David Holmgren, Co-Founder of Permaculture Theory

The word permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and myself in the mid-1970′s to describe an integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man[i].

A more current definition of permaculture, which reflects the expansion of focus implicit in Permaculture One, is ‘Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.

The design system

For many people, myself included, the above conception of permaculture is so global in its scope that its usefulness is reduced. More precisely, I see permaculture as the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organising framework for implementing the above vision. It draws together the diverse ideas, skills and ways of living which need to be rediscovered and developed in order to empower us to provide for our needs, while increasing the natural capital for future generations.

In this more limited but important sense, permaculture is not the landscape, or even the skills of organic gardening, sustainable farming, energy efficient building or eco-village development as such, but it can be used to design, establish, manage and improve these and all other efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future. The Permaculture Design System Flower shows the key domains that require transformation to create a sustainable culture. Historically, permaculture has focused on Land and Nature Stewardship as both a source for, and an application of, ethical and design principles. Those principles are now being applied to other domains dealing with physical and energetic resources, as well as human organization (often called invisible structures in permaculture teaching). Some of the specific fields, design systems and solutions that have been associated with this wider view of permaculture (at least in Australia) are shown around the periphery of the flower. The spiral evolutionary path beginning with ethics and principles suggests knitting together of these domains, initially at the personal and the local level, and then proceeding to the collective and global level. The spidery nature of that spiral suggests the uncertain and variable nature of that process of integration.

The network

Permaculture is also a network of individuals and groups spreading permaculture design solutions in both rich and poor countries on all continents. Largely unrecognised in academia, and unsupported by government or business, permaculture activists are contributing to a more sustainable future by reorganising their lives and work around permaculture design principles. In this way they are creating small local changes, but ones that are directly and indirectly influencing action in the fields of sustainable development, organic agriculture, appropriate technology and intentional community design.

The Permaculture Design Course

Most of the people involved in this network have completed a Permaculture Design Course (PDC), which for over 20 years has been the prime vehicle for permaculture inspiration and training worldwide. The inspiration aspect of the PDC has acted as a social glue bonding participants to an extent that the world-wide network could be described as a social movement. A curriculum was codified in 1984, but divergent evolution of both the form and content of these courses, as presented by different permaculture teachers, has produced very varied and localised experiences and understandings of permaculture.

Impediments to the Spread of Permaculture

There are many reasons why ecological development solutions that reflect permaculture design principles have not had a greater impact over the last few decades. Some of those reasons are:

  • Prevailing scientific culture of reductionism that is cautious, if not hostile, to holistic methods of inquiry.

  • The dominant culture of consumerism, driven by dysfunctional economic measures of well-being and progress.

  • Political, economic and social elites (both global and local) which stand to lose influence and power through the adoption of local autonomy and self-reliance.

  • These and related impediments express themselves differently in different societies and contexts.

For the five billion or so majority for whom the cost of basic needs is high relative to real income, the opportunities to maintain or redevelop more self-reliant means of providing for needs are extremely limited. The depletion of local natural resources by population pressure, innovation in resource extraction technology, ethnic and migratory conflict, as well as government and corporate exploitation, have all reduced the productivity and viability of old co-evolved sustainable systems. At the same time, growth in the monetary economy has provided more opportunities for farm and factory labour, thereby increasing measured income, but failing to take account of declining well-being. The lure of opportunities in the rapidly growing cities has been like the dangled carrot , enticing country folk to move to the city. This process follows a model as old as Charles Dickens’ character Dick Wittington, who believed the streets of early 19th century London were paved with gold. At the same time, government provision of health, education, and other services have all been slashed by IMF and World Bank imposed structural adjustment. This failed system of economic and social development is extraordinary in its ubiquity and repetition.

The same system of power that extracts and exploits the less powerful, soothes the billion or so middle-class people, mostly in the North, into complacency with low, and even falling costs relative to average incomes, of food, water, energy and other essential derived goods. This failure of global markets to transmit signals about resource depletion and environmental degradation has insulated consumers against the need for developing more self-reliant lifestyles, and disabled the drive for public policies which might assist these necessary adaptations. The flood of new and cheap consumer goods has stimulated consumption to a point of super-saturation, while at the same time measures of social capital and wellbeing continue to fall from peaks in the 1970′s.

The craven acceptance of economic growth at all costs, and the powerful established corporate and government interests, which stand to lose power from such a transition, makes clear the radical political nature of the permaculture agenda.

Focus on opportunities rather than obstacles

While permaculture activists are acutely aware of these impediments to what they do, permaculture strategies focus on the opportunities rather than the obstacles. In the context of helping the transition from ignorant consumption to responsible production, permaculture builds on the persistence of both a culture of self-reliance, community values, and the retention of a range of skills, both conceptual and practical, despite the ravages of affluence. The identification of these invisible resources is as important in any permaculture project as the evaluation of biophysical and material resources.

While sustainable “production” (of food and other resources) remains the prime objective of permaculture strategies, it can be argued that permaculture has been more effective at pioneering what has come to be called “sustainable consumption”. Rather than weak strategies to encourage green consumer purchasing, permaculture addresses the issues by reintegrating and contracting the production/consumption cycle around the focal point of the active individual nested within a household and a local community.

Although permaculture is a conceptual framework for sustainable development that has its roots in ecological science and systems thinking, its grassroots spread within many different cultures and contexts show its potential to contribute to the evolution of a popular culture of sustainability, through adoption of very practical and empowering solutions.

Fundamental Assumptions

Permaculture is founded on some fundamental assumptions that are critical to both understanding and evaluating it. The assumptions on which permaculture was originally based were implied in Permaculture One, and are worth repeating:

Humans, although unusual within the natural world, are subject to the same scientific (energy) laws that govern the material universe, including the evolution of life.

“ The tapping of fossil fuels during the industrial era was seen as the primary cause of the spectacular explosion in human numbers, technology and every other novel feature of modern society.The environmental crisis is real and of a magnitude that will certainly transform modern global industrial society beyond recognition. In the process, the well-being and even survival of the world’s expanding population is directly threatened.

The ongoing and future impacts of global industrial society and human numbers on the world’s wondrous biodiversity are assumed to be far greater than the massive changes of the last few hundred years.

Despite the inevitably unique nature of future realities, the depletion of fossil fuels within a few generations will see a gradual return of system design principles observable in nature and pre-industrial societies, and which are dependent on renewable energy and resources (even if the specific forms of those systems will reflect unique and local circumstances).

Thus permaculture is based on an assumption of progressively reducing energy and resource consumption, and an inevitable reduction in human numbers. I call this the “energy descent future” to emphasise the primacy of energy in human destiny, and the least negative but clear description of what some might call “decline”, “contraction,” “decay” or “dieoff”. This energy descent future can be visualised as the gentle descent after an exhilarating balloon flight that returns us to the Earth, our home. Of course that earth has been transformed by humanity’s “energy ascent”, making the future as challenging and as novel as any period in history. In openly accepting such a future as inevitable we have a choice between fearful acquisitiveness, cavalier disregard or creative adaption.

The conceptual underpinning of these assumptions arises from many sources, but I recognise a clear and special debt to the published work of American ecologist Howard Odum[ii]. The ongoing influence of Odum’s work on the evolution of my own ideas is made explicit in the dedication and extensive references to Odum in Permaculture, Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, as well as articles in David Holmgren: Collected Writings 1978–2000[iii].

Among the recently published works on fossil energy peak and consequent descent, Richard Heinberg’s wonderfully titled book, The Party’s Over[iv], probably provides the best overview of the evidence and issues, with appropriate acknowledgement to Campbell, Leherrere and other retired and independent petroleum geologists who, in the mid 1990′s exposed the real facts about the world’s fossil fuel reserves, and the critical nature of peak as opposed to ultimate production of oil and gas.

Permaculture Principles

The value and use of principles

The idea behind permaculture principles is that generalised principles can be derived from the study of both the natural world and pre-industrial sustainable societies, and that these will be universally applicable to fast-track the development of sustainable use of land and resources, whether that be in a context of ecological and material abundance or one of deprivation.

The process of providing for people’s needs within ecological limits requires a cultural revolution. Inevitably such a revolution is fraught with many confusions, false leads, risks and inefficiencies. We appear to have little time to achieve this revolution. In this historical context, the idea of a simple set of guiding principles that have wide, even universal application is attractive.

Permaculture principles are brief statements or slogans that can be remembered as a checklist when considering the inevitably complex options for design and evolution of ecological support systems. These principles are seen as universal, although the methods that express them will vary greatly according to place and situation. These principles are also applicable to our personal, economic, social and political reorganisation, as illustrated in the Permaculture Flower, although the range of strategies and techniques which reflect the principle in each domain is still evolving.

These principles can be divided into ethical principles and design principles.

Ethical Principles of Permaculture

Ethics act as constraints on survival instincts and the other personal and social constructs of self-interest that tend to drive human behaviour in any society. They are culturally evolved mechanisms for more enlightened self-interest, a more inclusive view of who and what constitutes “us”, and a longer-term understanding of good and bad outcomes.

The greater the power of human civilisation (due to energy availability), and the greater the concentration and scale of power within society, the more critical ethics become in ensuring long-term cultural and even biological survival. This ecologically functional view of ethics makes them central in the development of a culture for energy descent.

Like design principles, ethical principles were not explicitly listed in early permaculture literature. Since the development of the Permaculture Design Course, ethics have generally been covered by three broad maxims or principles:

Care for the earth (husband soil, forests and water)

Care for people (look after self, kin and community)

Fair share (set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus).

These principles were distilled from research into community ethics, as adopted by older religious cultures and modern cooperative groups. The third principle, and even the second, can be seen as derived from the first.

The ethical principles have been taught and used as simple and relatively unquestioned ethical foundations for permaculture design within the movement and within the wider “global nation” of like-minded people. More broadly, these principles can be seen as common to all traditional cultures of place, although their conception of “people” may have been more limited than the notion that has emerged in the last two millennia[v].

This focus in permaculture on learning from indigenous, tribal and cultures of place is based on the evidence that these cultures have existed in relative balance with their environment, and survived for longer than any of our more recent experiments in civilisation.

Of course, in our attempt to live an ethical life, we should not ignore the teachings of the great spiritual and philosophical traditions of literate civilisations, or the great thinkers of the scientific enlightenment and since. But in the long transition to a sustainable low-energy culture we need to consider, and attempt to understand, a broader canvas of values and concepts than those delivered to us by recent cultural history[vi].

Design principles

The scientific foundation for permaculture design principles lies generally within the modern science of ecology, and more particularly within the branch of ecology called ‘systems ecology’. Other intellectual disciplines, most particularly landscape geography and ethno-biology, have contributed concepts that have been adapted to design principles.

Fundamentally, permaculture design principles arise from a way of perceiving the world that is often described as ‘systems thinking’ and ‘design thinking’ (See Principle 1: Observe and interact).

Other examples of systems and design thinking include:

The Whole Earth Review, and its better-known offshoot the Whole Earth Catalogue, edited by Stewart Brand, did much to publicise systems and design thinking as a central tool in the cultural revolution to which permaculture is a contribution.

The widely known and applied ideas of Edward De Bono[vii] fall under the broad rubric of systems and design thinking.

As the academic discipline of cybernetics[viii], systems thinking has been an esoteric and difficult subject, closely associated with the emergence of computing and communication networks and many other technological applications.

Apart from the ecological energetics of Howard Odum, the influence of systems thinking in my development of permaculture and its design principles has not come through extensive study of the literature, but more through an osmotic absorption of ideas in the cultural ether which strike a chord with my own experience in permaculture design. Further, I believe many of the abstract insights of systems thinking have more easily understood parrallels in the stories and myths of indigenous cultures, and to a lesser extent in the knowledge of all people still connected to land and nature.

Permaculture principles, both ethical and design, may be observed operating all around us. I argue that their absence, or apparent contradiction by modern industrial culture, does not invalidate their universal relevance to the descent into a low-energy future.

While reference to a toolkit of strategies, techniques and examples is the way most people will relate to and make use of permaculture, these are specific to the scale of systems involved, the cultural and ecological context, and the repertoire of skills and experience of those involved. If principles are to provide guidance in choosing and developing the useful applications, then they need to embody more general systems design concepts, while being in language that is accessible to ordinary people and resonates with more traditional sources of wisdom and common sense.

I organise the diversity of permaculture thinking under 12 design principles. My set of design principles varies significantly from those used by most other permaculture teachers. Some of this is simply a matter of emphasis and organisation; in a few cases it may indicate difference of substance. This is not surprising, given the new and still emerging nature of permaculture.

The format of each design principle is a positive action statement with an associated icon, which acts as a graphical reminder and encoding some fundamental aspect or example of the principle. Associated with each principle is a traditional proverb that emphasises the negative or cautionary aspect of the principle.

Each principle can be thought of as a door into the labyrinth of systems thinking. Any example used to illustrate one principle will also embody others, so the principles are simply thinking tools to assist us in identifying, designing and evolving design solutions.

The 12 Permaculture Principles

  1. Observe & Interact
  2. Catch & Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-regulation & Accept Feedback
  5. Use & Value Renewable Resources and Services
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
  10. Use and Value Diversity
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change


Sustainable development to provide for human needs, within ecological limits, requires a cultural revolution greater than any of the tumultuous changes of the last century. Permaculture design and action over the last quarter century, has shown that revolution to be complex and multi-facited. While we continue to grapple with the lessons of past successes and failures, the emerging energy descent world will adopt many permaculture strategies and techniques as natural and obvious ways to live within ecological limits, once real wealth declines.

On the other hand, energy descent will demand real-time response to novel situations and incremental adaption of existing inappropriate systems, as well as the best of creative innovation applied to the most ordinary and small design problems. All this needs to be done without the big budgets and cudos associated with current industrial design innovation.

Permaculture design principles can never be a substitute for relevant practical experience and technical knowledge. However, they may provide a framework for continuous generation and evaluation of the site and situation specific solutions necessary to move beyond the limited successes of sustainable development to a reunion of culture and nature.


B. Mollison, & D. Holmgren, Permaculture One, Corgi 1978 and since published in 5 languages (now out of print).

H.T. Odum, Environment, Power & Society, John Wiley 1971 was a book which influenced many key environmental thinkers in the 1970s and was the first listed reference in Permaculture One. Odum’s prodigious published output over the three decades since, as well as the work of his students and colleagues, has continued to inform my work.

David Holmgren: Collected Writings 1978–2000, (e-book) Holmgren Design Services 2002. Article 10 The Development of The Permaculture Concept and Article 22 Energy and EMERGY: Revaluing Our World are especially relevant in explaining the influence of Howard Odum’s work on permaculture. For a recent evaluation and comparison of Odum’s Emergy concept to other sustainability tools see Ecosystem Properties and Principles of Living Systems As Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture: Critical reviews of environmental assessment tools, key findings and questions from a course process by Steven Doherty and Torbjrn Rydberg (editors) Jan 2002.

Richard Heinberg The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies New Society Publishers 2003.

For an exploration of the evolutionary limitations of tribalism in the modern world see Article 26 Tribal Conflict: Proven Pattern, Dysfunctional Inheritance in David Holmgren: Collected Writings 1978–2000.

For a current articulation of the value of indigenous culture and value in a eco-spiritual response to energy descent see Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: Waking up to personsal and global transformation by Thom Hartmann 1999 Harmony Books.

Best known for coining the term “lateral thinking”.

Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics: Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, 1948, is the foundation text. John Gall, General Systematics, Harper & Row 1977, provides an accessible and useful guide for permaculture designers. Back to Top

See F. H. King, Farmers of Forty Centuries for a description of Chinese agriculture at the turn of the 20th century as an example of a sustainable society dependent on maximum use of human labour.

This is a rephrasing of Lotka’s Maximum Power Principle. Howard Odum has suggested the Maximum Power Principle (or at least his EMERGY-based version of it) should be recognised as the fourth Energy Law.

The return of part of an output of a circuit to the input in a way that affects its performance.

See J. Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look At Life, Oxford University Press 1979.

B. Mollison, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, Tagari 1988.

B. Mollison, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, Tagari 1988.

Charles Darwin’s emphasis on competitive and predatory relationships in driving evolution was based on some excellent observations of wild nature, but he was also influenced by his observations of the society around him. Early industrial England was a rapidly changing society tapping new energy sources. Predatory and competitive economic relationships were overturning previous social norms and conventions. The social Darwinists used Darwin’s work to explain and justify industrial capitalism and the free market. Peter Kropotkin was one of the first ecological critics of the social Darwinists. He provided extensive evidence from both nature and human history that co-operative and symbiotic relationships were at least as important as competition and predation. Kropotkin’s work had a strong influence on my early thinking in developing the permaculture concept. See P. Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, 1902.

See E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered. 1973

Polyculture is the cultivation of many plant and/or animal species and varieties within an integrated system.

Wikipedia Essay on David Holmgren, Co-Founder of Permaculture Theory

David Holmgren (born 1955) is an ecologist, ecological design engineer and writer. He is perhaps most well known as co-originator of the permaculture concept with Bill Mollison. David Holmgren is a controversial figure. Through the spread of permaculture around the world, his environmental theory has exerted a global influence.

Biographical details and Permaculture One

Holmgren was born in Western Australia. He studied at the College of Advanced Education in Hobart, Tasmania, where in 1972 he met Bill Mollison, who was then a lecturer at the University of Tasmania. The two found they shared a strong interest in the relationship between human and natural systems. Their wide-ranging conversations and gardening experiences encouraged Holmgren to write the manuscript that was to be published in 1978 as Permaculture One.

‘I wrote the manuscript, which was based partly on our constant discussions and on our practical working together in the garden and on our visits to other sites in Tasmania… I used this manuscript as my primary reference for my thesis, which I submitted and was passed in 1976.’ (Mulligan and Hill, 2001:203)

The book was a mixture of insights relating to agriculture, landscape architecture and ecology. The relationships between these disciplines were elaborated into a novel design system termed permaculture. Although the title clearly owes something to Russell Smith’s Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture (1977), Holmgren’s chief theoretical inspiration was the energy dynamics of American ecologistHoward T. Odum (Environment, Power and Society, 1971). The same book was promoted by David M. Scienceman as a platform for a scientific political party.

According to Holmgren,

‘The word permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and myself in the mid-1970s to describe an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man”. A more current definition of permaculture, which reflects the expansion of focus implicit in Permaculture One, is “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs”. People, their buildings and the ways they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent (sustainable) agriculture has evolved into one of permanent (sustainable) culture.’ (Holmgren, 2002a: xix)

Permaculture One was far more successful than anticipated, as it seemed to meet a need of the emerging environmentalist counterculture looking for something positive and substantial to align with. It was published in five languages, but is now out of print and of mainly historical value, having been superseded and refined in later works.

While Bill Mollison travelled the world teaching and promoting permaculture, Holmgren was more circumspect about the potential of permaculture to live up to the promises sometimes made about it. He concentrated his efforts on testing and refining his brainchild, first on his mother’s property in southern New South Wales (Permaculture in the Bush, 1985; 1993), then at his own property in central Victoria, Australia, which he developed with his partner, Su Dennett (Melliodora, Hepburn Permaculture Gardens - Ten Years of Sustainable Living, 1996a; Payne, 2003).

Starting in 1993, Holmgren has taught permaculture design courses at his Hepburn home, and has also acted through his company Holmgren Design Services as consultant for a large number of projects, examples of which can be found in the report Trees on Treeless Plains: Revegetation Manual for the Volcanic Landscapes of Central Victoria (1994).

A recent major project has been the Fryers Forest eco-village, which aims to create a model of sustainable housing and financially viable sustainable forest management, on a site near Castlemaine, Victoria (Holmgren, 1996b).

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability

The publication in December 2002 of a new major work on permaculture, saw a deeper and more accessible systematization of the principles of permaculture refined by Holmgren over more than 25 years of practice. The book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability (2002a), is dedicated to Howard T. Odum, who died two months before its publication, and it owes much to Odum’s vision of a world in energy transition (Odum and Odum, 2001).

‘Principles and Pathways ‘ offers twelve key permaculture design principles, each explained in separate chapters. This fills a conceptual gap that has been evident from permaculture’s inception. It is likely to be seen as a major landmark in the permaculture literature, especially as the seminal work, Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual (1988) was published fifteen years previously and has never been revised.

Holmgren has had a long-standing interest in the use of non-native ‘invasive’ plants, for food and fibre, but more controversially for ecological restoration and ‘ecosynthesis’. This interest in recombinant ecosystems or ‘weedscapes’ is partly inspired by a 1979 visit to New Zealand and interactions with New Zealand ecologist Haikai Tane (1995).

Holmgren’s refusal to toe the majority line on introduced and invasive species has led to some ill-informed criticism of permaculture in a debate which is very much alive in the Australian environmental movement (Low, 1998; Grayson, 2003). His recent comments on the value of willow (Salix albaXfragilis) in a Victorian stream corridor for beneficial sediment and phosphorus capture can be construed as ‘heretical’ in relation to official policy. Holmgren goes so far as to comment, ‘The science of ecology provided the overwhelming evidence that everything is connected, so it is a great irony that conservation biology is now dominated by an orthodoxy that is blind to ecosynthesis as nature’s way of weaving a new tapestry of life.’ (2002a: 265) Holmgren has been developing these and other ideas into a new book, provisionally entitled ‘Weeds or Wild Nature?’.

[edit] The Acid Test

Holmgren’s development of a rural settlement is perhaps his most significant design and test of his Permaculture principles. The settlement, known as the Fryer’s Forest Ecovillage, is near Castlemaine, in Central Victoria, Australia. Central features of the village design are, the integration of domestic forestry with selective thinning for fire-safety (The harvested wood provides and energy for domestic wood stoves), and the integration of the Keyline Design system of water storage and transfer with the Village road network and residential home site location. The water keyline storage system is perhaps the most outstanding feature. This is because water was the main design instrument for the regeneration of a landscape degraded by over 50 years of gold mining.

Despite the reputation of permaculture for providing sustainable solutions, there is currently no data available on the sustainability of the Fryers Forest settlement. However, given the significance of water availability to the overall design, water levels may be one indicator of the success of the project. Due to an extremely long drought, the water levels are now very low. The extent of the drought may not have been possible to anticipate or design for, however this in itself may demonstrate a limitation of small scale designs.

[edit] Bibliography

Holmgren, David (1985; 2nd edn 1993) Permaculture in the Bush. Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

(1994) Trees on the Treeless Plains: Revegetation Manual for Volcanic Landscapes of Central Victoria. Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

(1995) ‘The Permaculture Movement and Education’ in Goldfields Permaculture and Landcarers, 3, 14–16.

(1996a) Melliodora (Hepburn Permaculture Gardens): Ten Years of Sustainable Living. Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

(1996b) ‘Fryers Forest Village’. In Green Connections, 2.2, 20–21.

(1997) ‘Getting Started’. In Green Connections, 10, 28–31.

(2002a) Permaculture. Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

(2002b) David Holmgren: Collected Writings 1978–2000.[CD] Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

(2005) Mellidora (Hepburn Permaculture Gardens): A Case Study in Cool Climate Permaculture 1985 - 2005 [eBook] Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

(2006a) Trees on the Treeless Plains: Revegetation Manual for Volcanic Landscapes of Central Victoria. [eBook] Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

(2006b) David Holmgren: Collected Writtings & Presentations 1978 - 2006 [eBook] Hepburn, Victoria: Holmgren Design Services.

Mollison, Bill and David Holmgren (1978) Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements. Melbourne: Transworld.

[edit] References

Grayson, Russ (2003) ‘Permaculture an agent of bio-invasion?’. The Planet. The journal of Permaculture International Limited, 6 (Autumn), 10–11.

Low, Tim (1998) Feral Future. Melbourne: Viking Australia.

Mollison, Bill (1988) Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Tyalgum, NSW: Tagari Publishing.

Mulligan, Martin and Stuart Hill (2001) Ecological Pioneers. A Social History of Australian Thought and Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 202–207.

Odum, H.T. (1971) Environment, Power and Society. New York: John Wiley.

Odum, H.T. and E.C. Odum (2001) A Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies. New York: John Wiley.

Payne, Steve (2003) ‘The Good House Effect’. The Organic Gardener. Autumn. Ultimo, NSW: ABC Enterprises, 30–34.

Smith, Russell (1977) Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. Old Greenwich, MA: Devlin-Adair.

Tane, Hakai (1995)Ecography. Mapping and Modelling Landscape Ecosystems. Canberra: The Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

[edit] Further resources

Holmgren Design Services 16 Fourteenth Street Hepburn, Victoria 3461 Australia

    * http://www.holmgren.com.au
    * Peak Oil and Permaculture: David Holmgren on Energy Descent
    * David Holmgren speaks with GPM’s Julian Darley
    * Retrofitting the Suburbs for Sustainability

Interview w. South Wales Permaculturist Robyn Francis

Kelpie Wilson is Truthouts environment editor. Trained as a mechanical engineer, she embarked on a career as a forest protection activist, then returned to engineering as a technical writer for the solar power industry. She is the author of Primal Tears, an eco-thriller about a hybrid human-bonobo girl. Greg Bear, author of Darwins Radio, says: Primal Tears is primal storytelling, thoughtful and passionate. Kelpie Wilson wonderfully expands our definitions of human and family.

Preparing for PermacultureBy Kelpie Wilson
An interview with permaculture expert Robyn Francis in New South Wales, Australia.

t r u t h o u t | Environmental Editoe Monday 02 July

While in Australia for the International Agrichar Initiative conference in April, I got a chance to visit Djanbung Gardens, a farm and learning center founded by permaculture expert Robyn Francis in the alternative community of Nimbin, New South Wales. After a wonderful hour touring the garden with students from Canada, South Africa and France, I sat down with Robyn for a chat about permaculture and the future of Australias and the worlds agricultural systems.

KW: Robyn, please tell me - what got you interested in permaculture?

RF: In the early 1970s, I was part of the whole counterculture movement and not very happy with the way society was going. I traveled overseas for five years and saw a lot of things good and a lot of things wrong, and one of the things I found that really fascinated me in my travels was the sustainable traditional systems of farming and village culture. Then I lived in Europe, in southern Germany, in a small farming hamlet, for three and a half years, just out of Munich, where I got to see the traditional European farming systems. There were still old farmers who were doing their crop rotations, and the only input to the farm was diesel fuel to put into the tractor and the Mercedes Benz. It was all mixed cropping, and they had their cows and their pigs, and they would use the manures and compost them and put them out in the fields. These types of farms would have a little forest that was managed over 200-year rotations, from generation to generation, and it was just such a stark contrast to the mono-thinking, monoculture, broad-acre agriculture that I grew up with here in Australia.

KW: How did we end up abandoning those kinds of systems?

RF: Post WWII; thats when society went on the most incredibly manic fossil-fuel binge. From the end of the Second World War you can track this corporatization of Western culture and commoditization of land. And all the chemical weapons that they created for war, well, those chemicals then went into chemical-based agriculture, so they could continue manufacturing and have a new market. We really see those major changes in agricultural systems occurring then.

KW: It hasnt been that long, really, has it?

RF: It hasnt, and I think places that didnt have really strong traditions, like Australia and the US, were just the perfect breeding ground for this kind of phenomenon to take off, whereas in Europe, people were a lot more grounded in their long-term traditions. There have been big changes since I lived there. I felt particularly blessed to be living there at the tail end of that old generation. I went back ten years later, and the landscape had changed. The sons who had gone to agricultural college and had done their agribiz science had come back, and all these patchwork rotational fields were turned into monocultures for feedlot cattle. So, yeah, its amazing how things can change in a generation, and what we need is a very big generational change right now. Basically going back, with more intelligence, into the future.

KW: Well, isnt that what youre doing with the students you have here? I just asked them when we were walking around, Do you think more people are going to be farmers in the future? They looked at me and simply said, Yes.

RF: You have to look at the phenomenon of Cuba. What an amazing example that is of a country that just suddenly had its fossil fuels, its fertilizers - all of those taps - turned off, including its market for its exports, when the USSR collapsed. I dont know if youve seen the video Power of Community. It shows how now the farmers are the most revered and respected people in the community. They are the ones who have the most money.

KW: Does that amaze you?

RF: It is how it should be, because it is a struggle in every society. Ive worked a lot in the Third World too, where this global cutthroat market is pitting country against country to get stuff cheap. And the people who are missing out are the farmers. Theyre getting screwed with their prices right across the board; farmers just cant make ends meet operating a farm, be it Third World or First World. The First-World farmers have got to compete with Third-World farmers in terms of wages and try to deliver a crop at similar cost, so farmings not worth anything, anywhere. In the Third World, you dont see young people working on the farms. Its the old people out in the fields, and theyre dying off. None of them are encouraging their kids to become farmers, because it doesnt pay. You cant survive as a farmer because prices are so suppressed. David Suzuki, for years, has been saying that were only paying 20 percent of the true cost of our food. There are all these hidden subsidies.

KW: Remember, it used to be that, in the US anyway, people expected to spend about 25 percent of their income on food, and 25 percent on housing, and 50 percent for everything else, and now its more like about 50 percent for housing and maybe 10 percent on food.

RF: You know, oil has now hit peak. This is not going to last. Weve been talking about global warming since the early 80s and sustainability for longer than that. And we havent just been talking about it. Thats what I like about permaculture - permaculture has actually been doing it, and it has grown rapidly, and mainly through training, empowering people through education. That has been at the heart of permacultures success, training people to be trainers. I dont know how many hundreds of thousands of trained permaculturists there are around the planet. Its being practiced in 80, maybe, even over 100 different countries around the world.

KW: Could you just give me a quick definition of permaculture?

RF: Well, the word itself means permanent culture, and its really a holistic or interdisciplinary or metadisciplinary approach to how we sustain our environment. It looks at how human beings can provide their needs while treading lightly on the earth, how we can do it by still respecting the life around us and the life-supporting systems on this planet, and, as such, its got to embrace all aspects of our society and how we meet our needs. Food, of course, is a primary need. You dont live long without food, and then when we look at the history of food production, we find that traditionally, agriculture has been one of the most destructive enterprises. It has desertified [and] salinated more land, destroyed more forests, and polluted more landscapes than any other human enterprise. There are estimates that 70 percent of CO 2? emissions into the atmosphere are actually caused through food production, because its not just the farmer growing the food, its all the inputs into that. Its all those big corporations. Its all the energy used for making these soluble fertilizers that are killing the soil microflora and breaking down the structure of carbon in the soil. Allen Youngs book, Priority One, says that if we increased the organic matter in soil by 1.6 percent in all our cropping lands, we would sequester all the excess CO 2? in the atmosphere.

KW: Weve been hearing a lot about global warming, the drying of Australia and losing the irrigation water from the major river system in the country - the Murray-Darling. Whos going to feed Australia in the future? How will you put bread on the table?

RF: In most bioregions, it actually takes very little land to produce grain to feed people. Probably 90 percent of the grain thats grown in Australia is for international trade. And its only a small amount that we actually need locally, so if those precious resources are put into providing our need - if we focus on import replacement instead of international marketing - you know, exporting rice to Thailand and importing rice back

KW: Economic theory calls that comparative advantage. Its actually kind of nuts isnt it?

RF: Yes it is. Trucking coals to Newcastle and back again, just to generate a profit. We have to stop and look at self-reliance on the national as well as the local level. Its got to work all the way through, and theres just got to be a huge contraction. Theres got to be very large areas that are allowed to go back to some kind of very, very hardy vegetation, and some of these areas that have been growing annual grains will be much better off going into, say, bush-food production. Acacia tree, what we call wattle, produces high yields of a good quality grain that can be used for bread. It can be roasted as a coffee substitute. It is things like this that can cope with that low rainfall. We also wont need all that fossil fuel for plowing, and harvesters and so on. Weve just got to design different types of harvesting systems to harvest the seeds of things like this.

KW: Are those ideas coming up, bubbling up to the top of government at this time?

RF: Not yet. But I think things like this are going to trigger that shift to where we start to look at native crops and things that can cope with no irrigation and look very carefully at what irrigation we do use and how we use the resources that we do have. Theres going to be a shift on all levels of society.

KW: There just is. Theres no way around it.

RF: Yes. Exactly.

KW: I want to ask you one more question, but I think

(A man walks up to us here)

Man: Weve got a calf in the garden. Anyway, answer the question, and then.

RF: In the garden? In the actual vegetable garden?

Man: No.

RF: Oh, okay.

KW: Do you need to go?

RF: Thats alright.

KW: The neighbors cow

RF: He probably came through from the eco-village land. Theres a gate thats on the corner down there. One of these guys should know where it is. Anyway, itll still be there in five minutes. Last question.

KW: The perils of being on a farm - calves on the loose! Well, I wanted to ask you about biochar, the Amazonian black earth, and what kind of potential you think that has. Do you think it has a great potential here in this part of the country for revitalizing soils? You were talking earlier about getting carbon back into soils, and I see a lot of interest in this idea.

RF: I think its a multi-pronged approach that we need to take, and no one system is going to be the ultimate solution, because every system we use will have a cost in terms of where were getting resources. So, I think its a matter of looking strategically at the individual soil types and production systems. What is actually wrong with the soil? What does it need? For some soils and some situations, things like black soil charcoal may be the answer. For other situations, it may be a matter of just getting the beneficial organisms back with the right kind of bacteria-based or fungal-based compost teas. In other situations, biodynamic preparations may be the best tool. In many ways, I really like these, sort of, homeopathic approaches, because they dont require huge resources to revitalize the land. KW: So, you like the compost teas and things like that?
RF: Yes, and the results are pretty amazing. KW: So when you bring the health back to the soil, does that automatically start the process of incorporating carbon into it then?
RF: Yes. Once youve got the soil biota working, you are healing the land and the organic matter in the soil can hold together and not break apart. And, of course, that needs to be combined with cover crops and returning crop residues and so on back to the soil and building up the organic matter. You dont just put compost tea on and .. KW: Walk away
RF: Right. Its got to be a fully strategic approach. Every farm needs a redesign, because you have to integrate the tree crops in with it, and the wildlife areas need to be restored. You have the windbreaks and the hedgerows and so on that need to be restored. There are the water-management systems like swales and ponds that need to be put in. Its got to be a multi-pronged approach. Its not just some new additive you put into the soil and business as usual. What I think is important is that, when these things are done, that they are done very carefully, in terms of where is the charcoal going to come from, because there is a great potential to be very irresponsible about getting the sources of timber to turn into charcoal.
KW: Well, in a lot of cases, theyre using ag-waste, like rice hulls and things like that. Its not all timber RF: Yeah, but, even looking at the ag-wastes, on every resource weve got to look at what is the best way to use this, and how can we maximize everything that we get out of each resource along the process. So, in the process of actually turning a crop residue or something or other into charcoal, is there some other product that we can harness from this, or is there a byproduct that can become an input for something else, and weve got to get away from these linear systems.
KW: Right. RF: Because thats when we screw up, every time. Its when we only think in linear systems and we miss all of the opportunities along the way. See, when we maximize every resource, we look at every byproduct, every waste is a new resource for something else, so that everything is recycled within the system. It is only through a very radical slowdown of entropy that we can design systems that are going to be sustainable. KW: It seems like exciting work. Dont you feel now is the time where youre finally being called upon to share all this wonderful knowledge and experience youve been accumulating RF: Yes.
KW: Well, congratulations for all youve done, and for seeing the fruits of your work.
RF: Yep, and more to come.

Kelpie Wilson is Truthouts environment editor. Trained as a mechanical engineer, she embarked on a career as a forest protection activist, then returned to engineering as a technical writer for the solar power industry. She is the author of Primal Tears, an eco-thriller about a hybrid human-bonobo girl. Greg Bear, author of Darwins Radio, says: Primal Tears is primal storytelling, thoughtful and passionate. Kelpie Wilson wonderfully expands our definitions of human and family.

Notes from Marx’s Sixteen Trends

Trend 7: Put Ideas Together—Release of human ingenuity will become a primary responsibility of education and society. Information Acquisition for Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking

  • Wanted: Intellectual Entrepreneurs for Global Knowledge-based Industries and for “the Eureka step”(Florida of “The Rise of the Creative Class”)

“In 500 years, we’ve moved form a world where everything was certain and nothing changed to a world where nothing seems certain and everything changes.” From Gelb, “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”

Reinvention and renewal fundamental, education for dealing with ambiguity, inspiring curiosity and persistence, cross-disciplinary learning experiences, e.g. E.O. Wilson’s “Consilience: the Unity fo Knowledge” and Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences.”

Millennial Generation, born from about 1980 through about 2005, will need be critical thinkers, says Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink.” David Henderson in “Culture Shift” hopes for confident, aware, optimistic, progressives, reasonable, skeptical, freedom loving, future looking ethical actors. The arts are basic to developing such attributes. Visionary leadership more than management.

“Imagination,” says Einstein, “is more important than knowledge.”

School Projects for Breakthrough Thinking and Intellectual Entrepreneurship

  • In the realm of theory, link urban farming in Milwaukee with Zoological Society’s Bonobo Survival and Biodiversity Initiative

Why should Milwaukee students learn about urban farming?
Why should Milwauke students learn about bonobo surival and biodiveristy initiative in the Congo?
What in the realm of theory is the potential of connecting the two projects?

  • In the realm of practice, contribute toward development of a project that connects the most advanced permaculture farming practices with bonobo survival in the Sarango National Forest

MPS/Zoological Society Bonobo Survival Biodiveristy Initative Partnership

A Letter to Tom Bamberger re His “Milwaukee Magazine” Article on Downer Ave. Drama

Dear Tom,

I read you piece on Downer with great interest. I hope to have a conversation with you “and yours,” me “and mine,” over the next 32 years around some of the isues your essay broaches.

Two sentences were most significant for me:

“Unlike what was done for the Third Ward or the Beerline, there was no fine-grained public planning process in place to anticipate the concerns that arose on Downer.”

“A prominent architect summed up the result: ‘When you get the neighborhood involved, the answer is always No!

Your essay seems to tilt toward the notion that existing neighbors, the “parochials,” are incapable of tolerating new urbanist design and architectural breakthroughs inspired by visionary, charismatic, and “authentically commonwealth” development coalition.

Not in my backyard!

The future is the past!

But you also imply that a “fine grained public planning process” would be a good thing. And I believe you observed that the Third Ward and Beerline success stories did not have to deal with much of a “public.”

At the outset, I did not join with my long-time friends Jean and Michael Fleet and Ed Olson because of the initial focus on the 11 story condo. My commitment to increased density in the old city as a general principle, my non-resident status, and other commitments found enough cognitive dissonance that I sat on the fence. But upon learning more about how the “public planning process” was unfolding(based upon the notion, methinks, that the “parochials” were not to be engaged but rather quieted), and about the spector of Downer Ave. finding a giant parking lot become its iconic structure, in defiance of historic preservation principles and procedures, I weighed in. Unsuccessfully…

This drama brought to my mind the need to elaborate and refine new urbanist principles.

  • Not all enhanced density is enhanced “sustainable development.”

  • Not all development is desireable or “sustainable.”

  • What process will best respond to the conflict between “parochial” interest and “cosmopolitan” ones?

My recent discoveries in the world of Growing Power’s urban agriculture and the Urban Ecology’s advance of sustainable development lead me to hope bright public regarding intellectuals like yourself will consider looking into the theory of permaculture as a possible source for fine-tuning new urbanist principles.

Here is the place I am going to start my journey into this theory, which will be, I predict, for the 21st century what “republican” principles were for England and the U.S. in the 18th century, “social democracy” for Europe and the U.S. in the 19th century, and “civil rights” for the planet in the 20th century.


I will be uploading this letter and, with your blessing, your response at the “Agora” of the MilwaukeeRenaissance.com.

Viva, the integration of new urbanism with permaculture theory!


The Downer Wars

You are invited to stand up and share your thoughts, visions, regrets, dreams, and projects regarding our revered and lovely Downer Avenue.
We will help you learn to use this information and communication resource at the Riverwest Cafe or Alterra on Prospect if you ask Godsil at [email protected]

Last edited by Olde.   Page last modified on August 11, 2007

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