Twilight Permaculture – Retiring Not Downhill

Happy 40th Birthday Permaculture

40 years ago the first permaculture book was published.  The design concepts by Mollison and Holmgren first appeared with Permaculture One. This humble beginning grew to influence many grass roots practices. Now is a good time to glean some of the wisdom from our elders.

Glint in Wizened Eye

Self reliant eldersPermaculture is bubbling with inspired individuals who prefer to spend time refining their little inventions rather than go out to protest in mass rallies. These folk are essentially optimistic, they enjoy developing alternatives. What unites permaculture designers is their ability to design and their pioneering spirit. Permaculture design is a patient art. And the rewards include surprising insights and meaningful connections.

Been There, Done That

Occasionally there’s a chance to see elders proudly demonstrate their unique contributions.  For 40 years these unique individuals have been passionately building the permaculture test-models.

Yes, there is bound to be a pile of flops and discards, but there are many gems of great work.  Their fledgling design projects integrating solar energy, rocket-stoves, rain-gardens, composting toilets, worm-farms, rain-water tanks, mulch and yoghurt or Kombucha have become household realities.

Judith Collins of EarthKeepers, Companion Planting Author
Judith Collins of EarthKeepers, Companion Plants Author

After 40 years some of these glorious pioneers may have slowed down. Some, such as the eternal optimist, Bill Mollison has returned to mother nature. The younger, David Holmgren has now matured into co-operative living.
Holmgren and his partner, Sue, have cleverly downsized the personal space and expanded their options by sharing the rewards and ongoing physical work of their productive home site.

Some of the permaculture-designed pioneering communities, like Malaney, have now installed their own graveyards.

The beauty of permaculture design lies in its ability to adapt and respond to change. How do these elders adapt in their twilight years?


We can all list the things that we want to retire FROM, but did you know it is vital for our physical and mental health to know what we are retiring TO?

Permaculture, even in our twilight years, offers decades enriched with meaningful employment.  “Permaculture gives us a toolkit for moving from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance” Toby Hemenway

Passing on know how

Janet Millington defined her twilight period as her personal energy descent period. She pioneered wicking beds with integrated worm-farms to intensify food production and waste management close to the kitchen door without any back strain. She and Carolyn Nuttall built a rich legacy of school permaculture programs.

Environmentalist and longtime host of CBC’s The Nature of Things David Suzuki, at the age of 79, writes that “‘it’s time to admit you’re an elder and start getting on with doing what elders should be doing, which is speaking out’”.  David Suzuki talks about living in his twilight years. In fact, every elder in our community has a wealth of experience directly relevant to our community and our unique bio-region.

Take Stock

Permaculture designers around the planet are busy.  They are the type of people who would rather do stuff rather than talk about it. For them, there isn’t a lot of time to talk about it because they feel a strong sense of urgency to get on and build a better culture. They want to show it can be done.

But herein lies the challenge. In order to demonstrate a happy alternative to consumerism, we all need to talk about it. At least, sometimes.

If you are one of the lucky ones who can join us at a Permaculture Convergences enjoy the rare chance to sit and listen. Grab and elder and quiz them about their failures.  Invest time to travel about to see what the pioneers have put into practice and how they have designed their twilight lifestyle.

Soon we are leading a grand Permaculture Tour. Come and join us in this one-off  opportunity.