Sunday, July 3, 2016

The decline may not be permacultured, part 2

As I noted in a previous post, I think that while some of the techniques that are presented under the label of permaculture design may have a place in easing some of the difficulties that we’ll encounter as cheap energy sources dry up and the U.S. continues in its decline, I think it’s best to learn those from books and by doing rather than from the permaculture design course. In this post I’ll discuss my reasons for that belief, using the article I critiqued in that post (“Hellstrip Polycultures” by Frank Raymond Cetera in the August 2015 issue of Permaculture Design, abbreviated as PcA/PcD in this post to account for the years it was published under the title of Permaculture Activist before the 2015 name change) and other resources promoted under the permaculture label to look critically at the design course and what seem to be common habits of thought among its graduates and its teachers.

One of the points I raised in the previous post is the lack of understanding of the functions of and constraints upon the tree lawn within the current ecology of the city that the author of the article displayed. Since one of the major goals of a permaculture design course is to raise attendees’ awareness of the patterns of energy and resource flow through the area under design, I wonder how well that objective is met in practice. How could it be that a course which claims to offer a good grounding in and understanding of ecological processes apparently failed to transmit an understanding of the city as an ecological system? It should not be difficult to understand why planting a tree lawn with tall, sprawling, dispersive plants next to a busy street on one side and a narrow sidewalk on the other does not make good ecological sense for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, police, and residents alike. Even if the author of the article was unaware of the functions of and constraints on a tree lawn, the editor of Permaculture Design, who has been working with permaculture design for many years, should have caught the problems and not published the article as it appeared. Why didn’t that happen?

One possibility lies in the history of permaculture. Back in 1974, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed a framework for a sustainable agricultural system based on multiple types of crops, many of them perennials, which are claimed to support each other similarly to the ways that plants in ecosystems like forests, woodlands, and prairies support each other (from the preface to Introduction to Permaculture). They coined the term “permaculture” as a shorthand for “permanent agriculture.” From the beginning, growing food and other useful plants in polycultures in which the plants are supposed to provide for each other’s needs has been a central aspect of permaculture.

However, because much of permaculture design deals with making major modifications to landforms for water and energy harvesting to support large-scale perennial cropping, and because in temperate climates such as most of the U.S. tree crops are the only perennials that are commonly grown for food, permaculture design in the U.S. seems to have focused more on tree crops and perennial plantings for larger semi-rural and rural properties than it has on the different needs and ecologies of cities and suburbs. Mike’s and my one acre lot, because it is located in an inner suburb of a major metropolitan area, has more in common with the 1/8 acre lot we used to own in a nearby inner suburb than it does with the semi-rural to rural properties that Mollison, Holmgren, and many other permaculture teachers and authors live on, have written about, and/or seem to be most familiar with. It doesn’t make much sense to learn about swales as water control and harvesting structures, for instance, if the only bit of land you have control over is your 1/8 to 1/4 acre city or suburban lot. Instead, it could be a lot more useful to learn about how to capture and use water from your roof cheaply and effectively. But you don’t need a permaculture design course to learn about that. Search “rain barrel” or “rain garden” on the web, and you’ll learn everything you need to set up your own rain barrels and rain gardens (including this post). And you don’t need a computer or Internet access at home if your public library provides that.

What if you rent your property? Even if your property has a little land, say 1/8 to 1/4 acre, your landlord may not want you to plant anything on it. Even if that isn’t an issue, you may not want to put much money or time into permanent plantings or the various tools that you would need to plant a garden if you don’t know how long you will live at that location. Many renters live in multi-story buildings without access to anything more than a community garden bed, if that. Under these circumstances, permaculture design for plantings has little to offer. On the other hand, there are many books and websites on growing vegetables in containers or on small pieces of land such as community garden beds and in small backyard spaces. A few hand tools will suffice to work a small vegetable bed or garden or a container planting. Again, no need for a permaculture design course when your local library has or can get for you the books that you’ll need, and websites like this blog as well as state extension services and local gardening organizations have information that can help vegetable growers decide which approach makes sense for them.

The emphasis on polycultures in permaculture design has a lot to do with why the author of the article chose the plants that he did, I suspect. This emphasis on polycultures - groupings of plants that are supposed to supply each others’ needs and put each others’ outputs to good use - has been a part of permaculture design from the beginning and continues to have a prominent place in PcA/PcD as well as in books on permaculture design. The best polycultures are supposed to use mostly perennials to supply human foods and other needs as well as the needs of the soil microorganisms, birds, pollinators, and other animals in the area. They are intended to imitate plant communities of a mature ecosystem that would exist in the area without human intervention. The author of the article I critiqued is one in a long line of permaculture designers to design a polyculture for a particular environment, in this case for a tree lawn.

Considering that permaculture has been around for 40 years and that polycultures are one of the aspects of design that has been emphasized for that entire time, I would think that permaculture designers would have a good-sized list of well-understood polycultures appropriate for various ecosystems by now. But such a list doesn’t seem to exist in practice. I’ve not seen it in PcA/PcD, though the Spring 2016 issue advertises a plant database that is claimed to allow designers to build their own polycultures and plant guilds. Many permaculture books describe how to design polycultures to fulfill the goals of the designer. But after 40 years, with tens of thousands of graduates claimed for all the design courses that have been offered, I would expect that at least a few good polycultures that work with temperate climate plants would be well known within the community of permaculture designers, written about in books and discussed in PcA/PcD as examples for others to learn from. John Wages, editor of the May 2014 issue of PcA, seemed to expect the same thing when he called for articles on stacking functions (the jargon permaculture designers use for the interactions among a group of plants that meet each others’ and the designer’s needs) for that issue. In his Editor’s Edge column, Wages wrote, “While we had hoped to see detailed examples of landscape designs that incorporated a high degree of multifunctionality, only a few such articles appeared.” I haven’t seen them in other issues of PcA/PcD, nor in the permaculture books that I’ve read. Why is this?

One possibility is that it’s harder to design polycultures for temperate climates with plants we are used to eating for food and can grow in small urban and suburban spaces than permaculture designers suggest. Dave Jacke’s and Eric Toenmeier’s Top 100 species list as published in volume 1 of Edible Forest Gardens, for example, includes very large trees like pecans and hickories, which are too big for the vast majority of urban and suburban lots and require many years to grow to bearing age. Persimmons and pawpaws, more suitably sized trees, do make the list, but they still require several years to reach bearing age and few people are familiar enough with the fruit to want to grow the trees. Pears also make the list, but most are subject to fireblight, which has ravaged my two pear trees. Hazels are the right size for urban and suburban yards, but squirrels get nearly all of the hazelnuts in my yard. Raspberries, elderberries, and blueberries all make the list, but birds usually outcompete me for the first and third, and the second needs to be cooked or made into wine and is unfamiliar to most people. Groundnut provides an edible tuber, but it’s highly expansive in my yard, the tubers don’t taste as good as a potato, and they leave a nasty latex-like substance coating the sides of the pan they are cooked in which is quite difficult to remove. I wouldn’t care to eat any of the herbaceous plants they list in large quantity, though small amounts of the edible ones are a nice change. It’s worth noting again that the vast majority of the plants I and most people eat are the standard grain, tuber, and vegetable crops, none of which are perennial in St. Louis. I have many of the Top 100 plants in my yard and value them, but more for the diversity they bring to the land and to the other beings here than because they are a big part of my diet. I get a lot more food out of my vegetable garden, filled as it is with annuals and biennials and organized for easy planting and care rather than on interactions among the plants themselves, than I do from the remaining 95% of the yard. Since permaculture designers don’t seem to have lists of polycultures suited to various ecosystems to offer to potential students, once again I encourage people with an interest in this area to read books on the topic (in my opinion, the best one for those of us in the eastern deciduous forest biome of the U. S. is Edible Forest Gardens) and start trying designs of your own. And if you come up with some that work well, share them! Meanwhile, as I’ve documented in numerous posts and will continue to share in future posts, a well-grown vegetable garden combined with any small or tree fruits of interest that you have the space to grow and the inclination to properly care for will provide you with more nutritious food in a shorter period of time and for less cash outlay than will a polyculture built on perennial crops suited to small urban and suburban spaces.

Permaculture designers might retort that they have much to offer beyond land design. If so, I wish they would discuss and document more of it, in more detail, than I’ve seen in PcA/PcD or in the permaculture books I’ve read. For instance, given how much housing stock exists that desperately needs cheap energy-efficient retrofitting, I would think that after 40 years permaculturists would have developed well-tested plans for such retrofitting and published the results in books, PcA/PcD and other magazines, and on blogs for themselves and others to implement. With very few exceptions, however, I haven’t seen anything like this. Bob Waldrop recognizes the importance of the issue, to his credit, and discusses his and his housemates’ retrofit of their Oklahoma City house in his e-book iPermie. Unfortunately, you have to slog through 416 pages of bloated, overheated, inelegant prose before you get to the chapter with this information, and even then he doesn’t offer enough details to make it easy to reproduce what he did, nor does he offer documentation on how much energy he and his housemates used before and after the work was done.

A quick scan through the last two years of PcA/PcD reveals just one article on home energy use, by Peter Bane in the Winter 2014-15 issue. While he does give a description of how he and his partner make use of a combination of fossil fuel and solar energy sources along with conservation to deal with fluctuations in energy flows during the year in their Indiana home, again he provides almost no data on how much energy they used before and after making some of the changes he describes, nor does he tell us how to make similar changes.

One of the few issues of PcA to deal with appropriate technology is the Winter 2013-14 issue. While it does describe some interesting technologies, there are no articles about using demand reduction (like changing thermostat settings and dressing properly for them) or retrofitting (sealing, adding insulation, and so forth) to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings, a hot topic, for good reason, in the appropriate technology resources from the 1970s. These are among the most effective changes that most of us can make, yet permaculture designers almost completely ignore them, preferring to discuss cool but un-permitted (in most cities) technologies like rocket mass heaters and building new eco-houses out of cob, straw bales, and the like in the exurbs or rural areas. But it’s almost certainly the case that changing to more energy-conserving habits plus a good energy retrofit of existing housing will end up saving more energy than even the most energy-efficient new construction when the energy embodied in the materials from which the new house is made (even a cob or straw-bale house includes plenty of high-energy industrial materials) are taken into account. While John Wages pays lip service to the appropriate technology movement of the 1970s in his Editor’s Edge column of this issue of PcA, it appears that most permaculture designers have little use for this body of cheap, practical, and tested knowledge on how to live a low-cost, low-energy life.

This brings me to what I think is most problematic in the article by Cetera that I critiqued in part 1 and about the writers in PcA/PcD in general: their employment of the left-wing version of the Rescue Game. As John Michael Greer notes, to play the Rescue Game we must fill three roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. The victim, in Cetera’s case the people in the neighborhood for whom Cetera claimed to create the garden, suffer by being deprived of space and other resources in and by which to grow their traditional foods. (I’m not arguing this isn’t the case; instead, Cetera will use this fact in a way that won’t solve the problem but rather perpetuate it.) The persecutors are the City of Syracuse code enforcement officers, and more generally the city power structure and corporate capitalism, although unsympathetic passersby and those who are unwilling to volunteer to help him in his game also fill the role at times. The rescuer is Cetera himself, though he also considers himself a victim, as when the code cops crack down on his overgrown front yard. The article reads like a classic of the genre as Greer describes it. Cetera’s sympathy for the victim does not flow in the direction of growing or helping them to grow the food and other plants they want in a safe and appropriate location. That would stop the game. Instead, he used his survey as a ruse to get what he wanted all along: a polyculture of his own design in a highly visible location, created with financial and labor help from others rather than paying for it and doing the work himself. It’s no surprise that he didn’t win election to the Syracuse city council: if he had, he’d have to play the role of Persecutor.

While Cetera’s article is a particularly clear example of the left-wing version of the Rescue Game, PcA/PcD writers as a whole are no stranger to the game. It underlies the magazine and the permaculture “movement,” as they like to call it, the way soil underlies my vegetable garden (hence the many years the magazine used the word Activist in its title).

Most of the permaculture designers who write for PcA/PcD are trying to support themselves, in part or in whole, by offering design services to the general public and/or by teaching classes in permaculture design. However, the members of the public who can afford to pay for the services of a permaculture designer are, for the most part, members of the salary class. As a group, they fit into the Persecutor category of the left-wing Rescue Game. If they know of permaculture at all, I suspect they realize they are being cast as Persecutors. Why would they want to pay money to people who clearly don’t like them, even if they do recognize that their high-consumption lifestyle has no future and want to make the kind of changes that permaculture design at its best has to offer? Similarly, the people who can afford to pay for the permaculture design course, and to take off two weeks from work and to travel to and from the course location, are most likely to be salary-class folks rather than the people most permaculture writers claim they want to help the most. The contradiction between designers’ stated ideals and the reality of the situation likely plays a large role in the lack of inroads that permaculture design has made in the culture at large.

That leads to a more subtle point: that permaculture designers of today, in their attempt to market themselves and their knowledge base to the salary class, have to turn themselves into believers in the Religion of Progress, if they aren’t already. This is why they spend more time on talking up things like straw-bale and cob houses than they do about lessening overall energy consumption by simple measures like changing thermostat settings, dressing for using less energy, and caulking and weatherstripping existing housing. This is why Peter Bane, in his otherwise decent article on his household’s energy usage patterns in the Winter 2014-15 issue of PcA, makes the mistake of claiming that a hybrid car would be more energy efficient and a better use of his limited capital than a solar water heater. A hybrid car, after all, is new and technologically cool (even if it’s used) than a solar water heater. A hybrid car looks more like the renewable-energy version of the shiny new future that’s waiting for us if only we can get the powerful on board with it than does a solar hot water heater, with its smell of the miseries of the 1970s energy crisis and the economic contraction that followed. But note that the hybrid car requires ongoing and repeated public spending on energy and materials to keep up a road system for its use, not just one private spending on the car itself (actually, more than one, since the batteries only last a few years). The solar hot water system does have an embedded energy cost (much less than the car, however), but once it’s up and functioning, it costs very little further to use or maintain. This is why permaculture designers ignore the appropriate technology movement for the most part: it challenges a core belief system, the Religion of Progress, held by them and by the people who they want to teach and to purchase their services. And it’s why I think that the decline may not be permacultured: unless permaculture designers get this and work to change it, their principles and practices might not survive the grind of relentless decline.

That doesn’t mean that the design process or melange of techniques that come under the names of permaculture design and practice are useless. If those who promoted them spent most of their time on practicing them and telling us what they learned, rather than trying to get the rest of us to hire them to design our properties or to take courses from them so we can then try to get others to hire us or buy from us, I think we’d know a lot more about what works well and what doesn’t. Those who do practice and write about what they learn, like Chris at Fernglade Farm, have a lot of great stuff to say about what actually does work and what does not. I suggest that the best way to find out what is of value from permaculture design and practice is to try it ourselves, with the help of a few good books and blogs. Besides Jacke’s Edible Forest Gardens, I suggest Toensmeier’s Perennial Vegetables, Holmgren’s Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, and Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook for readers in the eastern U. S. Holmgren’s book has broad applicability and Jacke’s is the best for the design process itself, but readers in arid, subtropical, tropical, and northern climates will want to supplement these with books specific to their climates. But unless you have plenty of time, money, and curiosity and you are comfortable with the left-wing political agenda, or you want to make a partial living from being a permaculture designer or teacher yourself, I suggest steering clear of permaculture design courses. In this field, doing it yourself is the best way to learn and to preserve what works against the pressures of decline.


  1. Excellent series of articles Lou. What you say is reinforced by my interactions with the modern Green. Well-intentioned, but completely part of the system they claim to want changed. I sympathise with them as it wasn't that long ago I to believed in a shiny, green future if only we all just tried hard enough.

    I try to recall the exact path that led me to acknowledge the EROEI trap that lies ahead of us, and deploy those arguments in my discussions. But I never seem to make much progress. I think the problem is with squeezing years of reading and observations into one, short and partially drunk conversation....

  2. Hi Claire,

    I absolutely agree with you. Small urban areas are probably best for growing annual nutrient dense crops and then recycling the minerals. Or for keeping smaller livestock like chickens, quail or rabbits as they're appropriate to urban areas. I suspect that there is a slavish desire to replicate existing models rather than taking the core principles of an idea and applying them appropriately to a particular setting. You are so very correct in your analysis.

    I've met people down here that have pursued the sort of plant arrangement in an urban setting that you referred too and the plants just don't seem to have enough space to my mind. The competition for minerals, light and water seems too intense for the plants to be very productive.

    And, I absolutely hear you about the houses. You know, most people surprise me because when they discover that I built the house here, they always ask me if it is a mud brick house. That question is very telling because what they are stating is that things must look a certain way if they are to be considered to be alternative.

    Oh my, and insulation. I have had people that I have known for many years get very angry with me when I suggest that heavy use of insulation in buildings is a good idea to reduce the transfer of heat and cold between a house and its local environment.

    And the hopes pinned on renewable energy systems are very similar as today the weather conditions were so poor that my solar power system made only 0.54kW/h for the entire day and it is bucketing down tonight. At least the water tanks are full!



    1. May you get some sunshine soon! My 500 gallon rain tank is re-filling now that we've gotten a couple of inches of rain this week. I'm glad your water tanks are full!

      Bane's article had another point I could have critiqued: he has a grid-tied solar array rather than a stand-alone system. Yet again, he's relying on public spending to keep his private system functional and not realizing how he gets the benefits but sticks us with the costs.

      I think my next post or so will be a documentation, with numbers and graphs (if I can get Excel to do the graphs for me) of how our energy usage has changed as a function of the different appropriate-tech style changes we've made. The value of having our house sealed and insulated will be obvious from a graph of natural gas usage over time.

  3. Well, there you go again, dancing in my head!

    Since the beginning of civilization, humans have made a living by selling what they know; graduates of a permaculture design course are no different. After having paid a considerable amount of money to be evangelized to, they are chomping at the bit to convert others – and make money from selling it. That brings up something that doesn’t get mentioned much is that it’s hard to make real money from permaculture. Occasionally, you find some out there living without any money coming in, but 99% of us need the sporadic buck or two. You can't do that on a suburban lot. While I was fortunate to buy my diminutive home on the prairie for cash, I still have to pay the taxes, insurance, and utilities. These add up, and while I can grow a lot of food on my ½ acre (in a traditional veggie garden, BTW) I can’t grow it all. I would like an occasional banana or orange. Thus to also grow enough to sell to cover expenses would be difficult. Graduates of PDs seldom talk about the need to truly understand frugality.

    I, too, appreciate JMG’s insistence that we pay attention to the alternative energy concepts that proliferated in the 1970s. Instead of an expensive solar hot water system, I have a black hose in the summer and a big stock pot on the wood burner in the winter. For someone living alone it works just fine. My truck is 22 years old – it’s the last vehicle I’ll ever own. Recycled containers catching rain are cheaper than rent fancy equipment to dig swales. BTW, to insist that ALL land has a grade, obviously has never seen the Platte River Valley or a scraped flat city lot.

    Finally, I also appreciate the work of Peter Harper seen here:

    1. What got me going in the right direction was frugality, made necessary by quitting my corporate job in 1992. Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's book Your Money or Your Life and Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette books taught me how to live frugally, avoid waste, and do for myself whatever I could. These books were all about living well within limits, and I learned their lessons thoroughly. Like you, I'm surprised at the lack of discussion about frugality in Pc.

      Another flat place is central Illinois, where I lived during graduate school. Anyone who thinks Wyoming is big sky country has never driven across Illinois on I-70 or I-64. The land looks like a huge plate and the sky like a vast bowl sitting on top of it.

  4. Hi Claire! Just stumbled across your blog thanks to Resilience, and went back and read part 1 first. Thanks so much for putting the time and effort into getting these thoughtful arguments out there!

    I agree with much, or even most of what you've said in both posts. I agree with Creighton, who commented that your analysis of the hellstrip piece was dead on target. And in this post, you've highlighted some really critical issues that, to my mind, point out some of the key deficits in the permaculture movement as presently structured.

    For my part, I find Greer's Green Wizardry to be a better overall approach, but I do think the ethics piece of permaculture, as well as the process, are really helpful as well, so basically I'm trying to use a melange of these two in my own life.

    The interesting thing is, your first post basically pointed out that Cetera had failed to following the design principles, and even the design techniques (his sector analysis was clearly missing a LOT of pieces). So I'd say what he was doing wasn't permaculture at all, and your analysis was helpful in demonstrating this.

    That said, I'm not sure you've proved your point about PDCs as a general rule being worse than the direct, experiential route. For one thing, PDCs are heavily dependent on the quality and experience of the teachers. So while some PDC's may be pie-in-the-sky, ideologically based 'political' experiences, others may be practically grounded, experiential in nature and very useful. And students come to these from very different experience bases. So a certain PDC may ignite a lifelong passion for doing 'good' permaculture in one student, while another might be better served to read Hemenway, Bane and the rest and doing their own thing.

    Also, we know that people learn in different ways, so I'd suggest that PDCs may be very helpful for some - while direct, experiential learning may be the way to go for others. I think, ultimately, both are needed, and I do think we should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    What I think about your argument is incontrovertible, and needs to be seriously addressed by permaculture as a whole, is exactly the kind of mindset you are describing - the tendency of fresh PDC grads to go forth with what Chris Smaje has called 'PDC Syndrome' which is essentially this dogmatic mindset that really stands opposed to what's best and most useful about permaculture, at least as I understand it - I don't know if you read Chris, but he's right behind Greer as a must read for me. Check out:

    and be sure to check out his series of posts on Annuals vs Perennials. Extremely valuable stuff for permaculture folks to think about.

    At any rate, whether permaculture can actually prove to be of real service in addressing the kind of world that the converging crises of our time are leading us to, is a burning question, and I think the issues you have raised are really important ones for the permaculture movement as a whole to seriously look at, and I hope it's not too late, that this movement is not too far down the road of ideology, as you point out, and that it will find a way to stop perpetuating within itself the very same destructive patterns (ironically) that the systems it opposes do.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

      I read your comment about the quality of the PDC course being heavily dependent on the quality of the teachers as being another point in favor of not taking the PDC, at least not at this time in the US. Here in the US, I don't know of any way to learn what the quality of the teachers or their particular expertise is prior to attending a course. There doesn't seem to be an organization offering evaluations of teachers, something that I think would be very helpful. Outside of what any given teacher may say about him- or herself in their ads in PcA/PcD, or their published articles or books, potential students must guess at which teachers might make the best match to their interests and situation. Personally, I'd rather not guess, given the large cost of the courses plus transportation expenses, which for me would be considerable. That's another reason for me not taking the PDC ... although it also happens that I can learn well enough from books and my own experiments in this particular area.

      I do know of some things that I learn better under the instruction of a good teacher than just from books, however, so I agree that some students learn PCD better in person from a teacher than from books. Which brings me back to the desirability of having PDC teachers and courses evaluated or rated by some organization, hopefully by people other than the teachers themselves. Getting feedback from former students about their post PDC experiences applying or attempting to apply what they'd learned, perhaps even on-site visits to some of the students' works, could be a valuable part of that evaluation.

      I have read a few of Chris Smaje's posts on that I have liked. In fact, the title of this article was in part inspired by one of his recent posts that I thought was well argued. I'll check out the links you gave me above, and thank you for them!

  5. I don't know how it's travelling in the US branch of permaculture, but in Australia the movement is changing lives for the better. You can read the books on permaculture, of course, but there's a different experience entirely, when you do a PDC course.

    Money is not the problem, so long as you look at it the right way. Spend a few hundred on a collection of books, for referring back to absorb such an extensive subject, over many years. Or pay a few thousand on a practical course, which will fast track the subject, because it's taught in a group environment, in the environment. Which is actually the better way to learn patterns. Plus it will put you in contact with others who have completed the course, for life.

    So instead of having a book you can refer back to, you have real life people who gather more experience they can share with you. The support for a student, transcends decades and the original price. As the teacher wants to continue to encourage their students, and the students who study together, want to encourage each other. It's a completely different deal and scope, than reading a book.

    I've gained my knowledge of permaculture by reading books too, but the influence of that (at this stage) is limited to the efforts on my landscape. What attending a PDC course will do however, is encourage students to make changes where they are. Which means, if you happen to live in the city, you don't have to uproot and go live in the country to grow some food. But you're going to be more visible, and possibly criticised, for not having the same tree lawns as everyone else.

    That just comes with the territory of challenging the status quo. And what needs to happened to adapt to a changing future. But there are more actions happening today, thanks to PDC courses and the permaculture movement. There are new entrepreneurs being made, using manual tools, sharing land they pay or in food production, and being located close to cities, ensuring there's greater food security locally – as they're selling the food they produce to city folk.

    These hard working, low capital entrepreneurs, couldn't have achieved that so quickly on their own. It was a successive line of paying PDC students, which allowed the movement to connect them all together, to form a cooperative. Sharing capital, locations and resources. And they only paid a pittance, for a way of life that Greer now has the luxury of. Thanks to his own community networks, which he contributes financially to as well.

    So from where I stand, I see the permacutlure movement being integral to the future, and it's actually making people's lives better today, in ways I haven't achieved from reading books about it. It's changing my landscape, but it's not changing how people are living their lives. That's what the movement is for, and it's funded by PDC's, in the same way churches are funded – although they get tax concessions being a not-for-profit. I think money from students paying for PDC's, get taxed as income. Ergo, they are supporting our nation financially as well.

    It's pretty interesting how the permaculture movement has evolved – in Australia a least.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      You say that money isn't a problem, but I have to disagree with you on that, at least in the US at this time. I know plenty of people for whom the several thousand dollars required for the course, transportation to and from it, the books, and the lost income during the time of the course represents an impossibly large sum of money. It would have been for me until this year. (That's assuming they can get two weeks straight off work: most people in the US cannot as we don't have guaranteed vacation time here.) Borrowing money for something like a PcD course, given the lack of good info on quality of teachers and outcomes of grads here in the US, doesn't make sense compared to borrowing more money to get trained in a field that is known to have need of workers. It may be different in Australia, but I live in and write about the situation in the US.

      One of the things that bothers me about Pc is that it's largely funded by the PcD course. It strikes me as something of a pyramid scheme: instead of spending one's time actually doing the work of gardening and/or retrofitting one's home to use less energy and/or working with neighbors to achieve a desired change like reworking green space, one spends time designing others' landscapes and teaching others who are then encouraged to design stuff and teach others. But who is supposed to actually do the work of installing, maintaining, troubleshooting, and evaluating the designs? Folks that can afford to pay for a property design generally don't do the everyday maintenance work themselves, at least here in the US. I suspect a lot of the designs that do get installed languish. They don't get evaluated, so there is no way to pass on lessons to others.

      The other thing that bothers me is that I don't see evidence that Pc adds anything to what is already out there - and I say this as someone who spent almost 20 years hoping that it does. It's not that the techniques don't make sense; many (though not all) of them do. But you can find all of the techniques elsewhere, in the organic gardening literature, in the appropriate tech info from the 1970s and 1980s, in energy retrofit books and websites these days, and in books on making community-level change happen. Pc teachers don't do something magic in putting these together that any other person couldn't achieve by reading, doing, evaluating, asking advice of others, and so forth.