There has been a lot of discussion recently (in January 2002 that is) over the merits of permaculture and how to measure its success. Conventional measures such as yields don't really capture the benefits of permaculture so instead we gathered some messages about some really good examples of permaculture obtained from a discussion on the subject on the permaculture mailing list at ibiblio.org.Below you'll find some of the contributions made in the course of the discussion.
"One of the best examples I've seen is a wetland system designed to treat the waste from a Cider farm in Herefordshire, England. Its a four acre plot, consisting of lots of ponds and swales and planted with 200 species and varieties of willows, reeds and other plants. You can see its working as some very mucky waste is going in one end and at the other end clean water is coming out the other end. Its also producing a lot of willows for all the thing willows are good for. It was put together by Jay and Claire at Biologic design."
Steve Bonney writes:
"There are many, many examples of farm features that embrace the principles of permaculture. Even in Indiana, we have good examples: constructed wetlands cleaning wastewater from a milkhouse, alleycropping of agronomic crops between rows of black walnut trees, managed intensive grazing systems that maintain a permanent crop cover on the soil and increase water infiltration instead of runoff. These are all features of permaculture, or rather, demonstrate principles of permaculture.
There are many striking examples of permaculture that have been developed by listmembers. I don't want to slight anyone, but what Robyn Francis has built upon the principles of permaculture in a short time is truly amazing to me."
Toby Hemenway writes:
"The best ones I've seen are: Flowering Tree in New Mexico, Roxanne Swentzell's place designed by her and Joel Glanzberg. Rox has taken a 1/2 acre of bare gravel desert and, starting with swaling, mulching, and lots of N-fixers, now has a nearly closed canopy of walnuts, fruit trees, N-fixing trees, with fantastic habitat and more food and mulch than she can deal with.
Permaculture Institute of Northern California, Penny Livingston's place, an acre of suburban jungle with chickens, ducks, and again, more food and biomass production than she can use. It's got a cob office, and two load-bearing straw-bale buildings, a marsh and pond system that handles all the greywater and supports the duck and some irrigation. There's a Bed-and Breakfast attached, so lots of visitors come away inspired. Too bad Penny just dropped this list, but she's busy with a thriving design business.
The Bullock's property on Orcas Island, north of Seattle. 10 acres that's the best developed food forest I've seen, plus several acres of wetland that has chinampas in it (mostly for wildlife). They hold classes for 3 weeks each summer with 30 students, and there's enough fruit to support grazing for the whole class the whole time. They're off the grid, and supported by a nursery business and teaching. These are all very attractive sites, too.
None of these people are measuring yields, though I think they all have some idea of rough quantities of certain crops. I'm sure that converting each property into a conventional, row-crop farm or orchard would generate more total output (ignoring inputs) than they are currently getting, but at a severe loss of habitat, multiple function, and education about integrated systems.
And that reminds me of Jerome Osentowski's Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Colorado. The particular interest here is that Jerome's income source for about a decade was a many-specied salad-growing operation he ran in raised beds and two large greenhouses (a real feat, going year-round at 7000 feet elevation). He sold to tony restaurants in Aspen. He got sick of the huge amount of work, and demoralized by the vast quantities of organic matter that he was importing, burning up, and exporting as C02 and salad. Really high inputs. So he shifted to a food forest, which is just reaching good production now and supported a lot of heavy grazing during a class I helped teach there last summer. Again, no hard data, but his decision to shift from intensive row-cropping to food forest, and his enormous happiness with the result, is a powerful statement."
Maddy Harland writes:
""The Woodland Way" by Ben Law is full of data. There is also an analysis of income and pc woodland management which was part of a MSc in the centre pages. Greg is out of date. We now have lots of post graduate data here proving pc works (not the wild kind but serious, cool temperate systems which have been thoroughly researched) and pc design is taught at university and horticultural colleges."
Graham Burnett writes:
"John Comben & Sue Ferguson have compiled reports on Cool Temperate PC (i.e. UK)."
Chris Dixon writes:
"With regards to yield figures, I did collect some basic data which is available on my web site; http://www.konsk.co.uk/design/argelacs.htm this is a page on Argel, the wilderness regeneration site and my attempts to quantify yield there."
"Jarlanbah Pc Community was part of a grazing property - the 55 acres only yielded the farmer $1200 worth of beef per year. Now there are numerous half acre private gardens on that same piece of land that harvest well over $1200 worth of vegetables, fruit and eggs per year each from their half acre. Plus there's the reduced energy consumption (compared to average rural residential household), rainwater collection, composting toilets etc etc. Then there's the 33 acres of community land with rainforest regeneration along the gully, increased wildlife habitat, populations and diversity, the woodlots planted with fuel and cabinet timbers, the organic market garden that supplies our local village stores and on and on.
Here at Djanbung Gardens (was part of the same grazing property as Jarlanbah) the 5 acres is providing 60% of my food and food for courses (estimated value $4000), and earns approx $5000 through value-adding (conserves & herbal products, and casual canteen food sales) and sale of tropical tubers, vegetative propagules and surplus veg. If the 55 acres of Jarlanbah yeilded the farmer only $1200, then my 5 acres was probably only worth around $110 a year. Plus there's the educational income of all the visitors who come here to see a working permaculture system,and there's the numerous other products harvested, the increase in biodiversity & wildlife etc etc. Could add sooooo much more and cite numerous examples of pc successes if I only had the time... I get constant feedback from former students thanking me and describing their systems, how much pleasure and production they derive from their permacultures."...and adds in a further contribution:
"Dr Venkat (did the first PDC in India taught by Bill Mollison & myself) working a very poor semi-arid zone with around 40 villages set up a demonstration farm at Pastapur which over the years inspired many local farmers - he encouraged farmers to convert 10% of their farm a year to permaculture and discussed with them which strategies would maximise benefits with minimal input. For many it was simply starting with planting legumes in non-productive areas for fuel and fodder, and/or planting coppice legumes, bananas, taro, ginger and other water-loving plants along the edges of their little open earth irrigation ditches which are otherwise loosing vaste amounts of water through seepage and evaporation.
His main work however was with the women through the Sangams (village women's councils). One of the first things was getting kitchen gardens going - no vegetables were being grown in the villages and many health problems came from poor nutrition (no fruit or vegetables in the diet). The sangams also set up micro-banking systems and food co-ops on the village level. Venkat's assistant, Narsanna, was funded to come to Australia for IPC in 1996 and told me that they had over 2000 barefoot permaculture teachers - all village women - engaged in establishing kitchen gardens and reclaiming wastelands that had formerly been common forest areas cleared by the government 70 years ago - these women were hand building kilometers of swales and planting mixed species forests on the barren slopes for food, fuel, fodder, medicine and craft materials. The women also set up a building collective and built the houses with local materials.
It is an incredibly empowering story and unfortunately the demonstration farm and training centre at Pastapur is now closed - not due to any failures of permaculture but from internal corruption in the umbrella NGO. The work of the NGO was mainly focused on the farmers growing export crops, mainly sugar cane, with massive well contruction programmes (resulting in dramatic depletion of ground water levels), high inputs for fertilisers etc. The extra income earned by the men tended to support their gambling and drinking pursuits and didn't trickle down to family health, education and housing. The NGO received prestigious awards for their impressive number crunching of hectares put into cane production, tons of fertilisers imported etc. The work with the women which really had a huge beneficial impact on village health, education and economic independence of the women has been largely ignored by award-giving agencies.
By-the-way, the women kept records of the value of vegies harvested from their little kitchen garden plots - some were harvesting over 200 rupees worth of vegies a month (they would brag about who grew the most) - this represented incredible wealth as their wages as labourers was only a few rupees an hour."... and later again:
Bob Jacobs adds
"Examples like the project in India (with Dr.Venkat) is a shining example. I am aware of it only from the global gardener video, and I often refer to it. It is an impressive example of one of the right on ways that aid can be a good thing. I am excited by the people who want to collect all this information and develop it into a website or publicity materials. This is spot-on.
So in keeping with that, I would like to mention Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe (ZIM) is a great countly for permaculture. There's the Fambidzanai (staple food) edu. center that teaches permaculture, dryland cropping, brick making, beekeeping, etc. on about 40 acres of land near Harare. I spent 3 weeks there and watched about 50 rural farmers come (free of charge for them as they were sponsored) to get training. Most of them were women, which is one of the first good examples of gender recognition in African Ag. I have seen. The project is going strong, but facing potential problems as the land and farming issue heats up in Zimbabwe, lots of donors are pulling out. Still, they have, through education and seed distribution, touched the lives of thousands, and improved them.
The same for Zim's Natural farming network, that works as an umbrella to promote organic ag. and PC to NGO's. They now support a Zimbabwe Institute of Permaculture, a participatory land use planning group, a PC in schools group, etc.
Again, the country is full of positive examples.
As for yield research, I am about to return to post graduate school studing sustainable Ag, and Int. Development. I will be doing my field study on the nutritional and land use impact of PC systems in "developing" countries. This is years away, but I will glsdly contribute all my data to any publicity to help prove the worth of PC."
Sharon Gordon writes:
"A family turned their lawn into a food producing garden.
Their lot is 66x132 feet with a house and garage. From
May 2001 to January 2002 they have harvested over
2300 pounds of food. Info and pictures at
It's a mix of permaculture and biointensive.
Ute Bohnsack writes:
(In response to a question concerning the somewhat related issue of organic/biodynamic comparative research:)" for anyone interested in this topic, the Swiss Institute of Organic Farming has done some very interesting work on this front. They have assessed the long-term agronomic and ecological performance of bio-dynamic and bio-organic systems in comparison with conventional arable farming systems in a replicated 21-year field trial study (the famous DOC-trial in Therwil). Some of their results are given in http://www.fao.org/organicag/doc/RTS58.pdf and at http://www.sac.ac.uk/envsci/external/bsss/poster2.htm The general 'gist' of the results is: "The variety of substrates utilized by soil microorganisms serves as an indicator of microbial functional diversity, which was higher in bio-dynamic than in conventional soils. Concomitantly, microbes in the bio-dynamic soil decomposed added plant material to a higher extent than in conventional soil with a higher proportion of the plant material being used for microbial biomass build-up. In conclusion soil quality as indicated by the abundance and diversity of soil organisms as well as by their activity tends to be improved under organic agriculture. "
The article Holistic approaches in organic farming research and development: a general overview by Urs NIGGLI also addresses some of the aspects debated here in relation to the possibilities of comparing Pc with other systems/paradigms/models, whatever you want to call them."