Episode-1175- Nick Burtner on Permaculture in Action — 29 Comments

  1. Jack, There is no need to apologize for the passion you bring to these types of subjects. It truly differentiates you from the sterilized media that we see and hear everyday.

    • Haven’t listened to the podcast, yet. But I just came across some disturbing “baggage” all too often associated with permaculture. Most of Chapter 14 (Alternate Nation) in Mollison’s “Permaculture: A Design Manual” could just as well be a communist manifesto. In Section 14.12, page 545, Mollison states that “…the very concept of land ownership is ludicrous…” On page 17, “…Many of us do not believe in private land ownership.” Great, Bill. Too bad I just spent the entire summer learning permaculture concepts so that I can develop a sustainable homestead on property that I “own.” Typical drivel that need not be there and is frankly, very disappointing. Geoff Lawton is one of the few permaculture teachers I’ve heard that manages to refrain from pontificating on things like this long enough to convey some really valuable information. Why, I think he’s even bought and sold property, the evil bastard! Though he, too, will occasionally purport some kind of regulation or subsidization scheme I would certainly not support. Sorry for the rant, but I just read parts of Ch. 14 before reading this blog post. Good thing I was able to set these things aside and take the PDC with an open mind. Permaculture needs more liberty-minded people promoting it’s principles because they make sense and empower individuals…not because it promises some kind of hippie utopia. Thanks, Jack, for being just that kind of person.



      • Admittedly, I didn’t read the entire chapter word for word. And believe me, I’m not looking for things to dislike about permaculture. I think the principles are of great value and usefulness. But I am concerned about the underlying belief system or world view of the “ethics.” In his very own words, Mollison state’s that he “doesn’t believe in private ownership of land.” He espouses a “commons” type of system to be jointly owned by “tribes.” While I can quickly recognize the advantages that a tribal form of gov’t might have, he’s still advocating a communal type of arrangment, which is the base of communist ideology. Maybe it’s blind patriotism, but that goes against everything I believe, not just as an American, but as a natural resources professional that sees first-hand just how important private land owernship is to “conservation” of natural resources. And the issue of land ownership is just one example.

        I don’t mean to hijack this thread, which should be about the great information you and Nick provided in the podcast, so I apologize for that. Perhaps even just the idea of an Altnerate Global Nation rubs me the wrong way, so I was prickly going in. If I feel the need to discuss these issues further, I’ll use an appropriate place on the Forum.

        • And yet he set up the First PRI and was the owner of it. Land ownership though is a myth, here is why, the land lasts for billions of years and we last only for perhaps a century at best.

          Read the final response by Mollison here, it will make you feel better.

          The problems in permaculture are not due to those in the movement following Mollison’s advice or example but from ignoring it. Or from nonsense like changing the third ethic from Mollison’s “return of surplus” to Holmgren’s “redistribution of surplus”, which given Holmgren’s vanishing from 78-98 while Bill did the work to make the word mean something, I find despicable by the way.

          Remember the manual is a manual, not a bible. Permaculture is a design science, it is NOT political, though every other hippie seems to want to make it so.

          If you listen to Mollison’s lectures the man is an anarchist not a socialist. He may want to set up “tribal lands” but not by taking yours away from you.

        • I believe he meant land ownership is ludicrous in the way a Cherokee or Osage Indian would say land owner is nonsensical.

        • Indeed that is the point.

          If we view land as if, “this land is mine” it leads to a LOT of harmful practices.

          If we view land as, “this land is my responsibility while I am here” it changes everything.

    • I think you’re trying very hard to put best construction on Mollison’s words, or perhaps to spin it in a way that is more palatible to liberty-minded folks. Which is what we all have to do – that’s not a critique. But to say private land ownership is ludicrous, which he does, is not a benign statement. The land I own is my responsibility to take care of…not questioning that. But it is also my right to pass that on to my heirs as I see fit. Again, using best construction, the well-intentioned desire to create a “land ethic” can quickly be used for evil as well as good.

      I fear that not seeing the bad within Mollison’s statements may taint the enormous good. It is his kind of all-knowing attitude and ideology that could be used to implement very strict land controls (zoning, planning, taxation, etc.). Even if that’s not his intent, plenty of his followers (many of whom may have drifted more towards the Holmgren view of things), would embrace it.

      Sustainable development will be used by some to “nudge” people (with subsidies or regulation) to give up full “ownership” of property, to nudge people to live in an area where they can walk to work, to not grow certain crops/plants, to not build ponds, etc., etc., etc. Many of those things are good if they’re chosen by individuals. But I’m willing to accept the recklessness of some land owners over the recklessness of communal property.

      I find it ironic that many of the practices that permaculture promotes are not embraced by the current gov’t – academic ideology, but the ideas in Chapter 14 most certainly are. Private land ownership is the best way to ensure permaculture takes root. Waxing poetic about tribal notions of land management, which was not without it’s own problems, seems counter productive. Just because indigenous peoples are/were often abused by those with more advanced technology, doesn’t mean that their ideals are necessarily things we should strive for today.

      PS – the link to the interview does reveal a less political Mollison, but he seems to massage his message dependent on the audience or the critiques thrown his way.

      • @Rational, I really hope you don’t take this the wrong way but I think perhaps based on what I know about your your religious background is clouding what is going on here. Hear me out, not the way you might think I mean.

        This is what I mean, you are a bible believing person, you are accustomed therefore to a concept that dogma drives a movement. I am not judging said dogma here just observing it.

        Jesus is of course the leader of your faith as is his father God. Under that are apostles, etc. Your bible contains words and guidance and you are called to follow said guidance. Again I am NOT JUDGING THIS, just observing it. This is the world view you come from, where movements have true leaders and leaders are wise and all their words to be followed.

        Bill himself said in the quote I suggested you read,

        “Permaculture is anti-political. There is no room for politicians or administrators or priests. And there are no laws either. The only ethics we obey are: care of the earth, care of people, and reinvestment in those ends.”

        Frankly to be blunt you are looking for Agenda21 where it doesn’t exist but beyond that you are assigning Bill authority which he doesn’t only not have but DOES NOT CLAIM TO HAVE.

        Frankly Bill again is an Anarchist, a man that trusts government about as much as I do. His view of a tribal society model is based on convincing others to combine resources by CHOICE not via force. I have never heard him say who to vote for, though I do know he literally hates vegetarians. Yet to me I wouldn’t care if he was a card carrying socialist, because by his own words, again

        “Permaculture is anti-political. There is no room for politicians or administrators or priests. And there are no laws either. The only ethics we obey are: care of the earth, care of people, and reinvestment in those ends.”

        I am not required to participate in anything he advocates.

        If you only take a few quotes out of context yea you can come to the conclusion you do but that doesn’t make sense to do. For instance Bill in the Manual describes how to create private banks that use private currency on the community side and main stream currency on the public facing side.

        How does that work for socialism and big government? Seriously there is nothing more anti government then communities creating and controlling their own currency.

        Bill spent his live designing both public and private properties. He has been a big advocate of permaculture creating wealth, he states that no one is in control of permaculture, that it is anti political with no room for politicians or priests.

        Hence if Mollison was a card carrying socialist, a admitted fascist or even a neocon republican it really would not matter. In permaculture we have a prime directive, three ethics and principles of design, the choice about their implementation is always up to the designer.

        Again the Permaculture Design Manual isn’t a bible and was never meant to be so. I am sure new versions will evolve over time, no one is the top dog, no one has any authority over anyone else and everyone is entitled to their opinion. You are looking for a problem when none exists.

        • The quote: “Permaculture is anti-political. There is no room for politicians or administrators or priests. And there are no laws either. The only ethics we obey are: care of the earth, care of people, and reinvestment in those ends.” is reassuring, and something I’m in complete agreement with. But it doesn’t negate the other things he’s penned. Perhaps he’s a bit of an enigma, and maintaining a consistent balance between his views about the ideal use/cultivation/management of land, and his views about showing people how to be completely self-reliant, create a naturally very fine edge that is impossible not to stray from once in awhile.

          I certainly admit my own world view is in play here. No offense taken at all, Jack. I don’t mean or wish to discredit Mollison. Obviously the guy is a genious. So is Geoff. I just tend to pay attention to my instincts when they are bristled a bit. Ironically, given your fair description of my theological perspective, I try to “listen to all but [blindly] follow none” when it comes to purely secular issues. Sorry to use that quote given the source, but it fits with permaculture.

          And again, I have absolutely no problem with your view of the 3rd ethic. Mollison and Lawton I may not completely agree with, but I do appreciate that they don’t push it over and above the design science. As you note, the design science is where the focus of PDCs should stay. Ethics are also a little tricky, since they are so intimately linked with a person’s world view (or can be easily spun). I will reexamine Chapter 14 and the related PDC videos with an open mind.

        • @Husker thanks for considering it deeper, that is very cool for you to be able to do. Two more things,

          1. Don’t apologize for the quote as he isn’t the true source it is a very old quote I don’t even think it has ever accurately be properly attributed to who ever did say it first. In any event it was around long before ChrisDbag was even in diapers or even a glint in his daddies eye.

          2. On the third ethic, I can’t speak for Bill but my interpenetration is based on Bill’s work and words. As to Geoff I know from personal conversations he despises the rewritten version of “redistribute” and told me that my interpenetration is about the best he has ever heard.

  2. Nick,

    I am one of those people that is fully committed to developing a property using permaculture principles. However I’m in S.E. MI with a property that has too much water most of the time, do you have any recommendations?


    • I won’t pretend to be Nick and I don’t know what you mean by “too much water” but I will tell you what I did on a swampy area of property I had.

      I used the principle, “the problem is the solution.” How would that principle guide you?

  3. Loved the interview, I lived out in El Paso for a few years in the Army, well before I was able to purchase a home, I cannot wait to see the American version of greening the desert.

  4. Loved it gentlemen.

    I think permaculture might be my life calling. Love the idea of sustainable food production in any environment, and particularly excited about the structural side of it. Sustainable grid-independent housing (or as near net zero as possible).

    Nick-not the right time or place for me, but permaculture WILL be a major part of my life, so I will continue to stay tuned, and hopefully cross paths in the future.

    Thx Jack for yet another show about REAL survival.


  5. RationalHusker, if you really believe you own land, stop paying your property taxes for a couple of years and you’ll see who really owns it

    • Ha, I complete agree 🙂 But that’s not the same issue I’m picking at. While true ownership is a bit of a myth if a person has to fork over thousands of dollars of taxes each year indefinitely, I’m talking about the ideal that private ownership of land is a good thing, both for individual liberty, and for the environment.

    • Further, I think property tax is necessary if you expect to have roads built and maintained and utilities to your property. But I also think they should sunset after some period, or have a very low “cap” once a reasonable period of time has past since development. Getting off topic though.

  6. Another amazing podcast! I must say that I have slight crush on Nick now. Don’t worry, Jack, I’ve been crushing on you since I started listening to your podcast. But, Nick’s enthusiasm and common sense perspective of permaculture and his views for the future are nothing short of revolutionary! I especially resonated with the segment about being a weed in the soil of humanity. I’m a 26 year old, Ron Paul supporting, libertarian thinking, prepper woman working in IT while also working to start a permaculture business. How much weedier can I get??? Hahaha. Thanks again for another awesome interview 🙂

  7. @ Jerry Ward
    That is an excellent question that I believe many people have. This is where the principle of looking at the problem as the solution is almost crystal clear (pun intended). So through that lens – you do not have a problem with an over abundance of water – you have a water management issue that can be corrected with a little knowledge and know how. First and foremost I would get some earthworks in the ground to even slower the rate of absorption into your soil more. If you still feel like you are coming up to a boggy marsh then you have an even better issue – now you start thinking aquaculture. Think chinampa (one of the oldest recorded traditional sustainable agricultural systems ever documented by man – and is the most productive agricultural system we know of). You can get more lbs of protein by large if you are growing fish as well as aquatic species of plants. Not only that plant species fetch top dollar at markets! If you feel you would like some on site help with your property – send me an email!

    @Urbivalist Dan
    Make the change – be the change – Lead by example!
    We are here to help – ready when you are.

    @ TSPers
    You rock!

  8. I really do encourage folks to try and take advantage of workshops at Jack’s house. It was a real treat to have Nick there at the woody bed workshop. I’m sure Jack appreciated it too, since Nick was able to provide instruction as well. Jack and Dorothy are amazing hosts. You can only learn so much from videos or a podcast as practical lab experience will solidify the learning process. The workshops are a value added benefit of being part of this community.

  9. I am sincerely interested in the appprenticeship. I know there is immense potential even here in the city, in New Jersey even…Garden State needs to be accurate finally. Turn trash into treasure. It is what our Creator would want, Gaia as well. Our mothership needs good stewards. Again I am interested because I can consult out here and elsewhere.

  10. I was thrilled with this interview and hoping to get more knowledge from a ‘local’ perspective I immediately signed up for Nick’s free introduction to permaculture. It was a hectic week and I still don’t know how I confused the dates, especially since I had to have typed in the date I chose to attend but I showed up at Nick’s door Saturday fully believing I was supposed to be there, three weeks early.
    I cannot tell you all how gracious Nick was to spend his valuable time hearing and discussing my thoughts and needs and challenges.
    Nick is a storehouse of knowledge and I am still thinking and processing all the valuable information he shared.
    As a small business owner with no employees vacations or time off is all but impossible making most workshops out of reach but I have such a renewed hope and sense of direction I can hardly contain it. Nick targeted exactly where I was trying to shortcut the process and opened my eyes to see that the very people I was starting to put my hope in are most likely doing much very wrong, considering the cost they must pass on to sustain their small farms.
    I want so much to call in the land movers now and transform by place into an example to share with family farmers across my state as well as my family.
    My son had a houseful of young guests when I returned Saturday night and I shared my almost misadventure with them. My son quickly shared that mom has been studying this for years and everyone thinks I’m crazy so they were thrilled that someone had gone to such lengths to make my day!

    Thanks Jack for introducing us to Nick! And thank you Nick if you see this for your great desire to help change this world for the better!

    • Vicki – wow – Humbled!
      It was a pleasure meeting you and look forward to helping you get your acreage into abundance!
      Hope to see you at the Free Intro into Permaculture on the 24th

  11. Hey guys – a heads up.
    Many folks not from the North Texas area have emailed or showed interest in getting some permaculture consultation or learning and wanted to know if I could help or knew someone who could.

    Here are the options I would recommend:
    1. If you have funds to get some work on the ground at your property but may need some help on my fee – it is ok. Get in contact with me through email and let me know your situation and what you CAN afford. I really do want to help you. This goes for both “on site” and “over the phone” consultancies.

    2. If you cannot make it to one of our courses here in North Texas or one of the courses I may be co teaching in another area of the states/world then please go to and sign up and let the world of permaculturist know who you are and where you are at. You will also be able to search for teachers near you as well.

    And lastly – A tremendous amount of gratitude to you guys for showing your interest and support in permaculture – I am grateful to be able to offer my service in help.