Toby's new Food Forests video is now on sale! Check out a full video course description for "Food Forest Design & Care for Cities and Suburbs" at OrganicLifeGuru.com.

Upcoming Events

  • 6-weekend Permaculture Design Course in Seattle, WA, May – October, 2015. Contact Sharon Siehl for details
  • Public Lecture in Boston on February 5, 2015. More info soon.
  • Lecture in Boston at New England Grows Conference on February 6, 2015. Visit New England Grows Website to register.
  • Urban Permaculture Workshop at Boston Nature Center, February 7-8, 2015. More info soon.
  • Lecture at Permaculture Voice Conference, San Diego, March 4-8, 2015. Visit their website for more information about this great conference.
  • Lecture at the Cascadia Cypherpunk Convergence, Portland OR. More info soon.

New Post: Zone 00 – Right Intention, Wrong Term

One of my pet projects is to clean up the ambiguities and logical inconsistencies that weaken permaculture terminology. Today I take aim at the term Zone 00, used to mean either the designer or user of a permaculture design, or their inner state. It’s a concept spawned by good intentions, but calling it a zone is logically inconsistent, redundant, and worst of all, has no design use. The designer’s mind is a crucial influence, but it’s not a zone. If it’s an influence on a design, that makes it a sector, right? (If you just slapped your forehead and said “Doh!” then you need read no further.) So let’s stop using the term zone 00. (read more)

Peak Prosperity Podcast

Peak Prosperity, a very savvy group with a solutions-oriented approach to the suite of problems our culture is facing, has posted a podcast interview with me. It’s an overview of permaculture, with some big-picture remarks about landscape design, but it also covers how permaculture is being extended to apply to economics and social systems as well. The Peak Prosperity site is worth checking out on its own merit, too.

Designing a Food Forest Video Course

Check out our professional-quality video, with handouts, of an all-day workshop on food-forest design. Forest garden basics, design methods, soil building, guild design, how to select plants, principles of food forest design, it’s all here. The course and a full description is available for previewing and purchase by clicking here, and two free videos from the course are also available: a preview of the course, and a video covering a portion of permaculture guild design.

Eco-Landscaper Training Immersion Program

(Only 3 spaces left!) I’m excited to announce the opening of our 9-month program for people wanting professional training in ecological landscaping and permaculture. This is an in-depth and hands-on training for people who want to make this work a career, whether as a business owner or manager, or staff at a farm, ranch, orchard, or vineyard. Sponsored by the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, California, this is a multi-certification program designed to train more professionals that can heal the planet and build ecological human infrastructure. This program is designed to move people quickly up the learning curve for ecological design and business management. For more information, click here.

Trojan Horses, Recipes, and Permaculture

The Transition movement seemed to catch fire right from the beginning, and I confess that its success made me, as a permaculturist, a bit envious. Here was a program for converting to a post-oil society, created by a permaculture teacher using permaculture principles, and it seemed to be becoming better known and more highly regarded than permaculture itself. Over a thousand towns have adopted Transition plans, national Transition organizations have sprung up in dozens of countries, and the Transition Handbook offers a clear implementation plan for energy descent, while permaculture lacks formal national and even regional centers in most places, and is a word that not only few people have heard, but one that many practitioners can barely define well enough for others to grasp. What was it that made Transition so comprehensible, exciting, and respectable, while permaculture seemed diffuse, slow-growing, and smelling a bit of patchouli oil? (read more)

Video: Redesigning Civilization

The sequel to “How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Planet, But not Civilization.” The fear-based roots of civilization, the rise of elites, and how permaculture can get us back on track. Click here to view.

The Last Nomads and the Culture of Fear

(This is the companion article to the “Redesigning Civilization” video) My wife and I went semi-nomadic in 2010, traveling the mountain West for almost two years. Not having a settled home was eye-opening, and taught me a lot about one of my perennial themes: how much humans lost when we became domesticated by agriculture. For a committed permaculturist to give up a home and yard seems almost hypocritical, since a core tenet of permaculture is to deeply know a place and community. But our nomadic yen was strong. (read more)

What Permaculture Isn’t—and Is

Permaculture is notoriously hard to define. A recent survey shows that people simultaneously believe it is a design approach, a philosophy, a movement, and a set of practices. This broad and contradiction-laden brush doesn’t just make permaculture hard to describe. It can be off-putting, too. Let’s say you first encounter permaculture as a potent method of food production and are just starting to grasp that it is more than that, when someone tells you that it also includes goddess spirituality, and anti-GMO activism, and barefoot living. What would you make of that? And how many people think they’ve finally got the politics of permaculturists all figured out, and assume that we would logically also be vegetarians, only to find militant meat-eaters in the ranks? What kind of philosophy could possibly umbrella all those divergent views? Or is it a philosophy at all? I’m going to argue here that the most accurate and least muddled way to think of permaculture is as a design approach, and that we are often misdirected by the fact that it fits into a larger philosophy and movement which it supports. But it is not that philosophy or movement. It is a design approach for realizing a new paradigm. (read more)

Saving Native Wildlife with “Invasive” Plants

There’s been a lively discussion on permaculturists’ occasional planting of introduced species known to naturalize (or, in loaded terms, invasive species) at this blog. Some there have disputed that exotics can play critical roles in habitat, and I posted the words below there to show that removal of exotics can be very damaging to native wildlife:

Here are hard data on introduced plants that have rapidly formed partnerships with native insects, from a paper, “Exotics as Host Plants of the California Butterfly Fauna,” by Sherri Graves and Arthur Shapiro, in Biological Conservation (2003) 110:413-433. It was sent to me by Mary McAllister, a SF blogger (http://milliontrees.me) concerned about wholesale removal of healthy exotic trees from large swaths of rural SF-area parks. Other ecologists questioning the wisdom of natives-only policies are Mark Davis, Dov Sax, Erle Ellis, Matt Chew, and Peter Del Tredici, if you want to find papers by them. There is, indeed, widespread criticism of invasion biology by biologists. (read more)

Redistributing Wealth—Upwards

Whenever I feel like raising my blood pressure a few points, I take a look at The Wall Street Journal editorial page. And the June 2-3, 2012 issue didn’t disappoint me. In an article called “Robin Hoods Don’t Smash Windows,” John Agresto, the former president of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, makes the familiar arguments against the redistribution of wealth: Anyone who wants it believes “that others must give when they demand, that others are means, not ends.” He says that implementing wealth redistribution usually requires force and violence. And he’s right about all of this, just not in the way he means. Read more  . . .

Fear and the Three-Day Food Supply

One of the scary factoids in circulation these days is the revelation that grocery stores hold only a three- or four-day supply of food. People wield this statistic to argue that our food system is appallingly insecure and in grave danger of failure. We’re only a few days from starvation, goes the frightening story, and we’re liable one day to find our supermarket shelves empty and the populace in panic. To accept this forecast uncritically, though, means ignoring how complex systems work. Read more . . .

About this website:

Much of what you’ll find here falls into a few major categories: general resources on permaculture and ecological design, information on my courses and upcoming events, and my musings and articles on several themes. One of those themes is how agriculture has shaped human culture into an unsustainable form that permaculture can improve. I also am on a campaign to find the opportunities in energy descent and Peak Oil, ideas that at first encounter can be terrifying and often send people into a doomer spiral. There are many ways to respond to crisis that fall between “don’t worry, be happy” and “we’re all gonna die,” and permaculture provides useful tools for exploring that large middle arena. Thoughts on other topics are in blog form or in the articles linked to the right.

Writing, teaching, and working on our marvelous place in Sonoma County are my current obsessions. If you’d like to sponsor one of my workshops or courses, have me speak at your event, or reprint some of my writing, go to my contact page and someone will get back to you ASAP.