What is Permaculture

Permaculture is not a word. It’s a paragraph. Some of what I’m putting here is controversial. Permaculture, at its core, is a way of thinking about the world and solving problems in a systematic way that goes beyond sustainable.  As Geoff Lawton says, “Don’t plant a tree; plant an ecosystem.” It’s best know applications are to agriculture.  High level practitioners are able to achieve feats that are seemingly miraculous (see video for an example).

The word was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Bill Mollison put together a course teaching the system, and anyone who has taken a PDC (Permaculture Design Course) does permaculture and can use officially use the word. Of course anyone can learn or use Permaculture.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of infighting in permaculture (mostly among posers). As an example, Mollison and Holmgren told Sepp Holzer that they thought that what he practiced was permaculture and wanted him to use the word, but other lesser practitioners insist that Holzer does not practice permaculture as he has not taken a PDC.

Another problem with permaculture is that it is infested with hippies. There’s nothing wrong with hippies per se, but a large proportion of them seem to do a lot of hating in the name of love. Another problem with some hippies is what I call toddler syndrome, “What’s mine is mine, and what’s your is mine.” Some of them will accuse successful permaculturists of not following the permaculture ethics because they make a profit and do not share it with the accuser.

Another problem is what Paul Wheaton calls purple breathers—the injection of New Age style religious elements into the Permaculture Design Course. There are people who simply insist that you can’t do permaculture without drums, chanting, and the earth Goddess.  This particular problem seems mostly to be an American issue.  Paul Wheaton maintains that this insistence (and the denigration of profits) prevents many farmers from adopting Permaculture.  Geoff Lawton  states that their are no supernatural elements to Permaculture and no Permaculture Design Course should incorporate them into the curriculum (although after hours is fair game)

These three issues have subsided somewhat as two of most prominent permaculture promoters in the U.S. are pro-profit and pro-results. Their influence has helped attract a large number of new people to the movement who do not share the hippie hang ups.

Personally, I see permaculture as a way that Christians can fulfill the first commandment in the Bible, to fill the earth and have dominion over it. Destroying the earth somehow doesn’t seem to be an appropriate part of that plan. Whatever you believe about carbon and Global Warming, there is no doubt that humans have destroyed a large number of resources, most spectacularly seen in the desertification of the Fertile Crescent and sub-Saharan Africa. I think that more Christians should be involved in Permaculture as a way to help the poor, improve their own lifestyles, and fulfill God’s commands.

With that introduction, here are some permaculture resources:


  • Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway. This book is a fabulous introduction to permaculture. Toby has a strong science background and it comes through in the text (without being boring). The focus of this book is on urban or suburban lots. If you are wanting to implement permaculture on a bigger scale, then you might want to read this second (after the book below). Otherwise this should probably be your first permaculture book. (see podcasts for an in-depth review).
  • Sepp Holzer is such a genius that he seems crazy to us normal folk. He owns a 90 acre farm in the Austrian alps where he has been able to pull of such feats as growing tropical citrus trees. He has a heavy focus on ponds, water, and hugelkultur (among other things). If you are wanting to implement permaculture in a larger area, this should probably be your best first read followed by Toby’s book (above).


My favorite way to learn about things. My two favorite for permaculture are Jack Spirko’s and Paul Wheaton’s. However, as they cover a lot of topics, not just permaculture, I have excerpted highlighted episodes below. (Warning: Paul has a tendency to ramble and get off topic and occasionally cusses).

Jack Spirko TSP Podcasts

Paul Wheaton’s Podcasts

Permaculture Rockstars (in Progress)

  • Geoff Lawton, the “heir apparent” to
  • Ionto Evans
  • Alan Savory
  • Sepp Holzer
  • Tony Rinaudo