Rosemary Morrow Reflecting on Four Decades of International Permaculture Work (e52)

Such a deep honour to have my dear friend and very first ever podcast guest Rosemary (‘Rowe’) Morrow from the Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute back on the show (after being my very first ever guest!) sharing her permaculture journey over four decades this week.

Some of the topics you’ll hear in this truly wonderful chat are Rowe’s:

  • new in-progress book
  • thoughts on the adequacies and inadequacies of permaculture
  • issue with most permaculture being taught to middle class westerners
  • work in refugee camps and other largely invisible margins which are rapidly growing
  • thoughts on designing yourself into your place vs designing yourself out of overseas places you work
  • chapter on a permaculture approach to the oceans
  • thoughts on decolonisation and re-indigenising
  • thoughts on the essence of permaculture

Please note after our chat Rowe asked if I would please share this link about supporting a permaculture project addressing the Humanitarian Crisis after the burning of the Moria Camp on the island of Lesbos.

Rowe also mentioned Milkwood’s Permaculture Living Skills course which you can check out here.

Photo from a project in Lesvos Rowe was part of


  1. Dear Dan Palmer, I must say I am very grateful about the amount of work and information you have compiled over this whole enterprise. I just found about permaculture last summer and began a deep dive. Right now I don’t have the vocabulary to articulate my feelings or insights about these matters but I will do my best.

    I found deeply enriching David Holmgren notion of reading landscape. As Carol Sanford hinted, it is an ability one develops and unique to an individual. Yet it was inspiring and even began to explore my own city to see what is going on. I listened to both chapters of his interview, but I couldn’t make up my mind, I will try to take some notes, if only to find points of resonance and engage in a discussion later next year. The Regenerative Life approach has also been deeply enriching on engaging my life decisions. Mark Savory interview is also excellent. And I find your departure from metaphors intriguing.

    I studied oceanography in college, I like the geological side of it, particularely interested on this notion of geodiversity, I was studying fossils before deciding I didn’t like academia enough to stick with it. On the topic of marine permaculture, I found out most of these projects are big scale kelp farms, I wondered what Rose thought of these “big scale” approaches.

    I am based in Baja California, sea otter populations were decimated two centuries ago, but rumour says that they are slowly returning, their populations are recovering. I wonder about this idea one friend of mine propossed to me, the idea of reef-culture, you see everytime a wave hits and washes over the sand, a small ecosystem is born, as the practice of flooding a farm and letting nature do her magic. It is a multiculture approach rather than a monoculture. Which the kelp forests farms seem to me looked from a distance, it might ignore the complex nature, the web of relationships below the sea surface. Perhaps a nodal intervention might help.

    There is also the Gulf of California, which is controversial, as it involves the interests of a lot of parties (both from the US and Mexico), it is a complex issue, and people seem to blame one side or the other. Even National Geographic is involved. There is overfishing, there is a rise in private properties over the coast, minery residues, the arresting of the flux of fresh water and sediment coming north from the Colorado River. The situation is dire, but I will try to find some potential between these tensions.

    It has been a complex year, but thank you for making it better, hope you stay well along with your family. Happy new year!

  2. I am beginning my journey into permaculture, and this conversation sparked a wave of curiosity within me that resulted in pages of incoherent written notes as I tried to process all the strands of information, impactful quotes, and perspectives Rowe offered. As a young person just getting into this work, I am overwhelmed by the potential of permaculture to fuel meaningful, community-based social, cultural, and ecological change. I really appreciated hearing her criticisms of how permaculture has somewhat situated itself within a limited-sphere. I was very conscious in my academic settings that the students interested in permaculture, along with the professors that referenced permaculture in global sustainable development or environmental sustainability courses, all seemed to be middle-class and white ‘granola’ types. While I myself identify with this group…. I really responded to her dedication to bring permaculture where it desperately NEEDS to be. I am at a crossroads of trying to pinpoint where I would like to focus my attention as I forge my own career and try to figure out the big questions: what do I truly value and what do I want to contribute to the world around me. It is so exciting and impactful (many aha moments) to hear Rowe discuss the intersection of human rights issues, community-oriented and empowered development, and regenerative ecological practices in her own work. Rowe’s work is motivating, encouraging, and inspiring. This episode is something I can reference when (if ever) I need to reassurance that this is the field I want to grow from and devote my life and studies to. I just finished undergrad- having based my concentration on the intersection between rethinking global development and the potential of regenerative agriculture- and this episode resonated with me in ways I am currently unable to articulate. I know I am hopping on the Rowe-fan bandwagon, but I am so lucky to have come across her. With permaculture, I am seemingly at a precipice of information that will alter my professional, philosophical, and spiritual life in its entirety. I am grateful to be beginning my understanding of what permaculture is and the potential it has from people like you and Rowe. What an incredible hero to champion! Thank you for the meaningful questions you asked and for sharing this powerful conversation on your podcast!

    1. So glad you got so much out of it Julia. You’ll be happy to hear I’m recording a follow-up interview with Rowe this coming week – if anyone has any questions they’d like to ask me on top of Jason’s one about if PC has “lost the plot” then what is the plot so far as Rowe is concerned? Best of luck in exploring the big questions and I was happy to read your mention of the overwhelming potential of permaculture (which this project is all about exploring and hopefully helping develop).

  3. Dan, curious if you asked Rowe what she thinks the “plot” is for permaculture? Her line of “we’ve lost the plot” has been a recurring thought. Just curious what Rowe’s version of the “originating impulse” is.

  4. Thanks Dan, an empassioned episode! I really felt like Rowe was speaking her truth, especially powerfully in the first section of the conversation; it was wonderful to hear such a gentle educator and force for good speak out with such raw frustration.

    Listening to this, I strongly feel pulled in lots of directions out of a compulsion to do more good in the world, which I’m trying to stay sensitive to and consciously remind myself of where I am now and why I am where I am. From returning to my Arabic degree to working with homeless and refugee shelters, heaps of ideas come flooding to mind of ‘things’ to do…lots of checking in needed with my context, and investigating the difference between what is and what could have been…

    Like Meg, I too have huge gratitude to Rowe. I first heard about her at the IPC in London, 2015. She gave the closing plenary at the conference and, to be honest, I was feeling a bit ‘meh’ after two days of keynote speakers who I felt were either a bit out of touch with reality or just telling a converted audience the same old, same old. Rowe stepped on stage and brought a huge energy and light into the room, and her one simple statement – ‘Anyone, anywhere, who knows anything about permaculture should be sharing it with the world!’ – compelled me to start planning my first education project the second I got home (it’s still running to this day, even though I stepped away some years ago). Her speech completely turned around my view of permaculture at a pretty critical juncture on my path!!

    Thanks for a great listen, and I’m glad the mythical David Holmgren mini-series will be appearing in my headphones in the not too distant future at long last!!!

  5. Thank you SO much Dan.
    How I love her.
    Rowe introduced me to permaculture in my 20’s but I didn’t get to meet her until my 50’s and she continues to be my guiding light.
    Inspired by her example we developed our teaching model so that those without income could access it.
    We have also now connected with two permaculture teachers in Uganda and Kenya that are local and teaching on the ground. I think providing them with direct support is consistent with the principle of putting energy to its highest use. It is so much more efficient for us to provide these wonderful people with support than to travel there and to attempt to teach them permaculture without the local knowledge or connections. This goes beyond financial support and includes sharing teaching ideas and resources. Both speak excellent English but also speak other languages and dialect. Another efficiency because no translators are needed.
    What really strikes me is how both of them have adapted the permaculture design model to their own circumstances, and that resonated with your comments about people designing themselves into places rather than out of them.
    It was Rowe that inspired all of this with her call to all of us to support people that aren’t ‘wealthy middle class’ and who most needed permaculture.
    Here’s one of them
    I appreciate that there are millions of people that do not have access to an English-speaking local with access to the internet, but there are many that do, and that for those of us can’t travel to these places or choose not to there is still much we can do.
    If each of us in the wealthy parts of the world connect with one or two fellow permaculture practitioners in these parts of the world, just imagine….

  6. This is an amazing conversation, Dan. Thanks for bringing Rowe on. She remains a true inspiration through and through. Most of the subjects that came up are what has been on my mind for years and still consumes my mind. “We’ve lost the plot!” I enjoy her take on the value that permaculture still has too. The wisdom shared in the last 5 minutes of this recording are most important for all of us to be contemplating, designing, and building.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *