Javan Bernakevitch

Spanning the Great Divide with permaculture

How do we get from where we are to where we want to go? Failure. Failure is is the tuition for a life lesson learned. Anything worth doing is worth failing at… and anything worth failing at is worth learning from.

This not-so-typical aphorism is one of many that Javan K. Bernakevitch is fond of sharing.

Permaculture BC’s motto “Fail Better” reflects the reality that failure is an inevitability that creates opportunities for rich experiences and knowledge. As such it is to be sought out and learned from.

As a public speaker, facilitator, instructor as well as a holistic landscape designer, project manager and newly minted beekeeper, it seems that Javan’s wardrobe is bulging at the seams with the multitude of hats he wears.

“Moving from kindergarten to university, it always seemed that failure was condemned while ‘successfully fitting into the mold’ was painted as true success. That never made sense to me,” Javan muses. “There’s always a way to find more integration within a system versus segregation, bringing together multiple disciplines to create beneficial relationships. Experimenting and learning what doesn’t work is essential to that process, one we’ve become petrified of.”

Facilitating at the Pathways to Sustainability Conference in October 2011 in Red Deer, Alberta

Presenting to groups at times with over 250 participants, Javan tells students that the season of the ‘tyranny of the talented’ or to be ‘perfect on the first try’ is over. That approach leads to paralysis and non-start issues. He now advocates to fail better.

But fail better at what? With a diverse career spanning environmental education, public speaking, project management, marketing and construction, Javan has rolled his many talents into one subject: permaculture.

“Permaculture for me is the most accessible and applicable answer to the ever present question of ‘How do we live sustainably?’ And yet being sustainable isn’t enough. Being sustainable means to have the same tomorrow as today. If I asked you if your marriage was sustainable and you said yes, I’d be worried,” Javan quipps.

“What Permaculture BC [Javan’s company] works on now is regenerative sustainability: to have more fertility in time through experimentation and succession. To literally have more: biodiversity, community, energy and food at the end then at the beginning.”

He quickly points to a David Suzuki quote as one of his inspirations:

“What permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet. We don’t know what details of a truly sustainable future are going to be like, but we need options, we need people experimenting in all kinds of ways and permaculturists are one of the critical gangs that are doing that.”

An ethical design system

Through Permaculture BC, Javan works to help students learn how to take care of themselves and their communities through the ethical design science of permaculture. This instruction includes food sovereignty, energy conservation, financial security, and strong productive communities.

This system for responsible living is based on three core ethics:

Earth Care – Regenerating the natural world (our life support system).

People Care – Building strong and vibrant communities where reciprocity is a way of life.

Fair Share – Setting limits to consumption and redistributing surplus to both the people and the Earth.

Permaculture ethics can be applied to cultural systems of community building, finances and city planning including the fast growing Transition Towns movement (creating energy, food and community resilience for municipal centers).

In permaculture, using swales built on contour is an effective way to conserve water and create productive, thriving gardens. Here, students in a Permaculture BC PDC use a level to design swales.

“I’m working in this field because permaculture applies to everything. It’s about creating regenerative sustainable human habitat and everything within that habitat.”

Touted as universally applicable, Javan puts permaculture to the test and practices what he preaches. This past fall he started collaboration on what could be the largest edible commercial landscape in Alberta, perhaps Canada, with a local developer.

Whether it’s working on a new book, or instructing a newly formed sustainability group in a small remote fishing village, Javan continues to spend his time between Alberta and Vancouver Island, BC on what he feels is a worthy calling.

Being called to solutions

“Vocation is Latin for to call or be called to. I have a fire to continually see what is underneath what we perceive as ‘problems’. In every problem there lies the solution, and in seeing where these perceptions come from I feel closer to rediscovering solutions for all people to live happy, healthy and wealthy lives.”

Working with local business and institutions such as Gaia College, Greenplan, Hatchet and Seed, Pacific Design Academy, WaterlutionOUR Ecovillage, Eco-Sense, Cornucopia Nursery and Royal Roads University, he creates beneficial business relationships more akin to how plants interact than corporations.

Javan runs an energizer for a crowd of water leaders from across Canada at a recent Waterlution gathering.

“Everything in nature niches. In over 4.5 billion years pollinators and flower have co-evolved together, birds have developed specific beaks to open specific seed shells. In business we attempt to do and be everything and it’s ineffective. In creating collectives, alliances and business guilds, we combine our strengths and cut out the work load that we don’t even want to do.”

Permaculture courses such as the Permaculture Design Certificate that Permaculture BC hosts emphasize a proactive approach to happy living. While not ignoring the reality of food prices, climate change and reduced fossil fuel energy supply the focus of Permaculture education is based on working solutions. With the maxim of ‘Action Dispels Despair’ permaculture and the practitioners of this life-based design science observe the resources available and produce every increasing yields of food, energy and community.

At the end of the day it’s about enjoying the journey through permaculture.

“I’m happier working towards what can benefit and increase the productivity and fertility of my world and my community – being part of a solution,” Javan concludes.