In "Bill Mollison: Permaculture Activist," we introduced this magazine's readers to permaculture gardening, an exciting new agricultural concept in which diverse-yield ecosystems are consciously designed to be self-regulating and to require a minimal energy input in order to sustain themselves The Australian gardener also spoke of the need for a "new breed" of agricultural designers who would be trained to command and implement these unique systems and who would eventually build up an international permaculture network, an interconnected system of functional links".
Well, that association is now coming into being. Mollison is visiting the United States once again, to build a foundation for the "expanding pyramid of functional design knowledge" that he's envisioned for years. Accompanied by Andrew Jeeves, another resident of Tagari (the village in Tasmania where members of the Permaculture Institute live and work), Mollison has spent much of this year touring North America and conducting permaculture design workshops in North Carolina, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and California. As a result of those undertakings, there will be—by this winter—over 100 trained permaculture designers in the United States ... including MOTHER EARTH NEWS staffer Larry Hollar.
Last spring, Larry attended an intensive ten-day seminar sponsored by the Long Branch Environmental Education Center in Leicester, North Carolina in which the participants spent approximately eight hours each day immersed in readings, reports, and field work related to permanent agriculture. On the first day of the workshop, the aspiring designers heard the only pessimistic lecture of the entire course: a review of the problems facing our world's food production systems. Mollison argued that such disturbing phenomena as deforestation, loss of topsoil, desert encroachment, and water pollution demonstrate the need to change our present monocultural methods, which, he said, are largely responsible for the alarming conditions.
After their introduction to the polycultural theses and principles of permaculture design, workshop attendees studied the techniques needed to create "a design for a sustainable, human-controlled support system." Through lectures, group discussions, and field trips to neighboring farms, the students developed new skills in planning sites, retrofitting existing structures, selecting beneficial plant and animal species, and implementing large-scale projects (aquaculture, for example).
Following a week of design research, the students tackled such practical matters as how to set up a permaculture consultancy service, either as individual designers or in groups. Finally, each participant submitted a full curriculum vitae, so that a bank of skills can be developed for the international network of permaculture designers. (Using that resource, permaculturists will be able to "borrow," or barter for, each other's skills.) Discussion of possible interconnections between local permaculture associations rounded the busy session. Larry reports that the whole course was extremely useful, both for the less experienced students (who were mostly new homesteaders planning to put Mollison's ideas to work on their own spreads) and for the attendees who—like Larry—already had a firm background in horticulture and land use practices.
In the wake of Mollison's recent visit to this country, the effort to coordinate the growing permaculture network is being spearheaded by the local groups who hosted his workshops. Some of them will offer consultancy work and short seminars on permaculture design, while others—such as New England's Rural Education Center—are developing detailed species lists for their particular climates. Anyone who's interested in attending a workshop, contracting for a design team's services, or simply learning more about permaculture should contact one of the following regional sponsors (don't forget to enclose a stamped envelope when you write):