With the recent passing of Bill Mollison, much has been published on the interweb about Permaculture; While Glenda was here for nine days, I didn’t spend much time at this laptop, preferring to help her set her own stamp on the Fanny Farm and using her very able gardening skills to get stuck into some planting…. and fixing the goose tractor in readiness for the acquisition of more birds, but there will be time for that some place else on this site.
Having published Samuel Alexander’s epitaph for Bill Mollison by merely copying and pasting the Conversation article, I didn’t bother following the links therein; luckily, Greg Bell did, and posted a couple in a comment he left here, many thanks Greg…. as he says in his comment, “Those two “here” links to critiques of permaculture are the two most important things I’ve read all year (and they, in turn, link to even more)……
The first link is to Resilience.org and bears the same title as this entry. Fascinating reading indeed, as are the comments below it.
Ann Owen, who wrote this two and a half years ago now, starts with “I’m not surprised that Permaculture hasn’t caught on with mainstream food growers. When I first encountered it about twenty years ago, I found it off putting, to say the least. Maybe it was the way it was presented as the ultimate solution to all the world’s ills, or maybe it was the zealous, superior attitude of its devotees, telling me how to garden when most of them wouldn’t know one end of a spade from the other, but I concluded that Permaculture was something that urbanite dreamers did from their armchairs and was to be avoided like any other cult.”
I have to admit to meeting a lot of self declared Permies who either weren’t doing permaculture at all (like the previous owners of the Fanny Farm), or concentrating on specific nuggets from permaculture at the expense of other sometimes more important aspects of the whole concept.
In both cases, it’s because they spend substantial periods of times overseas, and therefore have no means of looking after animals while they are away…. I’m afraid Permaculture is a lifestyle, and a full time one at that. I am very lucky that my neighbour is also a ‘permie’, with animals, and when we both took time out to go to Queensland, we looked after each other’s animals. The community aspect of Permaculture here cannot be stressed too much, especially as we will all need to support each other as powerdown deepens.
I don’t believe it possible to ‘do permaculture’ without your own source of manures. Including your own. Yet most Permies I know don’t have compost toilets. How purist you are probably determines whether you can admonish these people or not… If you’re unlucky enough to have a sewered property, then you have to deal with that!
Ann Owen then further states…….
I still get irritated with wide eyed, blue sky thinking permies though, who despite knowing sod all about vegetable growing, come and tell us that we are not doing it “right” in our market garden, because if it’s hard work, it can’t be PC. Apparently, you can design hard work out of gardening; in PC Lala land, all you have to do is wander through your food forest with your mouth open and ripe, juicy fruit will just fall in! Isn’t it exactly because of this desire to grow more food with less effort we ended up with industrial agriculture? And is it maybe also because it became so effortless to grow masses of food, we ended up valuing it so little that we waste tons of it every year?
I can see where she’s coming from, but we “ended up with industrial agriculture” only because of the existence of fossil fuels. We waste tons of food, because we can, and we do what we can because it’s all possible thanks to fossil fuels. For the time being. We truly live in a paradox.
The persistent myth of the uber-productivity of forest gardens, perennial plants and polycultures, amongst other sacred cows, are why I have a lot of sympathy for Peter Harper’s critique on the lack of controlled trials and measured experiments. It’s not that there aren’t any instances of these types of food production being successful (though those that are, are rarely in this country), but how do you know that polycultures provide a higher total yield than comparative mono cropping, if you don’t measure it? How many people who have planted a forest garden have actually been able to feed themselves from it? When I watched the Youtube clip of Mike Feingold’s PC allotment, I was appalled at how little food was being grown on such a lush looking bit of land.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off Mike Feingold’s Bowerbird’s nest hairstyle, nor the huge number of chairs lying around his property, but I think Ann’s being a bit hard on him regarding his food production…. I saw quite a bit, and if he’s only feeding himself and sharing any surplus, isn’t that what Permaculture is all about? Plus, he’s looking after the soil, which is more than you can say about the vast majority of industrial farmers.
Industrial farming is far more about making money than feeding people. Otherwise, industrial farming would be feeding the whole world, not just those who can afford to buy the stuff they produce, even if it appears cheap to us from the rich first world…..
I’ve heard it too often now; this over emphasis on salad leaves, berries, “beneficial plants” and lack of calorie crops. It is an ongoing weakness of many PC gardens, especially seen against the bigger picture of a world where food will be a lot less abundant than it is right now. With increasing demand on food banks in the UK you could say that we are now getting there. Mike’s plot is in an urban area, where clean, fertile soil is even more precious. How do gardens like that, full of salad and beneficial plants in cities where people go hungry, check out against people care or even fair shares?
My take on this is that if the neighbours chipped in, a whole lot more food could be produced. The fossil fuels have to be replaced with manual labour. I wonder if Ann realises a single barrel of oil contains the energy of a fit gardener working unaided by machinery for six years….? The biggest problem, as I see it, is the lack of more allotments like Mike’s, not what he’s growing. If the supermarket shelves were to go empty where Mike lives, there are so many people around him that in no time his allotment would be stripped..
So why does my heart sink when I hear of another Transition Initiative that has acquired a good bit of land, announce with great enthusiasm, that they’re going to plant a food forest? For one, it will take many years for even the most perfectly designed, planted and maintained forest garden to literally bear fruit and how are you going to keep your volunteers on board during that time?
Good question……. but I ask, how will anyone survive the post fossil fuel era unless they start now…..?? Really, it all boils down to the fact that oil in particular speeds things up by two orders of magnitude, and people who are not taking up Permaculture right now, simply won’t make it.
Ann also concentrates far too much on ‘gardening’. We for instance, are struggling to get food production up and running (though I have eggs coming out my ears!) because we’re busy setting up house and fixing existing infrastructure while installing new pumps and recycling irrigation pipes. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is the Fanny Farm.
Permaculture is a lifestyle, how you go about implementing it depends on a lot of things like how much money you start with, the lay of the land, where you live climate wise… Anyway, enough from me today, I’ve got some permaculture to do! I have sod all experience with market gardening, but I have one to build right now.