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Permaculture Voices 1 – the First of Many?

Event organiser Diego Footer’s introductory address (Photo: John Newall)

Early morning on Sunday the 23rd of March I was brushing my teeth and wondering how I was going to structure my week. By mid morning, thanks to equal parts generosity of friends and unbelievable serendipity, I was rushing to book flights from Perth, Western Australia to Los Angeles — making my way to the Permaculture Voices conference in Temecula, California. After 24 hours of travel (and more beneficent synchronicity than I dare report) I found myself alongside six hundred other enthusiastic permaculturists signing in at the Pechanga Resort, nestled at the foot of classic, chaparral covered, southern Californian hills.

The first session of the first day had all six hundred plus attendees seated punctually in the main hall. Diego Footer, conceiver and head organiser of the event, took the stage for an introductory welcoming. The main thread of his speech was our common human resignation toward doing what we dream of — of attempting less than we are truly possible of creating. One could be excused for considering this hot air if the conference itself wasn’t testimony to Diego’s decision to create it and his impassioned determination to see it through to its impressive end. With a wife and two very young children, Diego spearheaded the organising of the event. 26 world class speakers over four days, presentations filmed in high quality for later dissemination, flyers, stalls, booklets… not to mention running the Permaculture Voices podcast and website alongside the event… all while working a full time job. Kudos.

His entreaty? To do. Meditate thoroughly upon the direction you feel deeply drawn to and then dare to commit to that direction. He insisted we owe it to the world and to ourselves. The time for being overly hesitant, and the inflating of potential obstacles, is over. We can no longer afford to wait. He suggested that the very health and vitality of ourselves, our communities and the environment depend on us going to the next level of commitment and action towards a regenerative world. And given the applause he received I dare say all in attendance agreed.

The one-and-only Mr Joel Salatin (Photo: John Newall)

The first keynote speaker behind the podium was the "world’s most famous farmer", Mr Joel Salatin. The most popular take-away piece of Joel’s current message is that of fiefdoms — the idea of stacking multiple, lucrative, co-operative, autonomous business enterprises on farm sites, removing many of the discouraging liabilities and litigation issues that usually come with conventional employer/employee models and allowing for otherwise wasted opportunities to be best taken advantage of. Joel is a superlative public speaker. Clear, warm and resounding, his presence alone is enough to convince the unconverted. Having been fortunate enough to have spent extended quality down time with Joel, Sherri and Daniel Salatin earlier this month I can say that for me, beyond any of the nuts ‘n bolts how-tos they offer, the most compelling testimony to the Polyface model is their deep, genuine vitality and happiness. Infectious.

Mr Allan Savory was a highlight of the event for many. All those who have delved into both Permaculture and Holistic Management can see what exceptionally complimentary tools they are toward regenerative cultural practice. For many at the event Mr Savory’s address was their first real dive into HM and you could almost see the light bulbs blinking on as the room filled with "aha!" moments. It was a refreshing first for me at least to hear Allan pay credit to "extra-HM" practices such as agro-forestry techniques, swales and Permaculture in general. His address was both humble and enlightening. Such humility from a man who has contributed such a vital piece to the regenerative puzzle. A scholar and a gentleman.

Mr Allan Savory (Photo: John Newall)

Noted by many was the grounded, real-world nature of the vast majority of participants. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the high level of education and understanding demonstrated by those who attended. Not once did I find myself wincing at a nauseatingly naïve question or complete idealism. All but every question asked by the audience demonstrated an excellent understanding of the core principles behind each speaker’s message. Perhaps I was in the right places at the right times, but if this is the calibre of US permaculture then I for one felt more confident and enthused than I expected to be.

A strong element of note was representation by The Survival Podcast community, spear-headed by the progressive and industrious Jack Spirko, who himself gave two excellent addresses — the ever-loyal TSPers were amongst those asking the highest quality questions and contributing to rich discussion and exchange of ideas. The survivalist/prepper principles of preparedness, resilience and responsibility has a lot to offer the greater permaculture discussion.

Considering the calibre of organisation, the quality of speakers, and that this was not only the first Permaculture Voices but also the first conference Diego has ever organised, my critiques are all but non existent. I dare say, with exception perhaps of the biannual International Permaculture Conferences, this conference is destined to become the premier permaculture event worldwide. I believe it would be beneficial to have changing locations throughout the US (and even internationally?). While I don’t have any particular critique of the venue chosen there is bound to be other places more suited to the people and subjects found at future installments and I’m sure Diego and team will be all over it. Also if the high standard of attendees is going to continue then perhaps future speakers should think of aiming their presentations accordingly and endeavour to offer less of the "this is why we’re screwed" narrative and offer more tried and true, proactive solutions. Just a thought.

The Author with Jack Spirko, Greg Judy and John Kitsteiner

The other keynote speakers included Dr Elaine Ingham who shared 4 hours of her invaluably clarifying research on the subterranean universe — the soil. Paul Wheaton spoke on both rocket stoves and dared to explore taboos surrounding social justice and gender within the permaculture community and the world at large. Michael Pollan explained his perspective on the global food movement and where he believes we need to apply further efforts. And Toby Hemenway unpacked the realities of and possible strategies for living in a low energy future… and that was just the keynote speakers.

It is not the objective of this article to provide a full breakdown of all speakers and subjects, but to share how enjoyable and encouraging an event it was. All in all there was over 50 hours worth of information shared by over 25 speakers on a broad range of subjects including forestry techniques for the high dessert, marketing, biochar, ethnobotany, water harvesting, erosion control and on and on…. I’m glad that Diego and team had the event filmed because at nearly every session there were other presentations occurring that I would have loved to have seen.

Geoff Lawton gave three separate addresses: Reading the Landscape, Earthworks and the closing keynote speech. In his final talk he expressed his surprise and delight at the unexpected response to the PRI’s online PDC format. When Mr Lawton asked the packed venue who from the group had taken the course, approximately 40% of the room raised their hand. He, like Diego, admonished the community to step up efforts until it reaches ‘tipping point’, the 12-18% critical mass where revolution inevitably spills into the main-stream and becomes the norm.

After Geoff’s final address the crowd filed out of the hall — inspired, charged and perhaps a little overwhelmed at the sheer volume, depth and quality of content that the event had offered them. New friends and colleagues exchanged contacts and ideas while others, exhausted, literally collapsed asleep on the lobby couches. The air was abuzz with talk of actionable plans for the immediate future and of next year’s inevitable sequel. And, spotted alone for the briefest of moments, resting smug on a foyer armchair was Diego, grinning with the zen-like contentment of a man who, against all the odds had just seamlessly pulled off what could be not only the best event of its kind to date, but the precedent for so many more to come.


The Author, Byron Joel of Oak Tree Designs, will be co-teaching a PDC with introduction to Holistic Management with Tim Barker at the beautiful Eternity Springs, The Channon, New South Wales, Australia, starting August 17th. Attached to the end of the PDC/IHM, Tim will also teach a three day Appropriate Technology course. Interested parties can register their interest at the Eternity Springs Website.


  1. Yes CAN’T wait and I’d like to suggest a few or even a ‘donation button’ to help with the cost of providing the videos!

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