[permaculture] RE:open letter to the Australian permaculture movement

charles knoles charles at growfood.org
Sat Jul 6 18:36:02 EDT 2002

  This has been a very interesting discussion to listen to and I would like to add a couple of points to it if I may.  

   The big move from the country to the city is nothing new, this was the process that the sixties' "back to the landers" were going against.  The thing to remember is that people who live in the cities still need to eat and their food still has to be grown by someone.  If we want to be effective in teaching permaculture all we need to do is identify who the people are who are going to do the food growing and teach them.  

   While I have enormous respect for people who do the "trees around the house" style of permaculture, it should be obvious even without reading Bernard Salt's research, that this will not supply all of society's food and that if we are teaching permaculture with the expectation that one day every single person in both urban and rural communities will take up permaculture gardening to supply some of their food needs then we are dreaming.  There will always be a need for full-time farmers to grow food for people who are not in a food producing profession. 

   Most permaculture design courses are aimed at and attended by people who are non-farmers.  These people are wonderful and I have complete respect for them but if we want a sustainable food supply and we are listening to the work of people like Bernard Salt, then the permaculture community needs to get serious about educating farmers.  

    This means a whole lot more than just advertising PDC's in farming magazines.  Farmers are inherently conservative folks.  They depend on solid yields year after year without which they will go bankrupt. This is why the current paradigm of chemical agriculture is so appealing to them.  Here in the U.S.A they generally won't do anything unless it is reccomended by the extension agencies of the land grant universities. 

 There are three things we need to do if we want the farmers to listen to us: 

1)Assemble solid scientific research on permaculture. 
    -We need to show farmers that the agronomic techniques we talk about actually work consistently and will give them a consistently saleable and easily harvestable yield.

2) Prove that the market exists for an organic permaculture grown product.
     -This shouldn't be too hard because Organic food is currently the only growing sector of the agriculture market.  In addition to this many people are becoming aware of the fact that just "organic" isn't good enough.  Witness the necessity for organic coffee to say "shade-grown, fair trade etc."  Last time I was in Australia I noticed that there was Bio-dynamic certification on my yogurt.  Could there be a permaculture certification for commercial growers?  I know that this is a controversial suggestion but farmers need to get an advantage from going to the extra effort.

3) Create a support institute that can give farmers the practical advice they need to take up permaculture.
    -Permaculture is a mixture of some very useful but abstract principles and a set of techniques that people have developed from these principles.  What farmers need to know is how to use those principles on the scale that they operate on.  Many of the permaculture staples are not scaleable to their size.  Have you ever tried to sheet mulch a thousand acres? Other central ideas of permaculture such as utilising perrenials, guilds for fertilization and pest control etc. can be extremely useful to farmers but careful thought needs to go into efficient harvesting.
    -Ideally, such an institute would give written and phone-in advice to farmers.  In the USA, A.T.T.R.A www.attra.org does an excellent job but it is not as useful to farmers in non-U.S.A climates. Perhaps Permaculture International Limited http://www.nor.com.au/environment/perma/ could expand into a farm support role and fill this need on a worldwide basis for farmers that are specifically permaculture oriented.

   In addition to this perhaps the permaculture community needs to do some introspection and find out how our ideas can work on a farm scale.  I get the feeling that uncle Bill always wanted PC to be practiced on all levels of scale but it has usually been implemented on small to small-medium scales.  There are people in the U.S midwest who are working on using chestnuts and hazelnuts to replace corn and soybeans and I think that this is very interesting work because I don't have 50 years to wait for Wes Jackson's crew to get their domestic prairies up and running.  We need something like the chestnut-hazelnut combination for all grain producing climates.

   Please feel free to email me if you are interested in anything I've said.

Charles Knoles
Permaculture Club
Maharishi University of Management 
Fairfield Iowa 52557
email: charles at growfood.org

More information about the permaculture mailing list