Interview: Bill Mollison on Permaculture and Ecosystems for the Future (1986 and sadly still current)

An interview conducted by Richard Alan Miller in 1986, submitted by Judith Goldsmith

About two months ago, Charles Walters, editor for Acres, USA, asked if I might not get interviews with Bill Mollison and Masanobu Fukuoka for future use in his paper. Both were to be speakers at The 2nd International Permaculture Conference, August 8-10 at the Evergreen State College, in Olympia.

This turned out to be a working conference, with more than 60 other presenters from all corners of the world.  Masanobu Fukuoka is the author of The One-Straw Revolution (Rodale Press) and several other texts on natural farming.  Many in the world now consider him the Master Farmer of Japan. I will share this interview with you in a later issue of HMR.  Both these interviews, and the conference as a whole were “events,” and well worth the time.

Bill Mollison is an Australian ecologist who writes, lectures and demonstrates his concept of “permaculture” as a self-sustaining, consciously-designed ecosystem for the farm.  Permaculture has been described as an integrated system of design, encompassing not only agriculture, horticulture, architecture, and ecology, but also money management, land access strategies, and legal systems for communities and businesses.

Through his consultant work, Mollison is instrumental in the actualization of his vision of regions containing integrated self-perpetuating plant and animal species. These ecosystems operated themselves as low maintenance-high yield areas because of such principles as stable diversity and energy efficiency.  If it sounds complex, the theory is carefully described in his two books Permaculture One and Permaculture Two, and its practice is outlined in his forthcoming title, Permaculture: A Designer’s Handbook (1987).

Mollison has worked for both governmental agencies and private individuals.  He is often the keynote speaker at worldwide conferences on the environment.  His background includes teaching environmental psychology as well and environmental design. In 1981, he received the Right Livelihood Award, which is considered by some as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” for his visionary designs.  

His current thrust includes the training of amateur permaculture designers, the preservation of historical farms in “land trusts,” and promoting ethical investments and community economics.  Mr. Mollison is President of the Permaculture Institute of North America.

Permaculture and Ecosystems for the Future

Richard Alan Miller:  I’d like to begin by asking how you arrived at your theory of permaculture or perennial agriculture?

Bill Mollison:  In the early 50’s, ’53-’59, I was working in forest ecology for the CSIRO, (Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization), in Australia, and I was dealing with a complex of about 26 plants and 5 animal species.  I jotted in my diary, I think about ’59, and that I thought we could construct durable ecologies, and there it rested.  

By the ’70s, I think we were all aware of the need for sustainable agricultures.  In ’72 I retired from the world for two years.  By ’74 I had developed the permaculture ideas, which were consciously-designed agricultural ecologies.

Richard Alan Miller:  I understand that at one time you had gone into the wilds and had some personal experiences that lead you toward your theories?

Bill Mollison:  Well, I think that’s true.  I spent about 25 years working in the field, mostly in very thick forests, or in remote areas.  And I kind of withdrew from society in ’72 into the wilds. I did the usual thing: I cleared a couple of acres of garden and mulched it down, built a barn and a house, and sat there.  

I hadn’t been sitting there longer than three weeks and I realized I wasn’t going to change society.  So when I came out of that hole in the bush, I came out with the intention of making a difference.

It wasn’t long before I published Permaculture One.  Then I gave up my work at the University [of Tasmania], I was lecturing there in post-graduate work in environmental science.  I set up the Permaculture Institute, because by ’75-’76 I’d started to design systems for people from urban to rural situations. My first design was a conglomeration of backyards in the city of Melbourne.

And right after that was a design for a guy that ran horses for the Olympics. So, I did about 500-600 of those designs, got a lot of feedback from people on them, and decided I had enough skill to teach design.  I started in ’81.  It’s now ’86 and we’ve taught a thousand designers worldwide.

Richard Alan Miller:  I’m really impressed, by the way, with your work….it’s most interesting.  Just what is your theory about, what is the basis for your theory of permaculture?

Bill Mollison:  OK.  It’s conscious design.  It’s strange, in fact it’s eerie that since a few centuries B.C. when the Chinese developed a landscape planning service called fung-shui*, we have never in modern times developed a similar design service based on aspects of shelter, sun absorption on slopes, etc.* [According to John Mitchell, fung-shui was “a kind of town and country planning measure attempting to preserve the harmony of the countryside…. It was based on a sublime metaphysical system in which scientific and poetic truth harmoniously united.” [-ed].

All of that is in there.  So, I’d say Permaculture One is the first book on conscious design of agriculture.  And that is very eerie, considering we’ve been agriculturalists for centuries, and we haven’t written a book on design.

So, by design, we mean how do you manage the winds, and the light and the sun on a property to get a high productivity.  Now, in 1942, your Forestry Department put out a little booklet called Trees, and to a large extent it dealt partly with trees on the farm, and it showed net gains of 16-30%, particularly in lambing and cattle losses, a tremendous gain.  

It showed crop gains of an average 20%, if the area was well wind-breaked. Now well wind-breaked means windbreaks designed not to reduce the crop’s yield, but actually to increase it, because there are several possible interactions between a windbreak and a crop.  What we look for is a “plus-plus” reaction; there the windbreak benefits the crop, and the crop the windbreak.  So, these all have to be highly specified trees and materials.

Back to the domestic situation – your need to have to earn – that is what makes a lot of farmers have to walk off the farm. They just can’t sustain the domestic costs and pay loans, and so on.  A lot of farmers I know have managed to hang on to farms simply because they’ve paid a lot of attention to the fact that they can eat off the farm and the domestic energy supplied off the farm. Now you can hang on through some hard times if that’s the case.  If it’s not, you have to have an income.

We started doing whole-farm designs in Australia because we’re a dry country, and so are the Great Basin and Midwest, and California in the summertime.  [see Mollison’s forthcoming booklet Arid Land Permaculture, 1988].  Water was our central design factor, and I don’t mean pumping water up from 2,000 feet down at $2,000 a month.  I mean we very carefully designed methods of rainwater harvesting on property, tried to regard the property and what was on it as to what we had to deal with, and to get the least inputs into production that we could.

Richard Alan Miller:  So, bringing this more into a focus, if you could summarize in one paragraph, could you explain the basis of permaculture?

Bill Mollison:  I’ll try and do it for you.  Permaculture is a consciously designed landscape system, which deals with the management of crops, water and animals on the land and which also puts that in context with the correct legal, financial, and land-access strategies, and marketing, and trade.

Richard Alan Miller:  That leads to my next question.  You have indicated that your theory is not technically oriented, but depends on intuition . . .

Bill Mollison:  That’s true.  We’re not looking for expertise in agriculture and forestry. We’re looking for the expertise to know where forestry and agriculture fit together, the connection between disciplines is where we look.

Richard Alan Miller:  It has been indicated by a group in Southern Oregon [part of Tilth], that your plan was too detailed and technically oriented for commercial farm use.  Perhaps you would like to make some comments on that?

Bill Mollison:  I’d love to.  It’s certainly not so.  A lot of our stuff is commercial.  It’s carefully designed to be commercial.  I must say, in the first place, our greatest demand is still plotting for self-reliance, in and around, the households, and always will be. That’s society’s single greatest cost.  46% of our income goes toward food.  29% is energy.  That’s 75% of the income on those two items.  

So you can see the huge benefit to society if we can cope with those to the amount of capital we’re freeing in effect. We always did have inquiries from farmers. However, as they are a minority of the population, it’s a minority of inquiries.  Still, we’ve designed all kinds of farms from range-land, wildlife farms to very detailed one-acre farms supporting people with specialty crops.

Richard Alan Miller:  You speak of interacting relationships between species.  Perhaps you could explain that a bit….

Bill Mollison:  I’ll go a little further and call it “guilds.”  You can’t put a successful orchard in without having some nitrogen fixation.  Some of the best of those things are trees.  If you have a frost problem, you need a frost defense.  We can get a frost defense with a small legume called tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis), or Tree Lucerne and grow avocado in areas which frost is quite hard.  

So you have physical protection of the other crop as part of the guild and you have an underground root association, releasing nitrogen, as part of the guild. Then if we set through that keyaha, which is an insect-attracting plant for predatory wasps, some of the Unbellularia crops, like a few fennels scattered through, we then bring in the predators of small insects feeding on the fruit system.

Next we put under that a foraging system to pick up all the wind-drops and all the cast-off fruit.  There’s a special pig bred for that [it’s called a Glauster old spot], and it’s bred not to root, but to effectively forage orchards.  It’s always been bred for that purpose.  Another alternative is in your old agricultural journals. They say if you run successful apple orchards with 70-90 chickens per acre, you get all your fertilizer and effective pest control.  So, put in a good program of foragers, insect free plants, physical defense of the trees, and a very good windbreak specifically designed to be of benefit to apples.

Tamarack, as a windbreak, will reduce an apple crop and eliminate a citrus crop! But, if we put as a windbreak hadioliacus with an understory of Siberian pea tree, we’ll get more apples, and more health in the crop.  So we pick the windbreak for the crop.  Then we do the physical layout.  If we need more heat, we’ll put in high-radiation trees, the darkest side on the off-sun side of the crop, and we’ll radiate heat into the crop.  If we have a desert situation, we’ll put a deep windbreak, and allow the temperature of the incoming winds, 30-40°F, and so on.

Now, this is a guild we’ve set up, and the guild all centers around the apple.  Now under the apple, apples will not stand in grass.  They stop infiltration of light and they put out specific chemicals to inhibit root growth of apples.  So under the apple we put a small apple garden, and specifically the spring bulbs which lie all around the cultivation and yielding system.

Richard Alan Miller:  Washington State now uses mints.

Bill Mollison:  Yeah, mint, spring bulbs, nasturtium; anything that is not grass.  We allow a very small proportion of grass; clover covers, and we’ve got a very fine situation. If we have any pests in, we might actually have to add a few frog ponds.

Richard Alan Miller:  Would you define your use of the word “stewardship?”

Bill Mollison:  Yes, I think every good farmer, in fact, everybody I’ve considered to be a patriotic farmer, in that they have a love of country in the deepest sense, (and a lot of farmers have that), everyone of them would rather leave the land and soil improved after their tenure of the land.  And so what the good farmer regards himself as, is a temporary “steward” of the land to hand it on in trust to the future.  Not specifically to their children, but to the future people of their area.  And they can achieve that in a lifetime by putting the land into a farm trust, and by laying out a very long-term development plan for it. And the trust can insure that the plan continues beyond their lifetime.

We’ve lost some fantastic farms in the United States.  Smith’s Tree Farm, Luther Burbank’s Nursery Farm, I could mention another six, all should have been land-trusted. Professor Meador’s little farm in Vermont should be land-trusted.  This is where your crops came from, your new species came from, where your new ideas were thought up and demonstrated.  

And they don’t belong even to the United States; they belong to the world! I’d like some American who feels really patriotic about land to set a trust to purchase those key farms that demonstrate principles, forever.  They should be run as farms and run for their purposes, but they should be set up as land-trusts, which I believe to be more valuable than many of the trusts that we’ve set up for our buildings.

Richard Alan Miller:  Moving forward, I have picked up a quote where you ask yourself, “What does this land have to give me?”  Can you explain . . .

Bill Mollison:  Yes, well sometimes you walk on the land and you have the crop.  People say, “I’ve just bought some land I want to develop a crop.”   I’ll give you and example.  I had a young bulldozer operator in Australia.  He’d just bought some really run-down cattle land.  He had a bulldozer and he put some dams in.  Then he said, “Will you come onto my farm and tell me what I ought to do here?”  He had nice dams there which he had stocked with trout.  “How are they going?,” I asked him.  “Fine,” he said.  “I got some eight pounders out of them.”  “When did you put them in?,” I inquired.  “Last year,” he replied.  And the place was swarming with grasshoppers; it was overgrazed.

I said, “You’ve got your crop; your crop is grasshoppers!”  On a 1.8 to 1 conversion ratio you can get a pound of trout for every pound and a bit of grasshoppers. You can trawl those grasshoppers just like you trawl fish.  So, the other thing is, grasshoppers go for yellow, so if you float yellow balloons on the dams, you get a rain of grasshoppers into the water.  So that’s what he did, and he had his crop.  The land might already have its crop on it, and yet you might want to change that crop, and you will come out worse off.

For instance, we have a pasture grub that runs at 20 ton to the acre living in the first four inches of the soil.  If you covert it into turkey, you’re talking 5 ton of turkey to the acre, just for a small soil-skimming operation daily.  But they’re still trying to get rid of the pasture grub! And yet that land can barely sustain a sheep on four or five acres.  So where’s the trade off between a 120 tons of protein and 40 pounds of protein as sheep?  So, wherever we see that the crop is already there we’ve come out on top.  And we have nothing to do..

Richard Alan Miller:  Next question, in your second book Permaculture Two, you have referred to Fukuoka’s principles of “non-violent cultivation and natural farming” [see The One Straw Revolution and The Natural Way of Farming]. What are your views on this?

Bill Mollison:  I think Fukuoka is a genius! What he did (and nobody’s quite realized it, as such) is that he stacked, or folded time.  Instead of waiting until you’ve harvested your crop, then appear for cultivation and sowing, he sowed the next crop into the standing crop.  At the right time, so that when you hit it off, your second succession is well under way.  And that was genius!  So what’s more, it meant you didn’t cultivate, and you went from soybeans into barley, or in his case, rice, rye, rice, rye. So he gathered extra time, and that is also extra capital.

Richard Alan Miller:  Considering your theory of cooperation, or the “no-force” theory, are there then no plants that are out of place and therefore considered weeds?

Bill Mollison:  Plants are innocent.  They are all doing a job, and expressing that job to the best of their abilities.  To see a patch of thistle is to see a disturbance, and it’s being mended fast.  If you put a thistle under an apple tree, you can call it a glove artichoke, right?  You see, the soil under that artichoke will be twice as good and thick with worms compared to soil without the artichoke.  So, it’s a soil mender.  

We don’t see it as that; we don’t see a weed or invasion species warning us that there is some collapse starting.  For instance, we work with gorst in the Pacific Northwest. With gorst we can get to rain forest in four years.  Without gorst it takes 20 years.  In wet climates it grows great.  Burn it and you get more of it.  So we roll a tractor roller through it, then put in a first succession tree crop (like acacia or alder), and a second or third succession tree down the alley that was rolled down.  The gorst nurtures and nurses the crop.

Richard Alan Miller:  What about a place like the Midwest where there’s been considerable erosion of topsoil, and the soil blows from one field to another?

Bill Mollison:  Yes, I’ve been forced down twice by severe dust storms in wheat areas.  The land is in collapse.  You need to pick up the dust origins which are always downwind and in between the crop you start “pitting.” You use a large wheel and you pit the ground. The minute you pit the ground the dust storms stop, because you’ve roughened the surface. Don’t pit in the crop, but all around it.

We’ve pitted 600 square miles around Ellis Springs, Australia and we get no more dust storms, whatever.  They used to close the airport every fortnight.  After we’ve pitted we work our windbreak sequence:  talk to the farmers, talk to the government, get our support for the windbreaks, and make the windbreaks a highly productive pile of fun. We start from the downwind area with strategy.  

We have to work with government and finance to make sure that windbreak is  going to be highly productive for the farms downwind.  We advance from the downstream and, upstream.  And we create a highly stable situation.  The other thing you have to do is leave a record for the future – to say why you did all this.

Richard Alan Miller:  How do you go about planning a permaculture farm?  What are your first steps? 

Bill Mollison:  Well, the first step is to look at the farm, and the skills and wishes of its occupant.  If they’re in steel we can do something about that.  If they’re lawyers we can run a bit of legal system on the farm. We use the skills of the occupant and let them define what they want to do.  On top of what they have defined, we also suggest what is very wise to do.  Then we set about the ground detail planning.  But that always with us involves the social factor.

For instance, recently we’ve been linking urban people in need of some energy source, like firewood or diesel, to individual farmers who grow the plantation. They pre-purchase the product.  Basically, we don’t any longer look at a primary product as being the main potential income of farmland.  There are three products.  Social products are very high.  80% of the product of our farmers is from social product (offering facilities to people in towns, etc.).  

The second income is in the production of an energy crop.  We have a travel-able diesel system we take around. You put sunflower seeds in one end, it presses it, puts the oil through a catalyst, gives you methyl-esters, and then regenerates the catalyst. Its a small unit about as big as a dinner table, on a trailer.  So, it takes 1/100th of your crop to provide the fuel.  You can provide off-farm fuel.

Solid wood is the best income per acre, for abroad.  Unless you process it fairly high on the roadside, it runs $80 a ton, or $800 a ton in smaller 5 lb.. packages.  That means an average acre produces $5-6,000 in firewood year in and year out.  Any person in the city would like to have a piece of that.  That means two rented acres give him a small income and all their fuel.  So fuel is an eternal crop and there is never enough fuel.

Clean water is another crop.  Some farms you’ll purchase every quarter of an hour, if you have a spring that tests out as potable.  That’s your problem in the United States – to get any water that tests out as drinkable.  In some farms the whole value of the farm is coming out of the hill every ten minutes.  You’ve got an endless trade in clean water.

Richard Alan Miller:  Can you explain your use of such terms as “Zones,” “Sectors,” and “Interfaces?”

Bill Mollison:  Real easy.  When you zone a property from where you start in the morning with the tractor, you zone it in terms of the number of times you can afford to visit that area.  For instance, move your household garden a hundred feet from the house and you’ve lost if  You’ll never harvest it efficiently and you can’t guard it.  Move it within 20 feet of the house boundary and you’ll feed yourself forever with hardly any effort.

Out time is 20-40 minutes a week.  That’s less time for us to grow our food than to actually walk to the shop and back, providing we have it right outside the kitchen door which is Zone 1.  Zone 2 is domestic species.  The chicken house is on the edge of Zone 2, and they range in Zone 2, then bring all the manure to the edge of Zone 1, where we use it on the garden.  So the chickens do the work; try to be smarter than your chickens.

Sectors define against incoming energy, designed to survive the onslaught energy – too hot or too cold winds, sun sector.  Put up the defenses in sectors to guard the energy or deflect it to benefit you.  With those two things, zoning and sectoring the soil, you also pay attention to any benefits of slope and carefully orientate all your units to the sun or wind.  You’ve got a rational, ideally efficient lair.

An interface is like edge harmonics. All crop scientists tell you that you can’t sample a crop at the edges, you’ve got to
walk into the crop.  At the edges the yield is abnormally high (sometimes anonymously low).  The goal is to try to plant a field that is nothing but this high-yielding edge. For example, if the edge is four feet deep, then we plant solid eight foot deep sections. What is next to that edge?  If it is bare ground we get a pretty good yield, but if it is alfalfa, that yield is higher.  So put strips of 8 feet of grain, 8 feet alfalfa. A double edged section gives superior yield.

Richard Alan Miller:  How do you envision the restructuring of our current mono-cropping industrialized farms, like the San Joaquin Valley of California, and do you see a timeframe for this?

Bill Mollison:  Yeah, I do.  The modern industrial scientist is causing famine all around the world, and malnutrition locally.  That’s the two main products of mono-culture and you can add to that a  chronic poisoning everywhere.  That is, agriculture has floated free from its roots.  Its purpose was to feed people “good food.”  It no longer does that.  It doesn’t relate to people’s needs in any way.

What we’re doing is re-relating the farm directly to people who need those good products.  So we’re setting up farm link networks with farmers and urban dwellers, pre-farming the farm so there is no risk to the farmer.  And there are thousands of those.  It takes 18-40 households, depending on the culture, to keep a family very wealthy on the land.  This assumes that person is providing the needs of the household and not cheating or marketeering.

Richard Alan Miller:  So pro-funding from urban dwellers is what you’re suggesting?

Bill Mollison:  Very definitely.  The timeframe is yesterday for many farmers.  We are de-populating our farmland of highly experienced people at an alarming rate.  You can’t beat them at farm management.  But, we’re replacing them with farm machinery which causes unemployment which puts a charge on society to pay unemployment to farmers in the form of taxation.  Wouldn’t it be better if they were unemployed happily on the land and with their families?  

We could have intercepted that through a farm-link office where any person could subscribe for say two acres of firewood planted by a farmer for $200 plus $50 for fire control.  At the end of four years you get an average $4,000 income per acre and what you pay him is what he would get out of it in sheep which is $70 per acre a year (in Australia).  Pay up front so he can afford to get that timber in there.

Richard Alan Miller:  That’s great.  Let’s move on, now.  As an example, how would you deal with raccoons that are systematically destroying a farmer’s crop of sweet corn?  Would you stop raising the corn, would you feed the raccoons, have dogs to chase the coons out, and now you’re feeding dogs?  How would you handle those raccoons?

Bill Mollison:  I eat them.  I get more protein out of the coons than I could ever get out of the corn.  On one patch of my friend’s in Vermont, we got 5 opossums, 2 coons, etc.. We worked it out and the protein yield was far higher than the corn could ever be.

Richard Alan Miller:  Can you realistically give a workable plan to a large mechanized farm?

Bill Mollison:  Yes.  But it would be really extraordinary, nothing that has ever been done with mechanization.  I’ve been doing some large style drilling of tagasaste with large mechanized materials.  And I can lay down a crop that you can pellet into feed at the highest yield of any unrelated crop in the world.  

In between the tagasaste strips are tree-alfalfa strips.  Mainly, I want to let thousand of amateurs loose on the world.  I’m no longer interested in sitting somewhere and making a buck.  To become competent it takes young people two to three years of working on these permaculture concepts.

Richard Alan Miller:  Do you recommend a legal structure that lends itself to families or people pooling resources?  I ask this because in Permaculture Two you mention the idea of gathering together with a few friends to build the alternatives you mention.  This sounds like the original communal efforts of the 60’s, trying to find a blending of egos and spiritual philosophies.

Bill Mollison:  It grew out of those inadequate attempts to form communities that were part of the 60’s, most of which have broken apart. But, taking a very rational approach to community ownership for private use – that’s the ideal.  [Like a profit-sharing cooperative] you’ve got all the advantages of private usage, but you don’t have the right-to-ruin given by private ownership.

The ideal way to work land is like a thing in England called common work right. A trust owns the land, and it only has three directors who can then appoint others.  Nobody votes; it’s not democratic.  The only consensus we need is that we never come to consensus.  Now, the trust governs its directors.  Any person who can see a way to make a living on that land applies to the trust.  

The land lets (rents) a living to them, including if necessary a residential unit, but often they would like to live elsewhere.  They then pay 10% of the net to a common work fund which goes on developing other livings.  In this way a small 200-acre farm in Kent employs 36 people full time on site and 95 off-site from the products produced on the site, and it’s hardly developed at all!

One farm can employ hundreds of people. A beekeeper is essential to your small fruit grower. The milker can supply manure for energy for may people (methane, hot water and can-fuel).  We run all tractors and cars on those systems.  You have an energy man, a bee man, small tree man, worm man all working on the wastes from the digester. Worms go to the fish ponds and triple their value.  The casings go back in the glass house attached to perhaps a brick-making works, digging clay from the silage pits on the farm.  You can think of other projects.

Richard Alan Miller:  What are the alliances you speak of with similar groups?

Bill Mollison:  A large group of Sufis are using Permaculture, likewise in the U.S. those interested in Biodynamics, the New Alchemy Institute, etc..  We would like to lie within every organization and still maintain our own teachings, so we are distinct in design.

Richard Alan Miller:  So you are supporting regional networking, then?

Bill Mollison:  Yes, and we also have regional and independent design consultants.  Nobody owns permaculture; it’s a common copyright of our trainees.  And all of them are independent.  It’s not franchised.  All our systems are independent legally structured. So, what you’ve got is a very large global cooperative of tiny businesses.

Richard Alan Miller:  What forms of alternative property ownership do you prefer?

Bill Mollison:  I myself prefer to live on land in trust with a long-term purpose.  I personally am allowed to lease (earned the right) for life, inheritable, transferable, a half-acre for a house and other land on an economic level that I am  fit to use.

Richard Alan Miller:  What is your main current of thought now, sort of your “hot” item?

Bill Mollison:  My real hot thing right now is that it’s five minutes to midnight.  We face a meltdown of icepacks and consequent sea-rises.  It’s time to open the great debate: Can we survive?  Nobody’s sure we can. Start to turn the whole society toward structured 3% fewer trees and we all asphyxiate.  It is five minutes to midnight. What is the use of choking with a million in your pocket?  Why didn’t we have that million in survival, and survival means “trees.”

Now, why didn’t we turn our mainstream agriculture into mainstream tree cropping?  We’re supporting it a $28-30 billion a year and that will just ruin America.  If you don’t green it, we’re all dead! So the main thing now is let’s take over the investment income of this country and turn it into ethical ends.  We have $60 billion turned over here now in ethical investments and we can turn the rest over if we put it to the people.

Richard Alan Miller:  Is it possible to reverse the damage done from original agricultural practices, like erosion…?

Bill Mollison:  Take dihedron.  As far as erosion, we can build soil.  There’s no doubt about that.  We have the techniques where there’s enough of anything left to work from. We can hoe and create soils by the right trees.  But, we can’t unpoison the soil. We’ve found that years ago copper was used in Australia and it’s still killing sheep, from before World War II.  It’s in the top .2 inches of the soil and we can’t raise sheep for years, or eat an egg from that land for the next 200 years.  

What we’ve put on in the past we can’t take off, but we need never put that stuff on.  Those farms should be locked up as toxic or put into non-food production, namely forestry, perhaps for centuries.

Richard Alan Miller:  What questions have I not asked that I should have asked you?

Bill Mollison:  What’s the priority for young people who are going to be designers today? The real priority is to set up a money-handling system that services people, to set up investment trusts, development trusts, and commonly revolving funds that help people who believe in the future.  If people can do that well, (and our entire people do that well), they have endless capital and cease to become employees subject to client wishes and they become purchasers and developers of land.  

And that’s what we must become to create the future.  We can’t passively leave it to someone else who knows nothing about land to determine the future. We must borrow the land and create the future.  We can’t afford the warehouses, the headless dinosaurs of yesterday.  It’s critical we take them out.

Richard Alan Miller:  Thank you for a great interview.

From: THE HERB MARKET REPORT for the herb farmer and forager
(Vol. 2 No. 8 August, 1986 and Vol. 2 No. 9 September, 1986)
by Richard Alan Miller [interviewer and editor]




  2. Dear Geoff,
    I would like to meet you and maybe Bill for a short while if it is at all possible, during the two week Permaculture Course you are holding in Turkey.

    I have some ground breaking technology on sewage remediation that I have spent 15 years on. It is being accepted by the UK PC Association.

    I would like you to look at it as it is looking like it is appropriate to introduce into curriculum.

    Richard Higgins
    Well End Permaculture, UK

  3. Hi Carole, old friend, I’m working on an article about restoration of contaminated soils, with Richard’s and other information. Give me a call. Judith

    Carole Schemmerling is a leader of the wonderful creek and stream restoration organization, The Urban Creeks Council –


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