I learned a few days ago of the passing of Bill Mollison. While few people outside of the organic and sustainable farming community have ever heard of him, his legacy has already spread to every continent and will continue to grow in the years and the decades ahead. There’s a good chance that the farmer whose organic produce you are eating has studied and implemented many of the permaculture principles that Mollison developed back in the 1970s along with David Holmgren.* The theories on gardening and farming which tried to mimic nature instead of subduing it would later be put into print in such books as ‘Permaculture One’ and ‘The Permaculture Designer’s Manual.’
I had already developed an interest in organic gardening and farming back in 1996 when I first came across the term ‘permaculture.’ I learned that there were a group of visionaries who were ‘going beyond’ organics and attempting to develop whole systems of sustainable living which including not only food production but also sustainable housing, energy production, village design and social dynamics. This small but growing nucleus of visionaries were putting Mollison’s principles into practice in various rural communities and small homesteads, refining and adapting them to fit into different regions, climates, and micro-climates. Mollison’s core group of students from the late 1970s and 1980s soon became teachers themselves and ,through hundreds of permaculture designer training courses, spread the knowledge of the techniques and theories far and wide. Today, you can find farmers and gardeners practicing permaculture in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and North America.
I never got the chance to meet Mollison in person though I did have the opportunity to study with some of his students including Peter Bane, Chuck Marsh, and the Bullock brothers in Washington state. Mollison was rumored to be irascible, rude-tempered, impatient, and provocative. Some found his personality and temperament to be offensive and there was, for a time, a split within the permaculture community over the ‘cult’ of Mollison. However, this drama eventually subsided as Mollison retired from teaching and the movement developed organically, without leaders and gurus.
Permaculture has evolved in leaps and bounds since its introduction almost 40 years ago. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, more books have been written on the subject since ‘Permaculture One’ was published in 1978. Dozens of websites connect practitioners from all over the world who now exchange information, techniques, and knowledge. No matter where you live, there’s a good chance you can find someone offering a course in the core principles. Three-day introductory courses to two-week or even one-month designer courses are regularly offered in most regions of the U.S., Australia, and Canada.
For those who have no knowledge of experience in permaculture and want to get a quick introduction without leaving home or reading a book, two excellent documentaries are available to watch for free on youtube: ‘In Grave Danger of Falling Food’ and ‘The Global Gardener.’