Revolutionary Permaculture with David Holmgren

In many homes worldwide, David Holmgren is a beloved name. As the co-creator of the global permaculture movement, his work has touched millions of lives, and can be seen etched into the gardens of inner city projects, community co-operatives and large-scale farms.

The term permaculture was created back in the mid-1970s by David and university professor Bill Mollison, and is a combination of the terms ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’ to create a symbolic union. Its 12 principles are based around three pillars - care of the earth, care of people and return of surplus - and over the last forty years it has evolved into an organic, adaptive movement to expand alongside modern times.

Behind the movement, David is not only promoting a sustainable lifestyle, but a powerful alternative to life away from dependent consumerism. As such, the principles of permaculture transcend the humble garden to see homes flourish through non-monetary economies, communities blossom through connection and to celebrate a life that's handmade.

Kayla had the pleasure of interviewing David at his home of Melliodora in Central Victoria, one of the best documented and well known permaculture demonstration sites worldwide.

In this episode you'll discover easy ways to introduce permaculture into your own life, and David's advice for greening your home.

Some of the episode's highlights can be found below.

Photo credit: Bruce Hedge

Photo credit: Bruce Hedge

The importance of putting roots down in your community.

“Australians are, in a sense, still camping in this country. They’re not rooted to the ground. A house’s value is not seen through its use, which is a secondary thing, but its monetary value, which is actually just the value of the ground where it stands. But there’s a wave now where a proportion of society is stopping and going - hang on, there’s something fundamentally wrong with this. It’s important that we connect to our place and that our values are expressed by the environments we create and shape. We’re at one of those times right now where people’s focusing is shifting. They’re turning and thinking about connection to family, connection to nature and connection to fundamental values.”

Hard times create new opportunities.

“Permaculture, for me, was part of going out and creating the world we want, rather than analysing what’s wrong with the world. A lot of negative forces that shape the world also present opportunities. Crises are a fantastic time for change and growth. Understanding the stressors that are creating so much suffering and pain in the world, and degradation, they’re still opportunities for change. There’s an understanding that hard times create new opportunities, and it’s very relevant. It’s the surfing analogy of ride those waves.”

Your grandparents had lifestyle habits that should be re-discovered.

“We usually think about what’s good and what’s bad in relation to our peers - we don’t connect very well in a generational sense. And simply thinking about the way our grandparents lived - things that a lot of modern people think would be shockingly painful - past generations found them acceptable. Growing things yourself, making things yourself, has gone from a little bit weird to super cool. But this shift is connected to a deeper value shift, and I think that’s very strong at the moment. It’s creating a new normal. For example, people in affluent countries often felt enormous shame at having to get their clothes from an opportunity shop. But I was part of the first generation that went out and bought all our clothes at the opportunity shop, and have done all our lives. And now there are people who are university educated people, who choose to get their food out of the rubbish bins - that’s perfectly kept, often organic food - and that’s shocking for most people. So changing how we see things and how we experience them is important. We have huge potential to make use of these untapped resources if we choose to.”

As a society, we need to rethink the role that money has in our lives and place more importance on community and sharing.

“We can analyse our lives and how many hours we spend in each space in our life. That can be a really useful way to analyse where you’re at with work-life balance. Often work is one quadrant and the rest of your life is merged together. For a lot of people, a hard analysis of the household’s finances can show that - even in financial terms - it’s better off to work less. Moving down in a financial sense but powering up the household and the community monetary economies, like exchange and reciprocity. A lot of the big difficult issues to shift are debt - and that requires asking tough questions of yourself. Selling your house to get rid of that burden, or taking in a lodger. As a household, ask yourselves: “How much capacity do we need at home to have vibrant, effective, economically efficient, and fun household?”  What about considering the importance of other economies - like the importance of childcare? Elderly care? Growing food? Maintaining the house? Think of the benefits in the future.”

To introduce permaculture into your life, start small and let the big things follow.

“I advise anybody to start by going out and growing some food to eat. It’s an amazing experience. Kat Lavers, one of our case studies in the book RetroSuburbia, said ‘get a little bit better each year’ because the evidence is that a huge proportion of Australians are engaged in food gardening, but people give up because it’s technically hard. Getting a little bit better at those things helps. On another level, simply talk to your neighbours - it builds that community connection and so many other connections from there.

There’s a spreadsheet that we call the RetroSurbia Real-estate Evaluation tool-kit that helps you to look at a property and how it stacks up. Tools to analyse where you’re at now, or places you’re considering renting or buying, for a more physical picture of the strengths and weaknesses of a place.”

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Kayla Robertson