Let’s Democratize Permaculture

When I heard that Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) has the number one country album, I fell into a dark spiral of despair. Isn’t this a clear sign of the end of the American empire? But wait, won’t permaculture save us from this petrochemical fueled Miley Cyrus soundtracked nightmare?

Don’t hold your breath. It might be awhile before everyone’s front yard is full of perennial vegetables and Merle Haggard is back on FM radio. Over at Club Orlov some controversy over permaculture has broken out in the comments. One poster, Morgan Emrich says,

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, for at least hinting that there might be a problem with the permaculture Movement in the US. The ratio of permaculture teachers/instructors, (and courses, certification programs, feel-good junkets to third world countries) to actual apple trees being planted seems woefully skewed in the wrong direction.

It’s starting to feel like Amway. Everybody’s selling Basic H but is anybody actually using the stuff to wash their clothes?”

I understand the frustration. I’ve seen, first hand, backstabbing, cliquishness and proprietary craziness in what should be a movement about joining together to make the world a better place. I’ve also witnessed the same skewed proportion of apple trees to thoughts about apple trees. At the same time, not a day goes by when I don’t think about, learn from or apply some of the principles of permaculture as described by Mollison and Holmgren. In fact my biggest failures have come from not following permaculture’s language of common sense.

Maybe it’s time to put down the pen and graph paper and pick up a shovel. It’s definitely the point at which we need to democratize permaculture and bring it to the mainstream. Fifteen hundred dollar permaculuture certificate courses are out of the budget and time constraints of backyard gardeners and rooftop apartment growers. Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture is a step in the right direction. We need more voices like Hemenway, who can explain the design principles of permaculture to the masses.

And let’s take these principles and apply them not just to gardening, but to the ways we arrange our schools, offices, homes and public spaces. Maybe we’ll get in the groove once we get past the term “permaculuture” and when its principles get reincorporated into the fabric of our lives.

Time to bust out the shovels and banjos.

Share this post

Leave a comment


  1. I’m reading Gaia’s Garden right now, and it’s a surprisingly good read. It made me look at my mature apple tree and imagine a productive “guild” underneath and around it. But first we need to do something about the rain runoff from the garage, which is right next to the apple tree and never had a rain gutter installed. The task list just never ends…

    P.S. FM radio is much the same as tv these days: full of advertising, and pitched to the lowest common denominator. i.e. something best avoided altogether.

  2. We have a little garden that we started last year, and its got raspberries, a dwarf apple tree, a strawberry and herb patch, and patches that we rotate with corn, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes & onions and a bee garden. We didn’t take an expensive course, we just found information on the internet about companion planting & also bought your book. 🙂

  3. Don’t know if it makes you feel better, but I started permaculturing my lot three years ago, and I never took a course or read the Gaia books. I just watched Youtube videos, read blogs, and started diggin’ and plantin’. I caught a swarm of bees last month. No courses. I make lots of mistakes, but as I spent no money on classes, I figure I can afford to.

  4. Gaia’s Garden is taught me more about the science “whys” of gardening than any other book, magazine, or radio gardening show. I work a lot of information from this book into my edible wild plants classes here in Houston.

  5. Nothing like sweat, harvest, and failure to teach! I like some of the concepts of permaculture, but like you have often found a lot of smugness and close-mindedness in its adaptation.

    Bravo,”Kate” for incorporating so many perennials into your garden! That’s a great feat! We’re working on it, but in humid Zone 9 Central Florida not many things can handle our summers (for instance, Florida Grown strawberries are all planted in winter as annuals to catch the early spring market. Its only profitable and worthwhile to grow strawberries here if you’re going to ship them around the country. That’s a bummer, because they grow great for like 6-months out of the year and then poop out during the hot/humid summers.

    What we’re learning is that regional adaptability is what reduces the need for inputs like liquid fertilizer and pesticidal sprays (even organic). Once we get a good host of regionally adapted garden plants going in a cycle, then we can focus more on our citrus and subtropical fruit production.

    BTW: Is the banjo making a comeback? I’ve been hearing it and about it a lot recently. Here’s to the catgut!

  6. Interesting. Toby Hemenway was just posting this week about the high cost of low prices in permaculture teaching. I’ll forward this to him.

    The posts were at Portland Permaculture Guild
    [email protected]

  7. I just started reading this book yesterday. To say it is both inspirational and informative is an understatement. I am in the process of looking for a property to buy, rather than my current rental situation, to start trying these concepts. At some times it does seem overwhelming, but I bet with trial and error it can get rather good results.

  8. I am giving my all to democratizing permaculture. If you city has a permaculture guild (and I know pdx does) it theoretically should be set up to do just that by offering free or pay what you can workshops and classes. If folks are looking for great free permaculture resources search permacutlture on scribd.com or visit http://www.punkrockpermaculture.com

  9. Some of us have taken this approach for years. Twenty five of them to be exact. Creating empowerment space for ordinary people is what it is all about. But if you spend your life doing that you do still need to earn a living. Can you square that circle?

Comments are closed.