Health Vibed Radio EP #3 – Rob Lawrence How To Begin Applying Permaculture (Transcript)

(The Podcast Audio Will Be Here Shortly, Just Doing Some Final Edits 🙂 )

Nick Earl: Welcome back lovely people to the show. This is episode number 3. Today I've got an interview with an expert in Permaculture, Rob Laurence. This is a really good interview I think you're going to get a lot out of it. Especially if you're interested already in the idea of Permaculture but haven't actually done anything or learned enough to start using the ideas of Permaculture.

One of the most valuable things you will get out of this call is more resources on how to learn more about Permaculture from someone who has actually done it for coming up to 20 years now, and I think that's really valuable. Sharing as many resources as basically as Rob can think of, and also, we'll be talking about some detailed applications of Permaculture. Also the bigger picture and how it relates to overall life philosophy. I'm going to introduce Rob to the call now, I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you very much for being on the show Rob. It's great to have you on [Health Fads 00:01:08] Radio, and you are the first in person interview that I've done so far. That's a bit of a bonus. Welcome to the show.

Rob Laurence: Thanks Nick, it's great to be here.

Nick Earl: My pleasure. First of all, some people who will come across this interview that have no idea really what Permaculture is, they might have heard the name. If you could just maybe, firstly, what is Permaculture and would you be able to just give us a fairly simple summary of what it is?

Rob Laurence: Yes, I hope so. Permaculture is an integrated system for designing biological and social ecosystems. Generally, there's a lot of difficulty in describing that because it's just so applicable in every aspect of human life and existence on the planet. My favorite way that someone has described Permaculture is from Rosemary Morrow and she does it in one of her YouTube videos where she talks about Permaculture covering all of human living. It covers everything we do in terms of eating our food, our products, our shelter, our water, our air, our relationships with each other and our economy which is of course is a big question. It's everything.

Nick Earl: It integrates into all aspects of life. I'm gathering, maybe you'll correct me, but at the basic level for a lot of people it's more to do with the gardening but as you get into it more and more you'll see how it connects to all the other areas you just talked about.

Rob Laurence: I think it's easiest to focus on Permaculture as a system of design because it gives us a key blueprint for how it can move forward and how we relate with our planet, what role we are going to take in the story of earth as a living being and all of the other living beings that are on it.

Nick Earl: It's beautiful, I like that. It is a beautiful concept as people will learn more if they study it, it's all about respect in a way. Respecting people, respecting the earth, respecting yourself, living in a respectful way. It helps everyone. It helps yourself and it doesn't degrade the planet.

Rob Laurence: Absolutely.

Nick Earl: It's a great thing.

Rob Laurence: Yes. It comes out of having a will and a desire. We've observed the degradation around the planet over the last 200 years and we're going, “Oh, well.” We've got to do something about that, it's hurting. It's not just hurting the planet, it's hurting ourselves at the same time we are getting sick. We are buying stuff to stay alive longer but we're not really truingly experiencing the fullness of living that we really could be.

Nick Earl: A lot of us are living longer but not in great health which is a bit of a paradox really. What's the point of that? You want to live a long healthy life and enjoy it.

Rob Laurence: We've got to have a constructive way of moving forward. I think Permaculture offers that better than anything else I've found so far.

Nick Earl: Great. Well, great that's … I think that gives people a good idea, so thanks for that. We'll move on to our next question. Again, a lot of these questions are coming from a place of … from somebody who doesn't know much or doesn't know a lot about Permaculture, but I think there is going to be a lot in this interview that will, some insights, some nuggets if you will that people who are more experienced will get something out of this as well.

For those people who think, “Yeah, I know this stuff about Permaculture,” hang in there because it's going to be some less introductory stuff as well. For those who don't know, the so-called father of Permaculture is Bill Mollison. That's the correct pronunciation as far as you know?

Rob Laurence: Yeah.

Nick Earl: Bill Mollison. Can you tell us Rob what you know about him from your perspective?

Rob Laurence: Bill was born in Tasmania in Australia and lived there for a fair amount of his life.

Nick Earl: Is Tasmania actually part of Australia? I'm joking.

Rob Laurence: If it's in Tasmania you don't consider it to be part of Australia. It's called the Mainland, most of it. I lived there for a couple of years. One of the reasons I was attracted there was because I knew Bill was from that place. He used to do many things, being in a small town part of the world where it's close to the natural environment. He noticed that there was less biodiversity and less actual numbers of living beings on the planet than there used to be. He used to be a fisherman and a hunter and he was a forestry worker.

He started to observe a few things about the iniquity of the way that we run our society as well, where we've got people working in the bush cutting wood for a whole house in a day and still not being able to own their own house. That came up as well in his thinking. He went on to study in Tasmania in university. One of his students was David Holmgren a PhD student. Together, really, they came up with a way of addressing this environmental damage that was happening not just in Tasmania but right across the planet as a byproduct of the modern wisdom style society.


This is all on the 1970s, and then they went on to produce I think it was in 1998 the Designer's Manual which they call it the Bible or the tone because it's so big and heavy.

Nick Earl: That's the Bible, yeah. This is by the way for listeners who don't know what we're talking about, this is the book that's basically the main book in Permaculture, the best place to start would be probably for a lot of people. That book, what's the actual title, Rob?

Rob Laurence: It's Permaculture a Designer's Manual.

Nick Earl: We have it here. Unfortunately, listeners cannot see it because this is not television. It is a beautiful book. Permaculture a Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison is the exact title. For those after the call that want to learn more, that's probably great. We're going to talk more about further resources but that's probably one of the main ones, would you say?

Rob Laurence: This one is the main one if you are really starting to get into the nuts and bolts of using Permaculture and it's a design system.

Nick Earl: More application level than just understanding what lives?

Rob Laurence: Yeah. It's quite a heavy going for a first person, a 5-minute interview, that someone might be a bit easier to get started. Then once you start to understand the why, and why we're doing this then you start to try things out. Then as you get more skills by thinking about things and applying them, and then doing a bit more research and just this going in the cycle of research, think, do, and then look for feedback. Then go into a PDC and in that PDC you are undoubtedly going to come across that manual.

Nick Earl: What is the PDC?

Rob Laurence: Permaculture Design Course.

Nick Earl: We're going to talk a bit more about that later, I think, as well. Not only is it a pretty good introduction for those who actually want to apply Permaculture but it's something you could come back to. It's an ongoing resource, I guess, reference resource.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, absolutely.

Nick Earl: I think that was a pretty good introduction to Bill Mollison, the man. Is there anything else you want to say about him or the book, Rob, the Bible so to speak?

Rob Laurence: As far as the book is concerned I think it's really valuable toolkit for a person who wants to design or teach Permaculture design. It's quite involved in detail. What was written back then and published in 1988 is still relevant today and will be relevant for a long time. It's really worth taking the time to own a copy and refer to it. It's a good reference book. I wouldn't have that as my only book on Permaculture. We have to keep in mind that not everybody learns by reading. A lot of people learn by doing. We learn from each other. We like to do courses. We like to practice things.

Nick Earl: Some people hate reading.

Rob Laurence: Some people like to listen to things. Some people hate reading, yes. We live in a modern world where we want to take hackers. The word hackers is popular now. We want to get a shortcut.

Nick Earl: Health Vibed has got a bit of a “bio hacking” connection. I actually don't like the term but people know what it means, basically bio hacking is just hacking your health, basically and taking responsibility. I prefer the term taking responsibility for your health.

Rob Laurence: You know what, I'm so glad to hear you say that phrase because for me that's what Permaculture really means.

Nick Earl: Taking responsibility.

Rob Laurence: Taking responsibility for our place and the story of the planet. In order to do that, we have to move forward with open eyes, we have to avoid prejudging everything, we have to avoid prescriptive information and find things out for ourselves. The descriptive rather than prescriptive and taking responsibility.

Nick Earl: Yeah, that's good. I'm glad you added that as well. Nothing else really to mention on Bill Mollison. You're pretty happy. As you said, you were saying to me just before just to clarify, it's actually quite a heavy technical book. I'm not sure if you mentioned that on the call but it's quite technical. For some people it might scare them off too early. Maybe just bear that in mind, if you do get it and find it extremely technical on too much so for what you want at the time, that's normal and don't be afraid of Permaculture. There's other great books and Rob had that experience himself. Rob's now 20 years later is a Permaculture expert, so there you go.

Rob Laurence: Thanks Nick, you're very kind. Bill does an introduction to Permaculture. In response to that kind of feedback Bill, and teamed up with I think it's Anita something Sly. I can't quite remember her name. They produced an introduction to Permaculture, a much more accessible book. I think once you get into that starting, getting, and finding out more about it I think it's worth going and seeing a couple of YouTube's. Toby Hemenway does a great video called Redesigning Civilization. It takes about an hour to watch. It's a recording of a presentation he was giving.

David Jacke or J-A-C-K-E, is his last name, he also talks about Permaculture. I love listening to him quite recently or watching the YouTube video where he talks about moving on from seeing ourselves of how we relate with nature and seeing that sense of separation to actually say, “We are nature, remembering we're becoming members of nature again and seeing Permaculture as that.” There's a couple of other ways you can get into Permaculture.

Nick Earl: That's really good. Thank you for adding that.

Rob Laurence: If you really do want a nice accessible book, a good way to get started is to read Rosemary Morrow's book, An Earth User's Guide to Permaculture.

Nick Earl: That's Rosemary Morrow, M-O R-R-O-W?

Rob Laurence: Yeah, that's right. Yeah.

Nick Earl: For those who are in Australia around the Sydney area she is local from Blue Mountains, isn't she? She lives out there.

Rob Laurence: Yeah. She lives here now and she's lived here for a long time. She taught my Permaculture design course.

Nick Earl: She's a legend in the Permaculture world.

Rob Laurence: I like to think of her as a teacher's teacher. She really opened my eyes about how people learn. She's taken the time to actually write the teacher's guide to teaching Permaculture, which I have found nothing better actually as a resource. It's a great way to get started if you want a book.

Nick Earl: What was the title again, sorry?

Rob Laurence: An Earth User's Guide to Permaculture.

Nick Earl: Excellent. That's great. Thanks for the extra resource. By the way, we'll mention this again at the end of the call but there's going to be a list of the resources we talked about on this page with the podcast, on the show notes page for the podcast. Don't worry about trying to write any of this down, you can just simply go look for that. Thanks for that, Rob. We'll move along. Just wondering more introductory, how long have you been practicing and using the methodology of Permaculture and how did you get into this line of work? Or this whole subject, not just line of work?

Rob Laurence: I think this has been a very long-term process of my personal development. When I was at university I would go out hunting with my friends in the New Zealand back country. The more time I spent out in nature I started to realize that a lot of the ways we look at nature now, relationship with it, really didn't seem to resonate with me. I did feel a deep sense of needing to preserve and nurture what nature we do have. Partly, through my university education I decided to travel to South America and Central America to find out what indigenous cultures were that exists there.

How they have related with the environment before Western European capitalism based societies came and layered on top of what was already there. To find out what was persistent and what wasn't really. I was fortunate to have quite a few lucky breaks there in taking part with local indigenous cultural ceremonies.

Then when I came back I thought, “Right, okay, so we've got a Western European capitalism based system and there are indigenous cultures around the world who have a connection with space, and planet, and their place in the universe, and a more 50/50 relationship with the environment that they are part of. What have we got? Maybe there's something that we've got.” Then I stumbled on Permaculture and started looking at Bill's book. Then I read Rose book. I thought, “Oh great, this is like organics but with extra legs.” It talked more about integrating ourselves with our environment. That was in 1998 and I've been pursuing that in some way ever since.

Nick Earl: Cool. That's actually really interesting, I didn't know that you went to South America and had those experiences. That must've been very inspirational.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, it was. Yeah. The rise of [crosstalk 00:18:35] …

Nick Earl: Realizing that capitalism is not the only answer, not the only way to live and see people doing it.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, I think it's time to rewrite the book on how we run our social and economic systems, that's coming up.

Nick Earl: Yeah, I think, so. In the next few years I think there's going to be some big changes and I think they will be positive. Let's not get too side tracked. That gives people a good idea of how long you've been doing this for quite a while. You've learned a lot. Obviously that's why I chose your interview because you're very knowledgeable about this topic. Is there anything else you wanted to add about your story or journey, how you got into it?

Rob Laurence: Yes, I suppose so. We could go further, we all love to talk about ourselves. I think the main thing is that I heard of the idea of Permaculture about 1998. It actually gave some validation to something that I couldn't quite articulate until then. Whatever I chose to do in the next few years of my life, this desire or need to find a way that we can change our global consciousness toward a more harmonious relationship with our planet that I would seek those opportunities. When it came to having an opportunity to study with the author of the first Permaculture book I actually read, I jumped at that chance.

Nick Earl: Permaculture had been the vehicle, if you will, which you've chosen as a way to try to live your ideals.

Rob Laurence: Yeah.

Nick Earl: I guess that's what it is for a lot of people. Okay, well that's great. If you would boil it down, from what you said there, if it's possible but because it's a whole life as we just talked about it, it's an ideal and its related to your values in life. If you could boil it down to just one value or one aspect what was your main attraction to Permaculture?

Rob Laurence: We may have already covered this but just that it represents a viable system to lead us to a more harmonious relationship with our planet.

Nick Earl: It actually gives you a way to get from where you are, or where we are right now to where we need to be.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, and it's based on ethics. We're actually making a valid judgment about what we feel is right or what you decide as a right life. That is found through long observation because we've all lived quite a few number of years on the planet, each of us. You get to a conclusion where you go, “Well, we must find a way forward.” Then, there's a viable system, great. We'll use this and we'll try and make the best of it. If it works, great and if it doesn't, we'll accept that feedback and find another way.

Nick Earl: Learn something and move on. I think it does provide that solution. All right. I assume from my limited knowledge, Rob, that Permaculture so far, I've done a bit of work with you. I've done the introductory course here locally with you in a couple of other Permacultural experts. I assume for my knowledge so far that there are a lot of principle was involved in Permaculture. As you said, it can get very technical. If you had to boil it down to say 3 principles in Permaculture that are the most essential, could you do that? Is it possible? I don't know. That's the question anyway. If it's not possible, it's completely fine. I'll just move on. Is there a couple of 3 main principles?

Rob Laurence: There's actually quite a lot of principles in Permaculture and they are spawned from the 3 ethics. Let me just cover the 3 ethics, primarily. Which Bill puts in his design manual as care of the earth, now that's of the earth, not for the earth. It's actually taking care of the earth. That means the provision of all life systems to continue and multiply. If you take that ethic and use it as your first go-to thought when you start a garden, you're going to do all right.

Care of people is the second principle and that's the provision of people to access those resources necessary to their existence. If you were talking in terms of making sure that what you produce in your garden cares for you, I think that's important. Also what you put into your garden is not harmful to you, that's important too. We would avoid, like I say is we would avoid unnecessary toxic poisons. If you're caring for yourself you'll care for the earth, and if you care for the earth you're caring for yourself and other people.

The third ethic is a bit gnarly one, really, because people have different ways of expressing it. In Bill's book he calls it, “Set limits to population and consumption.” By governing our own needs we can set resources aside to further the above principles. Most people interpret that as feedback into the system and in need not greed. In a garden sent that take your scraps from the kitchen bench and put them back into the system.

Nick Earl: Unless they're plastic.

Rob Laurence: Unless they're plastic.

Nick Earl: If they're recyclable, put them back in.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, and find ways to do it. It's a lot of problem-solving. You have to be flexible in how you solve problems but if you're following the 3 ethics you're going to be all right.

Nick Earl: Those 3 ethics can guide a lot of the behaviors and practices.

Rob Laurence: It's probably worth mentioning here that from the 3 ethics David Holmgren came up with the most widely set of what they call, this is jargon now, of 12 principles which are really nuts and bolts of how to go about what we're doing. In order to create a system that takes us toward sustainability on our planet and then beyond sustainability into harmony, and then beyond harmony to being part of the planet. Then those principles really take us down that journey. Bill also had his own set of principles and there are others as well. All of them heading in the same direction, it's a lot of overlap. If you pick one of them and integrate that in your practices you would be well on your way.

Nick Earl: If you really thought how can I, my journey for myself? If you really asked that question then you probably wouldn't put pesticides on your … you would use chemicals in your garden, you wouldn't eat crappy food. Even that one question could save you a lot of time and you wouldn't have to go with learn all this theory. In some ways is it's quite simple, it's just a matter of actually doing the work and asking the hard questions.

Rob Laurence: We don't have time to learn everything there is to know about something before we take some action and get started. Even if you're starting small, and slow and simple. If you're starting slow and simple then at least you're starting. You don't only learn from books and you don't only learn from podcasts, you learn from doing as well and then you learn from teaching others what you learned. The time to act is now even if it is how you hold your body. That's a small change that we can make and that's caring for yourself, too.

Nick Earl: This relates to us back into a theme which is the reason I started [Health Fads 00:27:51] just because I was dealing with some health issues and I wanted to start to take responsibility for my health and what you are saying ties into that, because you have to apply information, not just read it, apply it in order to actually see how it works. Then you get feedback, then you tweak things based on that. That's the “hacking.”

Rob Laurence: For those people who now go on and find out a bit more about David Holmgren and his 12 principles we've just mentioned 3 of them within the last conversation that was spoke about, and start slow and simple is one of them.

Nick Earl: In a way, I could answer my own question by saying you don't need to know all of the principles to start to take some action, apply some basics of Permaculture.

Rob Laurence: Care for yourself, care for people, care for the earth. Just take only what you need and feedback into the system to keep it going.

Nick Earl: If everyone understood those couple of things the planet would be probably in pretty good shape.

Rob Laurence: Yeah. We'd certainly be well on our way.

Nick Earl: Yeah, exactly. Getting onto more of the nuts and bolts of how someone can start to apply Permaculture. In terms of gardening and creating a design of garden that uses some of these ideas, let's say someone has … because a lot of people listening to this might have a little bit of space that they could use to do some experimentation with Permaculture. If someone has their own average sized garden, let's say 20 meters squared, something like that. They've got average soil development. I'm just making a whole bunch of presumptions here. Their soil is okay, they've got a compost heap. How plausible is it for them to grow a large proportion of their own fruit and vegetables? Because this is something relevant to my own life, we're trying to do this at home right now. I'm just wondering how realistic is that for most people?

Rob Laurence: I think it's very realistic. I think about 8 years ago I set a goal before doing my Permaculture course but having known about it, I set a goal to reach 80% of our vegetable for a family of 4, vegetable intake on about 80 square meters. That's 20 meters by 4 meters. By and large we achieved that. You've got to work with the seasons, you've got to work with the natural phenomena of the universe, the sun, the wind, the rain, the soil, the slope. You've got to work with them but you can create more and more productivity that theoretically there's no limits to the number of interconnections that you can create in a particular space.

There's theoretically no limits to the yield either. You've got to manage things over time practically, you've got to manage it your seasons, what kinds of foods is growing when and where. It gets really involved. The best thing to do is you start by taking the time to observe the natural phenomena, the resources you mentioned like the soil types, and vegetation types which gives you clues of the soil types and the water availability. You really can change pretty much anything on that site except the sun aspect probably.

Nick Earl: Shelter, maybe, like natural things that are the big things might be harder to change.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, like physical structures I mean it becomes not feasible to change physical structures, but there's no reason we can't actually produce enough food in urban areas to sustain urban areas. It's just a matter of how willing are we to do that? That is really the key thing, it's got to come back to the needs and capabilities, and commitment of the individual who was involved. You don't necessarily need a 20 square meters to produce a hell of lot of food for yourself and your family. You can grow sprouts on the bench, you can grow micro greens in your front window.

That can all come into it. It's not the only limit. Time is another limit, not just spacing. You can grow up, you can inter crop, you can get more and more intricacy. That's what I was referring to as being able to design more and more.

Nick Earl: There's not a lot of limitations on it, really. Obviously there is a lot of work. This all takes a lot of work. Someone who is serious about producing their own food, probably …

Rob Laurence: You can design that parameter into your system. I don't have a lot of time or I don't have a lot of knowledge, so you've got a choice you can either make time and get knowledge, or you can create a system where it takes less maintenance but still produces what I'm hoping to get out of my area. We've just got to remember that part of Permaculture is I've got a particular area of the planet that I'm taking responsibility for, and I'm going to look after that as best as I can and the surpluses that come out of doing that process of looking after that life that's in that area is going to create byproducts that we can call yield.

That yield becomes a byproduct of the nurturing of the whole of the ecology of your space. We are talking in terms of soil ecology. What does the soil ecology need? It needs good water and it needs protection from the wind and the sun. You start there and you work your way up and down from there.

Nick Earl: That's a great answer. Thank you very much. People will see from that, that's it's perfectly possible to grow your own food at quite a decent rate, get a good yield out of the space you have, and there's not a lot of limitations like you just said. It's just a matter of working out ways around them. That's more zooming into things like on a more detailed, closer, looking at things closely. If we were to zoom out a little bit, what's the big picture when it comes to Permaculture? Maybe you've already covered this, we'll see. From what I understand Permaculture stands in opposition to the old and somewhat destructive belief systems of faster is better, bigger is better, et cetera.

Which has a lot to do with the old mindset that we're now realizing is not going to work long-term because of the planet's finite resources and limited space. Could you say anything about that?

Rob Laurence: There is the old adage that if you're in a hole stop digging. One way to look at it is, the old adage, “If you're in a hole stop digging.” There is enough evidence out there to conclude, really that humans are having a massive effect on the environment and that is characterized by loss of habitat, loss of species, biodiversity, loss of wild places, loss of water health, loss of water itself, rising sea oceans, acidification of the oceans, air pollution.

You've got disjointed community structures. We've got top-down economics and top-down political structures and it's not working. If you've discovered what isn't working we can now say we can put that one in a box and start thinking about what does work, what can work. We're going to have to try something else. I actually really like David Jacke's statement, and I don't think it was necessarily from him it may have come originally from David Holmgren. He may have been referring to it in his YouTube clip.

If you are at the top of a mountain who have reached peak oil and peak everything, isn't it better to find a way we can climb back down carefully than rather do that then simply jump off? That's why Permaculture is part of what we have to do next.

Nick Earl: It's a good analogy, I like that. We zoomed in and then we zoomed out a lot to the bigger picture. Now, we're zooming in again.

Rob Laurence: Okay, that's fine.

Nick Earl: The binoculars may be faulty. Zooming back in a little closer from that more bigger picture which is very interesting by the way, I like that. I like thinking about the bigger picture because it simplifies everything. Going back a little bit closer, can you give us an example of a small-scale Permaculture set up in someone's garden? For example, like one of the principles in operation, for example, how to set up a pond in a fashion that applies the principles of Permaculture?

Rob Laurence: I guess, first of all you need to ask yourself, “Why am I setting up a pond?” It may not be the very first question you ask yourself. You'll look at yourself and your lifestyle and it might be more convenient to start sprouting on the bench or putting a food, vegetable box on your balcony. It depends on your situation. Let's go to a pond. If a pond is part of your integrated system you're going to be looking at it's going to follow certain principles such as we're going to try and get the most output out of it for the least amount of input.

It might take a lot of work, and this is typical of Permaculture systems, they can take a lot of work to get set up but once you get more and more connections happening it becomes more self-regulating. With a pond, you would prepare the pond, make sure you do it properly as far as structurally is concerned, as far as it is structural. Then you would find a healthy living pond which already exists. First of all, you've got to make sure it's got could run on. You're going to think about where does the water come from? How does it arrive? Is it going to dump a whole lot of toxic waste into the water? What is the overflow going to be like?

We have to work out where it's going to overflow if we get a large amount of rain in a short period. We go into the data on the website for the government data or for your websites and find out what is the biggest amount of water you can get in one go. Prepare for that, work out what area of water, what cubic feet or cubic meters of water or inches, centimeters of water you're going to get in a certain period of time? How will you manage that arriving into the system? How will you manage it leaving the system?

Will you have a reed bed below that? Will you have a reed bed above that? Maybe the reed bed might actually be cleaning your gray-water from the house before it goes into the pond, so that it's cleaned.

Nick Earl: I love that kind of aspect of Permaculture. It's systems thinking in a way, isn't it? A lot of its systems thinking.

Rob Laurence: It is. Then we're looking at who can we make it a deal with? What biological systems can we make a deal with to help us with that? If we're putting a reed bed in the reason is because we want to grow plants that are going to filter water and making it clean. That's going to make it more habitable for other living organisms. What other organisms can we have? Maybe if our pond is big enough we can grow plants that will provide shelter for fish.

Before we even get there we will probably have to go and find a living working pond ecosystem similar to how we want ours to work and we will actually go at different times of the day and we'll scoop some of that water from that old pond and bring the microorganisms that are living in that water and actually use them to inoculate your pond with new organisms. You will actually do practical, simple, it's all about high science, low technology.

Yes, we want microorganisms in our water so let's use something very simple like collect some from somewhere else and move it. You have to do that over a period of time but eventually you'll have enough microbes in your water, enough biodiversity of microbes to hopefully get larger organisms going. Then eventually we might end up with a few fish to eat. There's a lot of work there but then there's nothing greater than the pleasure of knowing that you can catch your dinner out on your front doorsteps.

Nick Earl: Yeah, that'll be great.

Rob Laurence: If you eat fish.

Nick Earl: I remember reading some Permaculture book it was showing a diagram of a pond, that no seem to relation of, the ducks, the snails, the ducks are obviously good for snail control so I thought that was a really good example.


Mapping the land you want to work with is an important element of Permaculture

Rob Laurence: Yeah, and you get eggs off ducks. If you look at what we call like ducks or snails in a Permaculture system, we tend to refer to them as elements so you would say a duck is an element, or a snail is an element and each …

Nick Earl: A pesky element.

Rob Laurence: Perhaps, but it still functions, because we try and take the emotions out of how we look at the element or its place and then we start talking about what functions it performs, what services does it provide, how does it interact? Everything. Even a rock performs functions. It can retain heat, it can reflect heat, it can provide wind shelter, it can provide cover for the ground, so it can even be a mulch. What color it is matters, what density. If you really take a long-term view, what habitat does it provide for liking and other organisms. Even what minerals will wash off of it into the soil? That's just a rock.

Nick Earl: That's great, I love the level of detail.

Rob Laurence: Same with ducks. If we see a duck as a resource, we are going to go how many ducks is our food? We might even catch one thing. If we say, well, if we've got habitat for ducks, we'll get and buy this, we might get a few eggs if we send the children down to hunt for them. We might get some feathers. On the whole the duck will be eating food out of the pond, it will be adding nutrients to the pond system which then the overflow could be harvested with nutrient rich water then we might get a bio product of food as a result from the downstream from that. As you said they're also pest control and they're also company. They enjoy company.

Nick Earl: Aesthetic value as well. You hear the ducks, they're nice to look at, they provide … They create a bit of atmosphere, so many aspects.

Rob Laurence: Once you're getting as far as introducing elements like ducks into the system, and then they can teach you a lot, too. You watch their behaviors and they will respond. You can observe. This is one of the great things about being a human being is we start to look at these layers of things and we say, “Well, how is the duck responding to that situation?” “The duck's behaving today.” They become also our teachers, so not just our teachers, well so it becomes even more exciting.

I think a lot of people are ready to start acting on Permaculture. They want to improve their lives. It's a long way before we put in ponds but if you've got enough space and you can get together all the things a duck needs then do all of that, then introduce your ducks. Make sure you've got all the other things worked out before you bring them in. There's a lot of planning involved, and because you're dealing with water you would really want to design it. That comes down to even providing, like making sure that the pond is deep where it needs to be deep, shallow where it needs to be shallow, do the ducks have an island, where they refuge, where they can be safe from predators? You've got to find out what that element needs before you introduce it. Then you introduce it and it can start interacting in the system.

Nick Earl: In other words, don't just take a hole, fill it with water and drop a duck straight in there.

Rob Laurence: Exactly.

Nick Earl: I was thinking about what you said, you're talking about the rock and how the rock is not just a rock, it has all these attributes. That lead me to the thought like what about humans, when we think about humans that way? I was just thinking humans are pretty resource intensive. They just sucked up all the resources. That's part of the challenge where Permaculture is addressing, isn't it? Making us less selfish. See ourselves in the bigger context of the system.

Rob Laurence: I think, so. There's a classic learning exercise we do where you just get a diagram, an outline of a person and you think of that person, and you think, “What is this person need?” Just thinking of it as an element in a system, “What does the human need to exist?” Food, shelter, clothing, company, spiritual enlightenment, whatever that person needs to have a full and healthy life. What kind of nutrients and all that. You can go as far as you'd like with the detail but it's about asking the right question what does this person actually need? Whereas opposed to, what does this person want?

Nick Earl: We need very few things compared to what we want which is everything.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, when we focus on getting those basics right, and now ones will come as well. Then we look at the other side of the same piece of paper or page and on the other side of the diagram is what outputs does this being, this element produce? We produce work, we do things. We think about things, we interact with things, and we can be more specific. We produce urine and feces, we produce sweat.

Nick Earl: Good job humans.

Rob Laurence: We produce love as well and we produce all kinds of things. We have an ongoing relationship with our plan and we just got to stop denying it.

Nick Earl: Great. That was awesome. I love that. That was great.

Speaker 3: Sorry. Shit. Sorry.

Nick Earl: Can you just not interrupt at all? That was a really good long answer and I appreciate you go into such depth because we've got a lot of good insight into Permaculture and the systems thinking of it. I think that's what really interests me is the systems thinking and the responsibility. It's really intelligent. It's an intelligent whole array of concepts. It's about taking responsibility as we talked about.

Rob Laurence: Nick, can I also add at this time, I think if someone just wanted some nuts and bolts and wanted to walk out their back door today and get on with things, if they took a piece of paper in their hands and a pencil, and they walked around their property, and take time to observe and make notes, and think at 2 levels at the same time. What do I really need for myself as a human being?

In order to make things work with me and where I am right now, what do I want to happen? You've got that in your mind so what's wanted. Then you've got to take that and just put it aside and continue walking around your property and go, “What's there?” That's where the Permaculture design's method starts to kick in, and you start to look at, “Where is the sun? What's it doing at different times of the year? Where is the wind coming from? How strong is it? How often? How much does it affect the space? What slope have we got? How does that affect the other elements?” We're talking about water, wind, and sun, and vegetation as general elements. You get to the nitty-gritty once you start doing things.

You work from the pattern to the detail. We go, “Where's the sun? What's it doing? Where's the wind? What's it doing? What's the slope?” Therefore we can work out the aspect in relation to the sun. “What kind of soils have you got? What kind of vegetation have you got?” Soils and vegetation give you clues and hints of what each other are and also, “What structures are there and can't he changed? What access do you have to the site and what can be changed if you need it to? How do you make it work efficiently?” Sticking to what's there.

Of course the big one and probably in my view and where we live the biggest is water. “How does water arrive on the site? What happens to it when it's there? How does it leave the site?” If you go out there and you think in terms of those things that gives you a base plan from which you can then start to think about what's wanted and start to plant that. Those are the nuts and bolts when you want to get started.

Nick Earl: Great, thanks for adding that. That's another good introductory for people I see beyond the learning about the theory and want to actually apply it. For those who are completely new to Permaculture, it's going to be wrapping up a little bit here. I just want to create a pathway for people who are interested in Permaculture now, maybe they heard of it before this call but now they're really like, “That sounds really cool and something I'm interested in.” How would these people proceed? I just want to build a little bit of a small list of resources which I'm going to add to the show notes page for this podcast. Is there some things that you could maybe mention to people to get better acquainted with Permaculture? If you want to off-line as in non-Internet resources and websites, and anything at all that you can think of?

Rob Laurence: Permaculture has been around for 30 or more years now. Nearly 40 years. There's a lot of information out there and we're information rich. You can search online and you'll find YouTube videos. Anytime you come up against something and you think to learn I totally recommend YouTube videos. It's a quick hack to getting the job done. If you wanted to learn more, just search, search on YouTube. I can totally recommend Toby Hemenway's Redesigning Civilization, that's the YouTube video. That's Hemenway, H-E-M-E-N-W-A-Y.

I'm quite fond of David Jacke's work. In Australia there's a huge resource of excellent Permaculture teachers and resources, very well-known teachers throughout the planet. If you wanted a book to get started, I already mentioned Rosemary Morrow. I also looked at Linda Woodrow, she's from Northern New South Wales. Isabel Shippard, and I would probably appeal to a lot of people who are interested in health and longevity. Isibel Shippard and I think it's I-S-I-B-E-L S-H-I-P-P-A-R-D, she's an author from Northern New South Wales, no sorry, Sunshine Coast Southern Queensland. She does a lot of work on sprouts, information on sprouts, and food for survival.

I think some of the best ways you can get started if you want to grow your own food is go and find a local to your region old school gardening book, it was probably written in 1985 or some other older time when we were children. It's likely to have the nuts and bolts on how to grow cultivated food, because something we haven't mentioned that's really valuable is a lot of the food that we eat today has actually been bred to be cultivated on its own, given a nice little space and grown for productivity of a particular kind.

One of the big one is the brassica family, brassica, because it's so varied, all the subspecies of the brassicas are so closely related yet you've got ones which we harvest for the stem, ones which we harvest for the leaf, ones which we harvest the flower from. Some we get the roots from. Then there is the fabius family.

Nick Earl: Brassica, what's an example of it?

Rob Laurence: Cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi.

Nick Earl: They're usually pretty healthy, pretty high nutrient as well?

Rob Laurence: Yeah. Actually, it's probably a good thing if you were looking at nutrition, I think in terms of nutrition I think if I could only … One of the great things about nutrition, about growing food and this is a bio hack guys. Learn a plant family, so you learn the brassicas, they are colonizers. They have small round seeds which are easily dispersed. They happily move into newly cultivated areas so they're really good if you're clearing a small area size some brassicas, you'll get brassicas coming up. They come up quick. They cover an area and they also easily transplant so you spread them out. That is whether it's a cabbage, a soy, a Chinese cabbage, a broccoli, a cauliflower, or a Brussels sprouts in they're all related and that's only a few of them. If you learn how the family behaves, suddenly you can grow 10 or 20 plants.

Same as the fabius family, all the beans and peas, they go straight in the ground. The way that they evolved is that you grow a part, they are legume so they grow a part and then when the parts is ripe it bursts open and it flicks all the seeds out. You can eat the seeds. If you learn how they behave, and you'll get variations. You'll get climbers and you'll get bush types. They'll still behave in the same way. They like the same kinds of soil, rich, pre-draining moist soil. They also go in harmony with the brassicas because they produce nitrogen which the brassica is quite happily grow, especially the green ones.

Nick Earl: Those 2 families or species would be a good place for people to start.

Rob Laurence: In my opinion, the third one would be alliums, all the garlics and so forth. Garlics and spring onions and chives, because they have no intensifying properties.

Nick Earl: The antioxidants.

Rob Laurence: Antioxidants, brassicas …

Nick Earl: Broccoli is a good antioxidant probably.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, and kale.

Nick Earl: Okay, great. More practical information that people can actually apply.

Rob Laurence: Sorry. Small list of resources, I went and digressed.

Nick Earl: That's fine.

Rob Laurence: A local gardening book, practical how to learn.

Nick Earl: Local is important because otherwise it's not actually relevant to your specific area, sunlight and all those factors.

Rob Laurence: Yeah. You find your climate zone, a book that suitable for your climate zone. You never going to get the exact handbook for your particular street.

Nick Earl: Street.

Rob Laurence: You're going to have to work a few things out for yourselves. Definitely that's good to have in your toolkit. If you want a good practical Permaculture, actually Bill's Introduction to Permaculture is a good one as well.

Nick Earl: Bill Mollison, yeah.

Rob Laurence: Bill Mollison again. I think it's just called an Introduction to Permaculture. I think it's Mia Sly. The name is coming back but it's a shame that he's so famous because actually there's so many very clever, very articulate ready to teach people out there on the planet there. It's a shame that it's all about Bill because if you want to learn from a person, I cannot recommend highly enough for your own Rosemary Morrow, or anyone who's learned from her.

There's as many teachers out there as there are people, ways to teachers there are people. What's her name? Robin Clayfield from South Queensland she is all over learning interactively, so learning be it ad hoc groups, learning creatively. You can do a course, you can read books …

Nick Earl: I'll ask you about courses in a second.

Rob Laurence: You can do online. You can get in touch with the local Permaculture group and start getting involved. Also, be prepared to try thing. You find something out and make it happen because often we live in this society where we let the busyness of other stuff get in our way. If you go, “Right, I've just heard of permablitz.” Permablitz is where 2 or more people get together to get some Permaculture done. Get together with someone else. Get a couple of ideas going. If you've got someone with more experience, great, get in contact with them and say, “Look, we want to do a permablitz. We want to get a permablitz program started. Just get one going. It's fine.” In your local area and also be prepared to try things. It's only through building community networks that we can really, really transform the planet.

Nick Earl: Don't be afraid to start your own group, as you just said, and not rely on something already being set up.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, absolutely. We can't be ashamed of what we don't know. You've got to start somewhere. Passion is just about the only qualification you really need to be able to do something.

Nick Earl: Or even interest. Passion, maybe at the start you want to have passion but you'll have a bit of this.

Rob Laurence: Interesting.

Nick Earl: What's that Permaculture thing about? If there is any difference, what about someone who has decided they really want to get into Permaculture on a higher level, maybe to start their own Permaculture gardening business or just to become a real expert such as yourself in this area. What would you suggest for those types of people? By the way, this is international as well. I know we talked a little bit about Australian resources but a lot of these things are available internationally for people who are in the US, or the UK or anywhere because there could be people listening to this in any location. Is there something that may be generally speaking for most countries, this question like if you wanted to go into it on a more professional level, would you go to a college course?

Rob Laurence: The first place to start is the Permaculture design course. If you really just want to dip your toes, there's an introduction to Permaculture, it's a 3-day course and it gives you an overview of the ethics and the principles. Even before that it looks at the big questions of what are we doing to this planet? Then you start to got move a little bit further forward and you can go, what's happening in my particular part of the world? How can I do a basic redesign of where I am so that I can move into ethical gardening, or efficient organizing of my house so that it works for me. Even smaller, how do I use my body and look after my body so that it's working for me? Then take it from there. That's where you start.

Then if you want to go a little bit further you can skip the first thing if you're already very interested and do the full I think 80-hour course of Permaculture design course. That's designed to get you out with more in-depth knowledge of the principles and ethics and the key tools and techniques and methods for being able to design for other people or to teach people how to design for themselves. That's the next step.

Then you would add on to that doing stuff for yourself because you need to walk your own journey. You can't just be another output from an education system. That doesn't work. It's almost anti-permacultural because we really need people to be taking responsibility for their own journeys.

Nick Earl: Very relevant right now, actually, that last point. That Permaculture design course, it's international, is it like with that be in the US as well?

Rob Laurence: Yeah. Universities offer it as well, you can do it. Then you can go on and do some places … This has all been a grassroots movement. We've got, I think it's Jeff Lawton in Southern Queensland. No he's in [crosstalk 01:07:20] …

Nick Earl: … Australia for some people who …

Rob Laurence: Jeff Lawton in Australia, the eastern side of Australia, he's been running a diploma. You can also in the same very small bio region in Northern New South Wales in eastern Australia there is Robin Francis' course. She offers a diploma as well. She's retired I guess, a little bit. You can spend an extra year or more or 2. If you really want to find out more about that, there's the Australian Institute of Permaculture or Permaculture Institute of Australia, and that's all about.

Nick Earl: Probably just Google for that and you'll find the website or something, and have the website. We'll actually put it in the show notes on the podcast page as well.

Rob Laurence: The guys coming out of Permaculture diplomas, it's like a combination of an internship on a working Permaculture farm or property combined with extra study. You've got people looking really deep into how my ceiling works, really deeply into the science. You can only learn so much in 80 hours but then you've got to leave off that diving board and start getting into the microbiology of compost and why they work, and how they work, and what microbes you want to foster and which ones you don't want to foster. Then you have to be able to apply that in your local region, wherever you are.

For many of us our local region is our backyard, and then the lesson that you learn in your backyard you can apply in your local town or your local bio region. That's where I'd start. Once you get a little bit of positive feedback, and if you can also add into that get a yield, if you can also add into that a way of producing income from what you do whether it's in the design, or the implementation, or consultation, or maybe not even in gardening it might be actually … I know a permaculturalist in Sydney and she specializes in how we arrange our spaces inside the home.

We talk about a zone 0 and a zone 0 being inside the building. Then we all go out in the garden, but we spend most of our time in the house. In the house we spend most of our entire time in places like the kitchen. If we arrange our kitchen in a really functional way and each element in the kitchen such as a dishcloth for the honey jar is arranged in relation to other elements in the kitchen that make it easier to work, and for the human being to go in there and use it and get the outputs for the most rewards for the least effort. That's Permaculture for the kitchen. We don't even have to keep looking at the garden.

Nick Earl: Didn't even know myself that it went to that level.

Rob Laurence: We make it what it is. The big question here is how do we start tapping into the learnings from the late '70s counterculture and how do we turn our social interactions into Permaculture interactions? One of the things that's come out … There will be social Permaculture courses. You are asking actually, Nick, about professional stuff. Then you've got your PVC under your belt and you go, “Maybe, I want to do a diploma and get into nitty-gritty high science microbiology and that sort of thing, maybe I want to be an engineer and how do I organize my engineering to be functional and in an efficient way?” Then we've got to take this. The big challenge I think of the next decade is really, “How do we organize our social relationships in a Permaculture way?”

I was about to mention the ideas of resilient networks in society where they're organized by function and how we interact. One key way is if you've got a task that needs doing and you've got an organization, break that organization up so that there's at least 3 people or in a group of around 3 that can take care of any one area. In terms of the Permaculture way of thinking you've got, each person has multiple possible outputs. Say you want to take this to the corporate world, each person has multiple possible outputs and can overlap them into different areas. Also, each function that must be done can be taking care of multiple possible input sources.

Nick Earl: Wow, it gets complicated.

Rob Laurence: It does.

Nick Earl: Almost like quantum physics in a way, like multiple possibilities.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, as long as we don't have multiple personalities.

Nick Earl: Everyone does to some degree. It's okay.

Rob Laurence: That's a functional approach to organizing human behavior. There's just no limits.

Nick Earl: There's no limits. You could apply it to so many things, basically.

Rob Laurence: If you take those 3 ethics and you walk into a completely innovative area of life on earth that has very little to do with hands-on gardening, you can still call that Permaculture because there would be a permaculturalist who's doing the work.

Nick Earl: As in a practitioner of Permaculture.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, care for earth, care for people, and distribute service.

Nick Earl: Awesome. I think that is a great, like probably that's a lot of resources. All of this is going to be listed on the show notes page for this podcast. This is number 3, by the way. Sorry, Rob did you …?

Rob Laurence: I guess in terms of resources, each person listening is their own biggest resource.

Nick Earl: I like that. It ties back into the taking self responsibility as well. Taking responsibility for your own self as a resource. We'll wrap it up there. Was there any final thoughts or anything you to add?

Rob Laurence: No. It's always great to keep talking. I think it's just time to start re-framing our relationship with our planet and as you said, take responsibility for our role in the story of life on earth. Just to move forward gently with open eyes, compassionate heart and without attachment or greed. I think that is a sensible blueprint for a much longer life on earth than we would otherwise have.

Nick Earl: And happier.

Rob Laurence: And happier.

Nick Earl: More satisfying life.

Rob Laurence: Yeah, and moving more towards an abundance paradigm. Just create that abundance paradigm now.

Nick Earl: Great. I want to thank you for being on the show, Rob, and it's been a pleasure. I've learned a lot and I'll have to listen back to the audio many times over to get all the wisdom that you have bestowed. I'm sure lots of people listening will get a lot out of it. Thanks again. Rob is currently in the process of building something online for people to check him out, his work online. I will add that to the call at the end when that is available. For now, thank you very much for being on the show Health Vibed Radio, and it's been a pleasure.

Rob Laurence: Thanks, Nick. I'm very grateful.

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Nick Earl

About The Authors - Founder at, Nick is passionate about learning and implementing all information related to achieving optimum health. He's since made it his mission to learn, live and share these principles, many of which you can find on this blog. Read more of Nick's personal story here, as well as our mission here on this site, here.

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