What is Permaculture

While the problems of the planet are becoming more and more complicated, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.

Permaculture History

People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things. ~ Buckminster Fuller

Young people around the world were raising questions about the way we were living in 1974. Throughout the nation, hippies, back-to-the-land campaigns, and societies have emerged. In his final year at the University of Tasmania, a young David Holmgren was in Australia, and he met Bill Mollison, a professor with a similar interest in ecology and human systems.

David wrote a treatise on how he thought the world should work, inspired by conversations with Bill and encounters at the garden and field sites around Tasmania. It included the seeds of a revolutionary system of design that succeeded in integrating nature, human populations, and agriculture into a single unified whole. The manuscript became part of his graduate thesis, but Bill persuaded David to publish his ideas, and more importantly.

The book Permaculture One, which was published in 1978, became the thesis. Russell Smith’s book Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture (1924) influenced the term coined by Mollison and Holmgren, permaculture, but it came to mean much more than just permanent farming.

When the book became very famous, Bill Mollison became highly active in permaculture. [Permaculture] is the harmonious integration of landscape, people and suitable technologies, providing food, shelter, energy and other material and non-material needs sustainably, “he eloquently described their philosophy.”

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them” ~ Bill Mollison


Definitions of permaculture vary today. It has been defined as a way of living. Society. An ideology here. Permaculture is at its very heart a way of constructing all human structures so that they harmoniously blend with ecology. Community structures, cultural philosophies, industry, art, every aspect of human life grew to include it. What originally began as permanent agriculture ended up meaning permanent culture since much more than just agriculture was involved in the idea.

Ceiba Trees

ceiba trees root

Ceiba trees host thousands of species and were known by ancient Mayans as the navel of the earth.

David Holmgren described permaculture as “consciously planned landscapes that mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature while providing local needs with an abundance of food, fibre and energy.”

It was defined even more clearly by one great instructor of permaculture, Toby Hemenway: “Transform every burden into an advantage.”

Permaculture is functional, but also creative.

After Permaculture One was published, Mollison was invited to talk about his and Holmgren’s innovative ideas at various educational institutions, and he jumped on the opportunity. To his great disappointment, he soon discovered that he was just invited to analyse and break apart permaculture at these bastions of learning, and he became disillusioned with the university system.

In response, to practise and teach the principles of permaculture, he founded the Permaculture Research Institute and an experimental farm in Australia. He developed a course that provided certification as the movement expanded. This course has been so popular and imitated in so many ways that Mollison tried without success at one time to trademark the term permaculture, although he eventually succeeded in copyrighting the term for educational use. If people choose to receive a Permaculture Design Credential, then anyone else who has one must take the PDC course.

There was a time when a teacher register was maintained by the organisation, but that is no longer the case. On the best way for permaculture education to proceed, Mollison and Holmgren disagreed. While Holmgren wanted to allow free rein and the introduction of religion, Mollison wanted to maintain full control of the curriculum and keep it scientific. Both situations, in the end, played out. The curriculum is regulated, but it is entirely up to the individual to provide the courses, and the group has done what it wants.

“This often makes it hard to find an experienced and competent teacher in permaculture, but as Mollison wrote in his book Travels in Dreams (1996):” Finally, the system is beyond restriction with hundreds in itinerant teachers turning up everywhere. Finally, stable and we have earned in geometric growth pace! Permaculture is ungovernable forever.


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