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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Making The Most Of What We Harvest

 Photograph by Jill Wellington (Pixabay)

Making The Most Of What We Harvest

Secondary Uses for Common Crops

It’s nearing the end of our main growing season here in North Carolina. Halfway through October, our tomato plants are not much longer for the world, perhaps even living on borrowed time now. Summer squashes have given way, and winter squashes are strewn out waiting for the first frost.

We’ve also got some cold weather stuff in the ground. Cilantro has reseeded itself. We’ve planted rounds of carrots, beets, chard, kale, and radishes. Collard greens, a local favourite, are on the go. Kohlrabi is in the ground. Because we’ve been building our home, we’ve dropped the ball on getting some of what we’d like to have planted—broccoli, fava beans, leeks—this year.

But, what’s on my mind is more positive: It’s how much we’ve enjoyed our common crops this summer. More so, part of what we’ve enjoyed has been making the very most of them. We are steadily adding to our repertoire of possibilities, expanding our diets and production into new realms.

As dutiful permaculturalists, we’ve always sought out secondary (edible) uses for our harvests, ways to get more function from what we have cultivated. Here’s some of what has us excited this year, as well as some notes from the past and hopes for the future.

Carrot Tops

Common Crop Carrot Tops
Photograph by Rachel C IMP (Pixabay)

With our second growing season in North Carolina, we showed marked improvement in our carrot harvest. The roots have been the most flavourful I’ve ever eaten, and they’ve come out of the ground with a heft we didn’t get last year.

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Without a rebellion there might be nothing left. The tide is turning and necessarily so.

Without a rebellion there might be nothing left. The tide is turning and necessarily so.

extinction rebellion

An international rebellion has begun. I am writing this as a call to action for humanity and permaculture enthusiasts everywhere. I want to take a few minutes to share my story, and perhaps you will be inspired by a world that is waking up. The sea is rising and so are we.

I will finish with some practical ways you can get involved in the rebellion and what you can do after.

10 years ago I did a course in Permaculture Design and it changed my life. I no longer felt alone in seeking solutions to global warming and ecological disasters like mass deforestation. I had found my people⎯ agrarian systems thinkers and community activists with a deep connection to the world around them. And much to my relief a network of curious people with the will to design a world that works alongside nature!

Permaculture designers have been acting to mitigate the climate emergency and ecological breakdown since the 70’s. The approaches used in permaculture have inspired a generation to redesign the places that they live. Permaculture networks, the Permaculture Association and groups like Transition Towns have done much of the groundwork for grassroots action for ‘systems change, not climate change’ in the UK and beyond.

The permaculture approach helps design intelligent systems which meet human needs whilst enhancing biodiversity, reducing our impact on the planet, and creating a fairer world for us all.

We will need grassroots movements like permaculture systems thinking and design to reinvent the way we design our society so that we can meet the our needs whilst working in harmony with our planet. Without approaching our challenges in this systematic way we do not have a chance to innovate and make integrated policy changes needed meet the Paris agreement or the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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David Holmgren: A Baby Boomers’ Apology

David Holmgren: A Baby Boomers’ Apology

Raphael The miraculous draught of fishes 1515

There are days, though all too scarce, when very nice surprises come my way. Case in point: yesterday I received a mail from David Holmgren after a long period of radio silence. Australia’s David is one of the fathers of permaculture, along with Bill Mollison, for those few who don’t know him. They first started writing about the concept in the 1970s and never stopped.

Dave calls himself “permaculture co-originator” these days. Hmm. Someone says: “one of the pioneers of modern ecological thinking”. That’s better. No doubt there. These guys taught many many thousands of people how to be self-sufficient. Permaculture is a simple but intricate approach to making sure that the life in your garden or backyard, and thereby your own life, moves towards balance.

My face to face history with David is limited, we spent some time together on two occasions only, I think, in 2012 a day at his home (farm) in Australia and in 2015 -a week- in Penguin, Tasmania at a permaculture conference where the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss was one of the key speakers along with Dave. Still, despite the limited time together I see him as a good and dear friend, simply because he’s such a kind and gracious and wise man. 

In his mail, David asked if I would publish this article, which he originally posted on his own site just yesterday under the name “The Apology: From Baby Boomers To The Handicapped Generations”. I went for a shorter title (it’s just our format), but of course I will.

Dave has been an avid reader of the Automatic Earth for the past 11 years, we sort of keep his feet on the ground when they’re not planted and soaking in that same ground: “Reading TAE has helped me keep up to date..”

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A “Green New Deal” is on everyone’s lips, but how do we actually get there? Our brand new “Green is the New Silver (Lining): Crisis, Hope, and Permaculture,” (http://bit.ly/hope-permaculture) the first of 4 videos in our free-to-view “Permaculture Masterclass,” offers one possible answer. And if we do this right, we can go far beyond organic, beyond sustainability — and towards building thriving communities of abundance. You ready?

Saving the Planet


I have often found myself wincing as I hear people talking about saving the planet. It’s felt wrong!  I can hear the voices of condemnation screaming at me now … ‘What a horrible person you are not to agree with saving the planet.’… but let me explain.

I’m the same age as Geoff Lawton!  Though I think he’s doing better than me!

I was brought up in the 50s/60s. I had two dads, my biological one and my step dad. My father was a left wing, ‘why is the government giving money to the farmers just because they have a drought’ type of person. He was always railing against the government because it didn’t look after the poor people. He was also the one who would order me out of the room so he could spray DDT in the living room to kill the flies. We left when I was 10.

My step dad was right wing. He didn’t believe the government should be giving out free money to people. He believed in self responsibility. What can you do to get yourself out of the situation?  He was also a firm believer in organic farming, no poisons, and natural health solutions. (Yes, I know that sounds counterintuitive, but you’d be amazed how many right wing people believe in self responsibly and growing their own food!)

My teen years saw my parents growing all our produce organically and sharing produce with friends who also grew organically.

In Grade 10, a science teacher gave us a scenario. He explained that all energy can be quantified as BTUs, from the physical energy you put into something, to the energy it takes to make a product. He gave us an example…

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Human Permaculture Part 3: Practical Communication Techniques


In part one (1) of this article I explored the possible efficacy of visualising our communication with each other as a invisible flow, less predictable than other energy flows in a Sector Analysis but still able to be mapped as part of a design; while in part two (2) I looked at what catching and storing such energy flows might look like. This third part is turning inwards from the pattern of the wider concept of communication flows, to the details of how we can use permaculture to help our own personal communication be more effective.

Changing the way we think to encourage Earth Care and People Care

 Following on from the idea that communication can be seen as an ‘invisible structure’, we can also see that within us we have our own invisible structures, made up of the languages which we use to think. We can use permaculture to examine these structures and possibly change them to help us communicate more holistically and honestly with ourselves, hopefully allowing for easier communication with everyone else.

One of the first changes which could be beneficial is that of changing how we speak about the natural world. A number of writers, scientists and philosophers – such as Alan Watts (3), James Lovelock (4) and David Abram (5) to name but a few – have pointed out the power of phonetic language to create abstractions within the mental realm. This means that it is very easy to imagine that we are separate from nature, and thus to allow the exploitation or destruction of our world. This abstraction is probably done more or less unconsciously, if the language one grows up with enables abstract thought in this way.

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Excerpt From “De-Growth in the Suburbs, A Radical Urban Imaginary.” Part 3


The Limits to Capital

Are we at the threshold of the apocalyptic ‘next world’ that scientist James Lovelock (2009) speaks of? Put differently, is the human species now at the precipice of natural default and the massive societal change it must surely trigger? These are not new questions. The end of carbon-intensive capitalism has been long predicted: As Beck (2012: 90) reminded us, already, more than a century ago, Max Weber anticipated the end of oil-based capitalism when he spoke of a time when ‘the last hundredweight of fossil fuel is built up’.

The contemporary problem of overshoot has two faces: one of over accumulation and thus depletion of natural capital; the other a simul- taneous overabundance of financial capital and critical deprivation of social capital (‘planet of slums’ etc.). The built environment is now central to these twin crises of the age. Urbanisation is at the heart of overproduction and ecological default, but also central to the absorption of excess capital. The real estate sector has its own dynamics, and investment in housing is vital for capital accumulation, as Harvey has explained, yet all this takes place within a paradigm of growth capitalism that shapes and seems to impel these destructive and often exclusive modes of development. The massive contemporary infrastructure development push in world cities reflects both realities—absorption and depletion. The ricocheting spiral of these modalities defines the urban age. This indicates a convulsive instability at the heart of human prospect that contradicts the predictive confidence of popular urban commentary. As debt fuels what seem to be property bubbles in various urban centres—with the Australian capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne being particularly worrying examples—renegade economist Steve Keen (2017) warns that it would be prudent to prepare for the closing of the casino before these bubbles burst. The convulsion suggests a bad ending.

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Why Permaculture Puts Food First

Why Permaculture Puts Food First

Had we heeded Malthus’s warning and kept the human population to less than one billion, we would not now be facing a torrid future.
There are seven popular food crops in this picture
 When I teach permaculture, and now having done more than 50 full design courses, I try to de-emphasize gardening. I do that because I know that most other Permaculture teachers do precisely the opposite; they begin with drawing a chicken and then make mandala gardens and herb spirals.
I don’t usually do that because to me Permaculture is much more. It is a regenerative design science. It teaches you to think ecosystemically: no waste; cyclical; nourishing body and soul; steady state. It applies to every aspect of your life, and of civilization; from how we brush our teeth to how we build our cities and exchange value for value.
But Permaculture is also about looking ahead, over the fence, up to the sky, into the forest, and observing the grander patterns. Anyone who takes that kind of moment these days will be bound to notice phenological signs and portents, the uptick in unusual weather events, a spreading refugee crisis, and some really nasty resource wars appealing to our ethnic tribalism.

“The switch from growth to decline in oil production will thus almost certainly create economic and political tension.”

 — Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrére, Scientific American (1998)
These times have been long predicted, from Malthus’ and Arhennius’ calculations of population and carbon dioxide, to Limits to Growth, The Population Bomb, and now decades of reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All of those, and more, are known knowns.

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Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Two of Four)

Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Two of Four)

The last post introduced this weird and possibly confusing little diagram:1

The diagram frames a pathway from more conventional design processes toward what I believe permaculture is deep down really about. The conventional starting point I’m calling fabricated assembly. The radical alternative the diagram invites us toward is what I call generative transformation.

Generative transformation is really good stuff. I believe permaculture and generative transformation are meant to be together, just like orchid and wasp, legume and rhizobia, or carbon and nitrogen in the perfect compost. Indeed, I’d argue that generative transformation is in play when any permaculture project really shines.

Which leads us to a question.

WTF is Generative Transformation?

Generative transformation refers to the top-right section in the diagram.

Breaking it down, there’s the generative (or generating) piece and the transformation (or transforming) piece. Let’s start with transformation (and what it is an alternative to). We’ll come back to the meaning of generative in the next post.


Consider the three options along the y-axis of the diagram. Starting with A. Assembling, we move to B. Partitioning, culminating in C. Transforming. I’ll here introduce and explain each as different approach to creating – as in bringing forth new form in the world.

A. Creating by Assembling

From an assembling perspective, how you go about creating (which includes both designing and implementing) is easy: choose some elements then join them into whole systems. Start with parts, stick them together and hey presto, there’s your whole!

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The Link Between Minimalism and Permaculture


There is an inherent link between permaculture and minimalism, so it’s no wonder why people are finding ways to combine the two ways of living into one super-philosophy. Both minimalism and permaculture hinge on utilizing highly efficient systems to make room for the important things in life: interconnectedness, abundance, and sustainability. Let’s take a closer look at the link between the two ideas:

People Care

Permaculture puts great importance on taking care of people. In fact, people care is one of the three main ethics of permaculture. Permaculture can influence communication, help foster connections between people, and support healthy relationships. People tend to create lasting connections while working together to meet a common need, and these types of situations are very common in the permaculture community.

Perhaps people care is intrinsic to permaculture in part because the local food movement is rooted in relationships and values. When you’re practicing permaculture, it’s impossible to separate people from food — and why would you want to? Half the joy of eating something is knowing the story of how it came to be on your plate.

Similarly, minimalism also seeks to improve personal well-being, often through relationships. Some minimalists are motivated by financial or environmental reasons, and a majority seem to be at least partly motivated by personal mental well-being.

Clutter (both mental and physical) can pile up quickly, taking up far more of your bandwidth than it should. It’s difficult to think clearly and creatively when there are piles of junk here and endless shopping and to-do lists there. Minimalism helps people clear away the junk and make room for what matters — and that’s often relationships and self-care.


Permaculture creates abundance — abundance of food, connections, systems, and value. When you visit incredible permaculture sites, abundance is everywhere. Everything seems to be teeming with life, color, sound, and energy.

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Greening the Desert with Permaculture


“I have never seen soil like this before” was the comment that Bill Mollison made during a visit to the Greening the Desert Project in 2011. At the time, he was referring to the poor state of the soil in the small village of Jawasari, Jordan. An area of the world where the landscape has been damaged by not only extreme pollution and the overuse of recycling nutrients but also by the climatic conditions of the location. At 31° North of the equator, 400-meters below sea level, in an area that receives less than 50-millimeters (2-inches) in annual rainfall, and Summer temperatures reaching over 50°C (122°F), the Dead Sea Valley is considered one of the world’s worst agricultural scenarios.

So, when I and thousands like me first saw the Greening the Desert video, we thought, if this is possible in one of the lowest, driest, and harshest environments in the world then we can do this—grow food, harvest water, repair soil, enhance the ecosystem and build community—anywhere in the world. The solution has been found, and it’s merely adopting the same design methods, the persistence, and the passion.

Growing up in Jordan I have seen agricultural land being encroached on. The neighborhood I grew up in slowly turned from fertile farming land, growing grains and vegetables, into a residential apartment block that was everything you would expect from a concrete forest. I witnessed small farmers struggling to stay profitable, and confessing to losing their land to salt due to commercial planting methods, the advice they get from agriculture departments, chemical fertilizer salesmen and the lack of long-sightedness in the agriculture policy in Jordan overall.

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What to do With Bad Soil


After watching the sun set and the full moon rise atop my neighbour Sergey’s hill which overlooks the entire eco-village, he walks me back to my tent hidden in the midst of young pine trees upon the insistence of his mother (“You need to walk the young lady all the way to the door of her tent, you hear me?”). His cat Murka (Moor-kah, meaning purr-cat) follows her human grandma’s instructions too, inspecting my tent before heading back home. She spends her summers in the village roaming free and overwinters in a Kiev apartment. When it’s time for her to ride to the village every spring, she stands on the car seat and looks out the window, getting extremely animated for the last 30 minutes of the trip.

Sergey and I walk in the moonlight trying to find where I pitched my tent on my newly purchased 5-acre (2-hectare) plot located about an hour-and-a-half ride west of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. Our feet sink into the soft sand, dry plant stalks crunch under our feet. Sergey sighs: “There’s so much work that needs to be done here”. I cringe at the sound of that, but I don’t know yet why. It takes me another day to understand why I don’t agree with him.

Before our cabin arrived, I slept in a tent, hidden in the emerging pine forest. None of these trees were here 9 years ago.


The abundance of herbs and insects in the midst of pine trees


The phrase “green thumb” doesn’t even begin to describe Sergey’s talent when it comes to plants.

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At the Intersection of Permaculture and Degrowth

Permaculture and degrowth are both movements whose foundational ideas were developed the 70’s, just as the evidence was amassing in the science world to be able to explain the consequences of unchecked growth and human-induced environmental degradation. As such, both movements are reactionary and propose a radical, ethics-based paradigm shift away from the globally dominant culture of over-consumption, towards a systems-based approach to sustainability and regeneration of both the social and ecological spheres.

Though both movements were cultivated firstly within academic contexts, the body of knowledge around degrowth has generally prioritized the social sphere, including politics, economics, work-life balance and social structures, whereas permaculture has traditionally focused more on the ecological – specifically, on human habitats and food systems. In this article, I would like to propose some ways that an exchange of knowledge and knowledge-sharing strategies between permaculture and degrowth would be beneficial for both movements. This argument is based on the idea that the most interesting and diverse areas of any system are located at the edge, where one system, community, or way of thinking intersects with another.

As someone who has been educated, both academically and experientially in permaculture and in degrowth, I have found that these two movements, founded on opposite corners of the planet but now diffused somewhat globally, are very much complementary. Overall, I feel that there are undeniable benefits to be had when these movements interact, share knowledge and resources.

Below, I give a brief overview of the development of each movement in its respective context and then move on to discuss how degrowth can help permaculture and vice versa, finishing with a brief discussion on what such collaborations might look like.

A Short Background on Both Movements

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Living the Good Life: Core Values, System Design and Functional Resilience

Living the Good Life: Core Values, System Design and Functional Resilience

Credit: Good Life Permaculture

Hannah Moloney, co-founder and co-director of Good Life Permaculture, was in the pursuit of a duck on the run when I arrived at her property on a fine summer evening. The duck had wandered into the chicken enclosure, and Hannah’s intention was to manoeuvre the duck away from the chickens. I promptly joined in from the other end of the enclosure and managed to guide the duck into the safe hands of Hannah waiting at the other side. Minding ducks (and chickens), as I later learned in my discussion with Hannah and her life and business partner Anton Vikstrom, was not a distraction, but indeed part of their work profile for their social business, Good Life Permaculture, and accorded them much satisfaction. The salience of this comment was not lost given the nature of their integrated work space, which is made up of a thriving food garden bursting with life, green spaces, their highly functional home, and home-office, all with an uninterrupted view over much of Hobart (Figure 1), the capital city of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state.

Credit: Author
Figure 1. Premises of Good Life Permaculture

What prompted Hannah and Anton to create (and sustain) this small piece of paradise in an urban block? Why Good Life Permaculture? What is a ‘good life’? And how does Good Life Permaculture interpret and respond to this ageless question, one that is as pertinent today as it was when put forth by Socrates in the Western tradition and Thiruvalluvar in the Eastern tradition?

Good Life Permaculture – Origins, Values & Objectives

Good Life Permaculture (henceforth referred to as ‘Good Life’) was born in early 2013 after about four years of conception and design by Hannah and Anton.

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Clean Food: If You Want to Save the World, Get Over Yourself.

From Salt Bae, via Facebook

I’m a permaculture farmer. My goal is to develop natural ecosystems that produce food. My dream is a world with ready access to a diet that nourishes the body of the consumer, provides a living for the producer, and leaves the Earth joyfully habitable.

I share that dream with a lot of people who call themselves permaculturalists, natural farmers, plantsmen, or foodies. I fear, however, that this doughty lot of green thumbs and stock-folk and food advocates is succumbing to tribalism; forgetting that saving the world means saving all of the people in it; even the ones that love cheap burgers and Coke. We’re digging foxholes and making monsters out of people who don’t agree with us, or who don’t understand, or who do understand but are powerless to act.

Take this quote by Dr. Daphne Miller — author of one of my favorite books on the links between farming and health — at the end of her interview with Slow Money Journal:

“Americans are going to fall into two camps when all is said and done: People who buy cheap goods, regardless of quality, versus people who are willing and able to pay for things that are made with integrity. We are seeing the limits of the “buying cheap crap” approach.”

As much as I admire Dr. Miller, this is among the more judgmental things I’ve read outside of scripture. Among the implications:

  • People who buy cheap goods (food) are mindless imbeciles who’d just as soon drink gasoline as fair trade coffee as long as the price is right.
  • Whether you buy cheap or buy quality is a matter of WILL! There are those who are WILLING and those who are NOT WILLING! Oh, and able.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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