News & Events

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!

You Know You’re a Permie If…

raccoon – You’d rather have your hands in manure than sit in a cubicle all day (unlike most civilized people)

– The sight of a refrigerator box makes you quiver with excitement

– You routinely have to clean compost and leaves out of your pockets/hair/sink drain/vehicles/pet’s fur/etc etc etc

– You crack a joke about stacking in a meeting and wonder why nobody laughs

– A bucket shows up in the kitchen at the office with a note saying “please donate coffee grounds and tea bags” and everyone knows it’s yours

– You have to explain the difference between compost, recycling and trash every time you throw a party because guests forget what category dirty napkins fall into

– You actually appreciate the work the raccoons do turning your sheet mulch beds upside down looking for a quick meal

(mostly from personal experience!)

A permie road trip: lessons in diversity

It was a lovely Saturday when three country permies decided to venture beyond the edge and head off in the direction of the big city.

After deciding which vehicle would be easiest on our sacred environment, they moved all the climbing gear, granola, and a ukulele from the middle seat into the back along with the bike and snowshoes.

They were ready to burst into a rousing rendition of “Children of the Earth Tribe” so moved were they by the changing scenery and glimpses of newborn calves along the way.
Only after realizing the uke was in the way back and being mindful of the safety provided by mandatory seatbelts, it was decided by consensus to forego the music for now and revisit the directions.

Hope (the aptly named GPS) was secured to her place of honor on the windshield, while the others busied themselves by checking various tools of navigation on cell phones, laptops and Ipads.

“Here….I’ve also got a printed version on recycled paper”

“Remind me to take it with me if you don’t need it after the trip. I’m sheet mulching next weekend. Are there any colored dyes on it?”

The permies flashed peace signs and blew kisses to the children in the passing Westphalia as they headed onto the highway. They settled in to the rhythmic Om of mother earth as the Subaru ambled along.

“Holy Shit!!! Look at all the traffic!”

“Speed up! Speed up! They’ll blow us off the road at the rate they’re driving!”

“Don’t these assholes know we’ve passed peak oil for the love of God? Why do they have to go so fast?”

“That reminds me; I just finished reading…..LOOK OUT! A black car with tinted windows….CHANGE LANES!’

Just then Hope chimed in “re-calculating”……

“We missed our turn….we’ll be lost now for sure”

A voice came from the back seat…”Let me check my phone…I’ve got mapquest……oh, oh….battery’s getting low. We should get to a coffee shop so I can recharge.”

“See if you can find a Starbucks on that thing”

“Here….turn left. Says there’s coffee shop in 3 blocks”

“Dang, I can’t turn left. It’s one way…”

“That’s why I never come to the city…..every other block is ONE way…..”

“Maybe if we go an extra block….”

“Yea, good idea…here we go”

“I SEE IT!!!!”

“Hey look….there’s a parking space. I don’t see any meters though”

“How primitive”

“Do you think the Subaru will be safe in this neighborhood?”

“I bet that guy smoking out in front is the owner.”

…he shot the permies a suspicious look as they came his way…..he followed them into the shop…

“I’ll have a double shot, skinny latte, with extra foam”

“A chai please”

“Apple and ginger juice for me’

One of the permies offered to treat in thanks of their safe arrival.

“9 dollars and 38 cents” said the smoker. “What’s that?”

“Oh sorry,……you don’t take Gaians here?”

As the permies settled in and recharged and dreamt of the day when all such devises would be solar powered, they felt oddly at ease….

“This is a really nice coffee shop….and look! There’s a medicinal marijuana dispensary just across the street.”

They came to an agreement through concensus that the city probably wasn’t that bad after all and took a collective deep cleansing breath together………

*Most of the circumstances in this fable have been altered to exude humor and irony!

The Movement to Dismantle Civilization

Why all permaculture designs should include supporting a culture of resistance

By Jennifer Murnan

Currently, permaculture operates in the realm of bright green environmental activism and seemingly believes that the current culture can be transformed. Why should permaculturalists choose to align themselves with the deep green environmentalists that support dismantling civilization in the belief that it is irredeemable, and, in fact, is destroying life on our planet?

Here are the few reasons that have occurred to me:

The Permaculture movement has always run counter to the beliefs and principles of global civilization. It views nature as a partner, a teacher, and a guide whom we honor and are totally dependent on.
This is completely contrary to the cultural view of western civilization; that the natural world is here to serve us, to be used and abused at will, and that this abuse is justifiable.

Permaculture practice, by definition, is an attempt to depart from the model of exploitation and importation of resources necessitated by civilization. To live permanently in one place is the antithesis
of the pattern exhibited repeatedly by civilizations. Civilizations cannot live in place. They violently import and exploit their human and natural resources, exhaust their ecosystems, experience population overshoot, and collapse leaving an impoverished land base in their wake. Western industrial civilization is currently playing this scenario out on a global scale. Permaculture not only cannot exist within the confines of civilization, it cannot coexist with a civilization that is devouring the world. I believe it is neither ethical or practical on the part of permaculturalists to attempt to do so.

Another reason lies in the common visions of the primacy of the earth shared by deep green and permaculture activists. The first ethic in permaculture is ’Care for the Earth’. Without this basis, the second and third ethics, ’Care for people’, and ‘Redistribute surplus to one’s needs’, are impossible. Healthy organisms produce a surplus as a way to feed and enrich the ecosystem in which they exist. Simply put, there is no health unless the earth is cared for first.

As Derrick Jensen states in premise 16 of Endgame “The Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything.”

There are attitudes shared by Permaculture and the Deep Green movement. Permaculturalists believe in working with nature and not against it. Fostering a respect for all life is inherent in permaculture practice. Valuing people and their skills creates more diversity, creativity and productivity in permaculture and deep green communities. Alignment between Deep Green and the Permaculture movements is especially apparent in two permaculture design principles. Seeking to preserve, regenerate and extend all natural and traditional permanent landscapes is a goal of both communities.
Preserving and increasing biodiversity of all types is recognized as being essential for survival by both Deep Greens and Permaculturalists.

A primary reason for permaculture to become part of a culture of resistance is that permaculture’s two guiding principles logically mandate dismantling civilization. The precautionary principle states that we should take seriously and act on any serious or destructive diagnosis unless it is proven erroneous.

Civilization has proven itself to be destructive to ecosystems since its inception. Western industrial civilization is causing the wholesale destruction of every ecosystem on Earth.

“The dominant culture eats entire biomes. No, that is too generous, because eating implies a natural biological relationship; This culture doesn’t just consume ecosystems, it obliterates them, it murders them, one after another. This culture is a ecological serial killer, and it’s long past time we recognize the pattern.”

-Aric McBay

A large scale and effective response to this destruction is necessary. The tactics of the environmental movement, up to this point have been insufficient. We are losing. It is time to change our strategy. This is why the Deep Green movement is advocating for all tactics to be considered as a means to stop the murder of the Earth. This includes, but is not limited to, practicing permaculture, legislation, legal action, civil-disobedience, and industrial sabotage.

There are problems with holding the permaculture movement as the sole solution to global destruction. While transitioning to sustainability in our personal lives is important,
even more important is confronting and dismantling the oppressive systems of power that promote unsustainability, exploitation and injustice on a global scale. In fact, if these systems are left in place, the gains made by the practice of permaculture will be washed away in civilization’s tidal wave of destruction.

“Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral and stupid. Sustainability, morality and intelligence (as well as justice) require the dismantling of any such economic or social system or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase.”
-Derrick Jensen

The second guiding principle of permaculture, ‘intergenerational equity’, also necessitates immediate action in response to the destructive force of civilization. This principle states that future generations have the same rights as we do to food, clean air, water and resources. This statement applies to all humans and non-humans equally. On a daily basis entire species are being eliminated from this planet as result of the activities of industrial civilization. ‘intergenerational equity’ for them has ceased to exist and every day this destruction continues more species go extinct. Allowing this to continue is unconscionable.

Permaculture is based on close observation of the natural world, and I believe can only realize it’s full potential in a human community that acknowledges the natural laws of its land base,as primary. Practicing permaculture in any context other than this necessitates subverting our principles and betraying everything that nurtures and sustains us, all that is sacred, our living earth. We can only truly belong in a culture of resistance.

Both permaculturalists and deep greens know that the earth is everything, that there is no greater good than this planet, than life itself. We owe her everything and without her, we die.

This is it, we need eachother, everyone, every tactic we can muster in defense of the earth.

We have never been able to afford civilization.

“The task of an activist is not to navigate around systems of oppression with as much personal integrity as possible. It’s to bring those systems down.”

-Lierre Keith

Derrick Jensen, Aric McBay and Lierre Keith are co-facititators of the DGR workshop and co-authors of the book, Deep Green Resistance. Read more here. Questions? Email the author.

Permaculture Design Principles

1. Observe and Interact
2. Catch and Store Energy
3. Obtain a Yield
4. Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
6. Produce No Waste
7. Design from Patterns to Details
8. Integrate Rather than Segregate
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
10. Use and Value Diversity
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change