The Permaculture Podcast

    Episode 1453: A Critique of Permaculture with Rob Scott


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    My guest for this episode is Rob Scott, a permaculture practitioner who started and directed the Urbana Permaculture Project. He now teaches Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership at the University of Illinois.

    We spend our time in this interview discussing his 2010 article, “A Critical Review of Permaculture in the United States,” and offer a critique of permaculture, and permaculture education in the U.S., as they exist now, as well as what we can do to improve our permaculture practices in the landscape and education.

    If you enjoy this interview with Rob, please support the Permaculture Podcast so that I can keep things going. Become a one time or ongoing contributor by going to: to find out how.

    I consider this conversation as a start on what we can do to make permaculture more accessible and acceptable. What I would like is to begin a new project where we start documenting our permaculture successes and failures. I’d like you to write down what you’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and share it with me. Once some of these come in, with your permission, I’ll setup a section of the website where we can share and discuss the results and work on building our understanding of permaculture in the current era.

    Another piece of this is that I recently interviewed Elizabeth Farnsworth who works at the New England Wild Flower Society, who I mentioned in my coverage of the Native Plants Conference I attended a few weeks ago. She and I talked about the role of citizen scientists. In that discussion she reminded me that by being curious and asking “Why?” we are, each and everyone of us, scientists. So let’s collect data, and sometime in the not too distant future I’ll release that interview with Elizabeth to serve as further inspiration on that project.

    Finally, on the idea of education, it can occur whether we are formally trained in teaching, or not. Just as I set out “The Plan” a few months ago detailing my ideas for teaching young adults and adult in a holistic way, Jen Mendez at Permie Kids is actively working on developing ideas for childhood education and permaculture through a series of topical webinars she’s calling the “Edge Alliance.” I’d like you to take a look and get involved if you are a parent of school age children, or an educator of the same.

    Rob Scott
    A Critical Review of Permaculture in the United States
    A Review of Suitable Companion Crops for Black Walnut (PDF)

    Edge Alliance

    Do you Have a Critique of Permaculture? Let me know:

    Phone: 717-827-6266
    Twitter: @permaculturecst

    The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann
    P.O. Box 16
    Dauphin, PA 17018

    (Episode: RobScott)


    1. I was very pleased to listen to Scott’s critque of permaculture. I find often the most informative pieces written about a topic are the ones that focus on the shortcomings. It allows us to build better and stronger theories.

      Scott attempts to dismantle the dichotomy birthed by Mollison surrounding design features like the chicken tractor. Scott argues that, though experimentation, is is improbable that such a device could match the outputs of the industrial system. He reduces chicken tractor to being a ‘cute’ way of having chickens around and to prepare a garden bed. This argument in fact reinforces the dichotomy. He effectively says one is wasting their time trying to generate yields with this device and that they may as well rely on the industrial system to generate any yields they may seek from chickens.

      Two or three backyard laying hens generally produce enough eggs for an average household. These chickens, in addition to being cute and nice to have around – for some – are also a productive means of recycling food scraps, are a useful pest control, produce quality manure, and are, as Scott mentioned, a good way of preparing a garden bed. Whilst the value of a single yield from a bird may not be up there with what the industrial system can achieve, Scott fails to touch on all the other yields that backyard chickens – kept as a part of a tractor or otherwise – produce.

    2. June 26, 2014    

      I’ve been discussing the legitimacy of Permaculture as a practice that will hold financial value through agriculture endeavors to make a livable wage with friends recently, so I really enjoyed this podcast. The example of Shiitake mushrooms is a great case study, although there are mushroom growers who are making money through a mono-crop style method, it is NOT in a permacultural design or fashion. I also see the educational correlation in the form of instruction, PDC’s, online courses, book publishing, videos, etc. as a way that Permaculturists are making a living, not through its methodologies and practice. Permaculture seems to have become a more of a marketing scheme and less trial and error, facts and numbers. In order for Permaculture to grow there needs to be less hidden agenda Permaculture recruitment education and more scientific data.

    3. June 26, 2014    

      Fantastic interview. Thank you so much. I found if though provoking and inspiring. I fully support putting data behind technique to push the design sciences further.

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