Tuesday, March 21, 2017

909 Permaculture: "It's All Theory"

Permaculture: "It's All Theory"

by Peter Myers, November 19, 2016; edited February 18, 2017

Newsletter published on 18 February 2017

This article is at http://mailstar.net/Permaculture.html.

{NB if links don't work, copy & paste into a browser, & remove any
'space' characters}

Sceptics say, with regard to Permaculture: "It's All Theory." But Peter
Cundall, that most practical gardener, founder of Gardening
Australia,paid tribute to Bill Mollison after his recent death in Hobart.

The ABC published an obituary Tributes flow in for Permaculture 'father'
Bill Mollison, which says Cundall described Permaculture as
"anall-encompassing method of actually living without in anyway
disrupting the environment" ... "It was the way of the future, and this
is why itbecame so exciting," he said.

Permaculture became a worldwide movement, but the book 'Permaculture
One', which started it off, was published in Tasmania (in 1978)
andoriented to Tasmania, focusing on crops suitable for growing there.

I was living in Tasmania at the time, and picked up news on the
grapevine. Word went out that Mollison would start a Permaculture
commune at agreenfields site in the north-east of Tasmania.

Instead, he establised the first Permaculture community in the
north-west fishing town of Stanley, where he had grown up. I knew a
family wholived there, and visited them several times. This first
venture was a failure.

Mollison then set up a community in the subtropics at Tyalgum, near
Murrwillumbah, in NSW. In 1993, my family and I called in while on a
triparound the country. He showed us the orchard, featuring fruit and
nut trees, with perennial vines (I recall sweet potato) as a cover
cropunderneath. The trees included coconut, which hates frost, and plum,
which needs frost (this was before low-chill plums were introduced).
Billgave us some sweet potatoes to cook.

Subsequent Permaculture communities included Crystal Waters, near
Maleny. Green Harvest was set up by Permaculturists from there.

Peter Cundall was a member of the Communist Party, but Mollison was more
of an Anarchist. He believed in communal living, andintroduced the heavy
emphasis on 'systems theory'. Mollison was a collaborator of Bob Brown,
but later came to call the Greens'Eco-Fascists', for their crusade to
pull out useful plants growing wild, eg olives in the Adelaide Hills and
Brazilian cherry-guavas insouth-east Qld.

Mollison had campaigned against Plant Breeders Rights, but, after
Permaculture took off, he switched sides and put a copyright on theword
'Permaculture.' The books 'Permaculture One' (1978), 'Permaculture Two'
(1979), and 'Permaculture: A Designers Manual' (1988), bear anotice
informing the reader of this copyright. Mollison then introduced
fee-paying courses on Permaculture Design; holding courses became
anincome for Permaculture communities.

Some years later, when a forum member threatened to complain to the
ACCC, Mollison dropped the copyright on the word 'Permaculture'.The
story was reported in an article titled The Great Bill Mollison
Copyright Swindle:

As if to atone, Permaculture Two is now online at

You canalso download the Designers Manual. To do so, copy and paste this
search into Google, and click on the first hit:"Permaculture: A
Designers Manual" filetype:pdf

But Mollison was not the real father of Permaculture. The real father
was J. Russell Smith, author of the 1929 book TreeCrops: A Permanent

Wikipedia's article about Bill Mollison contains this note:

{quote} Note 1: although Joseph Russell Smith is not similarly referred
to as the "father" of permaculture, Smith was the first towrite about a
system of permanent agriculture in a book entitled Tree Crops, published
in 1929, and earlier in 1910, in a piece entitledBreeding and Use of
Tree Crops" (Wikipedia as at 18 November 2016, at 09:50.)

{endquote} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Mollison

David Holmgren was a student of Bill Mollison at the University of
Tasmania. It seems that he, not Mollison, coined the word'Permaculture',
from the title of Smith's book. Holmgren and Mollison jointly wrote the
book 'Permaculture One'; but thesubsequent books were written by
Mollison alone, not Holmgren.

Permaculture One does not acknowledge Smith as the source of the name
'Permaculture'; it only contains one brief mention of his book,as a
reference in endnote 18. Smith is not mentioned in the body of
Permaculture One.

Smith's book is cited as a reference in endnote 31 of Permaculture Two,
but not mentioned in the body of that book.

None of the other Permaculture books by Mollison, that I have seen,
mention Smith.

Yet, in 2013, David Holmgren published a review of Smith's book in which
he credits it as "a major influence on the developmentof the
Permaculture concept". He even calls it "a Permaculture classic by J.
Russell Smith".

The review is on Holmgren's website at

Here's what it says:

{quote} Melliodora videocast: a Permaculture classic by J. Russell
SmithBy HD Office on April 17, 2013 in ReviewsIn its first instalment
for the regular Permaculture Classics videocast series from Melliodora,
David Holmgren talks about J.Russell Smith’sTree Crops: a permanent
agriculture. You may not have realised, but this 1929 classic book was a
major influence on the development ofthe Permaculture concept in the

Smith encouraged family farmers to grow Tree Crops rather than annual
grains, as food for animals and people:

"Hogs won't touch corn if there are acorns to eat, and oaks can produce
more calories per acre than grain, when done right. A top quality pecan
treecan drop nearly a ton of nuts per year. Hickory nuts can be smashed
and boiled to produce hickory oil. Pistachios fetch a high price and
have a longshelf life. Many types of pines produce nuts. The honey
locust is a drought hearty US native that will grow where corn or cotton
grows, andanimals love the beans. The sugar maple produces sugar.
Persimmons are enjoyed by man and beast. Pigs and chickens love
mulberries. And don'tforget walnuts, beechnuts, almonds, cherry pits,
soapnuts, holly, ginko, pawpaw, horse chestnut, osage orange, privet,
wattle, wild plums, andchoke cherries."

Decades later, animals are reared more intensively than ever. Cattle are
housed in feedlots, fed on grains, which fatten them butmake them sick.
Pigs and poultry are imprisoned from birth in the most crowded
conditions, being force-fed grains, hormones andantibiotics; their whole
lives are a misery. Their meat is unhealthy for us to eat, and even
their manure is dangerous to handle.

Smith offered an alternative vision, of animals free-ranging on farms in
which fruit and nut trees drop mulberries, persimmons,acorns etc for
them to eat. The last day of their life, when they faced the butcher,
would be traumatic, but, up to that day, they would leadhappy lives.

Further, these tree crops would replace annual crops, cultivated by
ploughing, which causes erosion.

Cotton can be grown as a tree, or as an annual. Tree Cotton was the
species known in ancient India and the Middle East. Annual Cotton was
onlydeveloped in the last few centuries, in the American South. It's now
a major crop in flat arid areas of the subtropics (eg western Qld and
westernNSW). It needs a lot of water, which is supplied from huge dams.
Tree Cotton needs much less water, and less fertilizers, herbicides
andpesticides, but the industry has no interest in it because the
harvesting machines have been developed for Annual Cotton.

Michael Foley noted that Smith's book 'anticipates the permaculture
literature in advocating a "two-storey" agriculture, with treecrops
(primarily nuts) as the primary source of animal fodder on sloping and
hilly land. It documents the incredible productivity of tree crops
andtheir traditional uses as fodder for pigs, goats, cattle, and
poultry. I was particularly struck by the evidence from southern Europe,
whereextensive chestnut forests produce(d) some of the finest pork in
the region.'

Smith wrote,

"Trees are much better able than the cereals to use rain when it comes.
They can store moisture much better than the annualscan store it because
they thrust their roots deep into the earth, seeking moisture far below
the surface. They are able to survive droughtbetter than the annual
crops that grow beside them. For example, a drought that blasts corn or
hay or potatoes may have little influence on theadjacent apple orchard.
Trees living from year to year are a permanent institution, a going
concern, ready to produce when theirproducing time comes." (Tree Crops,
pp. 16-17)

"We will have small plowed fields on the level hilltops. The level
valleys will also be plowed, but the slopes will be productive through
croptrees and protected by them – a permanent form of agriculture." (p. 18)

Smith advocated "two-story agriculture", annual crops grown between rows
of trees (now called 'intercropping' and 'agroforestry'):

"Other two-story Majorca farms had, for a top crop, almonds, one of the
staple exports of the island. Other lands were in olives, and a fewwere
in the sweet acorn-bearing oak. The people said that the farmer did not
get the greatest possible crop of wheat or the greatest possiblecrop of
olives or figs, but that he got about a 75-percent crop of each, making
a total of 150 percent. It is like the ship which fills three-fourthsof
her tonnage capacity with pig iron and five-sixths of her cubic capacity
with light wood manufactures." (pp. 17-18).

Once Smith is properly credited as the Father of Permaculture,
Mollison's role as broadening the concept should also be recognised.For
example, he and Holmgren included water harvesting and house design.
Many creative people have come on board, eg Sepp Holzer in Germanyand
Masanobu Fukuoka in Japan. They each do things their own way: there is
no ONE way.

There is even a Permaculture garden at Bustan Qaraaqa in Bethlehem:

You can buy Tree Crops at a bookstore, or download the pdf

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