Starting a Permaculture Guild in Santa Cruz: World Cafe [February 2018]

Looking for a place to share a meal and good conversation with other folks in your community who care about permaculture? A permaculture guild might be just what you need! “Ask your doctor if permaculture is right for you.”

The Santa Cruz Permaculture Guild, which has existed in various iterations over the decades, is back in action and now meets monthly at the Live Oak Grange, known locally as “the Green Grange.” Everyone – especially folks from Santa Cruz County and the surrounding Monterey Bay Area, Santa Cruz Mountains, and South Bay region – is invited to join us!

A group of nearly thirty folks met for a potluck and World Cafe discussion last Wednesday for our first Guild gathering as an official committee of the Grange. This article serves as both an introduction to the World Cafe process we utilized last week, as well as the written harvest summary from the evening.

If you don’t live near Santa Cruz and your community doesn’t have a permaculture guild, the story we’re sharing in this article will provide some ideas for what you can do in your community to start gathering folks together. As our Guild grows throughout the coming year, we’ll be documenting what we’re doing and how so that you can create an energized and active guild in your home community!

What is a Permaculture Guild?

In permaculture, we like to design with plant guilds, which are plantings of different species near each other that work together through accumulation of nutrients, attracting pollinators, providing habitat for beneficial insects, and the sharing of space, time, and access to resources.

The word “guild” can also bring to mind medieval merchant associations, and it can be defined as “an organization of persons with related interests, goals, etc., especially one formed for mutual aid or protection” (

Drawing from all three of these descriptions, a permaculture guild is a group of people coming together with various skills and experiences who share an interest in practicing, learning about, and connecting with others around permaculture. Similar to medieval times, we gather in person at least monthly and actually talk to one another face to face over food and drinks! Unlike medieval times, though, we invite everyone to join us–regardless of their trade or background–and we stay connected through the internet between meetings in order to maintain communication about fun and important opportunities.

As you might imagine, a gathering of folks interested in permaculture can manifest in myriad ways–potlucks, garden work days, discussions over a homemade meal, workshops, public talks by permaculture teachers, natural building projects, group bike rides, field trips, and so many other fun activities!

For this reason, once the initial group of people interested in permaculture have come together, it’s helpful to explore the needs, interests, and goals of the group in order to identify priorities that will support the long-term sustainability of the Guild.

For the Santa Cruz Permaculture Guild, a few folks coordinated with the Live Oak Grange in order to establish the Guild as a committee of the Grange so that we could gather monthly in the Grange Hall. After all Grange halls were setup throughout our great nation starting in 1867 for the very purpose of helping agriculturally-minded folks get organized. This provides us with a consistent and regular meeting time and place that is open to the public, which also has everything we need to host great potlucks, conversations, and meetings to organize and plan what is possible in our community.

The garden work days and field trips and field trips will happen, as well, but we will also maintain our consistent monthly gathering opportunity that provides a chance to connect socially over food before diving into the good work. After all, it’s much easier to plan or implement a project when you know a little about the folks you’re working alongside!

At our first meeting at the Grange Hall last week, we created an opportunity for exploration of what our goals, needs, and interests are as a group through a facilitated conversation process called the World Cafe.

What is the World Cafe?

The World Cafe is a format for hosting small group conversations within a large group of people. The World Cafe website describes it best:

“Drawing on seven integrated design principles, the World Café methodology is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue.

World Cafe Principles

Image by Nancy Margulies

“World Café can be modified to meet a wide variety of needs. Specifics of context, numbers, purpose, location, and other circumstances are factored into each event’s unique invitation, design, and question choice, but the following five components comprise the basic model:

“1) Setting: Create a “special” environment, most often modeled after a café, i.e. small round tables covered with a checkered or white linen tablecloth, butcher block paper, colored pens, a vase of flowers, and optional “talking stick” item. There should be four chairs at each table (optimally) – and no more than five.

“2) Welcome and Introduction: The host begins with a warm welcome and an introduction to the World Café process, setting the context, sharing the Cafe Etiquette, and putting participants at ease.

“3) Small Group Rounds: The process begins with the first of three or more twenty minute rounds of conversation for the small group seated around a table. At the end of the twenty minutes, each member of the group moves to a different new table. They may or may not choose to leave one person as the “table host” for the next round, who welcomes the next group and briefly fills them in on what happened in the previous round.

“4) Questions: each round is prefaced with a question specially crafted for the specific context and desired purpose of the World Café. The same questions can be used for more than one round, or they can be built upon each other to focus the conversation or guide its direction.

“5) Harvest: After the small groups (and/or in between rounds, as needed), individuals are invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group. These results are reflected visually in a variety of ways, most often using graphic recording in the front of the room.” (

We’ll walk through how these components were set up at the Santa Cruz Permaculture Guild meeting. For those who attended or hope to join us in the future, this article also serves as the notes from the meeting.

The Setting

When designing a world cafe event, take the time to consider the ambience and set-up of the space. Think about what kind of setting would help you feel most comfortable sharing your thoughts with others you may not know. Some key elements include small tables with ideally four and no more than five chairs per table, a tablecloth, maybe some flowers, and paper and pens for people to capture key ideas from their conversations throughout the evening.

Notes from a table during the World Cafe

It’s fun to look back at the notes people took during the world cafe. If you can, place large sheets of butcher paper at each table along with colorful markers.

Unless the event space you’re using for your world cafe already has small tables, you may want to borrow or rent small circular tables; 32” to 36” is ideal. You can also great creative, as we did at the Live Oak Grange, where the long wooden tables fold out of the walls like a Murphy bed! Rather than bring in different tables, we used what we had onsite (hey, that’s a permaculture principle!) and used the table cloths and placement of chairs to create a couple smaller, more intimate groupings on each table.

A few days or weeks before the world cafe event, clarify the purpose of your World Cafe conversation and brainstorm what questions really matter to your guild members. has a useful reference guide that includes a section on how to identify your world cafe questions. Write out your questions before the event begins on large butcher paper or a whiteboard, but keep the questions covered. You’ll unveil each of them separately, right before folks discuss them at their tables.

You can also set up spaces in the room for announcements and flyers, offers and requests, exchange (of surplus produce, plants, seeds, etc.), information about permaculture or the history of permaculture in your community, and any other passive engagement opportunities that would add value to the event.

At the entrance to the event, place a clipboard and pen with a signup sheet for folks to write their email addresses so that you can put together a permaculture guild email list. Ideally, you would create a list-serv or Google Group so that everyone can send emails to the group between meetings. Eventually, you may want to decide as a group what your guidelines are for posting to the group email list.

Next to the clipboard, consider having name tags for people to fill in. You could have a sign inviting folks to write their name as well as other information, such as any organization affiliations if applicable, their gender pronoun (he / she / they, etc.), where they’re from, and/or anything else that would help people get to know each other more easily.

David Shaw and Ken Foster speaking to the Guild during the World Cafe.

In the image above, note the table cloths creating smaller “groups of 4” at each of the longer tables at the Live Oak Grange. The cafe questions are revealed on the flip chart paper attached to an easel so everyone can refer back to the question throughout the round. After a round has ended, you can hang the question on the wall. The Live Oak Grange is an ideal gathering space; it has a kitchen for heating up or preparing food, plenty of table space so that we could leave potluck food, tea, and snacks out while the discussions were happening, and there’s even a garden on the property. Your local grange hall might be a great place for your permaculture guild to meet, too!

Plan to serve food or host a potluck at the beginning of the event so that folks have a chance to mingle informally and share a meal together. Depending upon what time of day your meeting is, this could be a full meal or simply appetizers. This can help people feel more comfortable, connected, and part of the community you’ll be fostering through the world cafe process. Serving tea and coffee can also help create the “cafe” vibe, and depending upon your situation, beer or wine can help relax folks, as well. Also, a little jazz music in the background can go a long way.

Welcome and Introduction

Once folks have had a chance to eat, welcome them to the space and invite them to sit in groups of four at the tables. While eating, they may have pulled up extra chairs to tables, so be sure to get the numbers down to 4-5 people per table before continuing. At this time it might also be a good idea to invite people to sit with people they do not already know.

Introduce yourself and whoever else you’re working with to organize the Guild. Explain the World Cafe process, giving a high level overview of what folks can expect as the event progresses. Encourage people to write ideas on the paper at their tables throughout the event.

If you have a really large group (in which case, congrats on great attendance!), you can get a sense of who’s in the room by asking a few questions like, “Who’s from Santa Cruz County?”, “Raise your hand if you’ve done a permaculture design course,” and other questions that allow everyone to share about who they are and where they come from without each person speaking, which can take up quite a bit of time with a large group. We call this “polling.” If you do this, be sure to invite folks to introduce themselves in their small table groups at the beginning of each round.

If your group isn’t too large, you can ask people to briefly go around and share their name and one thing about them. At our meeting, we asked folks their name and where they’d heard about the meeting. You or someone on your team should share first to model how briefly you want people to answer the question. If someone else starts and gives a two minute response, every person after them will feel like they should answer for two minutes, and there goes all of your event time! When things like that happen it is important – as a facilitator or host of the Cafe – to know how to kindly and appropriately interrupt and remind the group of any norms or etiquette you have setup.

Once folks have a sense of who’s in the room, set the tone by asking people to think of a time when they had a really great conversation. Ask them to share what made that conversation great. This will help the group create a shared understanding of etiquette, and you can add additional guidelines from this resource from

World Cafe Guidelines

Illustration by Avril Orloff, Source:

Small Group Round 1

Once you’ve welcomed folks and set the context, it’s time for the first +/- twenty minute round of discussion based on the first question that you’ve crafted. For our group, the first question was “What draws you to the Santa Cruz Permaculture Guild?”

What draws you to the Santa Cruz Permaculture Guild?

Some of the responses that folks wrote on paper or shared later in the harvest that came out of this question include:

  • Permaculture people rock!

  • Opportunity to have fun with like-minded people doing work projects

  • Getting hands dirty

  • Learning more about permaculture

  • Permaculture is hope and I want to know about it.

  • Guilds: mutually beneficial relationships

  • To be in service of life

  • Bring the politics into my house and personal life

  • To stop the destruction of the world!

  • Putting principles into practice

This question allows folks to introduce themselves and their background to their small group while focusing on how their experiences have drawn them to permaculture and specifically the permaculture guild. It also gets people thinking about what they are inspired by in permaculture, what they hope to do or learn more about, and why they care. These are all elements that are explored in more depth in the following questions, allowing people to build on the ideas shared in the previous session as the world cafe progresses.

After the +/- twenty minutes of the first round are up, ring a bell, raise your hand, or somehow gently notify folks that they should finish their thoughts and prepare to move for round two. You can have groups choose one person to stay at the table as the “host” and everyone else should find a new table with people they haven’t spoken with yet. The role of the table host is to share briefly with the new group about what was discussed at the table in the previous round.

Small Group Round 2

After thinking about personal interests in the permaculture guild, our question for the second round invited participants to consider themselves part of a collective group, “the guild.” We asked, “What is our intention here? What’s the deeper purpose–the ‘big why’ that is worthy of our best effort?”

What is our intention here? What's the deeper purpose - the "big why" - that is worthy of our best effort?

Some of the thoughts shared in the round included:

  • “A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.”

  • Permaculture as a technology of survival of humanity

  • Foster healing

  • Our needs are met, we have abundance, and we are able to help others

  • The “medium” why: social community gathering to break silos, enable collaboration, reclaim the commons

  • Shifting culture & values toward world peace (the Great Turning)

  • There’s more than enough, it’s just how we use it, sharing

  • Improving lives for us all–on many levels

  • Shift collective consciousness – plant more positive seeds

Folks had a variety of ideas for what we could be working toward as a group, and some naturally started identifying specific actions and activities that they would want to support through the Guild, which created an effective segue into the next question.

Before we changed groups for the final round, we did a mini-harvest to see what “big whys” people had identified in their groups. If you notice that people are getting really excited in their conversations, or if you join a group and some really interesting ideas come up that might be valuable for the whole group to hear, you can do a mini-harvest between rounds. Keep it short and perhaps hear from one person per table or less, asking for the essence or “aha” moments that came out of the conversation.

Small Group Round 3

After the mini-harvest, we returned to a personal self reflection for our final question. We asked, “What personal contribution might you make towards the success of our guild? How can we support each other in taking the next steps?”

What personal contribution might you make towards the success of our guild? How can we support each other in taking the next steps?

There were numerous specific ideas that came up, but the ones that were shared more than once or written on the table papers more than once included:

  • Plant & seed swap or exchange–for the next meeting, we will have an exchange table

  • Permaculture “blitz” – work parties at homes of guild members to implement permaculture projects

  • Field trips to permaculture demonstration opportunities in the region

  • Reading group

  • Someone offered to lead a guided meditation at a future meeting

  • Workshops, skill sharing on specific topics, including beekeeping, natural building, and more

  • Hosting movie nights

At the end of this round, we passed out sticky notes in order to capture these specific ideas along with the name of the people who wanted to support these efforts. This led us into a harvest for the world cafe.


The harvest process can take on a variety of forms, but the most essential piece is to hear the insights, inspirations, realizations, and take-aways that people experienced in their small group discussions.

The harvest at the end of your world cafe can include sticky-notes with one idea per note, brought up to the front and placed on the board. You can take a photo of the sticky notes to share with the group, or someone can type up the notes to send via email.

World cafe organizers can also invite graphic facilitators to visually record the harvest with words, images, colors, and shapes. If someone in your guild is artistic, they can take on this role as a way to capture the world cafe harvest visually, rather than simply writing a bulleted list of the “meeting notes.” You can take a photo of this to share via email, social media, and on your guild’s website as a beautiful archive of your guild’s first world cafe!

A person with long dark hair writing on a large piece of paper on the wall. The paper is covered in words, shapes, and ideas from the World Cafe conversation.

Above: An example of a graphic facilitation from a world cafe event hosted by the UC Santa Cruz Common Ground Center with Mark Lakeman of City Repair Project and reflexive graphics professional Giselle Chow. You can hire professional graphic facilitators or find someone in your guild community who is creative and willing to capture the ideas shared in a visually interesting way.

The harvest for our world cafe included many of the bulleted ideas shared in the above sections. Some elements of the harvest included identifying some next steps that individuals were going to take for the next meeting, and others included general ideas that we can revisit as the guild continues to meet.

One take-away for us as organizers is that it’s okay for one of our first goals to be simply developing a sense of community, connectedness, and trust within our guild. If we can get to know each other, share skills and ideas, and feel a sense of shared purpose in a general way, when we identify major projects or political issues to take on as a guild, we will be more likely to succeed in our work.

At the end of the harvest, thank everyone for attending and let them know how they can stay connected, when the next meeting is, how to sign up for the email list if they haven’t already, and what they can do to help you clean up the space before they leave.

Where to from here?

Once you’ve hosted your first world cafe with your permaculture guild, keep the momentum going and identify your next steps as soon as possible so that you can communicate the agenda for the next meeting with the guild members. What came out of the world cafe that feels worth exploring in more depth next meeting? How will you format the next meeting? Who will facilitate? What lessons did you learn at the first meeting that can make future meetings even better?

For the March Santa Cruz Permaculture Guild meeting on Wednesday, March 7, at 6:30pm at the Live Oak Grange, we will be utilizing another meeting facilitation technique called Open Space Technology. Similar to the World Cafe, it involves folks breaking into smaller groups, but instead of the facilitators identifying questions in advance, the attendees of the meeting choose topics to discuss. It allows participants to co-create the agenda and then select which sessions and topics they want to discuss. After our March meeting, we’ll write a meeting report and article about how you can host an Open Space with your guild! has some more information and resources about Open Space Technology if you’re curious about that process.

If you live near Santa Cruz and want to get involved with our permaculture guild, please join our Facebook group and/or email list. You can mark your calendar with the upcoming meeting dates for 2018 listed on our website here and RSVP on the March meeting Facebook event page here.

If you’re inspired to host a world cafe in your community–for a permaculture guild meeting or any other kind of meeting–and you want additional support, please connect with us! We have worked with groups from 2 to 600 people, and from 60 minutes to 6 days, to design and host productive and energizing meetings. Our services include hosting World Cafe, Open Space Technology, and Council sessions, as well as a suite of other practices to suit any occasion or desired outcome. How might your organization, guild, or community host better and more productive meetings? Please contact us through our consultation inquiry form here.

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