An Interview with Toby Hemenway

Toby Hemenway Lecturing

Transition Colorado’s “Eat Local” campaign recently hosted a series of workshops with Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden and hero to some of us who fell in love with Permaculture after reading his book. He graciously took time out of his schedule to submit to a brief interview for the newsletter, telling us how he got into Permaculture and about his upcoming Permaculture Design Course here in Denver!

Toby Hemenway grew up loving nature and wanting to help people. He went into genetics research with the best of intentions: to learn about the intricate workings of life and to find a cure for cancer. Decades later, he found himself as a senior manager at a drug company, and his current life and his original goals seemed very far apart. So, when he came across Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual at the Seattle Public Library while playing hookey from work, he also found a new calling. He and his wife quit their jobs and moved to southern Oregon. They discovered that living slower and more frugally suited them. Toby took a PDC with Jude Hobbs and Tom Ward in California and another with Bill Mollison and Scott Pittman. He wrote articles, taught and consulted as well as built his own food forest to learn from. He wrote his book during this time. Its laid-back tone and practical, entertaining stories made it very popular, bringing Permaculture to many people who wouldn’t have found it otherwise and he found himself traveling the country giving workshops.

Toby Hemenway Entertaining the CrowdAfter 35 years in Oregon, he and his wife needed more sun so they traded their food forest for the road. They bought an RV and toured the country, eventually settling in Prescott, Arizona (perhaps temporarily!) where the Permaculture movement has taken off and is even taught in classes at the college. How can a Permaculturist have such a nomadic existance? “We are in a time of pretty rapid change. It feels right for me to be flexible,” he says. He’s done enough gardening for now and is very interested in invisible structures, economics, community and how to incorporate Permaculture into urban settings. With his lifestyle of teaching around the world, “I can live anywhere,” he says, and he is loving not putting down roots right now. He is learning so much and getting to meet great people.

He is putting together a Permaculture Design Course in Denver with an urban, big-city focus. He plans to bring in experts from all over the country as well as invite local teachers to participate and he wants to incorporate design projects that are on a large scale such as city parks, schools and businesses. The course promises to be unique, deal with current issues and hopefully make a difference in how we see Permaculture’s role in our cities and communities. The course will run one weekend a month from October 2011 to March 2012. The details have yet to be worked out, but watch Colorado Permaculture and The GrowHaus for dates, sites and guest instructors!

He had a bit of advice for the fledgeling Colorado Permaculture Guild as well. We should engage in visible, community-oriented projects, give practical workshops where participants leave with something tangeable as well as knowledge, and remember that the Guild is its own invisible structure. Coordinating alliances between groups is rarely easy and we should use the principles we all know as the language to move forward. Thanks for a great weekend, Toby, and we will see you in the fall!