Geoff Lawton is a world renowned permaculture consultant, designer and teacher. He first took his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course in 1983 with Bill Mollison, widely considered the “father of permaculture.” Geoff has undertaken thousands of jobs teaching, consulting, designing, administering and implementing, in 6 continents and over 50 countries around the world.What inspired you to take up organic & regenerative farming?
In 1970, I was 16 years old. Throughout my adolescence, I had daydreamed about self-sufficiency and natural living. Even as a child, I had always been intrigued by natural systems and activities that interfaced with nature: fishing, hiking, harvesting, and gathering in the wilderness. I have forever, and always, been fascinated by farming and growing methods that focused on natural processes. These things have simply always resonated with me.
Once I discovered that there was a design science known as permaculture, it was natural for me to gravitate toward it. I became interest, engaged, and eventually, passionately involved. I took my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course with Bill Mollison in 1983, and I felt things were really coming together.
Permaculture Design has been a huge inspiration for me. The fact that these methods can be applied to small, independent, family farms has always seemed extremely appealing and important to me. I also wanted to channel my own enthusiasm for Permaculture Design to share it with as many other people as possible. Part of that mission has included creating diverse education and demonstration sites so that others can see Permaculture Design in action in a practical way. Sites like Zaytuna Farm and the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia are perfect examples of how we’re achieving these goals.
What are three things someone can do to live a more Organic & regenerative life?
Bill Mollison said, “If you only do one thing, collect rain water.” This allows for several things. First, it allows individuals and families to provide themselves with high quality drinking water from a decentralised source—one which they are in control of collecting. It’s become increasingly apparent in many parts of the world that we can rely only upon rainwater cycles in terms of dependability and manageable pollution. Ground water sources have become unpredictable, and the massive variation of toxic elements, including oestrogen chemical analogues, have made them less reliable for use.
Garden and grow your own food. When we engage in the process of putting effort in to creating food and we see the yield that results, we are building a better relationship with natural life cycles. These help us better understand the importance of soil quality and how our behaviours impact that quality. Through that understanding, we’re motivated to improve soil quality and increase soil volume.
Cut down on your consumption of unnecessary, pollutant, high-energy materials. When we discuss reduction of pollution, we’re talking about individuals and communities choosing to consider their contributions to pollution over a lifetime. By taking these steps yourself, you’re building your own understanding of energy audits, and understanding and education are things that we can spread to others. Take your energy footprint into account, and be proud of your own efforts to reduce it.
What are 3 things someone can do to help reverse global warming?
If I had to narrow my choices down to three things, I would choose:
- Perform an energy audit of your home
- Perform an energy audit of the transport energy you’re responsible for (your overall footprint for transportation energy, including food and other products you purchase from non-local sources
- Utilise appropriate recycling practices
Performing an energy audit of your home is perhaps one of the most important tasks you can undertake to address global warming, as an individual or family. Domestic energy use can be greatly reduced when good design is used. Good design addresses solar effects—the effects of the sun—on energy consumption. Good design can increase or decrease the effects of thermal mass as a heating or cooling agent; by utilising highly insulating materials with high quality R ratings, we’re able to hold in desired heat and keep out undesired heat. These are the basics of good, modern architecture design. There should be incentives in place for architects who address the amount of energy a house can save over its lifetime.
In addition to addressing the energy consumption associated with heating and cooling, we also need to take into consideration the energy usage of appliances within the house. When choosing electrical goods, the amount of watts used is particular important.
Transport energy, or “food miles,” can also be taken into account to reduce global warming. Eat local food and purchase locally produced products. That doesn’t mean losing food diversity from season to season; we can easily extend food diversity by learning about and implementing natural preservation and fermentation methods. Some of these methods even increase the nutritional value of our food.
Appropriate recycling practices are also very important. We should each endeavour to recycle our goods to the highest degree possible. This includes seeking products suitable for full reuse, products that can be repaired, and products that can be recycled when their usefulness is at an end, as well as products which can be used for composting. It’s also important for us to avoid products that are high energy use in terms of both manufacture and recycling, like certain plastics. One way we can accomplish good recycling practices is to aim to use sustainable resources that help us honour living resources and the ecosystems of their origin.
How is climate change affecting your farm’s resilience?
Our farm is a classic example of resilience. It’s a great demonstration of resilience, because it can handle a wide diversity of climates. Thanks to our focus on the diversity of living elements on the farm, including our trees, crops, support species, and animal varieties, changes in climate nearly always benefit one or more of these elements. For example, an extra wet season may well favour several elements on our farm, but we’ve also chosen to include elements which are favoured during droughts, heat waves, and cold weather.
We are also able, through planning and good design, to mitigate the effects of drought, by increasing water storage in open bodies, and soil hydrology. We’ve also been able to mitigate the effects of frost and fire. These preparations have extended to turning flood events into beneficial deposition events. This is the essence of permaculture design: abundant creative life enhancement through the moderation of energy flow in any location that it is applied.
What role do consumers play in sustainable food systems?
Our role as consumers is extremely important. We are responsible for choosing foods that are appropriate to a sustainable ecosystem: food that has minimal miles, minimal food time, and minimal food guilt. This goes far beyond simply choosing organic food and how these practices affect soil. To really support sustainable food systems, we need to move toward 70% of our landscape to transition to interactive forage forest farming, not just organic farming that has not been re-patterned with perennial tree interactions. We need to think about productive ecosystem farming supported by good design and solid planning.
This is a new evolution in the way we think about sustainable production and a new revolution in farming practices. As consumers, we’re responsible for setting the standards we consider necessary to repair the earth, and we set those standards through our own consumption patterns. In doing so, we motivate the production of consumable products that support positive, beneficial, and reparative effects on our ecosystems.
What makes you excited for the future?
I’m excited about so many things. One of the most exciting things about the future is the growing number of young people that are discovering and committing themselves to the permaculture movement. These are highly motivated young people, who are prepared to take action and will achieve some amazing things. And it’s not just young people. Individuals and communities from all demographic groups are becoming more and more aware of permaculture. They’re becoming disillusioned with destructive practices that the system has made the current norm.
All of these people are working as individuals and together in order to take responsible positions and demonstrate how we must live the change in order to make the change. People are taking real pride in their efforts to engage in these cooperative practices and in learning about practical design.
It’s become a more meaningful way to live and a more interesting way to live, but it is so much more. It’s also an easier and better way to raise our children to learn and experience the natural systems that surround them, as those systems evolve. This has become more than just an individual or household effort. It goes beyond parenthood to include our extended families, our friends, our entire communities, to provide our children with better experiential learning. We’re at the stage where our most important product is growing exponentially: the next generation of permaculture-experienced young people.
What is the connection between the health of the land and health of the people?
This is one of those things that seems obvious when you’re involved in permaculture, but many people out in the world overlook it. Our health and well being is intrinsically tied to the health of the land, through our nutritional intake, our stress levels, our ability to sleep and exercise appropriately due to our healthy interaction with our environment, and even our social health. The health of the land helps to support communities and build relationships as we engage in a unified cause and work together to achieve our goals.
Since the Middle Ages, we’ve increased the potential diversity of our garden food crops by 800%. This has allowed for an enormous increase in available minerals and living enzymes producible by any garden in any climate. We’re able to produce an incredible variety of foods for local communities that are prepared to adopt permaculture gardening as their main food supply. This has turned our gardens into nutraceutical events that have a profound effect on our good health. Working with permaculture design practices encourages, by default, good exercise and sleep practices, and lower stress levels as a result. Permaculture practices encourage thoughtfulness and healthy mental stimuli, and stronger communities.
How do you build soil on your farm?
We build soil in a number of ways at Zaytuna Farm. Some of the primary ways we support soil building is through cover crops (both annual and perennial), mulch crops that provide high nitrogen and carbon (both annual and perennial), compost, compost tea, and bio fertilizers. We also use carefully designed earthworks, which are used to recharge the land in terms of hydrology so that we can equally share nutrients across specific contours.
One method we’ve found which was a bit of a surprise is our cell grazing system. The cattle lane way cell grazing system, which we specifically threaded through our diverse permaculture elements, resulted in one of our largest (area-wise) and fastest soil fertility enhancement systems. We found poultry cell foraging systems, using turkeys, geese, ducks, and chickens to be extremely effective as well. These systems were used not only in crop gardens, but in food forests as well. This is important, because cultivating food forests leads to long term perennial productive ecosystems which, by their very design, become soil creation mechanisms themselves. Because of their stability, these forests, when brought to maturity, can lead to soil creation for hundreds of years.
Do you use animals on your farm?
We do use animals on Zaytuna Farm. We use animals to remove weed cycles, pest cycles, to condition the soil, and to cycle nutrients. We do this through good design which takes into account area stocking rates and appropriate time cycles, as well as climate conditions. We have found mobile systems to be particularly helpful. We allow animals movement within solar powered electric net fencing, rotating animals in and out of the system, directing their nutrients and the positive effects of their interactions to target species and systems as required. We breed most of our own animals.
Photos by Ingrid Pullen (and others)
All across the world, people are embracing the concept that regenerative agriculture can restore ecosystems, produce abundant and healthy food, and reverse global warming. With this knowledge, we teamed up with Regeneration International and the Organic Consumers Association to learn why these farmers have chosen to pursue regenerative agriculture, and what they are doing to build a brighter future for all of us. Join us to explore these Stories of a Fertile Earth.”