[Friday Five] “Alternative” systems and true sustainability

Hi, this is Geoff.

We’re down in Aqaba this weekend, enjoying the first rain of the year. The mud slides and municipality facilities that seem completely unprepared for the rain? Not enjoying that nearly as much…

This Friday Five is going to be organized in a slightly different manner, as several of the “links” provided all connect back to one single topic (“Sustainability”) that is itself impossible to cover in a short Friday Five. So I’ll label each of the 5 points more obviously (“here’s link #1”) to help navigate the narrative below.

One of the most common set of questions I get asked are about non-conventional farming systems that are starting to enjoy a bit more mainstream attention. The questions are asked in different ways, but usually have at their core a curiosity about how these other approaches “fit” with permaculture. And my answer is almost always the same, namely:

“Any efforts that move us away from conventional, monocrop agriculture and away from large agri-business, is a step forward. At the same time, not all alternative systems are equally good simply because they are “alternative.” In fact, the vast majority of these alternative systems, whether organic farming, biodynamic agriculture, aquaponics, agroforestry, keyline farming, hydroponics, vertical farming, soil food web or urban agriculture — all of them may lead to short term gains, but nearly all invariably lead to long-term loss when looking at it from the prism of sustainability.”

So link #1 is a 14-minute audio-only recording I prepared that expands and elaborates on the above.

I have been a farmer all my life, and this direct, almost daily exposure and activity has given me a chance to understand at a conceptual, academic, and intuitive level the pros and cons of various alternative systems and approaches.

And the bottom line is that there is nothing that even comes close to being able to do what permaculture does vis a vis sustainability.

It is simply second to none.

I say this because students will often have an “aha” moment that leads them to move away from deadly conventional agriculture; and this enthusiasm sometimes leads them to want to learn about and implement multiple systems all at once.

But my suggestion is typically the same: Just learn permaculture thoroughly and deeply. Master it. Once you do that, you will have a solid, rock-bed foundation to build on, and the role and place of all of the other “isms” and “onics” will be blazingly clear. The possibilities that open up once a permaculture framework is in place are varied and rich, as can be seen in this overview from the Permaculture Apprentice (link # 2) about making a living from a permaculture farm.

To close this particular thread, a useful analogy can be borrowed from an exchange that Bill Mollison and I had about permaculture being a “wardrobe,” (link #3). Be sure to study the fantastic drawing by one of my students, John Kitsteiner, then read the snippet below it, and then have a look at the comments that follow to fully appreciate how Bill envisioned permaculture as encompassing these other systems, with a few caveats.

Finally, I want to close off the Friday Five with our usual, “Oldies but goodies,” roundup of articles from our sister site, the non-profit Permaculture Research Institute. First is a compelling piece by Matt Prosser about turning a piece of land into a thriving project. This, along with the article above from Permaculture Apprentice, can be read in tandem. The second is an intriguing piece about human permaculture.” And the final piece is a do-it-yourself project on making solar water bottle bulbs. Great walk through by Alfredo Moser.

That’s it for the Friday Five. Did you enjoy this more “thematic” approach for the first 3 links, or do you prefer the 5 distinct bullet-points and shorter paragraphs? I would love to hear from you, so let me know in the comments section below.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Anyone can sign up for the next batch.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Your friend,



PS: Oops, those were 4 links – here’s the 5th, just for fun, and in particular for those of you in the northern hemisphere who will soon be entering winter: Curious about what a “rocket stove” looks like? Here’s one we just put the finishing touches on. If you want more levels info on these “rocket heaters,” here is a great overview article by Destiny Hagest, as well as some richly-detailed instructional videos for purchase by Paul Wheaton.

Stay warm!

2016-12-13T11:05:40+00:00 Blog|30 Comments
  • Michael Van Wie

    Hi Geoff. Just to give you some feedback on this Friday Five, I do like your new format here. Your “thematic approach” flows much nicer than your bullet points, and this is advantageous when you are doing a Friday five about one topic, such as sustainability. However, when your five points are a bit less related, I feel your bullet list suffices. Thank you for being you, and doing all you do.

    • Yes, context is everything. Perhaps a balance between the two approaches. Thanks for the feedback Michael.

  • David

    Greetings Geoff, after watching your sustainability I’ve been prompted to write and share about some technology that is slowly spreading throughout the world. Technology that is a real game changer and will help pull us out of the mess we find our self in. It is Plasma Energy, the technology that was released freely to humanity about 12 months ago by the Nuclear Engineer, Mr. Mehran Keshe. He has had many critics over the years with people attempting to debunk the technology, however 1000’s of people around the world are proving otherwise. It has been proven to provide energy, healing and, being the reason for this comment, used in agriculture.

    Earlier this month, in Murwillumbah, Australia, a workshop was held that demonstrated this technology by a farming couple from Coffs Harbour explaining how the use of GANS (Gas in a nano solid state) has had a major positive impact on their aquaculture farm. So without going into detail, here are some videos where this is explained.

    Part 1

    Part 2

    Part 3

    Part 4

    Please feel free to contact me if you would like further details.

  • Kent Knock

    Hello Geoff,
    Short answer: I prefer bullet points. Quicker read!

  • Domen Leskovec

    I prefer bullet points too. Keep up the good work.

  • Karen Gilhespy

    Hi Geoff, you’re doing such a fantastic job! I love reading anything you have to say, and soak it up like a sponge – so for me, any format is OK -it’s ALL GOOD! !!

  • Dom

    Hey Geoff, Really loved the thematic approach.

  • Ravi

    I am very thankful to you for the great deal of information you
    are providing in Friday Five. Towards the end part of “link #1”
    you talk about producing compressed air using falling water. Can
    you please provide more information (it will be great if you can
    throw in some diagrams and add little bit of related rules of
    physics to better understand the concept) about this in one of
    your future Friday Five’s?

    • David

      Greetings Ravi, I was interested in the same and came across this explanation from Bill Mollison. https://youtu.be/-9NqqDL6bkk

    • Hi Ravi, Great suggestion. I’ll see what we can do.

      This was a system that was discovered by the Romans and also used by the blacksmiths in Andalusia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trompe. The video David has posted below is from one of the PDC’s Bill and I taught in Melbourne and is a great explanation from Bill.

  • Thomas Guethler

    Hi Geoff and team,I really enjoied the different approach of this Friday’s five, so from time to time it would be cool to repeat that.
    What I didn’t fully understand in this session: The “permaculture wardrobe” seems to contain or cover some of the systems, ideas and techniques, that in the first part you seem to criticize for not being fully sustainable in the way you define sustainability, i.e. producing a surplus in the long run. But I think, you can be labelled as certified organic, biodynamic or whatsoever producer and still practize and follow permaculture principles – for mee there seems to be no contradiction ! In fact in our days, it would be hard to sell any of your surplus for reasonable price on a local farmers market without being “labelled” somehow… this now might open up quite a big topic on how permaculture can become mainstream- lets keep that for another time…

    • Hi Thomas, It’s all about design.

      Most organic farms are unsustainable because they still have the same patterning with an organic theme. As an example I’ve seen 40 tonnes of organic carrots produced with soil erosion still happening, over pumping aquifer with no concern for evaporation, almost slavery Mexican workers with no concern for people care and municipal organic compost trucked in for 300 kilometre with no concern for embodied energy. Organic yes. Sustainable, no. Earth care, no. People care, no. Return of surplus, I doubt it.

      Design of these elements into appropriate use and position is the key to the Permaculture Wardrobe. This is what we teach.

  • Paul Andrew

    bullet points – simple and straight to the point. keep up the great work geoff & team

    • Thanks Paul. It’s good to know what people prefer.

  • Bryn Lawrence Roberts-Todd

    Hi Geoff! Really enjoyed this last friday Five! I really enjoyed the themed approach! really looking forward to the start of the online course 🙂

  • Wojciech Górny

    I like this new formula mostly because you position things in context. I really like your audio recording, it brings me back to the basics, and as you say further, reminds me importance of mastering of permaculture and of building rock-hard foundation, rather than following the crowd from one technique to another. I like permaculture wardrobe analogy very much, I know it for quite long, and I always emphasize the ethics on which it stands. Too bad people always want fast solutions and they mostly ask for quick-winning techniques without looking at big picture. But I disgress … to make it short, many thanks for these emails, They are great stuff.

  • Christodophilus .

    I liked this approach to Friday Five, because it patterned permaculture. Which is a master plan (central thread, in this case: “sustainability”) detailing the various connections to understand it’s application.

  • sonja

    I like both approaches. Maybe this last approach seems fresh and interesting because it is different to the bullet points we are used to. Alternating between the two might be more engaging as it would be a ‘surprise’ not knowing what we are getting. Either way Friday Five is always engaging and relevant.
    Thanks Geoff

    • Great. It looks like I might mix it up a little.

  • Giuseppe Birardi

    Dear Geoff, and dear all,
    have you already seen Leo Di Caprio’s film about climate change “Before the flood”? http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/before-the-flood/
    It’s from national geographic, free for streaming. It’s incredible, almost surreal. A lot of people is going to watch it.
    Just poor about solutions…but what if Di Caprio knew about permaculture?
    As Bill said ” there is one, and only one solution, and we have almost no time to try it..”
    I’m sure it worths contacting Leo di Caprio. He has been named a messenger of peace by the UN, with a special focus on climate change. Have you already tried it? Geoff you could be the one.

    Hugs from Italy,
    (currently translating Bill’s Permaculture Manual in italian with Mediperlab, but I had time for a film 🙂


    • Hi Giuseppe, yes I have watched it, thanks for the suggestion. No I haven’t reached out.

  • Joseph Ward

    Personally I prefer the bullet points. Thanks!