In Dialogue with Dave Jacke (E06)

In this episode Dan Palmer from Making Permaculture Stronger enjoys a high-energy, cut to the chase dialogue with Dave Jacke from Edible Forest Gardens. Dave and Dan explore:

  • Dave’s 38+ year journey with design process and permaculture including:
    • his first design project at Simon’s Rock College
    • his initial contact with permaculture and then Bill Mollison
    • his initial contact with the writings of Christopher Alexander (especially Alexander’s 1964 book Notes on the Synthesis of Form)
    • his experience studying at the Conway School of Landscape Design
    • his relationship to permaculture
    • his ecological design process
  • Permaculture’s design process enigma (has a lot to say about ecological design but not a lot to say about ecological design process)
  • The relation between the designer, the designing, and the designed
  • Problems with the expert/hero approach to design
  • The relation between rationality and feeling/emotion inside ecological design process
  • So much else…

Dave Jacke’s work has been referenced many times in previous posts, and was the sole focus of this one.

We really hope you enjoy the episode, which is feeling like beginning of a longer conversation, and please do leave a comment sharing any feedback or reflections below…

Dave doing site analysis at Yandoit Farm, Victoria, Australia, 2016


  1. I’m catching up on some older podcasts from before I discovered the series, and damn, this was a great episode! There is so much here, it’s amazing.

    Something that stuck out is this interpretation of ‘A Pattern Language’ as then just assembling a bunch of patterns together instead of patterning being an integrated approach to designing a site. It just hits me in relation to software development, which is another field that has been heavily influenced by Christopher Alexander’s ‘A Pattern Language’ and consequently there have been many books written about Design Patterns and how to apply them and in which situations (searching “software patterns” on Amazon in the category books gives you 7000 hits, just sayin’). Everyone is talking patterns, but almost always it’s in a context of: “Okay, we wanna do ‘this’, so let’s apply the strategy pattern here.” So it is very much about assembly.

    So what would it mean to think of these patterns differently, more integrated? I don’t know what the answer is. Code, in its artificiality, also doesn’t have the same boundaries, restrictions, etc. as living systems, though there is something alive about code as well. In any case, it is very interesting and I feel there is something we as software developers can learn from this perspective.

    1. Hey Han delayed reply but thanks for this. I must track down Dave and hit him up for another chat actually. Alexander’s Nature of Order series was largely about fleshing out a non assembly approach to using patterns within an authentic unfolding process – territory I’m hoping to get stuck into on the blog and podcast this year!

  2. Love this, Dan. Thank you so much – as much as Dave nuances that rationality and feelings are inextricable, I am very grateful that you call out permaculture for being afraid of feelings. I agree that the tension between adversely manipulating the natural landscape to service human needs and desires, really could resolve better if we intuit with humility, love and gratitude the “desires” of that landscape and all the living ‘elements”, while employing the rational analyses. Permaculture takes us closer to the Care ethics than other design processes, but sometimes it seems that our delight in clever intradependent generative systems can blind us to the hubris and sometimes even cruelty of our solutions. I’m thinking here of the occasions where we look to mechanistic animal services (say tractored pigs or chooks, and cell grazed animals left without protection from our harsh weather).
    I dunno, I love permaculture. But it is difficult indeed to achieve a balance between the Rightness of a permie livelihood and the ethics of care. I guess in the end there are as many subjective interpretations of the ethics and principles as there are practitioners 🙂
    Congrats on this venture. A philosophy of permaculture that will hopefully actually inform future practice! Wonderful!

  3. Undertaking a permaculture design is a very intentional act of personal responsibility. David Jacke’s assertion resonated powerfully with me. Working with you Dan, I’ve learned as a client just how integral is that wisdom to your practice. You can’t outsource design; you can outsource decorating or drafting: but they’re not the same thing at all, I’m coming to understand. Can’t wait to listen to part two. Colourful, super high-energy interview Dan.

  4. Enjoying your podcasts.
    This was particularly insightful and has pointed me in good directions for exploring permaculture more as I was starting to feel there was a lack of credibility in the design field…….aka put in a swale ?

  5. Hey Dan,

    I’m really enjoying your podcasts.

    I’m new to permaculture, I’ve watched a bit of Bill Mollisons course on YouTube, read a bit of Gaias garden by Toby hemenway, and listened to some podcasts.

    I’m interested in permaculture design as I want to be able to build sustainable systems on land and also apply it other things like community and even product development.

    If you were taking an 80/20 approach to learning permaculture ( ie the 20% of things that give you 80% of the results) what would suggest?

    From what I can gather it would be broken up into principles and process.

    Principles being
    – David holmgrens revised book principals sustainability
    – Christopher Alexander’s book – ‘a timeless way of building’

    Process being
    – a permaculture design course that runs through the process.
    – observation sounds like a big area to focus on.

    Any info from anyone would be great.

    Keep up the great work.


    Fitzroy North

  6. Dave’s piece on culture and cultural inhibition (0:52:00 or so) reminds me of one realisation, which is that a lot of the early PDC stuff with Bill Mollison (I have the tapes from one of his PDCs circa 1983) seems to be more about shaking people out of that cultural stasis rather than communicating a particular process.

    eg. “the problem is the solution”, “you can’t do any worse than what’s already being done” and the various stories re. rats and wild rice, ducks vs. snails, having positive attitudes to weeds, even the crazy whale story, all seem to be trying to push people out of the dominant culture, and keep them there for a couple of weeks, after which time you can come up with much more varied solutions, some of which will be better.

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