Social Forestry: Tending the Land as People of Place

by Tomi Hazel Vaarde, published 2023 by Synergetic Press

The Rewilding Podcast, April 2023: Peter Bauer interviews Hazel about Social Forestry.

Permaculture is a design science for creating regenerative landscapes. In rewilding, we often perceive it as a kind of technology based on ancient hunter-gatherer-horticultural subsistence strategies from around the world. While there are many valuable criticisms about permaculture (just as there are about rewilding), it is still one of the most effective tools for creating alternative subsistence strategies to the extractive ones that dominate our world today. To understand how far we’ve come, we need to listen to the elders of the movement and hear all they have endured and accomplished to get us where we are today. Hazel Varrde is one such elder for me, and the rewilding community.

How to Get the Book

Thank you to everyone who contributed and bought the book through the crowdfunding campaign. 400 books were sold, reaching 63% of our goal. The books were mailed out on April 17th.

Siskiyou Permaculture is not selling the book online. You can purchase it from us at any of our in-person events. Check the schedule in the right hand box. The list price is $29.95.

If you’re not able to connect with us in person, we recommend that you ask your independent bookstore to order it for you. The book is published by Synergetic Press which uses normal distribution channels. You should be able to get the book this way in most parts of the globe without additional shipping expenses. Additionally, this will draw attention to the book at your local store. Of course, you can also get it through the usual on-line vendors.


Permaculture Magazine Reviews
by Maddy Harland, PM editor and cofounder

Tomi Hazel Vaarde
456 page, 251 x 205mm, L21.99/$29.95

Forestry has become a system of industrial extraction. Even community forests tend not t be fully functional. Social Forestry is a term that denotes a weaving of indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK), traditional European knowledge (TEK), and an emergent connection with a sense of place. The outcome is the creation of ecological covenants, seasonal semi-nomadic work patterns and cultural support for a new/old way of being in relationship with our forests and landscapes. These are building blocks for forest regeneration. This is bioregional forest permaculture in all three dimensions of earth care, people care and limits to growth/future care.

I love this book! It is a manifesto of holistic, ethical living that places guardianship of the land first and the well-being of All Our Relations uppermost. It is a book of wisdom that firmly ensures we know our place and act with modesty and humility when working with the land.

At times, it reads like a rap poem, a book of revelation, an homage to the wisdom of the Indigenous who were displaced and eliminated by settlers. It is also a scholarly tome. It explores reconnection with forests through ecological knowldge, the use of hand tools and woodcrafts, forest shelters, traditional products, carbon sequestration, colonisation and emergent ecotopian cultures.

Social Forstry enables us to re-establish our heart space and wonder in the woods. I want to read every word of it slowly and absorb every nuance of the author’s wisdom and experience. It is a treasure.

How do we become ‘People of Place’?

by Christina Ammon
Applegate Connect, March 29, 2023

If forest restoration was an engineering problem Tomi Hazel Vaarde’s new book could’ve been titled, Three Ways to Heal the Land: Salmon, Beaver, Fire. It might have made for a breezier read. It also wouldn’t have been as fascinating—or honored the breadth and depth of the task. Instead, Hazel’s 512-page opus is titled Social Forestry: Tending the Land as People of Place (Synergetic Press). While the book does include plenty of practical advice, it does so in the context of something decidedly unstraightforward: Reconnecting people to place. This “rewilding” is at the heart of the Social Forestry idea.

At a time when it seems like the best thing we can do for nature is leave it alone, Hazel’s book urges the opposite. Human disturbances can be good—essential even–so long as they are ecologically appropriate, balanced, and reciprocal. A practice like well-timed coppicing (cutting) enhances biodiversity while supplying construction materials for baskets, fences and homes. Same goes for intentional burning: It produces charcoal and enriches the soil, while reducing the risk of catastrophic fire.

 “The forests, woodlands, prairies, brush fields, stream sides and ridgelines miss us,” Hazel writes.

 The book includes plenty of similar “small scale advice,” but ultimately Hazel cautions that Social Forestry does not translate well into tips. That’s the reason behind this trove of prose, posters and poems that draw on a lifetime of learning—first, as a Quaker child set loose in the woods near the Adirondacks, then as a student of forestry and botany, and later an environmental educator at colleges and institutes. The book is also a gathering of Indigenous wisdom gleaned from her world travels.

While re-wilding can’t be approached academically,” the hallmarks of good Social Forestry are that its site specific, collaborative, and responsive to the landscape’s feedback. Practically, this looks like people tending to their neighborhood drainage basins in accordance to the needs of the land.

“Let the land guide us,” she writes.

Listening to the Land

Hazel lives on an oak savannah woodland known as Wolf Gulch in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Each winter, students stay at Wolf Gulch for a week of Social Forestry experience. While there, they pursue a deeply local curriculum of forest bathing, trail-making, ceremonies, basket-weaving and, if the conditions are right, cool-burning. The activities are carried out with hand tools and informed by the needs of the land that Hazel has spent two decades observing. The goal is that the students leave with an expanded sense of connection with the woodlands, each other and themselves.

In her two decades observing the Applegate, Hazel has concluded that the return of beaver, salmon and fire are essential to restoring watershed health. She acknowledges that the urban-wildland interface of the valley has been “hammered” by decades of mining, logging, poor farming practices, but in certain ways it’s way ahead. This is thanks

to the Back-to-the-Landers who set up nonprofit networks—like the Southwest Oregon Herb Association– in the 70s. Also, the valley’s complex topography also has a protective effect. The small finicky nooks and valleys foil attempts at industrial-scaling. It’s a landscape better suited to hubs and cooperatives.

If extractive industries can’t be scaled easily in the valley—neither can solutions. Hazel participates in the Applegate Watershed Council, but feels even that is too broad an effort for the “wild mosaic of complexity” that defines the surrounding Siskiyou Mountains. Ideally, there would be dozens of councils, each tending to their own drainage basins as site specifically as possible. “This is a multi-generational project,” she writes.

Is Hazel optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

“Curious,” she says.

Regaining Fluency

If you are craving a bulleted treatise of solutions, Social Forestry: Tending the Land as People of Place isn’t it.  It is a circuitous read and is even prefaced by a section called “How to Read Hazel,’ written by Megan Fehrman. Referring to the author as a “trickster auntie”, she writes: “Reading Hazel is much like having a conversation with Hazel. A long, sometimes rambling, conversation that goes on for hours. Days. Years. But don’t worry, it all comes back around and begins to make sense.”

It does make sense. Afterall, traditional ecological knowledge has normally been passed down through riddles, songs, storytelling and chants. While these more indigenous mediums may frustrate our modern, narrative-driven minds, Hazel is confident that even the most displaced among us will catch on– it’s just a matter of regaining our lost fluency. So, if you’re reading the book and this Trickster Auntie seems to be getting lost in the narrative weeds, hang tight: She’s actually breaking trail.

Praise for Social Forestry


“Social Forestry by Tomi Hazel Vaarde is a book of hope. Hazel shows how our relationship with the Earth and her forests does not have to be an extractive on leading to destruction. Through cooperating together we can regenerate our forests and rewild ourselves and the land, growing hope as ecosystems recover while empires crumble.”
Vandana Shiva, PhD, author of Agroecology and Regnerative Agriculture: Susainable Solutions for Hunger, Poverty, and Climate Change

“Hazel’s new book is brilliant! And full of surprises. In these times of fear and isolation, their poetic trailblazing integrates deep ecology, the ethics of First-Nation cultures, small-is-beautiful bioregionalism, and ‘mythic memory’ to advocate the repair of the planet and forests, while rewilding our own damaged psyches.”
Chellis Glendinning, PhD, author of My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization

“Step into this manzanita-burning charcoal dirigible for the wildest ride you can imagine through Gaelic seasonal rhythms, Quaker ethics, medieval guild practice, permaculture insights, and deep-rooted tree goddess wisdom. Tomi Hazel will teach you how to manage towering bonfires, abundant gardens, forest gifts, feral decorating, land assessment, and communal love dynamics with a healthy serving of improv poetry and insight from days long ago.  A true archetypal elder, Tomi Hazel validates your internal clock and doses out the medicine for your soul, your land, and your people. Do not miss your chance to experience this inimitable voice, guiding us toward a renewable, regenerative future.”
Jessica Carew Kraft, author of Why We need to Be Wild

“Embracing past and present with a timeless eye on the future, the author weaves their life story into the story of chosen place, the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon, walking with wisdom between the settler and Indigenous worlds that have shaped it. . .Grounded in the material realities of land, people, and community to an uncommon degree, the author points ceaselessly toward the spirit in all things. For scholars of change, the bibliography alone is worth the price of admission. To find such a guide and visionary elder in the way of holistic thinking is a gift beyond measure.”
– Peter Bane,
author of The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country and Executive Director of Permaculture Institute of North America


“Hazel is one of few elders in the rewilding community. Their visionary approach to integrating humans back into the land has inspired thousands of people and given us hope for a transition to a vibrant, regenerative future. This book is the priceless culmination of their experiences, knowledge, stories, and passion gained and given throughout their lifetime. It will provide inspiration, insight, and direction for decades to come, right when we’ll need it most.”
Peter Michael Bauer, host of the Rewilding Podcast

“Inside this luminous guide, you will find practical placemaking advice, ancient lore, and a humor that shimmers. Receive these generous offerings–a lifetime of wisdom from an elder, a teacher of permaculture, and a radical changemaker like no other–and you will be transformed. Together we listen to the earth, we understand where we belong, and we find our way home again.”
Helena Norberg-Hodge, Director of Local Futures and author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh

With Social Forestry: Tending the Land as People of Place, Hazel takes us into what may seem to most of us to be an alternative universe, a world in which humans live as an integral part of a healthy ecosystem. It can serve well as a handbook for living in and with a forest, but it’s much, much more. It offers, for most of us, the rarest of chances to step out of our doomed industrial culture for a few hours and learn what it would be like to live as a species that could thrive on into the indefinite future without degrading the ecosphere to the point of collapse.”
Stan Cos, author of The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic

“It is clear that Hazel has developed a deep understanding–a knowledge, wisdom, and power–of how humans can be an integral part of the solution as we seek to bring about habitat restoration. Hazel stands in the new ‘front line’ in the battle to engage people with place, and Social Forestry will, I am sure, become a key text in the emerging literature on the theme. If we are to heal our relationship with our forests and woodlands, we would do well to dive deep into the writing of Hazel Vaarde.”
Alexander Langlands BA MA PhD PGCert FHEA FSA, Senior Lecturer Uwch Ddarlithydd, History/Heritage – Hanes/ Treftadaeth