INTERVIEW WITH BILL MOLLISON
Note from interviewer, Scott Vlaun
In the1960's and 70's Bill Mollison, and later with David Holmgren, developed the concepts of permaculture, (derived from the words "permanent" "agriculture" and "culture,"). In 1978 the seminal work "Permaculture One" was written, with "Permaculture Two" to follow a year later. By 1981 the graduates of the first permaculture workshop set out to make a difference in the world. Since then, Mollison and countless acolytes have spread permaculture principles throughout the world while developing thousands of sustainable systems and creating a model for ecological design and development.
Recently declared "Ecologist of the Century" in Australia, Mollison conceives permaculture as the "conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems." and "the harmonious integration of landscape and people..." permaculture design he points out, stems from "protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour:" In short, its goals are energy and water conservation, sustainable local food production and regional self-reliance. As conceived by Mollison, permaculture is nothing less than a "sustainable earth-care system" capable of providing our food, energy, shelter, and other needs while conserving the world's resources.
On July 25, 2001 I was fortunate enough to have this conversation with Bill Mollison as he visited our New Mexico Research Farm.
Scott Vlaun: Because most of our readers don't really know much about permaculture . . .
Bill Mollison: I was going to talk about the history of permaculture. It really arose from looking at other systems, non-agricultural systems. I spent almost 30 years in wildlife survey, so I'd be watching animals in interaction with plants. I'd be sitting up night after night, watching that sort of thing and I decided that it was a pretty good system but that I could build one just as well. It was 1959. Now, that's a pretty cheeky thing to say. In fact, I thought some of it wasn't too good; it wasn't very well designed.
Vlaun: This is Nature you're talking about . . .
Mollison: Yeah, Nature, I'm talking about Nature. Really, God missed out on a few things. So in November of 1959, I made a note in my diary and that's what I call the beginning of permaculture. It said, "I think I could build a system that works better than this one I'm watching," which was a rain forest with marsupials. I didn't act on that because I still had a lot of work to do in forestry. So, a few years later a Club of Rome report came out in which they made a forecast for the future in terms of renewable resources, fossil fuels and population. It said that something's gotta give. We're on a collision course. This must have been about 1963 or 65. I called Hobart University where I was lecturing and I said "What we're teaching is irrelevant, really, no matter what it is, it's irrelevant, because it doesn't refer to near future crises. We've been teaching this stuff for 50 or 100 years . . . the same physics, the same classical studies . . . and we should all change." Everyone said, "Yeah we should." The staff said so; the students said so; and they all went back and did exactly the same thing they were doing before. It is too difficult to contemplate change if you're an academic because that's all you know. I could see that was pretty useless and by 1970, I could see, too, that the marine resources were starting to fold up. We were running out of fish stocks and we ran out of seaweed in some areas. I saw that things were indeed troubled. I saw the need for another system by 1970.
In 1972, I did that thing where you leave society. I bought five acres in the forest, made a little clearing of about an acre and a half in there and built a house and a barn and a garden and pulled out of society generally. I thought up permaculture. I broke through when I started to think that if I took all the principles of environmental science and made them into directives that tell you what to do, then we've got a way to go. Luckily, Kenneth Watts at the University of California at Davis, had just put out a little book on the principles of environmental science so Kenneth had listed all those principles and rules that people had thought they'd discovered and I took each one in turn and changed it into a directive. For example, a wooly sort of principle like "Mature ecosystems exploit immature ecosystems." It's difficult to see what that means but apparently people have said that. OK, if you're going to do that, then lets grow annuals and mulch them round young perennials. By mulching the annuals they're swallowing, the immature system, we create a perennial system. This actually works quite well. So, I would change them into directives. I did that night after night and then other insights came from that process. What I was doing really was saving energy in every form, whether it was when you build a house or when you grew a crop or when you used fertilizer and didn't have to. So I could see that you could do almost everything biologically, and you can't run out of biology. So about 1974 I started building a garden with some hundreds of plant species in it, mainly directed for human use but whatever else I could see that would be in the garden, I would feed it too. Like if I was going to have chickens, I would have a section for chickens, not for me....
Vlaun: So you wouldn't be buying off farm inputs to feed your chickens, you'd be growing whatever the chickens needed.
Mollison: Right. Which is much easier to do than you think. And I kept collecting cases, too. My grandmother had chickens and she feed them with a handful of wheat every day and had a little shed that she'd close some of them up in and got the eggs. She got two dozen eggs every day without fail. One day, I said to her, "How many chickens do you have, Grandma?" She said, "I don't know, about 25
I reckon." She didn't know. So, I set out one evening with a notebook and made notes of all the chickens I could see. By the end of the evening, I knew she had a lot more than 25 chickens. They never came in for that handful of grain, that was all. So, I set chicken traps, big wire cages with funnels in them, with lots of wheat in the funnel and I caught 68 chickens. I wondered . . . these chickens aren't eating one handful of wheat, that's not going to do it. She had them running in amongst two plants: one was called Coprosma, it's a New Zealand shiny leaf creeping plant immune to sea winds and things, and it has crop after crop of berries during the year; it's always got green berries or ripe berries or new berries or something. Each berry has two seeds that you could easily mistake for two grains of wheat. So it's a continual wheat producer as far as chickens are concerned; they think it's wheat and they eat it.
So even one Coprosma bush was feeding dozens more chickens than my grandmother. And the other plant she had planted because of the sea winds was in the Solanum family. It's got huge thorns. It's called African Box Thorn. It's a Lycium. It's a frightfully thorny thing. But in cool climates it doesn't spread; you put it in and there it grows; it grows to about 15 feet across and 15 feet high. It's a dome, and it stops there forever. We've had hedges of it for more than 200 years in northern Tasmania. It always has flowers, green berries, and ripe berries and the chickens love it. It's in the Solanacae so there's like millions of little tomatoes falling all the time. When a chook (chicken) is going to lay eggs and rear chicks she walks in underneath the box thorns, makes a nest, lays her eggs and sits under the box thorns because nothing, no hawks, no dogs, nothing can get her in there. Then come the chicks and they don't leave that shelter because the berries are the perfect size for little chickens. They eat them until they're quite well fledged, and out they come in the open air and then hawks get one or two of them. If they're in trouble, they run into the box thorns, so it's ideal food and shelter.
So, she had these two plants and none other, and yet, they fed 85 chickens within 50 yards of her chicken house, so I could say you didn't have to buy wheat to grow chickens. And her eggs were very good eggs. I later discovered there's some New Zealanders who grew their chickens on three species of Coprosma. I never saw the other species. That's all they ever feed them.
Vlaun: So one plant could provide food and shelter for chickens. What would the chickens provide for the environment there?
Mollison: Plenty of manure. All the time manure. So you get a very high phosphate reading in the soils nearby. The chickens are also going to give you eggs and feathers and all the usual products. I think
there's almost nothing you can't do that with.
Vlaun: So by watching these natural systems first, and then these systems that were kind of naturalized, you developed your ideas for your own farm?
Mollison: A lot. And first of all, I saw that Nature never has a single system. It never just grows pines or just grows anything really. So, Nature structures a system, an over-story, intermediate stories, and under-stories and then dives below the ground into tubers. So when you have to construct a system you have a huge range of levels that you can construct providing you pay attention to the light needs of some plants. Now, it's critical in the tropics to have high shade. If you don't have it, you get very little production because about 9:30 in the morning it's too hot and your plants wilt, so photosynthesis ceases. But about 4:30 in the evening the leaves come up again and they all start photosynthesizing and you get a little bit at the end of each day where the plants grow but none other, so that's why the tropics have never been renowned for production and they don't feed the world from the tropics because plants growing there don't get much of a chance to actually put their energy into growth. They're what they call light-saturated, too much light. They deal with it and just fold up, so you've got to put a high shade over it and so the tropics have a lot of umbrella-shaped trees. Put those up and plants will synthesize all day long so you can double production underneath shade trees.
In Massachusetts, or Maine where you are, you can't put shading over your gardens because you don't have enough light. You have very good light, by the way, because you have a lot of indirect light bouncing off clouds or coming through fog. That's the best for growing plants, so the further north you go up to 60¡ north, 70 in some cases, the more production you get, because you get 18 hour days up there at 60¡ north and beautiful warm days but not a lot of sun. So you can grow the 100 pound cabbage up there. Up to Alaska, you can grow 40- pound potato and 100-pound cabbage. (laughs) It's not fairies, like they say it is at Findhorn. Findhorn puts it all down to fairies and devas and prayer and things while using pig shit for fertilizer, but it is indirect light, endless light, 18-hour days of growth, and ground up glacial soil. You can't beat that for ground situations. So if you want to grow record spuds, build your gardens in Alaska. If you want to grow year round, have another garden about 15¡ degrees off the Equator and move there as soon as winter comes.
Vlaun: I like that idea.
Mollison: Yeah. It's a lot cheaper than staying at 60¡ north and trying to keep warm. The fare to a more amiable climate is cheaper than your oil for heating your house.
Vlaun: But not if we have one of those Finnish stoves, right? (From a previous conversation about wood fired masonry heaters.)
Mollison: Not many people have them. The Finns have them. The Russians have them. But the American people are secure in the fact that they can burn oil 'til the cows come home. They don't bother with them.
Vlaun: Maybe as the price of fossil fuels goes higher, there will be more incentive to come up with better solutions. Even in New Mexico, most people don't take advantage of the sun to heat their homes.
Mollison: This is ghastly! But you've put me off my track. In 1974, I built gardens that I thought were pretty good and I independently evolved deep mulching systems, I say independently, because about 7 seven years after that, about 1982, an American came by and said, "Oh you're using Ruth Stout's method" and I'd never heard of Ruth Stout and it was many years before I actually got her book, closer to the 90s.
Vlaun: That was one of the first garden books I ever read back in the 70s . . ."the No Work Garden Book."
Mollison: Ah, great.
Vlaun: . . . her book and the Nearings' "Living the Good Life" They were the two people I read back then.
Mollison: I remember reading a book rather like the Nearings'. It was made in England . . . I've forgotten the guy who did it . . . and I thought it was a lesson in rotten hard work for very little result. It was sort of like a ground-down peasant primer. (laughs heartily) Just what I didn't want. I grew up like that, I grew up on farms on which you worked 18-hour days, hard work, and I thought, there's got to a better way. I ignored this in Scott Nearing and John Seymour. He wrote a book, in which you're trying to do everything. He called it practical self-sufficiency. (John Seymour's books "The Forgotten Arts" and "Forgotten Household Crafts" have recently been republished in one volume by DK Publishing as "The Forgotten Arts and Crafts.")
First of all, I think that's a terrible concept: self-sufficiency. You make your own cheese; you skin your own pig; you make your own gloves from the pig's ears, you know, it's a shocking idea. We are absolutely interdependent. I want somebody else to be making my boots while I feed them, you know. And somebody else again to make my fishing rod, car, bike. Self-sufficiency is a stupid idea. You can go a long way to feeding yourself or perhaps all the way, but beyond that, it's pretty stupid really. You have to have something to make money: photography, writing books. Me, I write books. That's my income. But I can easily feed myself.
Vlaun: I think that was Scott Nearing's point too. He would work four hours a day on feeding himself and providing his shelter and heat, but then he would work four hours each day writing, lecturing, and teaching, and then four hours a day reading, playing music, things like that.
Mollison: Nice, nice.
Vlaun: It's kind of hard to do, but . . .
Mollison: Like you would forget sometimes (laughs) . . . but theoretically. I didn't read him a lot but I know he built a lot of stone walls and things and that is hard to do.
Vlaun: He and his wife Helen built stone house.
Mollison: Yeah. There's another hard thing to do. You only ever do one of those in your life. I've built big stone walls and things and when you finish one, you've finished them forever, you know. I never want to do that again.
Anyhow, I was looking for a different way. I thought: There are easier ways to get what you want. What you have to do is obey the natural law, but Permaculture turned very rapidly into a system of design so that everything you put in had a multiple purpose and was in the right place to carry out its job. It's a peculiar thing to say that you put the tree there to give shade; every tree gives shade; so that's not a unique characteristic of this tree you put there, to give shade, but if it also gives you something like oranges or dates as well, that's good, and also has an excess of oranges to feed your pig . . . then it's doing three things. And I always say that everything you place should do at least three things. If you put a window in, there should be at least three good reasons why you put it in that place because a window converts light into heat and it should be where you want that heat and where you don't want it is on your west wall. An amazing number of people put a window in their west wall and suffer from extra heat. In Davis, in California, you're not allowed to do that. It's forbidden in your design. They'll scratch it out. You can't build a house like that. You can't build houses so stupid. It's going to use gallons and gallons of oil to cool them.
So, no west windows and no unshaded west walls and no unshaded parking areas. That's all part of the law now. But in the center of Sydney and elsewhere there are many more laws just to stop you from being so stupid that you're gonna cost the earth. Because the supply of people present on the earth, all of us, with the energy base that you have in America, you'd need 25 Earths and we don't have 'em. So, without those 25 Earths, you gotta design systems which cost a lot less in terms of oil and gas than America does. And you've got the wrong president, too . . .
Vlaun: Well, we don't want to talk about that.
Mollison: So I evolved a system in which your house is designed to your landscape, your water supply was designed into your house and landscape, every farm supplies it's own water; every house supplies it own water; there is no reticulated water.
Vlaun: Really? Even in the cities?
Mollison:There is some in the cities for sure. But we realize we shouldn't have done it. We should have supplied every house with its own water tank off its own roof because when they did reticulating water here and in Australia they used asbestos cement pipes, thousands of miles of them. Everywhere you dig up water pipes of asbestos cement, and they're all giving up the fibers now, have been for a long time.
Vlaun: So do you think your ideas of permaculture can apply to all different scales, from the industrial agriculturist to the home gardener?
Mollison: Any scale. I had a lot of fun in Sweden sitting in little flats with architects working at how we were going to eat in this flat and we were able to do it and also to have fish occasionally. We had worm drawers ( for composting) in our kitchen where we grew our worms by using our kitchen scraps and spitting into them occasionally and whatever else . . . and then we had little boxes on wheels which we put out to small verandas in the daytime to grow our potatoes in . . . we couldn't leave them out at night; they would have frozen. (laughs)The funny thing that struck me there is that my friends wanted to patent everything. They wanted to patent the worm thing. They wanted to patent the potato thing and I said, "Oh that's ridiculous. You want to give it away and teach it so that every Swede is happy in their room."
We used the fish tank, high on the rear wall, to condense any moisture out of the air down into the tank so we weren't rotting away in the wintertime. We had a lot of very good systems running. Anyhow, on the big scale, we have farms much bigger than Texas in Australia, so we go very big, and we do thousands of them a year. Somebody said to me, "Would you design Greece?" or "Would you design Connecticut?" and I would say, "Sure, that's an easy job. That's smaller than designing one of these farms." So, it goes from the tiny one room flat in Stockholm to the unthinkably large, a 4 million acre cattle station in Northern Territory.
Vlaun: So what would you say are the underlying principles that would be the same in that room in Sweden . . .
Mollison: . . . they're all the same. The principles have to be all the same. That's the point.
Vlaun: . . . and what would those principles be?
Mollison: Well, that everything you place has to have multiple functions, everything you place has to be to save energy. There's a whole set of good design principles. Another is that every important function is carried out in many ways.
Vlaun: So not only is each element performing many functions, but each function is coming from many things.
Mollison: Right. Where you are in Maine in winter, you probably want a big thick, probably down, blanket over your bed and it you want a plump wife, so she's cuddly in the winter underneath and you want a mass heater so it goes on quietly all night putting out low heat levels, and you probably want the same percentage of your south wall glass as your latitude. What's your latitude?
Mollison: So you want 45% of your south wall in glass and then you want a solid floor inside so the sun is doing its maximum to heat your house too, so you're gonna get your house heated. If all that fails, you do what you the Yugoslavs do: lift your house one floor up and stack all your cattle in underneath every night and all your hay. And if that doesn't do it, you gotta do what Southern Russians do: you flatten your roof and stick a huge haystack up on your roof so that the heat of composting is being driven from your roof into your room while your cattle drive heat up underneath. In the end you're gonna end up pretty warm with your wife and your blanket and your mass heater and your cattle under the floor and your haystack beating down from on top, you're gonna be OK. And no one can turn that off. There's no one thing that's gonna make you shiver.
And the other thing is that every important function is achieved by many methods and everything is placed for many reasons . . . and if you've done it right, you come out of it well.
Vlaun: So while your haystack on the roof is making compost for you, it's heating your house . . . .
Mollison: The nice thing about it . . . you see it also over Turkey and up the Caspian . . . you put it up there when it's still a bit wet and it's going to feed your cattle and goats . . . they can't get up there up and eat it. It's still actually working; it's more becoming silage than hay, so it's very warm and the center can be as high as 60¡C and then, as you feed it down and the winter starts to wear off, it gets cooler and cooler until in the end, it's not heating you at all and it's springtime. Not a lot left there then. You chuck the last bit down, and then you can start drying things up there for the summer and hanging out your clothes and things. A haystack is a beautiful thing. In England, they fill a garage up with bales of hay, pump the contents of their septic tank over it, diluted; it goes up to about 63¡C and they run coils of pipe along the walls and in the ceiling and then run all the hot water from them into the house to heat the house. I think it's 17 cubic meters of compost will heat an English house for the entire winter, so they do that, and the French do too.
The French chip up everything, little logs and prunings and put it in a bloody big pile. In the middle of that they have a hot water tank and they draw that off all winter into your radiators and into your showers and baths. Then at the end of winter, they take the compost away and put it where the soil is poor. They do it as a fire prevention system. All the stuff that would burn in the summer, they've composted by the end of winter. Yeah. So, it's just thinking, "How many ways can you heat something?" Well, in Iceland, they make a beautiful cheese out of evaporated whey and they do it by floating great big trays out on the hot water coming out of volcanoes, tip the whey in and just let it evaporate. The heat's for nothing. They make a beautiful sweet cheese like that. So, there's all sorts of ways. Up at Pyramid Lake there's really lovely hot springs. They can be too hot, sometimes you have to shuffle back a bit sometimes. There's thousands of things you can do with that heat.
Vlaun: For somebody with a small suburban garden, how many different species of plants do you think would be appropriate to grow?
Mollison: Oh, I would say that 30 would pull you up. You'd be eating more sorts of vegetables than most people at 30. Fact is, in my gardens any day, I could pick 40 plants to take inside, so I grow more than most people. But I could go into some of my gardens, subtropical ones, and I'll bring that up to 400. But never in any one day do I collect 400 of anything. I just get a basket and fill it with whatever is there; it might be only 20 things. But I'll grow 400 edible things. But where you are, in Maine or in Massachusetts, you'd do very well to have 30 sorts of vegetables to bring inside.
Vlaun: What about other plants that you'd grow for other purposes, like feeding chickens or plants you would grow to attract beneficial insects, that would raise the amount of species you'd grow.
Mollison: You don't need too many species to feed your chickens, or for your bees, or for your hummingbirds or whatever. The more things you take care of, the more plants you've got. If you've also got free-range pigs feeding themselves, you've gotta have a lot of drops from your trees and you've gotta have big nuts falling everywhere. And you've gotta have a lot of sugars for the winter, so you've gotta have striped maples all through your understory, for your deer to see the winter out and stay fat. So it depends on who else you're looking after. If you're looking after fish, you've gotta have another set of plants. In Hawaii, we run sweet potatoes right around the edges of the apartment, but it's always trying to run out across the pond, but it's always kept to head-height of the carp, as far as a carp can stick his head out of the water (laughs) and it's trimmed right around, but it's always growing, it's always optimistic that it's gonna run across the pond.
Tradescantia, Wandering Jew, is another marvelous plant for ducks and fish, to put on the edges of the ponds. We grow a lot of prawns in Hawaii, and you could grow them in your glass house up in Maine, freshwater prawns, and they eat single-celled algae, so we don't know how to cultivate those, so we just simply float about 20 ducks to a quarter acre and they do the job of growing the algae. The duck manure is almost immediately colonized by algae and that's what the prawns eat, the algae. So 25 ducks per quarter acre,100 per acre, and you can produce $60,000 worth of prawns per quarter acre twice a year. Think of that. And that's just duck shit. Duck's shit is the basic fuel for that system. Now, what are you going to feed your ducks. Very few ducks enjoy eating much grass. They love Tradescantia and sweet potato but they love snails too, so you can put in lots of water lilies in clumps here and there and in between them you put a lot of horseradish. Snails love living in water lilies but they come out and eat horseradish. And also, if you put a lot of nasturtium in, you get a lot of snails, so if you're going to grow ducks you gotta grow horseradish, nasturtium, Tradescantia, water lilies and Agapanthus (African lily). You'll get plenty of ducks which means you'll have plenty of algae in the water and you can grow prawns, and the prawns haven't cost you a penny. They're just a second offshoot of your ducks feeding and enjoying themselves. So the system fuels itself.
Now I have a friend in Japan; his name is Takao Furuno and he only uses ducks on his farm. He doesn't buy any fertilizer, any insecticides or any herbicides and he grows rice. He gets about 7000 pounds of rice an acre for a year. He plows with ducks; he fertilizes with ducks; he weeds with ducks; and he controls all pests with ducks so he's getting totally organic rice, totally produced by his ducks. We've just published a book he's written called The Power of Duck. The power of duck on his small farm is total. You don't need anything else for anything. It'll plow; it'll fertilize; it'll take all the weeds you don't want out, and it's just a duck. And then what you have leftover, as well as 7000 pounds of rice in an acre, you've got 2000 ducks. Some of the restaurants located around farms that are using his system sell 500 ducks per day. Got a lot in the freezer, of course. It's resulted in a second tremendous surge in duck sales in restaurants, you know, and restaurants set up purely to cook ducks in all possible ways.
So, we've just published Furuno's book and you know, just as much as permaculture books are example after example after example of how you can save energy and get great benefits, Furuno's book is very important as it takes a rice crop, which is always subject to huge amounts of pesticides, and tells you how to grow it with no fertilizer and no pesticides.
Vlaun: Are people starting to follow his model in Japan?
Mollison: So far, I'd say about 15 to 20,000 farmers have adopted it wholly and sometimes whole areas of farms, In South Korea, probably 4-5000 acres of the rice farming district is in the Furuno system.
He's taught it in China; Vietnam has adopted it very fast; Indonesia, and he's been to Tanzania in Africa where they grow the African varieties of rice. So he's spreading his system as fast as he can go. All the winter when nothing is happening in his field, he packs his wife and five kids and off he goes, teaching, into China or Vietnam or Indonesia or Korea or anywhere . . . anywhere there are rice farmers he'll come and teach you at his own expense. I met him in Vietnam. I was up there teaching permaculture; he was teaching rice growing, and he said, "You're my brother. We both just travel to teach when we're not actually on the farm, when it's wintertime at home, we go and teach other farmers," which is exactly what both of us do. I did it for 25 years; he's only been going about 8 or 10. But he will be going for 30 years because he's a young man and very keen on his system.
Vlaun: Sounds like that one system could save a huge amount of fossil fuels and petroleum based fertilizers.
Mollison: Vast. All that I'm telling you about the duck makes all the people with investments in fertilizers shiver in their shoes because you don't need any of that shit. The shit you want is duck shit.
Vlaun: On his farm, does he have to have a lot more labor to harvest, or does he still run machinery to harvest?
Mollison: Japan, and to some extent, Italy, are the centers of tiny machines. Little machines that have something like a plastic chair in the front of them that you sit on and tiny little control levers and 5 hp engines, and they march across the patty fields with little wire fingers picking up individual seedlings and planting the rice. Behind you are all these perfect rows of rice being planted through the mud. They're tiny little machines. And then later in the year, his wife comes with another little machine that will stop every six or seven rows and take the bags off the machine and then she'll gather them all up.
Vlaun: So these are very small efficient machines but still running on fossil fuels.
Mollison: Yes, tiny little machines. But you could do it all by hand because his rice crop is one and a half acres. His farm is seven acres. His income is about $136,000 a year. And he supplies 100 homes with all their meat, eggs, chickens, ducks, vegetables, 30 or 40 sorts of vegetables, and all their rice. And he does it in a tiny little flat-topped truck.
Vlaun: Without causing any harm to the environment.
Vlaun: Actually rebuilding the environment it seems.
Mollison: He said his soil has gotten better every year. His vegetables are more productive every year. He uses the husks of the rice and his duck shit moved out every year to his vegetable crop. He said the soil is really getting very very good.
Vlaun: Is that system an evolution of Fukuoka's system of natural farming? (Masanobu Fukuoka was the author of the seminal book entitled "The One Straw Revolution" which detailed a style of farming which works in harmony with nature.)
Mollison: It doesn't refer to that. Fukuoka started as a philosopher. After a lot of struggle, 18 or 20 years, became a farmer. Furuno started as a farmer and after 18 as an organic farmer and now 8 years as a sort of duck-based organic farmer, everything he's done is extraordinarily practical. It's carefully measured. He can tell you exactly what to do.
Vlaun: Would you call permaculture a philosophy?
Mollison: If you would call philosophy a system for thinking things out, I would, but otherwise, I don't see it as a philosophy. I don't want permaculture to be called a philosophy because people might mistake it with deep ecology and it's not deep ecology because it's very practical.
First of all, that's a very smart thing to do, to name yourself a deep-ecologist, because anybody else has to be shallower than you are. (laughs) All the deep-ecologists, and they're all philosophers, I've asked them all these questions, the same questions. "Do you own a car?" They all own a car. "Do they take a newspaper?" They all take a newspaper and some take many newspapers. "Do you have a garden?" Not one of them has a garden. I said, "You're the sort of deep ecologist I don't want to know because you're my problem. You're the world's problem!" Driving a car, taking newspapers every day, no food of your own, no attempt to grow your own food; what sort of deep ecologist are you? So the answer to that is, "I am a deep ecologist in my head but I take absolutely no notice of what happens in the world." Permaculture saves ecosystems; it preserves species; and it feeds the hungry. Nothing else does that.
Vlaun: Do you think everybody should grow their own food, at least attempt to grow some of their own food?
Mollison: No, everybody however should do something to help themselves and others. Now, if you're very good on a computer, you shouldn't be growing your own food, you should be helping the people growing their food to market the food they grow. You know, you should be setting up community supported agriculture and you should be the computer person taking in the orders and recording the numbers of customers and helping everybody as a computer person. I think we should be strong in our roles and our roles should all assist all of us to live in more efficient houses, use much less energy and power, provide ourselves with clean water and clean food and set up our own banking system in which we recycle our money for our own use. And permaculture does all that. We set up banks and credit
unions in the third world and small farming societies. So you use your money to lend out to what you believe in. You should invest in what you use. And if you're going to use clean food, clean water, and very clever engineering for energy reduction, you should invest in that.
Vlaun: Do you think permaculture, as a construct, is a way to make us look at the reaction to every action that we take?
Mollison: That becomes obvious to you. Often, you set off the wrong way with a lot of things, and then permaculture helps you pull out very early because you're looking at the results of what you're doing and say, "Look, I want to get to where I was going, but this way is not the way. I'll try another way." Permaculture helps you think out how to get to where you want to go.
(Thanks to Lisa Moore of the Beal Street Wordsmithery in Norway, Maine.)
"Permanent agriculture" was a concept developed in the 1960's and 70's by Mollison, and later with David Holmgren.
"I saw that Nature never has a single system. It never just grows pines or just grows anything (randomly) really."
-Mollison on Natural Systems.
MORE THAN A PHILOSOPHY
"I don't want permaculture to be called a philosophy... because it's very practical... Permaculture saves ecosystems; it preserves species; and it feeds the hungry. Nothing else does that."
-Mollison's response to the question of Permaculture as a philosophy.
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