Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Who invented permaculture?
Bill Mollison, often credited as the "founder of permaculture," was an Australian traveler, scientist, baker, fisherman, gardener, autodidact, and writer who researched and published extensive genealogies of Indigenous Australians, and through this work he became inspired to dedicate the rest of his life to learning and teaching integrated ways for humans to live on the planet without destroying it. Mollison worked with many people and wrote, co-wrote, and inspired many books, organized hundreds of courses, and traveled all over the world collecting and sharing information about ecological design. He was especially enchanted with the notion of agricultural systems working together with human home systems so that each meets the needs of the other, and collaborated on a huge array of visionary design drawings with his then-colleague and illustrator, Reny Slay.
Mollison was also influenced by writers who had come before him, such as Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, 1962) Ken & Barbara Kern (The Owner-Built Home, 1961), P.A. Yeomans (Water for Every Farm, 1965), and J. Russel Smith, who wrote Tree Crops for a Permanent Agriculture (1929), the title credited with sparking the idea to call it "perma-culture."
And guess what? Many of the exact ideas Mollison presented in his early books can also be found in the above four books. Read them and see for yourself. Those guys did NOT invent this concept!
Indeed, throughout his life until he died in 2016, Mollison consistently pointed back to his sources and reiterated that he did not "own" any of these ideas, and that this type of knowledge can not and should not be owned.
In all of his work, we see an ethical and practical reliance on a fairly short list of ecological design principles, summarized here from his early writing:
- Work with nature, rather than against it.
- The problem is the solution. “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency.”
- Make the least change for the greatest effect.
- The yield of a system is limited only by the information and imagination of the designer.
- Everything gardens, and is in relationship to its environment.
- It is not the number of diverse components in a design that leads to stability, it is the number of beneficial connections between these components.
- All design is ecological design, in that all designs, whether intentional or not, affect their environment.