Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter One

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter One: Garden Farming in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter will be linked here.

Self-reliance vs. self-sufficiency: Self-reliance is taking responsibility for household needs as part of a resilient local economy, including trade and barter; self-sufficiency is not needing external resources. Self-reliance is an aim of the permaculture design system; it increases resilience, the ability to withstand shocks and get through them. The journey toward self-reliance involves continually “replacing things we consume with things we produce” and “eliminating consumption of needless items altogether.”

He gives examples from his own household: “Our southern Indiana household is unlikely any time soon to grow tea or lemons, or to forge our own wrenches or strike our own nails. We haven’t turned off the water from the public system, but we use very little of it and should the need arise, we could supply our own for many months (or indefinitely) from roofwater caught and stored in tanks.”

olives growing in Longwood Gardens’ conservatory (July 2017) – Olives are a food item I can’t grow here in NH without a lot of energy input, but I love them, so I will keep buying them.

He calls the US Dept. of Agriculture “an august but deeply corrupt agency.”

Regenerative agriculture – the kind that doesn’t collapse under its own weight of soil exhaustion, irrigation salt, erosion, climate damage due to overpopulation and over-cutting of trees. We need to see regenerative agriculture “not as a fringe or retrograde activity … but as a heroic and undersung achievement in the face of overwhelming institutional neglect, cultural dissipation, economic monopolies and dire ecological challenges from chemical, nuclear, and genetic pollution, climate change, and an eroding resource base in the land and in society.”

He speaks of industrial agriculture, multinational conglomerated food processing industries, and the pharmaceuticals industry as having “roots [that] run through the death camps of Nazi Germany and the laboratories of the nuclear and munitions complex of war and empire, eventually consolidated into a global oligarchy enclosing food, medicines, and seeds, and vernacularly called ‘Big Pharm,'” from which have come patent-protected seeds and “genetic manipulation of plants and animals to increase their control over the world’s food supply.” (That statement is linked by footnote to Dan Morgan’s Merchants of Grain: The Power and Profits of the Five Giant Companies at the Center of the World’s Food Supply, 1979)

In a section of the chapter called “Another Way,” Bane talks about seed-saving groups and networks, the 1970s “explosion of small-scale experiments in organic gardening,” Mother Earth News (formative for me in my 20s and 30s), Harrowsmith Magazine, poet and farmer Wendell Berry as “a prophet of this new movement with the publication of his 1976 book, The Unsettling of America …, a call for a renewal of the agrarian roots of the country,” and the establishment of subscription-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in 1981.  (And lots more — the book is very dense and the writing oftentimes blunt.)

my winter CSA haul a week ago

Bane predicts a collapse of the “juggernaut of industrial agriculture and Big Pharm,” perhaps suddenly, and notes that “they have grown fat on an empire of oil, that their fortunes are tied to it, and that the empire is now well into its final decades of decline.”

A system that imposes one solution on everything and everyone is death.

New Science of Holism: i.e., thinking about wholes and their relationship to other wholes – each element as its own integrity, and if alive it’s self-regulating, and it also relates to the other elements in the system. Ecological thinking — studying how living communities relate within and without — is the fundamental tool for regenerative farming and underpins permaculture design. Organised complexities – lots of variables that affect all the others. Gives example of killing a garden “pest” with a chemical spray and how that action has consequences far beyond it because of relationships among elements in the system.

The last section of the chapter is headed Permaculture Envisions a New Commons and describes Bill Mollison and David Holmgren’s permaculture vision from the start.


Featured image is one garden — with berries and veggies — at permaculture practitioner Lauren Chase Rowell’s Dalton Pasture farm in Nottingham, NH, taken by me in July 2014.


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