Here I list known (to me) practitioners of permaculture actively doing the work of making permaculture stronger by at the least assessing & articulating weak links, and in most cases then doing something to address the weak links thus identified.
Obviously it is important to recognise and celebrate folk already doing a great job of this stuff, particularly given that in future I’ll be standing on some of their shoulders and generally bouncing off many of them.
To be clear about the criteria for making it on to this list, these folk are genuinely sympathetic to permaculture, and they are coming from a place of honestly reflecting then earnestly addressing gaps, issues, or weaknesses within permaculture. Where the attitude or intent is to make permaculture better. But where part of the process of doing so is being openly critical about at least one central aspect of permaculture. They are actively sharing their work along these lines with the world. I also just happen to know about them.
I should also be clear that most of these folk are not working in the specific target area of Making Permaculture Stronger (with the exception of Dave Jacke, David Holmgren, and Darren J Doherty) which is design process thinking and practice. I mention them here therefore due to aligned intent in their approach to other aspects of permaculture, where the intent/attitude is at least half the story.
I should finally mention that I have excluded folk working to make the way permaculture is taught stronger. This is such important work but I have decided to exclude it for now in that it feels like opening a can or worms larger than I can currently handle or do justice to (but I do remain open to suggestion). It feels like it should almost be a whole other project in itself. Making Permaculture Education Stronger anyone? This project’s focus is permaculture design process and here I include folk going outside that focus, but who are still working on the substance or content of permaculture as opposed to how it is taught (acknowledging that the two blend into each other in practice). But I want to think more about this and invite any clarity you (yes you there) might bring me.
Please submit suggested additions to our contact page.
I’m slightly embarrassed they are all men so please to make any suggestions of women doing this work (who in my personal experience in terms of making permaculture stronger by addressing weak links are working in improving how the content is taught – Rosemary Morrow being a significant mentor of mine on this front and Robyn Clayfield another significant contributor) would be very much appreciated.
David Holmgren / Holmgren Design Services
I find it incredibly refreshing to find that one of the most outspoken critics of so many aspects of permaculture is one of the co-originators. I’m not going to try and compile a list of David’s published work in this vein here (in a way almost all he has written since permaculture’s inception is a contender) but intend to to so as a separate post in future. I have enjoyed many great conversations about permaculture design and whatnot with David over the years, and one of many things I respect about his approach is that he has no attachment to being right and is ready to critically consider & revise any and all views or approaches, including those he holds himself.
Rafter Sass Ferguson / Liberation Ecology
Rafter is doing some fantastic work and perhaps more than anyone I’m aware of is actively, and sympathetically, getting real about many of permaculture’s shortcomings and doing something about a lot of them. His epic article Permaculture for agroecology: design, movement, practice, and worldview. A review is very worth checking out as is his more recent Grassroots engagement with transition to sustainability: diversity and modes of participation in the international permaculture movement.
The Institute for Participatory Design
I don’t know much about these folk apart from this brilliant article.
Dave Jacke / Edible Forest Gardens
Dave Jacke was the lead author (backed up by Eric Toensmeier) of the two volume Edible Forest Gardens which is hard to deny the status of a classic original contribution to the permaculture literature. In addition to his synthesis and practical application of modern understandings of forest ecology (in Volume I), Dave has explicitly critiqued the lack of emphasis on sound design process within permaculture and made an impressive contribution to doing something about it (in Volume II). Again, we’ll be focusing in on details of Jacke’s work in this latter area in due course – given it is so relevant to Making Permaculture Stronger’s mandate. As fate would have it I enjoyed a fantastic conversation about this stuff with Mr Jacke a few days ago and was delighted to have his interest in this project and his affirmation of its relevance and importance.
Joel Glanzburg / Pattern Mind
Joel is bringing many unique flavours of deep holism and systems thinking to permaculture – see this open letter to the permaculture community he wrote.
Darren J. Doherty / Regrarians
After working in permaculture design for many years Darren has developed a fresh approach to farm-scale design process. One prompt for this has been his identifying a dearth of quality design process thinking in permaculture, and an integrative approach bringing useful stuff from outside permaculture into his professional consultancy and teaching work. Darren is most recently calling his approach the Regrarians Platform. In this vid he gives the flavour though it has developed a lot since then. I should mention that Darren has been a significant mentor of mine and is nowadays a close friend & colleague – I hope these facts don’t bias me against the rigorous critical analysis of his work should the time come for such (something I know Darren openly welcomes and takes on board where valid points are made – this is one reason he’s a leader in the field).
Tim Winton / Pattern Dynamics
Tim doesn’t fly under the permaculture banner these days, but he has in the past practiced, written and thought a lot about this stuff and has expressed an interest in being part of Making Permaculture Stronger which I am very happy about. This article of Tim’s is well worth a read and includes the line (in reference to the integral approach he uses): “Now, I can see the strengths of permaculture more clearly and I am more effective at working through its weaknesses..”
Chris Smaje / Small Farm Future
Chris is a rather sharp cookie who has written a lot of thought provoking stuff to do with, among other things, widely held assumptions (dare I say holy cows) within permaculture. This review of Mark Shepard’s book Restoration Agriculture is one example that captures his vibe nicely, but the ultimate in terms of overlap with the focus of Making Permaculture Stronger has got to be this post (along with the comments) on what he calls Permaculture Design Course Syndrome. A highly recommend discussion to check out. I should mention that Chris is probably the least sympathetic to permaculture on this list. But his work is nonetheless extremely relevant to Making Permaculture Stronger.
I don’t know much about Peter Harper apart from he is a distinguished fellow at the Schumacher Institute, he coined the term “alternative technology,” he wrote this article in 2003 (PDF) which is of clear relevance, and he is a colleague of David Holmgren’s. From what I do know I like the cut of his gib though.
Rob wrote an article in 2010 entitled A Critical Review of Permaculture in the United States focusing mostly on permaculture’s general disconnection to solid research.