Book Notes: Introduction to Permaculture :: Chapter Eight

Finishing my notes on the book Introduction to Permaculture (1991/2009) by Bill Mollison, here is the last chapter, Chapter Eight: Urban & Community Strategies.  (Intro and Chapter One) I am relying mainly on my sketchy notes here, without a book in hand to check quotes, accuracy, etc. (there is a version of the book online, with lots of illustrations by Reny Mia Slay). Any misrepresentations of Mollison’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Urban & Community Strategies

“Before 1900 every city contained farms and orchards within the city. Although there are still such pockets of productivity left in the developing world, the modern need for more commercial buildings, industry, and living space has effectively pushed food-growing beyond the outskirts and into the distant countryside. Cities have become totally unable to provide for themselves in terms of food and energy, and now consume far more than they can produce.”

Permaculture aims to bring food production back to urban areas.

8.1. Growing Food in the City

All cities have unused open land, vacant lots, industrial areas, roofs, balconies, corners, lawns, parks, etc., where edible fruits, berries, nuts, and herbs could be grown. Urban woodlots – aesthetically-pleasing and also “filter pollutants from the air, produce oxygen, add to city fuel sources, and act as a wildlife habitat or birds and small animals.”

8.2 Planned Suburban Areas (Village Homes, in Davis, CA)

Residential areas and developments can be planned for food production and energy self-reliance.
Village Homes in Davis, CA:
Solar orientation: Every house faces the sun and incorporates passive or active solar space and water heating designs.
Water drainage: All water run-off is led to swales, which provide a natural drainage system to replenish groundwater supplies. Trees and shrubs are planted beside swales to take advantage of moist soils.
Greenbelts and common areas: The space saved through the use of small front yards (fenced for privacy) and narrow streets is given over to community-owned greenbelts for orchards, mini-parks, bike paths and common areas.
Shared resources and food production: The community lands contain not only a meeting centre, playing fields, and swimming pool, but extensive areas for community gardens, grape orchards, and strip plantings of nuts and fruit trees. In 1989, 60% of the residents’ total food requirements was produced on site.

Shade trees are required by law in Davis for parking lots.

8.3 Community Recycling

Incentive to reduce waste and to recycle: In Devonport, in Auckland, NZ, e.g., recycling is free while trash bags cost $7 per bag. The town also “promotes the use of home composting to handle small units of domestic waste. It prepares publicity materials and homemade composting bins, and sells four types of bins at cost to residents. This means individual gardens receive the benefit, rather than concentrating the compost at the tip site. For tree prunings and other compostable material, a large-scale composting operation is mounted at the depot. The material is chopped and shredded, and some animal manure is added to activate the heap.” When the compost is finished, it’s sold to the residents.

8.4 Community Land Access

Community gardens, co-ops, gleaning systems to redistribute unwanted food, farm clubs — which sounds similar to a CSA but not the same: “Garden or Farm Clubs suit families with some capital to invest as shares, with an annual membership. A farm is purchased by the club near the urban area (within 1-2 driving hours). The property is designed to serve the interests of members, whether for garden, main crop, fuelwood, fishing, recreation, camping, commercial growing, or all of these. People either lease small areas or appoint a manager.”

City farms: “The essentials of a successful city farm are that it lies in an area of real need (poor neighbourhoods), that it has a large local membership, and that it offers a wide range of social services to the area.”

Functions of city farms can include: Community garden allotments; demonstration gardens; domestic animals (rabbits, pigeons, poultry, sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses) or demonstration and breeding stock; a recycling centre for equipment and used building materials; a plant nursery of multi-functional plants; seminars and demonstrations, training programs, educational outreach to develop community skills; retail sales of seeds, books, plants; technical teams to provide home energy investigation and fitting of homes with weather-stripping or doors and windows; an information centre on food preparation, insect control, nutrition, home energy topics, etc.

8.5 Community Economics

Local employment trading system (green dollars); revolving loan funds.

8.6 Ethical Investment

Need to direct money to positive, life-enhancing projects, not armaments, biocides, environmental harms. Not just take money away from detrimental things but use it to fund beneficial things: conservation, reforestation, clean transportation, clean energy, co-ops, production of useful and durable products.

Examples of investment, funding, and trading tools include guarantee circles, ethical credit unions, ethical brokerages, community loans trusts, common fund agencies for bioregions, and non-formal systems of labour and workday exchanges, barter systems, direct market systems, and no-interest ‘green dollar’ systems.

8.7. The Permaculture Community

In Mollison’s opinion, there is no other solution to the problems facing humankind than the formation of small responsible communities involved in permaculture and appropriate technologies. Retribalisation of society is inevitable as centralised power diminishes.

Mollison writes: “I believe we must change our philosophy before anything else changes. Change the philosophy of competition (which now pervades our educational system) to that of cooperation in free associations, change our material insecurity for a secure humanity, change the individual for the tribe, petrol for calories, and money for products. But the greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter. … . It sometimes seems that we are caught, all of us on earth, in a conscious or unconscious conspiracy to keep ourselves helpless. And yet it is people who produce all the needs of other people, and together we can survive. We ourselves can cure all the famine, all the injustice, and all the stupidity of the world. We can do it by understanding the way natural systems work, by careful forestry and gardening, by contemplation and by taking care of the earth.”

Further: “Beware the monoculturalist, in religion, health, farm or factory. He is driven mad by boredom, and can create war and try to assert power, because he is in fact powerless. To become a complete person, we must travel many paths, and to truly own anything we must first of all give it away. This is not a riddle. Only those who share their multiple and varied skills, true friendships, and a sense of community and knowledge of the earth know they are safe wherever they go.”

That’s the end of the book, except for the handy Appendix A: List of Some Useful Permaculture Plants, with 14 pp. of plants listed from A-Z and information about each.


Appendix B is Species Lists in Useful Categories (categories like edible flowers for salads, pest control plants, species for very dry sites). Appendix C is Common and Latin Plant Names. Appendix D is 2-page glossary.

I’ll be providing my notes for other permaculture books soon.

(* Featured photo is Beach Plum Farm community garden in Ogunquit, Maine, in mid-June 2015.)

One comment

Leave a Reply