First, what is a niche? And what’s an eco-niche?
A niche is an opportunity.
In business, the word niche is used often, and it’s a well-known fact that writers and most other creatives need one in order to be financially successful. In that context, niche refers to products, services, or interests that appeal to a small, specialized section of the population. And if you do a search for niche blogging, you’ll open a wormhole filled with people in every corner of the multiverse.
In science, an ecological niche has a deeper definition, which includes the role and position a species has in its environment, how it meets its needs for food and shelter, how it survives, and how it reproduces. An eco-niche includes all interactions with the biotic and abiotic factors of its environment.
Check out this helpful article, about niche analysis in a permaculture setting.
And this one, about having a niche for your permaculture business.
In the permaculture community, however, it’s very common to be a generalist and to have this “save the world” “save everybody” attitude. And while that’s sort of a beautiful notion, it’s not very attainable. It’s not measurable. When you try to do everything and help everybody at once, it’s very easy to dilute your work into a watered down, generalist approach, that might be inspiring and helpful on some levels, but is unlikely to bring in much in the way of specific rewards for you as an individual.
But if you can find your niche, as member of the permaculture community, and also as the creative and unique individual that you are, and bring forth ideas, products, and services that solve problems for a specific group of people, you can have a huge impact on their lives, bring in big rewards for yourself, and free up more time and resources for helping non-human species too!
The first step to finding your niche is to figure out what your goal is for needing one. Do you want to launch a freelance writing career? Create a permaculture education center? Dedicate your life to planting urban food forest? Why? And how do you know those goals are ecological and/or in line with what your community needs and wants? How do you know you won’t screw it up?
A thoughtful process now will help you avoid huge mistakes later, and this starts with establishing a couple of simple, concrete goals, and engaging in a thorough, inquiry-based, observation period.
Establishing Goals: make them S.M.A.R.T.E.R.
Brainstorm a list of goals, without censoring yourself. Don’t worry about anything other that what you want, in your heart.
Next, go through the list and look for the items that seem the most viable, and the most important. Narrow down to 2 or 3, then go through each one and rewrite it as a S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goal.
S.M.A.R.T.E.R. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (and Relevant), Time-bound, Ecological, and Rewarding.
- Specific: describe the details.
- Measurable: dates, numbers, sizes, limits.
- Achievable/Action-Oriented: this means you are willing and able to do the deeds needed.
- Relevant: needed and wanted by our community.
- Timebound: when will it begin, what will be the milestones, and when will it end?
- Ecological: our prime directive.
- Rewarding: because we need to obtain a yield, or the system doesn’t work.
You can create one year, three year, six year and even ten year goals. These can change over time and might even change as you go further into the design process and discover new data and possibilities.
If you get stumped, don’t worry–we’ll revisit these again tomorrow and the next day.
Observation: Reading the Landscape
Where are you, what do you have, what do you know, and what problems can you solve for others? These and other questions will help you to “read the landscape” of your life, community, and unique situation.
An inquiry-based observation process is the best way to start any design. This means you should think of as many questions as you can, and look for a diversity of ways to answer them. Knowledge is power, right?
See you tomorrow!
It’s unlikely you will do ALL of your observation before tomorrow’s class, but familiarize yourself with the materials and start thinking about this stuff. If you want general feedback from a wide diversity of people, please share your ideas in our discussion forum.