What Permaculture got Wrong — Dispelling Five Common Myths
Many people who are new to small-scale organic farming come in with a lot of expectations and assumptions on how things are going to be. The romantic idea of living off the land and farming within a sustainable community has lured them closer to taking action and getting something going, whether it be a small farm, an off-grid homestead or perhaps just an ambitious garden. A lot of these folks have been inspired by the Permaculture movement, read the books of Bill Mollison, watched YouTube videos with Geoff Lawton and dreamed up enough ideas about herb spirals and forest gardens to make your head spin. I was exactly one of those people when I started my farm, I was inspired by Mollison and Lawton immensely and the idea of a self-sustaining farm was my dream and I was going to make it a reality, no matter the cost. It didn’t all pan out that way, because even in my first year of farming, I got smacked in the face with a hard dose of reality and many of the promises of Permaculture simply didn’t work at all or were so impractical that they were nearly impossible to implement on a commercial scale, even on a small farm like mine (.25 acres). I have identified five slogans that are tirelessly repeated in the permaculture space that I would like to dispel. They are so often repeated without question that I feel they have become cult-like and dogmatic. Many people take these slogans at face value and I see a lot of farmers and homesteaders burning out as a result because they were promised something that didn’t deliver. It’s great to showcase successful models and inspire people to start farming themselves, but I think it’s just as important to properly set up expectations and always explain things from a contextual framework, which is something many permaculture instructors don’t do. Having said that, there are many that do as well, so I’m in no way going after individual permaculture teachers, I’m going after five of the ideas that I see as falsehoods.
I’d like to start with some definitions of terms that are going to be helpful to understand if this article is going to be effective.