What is PC? article Talking with the Teachers From Hopedance Mag Issue Permaculture "A Quiet Revolution"
Wesley Roe and Marjorie Lakin Erickson
lakinroe at silcom.com
Thu Dec 27 16:43:44 EST 2001
To start to answer your questions here is an article prepared from
Questionnaires sent out to Permaculture Teachers for an Article for the
Nov/Dec 2001 Issue Permaculture "A Quiet Revolution"
Talking with the Teachers
by Marcia Boruta
When Wes Roe asked me to help edit the special Permaculture Issue of
HopeDance Magazine, I jumped at the chance. My assignment was to summarize
responses from thirteen permaculture teachers to an email questionnaire
developed by Bob Banner (HopeDance), Wes Roe and Margie Bushman (Santa
Barbara Permaculture Network), and myself, Marcia Boruta (San Diego
Economic Conversion & Permaculture Center).
As a newcomer to Permaculture (I first heard the term in 1999), I was
curious to read what seasoned practitioners had to say. I mulled over the
9000 thoughtful words we received and faced the challenge of choosing just
2000 of them for this article. So, without further ado or wasted words,
here's what permaculture teachers say about permaculture- what it is, why
they do it, and what the future holds.
We asked respondents to "Please define permaculture in your own words."
Anyone who's struggled to answer the inevitable question - What is
"permaculture"? - will be reassured by Dan Hemenway's response: "It cannot
be defined, which means, literally, to put boundaries on it. It is like
defining poetry, only more so."
Despite this constraint, respondents provided a rich collection of ways to
define the undefinable. Their responses are assembled together (see box) as
a resource for people seeking the words to describe permaculture.
To find out why permaculture teachers are doing what they're doing, we
asked two questions: "What brought you to permaculture?" and "What has
inspired you the most about permaculture?"
Some of the early adopters came to permaculture through farming and organic
Mike Collins: "I was a farmer and agriculture student and picked up Bill's
book back in the 70s."
Robyn Francis: "A natural progression. Early 70s I was organic gardening
and observing traditional (non-chemical) farming systems in my travels
around the world and dreamed of buying land to develop as a botanic gardens
of useful plants arranged like natural ecosystems. Got back to Australia in
1977 and a dude by the name of Bill Mollison was talking the same thing but
a quantum leap further down the track. So, Permaculture was a natural next
Over the years, the search for sustainable living strategies has brought
Joanne Tippett: "What brought me to permaculture was a passionate belief in
the need to change how we live and a hope for a more fulfilling way to do
so. Permaculture was a practical way to attempt to achieve an alternative."
Christopher Peck: "I was drawn to the way permaculture brought together
everything that I was interested in, in one beautiful whole."
Scott Pittman: "Permaculture was the perfect discipline for me, it combines
my deep commitment to environmental health of the planet with practical
solutions that have worked over the ages."
Penny Livingston: "I wanted to create a livelihood that resonated with my
What inspires people about permaculture can be summed up in two words
-"positive" and "practical":
Sindhu Lawton: "The most inspirational thing about Permaculture to me is
that it is a global system and will positively affect the lives of anyone
who practices it, whatever climate they live in, whatever political views
one has, whatever religion one may be. Permaculture will enhance life in
general for all the people of the world and with beneficial effects to the
Michael Kramer: "Its positive stance in the face of cynicism, and the ways
in which its tenets can be applied to all human systems rather than just
Dan Hemenway: "It works. I was making some of it work before the term was
coined, but I didn't have a name for it. It is an approach to designing our
lives, lifestyles, and immediate environments that has a chance of pulling
the fat out of the fire, of maybe saving our species, and millions of
others, from extinction. I have children and now grandchildren. The future
is important to me."
FAILURE & SUCCESS
We asked two routine interview questions: "What failures have you witnessed
and what was the result of the failures?" and "What has been the most
successful permaculture design/method/experiment that you personally
participated in?" A number of teachers reminded us of basic permaculture
Rick Valley: "What failures? See no problems only solutions, duh! Many
lessons to be learned, natch!"
Larry Santoyo: "This is an easy answer because in Permaculture Design we
really don't describe things as failures. Failure connotes that a project
has ended. But like nature, Permaculture Design doesn't end. We evaluate
and adjust for productivity. The only failures would be 'failure to
Sindhu Lawton: "I believe that soil building has to be our number one goal
and with good mulching practices, including 'chop and drop' and living
mulches, we can have no failures as such....The only failure comes in bad
design which causes erosion and soil loss. All other mistakes are only
temporary and should be turned into lessons and the knowledge shared."
The most common "failure" noted by respondents was misinformation:
Michael Kramer: "Misinterpretation of permaculture. People sometimes think
it's the child of biodynamics or that it is the sum of certain techniques
rather than seeing the design process as the cornerstone of the approach.
This has resulted in a narrow national understanding of permaculture and
its potential applications. It is largely because of this that permaculture
has yet to take hold in America, which I consider a failure to date."
Larry Santoyo: "Sometimes I hear people say that Permaculture is about
gardening or about building with straw or some other technique they learned
or heard about. I think that some students and many teachers have failed to
'get' that the hands on techniques that we teach in Permaculture Design are
to reinforce the THEORY. The theoretical base of Permaculture is the most
important thing that we have to teach. It's what sets us apart from other
design disciplines. You can learn HOW to do a technique from many places,
but the most important thing about Permaculture is learning WHY and WHEN it
is most appropriate to use a technique or technology."
Robyn Francis: "Most failures I have seen with people attempting
permaculture have been due to inappropriate applications of specific
techniques or strategies and not understanding the principle behind
them....Beware of permadogma - doing things from the book, by the book
without looking at the individual situation and applying the principles to
find the most appropriate solution."
Some respondents were reluctant to talk about success stories:
Dan Hemenway: "This is a silly question....Permaculture is not about
showing off, or flashy solutions, or competitions to see which is most
successful. Which is more successful, a fish or a fart?"
But others were willing to pick one or two examples:
Christopher Peck: "My own business, Holistic Solutions, which is a
financial planning and socially responsible investment advisory firm based
on and inspired by permaculture principles. We are growing and thriving!"
Rick Valley: "Lost Valley Educational Center or Linnea Farm- in both cases,
they are definitely 'in progress' and may not appear that spectacular, but
they are both proceeding at a sustainable rate and aren't dependent on one
individual or source of funds. Also, both are teaching a great many
Sindhu Lawton: "I have been involved in many success stories, but the one I
have been most involved in outside of Australia is our Jordan project. We
have been working on a 10 acre project there in conjunction with local aid
and Japanese aid...."
Mike Collins: "So far the most successful perm experiment I have been
involved in is at Davis Bynum winery, an organic winery with a yin for
experimentation in permaculture."
Robyn Francis: "The past 8 years of creating my permaculture cornucopia
here at Djanbung Gardens is definitely the most successful design &
experiment I've personally participated in...."
Joanne Tippett: "Working with school teachers in Southern Africa, where the
designs included the needs and cultural values of participants, practical
realities of water, species and food products and planning for educational
value of the land."
Michael Kramer: "Creating A Permaculture Curriculum with Christopher Peck,
which hasn't yet been published but is really the best how-to-teach
permaculture guide I've ever seen. Also, I've designed and facilitated
workshops for schoolteachers on how to integrate permaculture into academic
content standards and benchmarks."
Michael Lockman: "Installations in urban and suburban yards."
Scott Pittman: "Madre de Selva in Ecuador is the most successful I
participated in. This is a food plant nursery with over 300 varieties of
tropical fruit species, which provides seeds and seedlings to regional
farmers and homesteaders."
Holger Hieronimi: "There have been several: Granja TAMU in Michoacán/
Mexico - transformation of one hectare of sterile alkaline land into a
multi-productive forest-garden....Escuela "Ollini" in Tepoztlán, Morelos -
a small school garden where the kids grew vegetables in biointensive
gardens....Proyecto Granja Huehue in Huehuecoyotl ecovillage in Tepoztlán,
Morelos - community garden and several family gardens as well as general
ecovillage designs (rainwater catchment; gray/blackwater
treatment/recycling; eco-construction) for an intentional community and
ecovillage of around 25 residents."
Penny Livingston: "Our PINC [Permaculture Institute of Northern California]
garden has been more successful than I ever dreamed of. People come from
all over and often have an emotional response to the feeling of connection
and the possibility of healing our relationship with our environment."
Larry Santoyo: "My favorite designs don't include plants (directly). I
helped open a restaurant with some friends a few years back, and because
Permaculture is really a 'connecting' system, this restaurant best
illustrates the permaculture principle of 'stacking functions' and
'harmonics.' It served not only as an outlet for local organic food and a
very cool place to 'see and be seen', but also as an art gallery, a music
venue, a gift shop, an office, a meeting room and the kitchen served as an
after-hours business incubator for other culinary products. All of those
ventures were tried before, as separate businesses, but were never
productive until, as in nature, they were all linked together! It has
evolved several times since then and is still in business today."
We also asked the teachers about the permaculture curriculum: "The 72 hour
Permaculture Design Course is a teaching tool for introducing people to the
Principles of Permaculture Design, the ethics and their application to
living systems. What are your thoughts on the Permaculture Design Course as
a teaching tool?" This question generated the most response, but for this
article, suffice it to say, there was general praise for the curriculum and
many suggestions for adjustments to make it more productive!
Finally, we asked the teachers: "What needs to be done in order to get
permaculture ethics/design/methodology/systems to become more potent and
influential within the mainstream?"
Christopher Peck: "Everyone should read Holmgren's article about the future
of permaculture from several years ago. It strongly influenced my current
course. He makes the point that we don't need 'permaculture designers' or
'permaculturists.' He suggests that what we need are people of all
professions - landscape architects, builders, bankers, bakers, etc., etc. -
to take on the ethics and principles of permaculture and apply them from
within their professions to slowly transform them into what we want. The
mainstream is not walking around thinking 'I need permaculture' or 'I need
a comprehensive design methodology that can help me model all human systems
on nature's principles.' People are just not walking around with that. They
are walking around with needs and dreams that permaculture is uniquely
well-suited to satisfy. My strategy is that we build businesses that
satisfy people's needs, while simultaneously regenerating the natural world
and human communities."
Joanne Tippett: "Professionalism AND mass education (seemingly conflicting
goals, but actually complimentary). Professionalism - a greater awareness
of the need to hone skills and create a consistency of expectation around
what is permaculture design. This includes a greater clarity about what
permaculture is, and willingness to debate the skills and competencies that
should be learned for a practitioner of permaculture....At the same time,
to bring permaculture into the mainstream, we need a wide range of classes
and courses that introduce people to the concepts through practical work
that engages areas and projects of local interest. Projects that add to the
local environment, and through which people learn skills and gain a greater
awareness of the environment. Such engagement takes planning and skilled
facilitation. In a climate of increased calls for public participation in
governance and planning, permaculture as a discipline could both offer a
meaningful way to engage people in planning their future environment, and
skilled professionals to facilitate such planning and integrate this into a
larger land use and policy perspective."
Holger Hieronimi: "Sometimes it seems that mainstream has to get a bit more
sensitive to holistic design. Permaculture has always had difficulties to
get into the universities, because all those specialists cannot tolerate
the design philosophy that integrates forestry, agriculture, horticulture,
silviculture, architecture, geography, biology, chemistry, anthropology,
etcetcetc. Permaculture probably shouldn't be promoted so much as 'a
package'....Working in Latin America I found it more successful to just
promote some of the 'best practices' since complete designs often turn out
too ambitious and expensive to realize and can keep people from just
starting here and now with what they have available."
Dan Hemenway: "We need to walk our talk and be ready to help those who ask
for it....Our emphasis needs to be on education, initially, and
incorporating permaculture into our cultures.... And, Bill's maxim comes to
mind, we have to stop being impressed by people who have money."
Scott Pittman: "More good teachers, designers, and writers, to start, and
then a well organized institute whose primary purpose is to support those
teachers, writers, and designers with good information, funding, and
Penny Livingston: "Cultivating more teachers and practitioners who are not
making other people and mainstream culture 'wrong'. This does more to
alienate people than anything else I know."
Michael Kramer: "Permaculture degree programs in major universities or
community colleges. Additional books on how permaculture applies to
invisible structures. More on-the-ground demonstration sites that are
single-family suburban lots."
Michael Lockman: "More books like Toby Hemenways! Translate the jargon into
words that anyone can understand."
Larry Santoyo: "I think Permaculture IS potent and I think it HAS become
influential. When I first started teaching permaculture, almost 15 years
ago, very few people had even heard of it, today there are literally
thousands of projects, courses, and design trainees all over the
world....NOTHING has to be done, I mean this as a word of caution and a
point of clarity. By nothing I mean, first, mainstreaming is where
everything has historically gone wrong. Secondly, getting the 'term'
Permaculture Design to be accepted is not the objective either. If by
mainstream you mean more people, then ok, if by permaculture you mean the
ethics, then yes. My point is that it is not the term we want to have
power, it is the ethics. It doesn't matter if we call it Permaculture. We
want people to rethink how they participate in the landscape; to 'care for
the earth and care for people' not know what permaculture is. This goes
back to the ecological principle of natural succession and evolution. We
simply need more and more of the same, Permaculture lectures, workshops,
design courses, and articles wherever we can get it.... Permaculture has
come a long way, it has gotten this far, first of all, because it's a good
idea, secondly because our educational outreach hasn't stopped. It's on a
roll with a life of its own!"
Marcia Boruta is Director of the San Diego Permaculture Center, a two-year
old project of the San Diego Economic Conversion Council, a nonprofit
community organization founded in 1985 to promote defense conversion and
sustainable development in military-dependent San Diego County. If you are
interested in seeing the entire collection of answers, contact HopeDance
editor Bob Banner at (805) 544-9663 or email him at editor at hopedance.org
[NOTE TO EDITOR: TEXT FOR BOX IS BELOW]
WHAT IS PERMACULTURE? IN THEIR OWN WORDS...
We asked respondents to "Please define permaculture in your own words." In
alphabetical order, this is what they said:
"Whole systems design for sustainable living with an emphasis on the human
- Mike Collins (California & Baja Mexico) <sonoperm at monitor.net>
"In a nutshell, Permaculture is both a philosophy and an interdisciplinary
design system to create sustainable ecosystems which support human needs in
a way that treads lightly on the earth and which respects, conserves and
regenerates natural ecosystems. The principles of permaculture are based on
ecology and can be applied to all climates and environments from the city
to the wilderness, from the backyard to the bioregion. Permaculture is
dancing with nature where nature leads the dance."
- Robyn Francis (Australia) <permed at nor.com.au> www.earthwise.org.au
"Please define everything in your own words. Permaculture is a wholistic
design philosophy with an ethical foundation and a penchant for
practicality. That is a characterization. It cannot be defined, which
means, literally, to put boundaries on it. It is like defining poetry, only
- Dan Hemenway (Florida) http://barkingfrogspc.tripod.com/frames.html
"Permanent Agriculture = Permanent Culture. No society, no culture is
sustainable without sustainable agricultural practices. Permaculture is a
holistic design philosophy to develop productive agro-eco-systems, which
satisfy human needs without destroying the natural environment.
Permaculture is a whole range of sustainable, ecological and energy saving
techniques and lifestyles."
- Holger Hieronimi (México) <tierramor at laneta.apc.org>
"Regenerative human systems"
- Michael Kramer (Hawaii) www.naturalinvesting.com
"Permaculture is a design science for living and non living systems that
provide human needs in a way that enhances the environment."
- Sindhu Lawton (Australia) <pri at permaculture.org.au> www.permaculture.org.au
"Do you want a one liner? Permaculture is a design science, based on
observation, that integrates all human activities into a whole system based
on natural patterning and ecology. In a word, Permaculture = Relationship.
The long version takes about two weeks in the Permaculture Design Course."
- Penny Livingston (California) <pinc at svn.net> www.permacultureinstitute.com
no definition provided
- Michael Lockman (Washington) www.we-design.net
"I always quote Bill, who said it best with this one, 'Permaculture seeks
the garden of eden, and why not?'"
- Christopher Peck (California) www.Holistic-Solutions.net
"Permaculture is a design system based on ecological processes. Those
natural processes, which have proven sustainable over thousands of years,
are then applied to the human created environment with the intention of
- Scott Pittman (New Mexico) <pci at permaculture-inst.org>
"Permaculture is a strategy for land use planning and design that uses
indicators of sustainability derived from the commonalities found in all
natural ecosystems. Permaculture Design is best suited for designing
economic development programs and community social services. Permaculture
Design provides the practical aspects of the philosophy of 'all things
being connected.' Permaculture is a noun, but it is not a place that you
can visit. It is almost more of a verb. You use Permaculture Principles to
DESIGN a place that you can visit. Permaculture is the process, not the
- Larry Santoyo (California) <santoyo at earthflow.com> www.earthflow.com
"Ecological systems design that works with ecological principles to
increase productivity, enhance the local environment and biodiversity, work
with the character of the landscape and increase the possibilities for a
vibrant local economy. Design that utilises observation and scientific
principles to integrate people and their natural environment in a
- Joanne Tippett (California & England) <jo at holocene.net> www.holocene.net
"I like Lea Harrison's 'design of sustainable human habitats.' I've never
tried to define it. I ain't that way."
- Rick Valley (Oregon) www.teleport.com/~dbrooks/bamboo.html
It is the ecologically sensitive planning and design of human cultural
systems that balance the cycles of nature with our needs for food, water,
energy, shelter and waste management so as to encourage community and a
grateful sense of place in respect of our greater environment.
-Bill Roley Permaculture Institute of Southern California drroley at aol.com
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