Origins of Permaculture and Self-reliant living (14m 35s)

Quote: Even though the world’s problems are becoming increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.     -Bill Mollison

“Every permaculture design course begins with a few questions, the first question is what is going on in the world and the second question is what is going to happen.

And then we all line up on a timeline relative to each other’s answers… is it gonna be tomorrow, is it 10 years, is it 50 years, is it 100 years, when is some major shift going to happen. People’s answers to this question widely vary. Some people say we’re approaching world war III, the robots are taking over, we’re headed into a machine world and so on. Or we talk about the economy, or how urbanization is homogenizing our cultures, or the food is unhealthy, the water is dirty, the pollution is out of control…

And then you also hear things like how we’re going through this beautiful shift, this technological shift, for better or worse with the Internet and all the awesome devices and access to unprecedented amount of information. This conversation usually goes on for awhile and we get to the heart of people’s intentions and philosophies and reasons for doing what they do and so on.

For the most part, we all usually agree it’s an exciting, changing time in human history and we have no idea what is going to happen. Which brings us to permaculture.

Definition of permaculture

So what is permaculture? What’s the definition of permaculture?

I’ll read the definitions of a few well-known permaculture people and then I’ll offer my definition.

“Permanent” means to remain to the end, to persist throughout.

“Culture” means the cultivation of the land or the intellect

So permaculture means literally, to cultivate land indefinitely.

Bill Mollison, one of the co-founders of permaculture said, “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with rather than against nature.” It’s a “design science which seeks to create agriculturally productive systems with the diversity and sustainability of natural systems.”

Rosemary Morrow, another author of several permaculture books says, “permaculture is the science of applied ecological design.”

Toby Hemingway, another author of several permaculture books, says “permaculture is a set of principles and practices to design sustainable human settlements.”

Graham Bell, another author, says, ”permaculture is a way of life, which shows us how to make the most of our resources by minimizing waste and maximizing potential.” “It’s conscious design of a lifestyle.”

Geoff Lawton says, “you can solve all the world’s problems in a garden.”
Graham Burnett author of Permaculture: A Beginner’s Guide, says, “permaculture is a revolution disguised as organic gardening.”

By a guy named Brian Hutchinson I found online, he says “permaculture is the unhurried non-threatening dissolution of all states, corporations and governments, it lessens our existential fears by fulfilling an abundance of all needs so we can achieve higher consciousness or whatever.”

When I was staying at an ashram about a year ago, I found myself getting this question a lot because people would ask what you’re doing there and you know you have to give the elevator pitch on what permaculture is. I started responding, “permaculture is the study and practice of sustainable living.” It’s a structure to go from point A to B when we’re trying to live a more sustainable way of life. There’s such a chaotic volume of information, of little things, ways to garden or ways to save water or ways to build. There are all these little tricks. And permaculture is an attempt to put all that information into one streamlined course to where you can begin and end with a certain amount of information. It’s also a flexible body of information so that we can continue to add to this bank of knowledge, this database of knowledge that we put together and really share the information. It’s about survival. It’s about learning how to take care of oneself.


Okay so the history of permaculture, where did this practice come from.

So permaculture was founded by two guys, primarily one guy named Bill Mollison. He was born in 1928 in Tasmania and he had a diverse career working as a mill worker, a sea man, animal trapper, shark fisherman, wildlife surveyor, logger, and later a lecturer. So he was very active in the industry and learned about how the practices were generally unsustainable.

In the 1960s, he went into the woods. He wanted to know if it was possible to survive on your own. In some time, he built a cabin and a garden and realized it was possible to do this. What was needed was action in society. And that meant living in a deliberate manner. And creating new ways of doing things. He saw it was possible himself and then he turned his back on the place that he started and wanted to share this information with the world.

Bill Mollison also wasn’t the only person doing this at the time. In the 1960s, many other people jumped from the pile of people, we could say, and landed. They landed and walked around and started making their own communities. Hundreds of these communities are still going on today. Like Ionia in Alaska, Auroville in India, The Farm in Tennessee, Dancing Rabbit in Arkansas, Ecovillage in Ithaca, Findhorn in Scotland, Damanhur in Italy. This is also when WWOOF’ing started, the Worldwide Organic Farming Volunteer program.

In the 1970s, Bill Mollison met David Holmgren, a graduate student at the time. Together they co-wrote Permaculture One, as part of Holmgren’s Master’s thesis. The book was released in 1978 to an excited yet somewhat bewildered audience.

In the 1980s, the movement took off and started gaining popularity. Children’s books were written, courses spread into other countries. However, many teachers found it difficult to make a living teaching permaculture and with the exception of a few many had to go back into their day jobs.

In the 1990s, institutions were established to increase the accessibility of this information. This is when the UK Permaculture Academy and the permaculture research institute in Australia started.

In the 2000s, permaculture moved online with sites like permaculture global .com and attracting thousands of people sharing ideas on self-reliant techniques and information about their farms.

And now in the 2010s, there are over 1400 sites listed on and over 15,000 sites listed on WWOOF international as well as countless other websites coming online to share more information on alternative lifestyles and how people are making it on their own. People are out there, people are doing it… they’re living off the land as we used to, as we always have.

Okay, so when were we not living off the land? We’ve actually been doing this awhile, when were we not living off the land?

When were we not living off the land?


We have been homosapiens now for about 200,000 years, as I understand. In this time, we migrated around the world, lived as hunters and gatherers, and in tribes, formed traditions and rituals in line with the stars and all these other things.

Then about 10,000 years ago, we started planting crops and domesticating animals and using more advanced tools like the plow, reaper and the seed drill.

We were able to grow more food than we needed. We had a surplus. We traded our surplus with other people. When our demand for food was met, our demands changed. We demanded better clothes and other home luxuries. Then we created money, tokens for exchange, representations of our wealth. This made it easier to trade with one another.

We learned if we gathered all of our tokens together, we could pay people to do the things the community needed like teach the children, or clean the streets. We created governments to steer the ship, by force or choice, as we blasted into all directions. We created religions to make some sense of this world and why we’re here. We created cities, hubs of commerce, a collection of all the best of things from around the region.

Then we created empires. Throbbing wombs of tenuous armies and offensive attacks in an effort to spread a story or belief or force another group of people into submission. It sounded brutal.

This went on for about the next 9000 years, until 150 years ago, when we underwent another change… we discovered oil and the steam engine and started building machines and assembly lines. Turnpikes, locomotives, steamboats, factories… We were producing things we needed faster than ever before.

For the next 150 years, dozens of 5 million people + cities appeared all over the world map out of nowhere.

In the last 150 years we figured out how to get just about all the things people need to just about everyone. I certainly want to acknowledge that this system is not perfect and many people’s lives around the world are in rough condition. Right now though I just want to focus on the innovation and how far we have come as a human population.

Then here come the 90s. When the Internet went mainstream, it quickly changed business, friendships and even how we date each other. Today, the devices are getting smaller, the interface is becoming faster and more people than ever have access to the cloud, the evolving portal of infinite information.

But there’s something missing. Not everybody has these devices yet. Some people have nicer or newer devices. Some people have wayyyyy more tokens than other people. Some people don’t have any tokens and it’s very hard for them to get access to tokens.

Because one community can generate more wealth, for whatever reason, than another, it puts them at an advantage. I think we need to share this information amongst all the cultures so everyone can play this game.

So we talked about evolving, how we’ve been growing. This line here. What is this line? Is it innovation? Calculation? Collective consciousness expanding? The line between knowing and not knowing? Having and not having? Is it a vortex of cultural influence?

Social structures

Triangles and pyramids have proven throughout history to be successful social structures. If you think about when we first started agriculture, we planted and had a surplus. The surplus would hang at the top of the triangle and all of the work at the bottom was sort of in a circle. Money is another triangle, another pyramid. Community, state, nation politics, in the church you have the preist and then the clergy and then the people. In a government, you have the President and then the Congress and then the people. There is always these pyramid or triangle structures. It’s just an effective way at getting things done at organizing a group of people.

So if you look at our structure today. Here’s the pyramid. I’m sure we’ve all seen, this is the corporatocracy, more or less and how we’re living. At the top you have the money. Our whole structure is setup so we can go and earn money. At the top we have the bankers, these are the people who are creating the money. And below them you have the corporations and the government, these are people who are getting very low interest loans and things like that so they can expand their empire and basically down at the bottom, the 99% of us, more or less, we’re down here working, producing all these things, and then the corporations and governments and banks just lay all these beautiful things in front of us we can take out mortgages to get a nice home, we can buy cars and TVs and all these devices and then the government shares their information with us, what’s going on, remind us you know we need to stay active and busy and working and things like that.

So then we go and we work and we produce these things and we get a little bit of cash and because of the way it’s setup we end up putting most of the money back into the banks, corporations and government through taxes and loans and interests and all these sorts of things. And then for a few moments each week, we get to live with all the things we’ve acquired so the following week we can go back into it. So most of the money we make, goes right back up to the people at the top. We’re strapped, we’re caught. This cultural vortex is out of balance.

So now, let’s take a step back and observe this spectrum. This spectrum of human evolution. At every step of the story I just told, there are people still living today in that environment. We have tribal and rural people, there are people living in villages, in towns, we have people living in cities, and they are part of a region and all the cities make up nations. These [nations] are institutions where few people control the livelihoods of the rest of the population.

I like to think of this spectrum, on one end you have these bankers where you have people devising these banking mechanisms that can produce loads of money in a very short time and then on the other end of the spectrum you have rural farmers who are living off the land where they were born. And then you have everyone in between. Instead, instead of a pyramid that sucks energy from the top, I think our culture should be like a vortex of energy, that sweeps across our face, whooooooooshh, at every moment. In nature, vortices begin at a point and go outward, it’s supposed to carry you, absorb you, consume you in it’s momentum. The water in a vortex doesn’t know where it’s going, it just goes with the momentum. Our social structure should do [provide] the same thing.

Our culture is more like a pole. You go into the city looking for a pole and then you grab it and you get attached to it and you say hey, im stuck on the pole, I gotta keep working so I can get off the pole. Our culture should be more like a vortex, a fluid network of resources to support life. It should wash us upward and outward… whoooooosh… carrying everything and everyone with it.

So what do we do? Our culture should be more like a vortex, instead it’s a pyramid sort of sucking energy from us. We’re still living in this empirical social structure and there’s this cloud above us that continues to grow and prosper.

Here are a few things we could do. First we could shift the goal posts. Right now the goal is to make money. The goals should be to achieve a sustainable vision. What is a sustainable vision? That’s the permaculture principles, that’s what we’ll talk about next chapter. The second thing we can do is start thinking about smaller social structures. Local politics works locally. Homeowners associations, local councils. The more we can empower these local decision-makers the more efficient we can be with our resources. Third, let’s get to know one another. We need to travel. We all have completely unique backgrounds and cultures and we’re living in so many various ways. Let’s visit one another, say hey, do some work and then move on. And the last thing we could do is find our role. What are we supposed to be doing? This is what we’re supposed to spend our time figuring out. We’re here. We’re human. Each of us have unique skills to offer. We need to figure out what we’re good at, and what we like to do… and then do that.

This concludes the origins of permaculture video. Thank you for your time.