This page gives an overview to my entire MSc Political Agroecology. It introduces what political agroecology is, as well as the Gaia University pedagogy. This explores the genius of Gaia University's 'action-learning' approach and why it is effective in supporting learning. I then introduce the output packets I have created during my masters. The final sections describe my pathway management - how I have designed and managed my learning pathway, mapping out key pivot points, interventions and transitions during my masters program.
Political Agroecology explores the power relationships in our food systems. My strategic focus is how we can accelerate the speed and scale of the transition to agroecological practices around the world.
I first came across the phrase ‘political agroecology’ in an article in the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture ‘ Agroecology and Politics. How To Get Sustainability? About the Necessity for a Political Agroecology’ by Manuel Gonzalez de Molina.
Manuel writes that ‘politics must develop within the heart of agroecology’. He comments that the scientistic or technocratic currents of agroecology strip socioecological change of any collective dimension of human action.
“Political agroecology is based on the fact that agrarian sustainability cannot be achieved using only technological (agronomical or environmental) measures which help to redesign agroecosystems in a sustainable manner. Without a profound change in the institutional framework in force it will not be possible for successful agroecological experiences to spread and for the ecological crisis in the field to be combated effectively. Consequently, political agroecology examines the most suitable way to participate in these movements and to use those tools that render institutional change possible.”
Political agroecology is an emerging field for applying the methods and findings of research in addressing socioecological change in agroecosystems.
Manuel summaries, “In short, the mission of political agroecology is producing knowledge that makes possible the establishment of institutions and social movements favorable to the development of agrarian sustainability.”
This section is intended for people outside of Gaia U who are new to the Gaia U model of learning. It is not included in the wordcount for the reviewer.
Gaia University is a radical un-institution centered on supporting learners to evaluate their work, develop their practices, skills, and worldviews to support them to be as effective as they can be for social justice and ecological regeneration. They offer diverse programs, including diplomas, bachelors and masters degrees. I am undertaking an ‘open topic’ MSc, which means I can determine the content of my own program, within a framework of Political Agroecology.
At the beginning of your program, following an online orientation, you design a 'Learning Intentions Pathway Design'. This is a prelimanary design for your program for the year. It predictably changes as new projects and interests emerge, and managing the pathway is a design exercise in itself. Over your year (or whatever timeframe is possible for you), you produce 'Output Packets'. These are like reports that share your learning - they may include reflections on what you have been doing, your research in a particular field, outcomes of your project and more.
You are supported throughout your time with a Main Advisor, Skill Flex Advisors and other peers in Gaia U. You can access regular webinars and community calls, post on forums and ask for help when needed.
The underlying pedagogy is one of action learning and associate (“student”) self-determination. Gaia U believes that the learner’s life, passions and projects, and the rapidly changing contexts in which they are emerging, will best give rise to what they need to learn and how they need to learn it. With Gaia U, you are at the centre. You are the researcher and the subject of research.
They trust that I am the best placed to determine what I want and need to learn to achieve my goals. I can organise diverse ways of accessing the skills and knowledge I seek - this may be attending courses or workshops in my area, via a comprehensive reading list and self-study program, by working with mentors, and ideally through real-world projects.
The pedagogy - or system of learning - is action learning. We can learn faster and better by accelerating the action learning cycle; this means regulary reflecting on our work and making changes to do it better. It means embracing active experimentation and reflection. This is why output packets are the cornerstone of our program and give us a chance to carve out quality time to reflect on what we are doing on personal, professional and project levels.
I applied the Kolb Model to my program in a comprehensive way:
Concrete experience: This was gained through my projects that are listed in detail on my Projects Page. In summary, this includes via various campaigns and grassroots collectives, the establishment of my workers cooperative, Feed Avalon and the management of a 4-acre permaculture demonstration site where I live.
You can see a detailed overview of my portfolio of practice here:
Reflective observation: These outputs served as the container for my reflection observation. Each OP contained a detailed overview of my key learnings and reflections from months of action, reading and engagement in the fields. I tracked my reflections for the majority of my master's degree through ‘tracker sheets’ whereby I recorded what I was thinking, feeling and learning on a daily basis.
Abstract conceptualisation: I was better able to learn from my own experiences by integrating them into bigger-picture systems and wider theories of social and ecological change. I developed my critical thinking and critical evaluation skills in all of my output packets, but most especially in my capstone year where I strategically presented my research as more formal research reports on education for agroecology and deconstructing and decolonising science. I have read thousands of articles, read over 150+ books, attended hundreds of events and learnt from people all over the world in their theories and experiences of social change.
Active experimentation: For anyone who knows me, they know I ‘get things done’. I dive into projects and actively experiment with ‘rapid prototypes’. For example, with my workers cooperative Feed Avalon, we experimented with various project models, ways of organising, ways of communicating, even ways of growing to keep developing our work and increasing our impact. With the campaigns I organise, we actively try new tactics and apply the learning gauged from studies. For example, my study of radical education has enabled me to apply the techniques and philosophies of popular education to other movements, such as giving hundreds of prison abolition and prisoner support workshops over the last five years. I have also actively experimented with output models and different tools and technologies in my daily life.
February - April 2013
The purpose of my LIPD was to support me in identifying, clarifying and processing all of my learning needs, dreams and ambitions. I surveyed my projects, commitments and skill flexes and ‘futurecasted’ my projects. Following a strong analysis process, I developed a learning contract, designed preliminary output packets and identified core action learning cycles that would underpin my MSc. Read the OP here.
April - October 2013
The aim of output 2 was to explore my own radical edges and optimise how I organise with others for social change. A large thematic area was prison abolition, as well as healing and resilience to repression on a personal and community-movement level. I drew strongly on my action learning in organising against unconventional gas exploitation, responding to repression of the animal liberation movement, and rebuilding local food systems.
- Increasing my political understanding of the prison industrial complex and prison abolition
- Developing a body of work around resilience to repression following extensive reading and reflection
- Growing my knowledge and skills around popular education pedagogies
- Applying the design process to personal healing, and actively healing from my own imprisonment & repression
- Exploring the role of criminalisation and repression in relation to the spread of agroecology & achievement of food sovereignty
November - April 2014
The aim of this output was to gain a better understanding of alternative and anarchist economics, and how our economic system affects the uptake of agroecological practices, with personal focuses on personal finances and livelihood designs. There were also threads exploring colonialism and racism, self care and radical community organising. Read the output here.
- Increased understanding of anarchist economics. Including contemporary economic theory, alternative models, the role of the state. A in-depth realisation of the relationship between agroecology and different economic systems.
- Clearer understanding of the relationships between race, colonialism and extreme energy in sustaining the economic growth society.
- A thorough livelihood design, with detailed overviews of how I plan to develop as an agroecologist, educator, writer and herbalist.
- Two comprehensive designs; a self care design and a design for my own personal finances.
May - December 2014
This output explored the different and complex worldviews around animal agriculture. The output contains an extensive survey of approaches that are being used to confront animal oppression and also observes patterns of oppression in broader food-related movements. It concludes with my political thinking around what an anarchist agroecology could entail. Read the output here.
- The strengthening of my critical thinking and evaluation skills.
- A comprehensive survey of the field of those working to end the oppression of animals.
- The creation of an ‘anarchist agroecology’ framework and worldview.
December 2014 - March 2015
The purpose of my OP5 was to document, evidence, review and reflect upon the diverse and powerful learning and transformation I experienced in my pre-capstone year.
I surveyed my output packets, my peer, professional, personal, project and political learning and outcomes. I also analysed my learning patterns and ‘edge’ areas of growth. Read the OP here.
March - May 2015
The purpose of my second LIPD was to apply the learning from my pre-capstone phase and design the capstone phase of my MSc. I re-crafted my goals, planned projects and output packets, designed a new learning support system design and included essential aspects of implementation, such as a budget, resource lists and provisional timeline. Read the OP here.
The aim of output 2 was to share my research and reflections on the role of education in accelerating agroecology. I identified best practices, critically reflected on my role as an educator and organiser, and increased my knowledge of critical pedagogy and popular education. This output served my professional development in documenting my educational work to date and developing my skills in this field.
May 2016 - May 2017
The purpose of this output was to share my observations of deconstructing agroecology as a science; exploring its social, political, and economic contexts in relationship to scientific paradigms and practices. It aimed to share resources for other self-educating, peri-institutional agroecologists both on agroecology as a science, as well as how to learn agroecology.
June 2017 - November 2017
This output explored what I described as ‘the political ecology of soils’: the multiple factors that are threatening and destroying soils all over the world through capitalist development and other, including ecological, forces. It also shared some of the amazing grassroots projects working to remediate and regenerate soils. The output served as an opportunity for my design thinking around several soil-related projects in my life. Read the output here.
- Analysis on the political ecology of soils, drivers of soil degradation, and soils and climate change.
- A research overview of grassroots actions for soils
- The organisation of the SoilHack gathering and reflections on SoilHack strategy
- A soil-education plan for my work with Feed Avalon
- Initial research for a bioremediation project
- A soil learning pathway design
The report you are reading. An overview of everything I have learned during my Masters program, with a key focus on professional and personal development, the amplifcation of agroecology, and showcasing the real-world project impact during this period.
- Showcasing of project outcomes
- Updated CV
Below you can find timelines using the tool xmind.
- Download MSc Capstone Year Timeline - Actual.xmind - Saturday, 19 May 2018 [379.3KB]
One core aspect of of my pathway management that I have been tracking throughout my masters degree is how I manage my time and promises. At it’s most basic, this means how I get stuff done, how I manage my time and projects, and how I communicate with people if I can’t follow through on what I’ve said I’ll do.
You can see my commentary on this throughout my MSc in each different output. In the last few months of my capstone year I have experienced the gains listed below. Each of these have been important developments towards more impactful projects and a more sustainable lifestyle. I have summarised these in my supporting evidence.
I have been active member of Gaia University since enrolling in my first program with Gaia University - my BSc Integrative Ecosocial Design in 2011. I began my MSc six-months after graduation at the same time as training to be an Advisor for BSc and Diploma Associates. Becoming an advisor meant actively collaborating with associates and the Gaia U core team around the world. I had regular skype sessions, reviewed a number of output packets and supported people to move closer to graduation.
I also worked with Gaia U more intensively in 2013-14, when I was Gaia U's blog editor, collating content about regenerative design from around the world. I also wrote articles promoting Gaia U, including a series called 'Meet the Designer' that profiled Gaia U associates on the Permaculture Research Institute's website 'Permaculture News': one of the most read permaculture resources on the internet. In this time period, I also edited the Gaia U monthly newsletter.
I have represented Gaia U at a number of events, including the International Permaculture Conference and International Permaculture Convergence in London 2015. I talked about prisons and permaculture, as well as liberation permaculture and a Q&A session on Gaia University.
I have participated in a number of Gaia U Community Calls and Webinars. You can see the notes from these calls here: Notes from the Gaia U Calls
I track my collaboration with my Main Advisor on this living document here: MSc Main Advising Session notes
I have also presented on two webinar calls for Gaia U. These included:
- My capstone middle of year presentation on Deconstructing and Decolonising Science for Agroecology: http://www.emptycagesdesign.org/deconstructing-decolonizing-science-for-agroecology/
- A Gaia U Radio Call on Eating Animals (Speciesism and agroecology) in May 2015: http://www.emptycagesdesign.org/eating-animals-presentation/
- My pre-capstone middle of year presentation on Prison Abolition and Permaculture: http://www.emptycagesdesign.org/free-gaia-u-webinar-on-prison-abolition-and-permaculture/
- My pre-capstone end of year presentation: http://www.emptycagesdesign.org/end-of-year-presentation/
I started my MSc in February 2013, six months after graduating with my Bachelors degree. In hindsight, I think I would have been better off to take more of a rest between programs. I submitted my LIPD in April 2013 and began my program with great enthusiasm.
I learnt that it was hard to do the necessary OP writing and creation in the summer months, because of it being a peak time of ‘busyness’ and events. I learned through my BSc that the best way for me to manage my pathway is through a ‘slow burn’ approach. I designed tracking forms to capture my reflections. These are in the supporting evidence. These enabled me to stay focused on my MSc and track all my various project, political and design reflections. I also tracked elements like my self-care, such as hours of sleep.
In winter, I would focus on the output packet creation and long-hours of mahara work. In January 2014, the Empty Cages Collective was launched and my workload escalated dramatically. With support from my advisor, I turned the problem into the solution - the anti-prison work became the focus of my first output packet. I also focused on my own healing from prison as part of the output packet and this was incredibly powerful for me and enabled my continued engagement in anti-prison and prisoner support work.
Output 3 was centred on energy and economics. Once again, the problem became the solution and I made my engagement with Frack Free Somerset a core part of my learning. I also did all the necessary work in launching my workers cooperative, Feed Avalon due to the economic thinking and research I undertook during this output packet. My key learning in completing this MSc is that your output work has to be your absolute passion otherwise it will slip below other competing demands for your time.
Once again, with the ‘slow burn’ approach, I was able to complete the next OP on anarchist agroecology in the winter collating my reading and reflections from over the summer and submit it. In January 2015, my best friend died and I had to find a way to do OP work that wasn’t too stressful or intense. Five months later I submitted my OP5 for my pre-capstone year.
I then launched into another long summer full of projects, campaign activities and reading and researching. I began working on my OP2 in the winter, but then my life took a huge turn when I developed a chronic illness in February 2016. I was critically ill with chronic rib pain and my output levels dramatically reduced. I was only able to work 2 or so hours a day and otherwise needed to rest. This meant I became skilled at writing in ‘micro-chunks’. I had to break my OP down into very, very small achievable steps. It took me six months but I submitted my capstone OP2 and was incredibly proud of my achievement.
Unfortunately, the illness remained and my recovery was very slow. I did my absolute best to take care of myself and interact with once my very ambitious high input-high output MSc in a much more gentle way. It took me 11 months to produce the next output packet on applied agroecology, but once again I was proud of the quality. I definitely believe my slowing down enabled better quality work and deeper reflections. I also learned skills in asking for help, and started to work with mentors more, such as Dr Rafter Sass Ferguson who developed my confidence with engaging with science.
As my health slowly returned, my commitments and demands on my time escalated also. In November 2017, I submitted my OP on soil (unfortunately it got lost in the system changeover and I needed to resubmit it in May 2018). For the completion of OP5, I had to cope with five bereavements and some other quite intense losses and shocks to my system supporting friends with their health and imprisonment, including cancer and a coma! OP5 had to be completed in an extremely slow and steady way, and more than ever I depended on the support of my advisor to help me complete different sections through think-and-listen advising sessions where she kindly scribed my thoughts to help me break through blocks.
Overall, I have managed my pathway in a very grounded way, balancing both project and campaign demands with my ongoing learning and development. I believe my project section is testament to how much I have achieved in this time period and the amount of responsibilities I navigate on a daily basis. What enabled me to continue was the support for my Advisor, the continuing inspiration of other associates and my unending passion for agroecology and transforming the food system.