....................In your hands is the power of the empire...............

....................In    your    hands    is    the    power    of    the    empire...............

PDC Permaculture Design Course - Douro River - Porto - Portugal

PDC Permaculture Design Course - Douro River - Porto - Portugal
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Permaculture is to live in harmony with nature providing for human needs and the needs of the ecosystems

Aprende uma vida nova / Learn new life



Buckminster Fuller

Deixou 56 anos de pesquisa nas mais diversas áreas totalmente documentada. Com exceção do domo geodésico, que atualmente existem aproximadamente 200.000 espalhados pelo mundo, a maioria das invenções de Fuller ainda não foram produzidas em larga escala
http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminster_Fuller

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Trees have also developed in ways that do not disrupt the law of increasing mass and energy. The law states that as mass of any system in-creases, the amount of energy necessary to maintain order in the system must increase at an exponential rate.

Manual de Instruções para a Nave Espacial Terra

Sinopse
"À medida que as emergências políticas mundiais forem aumentando, lembrem-se que descobrimos um modo de fazer o mundo inteiro funcionar."
Clássico da literatura ecológica, Manual de Instruções para a Nave Espacial Terra é igualmente a obra emblemática de Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), o pai da consciência planetária. Arquitecto, matemático, cosmólogo, inventor, designer, futurista, filósofo, sociólogo, poeta, Fuller merece bem o epíteto que lhe colaram de Leonardo da Vinci do nosso tempo. Ainda assim, a marcada influência que exerceu em vida - da Era das Máquinas ao movimento contracultural dos anos sessenta - poderá não passar de um prelúdio para a sua importância futura - era o que garantia, aliás, o próprio Fuller.
"A vida de Fuller foi tão importante que praticamente brilha com a mesma intensidade agora do que quando ele a possuía".
John Cage
Manual de Instruções para a Nave Espacial Terra de R. Buckminster Fuller

Excerto
"Segue-se que, para decidir quem iria controlar os vastos mares e eventualmente o mundo, os Grandes Piratas entraram em conflitos mortais uns com os outros. As suas batalhas desenrolaram-se fora da vista da humanidade terrestre. A maioria dos vencidos afundaram-se sem que os historiadores se tivessem apercebido minimamente do facto.
(...)
Vamos agora imaginar um homem num naufrágio. É considerado um homem muito rico, valendo mais de um milhão de dólares segundo todas as concepções de riqueza verdadeira mantidas pela sociedade. Trouxe consigo, nesta viagem, todas as suas acções e obrigações, todos os seus títulos fundiários, todos os seus livros de cheques e, para maior segurança, também muitos diamantes e barras de ouro. O navio incendeia-se, vai ao fundo e não há baleeiras, que também arderam. Se o nosso milionário se agarrar ao seu ouro, afundar-se-á um pouquinho mais depressa do que os outros.
(...)
Uma das principais motivações humanas é compreender e ser compreendido. Todas as outras criaturas vivas foram concebidas para tarefas altamente especializadas. O homem parece ser único como coordenador e compreensor global dos acontecimentos do universo local. Se o esquema total da natureza exigisse que o homem fosse especialista, tê-lo-ia feito nascer com um único olho e um microscópio apenso a ele.
(...)
Existe um facto sumamente importante relacionado com a Nave Espacial Terra, que é o de nenhum manual de instruções vir a acompanhá-la. Considero muito significativo não existir nenhum manual de instruções com o qual possamos operar adequadamente a nossa nave espacial. Devido à infinita atenção evidenciada por todos os outros detalhes, acho que o facto do manual de instruções ter sido omitido deve ser entendido como deliberado e intencional.
(...)
Através de toda a história anterior ao século vinte, as guerras foram devastadoras tanto para vencedores quanto para vencidos. As guerras pré-industriais retiravam os homens dos campos, e estes, que era onde germinava a riqueza agrícola, ficavam devastados. Constituiu assim a maior surpresa o facto da primeira Guerra Mundial, que foi a primeira guerra inteiramente da era industrial, ter terminado com os Estados Unidos em particular, mas também em menor grau com a Alemanha, a Inglaterra, a França, a Bélgica, o Japão e a Rússia, todos emergindo dela com capacidades produtivas muito superiores às com que haviam entrado.
(...)
Os depósitos de combustíveis fósseis da nossa Nave Espacial Terra correspondem à bateria dos nossos automóveis, que deve ser conservada de modo a poder ligar o motor de arranque do nosso motor principal. O nosso motor principal, os processos regeneradores da vida, deverá assim operar exclusivamente a partir dos nossos enormes rendimentos diários em energia dos ventos, marés e água, para além da radiação energética directa do Sol.
(...)
Somando tudo, descobrimos que o constituinte físico da riqueza - a energia - não pode diminuir, e que o seu constituinte metafísico - o conhecimento - só pode aumentar. Significa isto que, de cada vez que usamos a nossa riqueza, ela aumenta. Quer também dizer que, contrariando a entropia, a riqueza só pode aumentar. Onde a entropia é a desordem crescente evocada pela dispersão da energia, a riqueza é, localmente, a ordem crescente - isto é, a concentração crescentemente ordenada de força física do nosso universo sempre expansivo, explorado e compreendido localmente pela capacidade metafísica do homem como informado por repetidas experiências, a partir das quais vai destilando progressivamente o inventário sempre crescente de princípios generalizados omni-interrelacionados e omni-interacomodativos que se descobre estarem operativos em todas as experiências específicas.
(...)
A Bíblia diz: 'No princípio foi o verbo'. Eu digo-vos: No princípio da industrialização foi a palavra falada. Com a representação gráfica das palavras e das ideias surge o princípio do computador, pois o computador armazena e recupera informações. A palavra escrita, o dicionário e o livro foram os primeiros sistemas de armazenagem e recuperação de informações."


"Segue-se que, para decidir quem iria controlar os vastos mares e eventualmente o mundo, os Grandes Piratas entraram em conflitos mortais uns com os outros. As suas batalhas desenrolaram-se fora da vista da humanidade terrestre. A maioria dos vencidos afundaram-se sem que os historiadores se tivessem apercebido minimamente do facto.
(...)
Vamos agora imaginar um homem num naufrágio. É considerado um homem muito rico, valendo mais de um milhão de dólares segundo todas as concepções de riqueza verdadeira mantidas pela sociedade. Trouxe consigo, nesta viagem, todas as suas acções e obrigações, todos os seus títulos fundiários, todos os seus livros de cheques e, para maior segurança, também muitos diamantes e barras de ouro. O navio incendeia-se, vai ao fundo e não há baleeiras, que também arderam. Se o nosso milionário se agarrar ao seu ouro, afundar-se-á um pouquinho mais depressa do que os outros.
(...)
Uma das principais motivações humanas é compreender e ser compreendido. Todas as outras criaturas vivas foram concebidas para tarefas altamente especializadas. O homem parece ser único como coordenador e compreensor global dos acontecimentos do universo local. Se o esquema total da natureza exigisse que o homem fosse especialista, tê-lo-ia feito nascer com um único olho e um microscópio apenso a ele.
(...)
Existe um facto sumamente importante relacionado com a Nave Espacial Terra, que é o de nenhum manual de instruções vir a acompanhá-la. Considero muito significativo não existir nenhum manual de instruções com o qual possamos operar adequadamente a nossa nave espacial. Devido à infinita atenção evidenciada por todos os outros detalhes, acho que o facto do manual de instruções ter sido omitido deve ser entendido como deliberado e intencional.
(...)
Através de toda a história anterior ao século vinte, as guerras foram devastadoras tanto para vencedores quanto para vencidos. As guerras pré-industriais retiravam os homens dos campos, e estes, que era onde germinava a riqueza agrícola, ficavam devastados. Constituiu assim a maior surpresa o facto da primeira Guerra Mundial, que foi a primeira guerra inteiramente da era industrial, ter terminado com os Estados Unidos em particular, mas também em menor grau com a Alemanha, a Inglaterra, a França, a Bélgica, o Japão e a Rússia, todos emergindo dela com capacidades produtivas muito superiores às com que haviam entrado.
(...)
Os depósitos de combustíveis fósseis da nossa Nave Espacial Terra correspondem à bateria dos nossos automóveis, que deve ser conservada de modo a poder ligar o motor de arranque do nosso motor principal. O nosso motor principal, os processos regeneradores da vida, deverá assim operar exclusivamente a partir dos nossos enormes rendimentos diários em energia dos ventos, marés e água, para além da radiação energética directa do Sol.
(...)
Somando tudo, descobrimos que o constituinte físico da riqueza - a energia - não pode diminuir, e que o seu constituinte metafísico - o conhecimento - só pode aumentar. Significa isto que, de cada vez que usamos a nossa riqueza, ela aumenta. Quer também dizer que, contrariando a entropia, a riqueza só pode aumentar. Onde a entropia é a desordem crescente evocada pela dispersão da energia, a riqueza é, localmente, a ordem crescente - isto é, a concentração crescentemente ordenada de força física do nosso universo sempre expansivo, explorado e compreendido localmente pela capacidade metafísica do homem como informado por repetidas experiências, a partir das quais vai destilando progressivamente o inventário sempre crescente de princípios generalizados omni-interrelacionados e omni-interacomodativos que se descobre estarem operativos em todas as experiências específicas.
(...)
A Bíblia diz: 'No princípio foi o verbo'. Eu digo-vos: No princípio da industrialização foi a palavra falada. Com a representação gráfica das palavras e das ideias surge o princípio do computador, pois o computador armazena e recupera informações. A palavra escrita, o dicionário e o livro foram os primeiros sistemas de armazenagem e recuperação de informações."


Críticas de imprensa
"Buckminster Fuller, inventor da cúpula geodésica, pôs a consciência ecológica na ordem do dia com este livro. Ainda que algo datado - a obra é de 1969 - muitos dos problemas e das soluções apresentados por Fuller mantêm-se actuais. A ideia de que a especialização é contrária às necessidades e valores humanos não deve cair muito bem aos adeptos dessa ideologia, nem aos políticos empenhados em segmentar cada vez mais os campos de intervenção dos cidadãos. Se cada um de nós se concentrar apenas numa área de saber, criam-se grupos de especialistas, acérrimos defensores dos seus programas e, como tal, avessos à intervenção alheia. Ou seja, a não-circulação da informação por todos permite que os Estados se tornem cada vez mais fechados e controladores. Fuller prefere optar por uma humanidade talhada à imagem do artista renascentista, na qual cada um se deve interessar pelo maior número possível de matérias, de modo a contribuir para a manutenção e preservação do nosso planeta."
R.P., Mondo Bizarre, Maio 2000

Importance of Permaculture in the Transition

Estaremos a destruir a identidade genética das nossas árvores?

Fica aqui uma passagem de uma agradável conversa com o Antero.

Boas a todos.
Não vou dar mais idéias acerca de como ou onde se podem adquirir arvores, mas antes lembrar algumas questões, que podem e devem ser debatidas aqui, aproveitando o calor do momento.
Por experiência em várias actividades, na área florestal, agrícola, ambiental etc, tenho tido e disponibilizado tempo e energias, a debater comigo mesmo, e com colegas, formadores, amantes da natureza etc, sobre a descêndencia genética que temos, como ser humano, implicado nas próprias espécies que pensamos serem naturais, ou não alteradas genéticamente pelo Homem.
Falamos tanto de G.M.O. que , mais uma vez, esquecemos, talvez pela forma condicionada que utilizamos para ver o mundo, que, ainda hoje e sempre, esta forma de manipulação tem sido feita, indescriminadamente por nós próprios, todos os dias....................
As técnicas de mutiplicação utilizadas, pelo ser humano, em relação às diferentes espécies que utilizamos para satisfazer os nossos interesses, são, de uma forma ridiculamente banalizada, uma sequência de manipulação genética.
É incrivel como tudo isso passa ao lado de toda a gente.
A própria técnica, seja de estacaria, enxertia, mergulhia, alporquia...bla bla bla... ou seja, todas as que não sejam de origem seminal, são todas elas formas bastantes agressivas até, de pura manipulação genética.
Isto passa completamente ao lado de todas as convenções, Leis, Governos, movimentos, etc...
Estas técnicas de multiplicação, consistem no desenvolvimento de exemplares exactamente com as mesmas características genéticas...
De apenas um indivíduo, que é escolhido exactamente pelas suas características genéticas (resistência a pragas e doenças, produção quantidade/qualidade, resistência à seca ou hidromorfismo...) retiram-se centenas, senão mesmo (ao longo dos anos) centenas de milhares de estacas, que mais não passam de clones.
É INCRÍVEL!!!
Vejo as pessoas criticarem o uso de hormonas, que são manipulação, lixo ecológico, deturpação ambiental, e mais tantos outros nomes que agora não em acorrem... ...e não se apercebem da realidade.
O uso da técnica, seja de multiplicação, ou, enfim, uma das quais eu queria falar, que é a Enxertia, consistem em obter, além do código genético, uma coisa que para nós, Humanos, temos procurado desde que existimos, e consideramos ser apenas uma possibilidade ao alcance de Deus, que é a de regeneração fisica, e vice versa...
Ao enxertarmos ou estacarmos, estamos a reproduzir também a idade da árvore/planta Mãe.
Só por exemplo/curiosidade, podemos, numa vara/toiça (ou o que resta da raíz, quando cortamos o tronco), e atravéz de uma característica de muitas árvores, que eu adoro e tenho como regra para a vida, enxertar um indivíduo mais novo, vigoroso e até com características mais elaboradas, que mais não visam do que a sua uilização em prol de nós, Seres Humanos, mas que de facto fazem regeneração ou envelhecimento destes.
Esta característica denomina-se nada mais nem menos que resiliência
A idéia de enxertarmos, é introduzirmos, a certa altura da árvorezinha/ toiça, um membro clonado, que visa a rápida produção de fruto, e também a manifestação das características genotípicas da árvore que lhe deu origem.
Por exemplo, no Pinheiro manso, enxerta-se porque este só produz fruto (em quantidade e qualidade) aos 15-20 anos, e com a técnica da enxertia, que é feita atravéz de pura, não manipulação, mas selecção genética da árvore que dá origem aos garfos/enxertos. obter-se assim as ditas pinhas aos 8 anos de vida.
A importância deste assunto é, no mínimo, avassaladora.
De um único exemplar, todos os anos são retirados cerca de 50 a 100 "clones"...
Interessa, acima de tudo referir que cada árvore, em cada geração, aprende, de forma genética, a adaptar-se às condições/ estação da região em que se desenvolveram.
Esta lição, feita de forma harmoniosa com os elementos naturais, pura e simplesmente não é "legada" para os seus descendentes, simplesmente porque estes são cópias geneticamente fiéis do mesmo.
O legado que fica, depende da forma como nós, seres humanos, temos em consideração para nós mesmos, nunca para com o meio natural.
Vou dar ainda mais um exemplo, este bem mais esclarecedor sobre o impacto da acção humana sobre a natureza. É o caso do nosso famoso Pinheiro Bravo.
Está provado que a qualidade genética deste, não é nem sequer parecida à que existia há muitos, muitos anos, numa época em que este foi amplamente plantado/disseminado.
Estudos indicaram que a causa para esta deteorização da qualidade genética no país estava directamente associada às técnicas de abate, que tinham em conta abater os exemplares mais bonitos, e fortes, saudáveis, deixando para os mais fracos, defeituosos e até mais sensíveis a pragas e doenças, a responsabilidade da sucessão genética.
Ao longo de gerações, estes efeitos fizeram-se sentir...
As espécies fruteiras, ou melhor, a área da fruticultura, pode-se dizer que é um circo de aberrações. Em que esta separação e manipulação, tem sido mais utilizada ao longo da nossa história, mas nunca antes como nos dias de hoje.
Uma árvore enxertada, frutifica talvez até ao 2º, 3º ou 5ºano, mas a que preço?
A história genética das árvores, em geral, fornece as respostas para muitos dos problemas que lhe estão associados.
E quando falamos ou ouvimos falar que nunca antes existiram tantas pragas e doenças associadas a estas, mais não podemos que observar a sequência genética que nós, inconsequentemente, fomos desenvolvendo.
Estamos a falar que. com clones, o mesmo individuo, quando encontra uma doença, que por puro desenvolvimento genético natural, encontrou um meio, capacidade, ou característica que vai permitir atacar o sistema do hospedeiro, este, estará, não apenas ele em risco, mas também todos os clones que dele foram produzidos, porque no fundo são o mesmo, com as mesmos defeitos e qualidades.
é por estas coisas que hoje em dia, a fruticultura enfrenta muitos problemas.
Existem no mercado, milhões, senão biliões de árvores que apenas tem uns poucos milhares de recursos genéticos.
no eucalipto, castanheiro, e mesmo pinheiro bravo ou manso, já para não falar de todas as fruteiras, em que muito acontece, de diferentes formas, a partir de apenas uma folha, criam-se milhões de indivíduos.
E ISTO ACONTECE EM PORTUGAL E NO RESTO DO MUNDO!!! TODOS OS DIAS!!!
Alguém parou para pensar nisso?
GMO????
OGM???
Monsanto????
Eles apenas aceleram mais o que nós, aos poucos vamos inocentemente fazendo... estacaria é OGM!!!!
ENXERTIA É OGM!!!!!
Quando é que neste mundo vamos parar um bocado para ver o que está à nossa volta?
A única forma de multiplicar, de forma responsável uma árvore ou planta, será por via seminal, ou semente, e se tal não for possível, é porque a espécie nem devia cá estar desde o início!!!!
já agora nunca jamais escolher as sementes de apenas um indivíduo, mas variar o máximo possível, entre os melhores... talvez...
Por favor, parem e comecem a, finalmente, também incluir estas questões nos debates ao serão, enquanto bebem esse cházinho que deve ser delicioso...

PS!!!
A época da lande já começou....
as melhores bolotas encontram se nesta altura do ano... ab

...

Olá Antero e bem vindo a esta discussão.

Concordo práticamente com todos os pontos que apontaste.

Ainda que, e posso partilhar contigo aquela que para mim foi a solução para esse dilema que apontas e que a muita gente faz pensar.

Na minha opinião aquilo que faz a força genética de um individuo alem da potencia que já vem incluida no seu adn desde o seu nascimento é o contexto em que é criado, as caracteristicas do meio envolvente, num contexto de permacultura o objectivo é a biodiversidade porque isso é que vai criar as condições para o melhor desenvolvimento dos ditos individuos daí que a riqueza da diversidade ao contrário do fundamentalismo monocultural ser uma das grandes máximas deste movimento.

Sabemos que as variedades mais ancestrais são as melhores pela sua adaptatibilidade e se forem germinadas de semente ainda melhor mas como sabes num contexto onde se quer fazer uma rápida recuperação de solos degradados por vezes tem que se acelerar o processo e por vezes não se conseguem reunir as condições ideais e sustentáveis para que isso seja possivel, considero no futuro a praticar esse sistema mais ideal que apontas mas neste momento não consigo reunir as condições para que isso aconteça, talvez me possas dar umas dicas em como acelerar esse processo, mas neste momento e ifelizmente tenho que cair no velho ditado do mal menor, é sempre melhor ter lá as plantas que não ter nada, não concordas, até arriscava a dizer que, e sei que isto é muito discutivel e polémico que por vezes até mais vale ter uma floresta de acácias do que um solo exposto à erosão, sim sei que é muito longe do ideal mas lá está voltamos à velha história do mal menor.

Certamente que tu próprio quando vais recolher sementes das tuas plantas procuras as que deram os melhores frutos e que tiveram um maior vigor, esse processo dá pelo nome de seleção genética e é feito há 10000 anos desde que foi inventada a agricultura, e cada vez que se faz isso pode-se estar a negligenciar aspectos genéticos da planta de imensa importância à sua adaptação ao meio, como é fácil de entender que se os frutos são grandes e bons para ti, também vão ser bons para as chamadas pragas (não acredito muito nesta coisa das pragas porque está provado que 98% das chamadas pragas são benéficas em determinado momento e não tenho problema nenhum em as alimentar, QB claro, e QB é uma das coisas mais importantes naquilo que vejo como a minha filosofia de vida.

Afinal de contas fazemos tantas coisas que estão longe do ideal da sustentabilidade, mas lá está cada dia é uma batalha e a passo e passo vamos nos aproximando dos nossos sonhos.

O primeiro principio é cuidar da terra e para que isso aconteça é preciso matéria orgânica e as árvores são a maior fonte deste material e quanto mais velhas mais produzem.

Não me preocupam muito as pragas, preocupa-me mais a falta de biodiversidade.

...e sim a potencia genética também me preocupa, e bastante, daí já estar a germinar muitas árvores de semente, mas algumas tenho que esperar dez anos para ficarem do meu tamanho e começarem a produzir, e o tempo urge...mas tudo a seu tempo.

Gostei muito do teu comentário e gostava de saber se o posso publicar no meu blog para que mais pessoas tenham consciencia desta realidade que apontas.

...

Olá mais uma vez... é claro que podes pôr a questão onde necessitares, uma vez que é uma questão que, apesar de pouco se poder fazer, carece no entanto de alguma atenção, pelo menos do meu ponto de vista.

Quero tb dizer que concordo absolutamente com as palavras que proferiste.
Apenas pús a questão, porque a maioria das pessoas não está a par destes pormenores, e apesar de pouco haver a fazer, cabe-nos sempre a procura de novas soluções, se é que estas existem.
Infelizmente,não existe muita regulamentação para este tipo de actividade, o meu ponto de vista, é que se deveria desenvolver mais esta questão, do ponto de vista científico, por forma a preservar a diversidade genética das espécies.
A regulamentação em vigor, faz exactamente o contrário.
Devia pelo menos existir algumas regras em relação à produção de material vegetativo de reprodução, talvez passando pela variedade obrigatória na recolha destes materiais, e não o que o governo e indústria promove, ou seja, practicamente o contrário.
Só para exemplificar, as "árvores plus" ou seja, material vegetativo de topo, são reproduzidas muitas vezes a partirda mesma fonte genética, isto tem sido feito práticamente em todas as espécies florestais, ornamentais e fruteiras. O cúmulo é estes trabalhos científicos serem na sua base OGM's, ou seja, do meu ponto de vista são modificados através da selecção, e serem disseminadas abertamente pelo mundo fora, e ainda serem suportados por fundos públicos.
Não há, de facto, muito a fazer, apenas aconselho que, ao recolherem material vegetativo, tenham em atenção, variar o maximo na fonte desse material, ou seja, se temos 20 oliveiras, e precisarmos de 40 estacas, retirar duas de cada oliveira, e assim ir variando sempre que necessário....
essa regra básica deverá ser utilizada em todas as técnicas de reprodução vegetativa (enxertias, estacarias, mergulhias, alporquias etc...) e ter sempre em conta a variedade, e não a quantidade ou qualidade apenas da sua produção.
mas em todo o caso obrigado pela resposta e atenção... abraço


Obrigado pela lembrança Antero deste tema tantas vezes esquecido.

Para quem quer comprar árvores em Portugal ficam aqui alguns contactos, mas o melhor mesmo é sempre de semente...

http://www.vcastromil.pt/
http://www.arborlusitania.com/
http://pt.sireh.com/v/2/vfa-viveiro_florestal_do_algarve_lda_marim/

Adeus senhor do adeus fica com Deus...

O adeus do homem que me dizia olá.





Chama-se João. Um dia estava na rua e acenaram-lhe. Acenou de volta. A partir daí, todos os dias sai à rua pontualmente para dizer adeus a quem passa de carro.






Adeus senhor do adeus fica com Deus

Abelha Bombu / Bombus Bumblebee

Abelhão-terrestre



... e pensar que tem um raio de acção de 13 Km...

Uma persistente lenda urbana afirma ter sido estabelecido cientificamente que o Abelhão-terreste não pode voar. Sua cabeça seria muito grande e suas asas pequenas demais para sustentar seu corpo.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombus_terrestris .

São abelhas coloniais, com ninhos no solo, normalmente, muito importantes para polinizar muitas plantas. Têm ferrão mas são inofensivos. A proteger! ...

http://www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk/bumblebees_id.htm



Permaculture and Paganism an Interview with Starhawk

Starhawk was generous with her time while she was here in Madison a month ago. She granted me two interviews, the first about Palestine and the second — which I will begin to post today now that I’m back from my vacation — about permaculture. For those of you who don’t know her, Starhawk is the best-known Wiccan author alive today. She’s published eleven books, including The Spiral Dance, which introduced many of us to Wicca. From the beginning of her career, she’s been very involved as an activist, and since the 1990s she’s been most active in promoting permaculture.

Star came to permaculture as a natural outgrowth of her Paganism. After many years in the Goddess movement — where we declared that the Earth was a sacred, living organism that manifests Herself in the cycles of birth, growth, death, and regeneration that occur in all of nature, including our own human culture — Star discovered permaculture. She soon realized it was a practical application of her spiritual path.




Permaculture began as a way to imitate the relationships found in nature in order to design human communities and agricultural systems. As Star tells us in this interview, two Australians — Bill Mollison and David Holmgren — discovered many of the principles of permaculture while studying the Tasmanian rainforest. Their interest began when they started to ask questions like “Why is the rainforest thriving when no one is pruning it, spraying it for bugs, or fertilizing the soil? How does it care for itself? And why couldn’t we grow food for humans in the same way that the rainforest provides for itself?”

According to Star, Bill and David developed a set of ethics and principles based on what they discovered about natural systems. The ethics are quite straightforward: 1) Care for the Earth, 2) Care for people, and 3) Care for the future a) by sharing the surplus, b) by returning what you have to the land, and c) by limiting your consumption. These ethics guide the way permaculture implements its principles and creates and designs its systems.

According to Starhawk, permaculture’s many principles derive from one overarching understanding, namely that we should look at systems and relationships rather than at separate, isolated objects. This is also the core of Pagan philosophy and indigenous spirituality. For example, the Lakota say “Ho mitakuye oyasin,” meaning “all our relations,” a saying that indicates many times a day that we are a part of an interconnected whole. Within the Goddess movement, we also view life as a set of relationships. It’s our relationship with the natural world that sustains our lives, and it’s the relationships within nature that sustain the biodiversity, abundance, and beauty in our world.

Permaculture’s principles can be easily deduced, according to Starhawk, if you ask a few basic questions: For example, where are things in relationship to each other? If systems are designed to create the right relationships, Star told me, it saves a lot of energy, a lot of material, and a lot of human effort. So, for instance, if you catch water high enough up in your landscape, you won’t need to pump it. Or if you place your garden near your house, you will be able to tend it as you walk through it during the course of your day. And if you place those plants that need the most tending closest to your house, you’ll notice their needs and take care of them in a timely maner. One of the sayings of the permaculture movement is that if your woodpile is between the house and the outhouse, you’ll be able to bring in a few sticks at a time and never have to burden yourself with the heavy task of fetching wood.

Another good question from the perspective of permaculture is when things happen in relation to each other. Using the example of a garden again, you need to prepare the ground first, before you plant any seeds. Then the seeds can take root and thrive. This principle doesn’t just apply to gardens, Star told me, but is a sound economic standard as well. We need businesses to become rooted in our communities and become responsible to them. We desperately need these moral values at this time in history as a counter to climate change and to the oppressive aspects of globalization. Local institutions will not deplete our energy resources as quickly as those located far away. And instead of extracting wealth for shareholders who live someplace else, our businesses will be accountable and serve the needs of their own communities and provide a decent livelihood for the people work for them.

Another permaculture principle Starhawk talked about is catching and storing energy. The sun showers us everyday with energy, and if we can catch it, store it, and reuse it, that provides us with abundance. We can capture sunlight with solar panels, but we can also absorb it in the plants we grow and eat. This principle can also be translated into an economic concept. It’s easy to see that it’s not the number of dollars that come into a community that generates wealth, but how often they recirculate before they leave the area.

In nature, there’s no waste, Starhawk went on to say. When one thing dies, it feeds another. In fact, even one creature’s excretions can become another creature’s resource. Permaculture has developed a corollary to this natural principle, namely that pollution is an unused resource. Star’s example highlighted this concept. Sewage can be a tremendous pollutant, she said, but when dealt with properly, it can become a great source of nutrients. Millions of children die every year from water contaminated by sewage, but in reality, it’s not hard to deal with human waste. It’s only dangerous when it’s flushed away in water that then can’t be used for other purposes. Star tells her students that there’s nothing easier than building a composting toilet that can turn that lethal substance into a natural fertilizer that can then help grow crops or trees. What’s so interesting is that when we start to learn these things, we realize that there’s a cycle of destruction that we can turn around, creating a cycle of regeneration and rebuilding instead. “The problem is the solution,” Star said, quoting another permaculture saying.

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Entrevista a Bill Mollison 1980 (Interview)

Although this critical problem now occupies researchers and ecologists all over the world, it seems — at least up to this point — that only a few people (Jeavons among them) have been able to present feasible solutions to our current self-destructive system of commercial agriculture. Therefore, everyone here at Mother was excited to learn about Dr. Bill Mollison, an Australian environmental scientist who has coined the term “permaculture” to refer to his concept of a self-sustaining, consciously designed ecosystem. Mollison envisions regional systems containing integrated, self-perpetuating plant and animal species… assemblies that will literally operate themselves on the principles of stable diversity, energy efficiency, low maintenance, and high yield.

Unlike many other theorists and soothsayers, though, Mollison has an armory of facts and evidence to support his futuristic vision. In fact, the former university lecturer now lives in a metaindustrial village called Tagari — in the northwest corner of Tasmania — where he and his colleagues are busily setting up and demonstrating functional models of their ideas. Besides providing inspiration for the hundreds of permaculture associations that are springing up all over Australia, Tagari residents have also formed their own seed company and the Permaculture Institute… which is responsible for an international consultation service. The community is also training a team of designers, who are available — on a consulting and teaching basis — to individuals, public agencies, and disadvantaged groups. In short, Bill Mollison lives what he talks about… and perhaps that’s what makes the Australian’s arguments so convincing.

Mother had an opportunity to meet Bill Mollison recently, when he visited our western North Carolina neighborhood on one leg of his current world tour (which is being cosponsored by the International Tree Crops Institute, the Farallones Institute, the New Alchemy Institute, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the World Future Society). After the public lecture and workshop, Mother staffers Larry Hollar and Jeanne Malmgren spent several hours with the dynamic man, to delve more deeply into the philosophy and techniques of permaculture. The following transcript was edited from that encounter.

Whether you’re an organic gardener, an ecologist, or someone who’s just plain concerned about the uncertain future of commercial agriculture, you’re sure to find Mollison’s insights fascinating… simply because permaculture does seem to represent a viable way out of the crisis in food production and supply that we’re now facing.



Plowboy: Bill, it seems ironic that — being a native of a small, isolated island — you’re designing ecosystems that have worldwide applications. You must have had years of agricultural training while preparing for such a monumental task.

Mollison: Actually, I haven’t had a great deal of institutional horticultural education at all… but I suppose my background has helped prepare me for my current involvement with land systems.

I’m a sixth-generation Tasmanian, you see, so the peculiar sort of dual marine/bush orientation — common to natives of that land — is in my blood. Tasmania is largely an agricultural state, but it also contains a good bit of heavily forested territory. About half the island isn’t even yet fully explored, and I spent a lot of my childhood trudging the uncharted areas.

I grew up very independently, and without much formal training. My father died when I was 14, so I left school to help run our family bakery. As a result, I escaped having to spend a lot of hours in a classroom… and I think such a lack of traditional education is almost essential for anybody who does anything creative. Later in life — at about age 37 — I did go to the University of Tasmania and complete a degree… but I did so mostly to develop a bit of mental discipline. I also taught there, for some ten years, as a lecturer in Environmental Psychology.

My real education, however, has come from the variety of jobs I’ve held. For most of my life I’ve been either a fisherman or a fur trapper. I also — at different times — ran a market garden and a dairy.

I’ve been involved in wildlife and marine research, too. For several years, I worked with the Wildlife Survey Division of the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO. We tackled Australia’s large-scale pest problems, such as the locust plagues and the rabbit scourge. Following that job, I dabbled in fisheries research for several years… mainly concerning the estuaries between sea and fresh water, although I did a lot of inland lake work as well. And then — at various times — I’ve gone into the forest to become a true bushman… felling and milling trees, locating new forest stands, and seeking new trails through the wilderness.

Plowboy: And did all your contact with the wilds have any effect on your perceptions of our modern agricultural system?

Mollison: Oh yes! Everything I did, either in research or in fieldwork, indicated that there was something fundamentally wrong with modern farming methods. For instance, every problem I found in commercial agribusiness was actually caused by the industry itself. Usually — when a farmer called in the CSIRO for a consultation — the results of our investigation pointed the finger straight at the grower him- or herself!

As I saw the same situation occur time and time again, I gradually came to the conclusion that most contemporary crop-raisers must be doing things the wrong way. So my last few years with the CSIRO were spent in the forest, observing the plant and animal species on location… and there I learned that everything in nature is self-controlled and self-balancing.

You know, a lot of modern thought suggests that the planet — as a living organismic — seeks to protect itself by rejecting any species that causes it harm. For instance, if cattle damage part of the earth, the harmed region will respond by growing thorn bushes and poisonous plants, thus rejecting the animals. Well, I think we — the members of the human race — are perilously close to being rejected by the earth in that same way… and quite rightly so, since we’ve created some terrible damage.

Plowboy: How did you consolidate such early observations into your theory of permaculture?

Mollison: Well, I guess the germ of the idea had been lurking in my subconscious mind for along time. For instance, I remember writing in a diary, many years ago, that we should be able to construct environments. But the theory didn’t come to full consciousness until around 1969. I was thinking about the whole business of energy and of my opposition — as a conservationist — to strip mining, deforestation, and other forms of earth exploitation… and I concluded that it was time to devise a better way.

Actually, I guess it was rather a brave step to say, “Let’s apply the principles of environmental science to our production systems.” Up to that point, those principles had been taught as revealed knowledge… that is, a person would go into the forest, find relationships among the species, and formulate a principle or a law based on such observations. Then the individual had to showoff the “new” principle, so he or she would say, “Look, everybody, this is how it works.”

But no one, at that time, ever thought of taking such a relationship and consciously applying it, making it part of a design. The idea was a real mind twist, something that caused an almost physical change within my brain.

Plowboy: How were your new ideas received by traditional agriculturists?

Mollison: Well, I can only say that there was a stunned silence at first, since the concepts were seen as being terribly radical. The ideas were intuitively accepted very quickly, though, by nonprofessorial people. And many of the enthusiastic responses came from women. In fact, 70 to 80% of the letters I now receive come from women… they seem to see immediately that we’ve got something here. On the other hand, scientists — male or female — don’t see, mainly because they’re used to teaching a passive and nonreactive system. Such individuals don’t teach reactivity, and they don’t practice activity. Everything is on the blackboard, and nothing is in the garden.

Plowboy: Let’s see if we can define the whole idea of permaculture. Exactly what is your theory all about?

Mollison: The word “permaculture” refers to an integrated, self-sustaining system of perennial agriculture… which involves a large diversity of plant and animal species. A permaculture is really a completely self-contained agricultural ecosystem that is designed to minimize maintenance input and maximize product yield. In a permaculture, little wheels or cycles of energy are set up… and the system virtually keeps itself going! Essentially, it’s a living clockwork that should never run down… at least as long as the sun shines and the earth revolves.

I like to call permaculture a “humane technology,” because it’s of human dimensions. By that, I mean that it deals in a very basic way with simple, living elements… so it’s available to every man and woman. Permaculture doesn’t involve some sort of complicated technology, as does even an electricity-producing windplant. Instead, it’s a bio-technology… which people can intuitively handle.

After all, permaculture deals with living systems… and since man himself is a living organism, he can readily comprehend it. It’s a concept that can be very easily transplanted or given away to anybody, too. In that sense, it can never be patented — because it’s so readily available — nor should the idea be patented.

Plowboy: How, specifically, is permaculture different from conventional modern agricultural techniques?

Mollison: I can say in a word how it’s different: It’s consciously designed… and that alone makes it something brand-new. There’s no real design in modern agriculture, you see… there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of planning or thought in it at all!

The Chinese, for instance, have recently “modernized” their farming methods — that is, they went from hand tilling and fertilizing with natural manures to machine and flame weeding and fertilizing with artificials — and they increased their energy input by 800% in the process. Now they’ve gone beyond that and are heading toward an increase of 1,000%! And all that extra expenditure of energy produced an initial yield growth of only 15%… a figure that’s now declining rapidly. In fact, it now looks as though productivity might even fall below its original level!

Here in the United States, all the established agricultural systems — such as the wheatfields of Kansas, the cornfields of North Carolina, and the orchards of California — are aberrant systems… and they’re perishing as I speak. California, in fact, is rapidly turning into a desert. Modern agriculture, you see, can be summed up in only one statement: It destroys its own basis. It has already destroyed 50% of the world’s soil… and, of the remaining 50%, about 30% will be disappearing in very short order. The problem with today’s agricultural techniques is that — by ignoring the possibility of any design input — they fail to deal with interrelated functions.

One of the great principles of natural systems is that diversity and stability are directly linked. And if you’re going to create a stable system — that is, one that will survive — you must provide for some diversity within it. Now creating diversity doesn’t mean simply putting a lot of different plants in your garden. That’s a diversity of species, yes… but it doesn’t make your garden necessarily a stable one. What does create stability is a diversity in the relationships between species.

And that is the basis of permaculture: to see how many interacting relationships one can build into an agricultural setup.

Plowboy: Besides providing a high number of such functional connections, what are some of the other goals of a permaculture design?

Mollison: As I mentioned before, the system should be self-supporting… that is, it shouldn’t require the addition of any external energies to operate. It should also be self-steering, requiring a minimum of input from the designer after the design has been implemented. Finally, it should enrich the people in it, and they should enrich it. In short, a permaculture should be nothing less than a Garden of Eden. Now that may sound like a pie-in-the-sky goal, but I really believe it to be an achievable objective for the whole world… and the only things needed to reach it are human energy and intellect!

Obviously, though, we’d just about have to reverse our present mind set to bring about such changes. In fact, I think a revolution in thinking would be the proper word to use… in the same sense as Masanobu Fukuoka uses it in his book, The One-Straw Revolution. It’s a move toward good stewardship of the earth and toward a sane society. Our present society, you see, is insane, and the stewardship we practice is horrific… in fact, we don’t actually care for our earth at all, but exploit our nonrenewable resources and waste our renewable ones!

Permaculture, however, represents an educational process that can lead us away from irresponsible thinking. Anyone who works with a permaculture goes through a learning experience that is complex and interdisciplinary… the very things that traditional education is not. In essence, it’s an intellectual exercise. Instead of wearing out our bodies in the garden, we use our minds. For that reason, permaculture appeals to people who normally wouldn’t be interested in the hard physical labor of gardening — especially double-dig gardening with compost — since the real labor of developing a permaculture is not in doing it, but in thinking about what one is going to do. One’s major energy, then, is devoted to the initial designing of the system, not to the maintenance of it.

There are two books that point the way toward this new kind of thinking… and they are, in my opinion, the only texts that should be issued to student agricultural designers: Fukuoka’s book, which I’ve already mentioned, and a new volume — just published by Viking Press — called Entropy: A New World View by Jeremy Rifkin. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Turn to page 56 in this issue for a closer look at Rifkin’s work.)

Plowboy: In your own second book, Permaculture Two, you introduced two ways of looking at the land that were based on Fukuoka’s principles of nonviolent cultivation and natural farming. What are those contrasting views, and how do they relate to your work?

Mollison: The underlying philosophy of permaculture is the same as Fukuoka’s: working with the land, not against it. It’s essentially a matter of using the principles of Aikido, the Oriental defense art, on the landscape… allowing one to turn adversity into strength and use that energy positively. You’re right, there are two very distinct ways of looking at the land. One is to ask, “What can I demand this land to do?” That viewpoint — which is the prevailing philosophy of commercial agriculture — can lead only to the use of force on the fragile soil. A permaculturist asks instead, “What does this land have to give me?” Anyone who asks that question will naturally work in harmony with the earth to produce a sustained ecology. That’s what we try to do in permaculture: We adopt a design or strategy that rolls with the strengths and weaknesses of the land, to ultimately make the system stronger. And achieving that goal will naturally strengthen us, too, since our survival depends on the health of the earth.

What practitioners of permaculture do, then, is cooperate with the earth and avoid the use of force. In accordance with Fukuoka’s “do nothing” system of farming, we use no machinery… no digging or slashing machines, which would only disturb the earth and create an imbalance by the introduction of force. And this is the point that I must make time and again: If you use energy in any way nonproductively, then you are causing a chaotic condition, either in your garden or in your society. Permaculture involves a thought process in which you design systems to harmonize with nature, not to oppose it.

Plowboy: Let’s talk some more about the role of design in a permacultural system. Just how important is it?

Mollison: It makes all the difference in the world! Look at Fukuoka: That man, at 74, controls 12 acres at a higher productivity than any other farmer on earth… and he does it all on foot, with no machines whatsoever! And even his design could be improved upon. The point is that, by applying any sort of temporal and spatial pattern, one can literally achieve wonders in the product yields of a system.

Plowboy: What are some of the design criteria used in the formation of a permaculture? I mean, exactly how do you go about planning one of these microcosms?

Mollison: First of all, you take stock of all the external factors that must be worked with — such as climate, topography, soil, and water supply — and then choose plant and animal species that are highly suited to that particular set of factors. And this is the point at which permaculture must radically differ from commercial agriculture. If you want to — particularly here in the Americas — you can sit down and design a very productive piece of swampland containing people, ducks, invertebrates, and so forth… because swamps are naturally productive areas, and such a system will produce a vast number of useful things. But modern agribusiness experts would advise draining the swamp and making it into a cattle fodder system! That’s far too wasteful… in effect, it turns a natural area of high productivity into an artificial place of extremely low productivity.

When you’re developing the spatial design for a permaculture, you literally start at your own doorstep and work out from there… all the way to the horizon! The ground plan — starting from the center, where the dwelling and other principal buildings are located — involves concentric zones, with each species placed so as to maximize its usefulness in the ecosystem. The arrangement should be based on the principle of greatest accessibility: The species that need your attention or control most often — for watering or harvest, for example — are best located closest to the dwelling site… while plants and animals that need little or no attention are likely to be on the periphery of the system. Zone placement, then, governs the energies that are generated within the system, so that the whole “structure” operates on the least amount of labor possible.

Sector placement, on the other hand, governs the energies entering the system from the outside: both disruptive forces like fire or flood… and beneficial ones like sunlight and wind. Such factors can be either screened out or filtered into the system, according to the design. The aim is to channel external forces in such a way that they’ll efficiently serve the needs of an evolved permaculture.

Now a fascinating concept comes into play here, called the “edge effect”. Ecologists have long recognized that the area of intersection of two systems is a highly complex — and extremely productive — region where species from both systems can coexist comfortably… along with other species that are peculiar to the “edge” itself. Gross photosynthetic production is higher at the interface, and this richness of plant and animal life is very valuable to us as permaculture designers. So — when we plan the zones and sectors — we try to allow for a maximum area of interface between land and water, tree and lawn, open country and dense vegetation.

That’s the basic plan. Then — having set up the zones, sectors, and interfaces — the designer tries to make the highest possible number of functional connections among the species he or she has to work with. Each plant or animal should — in itself — serve a number of functions, and it should also interact with other species in a variety of ways.

Plowboy: Why is the principle of multifunction so essential?

Mollison: Because it’s part of the system’s array of checks and balances. A single species can operate in an almost infinite number of ways, you see, and its yield is directly controlled by the designer’s discovery of all the ways in which it can function. His or her imagination, then, can literally take the lid right off what are commonly presumed to be the maximum possible yield figures for any particular species.

Here’s an example I like to use: I call it my chicken model. Take four separate elements: a hen coop, a greenhouse, a pond, and a small forest. Now you can have these on your farm… and place them wherever you like, in no particular relationship to each other. In that situation each one functions individually, and they all consume energy. But if you make the forest a forage range for the chickens by putting the coop in or near that forest… if you attach the greenhouse to the front of the chickens’ shelter… and if you set the pond in front of the greenhouse — as illustrated in Permaculture Two — well, then you’ve got a nice system of interrelating functions, the familiar checks and balances.

Just look at all the ways you produce energy in this system: the chickens’ body heat, the direct sunlight that reflects off the pond and hits the greenhouse, the radiation of the trees at the rear, the decomposition of chicken manure, and on and on. If you sit down and sketch this system out, you’ll find that it’s fantastically complex — with thousands of functional interactions — and will run itself. Operating on its own energy, the system automatically switches on and off. As the sun gets high in the sky, the greenhouse absorbs more heat… so the chickens get hot and go out, thus removing the source of animal heat. While they’re outside, the birds forage in the forest and leave their manure to enrich the soil. After dark, of course, they’ll go back inside to keep warm… taking their body heat with them.

Look at each chicken by itself and the variety of functions it’s performing in this one simple model: In the coop the hen operates as a radiator, an egg producer, and a manurial system. In the forest the bird acts as a self-forager, a tree-disease controller, a fireproofer, a fertilizer producer, and a rake. One can use chickens to do quantities of useful work… in fact, I don’t know what you can’t do with chickens, once you get started!

Plowboy: The idea, then, is to design an ecosystem carefully… and once it’s established, let it function almost entirely on its own?

Mollison: Exactly. The ideal, of course, would be a system that requires no maintenance, which is a really difficult possibility to accept. You know, when the explorers and missionaries first landed on this continent, they were shocked to find the natives sitting indolently under trees… but the idea that you have to work to live is a strange one to aboriginal people.

Plowboy: But what about such concerns as pest control?

Mollison: Well, most of that problem is solved by the very design of the system. Broadly speaking, the diversity that is so important in permaculture is its own most effective pest control. The greatest cause of pests in monocultural cropping is the fact that farmers set out a whole field of corn or soybeans, alone and unprotected from the plant’s natural predators.

But the functional diversity of a permacultural ecosystem insures the operation of certain controls, since the designer turns the naturally antagonistic and competitive relationships among plants and animals to advantage. A complex system — with a great variety of species — is simply less susceptible to pest infestations than is a single-crop system.

In our Tagari gardens, we use several different species to deal with potential pest problems. Ducks, for example, are effective against snails and slugs. In some areas of Australia we have so many grasshoppers that people can’t garden without the pest-destroying help of guinea fowl… so they have to site their plots within a guinea fowl range. I also make straw and rock piles for lizards… since the reptiles will eat some grubs that birds won’t touch.

Another predator that I encourage in my garden is the tree frog… it will devour both cabbage moth larvae and pear slugs. To attract the frogs, I simply make little ponds out of shallow pits lined with plastic and hollowed-out tires. I dig the ponds wherever I need them — near the pear or apple trees and among the cabbages — then dump in a couple of gallons of tree-frog tadpoles.

We’ve also found that mulch is effective against such insects as cutworms. And, since most good mulches contain many different kinds of fungi, the material provides a sort of “battleground” in which harmful organisms simply eat each other up. I think one has to play around with all sorts of natural controls, as we’ve done… and will eventually hit upon the ones that work best in a specific area.

Plowboy: Isn’t there a tremendous financial outlay required to set up a permaculture, with such a diversity of species?

Mollison: Well yes, the initial cost can be steep if you’re the only person involved… and at one point I was. Originally, I spent about eight or nine hundred dollars, in species purchases alone, to set up a half-acre! But — once I was done — that piece of land didn’t cost another cent in equipment or maintenance. So there’s a rapidly decreasing financial input involved.

The best way to establish a permaculture, though, is to share the expense among a number of people. If you have some sort of association, you can obtain the necessary species at a low cost to each individual… and can also share whatever species you already have with one another. For example, I now find that one of my friends will already have specimens of any of six or seven hundred plant and animal types I might need.

Plowboy: Let’s talk about houses and buildings… what sorts of structures would fit into an evolved permaculture?

Mollison: Any buildings that are part of an ecosystem should agree with that system’s overall principle of minimal energy usage. To that end, there are basically two choices: One either makes adjustments to existing structures, or constructs new dwellings.

The “reactive house” concept is one pattern that can be employed to retrofit older dwellings. The aim of such a design is to reduce — or even eliminate — the need to use external energy for climate control. In this sort of housing, outside windbreak plantings protect the structure from cold winds… external walls are covered with insulating vine crops… a solar-collecting greenhouse is attached to the sunny side of the building… all walls and ceilings are well insulated… and so forth.

There are also lots of exciting things being done with underground and earth dwellings. Furthermore — after I finish my tour of the United States — I’m going to visit a West German named Rudolf Doernach, who “grew” his own house: a unique biostructure composed of an igloo-shaped steel-and-timber frame that’s grown over with leafy evergreen vines. The building is heated with compost… and it keeps the occupants quite warm, even in the cold European winters! “Plant houses” like Doernach’s — which literally spring up out of the ground — not only make useful human dwellings but can also provide warm livestock shelters.

Plowboy: Bill, so far you’ve referred to permaculture only as a rurally oriented concept. What relevance — if any — do your ideas have to the millions of people who live in crowded nonagricultural environments?

Mollison: I’ve done quite a lot of design work in inner city areas, believe it or not… most often with unemployment coops and community groups. Our cities are really in a crisis situation, because they were set up to exist only as dependents of physically distant food-producing ecologies, and simply can’t survive on their own. So we’ll have to do a fast job of designing in urban areas if we’re going to save the cities.

Actually, though, I find that — more and more — inner cities are becoming surprisingly active agricultural areas. Earlier in this trip, I worked in the Los Angeles suburbs of Lynwood and Watts… and what I saw there foreshadows what will be happening all over the world in ten years. Those people are more likely to make an effort to do something about their circumstances, because they have an immediate need… the edge of the sword is closer to them. Many inner city residents can’t afford petrol or food today — a situation that will become all too common in other areas quite soon — so they’re forced to grow their own supplies now. As a result, there are actually more gardens per capita in Lynwood and Watts than in any other part of Los Angeles. It’s strange… the Third World exists within the frontiers of the Western world, as well as without.

Anyway, I think we can reform the cities. I’d like to have a chance to work on great, tall skyscrapers… they’re nothing more than huge, unused greenhouses that could produce a tremendous amount of energy on their own. It would be possible to grow a lot of useful crops in such buildings… and in urban park areas that are now used only for ornamentals. All sorts of cluster-title and land-owning co-op systems could be devised to allow more and more city dwellers to produce their own food.

Plowboy: In Permaculture Two you stated that the only sane response to the insanity of our postindustrial age is “to gather together a few friends and commence to build the alternative, on a philosophy of individual responsibility for community survival.” Is this the motivation behind the community you’ve formed in Tasmania?

Mollison: Indeed it is. I think that total personal self-sufficiency is an extraordinarily stupid approach to existence. We all need one another — as individuals and as groups — to set up functional interconnections. Human beings, you see, need what a garden needs: a lot of diversity in functional relationships.

What we’re working toward at Tagari is a system of regionalism — based on our individual self-reliance — without the defended boundaries so common nowadays. Our group is rather small, but we maintain multilocation activities: We’re operating in deserts, in tropical rain forests, in cool temperate areas, in the sea, and in the cities. We believe that all the elements of life on earth are interconnected. Not only is no man an island, you see, but no species is an island.

Plowboy: How big is your community?

Mollison: At the site where I live with my family and friends, there are only eight of us. But we have alliances with several other similar groups, bringing the total number of Tagari members to about 30. And then we have alliances with many hundreds of other groups in Australia… publishing and distribution alliances, training and design alliances, genetic species alliances, and seed collection alliances. Through just this sort of system of linking connections, we foresee the emergence of what might amount to an alternative nation… which will be global. But, of course, we can’t let any one of the units get too big, or it might become oppressive. If that should happen, we’d have to drop it from the network… and it would be unable to survive alone, without those vital interrelationships.

Plowboy: Do you think there’s an optimum number of members, then, for the ideal community?

Mollison: That’s an interesting question, and the answer depends on what the function of a particular community is. I would suggest that we begin in tiny groups of five or six… but then these little units would later need to coalesce into groups of 30 or so and make a settlement. Finally, you’d need to form a larger tribe of about 200, to insure enough genetic diversity for the survival of the race.

So what I’m doing while I’m traveling on this tour is setting up connections. I hope to leave a string of new permaculture groups behind me as I go. The associations are actually self-forming — all I do is introduce the ideas and get them started — and self-run: There’s no central secretariat or anything like that. What we want is not a bureaucracy, but an interconnected system of functional links… such as seed exchanges and reciprocal resource distributions. The associations can operate very efficiently on their own. In fact, I don’t even know what most of them are doing… which is fine, as long as they’re out there putting things right.

Plowboy: Is Tagari open to new members?

Mollison: Oh, sure. We’ll accept up to 30 members at each location within the community… but we plan to stop expansion altogether at a total size limit of about 200 people. So it is open — for a finite period — at several locations. We take in some seasonal workers, as well. And we do have lots of interesting work going on. Actually, functions are split within the community: some of us work in publishing the permaculture books, others work in information dispersal, and I work — along with several others — in design and networking. In addition, a number of us are involved in setting up alternate forms of property ownership. We now have quite an active land bank system, through which we acquire farms, houses, and other buildings and then parcel out stewardship of the properties.

Plowboy: And you’re also educating permaculture designers?

Mollison: Yes, and they’re trained to design to the very limit of their intellect, to apply the principles of functional connections to their plans. In that sense they’re a new breed, totally different from traditional landscape architects or agricultural designers. We plan to train them initially in Australia and then send them out to teach regional courses to other people… thus we’ll be setting up an expanding pyramid of functional design knowledge.

And it appears we’re already making inroads into traditional thinking patterns… 60,000 copies of our books have been sold in Australia, and there are permaculture associations popping up in every state of that nation. The idea is also beginning to enter the establishment, it seems, through the formal educational system. One agricultural university and one technical college now offer courses in permaculture. A lot of “respectable” scientific associations are linking up with us, too… they’re giving themselves fancy names like “Agro-Silviculture Institutes”, but they’re all actually edging into permaculture.

Plowboy: It’s great to know that some minds are already being changed by the idea of permaculture… but how can your group convince those who may not have realized the value of your concept? That is, how do you expect people to convert the prevalent belief in high-energy, single-yield agriculture to an awareness of low-energy, diverse-yield permaculture?

Mollison: I believe the key word here is commitment. Self-government is the first thing each individual has got to learn. Each person must make up his or her own mind and make a commitment… only then is he or she ready to go out and convince others. Just before E.F. Schumacher died, he said that our duty is to get our own house in order, and I certainly couldn’t put it any better than that. We all have to start within ourselves and get our own houses in order… and then we’ll be ready to become missionaries for order.

But if your house is in chaos and your doorstep is weedy… well, then you can’t be a very good missionary, can you? In fact, man shouldn’t leave this planet if he’s going to leave it in disorder, because he’ll only carry his chaos along with him… and he’ll become the garbage strewer of the universe.

Plowboy: O.K. Assuming that our race is able to get its house in order, and we’re ready to go out and make the changeover to permanent agriculture… what should be our first course of action?

Mollison: I think our main responsibility is to set up a replacement for modern agriculture before it collapses, instead of waiting for its self-destruction. And the system will certainly destroy itself… it’s only a matter of time. In fact, the end of commercial agribusiness is foreshadowed in today’s news stories. While I was in Los Angeles, I read that agricultural “experts” foresee in the near future a single crop — it will probably be the soybean — from which all other foods will be derived. We’ll only need that one crop, they say. What a disaster! If that happens, the powers that be will probably level all the mountains and fill in all the rivers, just to set up the artificial monoculture… and we won’t have any diversity to build on.

So I propose that we begin to build countersystems, based on what little diversity is still left, now! We need to start — as quickly as possible — gathering genetic resources and stacking them into the right assemblies. We need to have some diverse systems already functioning when conventional agriculture collapses, so that we won’t be destroyed. Because if we’re caught unaware, modern “agribiz” will be the end of a lot else besides itself… it’ll take most of the earth’s soils with it. However, if we start now, we’ll be ahead of the sublime blaze-out that’s sure to come.

We must also reorder our thinking, including our notions as to which technologies are the “right” ones to use. We need a simpler, biologically oriented technology. For every machine you might invent, I could name a living thing that would perform its function just as well. For instance, we can pump water in or out of the ground with certain plants, and we can completely control the climate of living spaces with animals and plants… and biological technology doesn’t rip the earth to pieces as it works.

Plowboy: What do you think the future would be like without the biotechnology of permaculture?

Mollison: There is no future without it… at least not for life systems. Our current highly developed technology is leading us toward an inorganic future… and man — a creature of flesh and blood — wouldn’t survive long in such a world.

At this point, most people are still irresponsible… and seem to be dangerously shortsighted when it comes to their ability to perceive the immutable barriers that we’re bound to hit sooner or later. It’s like that classic film short Godzilla vs. Bambi, you know. Humankind is flitting about carelessly — like the innocent Bambi — consuming enormous amounts of energy with no thought for the future. But Godzilla — those inescapable laws of nature — is breathing down Bambi’s neck… the shadow of a giant foot, of the great paw that will soon come down, hovers over him.

I think, though, that people will wake up as the world goes deeper and deeper into disorder… as our nonrenewable resources begin to disappear and Western agribusiness begins to falter. Then they’ll be clamoring for someone to help put their world back in order… and that role could, perhaps, be partly filled by permaculture designers! Therefore, I foresee a few decades of high demand for good designers… a period that will last until the society regains its stability and becomes selfsustaining.

Plowboy: You think it’s possible, then, to reverse the damage we’ve already done? Do we still have the potential to extricate ourselves?

Mollison: Obviously so, since we’ve survived this far. We’ve got good genes! I mean, we must have descended from a long line of right thinkers, or we wouldn’t be sitting here. That’s been the course of human history, you know: you think right or you’re dead. So I believe we have the inherited capacity to think right, behave properly, and design a viable future for ourselves… we’ve just got to start drawing upon our marvelous inheritance.

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Introduction to Permaculture USA



































Permaculture Russia with Sepp Holzer

Introduction to Permaculture by Geoff Lawton











Permaculture Uganda

In 2008, Dan and Amanda from Very Edible Gardens spent four months helping start a permaculture project at Sabina Home and Boarding School in Southern Uganda. In early 2010, they returned to help on a permaculture design course led by Rosemary Morrow. This short movie has three friends and Sabina permaculture interns - Charles, Nyero and Sharon - taking you on an entertaining and educational tour of the site in January 2010.

Aquaculture and Swales





Permaculture Sri Lanka





What Is Permaculture ?

Permaculture is essentially a design system that attempts to mimic patterns and relationships found in nature, and use these to design a system that will provide the food, energy and shelter needs of people. Permaculture can be applied at any scale, from dense urban settlements to individual homes, to farms and to entire regions. It can be applied uniquely to different local systems using available knowledge and resources.






Care for the Earth: Recognising that the earth is the source of all life and our valuable home, and that we are part of it, not apart from it.

Care for People: Supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that do not harm ourselves or the planet, and to develop healthy societies.

Fair Share: Ensuring that the earth? limited resources are used in ways that are equitable and wise.







An Permaculture Interview with Penny Livingston

PERMACULTURE: California Style









There is a myth that as the human population increases, food, and arable land to grow it on, will necessarily be in short supply. Competition for land and other dwindling resources will, in turn, destroy the world's remaining forests and ecological preserves. But there could be another outcome, another approach to life, an new beginning. In her three-part, exclusive interview with Ecotecture, Permaculturalist Penny Livingston tells us how.

Learn more about Penny and her Permaculture Institute of Northern California
-PSW

Ecotecture: How did you first get interested in Permaculture, first discover it?

Penny Livingston: I have a background in landscape design, and I was getting to a place where I wanted to work with people connecting them back to the natural world. As a landscape designer, you get a lot of people saying, "I want a no-maintenance garden." There are people who want to sit out on their porch or their deck and look at a beautiful garden and not have any interaction with it. So I did a lot of natives, and habitat, and getting birds in there. I've always thought that there is more than just covering the ground with plants. It is really about, "what are the functions of the plants, and what else can they be doing besides just looking beautiful? Can they be make oxygen, process water, provide habitat, heal people?" When I found out about Permaculture, that pretty much fit the bill.

Ecotecture: How did you find out about Permaculture?

PL: Well, (laughs) I went through a crisis where I fired a client. It didn't feel very good, but it was just one of those things where I was working for very wealthy people and constantly getting my money talked down, talked down, when I charged so little, at the time anyway. It was just so offensive to me, the I said, "I think you should find somebody else." I had a big hole in my schedule after firing this guy. A friend of ours from Lost Valley Education Center in Oregon was staying with us. I was really upset. I didn't even want to come to dinner. I was in my office, and stewing, wondering, "What am I doing with my life, comforting the rich, building these things . . . what's it all for, anyway? It is a luxury."

Ecotecture: When was that?

PL: This was around 1990. To have somebody come in and design and put in your landscape for you is not a necessity, it is a luxury. It was getting to the place where what I was doing seemed so meaningless.

So, my friend talked about a Permaculture course starting three days hence. I didn't have a clue as to what Permaculture was. She talked about a blending of ecology and community economics. That was a hook for me, the community economics part. So, I went, and took a two-week (Permaculture) intensive design course. It turned my world upside down, or, right side up, let me put it that way (laughs).

Ecotecture: Where was the course taught?

PL: It was at the Lost Valley Education Center. It was in December. It was taught by Tom Ward, June DeHobbs, and Rick Valley, who were three students of (Permaculture Founder) Bill Mollison's.

Ecotecture: And it turned your world right side up?

PL: Yeah. Yeah, because everything made so much sense. But I wasn't real clear on what Permaculture was and how much of what they were teaching was their opinions and how much was the curriculum. So, I ended up taking a couple more courses. One of them was with Bill Mollison. Since then I have become good friends with him. He stayed here and I've hosted him and I've gotten a real in-depth look from the horse's mouth, so to speak, because he was one of the co-founders, with David Holmgren, of the concept of Permaculture. David Holmgren was a student of environmental design and Bill was a professor of forest ecology at the University of Australia, or perhaps Tasmania. They put the whole concept together.

Ecotecture: I've heard Bill Mollison referred to as the "Tasmanian Devil."

PL: Oh yes.

Ecotecture: What's he like?

PL: He's a delightful human being. He has a persona of being a rather irascible curmudgeon when he gets on stage. He'll rant, he is an iconoclast, he likes to poke at everyone's sacred cows, and he does it well-pisses people off. He also angers people into action. He is very effective at doing that. He really gets people to start looking at themselves in a more critical way.

But in private, at home, he's like a big bear. He is so interested in everything. His idea of a good time is to go to used bookstores and buy books, which is so fun to do with him. He also cooks really good food, particularly sea food. Fresh, hot, sea food. That is what we do a lot when he is here. He's not particularly interested in looking at everyone's garden, and giving everyone advice. In fact, he shuns that. He really likes to just kick back, tell stories, talk about new ideas, the old days, and he is a delight to be around. He spent quite a bit of time here, and, when he leaves, I feel very sad because I never know if it is the last time I will see him.

Ecotecture: How old is he now?

PL: I'm not exactly sure. I think in his early 70's. He quit smoking, the first of this year. It was pretty funny, you know, this "sustainability" guy smoked like a fiend. So he is also sort of a walking contradiction himself, like so many of us are. He's very accessible and down to earth and a regular person.

I think when I first met him, before I met him, I expected to see a grouchy, aloof, disconnected, burnt-out, irascible, egotistical guy.

Ecotecture: Sounds like he has a good reputation, at least.

PL: (Laughs) That is what I expected. I didn't know. You just think, here is somebody who is a global figure . . . But he is not at all any of that. He is really fun.




Pond, water storage tank, trees and light on Livingston's PINC property.
Click for full image.
I feel very grateful not only that I have gotten to be friends with him and to get to know him the way I have, but also that he decided to not go out in the bush and isolate himself, that he did come back (from his trek in the wilderness) and bring this design system with him and walked the globe and shared it with community after community for two or three decades now. I feel indebted to him, in a way, and extremely grateful that he did that. It certainly changed my life.

I don't know of any other single human being that has done more to empower communities to start taking responsibility. There are more Permaculture people doing silent, quiet — just doing the work — then there are in any of those big USAID, World Bank, or Peace Corp projects combined. There are literally tens of thousands of people doing this all over the world involved in on-the-ground Permaculture projects.

But they are not announcing it. There are journals where people write about what they are doing, but, often, it is very difficult to find the people because they are just doing it. The Permaculture community is very anarchistic.

Ecotecture: What happened after you took that first Permaculture course?

PL: I came home and basically did business as usual, still. People would talk to me and say how was it, what happened, and I would say, "I can't even talk about it. I'll get back to you (laughs)." My brain was so full. I went through all my notes, put 'em on a computer, rearranged them. That really helped me to remember everything. Because after about a week and a half I went brain dead. You get so much information, especially in the old way of teaching — and it is still being taught this way — lecture, lecture, lecture. Whereas in our (PINC) courses, as much as possible, we get out there and do hands-on every afternoon. We break up the input of information so people can process it.

So, it wasn't until I went to the Green Gulch Zen Center near Bolinas, California, where they were doing a workshop on sustainability . . . I just happened to read about it that morning, when it was happening, when I opened up the Green Gulch newsletter. I dropped everything, jumped in the car, went down there, and said, "I want to hear what you have to say."

As we were walking along, and looking at the landscape and what was happening there . . . you can see that it used to be a ranch, they pulled the cows off, it's has been probably three years or more with no cattle there, so you can see the land re successioning itself and coming back. So it is a good example, the hills there, and, all of the sudden, things just started trickling out of me. An understanding happened.

I don't take ecology classes — scientific biology. I do have a lot of friends who are naturalists that have really given me great information, but there was a pattern, something clicked where I could see the pattern and see flow patterns. That is a big part of Permaculture. That is the tool you use, along with observation. Those are the two things, observing and pattern understanding and recognition — mostly you are observing and looking for patterns.

Ecotecture: What kind of patterns?

PL: Oh, any kind of patterns. That's the beauty. It could be flow patterns, patterns of succession, air flow, water flow, pathway flow, human dynamic patterns. Just looking for patterns and identifying them has helped my whole understanding of complex systems.

Once you identify a pattern, you work within that pattern, work within that flow. It is an understanding that just comes. It is a non-intellectual understanding. In fact, I have been musing about how much of what we attribute to intuition is really pattern recognition, and maybe vice versa (laughs). Because it comes in very much the same way. You see, when you are looking at a tree, for example, or you are watching a river or creek flow, you are getting so much information that you don't even know that you are getting it, consciously.

So as a designer I make decisions that just feel right. What Permaculture brought to me was learning how to trust my intuition. I really think a lot of what I was calling intuition was simply complex pattern recognition. As a designer, I could tap into that, and I ended up with successful designs. Especially if one is working with living things, landscape, for example, you are working with plants, soil, critters, water, wind, and weather (dynamic patterns.) It's not like building cabinets and putting them in someone's house or getting a piece of furniture. It is a living system that you are designing with it.

So, a successful design requires very little maintenance, and creates a healthy environment and high production. That production can be interpreted as habitat, clean water, a comfortable place to be, definitely food production and raw materials of all sorts for human use. When you start looking at the pattern you realize that even the migrating Warblers that are coming in and eating the little caterpillar that would normally be eating your plants — that is human use too. So habitat, if you want to look at it that way, has a human function to it as well, that of maintaining a balance so we don't have to do it.

Ecotecture: So what happened next? There you were. You had finished your course, you went to the Zen center, and you got this big flash...

PL: That is what I got, I got an "Aha!" It also happened with my dreams. I kept dreaming this stuff. Every night. To the point where I would wake up in the morning and sometimes I would just be exhausted because I would have to go out and do it again- designing. As you know, as a designer you use a certain part of your brain when you are intensely designing things. It can be tiring. It is not something that you can do all the time, at least I can't. I get very spaced out when I do three or four hours straight on a project, just doing designing and drawing or measuring or mapping, even. All of that takes concentration.


This "Cobb" structure, built by students at a Permaculture Institute of Northern California workshop, serves as Livingston's office.
Click for full image.
So, I'd do that in my dreams, and then in the morning I would just be wiped out (laughs) to the point where I finally said, "OK, I submit. Stop it!" I decided to devote my life to spreading the word about Permaculture, because, I thought, "this makes so much sense. It is teachable. The curriculum is brilliant."

There is a lot of sustainability stuff out there. A lot of ecological design stuff and all these different flags. But, I find that the way the information is presented, the principals, in Permaculture, no matter who you are, whether you are an architect, engineer, farmer, a housewife who has hardly been in the garden . . . one woman we had was a baker who thought she didn't "have any experience." She found that everyone can tap into his or her ecological knowledge, it is all within us. There is a resonance that starts to happen.

The same curriculum has been taught to Warani Indians in Equador, architecture graduate students in Portugal, communities throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia, Nepal, and Bali, not to mention Australia and New Zealand — it is everywhere. Vietnam has a big Permaculture community now, thanks to one Australian woman who went there. The curriculum is the same everywhere so you can have the same course in India as you do here. It can have a different bent to it, based on the culture, but the essential information is the same. It transcends cultural, political (boundaries) — you can have Libertarians, left wingers, religious right wingers all in the same group, and everyone is resonating on these principals because they just make sense. They are very non-dogmatic.

There is another brilliance to them. They can be applied in the tropics, temperate climates, drylands, wetlands. So that is what psyched me. I thought, "this is brilliant."

It takes a while to really understand and apply it to your own life, because everyone is different, everyone's life is as complex as life itself. But, when you get up in the morning, you start to have a little bit of a palette of criteria about what to do with your life and what decisions you are going to make. "Where is my food coming from? Where is my water coming from? Where does my sewage go? Where is all this garbage going?" You are certainly asking these questions.

Then you start asking, "what can I do to start turning these wastes into resources." Then you find that the creativity is only limited by that of the designer. There are incredible things that can be done to reduce consumption, increase production, create these ecologically viable and economically sound settlements for humans.

Ecotecture: What is the difference between Permaculture and, say, organic gardening?

PL: Good question. They are very different. Very different. One of the things that has been said in the past, and I don't agree with this, is that only Permaculturalists have ethics toward the land. I completely, whole heartedly disagree. Every organic farmer that I know has a very profound ethic toward the land. That's why they are farming organically to begin with.

But, organic farming comes from a premise of monoculture. You are still plowing, in most conventional senses, you are still growing all your crops in a row, you are still growing all your lettuces here, your cabbages there, your potatoes over there — for practical reasons. They are mostly growing money more than they are growing food.

Ecotecture: Permaculture doesn't plow?

PL: In Permaculture you don't dig, you don't plow, you very rarely weed. You have a perennial based system. That is where you start.

Ecotecture: And you have a diverse system?

PL: Yes, very diverse. You basically focus on growing your soil, and the soil will grow the plants. That's kind of true for organic agriculture also, but with Permaculture you plant the foundation first, with all the perennials. Then, within that perennial system (you plant annuals). The annuals may be a small percentage, 10 to 15 percent, depending on what your needs are, how much space you have, and what size your project. It is very small piece. That is the piece of which we say, "if you want to do biointensive (gardening), biodynamic, or whatever method of growing your annual vegetables, go for it." Whatever works for you.

You can also interplant within the Permaculture system, and do sheet mulching (see below). There are a thousand different ways of growing food. More than that (laughs). I don't want to put a limit on it.

There is an unlimited number of ways to grow food. It's probably one of the most site specific things you can think of. I could live across the street from here and I'm going to have a whole different set of issues. For farming, especially organic farming and annuals, the learning curve takes years to get that site down, in terms of starting the seeds at just the right time, and dealing with all the variations in the weather conditions, particularly here in California. There is a huge amount of knowledge that has to be attained through organic farming.

If you design a Permaculture system right, and you put it in place, you can walk away and it will grow itself. That is the primary difference. I've got perennial kales. I just lop off the top and stick them in the ground and they grow. I have greens all year long. We've got fruit trees now that, in their fourth year, are yielding bushels of fruit, and this is just a small garden. We don't have that many trees, but we have many hundreds of pounds of fruit. It is good fruit, it is highly mineralized, highly nutritious.

These are plants that want to grow here. That is the only kind of plants that I'm interested in on any site. I am not interested in coddling plants. I'm not interested in creating false conditions for plants to grow. If it is the right plant in the right place, it will grow itself. It doesn't need much help from you.

Some of these, like that (Australian) Palonia tree I was showing you (which has grown 15 feet in one year), I have given one shovel full of chicken manure and that is it. With our trees, we very rarely fertilize anything. The birds do it for us, the ducks do it for us, the sheet mulch as it breaks down — the carbon breaks down, like a little bio bank, a slow release fertilizer as it decomposes.

Ecotecture: What is sheet mulch?

PL: It is a high carbon mulch. You mulch by putting cardboard and newspaper down, and put wood chips or straw or some carbonaceous material on top of that. Instead of using cardboard, some people in the tropics use giant taro leaves. You can use carpet, especially if it is non-toxic. But, even if it is toxic, even if it has the formaldehyde in the glue, it gets broken down molecule by molecule by bacteria until it is rendered harmless. Sheet mulching is a good bio-remedial way to clean toxins where you get all these critters eating the carbon, the detritovores eating everything and breaking it all down.

That is true also of soil and of water. That is where we work. Our whole process is that as we are growing our food we are also cleaning our water, cleaning our soil, creating food for other critters besides ourselves, and deepening the complexity of the natural world through our participation. It is more complex, more diverse, more fertile, more ecologically rich than it would be if we as Permaculturalists or humans never entered that place.

Nature, without humans, doesn't really contain such a garden. That's the beauty. We are natural beings. We are part of nature. We are just as natural as the mountain lion, bear, elk, skunk, beaver, fish, and birds. Permaculture offers us an opportunity to participate in the natural world in a really good way. We can maintain the balance just like the wolf that kills the weak caribou and keeps the caribou herd strong just by being a wolf. With Permaculture, we can create a system that can go on for an indefinite amount of time.

Ecotecture: Our readers might have a little trouble understanding that human beings can augment or improve upon nature.

PL: OK. Let's take the example of soil. If you take soil that has been degraded, compacted, walked on, exposed, heated, raked, overgrazed, driven on, or whatever- herbacided, pesticided. Even without the poison, just due to the compaction and lack of organic matter in that soil, it will blow away. It takes, depending on who you read, between six hundred and nine hundred years for nature to build an inch of top soil. That can wash away through bad practices in one storm within two hours. You may lose two, three, four inches of top soil in one storm. Without humans, that site will have to wait six hundred to forty-eight hundred years to become viable again.

Enter human beings, homo habilis. Ability and habilis come from the same root. We have the ability to move things around. To create relationships. To put things in certain places. That has gotten us into a lot of trouble, but it can also get us out of a lot of trouble. By sheet mulching, composting, adding organic matter, forking the soil, aerating the soil, whatever we need to do to that spot, we can build that top soil up in two or three years.

I have a bush pile that I created just from the pruning of the fruit trees that I planted here that has created almost a foot of topsoil in four years. It is not just topsoil. It is more like humus, a stable, nutrient laden form of top soil. I don't know what the exponential rate . . .if you want to calculate what percentage of efficiency that is, or what percentage of benefit that has.

It is not only that. That pond I put out there (on my property). . . we saw that little bird before, that little sparrow, that bird would not be here if that pond were not here. The first thing that happened when we filled the pond with water is we could hear, we could feel the birds all saying, "Thanks." Also, "Cool!" (laughs) They weren't coming up and bowing down full of gratitude, but they were very happily and pleasantly surprised when they came back (after the pond construction was complete) and found this water that they could work around. We intentionally made shallow places where they could dip into it. That is what that (stone) waterfall is. It is designed so little birds like that can go there and not be freaked out about it. We had a hawk taking a bath in that waterfall.

Ecotecture: Then you are mostly talking about taking soil systems that have for whatever reasons been degraded.

PL: Or lawn landscape practices. You keep mowing your lawn and hauling away the greens-that's mining your soil.

Ecotecture: Right. The way I heard what you said originally is that if there was a natural area that was in a pristine state you would come into that and make changes. That is where I saw an argument. Obviously, when you are talking about degraded areas, humans can help a great deal in their recovery.

PL: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. No Permaculturalist that knows anything would dare go into a pristine area, especially an old growth area.

For example, there is one principle that is called the "edge effect," or "creating an edge." The idea is that an edge, or ecotone, is more ecologically rich than the two ecosystems that have come together to form it. For example, the border between a pond and the dirt around it, or a clearing and a forest.

One of the things we strongly emphasize in our courses is that you must truly understand edge. It means, for example, that under no circumstances do you go into an interior forest and clear out a meadow, because, in fact, you are removing more edge than you are creating. If you take out one old-growth tree, or one large tree, the surface area you are removing (from the forest canopy) has more edge (than you are creating on the ground.)

Another huge conversation is about the definition of old-growth. It doesn't mean that the forest has never been cut or burned- it is about the level of complexity and the level of interrelationship within that forest. They are still having a hard time defining that. In my opinion, it is not about looking at how big the trees are, but about the ecological complexity in that forest.

In most forests, it is all happening in the ground. We hardly see anything that is going on above ground. There is fungal activity, bacterial activity, the relationships between them. We have already determined that there is more biodiversity in one gram of Pacific Northwest Forest soil, healthy soil, than there is in an estuary. And that there is more biodiversity going on below the ground in a Pacific Northwest Forest than there is above the ground in a tropical rain forest.

It is really about understanding. When we talk about complexity, when we talk about edge, we are not talking going into a pristine situation and removing or changing something. In fact, that is the whole discussion about Eucalyptus (trees.) Everybody is complaining about how Eucalyptus and Scotch Broom (a large shrub) are invasive plants. Let's start focusing where there is nothing growing, and start working on those sites before we start tearing down trees that happen to be habitat for Monarch Butterflies (Eucalyptus stands along the Northern California Coast, particularly in the Monterey Bay Region), that happen to be rookeries for raptors that eat rodents.

What they did at Angel Island (State Park in San Francisco Bay) was horrific. They cut down all the Eucalyptus because they are not native (so they could replace them with native plants). Why didn't they go onto some bald, overgrazed hill and plant a bunch of native trees? Focus on those areas instead of coming into a forested island with a degree of complexity that, even though it is not native, is thriving. An old, tall, huge tree has implicated itself with the critters around it.

So yes, we mostly like to focus on degraded areas. We are fortunate in that way, because there are lots of areas like that. No shortage.

ECOTECTURE: Does your garden feed you?

LIVINGSTON: Yes. We don't buy any fruit or vegetables, only staples like bread and the scones we had when you came here today.

Four of us eat out of the garden, my husband and I and my two resident Permaculture students. I didn't even show you the back, but it is real sunny (in early January). We have broccoli, cauliflower, lots of kale, collards, chard, lettuce and onions coming in. We still have tomatoes, because we have had such a warm winter. We still have potatoes and a number of different kinds of tubers all throughout the garden.

I don't have to import anything into this garden any more, and I will be able to grow food for . . . ever. If I kept it managed, with the chickens, and composting and keeping our food loop going from the garden to the table to the compost, there is no need to import any food. This is a sustainable system.

If the Y2K thing had happened, and there was no food, and we did not stock up on anything, we would be still eating just fine out of the garden for the whole rest of the winter, and be starting more. Now is the time to start more seeds. In another two months there would be even more food on its way.

ECOTECTURE: Do you collect your own seeds?

LIVINGSTON: Yes, we do. We collect not all of our own seed. For example, cabbages. If you have broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts all coming in at the same time, you will get some weird crosses from the Romenesco Broccoli's, for example. But, you know you could, you could save your seed, people have done that for millennia, and you could create your own varieties. Or, if I only grew one kind of cabbage that I really liked I'd get the two varieties by saving the seeds. But it is insect pollinated, so, in a small space like this, it is a little tricky to do.

On one level, you could say, "Sure, I could collect those seeds and plant them and I would be growing food. Anything I would grow from those seeds would be edible. It probably would taste pretty good. But it wouldn't be necessarily the broccoli that . . . . it would be a brocciflower, or something like that (laughs.)

ECOTECTURE: You are eating entirely out of your garden. How much land to you have?

LIVINGSTON: A little less than an acre. About three quarters of an acre.

ECOTECTURE: And you are feeding four people?

LIVINGSTON: Yes. And out of that—you can see—we are not even planting all of it. We could be producing a lot more. With all this running around we do . . . we are really only growing for our own needs.

ECOTECTURE: With a Permaculture garden, approximately how much space you would need to feed, say, a family of four? Half an acre?

I guess you could probably feed twenty to thirty families on a half an acre.

LIVINGSTON: That's a hard one. I would guess way less than half an acre. I guess you could probably feed twenty to thirty families on a half an acre.

ECOTECTURE: On a half an acre?

LIVINGSTON: Oh yeah. You can grow a lot.

ECOTECTURE: . . . of regular soil. You are not talking about in barrels or anything like that?

LIVINGSTON: No, with Permaculture if you wanted to double that, you could.

ECOTECTURE: Really?

LIVINGSTON: Yes, you could. You absolutely could. Because you start thinking in terms of cubic feet instead of square feet. You can start trellising, for example. One of the methods of increasing your production is going vertical. It is called stacking. Permaculturalists think in terms of multiple canopies, so you have the high tree layer, lower tree layer, vining layer, shrub layer, herb layer, ground cover layer and the root layer. You have all these different layers, then you pattern your garden to allow the sun to come in as you need it. So you might create little meadow areas where you can grow cantaloupes or tomatoes or something that needs really hot sun.

One of the things we do here on the (California) Coast is pattern our garden into a south facing horse shoe shape with something like clorin or bamboo with a light colored, big, reflective leaf on the back side so you are not only getting convection heat from the ground, but you are also getting reflected heat from the leaves of the plant. Then you add straw mulch. If you notice . . . . this came to me, though everyone else knows about it . . . I discovered it by walking into an area that is mowed, and it is all brown underneath the mowed area. You go from where it was kind of green and taller grass into the mowed grass and you can feel the heat coming up to your face on a hot day or a warm day, just from the color of the straw. I got, "Oh, we can mulch our tomatoes and our cantaloupes with straw and that will help them ripen in the sun. Otherwise, it is very difficult to ripen tomatoes on the Coast unless you are growing hybrids that are designed for that.

If your goal is to have the most productive farm, to be able to create as many crops as possible, and, say, to make the most money from those crops, you certainly can do it. Working within these Permaculture principles is great.

That is not our goal here. I'm already enjoying about as much abundance as I can stand. I touched down—I've been traveling a lot—I come home and I have one day and it's, "OK. Let's put up two more bushels of apples." Slice them, puree them, can them, dry them and do whatever we can do and that is what we have been doing all summer. So, one of the other principals of Permaculture is that you design these productive systems so that you have some place to put all this stuff, or it will result in pollution.

It will either end up as an imbalance of too much rotting food on the ground, or an imbalance of not enough habitat and too many exotics to have a nice balance with the birds and other critters that cohabitate this place with me. I don't necessarily think that to just go in the full production direction is necessarily wise, but we can certainly provide for enough for you and however many other people you need. From there, you can figure out what you will do with your space.

We got the clay (for the cobb-construction walls) from the pond we dug, and built the building with it.

When we look at a yield, we don't look only look at how many tomatoes we can grow. We consider how many inputs are we adding to the garden, and subtract that from the outputs. We will get all the energy that goes into what we are producing.

My office building is a good example. (See Photo, Part 1 of this interview in the ECOTECTURE library.) We got the clay (for the cobb-construction walls) from the pond we dug, and built the building with it. That is different from importing wood from Pacific Lumber. The little lumber we did use came from a local mill. Two local guys resurfaced old boards. They also resurface old telephone poles, and only take trees that have to come down for some other reason rather than for logging. They have either fallen down, or threatened someone's house, or they are coming down anyway. They will be chopped up for firewood—chipped up. Or, these guys can mill them into lumber. That is where we get our wood. It is all local. The cabinets we are getting for our kitchen come from an oak tree that fell two miles from here. Two years ago, our cabinet maker milled it, stickered and dried it, and now he is going to use it and we are fortunate enough to be able to buy that from him instead of supporting some unsustainable logging operation.

ECOTECTURE: Let say that you could have the future as you wanted it—a Permaculture future. If you think about large cities with many, many people to feed, issues of things being out of balance. Would it be forty acres and a mule, or one acre and a mule where everybody has a little place like yours and feeds themselves? Or would it be communal design?

LIVINGSTON: That is where you look as scale linking. That is a very important question, especially in regard to population. You have to look at diversity. Diversity in settlements is equally important (as biological or cultural diversity.) I would never say, "everybody has to live in the city. Everybody has to live in the suburbs. Everybody needs to go out and get his back forty somewhere." We need all of it. We can't have every single person living in the city any more than we can have every single person living out of the city. What we need is a diversity of scale so we have the mixed use inner city corridors with green belts running through them and greenhouses.


The Buddha watches as "gray water" passes through a flow form on its way from Livingston's roof to the pond in her Permaculture garden.
click for a larger image




There are urban designs with greenhouses on the south walls of every building and there was the potential to not only grow, but process your own food and your own gray water. Actually recycle the water within the building using it for heating and growing food in the greenhouse and for other purposes. Again, when you get an integrated design, it gets very exciting. I want to see somebody actually pull it off, and take the risk money.

I don't want to digress too much, because I want to go back to the vision. But, one of the ways that this could be accomplished is if some of these people who are hoarding some of the great wealth of this country, as well as anywhere else, actually took that money and threw it at somebody to do a design and to construct the archetypal development, or one example of an archetypal development. Yet that money would be 100 percent risk money. They may never see it again. Yet it would do so much good to be able to see such an example. Because right now those kind of systems, those infrastructures in the city are expensive. I think in the long term they will end up being a lot less expensive. They'll certainly end up being a lot less ecologically expensive. But, until we have the technology and the knowledge of how to build these things, it is going to cost somebody. You can't expect the builder to donate all his time to figuring it all out and scratching his head, any more than you can expect the engineers to do that. But there are people who are hoarding money. If they could pay these people to put their heads together to come up with an integrated design . . . we know we have the technology. We know what to do.

My dream would be to be able to work with a really good engineer, builder, and energy person and design a complex. Not just a house, a building, but a whole living center that includes living units, shopping units, commercial, residential, inner city, high density space that is totally cutting edge. I think there are some things on the drawing board, but I would like to know where to go to visit something like that.

The city could become so much more efficient, if it so desired. I know we have the technological knowledge to do that, but I don't know that we have the political will. Or the educated . . . . some of us have the education to do that, and some of us don't. It is a matter of putting together some kind of common vision, and that can be a broad, conceptual common vision, just recognizing that we can't just keep doing things the way we have been.

The cities can grow their own food. There is no reason why anybody in a city can't be fed from within that city, or at least from a greenbelt around the city. Functional trees . . . . You know, I drove into San Francisco the other day, to go on a little rant, tirade . . . Have you seen all the palm trees they are putting up?

What we need is a diversity of scale so we have the mixed use inner city corridors with green belts running through them and greenhouses.

ECOTECTURE: No. The ones by the Marina? I read about them in the paper.

LIVINGSTON: Do you know how much those palm trees cost?

ECOTECTURE: Ten thousand apiece, or something like that.

LIVINGSTON: Something like that. What does it say for the City? Are we trying to be a Santa Barbara wannabe, or what? Those palms have nothing to do with this place, and they are phenomenally expensive. Meanwhile, bus rates are doubling and the schools are going to hell. But the City somehow manages enough money to put that in? I'm actually shocked.

This is the type of thing we must start looking at. Who is running the show here? How is it that that decision gets made, there are abandoned buildings, and all those homeless people don't even have a pot to piss in. Excuse me, don't quote me on that. Don't even have a roof over their head. I get just . . . it is beyond getting angry. I get incredulous.

That is what management is. Whoever is pulling the strings in urban areas—San Francisco is just one pathetic example—but this is happening all over the place, and we talked before this interview about the gentrification of poorer neighborhoods. People coming in and real estate values going up. It is turning our whole existence into a commodity. What is up with that? When is it going to end? Where is the boundary going to be?

Obviously they transcend the boundary with genetic engineering, that they can patent and sell life. They can patent and sell your DNA that you created in your own blood. They make profits on it. They have patented our food supply. We have lost 97 percent. That is not an exaggeration. Ninety-seven percent of our food crops have been lost in the last one hundred years.

But, the city could be a beautiful, joyous, sublime, wonderful place to be. A place that breeds community, not isolation, that takes care of every single citizen in that city, that reduces or, hopefully, eliminates the need for crime.

ECOTECTURE: Lost in what sense?

LIVINGSTON: Lost in the sense of extinction and lack of biodiversity, different varieties of seeds not being used any more. This is mainly because of the agricultural practices we have of monoculture. If you don't use a seed for ten to 20 years, its viability is gone. That has happened to 97 percent of our food crops. It is astounding. There is a movement afoot, now, to bring back that diversity with heirlooms, and try, but 97 percent is a pretty high figure. That figure came from the people who are actually working on trying to protect these things, especially the heirloom vegetables, and who are devoting their lives to creating more diversity on the planet.

There is serious stuff going on, and we are planting $10,000 palm trees in a place where it is totally inappropriate. That's is the problem, right now. The solution is that somehow as a society we have to get our heads together and start to use them, use what we have been given, and to start redesigning and redefining the city. It is possible. It is totally possible. It is just improbable, at this point. I am not hopeful.

But, the city could be a beautiful, joyous, sublime, wonderful place to be. A place that breeds community, not isolation, that takes care of every single citizen in that city, that reduces or, hopefully, eliminates the need for crime. When you start looking at what is the root of crime, why one human wants to do something bad to another human for their own personal gain, what does that need come from? It is all there. All that information and all those ideas have been worked and reworked and reworked, but everybody has been doing it in isolation. They have the psychologist or the crime-ologist talking about crime. They have the other person talking about poverty, somebody else talking about starvation, and somebody else talking about economic opportunity, but they are not all talking to each other. Until that happens, nobody can (move forward.)

Then enter in design, architecture, infrastructure, the opportunity for somebody to simply park his or her bod on the planet. That has been taken away from us. That is a basic right. What is happening with this society that we are searching for the proverbial dollar while people are dying in the streets? It is unfathomable. I don't know of any other species that does this, that works this way. I don't know any other species that kills their own children, basically. It is through that . . . I can go down a pretty deep, slippery slope, but it is Permaculture, and the idea of what it has to offer humanity that keeps me going.

Otherwise I could talk . . . . . I really get a sardonic pleasure out of scaring students with some of the current statistics. But, you know, that isn't productive. (Laughs) But it is there.

ECOTECTURE: It is there.

LIVINGSTON: So Permaculture is important stuff and it is good stuff and it is stuff full of light and hope.

ECOTECTURE: This city that you were talking about, what would be the actual form it takes?

LIVINGSTON: (Laughs)

ECOTECTURE: You have already described it in a general way. . . A community with a compact structure.

LIVINGSTON: Yes. My first overlay would have been oaks, because that is the tree of this place. If you look at it from an indigenous point of view, if you have acorns and you have oak trees, you have absolutely everything from an indigenous perspective of this place. If you don't have acorns, you are just shit out of luck.

But we are Europeans, most of us, and we don't eat acorns. I would vote for putting in trees that feed people. Because that is what needs to happen right now. There is a lot of starvation in San Francisco, and, in fact, that neighborhood, the (upscale) Embarcadero where those palm trees are, you try to find some organic food somewhere within walking distance. You won't be able to. You are hard put to find any grocery store within walking distance.

We don't have a
water shortage,
we have a
storage shortage.

There are already communities throughout the Bay Area where people have to get into a vehicle, burn fossil fuels, travel may blocks, if not miles out of the community to simply get food, not to mention organic food. In the landscape, when you are working with the natural world, I would think about planting things people could eat. Nut trees are really great, because they don't store pollutants in their nuts. They don't have a lot of lead. Some may, but walnuts, for example, will not store lead in their nut. We don't have a lot of leaded fuel anymore, but that is just an example. Nut trees make great food trees.

But you talk to the Mayor and the Planner and they say, "What would happen if somebody was coming along and they stumble on a nut tree and turn their ankle and they can sue the City and dada, dada, dada. . . Dada. Somebody will have to come along and pick up the nuts and leaves." That is where you have to start redefining what is important.

In the cities, we would have the greenbelts producing food and habitat, there would be clean water running through the city, bioremediated.

ECOTECTURE: Do you think enough water falls on, say, a typical city in Northern California so that it could recycle and reuse its own water without having to go to outside sources?


Cricket Cottage houses guests at the Permaculture Institute. A year-around food supply grows in the foreground.



LIVINGSTON: You bet. You would have to do calculations but the main issue is storage. We don't have a water shortage, we have a storage shortage. It would be challenging to store enough water for a city to use for five months out of the year. We have one of the longest dry seasons in Northern California. But, it is possible. Sure it is possible.

If you have a two thousand square foot house, and you get 24 inches of rain, which is an average rain in the San Francisco area. . . during the drought, it is a low average. . . that is two cubic feet of water falling per square foot of your roof. If you multiply that times 2,000 square feet (of roof), you have 4,000 cubic feet. Multiply that times 7.48 (gallons per cubic foot). So that would be something around 32,000 gallons of water.

ECOTECTURE: Falling on a typical roof in San Francisco?

LIVINGSTON: That is a small roof. That is a typical suburban roof.

ECOTECTURE: Do you happen to know how much water people would use in month?

LIVINGSTON: Say a family of four would use 100 gallons per day times 30 days in the month, that would be about 3,000 gallons per month. So the rainfall on the roofs alone would provide enough water for about ten months of the year.

EDITOR'S COMMENT: The calculations above do not include water that falls on the streets and other open spaces or reducing water use through conservation and recycling measures.

When you talk to urban planners . . . If we are going to get into city issues, and population, and density, the first consideration is the car. In this whole vision of the city we haven't even mentioned transportation. It is critically important that not everybody has to drive and park. I wonder how much fuel gets burned just by people driving around San Francisco trying to find a place to park. Stop at a stoplight. Drive around the block, miss the parking space, driving around for fifteen or twenty minutes just trying to find a place to park-not getting there. How many gallons of fossil fuel get burned, how much oxygen gets consumed?

The combustion engine in the city is unsustainable just from the point of view of how much oxygen it uses. Four hundred cubic feet of oxygen gets consumed for every gallon of gas that gets burned. Of that, a certain percentage does get converted back to carbon dioxide which can then get converted back to oxygen via trees and plants, but a lot of it gets converted into carbon monoxide and becomes an energy sink it doesn't get converted back to oxygen. If is wasn't for the fact that there is a breeze coming into most cities, people would be suffocating. In Mexico City, people are suffocating. They are suffering from lack of oxygen because they live in a bowl and don't have that air flow.

So, transportation. I think an electric/hydrogen car, whichever ends up being the car of the future, is critically important. I'm interested in electric cars because of the sound. I'm very noise sensitive. Imagine a city where there isn't the rumble of engines happening all the time. Imagine what that would be like. . . just that in terms of people's quality of life. They have this white noise constantly Rrrrrrr.

The combustion
engine in the city
is unsustainable
just from the
point of view of how
much oxygen it uses.


ECOTECTURE: Have you ever been to Venice?

LIVINGSTON: No.

ECOTECTURE: It is just like that. There's no cars. It's all water.

LIVINGSTON: There you go.

ECOTECTURE: There are a few motor boats on the Grand Canal and a few smaller motorboats on the back canals, but mostly, it is just like your place here no cars. It is really neat.

LIVINGSTON: Exactly. That does a lot to stop the agitation, the constant agitation of people who live and work and spend 100 percent of their time in cities. Imagine a city that is not only cleaning its own water and air, but it is also breeding humans who have a quality of life and hope for the future that they don't have right now. So that the children that are growing up in the neighborhoods know that there is a better world out there for them than there was for their parents, that things are improving. As children grow up, just that would create a blossoming human being instead of a despondent one. Right now there is a lot of despondency and hopelessness and depression.

But if you lived in a city that had light, where everyone was exposed to everyone else, there wasn't isolation, there was mixed economic community so you would have the very wealthy living right next door to the very poor and there would be housing for everyone. Politically, I don't know how to work that one out. I don't get involved in politics, because are you talking about being a communist, about socialism, being a capitalist, or, what are we talking about? The trickle down theory? I don't know about any of that. I don't even know where to go with that. That is somebody else's realm. But as far as design, as far as re-designing and redefining the cities, that is where I have a vision, and other people such as Richard Register have a vision. So many people could work together to create that if we had the economic ability and political will to do it.

One strategy would be that as the city decays then you rebuild it. You can't just go in and rip everything out and put if back in, but every sewer system in San Francisco is totally falling apart. As you have to rip up the streets and get at these pipes to re-configure them, that is when you start redesigning your infrastructure for your sewage treatment. That is when you have to start thinking about scale, and about people. What is more efficient, to remediate sewage on a household basis, or a neighborhood basis? Which is the easiest, most stable system to design. Sometimes, it might be easier to do everything on a per-household basis. Everybody has his or her own little system where they flush their toilet and it goes into their own greenhouse and it is all quite simple, no muss, no fuss, and all those pipes under the street can just rot. It wouldn't even matter. That's one idea. There are a lot of different ideas.

There is no need to
build more energy
infrastructure.


Mixed use. That means people can walk to where they work, walk to where they shop. Foods can be produced and sold within the city. Jobs are created that way. We are not just providing office buildings for jobs, but actually providing jobs for people to be working within the city. The education system would be locked into all of this because there is a lot that school kids could be learning. We have things like the jail garden project, and people who do community service could be helping grow food for people who are less fortunate, or whatever.

You can hunt and peck and pick on just about every aspect of what a city could be. When you start to think about it, it all starts to make sense. It all can be in sync with the other systems. So you can link your transportation system with your food production system and with your community economics and urban redevelopment corridors and energy production systems. There is no need to build more energy infrastructure. Especially here. I keep thinking of San Francisco because I grew up here. This is a city I know.

You start putting windmills on those buildings, you would get a cash crop (of energy). Maybe nobody would have to pay any city taxes. They would generate more power than most of that city could use I'll bet. If you fly over San Francisco and see all these windmills fluttering around. But, people are going to complain, "I don't want to live by windmills." There is always this block that keeps those types of ideas from happening. But, if you are really serious about "let's get efficient, let's produce our energy," you have a resource in San Francisco that would probably cover half of California. (Laughs) I don't know about that!

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Permaculture is to create paradise on earth starting at the kitchen garden

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