Geoff Lawton ‘s bulletin oct 2016


Hi, this is Geoff.

We’re down in Aqaba this weekend, enjoying the first rain of the year. The mud slides and municipality facilities that seem completely unprepared for the rain? Not enjoying that nearly as much…

This Friday Five is going to be organized in a slightly different manner, as several of the « links » provided all connect back to one single topic (« Sustainability ») that is itself impossible to cover in a short Friday Five. So I’ll label each of the 5 points more obviously (« here’s link #1 ») to help navigate the narrative below.

One of the most common set of questions I get asked are about non-conventional farming systems that are starting to enjoy a bit more mainstream attention. The questions are asked in different ways, but usually have at their core a curiosity about how these other approaches « fit » with permaculture. And my answer is almost always the same, namely:

« Any efforts that move us away from conventional, monocrop agriculture and away from large agri-business, is a step forward. At the same time, not all alternative systems are equally good simply because they are « alternative. » In fact, the vast majority of these alternative systems, whether organic farming, biodynamic agriculture, aquaponics, agroforestry, keyline farming, hydroponics, vertical farming, soil food web or urban agriculture — all of them may lead to short term gains, but nearly all invariably lead to long-term loss when looking at it from the prism of sustainability. »

So link #1 is a 14-minute audio-only recording I prepared that expands and elaborates on the above.

I have been a farmer all my life, and this direct, almost daily exposure and activity has given me a chance to understand at a conceptual, academic, and intuitive level the pros and cons of various alternative systems and approaches.

And the bottom line is that there is nothing that even comes close to being able to do what permaculture does vis a vis sustainability.

It is simply second to none.

I say this because students will often have an « aha » moment that leads them to move away from deadly conventional agriculture; and this enthusiasm sometimes leads them to want to learn about and implement multiple systems all at once.

But my suggestion is typically the same: Just learn permaculture thoroughly and deeply. Master it. Once you do that, you will have a solid, rock-bed foundation to build on, and the role and place of all of the other « isms » and « onics » will be blazingly clear. The possibilities that open up once a permaculture framework is in place are varied and rich, as can be seen in this overview from the Permaculture Apprentice (link # 2) about making a living from a permaculture farm.

To close this particular thread, a useful analogy can be borrowed from an exchange that Bill Mollison and I had about permaculture being a « wardrobe, » (link #3). Be sure to study the fantastic drawing by one of my students, John Kitsteiner, then read the snippet below it, and then have a look at the comments that follow to fully appreciate how Bill envisioned permaculture as encompassing these other systems, with a few caveats.

Finally, I want to close off the Friday Five with our usual, « Oldies but goodies, » roundup of articles from our sister site, the non-profit Permaculture Research Institute. First is a compelling piece by Matt Prosser about turning a piece of land into a thriving project. This, along with the article above from Permaculture Apprentice, can be read in tandem. The second is an intriguing piece about « human permaculture. » And the final piece is a do-it-yourself project on making solar water bottle bulbs. Great walk through by Alfredo Moser.

That’s it for the Friday Five. Did you enjoy this more « thematic » approach for the first 3 links, or do you prefer the 5 distinct bullet-points and shorter paragraphs? I would love to hear from you, so let me know in the comments section here.

Many of you are hitting « reply » and sharing your thoughts by email. I am deeply appreciative of that. But so many of these comments are insightful and deserve to be shared with the rest of our community. So, I ask and would strongly prefer that unless the comment is personal, rather than emailing me back, please feel free to share your point of view, agree or disagree with what I’ve written — do so not through email but rather in the comments section here.

Thanks in advance.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Anyone can sign up for the next batch.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Your friend,



PS: Oops, those were 4 links – here’s the 5th, just for fun, and in particular for those of you in the northern hemisphere who will soon be entering winter: Curious about what a « rocket stove » looks like? Here’s one we just put the finishing touches on. If you want more levels info on these « rocket heaters, » here is a great overview article by Destiny Hagest, as well as some richly-detailed instructional videos for purchase by Paul Wheaton.

Stay warm!

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