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A History of Permaculture and its Movers and Shakers

This is the second part in my permaculture series. Check out Part I: Principles of Permaculture.

Permaculture is a process, continually rethought and built upon. It does not belong to any one person or rely on one charismatic leader. However, certain insightful individuals are important to the history of permaculture and to the future of the movement. This list is far from complete and will continue to grow as new names innovate with permaculture principles.

A Brief History of Permaculture and its Founders

Bill Mollison

 “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”

Bill Mollison is the first name that comes up when discussing the history of permaculture and its founders. He was a fisher, trapper, forester and university lecturer. Inspired by the forest of his native Tasmania, Mollison speculated that humans could create systems that worked just as well, if not better, than these natural ones.

Mollison had great respect for traditional and subsistence farmers. He observed that these farmers grow food in a way that gives back to the soil while producing more energy than is put into them. Drawing on these methods as well as his own scientific understanding of ecology, Mollison originated the permaculture concept. His seminal work, Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, remains the bible of the movement.

Permaculture is guided by three ethics: care of Earth, care of people, and fair share. Mollison was a visionary working tirelessly to spread his ideas and promote these ethics. We celebrated the life and mourned the loss of Mollison in September 2016.

One of Mollison’s quotes that always inspires me is, “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

history of permaculture


David Holmgren

 “Traditional agriculture was labour intensive, industrial agriculture is energy intensive, and permaculture-designed systems are information and design intensive.”

David Holmgren co-pioneered the permaculture concept with Bill Mollison in the 1970’s. He is best known for his influential work, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Unlike many permaculture books that focus primarily on agricultural design, Holmgren’s book is an in-depth look at how sustainable systems function and how we can apply these lessons to our current culture. His theories are firmly rooted in the understanding that we are reaching peak energy. Holmgren lays out a system for us to live and thrive within nature’s limits.

history of permaculture


Toby Hemenway 

Permaculture gives us a toolkit for moving from a culture of fear and scarcity to one of love and abundance.”

Toby Hemenway wrote what is probably the most popular and accessible book on permaculture design, Gaia’s Garden. In it, Hemenway distills a huge amount of information on botany, chemistry, ecology and sociology into an easy to follow text. Gaia’s Garden is as applicable to backyard gardeners as it is to large scale farmers. My favorite chapter comes near the close of the book. Hemenway applies ecological principles to a dense urban environment, a theme that he explores in-depth in his second book, The Permaculture City.

Toby Hemenway passed away in December of 2016. His memory lives on in so many of the beautiful places he inspired.

history of permaculture


Masanobu Fukuoka

 “If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.”

Masanobu Fukuoka, working on an entirely different continent in an entirely different environment than Bill Mollison, arrived at a similar approach to agriculture. Both of their philosophies look to nature for guidance. In addition, Fukuoka observed that nature is perfect and cannot be improved upon. He followed this line of thought and created “do-nothing” farming, a method of continually trying to do less on his farm and produce more.

For more on Fukuoka and his most influential work, The One-Straw Revolution, click here.

history of permaculture


Larry Santoyo

“Blame no one, expect nothing, get out there and do epic shit.”

Permaculture design courses are mostly hosted on farms and eco-villages. When I took my permaculture design course with Larry Santoyo it was in a Los Angeles nightclub. This is where Santoyo stands apart as a permaculture designer, he embraces the edges of urban society.

A student of Bill Mollison, Larry Santoyo has advanced the relevance of permaculture to the urban ecosystem. He brings permaculture out of the eco-hipster garden and applies it to a modern urban life. Based primarily out of Los Angeles, Santoyo advocates and leads projects that apply permaculture principles to business development, urban neighborhoods, intentional communities and money management. He teaches through The Permaculture Academy and designs through Earthflow Designs.


Visit to learn more about the history of permaculture, find more permaculture resources and opportunities to earn a permaculture design certificate.


Cover photo: Masanobu Fukuoka throwing the first seedball at the workshop at Navdanya in October, 2002 By ( [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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