Becoming Pattern Literate

(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from a draft of book in progress, called Pattern Literacy, which is my effort to describe how pattern understanding can help us solve problems and appreciate and grasp nature’s workings more deeply. I wrote roughly 5 chapters of this book and set it aside to write The Permaculture […]

Flowing Toward Abundance

Over the last year or so, a neighbor has stocked up eight or ten piles of firewood in his yard, probably fifteen or twenty cords. What’s he going to do with it all? The house has a wood stove, but the family mostly uses the furnace, and burns wood only occasionally to get that cozy, […]

Join me for The Search for Sustainability

I was recently interviewed for a new documentary series that also features 48 other uplifting voices speaking on the crises we face and their possible solutions. The series will broadcast Nov 1-12. I encourage you to visit this web page for the details: Topics covered include: • Taking back control of our food, health, water, and […]

Finding the Land that’s Right for You

At some point almost every permaculturist thinks about getting onto a piece of land. And we all have to live someplace, except for the hardcore nomads among us. How do you choose land to live on from a permaculture perspective? Whether it’s big acreage or a town lot, intelligently evaluating the fit between you and […]

Checking all the boxes at Singing Frogs Farm

“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” These words from permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison rang in my ears recently as I toured Singing Frogs Farm near my home in Sebastopol, California. Owners Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser may have found solutions for some of the planet’s most urgent and […]

Permaculture: The Design Arm of a Paradigm Shift

Here’s how it happened to me: Back in 1990 I was playing hooky from my unsatisfying biotech job in Seattle by browsing the homesteading shelves in the public library. I pulled down a thick black book I hadn’t seen before called Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. As I perused the pages, suddenly my previously fragmented life […]

Zone 00: Right Intentions, Wrong Term

Toby Hemenway – July 6, 2014 One of my pet projects is to clean up the ambiguities and logical inconsistencies that weaken permaculture terminology. Today I take aim at the term Zone 00, used to mean either the designer or user of a permaculture design, or their inner state. It’s a concept spawned by good […]

Trojan Horses, Recipes, and Permaculture

The Transition movement seemed to catch fire right from the beginning, and I confess that its success made me, as a permaculturist, a bit envious. Here was a program for converting to a post-oil society, created by a permaculture teacher using permaculture principles, and it seemed to be becoming better known and more highly regarded […]

The Last Nomads and the Culture of Fear

My wife and I went semi-nomadic in 2010, traveling the mountain West for almost two years. Not having a settled home was eye-opening, and taught me a lot about one of my perennial themes: how much humans lost when we became domesticated by agriculture. For a committed permaculturist to give up a home and yard […]

What Permaculture Isn’t—and Is

Permaculture is notoriously hard to define. A recent survey shows that people simultaneously believe it is a design approach, a philosophy, a movement, and a set of practices. This broad and contradiction-laden brush doesn’t just make permaculture hard to describe. It can be off-putting, too. Let’s say you first encounter permaculture as a potent method […]

Saving Native Wildlife with "Invasive" Plants

There’s been a lively discussion on permaculturists’ occasional planting of introduced species known to naturalize (or, in loaded terms, invasive species) at this blog. Some there have disputed that exotics can play critical roles in habitat, and I posted the words below to show that removal of exotics can be very damaging to native wildlife: Here […]

Redistributing Wealth—Upwards

Whenever I feel like raising my blood pressure a few points, I read The Wall Street Journal editorial page. And the June 2-3, 2012 issue didn’t disappoint me. In an article called “Robin Hoods Don’t Smash Windows,” John Agresto, the former president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, makes the familiar arguments against the redistribution of […]

Fear and the Three-Day Food Supply

One of the scary factoids in circulation these days is the revelation that grocery stores hold only a three- or four-day supply of food. People wield this statistic to argue that our food system is appallingly insecure and in grave danger of failure. We’re only a few days from starvation, goes the frightening story, and […]

Is Food the Last Thing to Worry About?

Our food system is woefully dependent on petroleum, as writers such as Richard Heinberg (1) and Michael Pollan (2) have eloquently pointed out. Soaring food costs have brought on riots in some countries, and in unstable nations, famine continues to be a regular visitor. Fears of empty grocery shelves have made food security the centerpiece […]

The Myth of Self Reliance

A mass emailing went out a while back from a prominent permaculturist looking for “projects where people are fully self sufficient in providing for their own food, clothing, shelter, energy and community needs. . .” There it was, the myth of “fully self sufficient,” coming from one of the best-known permaculturists in the world. In […]

Is Sustainable Agriculture an Oxymoron?

Jared Diamond calls it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.”(1) Bill Mollison says that it can “destroy whole landscapes.”(2) Are they describing nuclear energy? Suburbia? Coal mining? No. They are talking about agriculture. The problem is not simply that farming in its current industrial manifestation is destroying topsoil and biodiversity. Agriculture […]

The Watershed Wisdom of the Beaver


You know what a stream looks like. It has a pair of steep banks that have been scoured by shifting currents, exposing streaks and lenses of rock and old sediment. At the bottom of this gully—ten to fifty feet down—the water rushes past, and you can hear the click of tumbling rocks as they are […]

A Zone of One’s Own

How many times have you seen a vegetable garden tucked away in the back of a yard, choked with weeds and lurking with unharvested zucchini the size of baseball bats? Instead of being outside the kitchen window where those weeds and past-due vegetables would alert someone washing dishes, the garden has been hidden. And since […]

The Origins of Peak Oil Doomerism

Many people in the Peak Oil community chafe at the label of doomer, but a lot of us do have an apocalyptic bent. Although plenty of Peak Oil commentary is sober analysis, a survey of the major websites and books quickly brings up apocalyptic titles like,, The Death of the Oil Economy, The End of […]

Seeing the Garden in the Jungle

Lately I’ve been lucky enough to teach permaculture courses on the Big Island of Hawai’i at La’akea Gardens. And at each course an odd thing happens. First, let me point out that La’akea generates all its own solar electricity, collects its water from rooftop catchment, uses composting toilets, recycles greywater, sheet mulches copiously, and has […]

Finding a Sense of Surplus

It’s easy to grasp the wisdom in the first two of permaculture’s three ethical principles. The benefits of “care for the earth” and “care for people,” are obvious, and it’s not a difficult step to put those principles into practice. But then comes that third, more challenging principle, “share the surplus.” That’s where some of […]

Apocalypse, Not

The phrase “the end of the world as we know it” has been uttered so often in the last decade that some Peak Oil advocates simply use its acronym, TEOTWAWKI. This awkward shorthand was once employed by Y2k catastrophists, and that heritage alone—the most unnecessary “sky is falling” panic in my lifetime—is enough to make […]

Another Kind of Genocide

Review of Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience, a book by David Theodoropoulos Avvar Books, Blythe CA. 2003. 237+xiv pp. Paper. $14.50 One of my favorite ways of setting off small explosions is to tell a group of gardeners that I don’t dislike invasive plants. Since the polarization over the natives-versus-exotics issue is fierce, the discussion […]