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Permaculture Research in the 21st Century: Web Surveys and Way, Way, Beyond

Participation in Permaculture is a web survey designed to help us learn about who is doing permaculture, how we are participating, and how it’s affecting our lives and landscapes. It’s part of a emerging phenomenon: doing research to systematically track and assess our impacts.

Holmgren and Mollison broke up with institutional science back when they forged the permaculture perspective and birthed a movement. They had good reasons for doing so — in the 1970s, there was virtually no scientific research to support the practical proposals they were making. Science wasn’t ready.

For the past 34 years, permaculture has largely stayed on the track of an independent grassroots movement. If you search the massive databases of peer-reviewed scientific literature, there is almost (but not quite) zero mention of permaculture. That’s not a criticism of permaculture’s history — we’ve been busy growing a movement, project by project.

But the separation between permaculture and science is becoming more and more arbitrary and unnecessary. Over the past three decades, parallel disciplines to permaculture have emerged and matured within the scientific community: agroecology, agroforestry, ecological waste and water treatment, resilience science, participatory research methods, and much more. All of these approaches have accumulated an invaluable and impressive body of empirical research and theory. Science is ready. Now we need to show up.

How do we do it? How do we renew the relationship between permaculture and scientific research? There are two broad patterns for development. (1) We can energize our own practice and pedagogy by drawing on research from sympathetic scientific disciplines, like those mentioned above. There is far more support in the scientific literature for the practices we promote than many of us realize. And (2) we can begin systematically assessing our impacts — moving beyond boosterism to generate hard-nosed evaluations of what we’re doing.

Participation in Permaculture is an example of the second pattern. This survey is an attempt to answer some very serious and basic questions about the permaculture movement, for which we currently just don’t have good answers. Who is doing permaculture? How do we participate, and why? What are the effects on our lives and landscapes?

This survey questionnaire is broad, and its intended audience is broad: anybody who identifies with permaculture in any way. The survey attempts to capture (some of) the incredible diversity of ways in which people participate in permaculture. This broad data will provide context for more focused field research later on. For example, in the coming year I’ll be doing my best to visit every permaculture-identified farming operation in the continental US. The intended outcome is two-fold: to establish a presence for permaculture in the scientific literature, and to provide a new kind of feedback to the movement, to let us know where our strengths and weaknesses lie. Domestic fieldwork is just a beginning.

These projects are a part of my doctoral dissertation research. The outputs of my dissertation will include 3-5 peer-reviewed journal articles, which will be accessible by anyone with internet access (either in an open-access journal, or as a pre-print). There will also be ample write-ups for a popular audience — i.e us, the movement.

So please contribute your time and perspective by going to and filling out the survey. It doesn’t matter if you are a new student or an old hand — all are welcome. In the ~25 minutes it will take, you can help strengthen our understanding of where permaculture is at, and where it’s going.


  1. I appreciate your attempt to harness the considerable resources inherent in the academic and research communities. I’ve found many within academia who have come to appreciate the inherent limitations of reductionism and specialization, and I believe that our powerful design framework can provide these individuals and organizations with a path towards genuine service and reintegration with nature. Good work on tackling this challenge.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Adam.

    There are plenty of problems in academia, obviously. We just need to notice to how sprawling and diverse a place it is – observe the diversity of niches. For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I am at, is a tremendous hub of Monsanto-funded GMO research. And down the hall from those researchers are brilliant agroecologists, and in the next building over are deeply radical political ecologists.

    You may be able to guess which groups I’m working with. :)

    Let’s not abandon the resources in these institutions to reductive science and commodity-driven development. The moment is ripe for us to go invasive…

  3. This is fantastic. I am currently applying for graduate school in the US and am coordinating with prospective advisers on conducting research related to Permaculture efficacy in international development. I am also applying for the NSF Graduate Fellows Program under the same topic. It appears that the old guard is fading in relation to conventional agriculture and a new breed of open, eager and excited scientists are emerging, many of which are interested in the evaluation of integrated systems. Some great examples can be found at UC Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Michigan State, Cornell and UMass. While a lot of the research is focused on improving cereal crop production it is a great first step and I am excited to be a part of this movement.

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