Getting to Know Naomi Joy Smith

Getting to Know Naomi Joy Smith

What’s your number one saying?

“If it’s not playful, it’s not sustainable” (H/T John Croft of Dragon Dreaming)


Where are you based (why, and where have you lived before)?

About a year ago I returned to Te Awakairangi, my birthplace (specifically Petone). Why? For my big family who are all in Wellington, and the conviction that permaculture can and should be applied everywhere, perhaps especially suburbia.

Prior to my return, counting backwards, I have lived: on the road, Berlin, Stockholm, Polam Farm & Aranya (for the IPC2017), Poukawa in the Hawkes Bay, the riverside in Takaka, Aro Valley, Arrowtown, Newtown (Wu-town) and even Auckland CBD about a lifetime ago.


What led you to permaculture (and when)?

Homesick for Pōneke while living in Arrowtown, I dreamed up a project that materialized as Homies Cosy Teahouse. One day while yarning with a friend about growing food in the vacant plot out back, they mentioned (but never did connect me with) someone who “did permaculture and stuff”. Somehow that word echoed within me and led me to volunteer with Linnea Lindström who was setting up the Oasis (now KaiCycle) in Newtown, back in 2015. As a hospo professional, I had questioned our food systems and found the inter-related ethics in permaculture profound given that I was more passionate about local economies and community, in contrast with simply stocking shelves with consumable (commercial) goods.


What is your profession/passion and who are the people you share this with?

During my internet-dependent travels, I began to ask how to apply permaculture design to my/societies’ increasing dependence on digital landscapes. I am curious about the cultural evolutions taking place not only through globalization and high-frequency communication & information exchange, but also - of course - the pressures of our changing biomes. I wonder about these eco-socio-digital systemic interactions as they impact us collectively and provide pathways to transition which may not have been accessible (or even conceivable) 100 years ago. I honour this moment and the questions of collective identity, shared values, and collaborative (re-)design that are facilitated by the web(s). I have had the privilege and responsibility of designing generative responses to these questions with a team of people involved with the Permaculture CoLab, beginning with the Digital Circle and growing more interconnected from there. One of my core collaborators is a board member of GEN, serving with Village Lab, and is a network weaver extraordinaire based in Cascadia bioregion of the Pacific North-West (A. Keala Young); and closer to home, I play with narratives of post-apocalyptic lo-TEK ‘luxury’ scenarios with a KiwiBurn camp known as SolarSails - my friend Dominic Tarr introduced me to these folks, to the solarpunk movement, and has done a great job of modelling healthy relationships with tech (he wrote the protocol Scuttlebutt which is an off-grid social media protocol; Manyverse, Patchwork and other platforms are built on top of this). This last year, I have been on a journey of mutual learning with the Ontario-based permaculture elder Jillian Hovey, who has generously introduced more nuanced elements of permaculture & community design into my engagement design work.

How would your friends describe your sense of humour?

Relentless! Sometimes dry, sometimes quite wholesome and dad-akin, sometimes a bit dark or provocative… it depends ;)


What's your personal take on Permaculture in New Zealand? 

Me: *looks around all the social innovation conferences for philanthropists, investors, policy makers, and enterprise incubators*
Also me: *jumping up and down while pointing emphatically at the team of very capable, responsible, deep-hearted folks serving on the PiNZ council*


More broadly; while I’m stoked with the rising interest in Regen Ag nationally, and the government’s declaration of climate emergency, I’m baffled that few folks in other industries are connecting the dots with all that permaculture has to offer. Credit to the folks who are getting stuck in and making a difference in their local communities; and I sense we are at a pivotal moment to gather our decades of research, capacity building and solutions toolboxes to impact at the national level, coordinating better with our Pacific super-region and between our bioregions. The housing crisis could be reframed as a village crisis. The agriculture industry’s shortcomings and our environmental goals as a nation may as well be woven together, and for goodness sakes kiwi permies... decolonization is our work too! We can’t go forward as tangata tiriti until everyone has had the chance to make peace with the past; so (in my humble opinion) any profession based on the land has the responsibility to understand local history, not because of political correctness but for the opportunity of learning and integrating a deeper context to our mahi.


What lesson in life stands out the most for you (Why do you feel that way)?

When I ran my project Homies Cosy Teahouse, it was a response to my frustrations of a society that had fragmented through decades and centuries of neoliberalism & capitalism, respectively. I set out to “be the change” and this was made possible with the support of the creative community which is, fortunately, alive and well in Pōneke. However, I burnt out… really really badly. The project taught me a lot, but the main lesson is not to take on so much by myself. The projects that I feel are worth doing are projects that take many hands. Because of this, I invested a lot in learning group process design & facilitation, to make feasible collective projects, multi-stakeholder or community-driven design, and to do my best to uplift the mana of those I work with and for.


Where changes would you like to see for permaculture in the future?

I guess ultimately I would want permaculture to become obsolete, as it is integrated and transcended on a large scale; for humanity to be truly indigenous again. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy being part of this ‘global’ (or local-to-local) community; and as indicated above, to connect and collaborate with other movements and networks who are innovating and holding society to account. Oh and absolutely want to see more project-based learning pathways alongside more financial capital and land tenure going to the folks who are passionate about this work.


What question do you wish to ask those who are reading this?

It’s a two-parter ;)

What’s the most recent skill you’ve learned, and who could you be teaching it to?