Permaculture is continually expanding. It is building skills, experience, knowledge, tools, strategies and design thinking. As we learn from and collaborate with nature we get smarter. And we explore systems for a truly sustainable future that allow systems to regenerate. In this interview with Richard Telford, creator of the permaculture principles icons and leading publisher, discusses the future of permaculture.
Interest Changes but our Knowledge Keeps Expanding
Interest in permaculture waxes and wanes with the need for it. During the pandemic there was a really strong need for permaculture. Then it changed. Richard explained “I think people felt Permaculture wasn’t so relevant because the system was coming back together…or it appeared so. People felt, I guess, more secure and then the demand for permaculture.. waned.”
In fact, Permaculture has pioneered many things from compost toilet systems to the powerful Transition Town movement. What will the future bring?
Our Knowhow is growing
Richard continues “the future for Permaculture is brightest when the system is shaky. But I think for people who really want to live a life that’s rewarding. hands-on, connecting with nature and the Earth, and to community then there’s a lot that permaculture has to offer. But I don’t see that the majority of people are particularly interested in that. So, for those of the of us that are on that path it’s fairly steady. And I think we’ll see big fluctuations when the need arises” says Richard.
Resources for a Better Future
But you know we’ve been creating these amazing seed banks and developing these systems for a long time I’ve been doing it for years. There’s a valuable source of information and experience that can be shared with other people when it’s needed when it’s valued.
Give it a Go!
Richard has been a Jack/Jill of all trades. “I built this house and had no idea how to build a house. It was that whole thing about wanting something to happen. And being passionate and making it happen. Even though you don’t know how to do it. And [it’s about ] finding the right people to work with. We’ve got a couple of boys that were home-schooled most of their time when they were younger. And we found the only way they really learn is when they’re interested in something. And I think it’s the same with me. When I’m interested in building a house – I’ll build a house. I restored a car (the old Kombi). I did the fibre-glassing and mechanics and upholstery. And all those things because I wanted to make it happen. And same with creating the permaculture principles website and designing the icons. Any of these things. I was really driven by seeing a need. And I wanted to make that happen.
Stepping Into the Unknown
I feel like I can do anything that I’m really passionate about now. At least give it a really red hot go. So, I really want to encourage people to have a go. The best way to do it is to find somebody local and work with them…. I’ve got a number of different mentors around town. And I ask questions! We used to talk about empowering people helping them feel that they could give it a go. And then people are starting to say ‘oh you know they really need to get an expert for this’.
I think it’s important to be good at something that you can earn a living from. Get really good at something that other people will value. And for everything else – just have a go yourself. Because if you if you don’t have to pay someone else for doing it – often you’ll do a better job. And it’s money you don’t have to earn yourself. And you come out of it with skills and experience. Often, it’s very rewarding.” [Richard Telford]
Step into your better future. Learn more with us at PermacultureVisions.
Give yourself a break over the new year. And develop some living skills to reduce costs and increase your wellbeing. These skills build a regenerative culture that is rich in social connections and well being.
10 Fundamental Permaculture Living Skills
Live with principles
Get clean energy
Cut the waste
Use resources well
Breathe cleaner air
Invest in Social justice
1. Apply Permaculture Principles
Apply Permaculture Principles to Everyday Life. Multiple functions for each element in the design is a key principle. “If I can’t get at least 3 reasons for having something, I’m not having it.” says Permaculture Elder Judith Collins. And then, integrate the elements, so that nothing sits alone in the system. Everything connects and contributes to the other things. For example, the bushes shade the paths. These paths are shaped to direct water. The water nurtures the garden. The garden attracts birds and insects. This give us joy. Then, we share joy and food with others.
This also applies to skills. These skills have many uses beyond the home. They can be applied in the workplace and for the good on your community.
2. Get Smarter Energy
Change to better energy sources such as solar systems. Saul Griffith explains how electrifying our energy network builds better future energy systems for all.
3. Cut the Waste – Stop Buying Stuff! And Grow
Judith Collins of EarthKeepers challenges us to know where our food comes. And if you really need to buy something, check out local makers and support the markets rather than so called ‘super-markets’. And farmer Gerard Lawry at EagleRiseFarm points out “There is no co-incidence that the supermarkets present their fresh foods to look like market stalls”.
4. Use Resources Well
Now that you have decided what to waste cut, look to see what other waste materials from the home can be converted. Identify and reduce your waste by conducting a home audit.
If you don’t have much space, you can use Bokashi to convert your food scraps, if you have a balcony, then you have room for a worm farm. If you have a garden, there is room for worms, compost and chickens. Grow food in wicking pots or rain gardens.
Utilise things more by saving the seed from the foods you eat. Get creative by repurposing stuff that you can no longer use. Mend, redesign your clothes. Then when they are finally no longer useful, compost them.
5. Build biodiversity
Design your life to blend with the surrounding wildlife. Build awareness of the natural world. Stop to smell the roses or Boronia. Find the unique perfumes of native plants. Create space in your domain for wildlife.
6. Cut the Chemicals – Breathe Less Toxins
Stop polluting your home. Cut out chemicals by using low toxic cleaners. You can easily make your own cleaning fluids. In fact, vinegar and sodium bicarbonate will clean nearly everything. Another permaculture principle is to start small so you can feel successful. You can do this right now, in your home. Try sprouts, food and herbs, and making your own vinegar. For outside the home, try minimal disturbance techniques to handle weeds. Get to know how nature works and work with her.
7. Save Water
Saving water is vital because clean water is a valuable resource during dry periods. Plants and animals depend on clean rain water. So do the river systems. We can contribute to the healthy rivers by building carbon in the soil, planting trees and supporting insect life. A basic start would be to create birdbaths. Next, install rain gardens. Catch and store rainwater in a tank or direct it to a pool. Something that takes a bit more research but is radical and resourceful is to install a compost toilet and an outdoor shower.
8. Get Creative and Make-Do
There are various types of waste. And this includes having too much stuff because stuff demands requires storage and maintenance. Other forms include wasted opportunities.
Simple steps to cut waste are to seal out drafts. Mend things like leaking taps or frayed clothes. Learn to use basic tools, how to sew, tie knots and make do.
Invest in a Circular economy by spending your money on products and services that are created locally. This builds social justice. Social justice is a vital part of reducing the pressures on our planet. Without social justice, we get more pollution, more harmful chemical use and more frequent environmental destruction through wars.
Be generous and kind. Fix stuff before you give it to charity. And be generous. Better still, fix things for others. Repair cafes are wonderful ways to link skilled retirees with young people in need. Better still, show a young person how to do stuff. Or help a local family that needs a hand. Have an informal meeting with neighbours and find out what your community needs and has the passion to do.
10. Start Positive, Act Now
Knowing how and where to start is a skill in itself. Stuart Hill recommends we do one thing before we go to bed that will move us closer to our goals. Starting small is one way to achieve this. He encourages us to take action by refreshing our mindset. This enables us to make bigger changes. If it requires us to lie boldly to ourselves about what we can achieve, then do it.
Richard Telford made a career in Permaculture by putting his values and ethics into his work. He works with a “just do it” passion and commitment to meet the need.
What Richard Knows
Richard knows “You can create a career for yourself in permaculture using your previous experience. Most people have some kind of Interest or career before they get into Permaculture. And then, they have some kind of crisis point where they go “what am I doing?… This doesn’t align with my values!”.
And so, rather than dropping a career, embody principles and ethics into your whole being. So that, everything you do aligns with permaculture.
Find somebody who’s practicing what you’re interested in and work with them. Gradually try and embrace it. Incrementally improve the way that you do things.
Richard’s Career Path
Richard tells his story. “Well I was working in advertising as a graphic artist in the early 90s. And I built up my skills and a career in that over a number of years. And found that the people I was working with, and things I was doing really didn’t align with my values. So, I just decided to hit the road and go exploring.
So I bought an old Kombi – a 75 VW Kombie van. And hit the road traveling around Australia with a plan to travel around for a year. I did some freelance work. As I was going, I came across permaculture. I actually saw a sign on the road that said Permaculture with an arrow on it so I followed the sign and saw another one another one and ended up at Bill Mollison’s place [in Tyalgum]. And Bill was teaching at PDC at the time I poked my head in. He gave me a grumpy old look. So, I had a look around and went on my way. I think that started my journey of interest in permaculture and I continued traveling around Australia.
Travelling and building skills
The plan was to go for a year and it ended up taking me about five before I got back. But I got involved with the Rainbow gatherings up in Cairns. And some of the protests from there. That was really amazing. Because it showed me that if you really want something to happen you’ve got a put in. And do it yourself. It was also my first real experience of intentional community.
We travelled across in a convoy after the Rainbow gathering to Darwin. And got involved in some of the protesting up there at Jabiluka. And I discovered the book ‘Introduction of Permaculture ‘ by Reny and Bill. I started to see suburbia in a completely different way and asking “why aren’t we growing food in the streets?”
In the Jabiluka protests and that was really questioning the way society exploited natural resources. And I produced a zine we called ‘Tribe’. It was the first time I’ve really using the skills to do something that I believed in. So, I continued traveling around Australia and ended up down in the southwest W.A. (Western Australia). I became involved in the protest to save Karri and Jarrah forests in the southwest.
I made a connection between the Jabiluka protest and the saving the old growth forests. I saw that it was all part of the same problem. And one thing that I really got from the protest was it was quite aggressive. Coming from the protest side it was very confronting to be telling the timber workers that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. There were lots of really full-on protests happening. Forest workers coming into the sites and bashing people and things. And I just didn’t want to get involved in that.
Action – The Tree Sit
I thought a tree sit would be a pretty safe way to to approach it. And it gave me a ‘ticket in’ to go for respite at Carter’s Road. So that was the beginning of a whole other journey at Carter’s Road Community.
I met up with Jody Lane and Chris Lee and a bunch of other amazing Margaret River forest protesters. And the house that they’d set up as a respite for Forest protesting became an unintentional community. It was a permaculture-based unintentional permaculture community. I guess it had a dozen residents or so. There were a whole bunch of other people coming through the place fairly regularly. When I arrived the core members were about to go away for a Joanna Macy retreat. They needed somebody to look after the place while they were away. So, I offered to do that for two weeks and ended up staying there for about two years!
During that time David Holmgren was traveling down the west coast. I was really curious who this other fella was. Because, I’d only heard of Bill. And so, I went out to meet and hear David speak. I offered for David, Oliver and Su to come over and see what we were doing at Carter’s Road (now called Fair Harvest). We showed them what we’d been working.
I let David know that I wanted to do work if he needed help with graphics, graphic artwork or design let me know. David told me that he was putting together a book about the principles and wanted some help to design the icons. So, that was the first permaculture project that I did – the Permaculture principal icons.
Driven by Passion
My passion is really around visual communication. And helping people get an understanding on different levels. So, you get initial sort of grasp of what something is and then you can go deeper and deeper if you so desire and that sort of aligns really well with with visual communication and the way an advertisement’s set up because, yeah, sort of grabbing someone’s attention and layering depth into that. After doing the icons I was interested in how do you present that information in a way that’s a bit more digestible to people because the the book was pretty hard going. I think for a lot of people – especially as an entry level book. It’s not really suitable.
Seeing the Need
At the time I was searching for how to find out more about permaculture and everything I found on the internet was really around people’s projects and farms and things like that it wasn’t really anything that just explained what permaculture was. So I looked at incorporating the icons and work that I did and the work that David did and the essence into a website which is the permaculture principles website.
In 2008 David Arnold was working to put together the permaculture calendar. It was all about the same kind of thing – helping people get an understanding of what the design principles were. So, we worked together on developing the calendar. And have merged the calendar in with the website over the years the principal’s website. Initially it was really just sort of a summary of the principles and ethics. I worked with David and Su’s son Oliver Holmgren on a upgrade to the site and we started to develop a store for the Holmgren Design website. I was selling books from under my bed!
When RetroSuburbia came out, that’s when the business sort of really took off. So, we started employing others. We’ve got Christine Cahusac handling all of the sales and we’ve been developing the distribution side of the business for selling primarily David’s books but also other permaculture self-published books. And I’ve also been involved working with David and Su in producing doing the artwork for RetroSuburbia – quite a number of their titles.
Earth Restorers Guide to Permaculture is the latest book – the most recent one that I was involved with. I worked with Emma O’Dell who now works with us as well. She handled the artwork but I was sort of directing that with her. So it’s managed to tie together all of my interests really particularly the RetroSuburbia project because the house that I’ve built here in Seymour – Abdallah House is one of the featured case studies in the book and lots of the things that I’ve been doing are in that book. It helps to tell my story. I’ve managed to do the artwork. And now, I’m distributing and selling. And it’s the whole box and dice in that book for me!
Trish thrives in Matakana 70 km north east of Auckland, New Zealand. She has developed a passion for the permaculture principle – Produce No Waste! With Trish’s leadership Mahurangi Wastebusters actively reduces damage to the environment. In this short video she explains how recycling reduces the environmental damage by reducing the demand for manufacturing, mining and transportation of goods. By leading the change, Trish is forging a circular economy.
Dumping Waste Worsens Climate Change
Waste is a huge contributor to climate change and reducing waste is a passion of Trish Allen. About six years ago she set up a Community Trust a non-profit organization. It is called Mahurangi Wastebusters to do waste education and provide waste sorting services at events. Because events create so much waste.
The Trust grew and became really popular. So, then when the opportunity came up to tender for two Council owned transfer stations they put a tender and got it! Now they run two community recycling centres. And they have converted them from transfer stations (where people used to dump their rubbish for landfill) into processing stations.
They now have 28 different waste streams. And a shop where we sell second-hand items. They send items for ethical processing. For example all the E-Waste goes down to a place in Auckland called Abilities which is an organization that employs about 200 people with disabilities. At Abilities, the employees ethically dismantle everything. So the components can go for proper processing. There are also projects in Waiuku in the Waikato processing plastic bags to make fence posts. This project is called Future Posts.
Mahurangi Wastebusters is also a drop-off point for plastic bags and Silage wrap which goes off to be made into a kind of a plywood. And they are a drop-off point for Tetra pack which goes off to be made into another kind of building material called Save Board.
Trish is very excited by the progress. “And now I’ve got a couple of wonderful young women working with me and one is going into Early Childhood centres to do waste audits for them. She installs worm bins, compost bins and also educates the children with stories and a little kiwi puppet. She teaches them about waste. And not making waste and not wasting things.
Also, I’ve got another young woman who’s doing well organising repair cafes. This is another kind of social permaculture that involves children and adults. It’s teaching people about waste and how not to do it, how to not just reduce waste but going back to a basic principle of permaculture – Produce no waste!
Generating a Circular Economy
“As we know the major environmental impact happens when you extract the resources out of the earth. So the longer we can keep them in in in our system in the circular economy the better!”
Trish has also organised a screening of the film ‘For the Blue’. It is a film made by young New Zealand surfers and tackles issues around plastic in our oceans. And what we can do about it. The film will be screened at the Matakana Cinema on 5 April and 6pm. Then viewers are invited to actively participate in teams with real-life solutions. These activites include:
– join a town clean up in Wellsford
– join a beach cleanup at Goat Island
– pledge to only use a reusable coffee cup for a month ( no single use cups)
– pledge to only use a reusable water bottle for a month (no plastic bottles)
And Trish is co-teaching in New Zealand a 2 week PDC in April 2023.
Thank you for being part of a better future for all.