“one of my biggest wishes is that we could figure out a way to live with the natural world instead of on top of it.”
isaac brock . strangers to ourselves
87 years ago an american geography professor published a collection of documented personal correspondence with some of the world’s foremost empirical minds concerning an innovative ecological liberalism destined to engender the conception of agroforestry. in his publication joseph russell smith essentially denounced the ritual of tilling for seasonal crop farming as perhaps the most expeditious method for depleting the value of useful earth and conferred upon the world the notion of "tree crops: a permanent agriculture". his findings resulted from decades of personal experimentation with self sustaining perennial plant guilds. rather than allocating massive flatland expanses to individual crops suited for growth and harvest during a particular season smith discovered certain plants that grow and produce year around can be grouped into micro communities where symbiotic relationships form between neighboring species encouraging expedited growth and unified defense mechanisms that provide natural systemic protection from predatory organisms. thus a well designed guild wants not for the hazardous synthetic compounds used to defend seasonal farmland from insect animal and disease. the communal nature of the tree crop guild results in a predominantly autonomous system that demands exponentially less human involvement and exponentially fewer resources. the approach preserves and in fact enriches the land as the perennial requires no seasonal tillage and returns to the soil below more beneficial nutrients than it consumes. smith’s solution was elegant and practical. but it was also radical and ultimately failed to gain traction in the agricultural community due to the patience and foresight required to successfully execute the practice. as is generally true today the industry was plagued with a quantity over quality steeped myopia. 87 years ago was 5 years before the onset of the most environmentally and economically ruinous natural phenomenon in the history of the united states. the dust bowl and great depression of the 1930s. a calamity that is now largely attributed to decades of the pernicious farming conventions that smith set out to invalidate. over the years the studies of joseph russell smith have inspired an increasingly aggrandized awareness of the destructive nature of our so many indefensible human customs.
12 years after smith’s death an australian graduate student named david holmgren and his professor bill mollison conceptualized the merger of various new age eco practices and societal patterns influenced all to some extent by smith’s tree crops movement forming a comprehensive approach to modern living for which they coined a term inspired by smith’s 1929 publication subtitle. though still relatively young in its years the permaculture movement has grown well since the late 1970s. as vanessa schulz’s 2008 film title suggests it is a rather “quiet revolution” that has dropped particularly heavy roots in the american midwest and northeast. in an interview the veteran activist mollison describes the movement as “subversive” and “seditious”. a bold perspective so seemingly diffuse amongst the movement’s swelling ranks of loyal progressive zealots. though mollison is prompt to include that it is indeed a “peaceful sedition”. holmgren explains ”the political and environmental activism of the 1960s and early 70s focused on resisting injustice environmental destruction and the threat of nuclear annihilation. for both myself and mollison permaculture was unapologetically about creating the world we did want rather than resistance. while we recognized the moral imperative and history behind the struggles of ordinary people to resist oppression and destruction by centralized power we understood that resistance could do little if anything of a creative nature. permaculture as a design system is constructive and creative with closer connections to artistic and entrepreneurial enterprise than to political activism focused on resistance and assertion of rights.”
permaculturalists the world over are instigating ethical and empirical reformist philosophy and consequently answering some of the most important questions regarding the state of ourselves and the planet and how best to achieve corrective results. questions that have so long gone unanswered by the governmental and political structures on which we have historically relied for protection and guidance whose reconstructive strategies over the past half century have generally ranged in character from fruitless blame and criticism to slightly less ineffective multibillion dollar sustainability initiatives typically implicit of extravagant public or private debt incursion. adversely some of the true brilliance behind the permaculture movement is its overarching inclination towards feasible low cost regenerative solutions. it begins with the realization that the base objective of sustainability is as ben falk explains the attempt to do “less bad”. however a regenerative approach like that of permacultural efforts restores ecological vitality to an ecosystem by introducing resilient organic systems that emulate those observed in nature and designing those systems to operate in tandem with the form and function of the existing site’s geography and biology. this observational logic is a mainstay of permaculture doctrine which is theoretically comprised of twelve design principles beginning with “observe and interact”. a law implicit of the necessity of reverence for and understanding of the earth’s many natural models from which we might learn and advance humankind. precisely the mentality that has allowed the movement to continually orchestrate harmonic resolution where others have failed for centuries.
in 2015 costa boutsikaris and emmett brennan released a project 3 years in the making in the form of a feature length documentary titled “inhabit: a permaculture perspective”. subsequent graduating film school and a new york permaculture design course boutsikaris raised $4,238 to finance the conversion of an old diesel van into a waste vegetable oil fueled mobile film studio with an 80 watt solar panel as a renewable energy source for the onboard equipment. an additional $36,652 was raised to fund the filming and production of the documentary. boutsikaris and emmett toured the american northeast and midwest for 4 months visiting 22 permaculture project sites in various rural suburban and urban settings interviewing the sites’ creators caretakers and beneficiaries. the film provides precious insight into the permaculture community whose practice and membership continue to grow increasingly diverse especially in the face of hasty scientific and technological development both of which the movement excitedly embraces and puts to efficient regenerative use. inhabit exposes the work of a host of devotees and visionaries whose testimonies are all rich with the same virtuous wholesome energy that continues to advance the movement’s progression including that of dwaine lee whose new york based garden roof campaign presents a viable regenerative solution to the infrastructural burden on dense urban communities with combined sewage systems . susana kaye lein whose small off grid permaculture farm food forest and homestead makes use of no till farming and structured plant guilds to provide pesticide free and chemical fertilizer free market crops . eric toensmeier whose 1/10 acre urban garden “paradise lot” with over 200 useful perennial plant and self seeding species serves as a living model of how permaculture practice might best to utilized in a small urban space with degraded land . as well as many others.
above all it seems there are two remarkable rhythms that run deep through the elegant history of permaculture that offer invaluable insight for modern civilization. that of reverence for the natural world and that of deliverance through self-reliance. the great rumi once wrote “yesterday i was clever. i wanted to change the world. today i am wise. i am changing myself.”
this post dedicated to modern revolutionary and permaculture cofounder bruce charles "bill" mollison (05.04.1928 – 09.24.2016).
owner + designer
Year of None.