Communities Log: Florida Earthskills Gathering

An inspiring annual community organized and populated by earth-skill enthusiasts.

Photos from earthskills.org

Rising interest in permaculture, “primitive skills,” and self-sufficient homesteading has made it easier than ever to locate the Florida Earthskills Gathering. It’s one of about a dozen similarly themed festivals catalogued at earthskillgathering.org. The 5-day, 4-night camping event features an impressive collection of classes, workshops, and instructors specializing in subjects like mycology, knife-sharpening, herbalism, permaculture design, foraging, and earthen construction. In more recent years, offerings have included subjects like emotional and somatic health, grounding and spiritual wellness, and support for the underprivileged. The whole effort is woven together with kids and teens events, a first-aid tent with herbalists and medics, portable toilets, a zero-trash policy, and pretty tight organizational effort. It was easy to find help and organizers worked hard to keep things running safely, smoothly, and consciously.

The Florida Earthskills gathering draws together a fairly large community but makes room for intimacy with community meals, a nightly bonfire, morning campfire announcements, and an overarching flexibility made possible only via extensive organization and interpersonal relationship. It relies heavily on volunteer land and labor and the networks of people forged from previous gatherings. The importance of these networks was especially evident during our visit. Over the years, there’s been a greater inclusionary effort for non-white and non-binary participants, which is an important departure from the general audience of white, conservative-leaning “homesteaders”* these events are known for. Notably, we found out that the more diverse feel of that year’s gathering was an intentional difference from gatherings a few years prior, as organizers were working to make the space more inclusive.

Inevitably, this shift brings attention to colonialism, white privilege, and the continued occupation of indigenous lands, resulting in tension with some of the gathering’s original organizers and previous attendees (which comes as no surprise, considering the historic link between homesteading and settler colonialism*). During our stay, it became clear that the gathering was embarking on transitional work of its own. God speed. We met some beautiful hearts and inspiring leaders. In the end, it was a good place to connect, learn, and network, but to be honest white supremacy’s legacy made the space less welcoming and even potentially hazardous for QTBIPOC individuals. Earthskills opened a space for these grievances to be aired, and did endeavor to correct what they could, but it should be said that it is held in a locale that is remote and the roads are studded with nationalist, racist flags, which is hostile and triggering. This is not exactly Earthskill’s fault, but it was admitted that this was something they (white organizers) had not considered. Similarly, multiple QT/BIPOC individuals brought up that they felt further marginalized by the organizer’s decision to have a ‘BIPOC’ tent and a ‘LGBTQ+’ tent– both of which were quite distinctly separated from each other, which felt segregated, fishbowl-y, and isolating, especially when LGBTQ+ & BIPOC identities overlap so much due to their non-participation in white supremacist notions of race and gender. Again, the Earthskills organizers did open a space to hear this grievance responsibly, and it was a learning experience for all involved. Overall we left with a complex but highly positive impression. Some notes:

  • One of the most impressive aspects of the event was meal management. Hearty, simple meals are ideal for large groups with numerous dietary needs. Of course, “simple” doesn’t automatically mean “easy” or “good.” (I’ve eaten my fair share of flavorless lentils in vegan kitchens.) Luckily the Earthskills kitchen volunteers served impressive, delicious, and very human meals. Breakfasts and dinners included a selection of the following foods: oatmeal, cooked greens, scrambled eggs, turkey or vegan sausage, soup, chili, potatoes, and tables of toppings and whole fruit. Dairy need never be cooked into anything and any egg or meat can be taken or left as an optional side. Mealtime is a time of sharing and serving, making it important across cultures and close to the heart of Wholly Human.
  • Extra time to digest lessons, plan schedules, connect, brave toilet lines, navigate the campgrounds, deal with personal or medical needs, and simply find rest is often overlooked at events with so many overlapping things ready to fill up the clock. Of course, nothing’s perfect! Exhaustion and missed opportunities may be the price to pay for access to so much knowledge and networking in a single camping trip. Still, we feel that “buffer time” is more a necessity than an option, especially for participants with children, advanced age, or other personal needs. Given that there were moments where we felt overwhelmed or rushed, this is an important consideration for us in regards to future events.
  • While creating spaces for marginalized guests, presenters, and practices is a notable starting point for community change, the effort for inclusivity only retriggers marginalized individuals if the changes are designed and prioritized by the privileged. “Safe spaces” quickly become “brave spaces” if community members aren’t prepared to deeply (not shallowly, not comfortably) inspect their own colonized concepts of gender, race, family, and property. At the Earthskills Gathering, some workshops and tents were organized by gender, sexuality, or race rather than by need or involvement, making it the responsibility of the marginalized to claim their spaces rather than the responsibility of the privileged to learn how to change or inspect their behaviors, identities, or assumptions. For instance, a ‘feminine’ healing tent explicitly advertised itself as “for women” with a focus on wombs, yet not all women have wombs and not all people with wombs are women. Similarly, the only knife sharpening workshop was “for men.” We see no logic in gendering blades or their handling. Wholly Human aims to rethink these power dynamics, prioritizing the marginalized and inviting the privileged to (un)learn and adapt, as is part of everyone’s healing.

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