Our permaculture past revealed through stories from Permaculture International Journal.
In this article from edition 72, September-November 1999 of Permaculture International Journal, Lisa Mollison (1) and Kathy Jack outline the idea of furthering permaculture education with a Permaculture Academy. Authors: Lisa Mollison, Kathy Jack. Mining the archive series editor: Russ Grayson.
Towards an integrated education
MANY PERMACULTURISTS can relate to the frustrating experience of dying to obtain an integrated education. Some have pursued an education in costly institutions which foster specialised and disconnected courses of study, others have taken proliﬁc workshops and many have read books and conducted extensive independent research. While this has led to many interesting adventures and creative pursuits among permaculturists, most can see the usefulness of having our own school.
In 1985/86, Bill Mollison visited fellow academic Bob Macoskey at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania. Both lamented their dissatisfaction with the status quo of current education. In their experience as university professors, university systems were not producing people who were of use in society. Only two percent of graduates work in the ﬁeld of their degree. What could be created which would be of use to the needs and realities of the world? From these discussions the philosophical foundation of a Permaculture Academy emerged.
An ‘academy which attempts to unify knowledge and action towards a life enhancing goal’, a centre of ‘free enquiry’ with no ﬁxed location…
Building an Academy
In 1993, Bill published The Foundation Year-Book of the Permaculture Academy (FYB), summarising the intention, form, development strategies and operations of the Permaculture Academy. Bill sought to build ‘An academy whose purpose is to pursue the goal of excellence in the integrated design sciences’. An ‘academy which attempts to unify knowledge and action towards a life enhancing goal’, a centre of ‘free enquiry’ with no ﬁxed location.
In the FYB, Bill gave shape to an academy that will be accessible to anyone and will issue globally recognised degrees. Permaculture Design Course (PDC) graduates with postgraduate degrees may register as regional vice-chancellors. Vice-chancellors may appoint regional supervisors to work with students or serve as supervisors themselves. Supervisors must hold the level of degree that the student is working towards.
Fields of study include:
architecture and building
ﬁnances and business
resource development and research.
The supervisors and vice-chancellors oversee the academic process. A Diploma in Permaculture is required for admission to the Academy. All students register with the Academy registrar.
In 1995, Bill commissioned Inger Myer of Texas, a PDC graduate with a law degree, to research the establishment of the Permaculture Academy. Her extensive research included the incorporation, licensing and accreditation processes of other non-traditional schools in the US.
In 1996 the Permaculture Academy was incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) non proﬁt tax exempt corporation in the state of New Mexico. As a 501(c)(3) the Academy can apply for grants and receive donations. The Academy is currently on the path of becoming licensed and accredited.
Being an accredited school means our degrees will be recognised by other educational institutions as valid. To become accredited, the Academy must ﬁrst become licensed by:
Clearly deﬁning the bachelors, masters and doctorate programs, which are approved by the High Commissioner of Education.
Establishing an Institutional Advisory Committee to review the programs and standards of the Academy; and
Being operational. This means having an ofﬁce, a full time administrator, a curriculum and employed teachers.
Currently, the directors of the Academy are working to meet these standards. Lisa Mollison has been a managing director of the Permaculture Institute since January 1997.
The Foundation Year Book (FYB) is available from Tagari Publications for $6 plus postage and handling. The last article on the Academy was Published in P1J 47, June 1993.
(1) Lisa Mollison was the wife of Bill Mollison.
Our permaculture past revealed through stories from Permaculture International Journal.
In this article from edition 45, December-February 1993 of Permaculture International Journal, Robyn Francis discussed options for reducing our energy use.. Author: Robyn Francis. Mining the archive series editor: Russ Grayson.
Design with energy in mind
Permaculture designer, Robyn Francis, looks at a variety of design strategies for using energy responsibly and sustainably.
THE PRACTICAL ‘down-to-earth’ farmer, gardener and layperson will often ﬁnd the theories surrounding ecology and energy very heavy going, if not downright confusing. What I would like to do is offer some practical perspectives on how we can use resources responsibly.
Energy, in an holistic sense, involves much more than electricity and the use of fossil fuels, although these are certainly central to the energy issue. In permaculture design, energy and resource management are virtually synonymous and it is often difﬁcult, if not impossible, to separate the two.
The statistics quoted in this article are for Australia, as they are the facts that are available to me, but the trends and general concepts can be applied to any industrialised society and need to be carefully considered by developing countries in the rapid process of ‘modernisation’.
Domestic Energy Use
The most tangible form of energy, in terms of understanding and immediate action, that most of the people living in homes in Australia use, is electricity. This accounts for 20 percent of the country’s total energy in electricity and fossil fuels, with 8.3 million private motor vehicles consuming almost another 20 percent. So in the household, with electricity and motor vehicle use, there is immense scope to have an impact on 40 percent of the national ‘energy’ picture. These two factors also account for nearly 40 percent of Australia’s total carbon dioxide emissions.
Another aspect close to the heart of every household is the issue of waste. This can be seen as energy lost, a loss that also incurs a lot of energy in both its generation and disposal. Domestic waste makes up 71 percent of Australia’s garbage, over six million tonnes a year.
This article appeared in edition 45, 1993 of International permaculture Journal.
Recycling is important but not enough — we need to look very carefully at everything we bring home and how much of it will leave. Then add to that the waste of domestic sewage and the valuable nutrients it contains along with grey water from our bathrooms and laundries: this too needs to be counted as energy lost.
It is important to remember that although industry is guilty of consuming even more energy and generating more waste than domestic activities, it is largely our support as consumers using their products, and our consumption of imported goods (resulting in the need to over-produce for export), that helps perpetuate the industrial process.
At this point one could easily diverge into political aspects of the picture, so I think it appropriate to get back to the point of what we can do in a realistic and practical way.
As individuals we can approach energy and resource conservation on three different levels: behaviour, design and technology.
(Janet MacKenzie takes a close look at behaviour in her article in this issue on p 22, so I will deal with only design and technology.)
Design strategies — skylight versus electric light
Appropriate house design creating a comfortable indoor climate can substantially reduce the heating bill in winter and cooling bill in summer. The average Melbourne house uses around 50 percent of its energy on heating. The use of thermal mass, insulation and ventilation, the addition of well-placed pergolas, verandahs and glass houses and the design of surrounding landscape can support and enhance the house microclimate.
Windows and skylights can be designed to make better use of daylight — it amazes me just how many buildings need the lights on in the middle of the day to read. There are many excellent books available on passive solar and energy conserving house design to explore, not only for building a new house but also for renovating or retrofitting an existing house.
Beyond the Home
There are numerous ways we can approach energy conservation in design beyond the home, in the garden, in our neighbourhood and on the farm. Often, we need to import energy in the form of resources to get a system going — things like seeds, plants, mulch and manures to establish our gardens and orchards, bulldozers to construct swales and dams to collect water. When we design our strategies in time and consider these initial inputs as capital investment, we need to ensure that they will yield many times that investment over their lifespan.
A fruit tree will yield many times its initial investment cost if it’s well managed, but not if we drive many kilometres every year to collect manure and straw to mulch it. We need to design the system surrounding the fruit tree so that its needs are met on site. We can plant comfrey and lucerne as a living mulch under the tree to provide some of its nutrient needs and give a chicken a good life providing it with manure and managing its pests.
Don’t just plant a windbreak, plant a sun trap, bird habitat, bee forage and fuel source, some wild foods and a fire break — these are all things a windbreak can do with good design and plant selection, and consider the energy saved by stacking all those functions into that one element. These are basic permaculture design principles that address energy conservation in a very practical way.
The principles of zonation are similar, looking carefully at the inputs a particular species or system requires for maintenance and harvest, and placing it according to convenience within the landscape. For example, the chickens need to be visited twice a day for feeding, collecting eggs, letting into the orchard to forage and to be locked up safe from the fox at night. What else needs to be done on a daily basis that can be linked along the pathway to the chookhouse? It can be the vegetable garden, compost heap, wood heap, nursery — to name a few. So zonation conserves the time and energy we would have wasted if we had spread things all over the place.
In the design of human settlements, communities and villages, much energy in the form of providing services can be saved through cluster placement of housing. Design can reduce motor vehicle use by ensuring that social and commercial centres and facilities are within easy walking and cycling distance of residential areas, and preferably the two should be integrated as in traditional village cultures. A rural community l consulted for earlier this year consisting of 23 adults, located about 20 kilometres from town, spent over $55,000 a year on motor vehicle maintenance and running costs.
Technological strategies — solar, pedal power and gravity
Here we need to consider the appliances and technologies that consume energy and the technologies that generate energy. In south-east Queensland (subtropics), 50 percent of domestic energy is used for water heating — imagine what could be saved if building codes made solar water heaters compulsory!
The major electricity consumers in the home are:
water heating (30 percent)
space heating (22 percent)
refrigerators (14 percent)
cooking (9 percent)
lighting (6 percent)
freezers (4 percent)
TV and VCR (4 percent)
clothes washers (3 percent)
clothes dryers (3 percent)
dishwashers (3 percent)
airconditioning (2 percent)
These percentages are the national average (ANZEC, 1990).
Good solar house design, solar hot water systems and energy efficient appliances can make a big dent in domestic energy consumption. Also, gas is cheaper than electricity, less polluting and generally more energy efficient.
Wood stoves can be used for cooking and space heating but do check their energy efficiency rating and remember that fire wood costs. Energy is used in cutting and transporting firewood, and collecting and cutting it yourself also costs time, effort and often fuel for chainsaws and transport. In dense urban situations wood and coal stoves and heaters are a major source of air pollution during winter. Most of the non-grid appliances (gas and DC) are more expensive than regular AC appliances and all appliances represent energy in the extraction and processing of their raw materials, manufacture, distribution and ultimate disposal. This all needs to be assessed.
Water conserving devices such as control flow shower roses not only save water but also energy to heat water. Nearly 40 percent of domestic water consumption can be eliminated by installing water conserving devices like dual flush toilets, aerating taps in hand basins and sinks and front loading wash machines. Rainwater collection tanks should be standard practice along with greywater recycling for garden irrigation. Use gravity where possible to eliminate the need for pumping.
In remote situations where stand-alone water and energy systems are necessary, good design and choice of appliances are critical.
Where homes are connected to a central water supply and grid power, good design and conservation are equally critical if we are concerned about our long term security.
Checklist for technology systems, appliances and building materials
does it conserve/save energy
is it resource-conserving
is it efficient (inputs vs yields or doing the job)
what are its costs/benefits in terms of energy, materials, maintenance, life span, disposal and economic liability
is is durable/repairable
is it recyclable
is it non-polluting
does it use local resources/materials
does it suit local conditions
is it necessary — what alternatives are there and how do they compare to the above criteria.
Private motor vehicle use
In Australia every year:
33,214,300,000 km are travelled commuting to and from work
67,311,600,000 km are travelled for other private purposes
How people commute to work in Adelaide (1991):
motor car (drivers) 51%
motor car passengers 17%
public transport 16.8%
The author of this piece, Robyn Francis, now operates the Permaculture College Australia from her Nimbin, northern NSW, Australia smallholding, Djanbung Gardens.
SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE WRITTEN indicating support for a third-world Trust-in-Aid to teach permaculture courses in areas where people need help. Some have sent sums of from $100 to $1000 to go into such a trust, and we have established the account. We do not as yet have tax deductibility but have instructed our lawyer to try to get this for us, if necessary by changes to our trust document.
Some people have indicated that they will be approaching orqanisations like Live Aid to assist, and we would be grateful for any independent initiatives to any such non-governmental organisations or even government organisations for grants towards our Trust-in-Aid.
The characteristics of successful projects
We have been giving this subject considerable thought and have discovered that very few third-world projects work. Those that do seem to have these characteristics:
they arise from projects that are seen to be important by local people; while there is no reason not to lay out a smorgasbord of possibilities, the choices of priorities and possibilities must be left to the people on the ground
local people know what time they have to spare and what skills can be developed.
Once some priorities are defined:
the approach that works is practical-educational — actual ground projects formed as teaching projects but solving a specific problem or set of problems and developing local skills
assistance may then be required as back-up; materials, plants and seed or information supplies to support local initiatives
all of this works only if people get direct return for effort and if we do not perpetuate dependency and exploitation; this is the critical impediment to aid where large landlords or corrupt bureaucracies benefit from aid (most cases funded by foreign banks or governments)
any project should have the potential to make its own way, either as savings, sales or a teaching centre, and preferably all of these approaches.
What aid volunteers need
Our teaching courses are good initiators of such an approach but must be followed by support of a group in-country. ‘Self-help training for long-term development’ sums it up.
Aid volunteers need to be very practical and skilled, able to give training at certificate level in any one area. Enthusiasm is not enough, and in fact an inexperienced enthusiast creates more problems for everybody.
Other points to watch are:
that individuals are not selected for help; this causes a host of local problems and leaves the community situation unaffected; thus, aid should be to local groups, preferably as aid in training and in business
aid should never be charity, which is dependency-generating, but should be invested in basic change (independence and self-help assistance); injustice is the root cause of poverty
there should be no strings or requirements on aid, no ‘thanks’ required nor reports to be given; donors need to trust local people once a good group has been selected
prestige projects and paid administrators are often unsupportable locally
a joint project may very well work; for example, a trade exchange where profits are split; there is no charity involved here, just some initial investment and work on both sides
it is a good idea to work with an already-established aid group made up of nationals and locals; their achievements are easy to see and many cultural impediments can be avoided.
Levels of aid
There are probably three to four levels of aid, each suited to a different set of conditions. Aid in disaster: (plague, famine, flood, earthquake). This does seem to be a suitable area for government-to-government aid although most studies reveal that very fast action to help people help themselves is the only effective course. It would seem sensible to have funds set aside annually to mobilise within days, not to slowly react over a period of some months by which time an aid programme has become a refugee programme, longterm and basically insoluble. Training aid: for ‘normally bad’ conditions, the training of in-country designers for self-help and long-term change. This is where ourselves and many agencies believe we can most effectively operate, but even this sort of aid is ineffectual if we ignore, or fail to develop strategies for, basic justice and honesty in the government of the country. There is no apolitical aid. Joint projects aid: this seems the least contentious. It involves setting up a small industry, enterprise or cooperative project, selling locally and on a world basis and sharing profits with the disadvantaged group. Carefully planned, this seems straightforward. The main ethic to observe is that what is exported or sold doesn’t impoverish the area. Information and seed are good examples, or manufactures from imported raw materials. Publishing is a possible area. Local enterprise aid: is effective if soundly assessed for social, ethical, and environmental impacts. Such fields as food preservation, domestic water purification and crop storage are undoubtedly effective fields, as is autonomous energy supply using biogas. Training and funding local people to supply or improve on existing systems is usually effective and creates little harm, whereas expanding cattle herds and supplying large institutions or centralised systems does have profound social effects favouring an already-privileged class (landowners), as does ‘miracle crops’, large irrigation systems and large technology centres. Even large biogas systems disfavour households.
Aiding change in land tenure to give people land, or to legal systems to allow or facilitate community self-help is a key strategy, unrelated to technology or crops but permitting any changes to benefit people.
Aid to individuals is ineffective and creates a new privileged class. Aid to existing effective groups is ideal.
How we intend to proceed
As our plan is to spend only the interest from monies donated to the fund. We may have to wait a few years while funds are accumulating.
As stated before, we intend to deposit royalty payments from the next permaculture book into the Fund, and so we hope that within three years we would have a tidy sum (if all goes well with book sales!). In the meantime, we will be researching effective aid programmes already in place. It would be pointless and expensive to go looking for projects when there are so many that already exist, concentrating on those that offer educational programmes.
There are many nongovernmental organisations to contact, ranging from Community Aid Abroad to World Neighbours, and we will eventually be able to narrow the list to those with whom a mutually beneficial relationship can develop.
Over the next few years, many of our trainee consultants will be gaining experience and some have already had overseas work.
Although initially we from Australia or the US may be the first teachers, we hope eventually to fund Asians, Mexicans, Africans etc to teach both in-country and across borders. We will be collating information on skilled and experienced people over the next two years.
We are grateful to those who have already donated to this Fund and hope that more people will follow suit.
Published as an article in World Visions … and realities
DURING OUR FIELD WORK IN NEPAL we visited the small farm of MC Pereira, one of our permaculture graduates, in the rich subtropical Terai area.
Born in India, MC married a Nepalese girl, Uma, and moved to the Terai on two acres of family land in 1980. Over the last six years they have developed this land towards the ideal of sustainability, which has been largely achieved.
The property supports about five adults and produces all its own food and a market surplus. Some factors are as follows.
The essential fencing against wandering cattle is secure, with a walled garden of about 1/2 to 3/4 acre and a barbed wire fence on the remainder. Progress is being made on a living fence of the vigorous Euphorbia species that replace cactus in Nepal.
The key to growing is thick mulch on the perennial crops (ginger, pineapple) derived from leguminous trees as interplant, border trees and along access paths. Most of these are Leucaena but several other legumes are under trial for coppicing.
Some mulch is collected from the local rice husking mill nearby, particularly for the vegetable and small seedling beds.
In the extensive vegetable garden nutrients are derived from a programme of skilled composting (4-6 piles of 2-4 metres).
Here, plant wastes are layered with buffalo manure, with two central bamboo-formed vents until the first heat of decay is produced. The whole heap is then mud-plastered to prevent nitrogen escape (a sprinkle of phosphate helps with this) and the mud itself is sown to or seeded with grain.
When the pile is ready it is spread on the vegetable beds and a mulch of rice husks may later be added.
Seedlings are grown in compost for planting out.
Livestock is a milk buffalo and calf, and tree forage is now sufficient to support two more buffalo.
Weeds and forage grain are chopped to a coarse green chaff for feed, and the manures and urine go to a biogas digester. There is one milk goat and five to six cages of rabbits, all fed on grown forages, weeds, and vegetable scraps.
A pigeon loft is built above the milk sheds and hay and feed grains stored in the structure (all of local brick).
A chicken run will be added in future, and at present neighbours provide eggs and chickens.
The flush toilets go to the biogas plant which provides light and cooking gas for the establishment.
The tank is a buried dome type, and has a pond on top where frogs gather. This pond may be planted to kangkong in buckets after a suggestion by yours truly.
All biogas sludge goes to the gardens and crop systems.
Firewood is in excess supply and is sold periodically. Leucaena, neem tree (Azedarachta indica) are regularly coppiced for forage and fuel.
Fires for house heating are rarely lit, but small smokeless wood stoves for cooking are used. Biogas is regularly used, especially for tea (cha).
Seeds, seedlings, small trees, firewood, vegetables, mango, custard apple, ginger and pineapples are the main sales. All are sold locally from the farm or in local market.
A good daily journal of products and crops is kept.
Buffalo, goat, rabbits, bees and pigeons are housed in the compact farm area, although buffalo are also tethered by day (for vitamin D) on a straw area outdoors or on the roadside.
Water is partly from roof, mainly from a well via a manual force-lift pump. This suffices for garden watering and crops — rice in the monsoon, mustard for oils in the dry winter.
Dahl (grain legume) is a mix of pigeon pea (grown in crop and hedgerow) and lentil. Most curry spices are grown in the district.
A model form worth replicating
In general, this little farm is a model of the productive potential of a small area. The farm is a mine of highly detailed information and practical systems, and demonstrates an extremely high degree of self-reliance and nutrient cycling.
What such farms show, in real terms, is that what aid groups see as problems are solvable, there are solutions. What is now needed are strategies to replicate such examples. This means contributing modest finance, good teachers and real projects. Beyond doing it ourselves we need to set up projects to do it in many places and to educate people as to the possibilities.
MC and Uma have given us a lead and this small property is a bit of paradise surrounded by a sea of rice.
Published as an article in World Visions … and realities
MANY MORE PEOPLE would invest money in ethical systems, even if they obtained less interest, if there was an easily-accessed set of choices.
Insofar as returns on investment goes, the actual record is that ethical portfolios actually pay better than the other kind, so it is simply good sense to invest in good works.
Any wise broker or investor spreads the risk, and some of the many areas that people can invest in today are: Projects
actually managed by individuals or family
groups, eg. forestry or aquaculture projects
managed by a consultancy or development team, eg. village development on land purchased for that purpose.
Personal or household loans
to build a new or energy-efficient house
to retrofit an energy inefficient home or replace inefficient equipment.
Equity in ethical business — generally, a spread of investment over:
venture or developmental capital to research or start up businesses.
Purchase of threatened environments
purchase for preservation and research, trusts and gift status or revalued annually for unit resale of unit investments (you can buy tropical rainforest for as low as $4 per acre in Brazil).
purchase for rehabilitation and management, eg. putting buffalo back onto a prairie.
the actual purchase and development of lands for aquaculture, villages, special crop, forests.
How can we set up our stock exchange?
First, all ventures need a short prospectus outlining amount needed, project, costs and timing to return, expected profits (modestly stated).
These then need listing with central brokerages or money-collecting centres where they can be put on computer for print-out (prospectus can be called for by investors). In each country a few centres can exchange computer disks, and for each project one of these centres accumulates or collects the capital until the amount needed is gathered. The project is then closed for investment and monies are routed to other unfilled projects or to a central fund for land purchase and development by our trustworthy consultants. Monies are recouped by products, sales and leases.
The ‘epicentres’ are ideal brokerage places where people can come to invest and borrow. The computer (modem or telex) can link centres and the consultancy services can assess prospectuses, develop properties, encourage and find new prospects.
We should all try to develop such a system of active and widespread investments and their associated centres and linkages.
Published as an article in World Visions … and realities
SEVERAL GRADUATES and associations show a keen interest in developing or redeveloping villages and setting up a village alliance offering services, trade, accommodation and exchange of data and personnel.
Carl Winge (Seattle USA) and the Permaculture Services groups are interested to hear from people wishing to set up investment trusts for specific developments. The consultancy services as a whole are interested in working with existing villages to redesign and develop new concepts and employment opportunities. We envision a world permaculture village federation with a great potential for mutual aid and exchange, trade and education.
Max Lindegger and Geoff Young in Australia have projects in Queensland (Crystal Waters) and Fiji; the Earthbank group in Maui are also keen to develop a village in Hawaii; Dan McGrath in Oregon, Alan Campbell in New Mexico and other graduates have expressed a keen interest in any such development.
People interested in investment, work or residence can register their interest with Carl in the US, and we hope that he reports here or that others report to this journal.
Indian and Nepalese graduates are keen to assist existing villages. In the USA, Mike Corbett at Village Homes, with long experience in village design and all associated problems, has offered to assist in consultancy. Village Homes is well-established and can offer facilities to any future network.
We are suggesting a Village Development Group — finances, planners, consultants, residents meet as a subsection at all future congresses and plan better communications. Smaller projects between village locations can use networks of trade and market.
We can develop a global ‘string of beads’ with a little organisational effort, giving more outlets for village enterprises and taking advantage of group and financial power.
The Earthbank Society was an Australian initiative of permaculture practitioners in the 1980s. It was set up to develop the then-emerging ethical or social investment movement and community economic initiatives.
Village Homes was an early urban subdivision in the US that integrated productive landscape and energy-efficient dwellings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_Homes?wprov=sfsi1
The village development alliance proposed by Bill can be seen as analogous to the later Global Ecovillage Network in which one of the developers of Crystal Waters Permaculture Village, Max Lindegger, has played a prominent role: https://ecovillage.org/