What can I say, 2016 was a tumultuous year for many. As this latest trip around the sun drew to a close there were many memes and references that 2016 was a year where people would make sure to stay up to midnight just to watch to it die, while looking forward to 2017 being an entirely different, perhaps brighter, year.
I don’t put much stock in a year being good or bad, as even with all my own ups and downs, a divorce, two moves, and some health issues, I’m quite pleased with what happened over the last 12 months: time spent with my children, dozens of interviews recorded, hundreds of phone calls and emails responded to, people met, and projects launched. Already this new year, 2017 is shaping up to be beautiful. But, there was some big news this year.
Out of everything that happened around the globe, perhaps the biggest news for our community as a whole was the loss of two important figures to the movement: one of the founders and one of our best communicators. I speak of course of Bill Mollison and Toby Hemenway.
I never knew Bruce Charles “Bill” Mollison, who passed away on September 24, 2016 at the age of 88, but I wouldn’t be here without his efforts to popularize the ideas he developed with David Holmgren. Slow to build in the early years, seeing the number of trained practitioners grow from dozens to hundreds throughout the 1980s, and the books rise from a handful to perhaps a dozen, we are now seeing a flourish of activity building upon what Bill started with David more than 40 years ago. When I first came to permaculture nearly two decades ago, Mollinson’s The Designers’ Manual, the big black book of Permaculture, was about all we had to go on in the West. Starting in the early 2000s with Gaia’s Garden, the number one selling book on permaculture thus far, the roots of this discipline took hold and allowed the rest to flourish.
It is with a still heavy heart that I hold the loss of Toby Hemenway, who passed away on December 20, 2016. I had the good fortune to get to know him through correspondence and our interview together . Though Gaia’s Garden touched many, it was his second book, The Permaculture City, that continues to hold my thoughts because of the critiques he offered on running away to the countryside, as opposed to being where people are: in our cities. He also throughout those pages encouraged us to focus on our talents and to create systems that account for them, rather than pushing to embrace someone else’s example of what to do. To truly design our systems around ourselves.
I was looking forward to a follow-up to that book, and was outlining a second interview with Toby when word of his illness reached me. Not long after, he passed.
Both Toby and Bill will be missed and I’m thankful for the time they did have to share their thoughts through their writing, interviews, and, thanks to the good fortune of the internet, videos.
With the big news from our community, there is the smaller news of this show, which entered it’s seventh year in October, 2016. Between guest host David Bilbrey and myself, we produced forty-seven episodes this year. If you are new to the show, or want to check out some highlights, some shows that I recommend include:
, the Irish author of The Garden Awakening, shared with us a way to reconnect with the stories of a place and to become a guardian of Earth. To listen to the myths and legends of the people and the land to reconnect with what we’ve lost culturally. Whatever our backgrounds, we come from somewhere and should get to know that where.
, The Sacred Gardener from Canada, reminded me, in a similar way to Mary, for the need to reconnect, by creating a relationship with the land that we are on. For those of us who can look to our ancestors and know that their stories are not those of the land we are on, we can reach back to those who called the ground we walk on home and learn about and from them the wisdoms of the first people, while also being allies to their cause, as continues to happen with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock.
I also think, from Steven’s examples, about how many of us are displaced from the places where our stories come from and how we were once all indigenous. Those traditions, stories, and folkways often still exist, we just call them myths, legends, and old wives tales, and can rediscover them by connecting to our families or the land they come from.
Moving from the land to our social and economic structures, with Shaun Chamberlin bring his work with David Fleming, and David’s legacy, to life. Surviving the Future and Lean Logic, both books on my Best Of for this year, create a connection between the long standing work of permaculture to build in the landscape, and take it a step closer towards meeting the needs of our social and economic systems by addressing the tension we feel between our always on, just-in-time economy, and the slower traditions of community. David’s vision, continued by Shaun, is not rooted in some sense of nostalgia, but on the prospect of what the world will be like when energy and employment cease to exist as we know them today.
We can slow down and react through an outreach of our gifts throughout our community, which is what , my dear brother, joined David Bilbrey to share his thoughts on. This subject dear to my heart as the boundaries of permaculture continue to push beyond the roots in the landscape, and Eric shared his own experiences and current efforts with The Emergence Network to create the opportunities the future will require.
The interview with Eric meant a lot for me personally because it was recorded just as he and I were preparing to leave Seppi’s Place, as that project came to a close. I give thanks for my time with Eric and how our conversations drove me deeper into exploring community and alternative structures as we spent late nights in the kitchen cleaning and preparing food, wrapt in conversations, while listening to heavy metal in the background.
A colleauge of Shaun’s, whose work he extended in The Transition Timeline, is , originator of the of Transition Town movement, joined me shortly after the Brexit vote, while we American’s were reaching the zenith of the United States presidential election, to talk about the current state of Transition. During that conversation we also look at some of the critiques of permaculture to accomplish the work that is necessary to create not only permanent human agriculture, but also permanent human culture that can survive the climate crisis that is already upon us, and the looming thread of energy descent. Though we may not talk about these two motives for permaculture, especially as oil prices drop and we adjust to the “new normal” of weather weirding, but the dangers are not going away and soon will come to call.
and her family visited me while still living at Seppi’s Place. There we got to know one another and discuss a holistic approach to veterinary medicine, which we then turned into a later interview. For those of us practicing permaculture, we have allies among all disciplines, we just need to find them, as demonstrated in the conversation with Dr. Fletcher
Just as we can find allies around us, we can also be allies in our communities, as I found from interviewing , the program director of The Philadelphia Orchard project. After provided an , Robyn shared her own story about the community choices she’s made by living in the inner city of Philadelphia. Having known Robyn a long time, she remains someone whose work I follow to remember what is possible in the urban environment. While others are still formulating and collecting their thoughts, she is actively doing the work through POP and her own life choices, all while living in the fifth largest city in the United States.
Ending the retrospective on interveiws a conversation that started the year: , the Perma Pixie. In this continuation of the conversation we had at the end of 2015, Taj shared her experiences as a small business permaculture practitioner and what it means to straddle economics and earth care.
I’m often reminded that , so it’s clear that being an entrepreneur isn’t a straight shot at success, and still if we are going to continue to practice permaculture in the world that we find ourselves in, with liberal economic policies focused around market capitalism, there are structures that we can play with in by owning our own labor, or looking to work outside of those systems through structures like the gift economy, and by making changes in our own lives to live with less financial capital, while we build the social and otherwise.
Myself, Taj, Shaun Chamberlin, and many others are choosing to live differently. I won’t say that it is easy, but each day we can make the shifts that get us closer to where we want to be. It is a long game we are participating in. Industry, capital, and environmental degradation didn’t begin overnight and we’re not going to solve these problems either.
As a mentor of mine used to say, “fast, cheap, or easy: pick two.” Let’s make it cheap and easy by going slow. One day, one small act at a time.
With these conversations that were all recorded via wire, also check out the group conversations from my trips to Clear Creek , Kentucky; Philadelphia , Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. In those you can hear a multitude of voices come together in conversations about community, fellowship, and creating in urban and rural spaces.
Live events like these are always fun, and I like going out to meet and speak with folks in person. If you would like to host an in-person recording of The Permaculture Podcast, and are somewhere near the East Coast, let me know.
While recapping this best of from the show, I’d like to give a shoutout to Jason Godesky for creating The Fifth World role-playing game. Though it’s been awhile since Jason was on the show as a guest, I got to hang out with him and Giuli at the convention Save Against Fear in October of 2016. During our time together I got a chance to play The Fifth World for the first time and in that process they evoked an Animist experience for me within the game when, for a few moments, I had to face the personification of my character’s disconnect from family. It left me shaken for a few moments thanks to the power of the storytelling moment. Whatever your background, be it gamer, storyteller, or an interest in myth, check out TheFifthWorld.com.
If you are looking for new books to read, some releases from 2016 I recommend picking up are Lean Logic and Surviving the Future, both edited by Shaun Chamberlin. Rewild or Die by Urban Scout, a persona of Peter Michael Bauer from Rewild Portland, and The New Wildcrafted Cuisine by Pascal Baudar.
Lean Logic and Surviving the Future , as mentioned in my interviews with the editor Shaun Chamberlin, fill the gulf between Permaculture and Transition, bridging the landscape and the new culture needed for a bountiful future that acknowledges scarcity and embraces it.
Rewild or Die , though a snapshot of a particular moment in time for the rewilding community, is one of the earliest books on Rewilding. I recommend this for everyone interesting in permaculture, rewilding, and the modern primitive skills movement. As someone knowledgeable of permaculture, Peter is able to provide insights on the intersection between the world that arose from agriculture, and what we have to learn from indigenous traditions, all delivered with a bit of snark and sarcasm.
On the other side of the spectrum is Pascal Baudar’s The New Wildcrafted Cuisine , which takes wild foods and turns them into high culinary fare in a way I’ve not found elsewhere. Yes, many field books will teach you what to eat and how to make it edible, but Pascal is creating foods that one would want to eat, or even see served in a Michelin rated restaurant.
As part of the interview with Pascal, I also appreciate hearing about how many classes and workshops he took in order to learn all that he did to create the book. This is a valuable lesson for all of us to slow down and take our time collecting our experience and understanding our chosen discipline.
Looking forward for 2017 and the 7th year of the show, I’m continuing to step into what it means to slow down and take a sabbatical where I reinvest in myself and the podcast. I’ll continue to produce new long form interviews, as you’re used to, while leaning on friends like David Bilbrey to have other conversations and add unexpected voices to the conversation.
Behind the scenes, I’ve asked by friends at Liminal Collective to take on more of the work that happens when the microphone is off, like social media and the newsletter, so that I can focus on those interviews and The Possibility Handbook . After a long year processing over 1,000 pictures, hours and hours of audio, and generating hundreds of pages of notes, everything is compiled in a way that I can begin writing the book itself.
There are, of course, other projects and things we have in the wings for you, but I’m in a place where I’m trusting the process of it all, and will make some announcements as they come together.
Throughout everything, my door remains open if you have any questions or would like to talk about anything you heard here, from an episode in the archives, or on a future episode of the show. Call: 717-827-6266. Email: or send me a letter:
The Permaculture Podcast
P.O. Box 16
Dauphin, PA 17018
Until the next time, create the world you want to live in by taking care of Earth, your self, and each other.