgive yourself and others quickly” as some of the qualities that make your life more fulfilling, all of which are embedded into the foundations of life at La’akea through these group check-ins and open expression among members. Similarly, in a 75 year Harvard University study, the researchers found that “connection is crucial. Strong relationships are far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction”(Harvard Study). 

Hawaiian growth. (Photo: Pexels)

The structure of the community and their activities are completely egalitarian. From the founding of La’akea, people invested equal shares into the land and its resources, where power and accountability is consistent and equal for everyone. Decisions are made by group consensus, and much like heart shares, each member in the community has the ability to express their thoughts and learn to compromise, empathize, and share in their problems or decisions and hold each other accountable for what needs to be done. One member talked about how the egalitarian culture and practice helped her become an “empowered, self-actualized being. Taking responsibility for my own life. This comes out of equal ownership and consensus decision-making” (Richard Olsen Study on Permaculture ). By engaging in a system that’s exempt from power imbalances and relies on sustainability, each member must be accountable for their role and their contributions, making them “more self-aware and better equipped for personal emotional growth” (Richard Olsen Study on Permaculture ). Accountability and responsibility for your words and actions is another one of the principles for fulfillment outlined by Gleeson and the Harvard Study. “Accountability is the path to true accomplishment. Personal accountability is infectious and others in your life will follow suit” (Brent Gleeson Forbes Article). For each principle that La’akea values is the opportunity to better yourself. The opportunity to better the world, and challenge your perceptions about what in life will give you meaning, and purpose. A line from a poem written by Emily Baggett, an intern at La’akea from 2011 says it best: “Oh if only the whole world, Could experience the transformation that happens at La’akea, The most beautiful manifestation of love and community, showing all is possible when you share powerful unity” (Articles & Testimonials).


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