The Rise of Permaculture

The word Permaculture probably comes out of my mouth at least once a day. It has been this way for a good number of years now, but as of late it has started coming back a bit more into my vocabulary. As I have been modeling a number of businesses to determine where I can provide the biggest impact and value, Permaculture is always in the theme.

How it all Started

While this isn’t really a history lesson in Permaculture, a bit of background is in order. Permaculture is an ethics based design science that creates integrated whole systems for human lives on the earth. After having seen a number of different disciplines in my days, it is clear that permaculture really encompasses a number of different disciplines from biology, architecture to engineering. Permaculture was first coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison in Australia with his research assistant David Holmgren. Since then permaculture has passed from person to person via teachers who have received a Permaculture Design Certificate, certified from the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia.

Idea Adoption Curve

Permaculture sits inside the Early Majority, well on its way.

In order to understand where Permaculture is at, we really must talk about the Idea Adoption Curve also known as the Diffusion of Innovations. Boiled down, it is the rate at which an idea is adopted by a culture. First starting with the innovators who create the original idea, it is picked up by early adopters. These early adopters are individuals who see value in the idea long before anybody else by being the first consumers. In order to get to where the majority of people accept an idea, early adopters need to jump on board so the majority doesn’t look so “crazy” when they have finally adopted what others in the group already have.

Permaculture Early Adopters

Permaculture has already long had its early adopters. As old as permaculture is (going on 40 years old), those who were instrumental in working out kinks and implementing the ideas have been touting permaculture for decades. There have been many projects over the years, a few of which gained some notoriety such as the Greening the Desert series, and the Loess Plateau project in China. (Not necessarily Permaculture but using the principles of ecological restoration).

The internet has really kicked permaculture into gear, coming from word of mouth, to videos of actual sites that are changing paradigms everywhere.

Today: Early Majority

Me with Daniel Salatin of Polyface Farms.

Having been around this movement going on 5 years now, it is very clear that Permaculture is into the early majority stage. By no means would I ever consider myself an early adopter, so much so that growing anything or getting involved with natural systems could not have been further from what I thought I would be getting into as I grew older. As you grow older and get exposed to different things, in my case war torn countries and real world poverty, you start to see larger patterns in life, driving me towards healthy productive systems.

In the last 5 years there have been many developments in Permaculture for me personally and a number of people. Everything from gaining its own conference, meetup groups, online design courses, and a complete explosion of online videos. It is kind of incredible seeing how quickly this movement is moving, which indicates to me that it is out of the early adoption phase and well on into early majority adoption.

In fact, looking at the most famous farmers in the world, the Salatins starts to show this. We had an event with Daniel Salatin of Polyface Farms back in December, and the number of “nods” he gave to permaculture was quite noteworthy. You can find a number of videos with ol’ pappy Joel Salatin speaking about permaculture at length as it is something that he has had to face with his growing crowds, and cannot pay homage to the freight train of permaculture. Can’t really get away from it, it would seem.

Leading the Northshore Permaculture Group. WOO!

Permaculture in Southeastern Louisiana

Having moved to southeast Louisiana near Covington we very quickly started meeting people who had heard of permaculture. Just about any young farmer we came across at the farmers market had heard of permaculture on some level. Whether or not they practiced permaculture design is another story, but at least knowing that it exists is interesting. A few years later have passed now and I have met quite a number of people and know of many more who are interested in permaculture in the area, and even a few permaculture meetup groups.

The first day we started bringing trees to the farmers market we met a lady who not only was interested in permaculture, but wanted to start a local meetup group here on the Northshore. And thus, the two of us created the North Shore Permaculture Meetup Group. The group is small at the moment but all things start small and with a bit of effort grow much larger.

My wife stated recently even that more people have heard of Permaculture than southern apple tree. Such a very sad situation for southern cultivation that I am doing my part in turning around.

Me with a number of Permaculturists to include Jack Spirko from the Survival Podcast.

Permaculture Voices

Permaculture even has its own large conferences now! Permaculture Voices is a conference in California that has occurred for the last 3 years in a row, bringing out big names from all over the world of permaculture and ecological restoration, from Paul Staments and Joel Salatin to survivalists like Jack Spirko. I attended the second year’s conference and man was it a great event packed with incredibly intelligent people who are dedicated towards building their own lives using permaculture ethics. I met a vast array of permaculturists from across the country and realized, “hey there is something big going on here….”

What a Permaculture Majority Will Look Like

Permaculture Farmer, Mark Shepard. Only conference I know of where people commonly wear no shoes and give keynotes.

So having said all this, what is more interesting is the question of what will it look like in a few short years time, when permaculture begins to roll out of early majority and into late majority status. What exactly will it look like? Here are some hypotheses based on how I see things continually moving forward.

  • More individuals, businesses, and even governments looking at improving natural systems
  • Development of larger and more recognized systems of permanent edible ecology
  • Even more out of the box thinking and design work
  • More hatred from the early adopters who are no longer personally served by the movement.

I feel I need to comment on the last bullet. It turns out that as ideas become more adopted, those who originally adopted them (the early adopters) start to resent what has happened to the movement. It seems to be just the way it is regardless of the idea being adopted. This can be seen in the souring of former apple fan boys who have effectively died with their leader. Recently I noticed people commenting on facebook about the marketing going on by well known permaculturists and permaculture advocates. On and on, the whining and complaints went about how things used to be purely word of mouth and other such irrelevant information. This kind of behavior is very shrug worthy and shouldn’t get anybody too bothered. In reality, the more people that begin to take on permaculture and accept the ideas of it, the better off we will be and those who were only into it because it was “hip and cool” will move onto being more “hip and cool” about something else. A population that is more attuned to fixing many of the resource issues we have is certainly ok by me.

After all it is quite clear we have drained much of the natural resources throughout the United States and are only keeping our food systems afloat via mined inputs. Not exactly sustainable, but a statement of the times of a weak determination to do the hard and right things. Time for some changes…

Conclusion: What about the Laggards

The laggards are the remaining individuals who are the most stubborn. These tend to be the older parts of the population who are stuck in their ways believing that their way is right. The older I get, the more that I see that this becomes the case, regardless of reasoning or generation. What exactly will it look like if permaculture continues on reaching eventually the oldest and most stubborn?

At first thought it is likely that the entire food system will have to look different. For the majority of individuals to know and use the word permaculture would mean that many people have consciously started to look into alternative food and resource systems. The profitability of massive agricultural companies, will be long gone if such a large number of people are on their way towards something better.

For my family personally, the amount of food we consume that comes from conventional agricultural systems is down to very very few things. The worst we may eat is rice from time to time that is produced here in Louisiana. In general if it isn’t something we produce, we can buy at the farmers market, we don’t really eat it. The exception to that is cheese because apparently the “dairy state” of Louisiana hasn’t gotten on board with making good cheese. One day….. one day.

At this point, I honestly think that the growth in permaculture has approached escape velocity.


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