How to Teach Permaculture with Graham Bell

by | March 24, 2023 | Permaculture Podcast

How to teach permaculture?

This is a very special episode – my way of celebrating the late Graham Bell – a tribute to a permaculture elder, pioneer, forest gardener, teacher, mentor, author, father, husband, friend. Graham died in early March 2023 after a brief illness.

I join the permaculture community around the world in acknowledging his enormous contribution to the field of permaculture, and to teaching permaculture teachers. I send my deepest condolences to his family.

Our focus here at the Permaculture Education Institute is about teaching permaculture teachers, and Graham has been teaching for decades too – one of the early pioneers of the movement.  I was keen to talk with him about his insights and experience as an educator. And oh my, what richness is within. I hope you thoroughly enjoy listing to Graham’s story spanning decades and the globe, and his wisdom shared.

I actually recorded this episode late 2022 and had been trying to work out how to edit it – Graham and I talked for almost 2 hours. I thought I needed to edit it to about an hour, but I could simply not work out which stories to leave out. In the end, I have decided to simply share the whole conversation with you.

You can watch this over in our Sense-Making in a Changing World Youtube channel here.

Graham Bell’s Books

PODCAST HOST: MORAG GAMBLE

This show is hosted by speaker, filmmaker, humanitarian, author, global teacher of permaculture teachers and Permayouth mentor, Morag Gamble of the Permaculture Education Institute.

This podcast is an initiative of the Permaculture Education Institute and our Permaculture Educators Program – teaching permaculture teachers on 6 continents.

Full Transcript Below

Morag:

Welcome to the Sense-making World Show, Graham. For the listeners here today, my guest on the show is Graham Bell, who has been involved in permaculture for decades, considered one of the elders of the Permaculture Movement and has taught on six continents. He just told me before that he’s never been invited to Antarctica, but he’s been teaching around the world. He lives in Scotland, in the midst of a food forest that he’s created over the last few decades with his family. He’s the author of a couple of books, The Permaculture Way and the Permaculture Garden and one of the reasons why I wanted to invite and speak with Graham here today is because of his role in permaculture education because this podcast is all about permaculture education because we’re beaming out from the Permaculture Education Institute. This is one of the key focuses. So welcome to the show, Graham, thank you so much for being here.

Graham:

Hi. So I’m just being a frog today, I’m sitting out in the grass with the dew on it and if I pop my cheeks out, you’ll see. Okay, connection with living things has always been important to me. When I was a child, I grew up on Royal Air Force stations. My father was the longest serving member of the Royal Air Force there’ll ever be, he joined as an apprentice at 15 and trained as a toolmaker. Went with the Chindits in Burma and ended up in the Andaman Islands when the first women came out of Japanese prisoner of war camps and we’ll get there till they are fit to be shown to the world. So people of his generation never talked about that stuff in here. But one thing I suppose came out of that for me was, when he talked about the Royal Air Force, he always called it the service. He was compulsorily retired at 67 when he was still taking cadets. So you know, 52 years in one job is what you would call service, that’s how he saw it and I think that stayed with me. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain, we were misled by our parents who had themselves been misled into thinking that we lived in a country with universal adult literacy, that corruption was some nasty thing that happened in far off places like Nigeria or somewhere not here. That you didn’t go to Spain on holiday, because the streets were so dirty, unlike Britain and that we lived in a fair and just society. It’s a bit of a disappointment over the years to discover that this is just a fabrication and when we went to school, every classroom had a map on the wall in which half the world was pink, because we owned it. Of course, we never did and that, again, was something that you learn as you go forward through life. But we were taught very much that your self comes last, you’re supposed to look after other people first.

So here’s step one in training teachers to venture into the permaculture world and something I wish I’d realized 30 years earlier: If you don’t look after yourself, how are you going to look after other people? So it’s turning that thing on its head to see that it’s not selfishness to put yourself first. But it’s common sense because then you’re in a better position to be of service to other people and on those days (Saturday morning) you get thrown out the house after breakfast, come back at lunchtime. You got a sandwich or something, you got thrown out the house again and told to come back at tea time and so we spent huge parts of our lives out in the countryside. On a bicycle, often at age seven we would cycle 12 miles a night or something like that, but you know that direct exposure to the world around us was stunning. There was a guy called Johnny Newbold, who lived next door to me at that age, he was a fantastic naturalist aged seven and we would find caterpillars and most of us have gotten a little mouse cage from having a pet mouse at some point, we will put the caterpillars in there with whatever it was they ate and watch them turn into chrysalis and then when they hatched in the spring, we’d let go and so on. Everywhere my parents went living in married quarters, they would create a garden. Now, typically you would have a house with a bit of lawn and so and what most people did in the force was just mow the grass because it wasn’t their thing and you had to keep it tidy, or the station commander would be around shouting at you. Everywhere my parents went, my father grew vegetables and my mother made flower gardens and that you get moved on every two, three years and they did that over and over again. I remember at eight or something, being told that if I dug up the dandelions from the lawn, I’d get a penny for every dandelion I dug up. What they didn’t appreciate is that I used a silver fork from Cutlery County, which had become irreparably damaged at some point. So it cost them a lot more than a penny a dandelion, I suppose. In time, of course, one learns to love dandelions and understand how useful they are. But, again, that direct connection, one of the things that has come to me in recent times is that there is a bacterium in soil, but I mean, living soil, not in chemical soil.

So that early experience meant you had your hands in the soil. There’s a bacterium in the soil called Micro Bacillus Vaccae, from the Latin for cattle, so called, because the first people to consciously breed this bacterium in Austria did it on cow dung. This remarkable creature, when you touch it, causes your brain to release serotonin. If you don’t believe me, go on the internet and look up Leeds University in Bristol University in England, who have both done research and agree on the matter that this is what happens. So throw away the happy pills and get your hands in the soil. It’s this kind of direct experience that I think is something that is most valuable in permaculture. Now, since I studied Old English and linguistics at Oxford University and have a master’s degree for what it’s worth. Oxford University, let me reassure you, is not an Institute of Education, it’s an institute of class training. It’s where the people who think they run the country go to places like Cambridge and so on. The reality is that there are a whole other set of people who really run the country, who are some layers above senior civil servants and so on. and that’s a global phenomenon. One of my great griefs in the last few years has been that in 1921, the billionaires in the world got 28% richer in five months funding COVID.

So I started out after university working in the construction industry, trained as a company secretary and got fed up with being stuck in an office when it was sunny. When it got to the point when I got fed up with being stuck in an office when it was raining,I thought it was time to move on. So I retrained in the birth of the micro revolution as a computer salesman and I was working in the City of London. That’s a very interesting exposure because alongside the mega corporations, there are masses of tiny little businesses squeezed in all kinds of things and that really was my speciality, not blue chips, but SMEs – small to medium size enterprises – and because I had done all this company, secretarial work, and so on, I actually knew how businesses worked. Whereas a lot of the computer sales people around me didn’t have a clue. They just were out front getting rich quick and I got made sales manager having been the most successful salesman in the UK at my class level. I trained with Phillips industries, but I worked with dealerships in the city and that was the route things were going: computer manufacturers were going to stop selling things directly and work through a wider distribution network and I discovered that actually, I didn’t have a clue how to be a sales manager. So I went on a training course at my own request and my boss very kindly funded it and then I thought, “No, I don’t want to be in this company anymore. These are these little family businesses, rubbish.” and went off and worked for a US training company, who was one of the first people in online computer training and I was a total failure. Because blue chips aren’t my thing and it was mostly aimed at mainframe folks. So I came out of that and my then wife said, “That’s right. You don’t have to work. I earn enough for both of us, you can finish doing up the house.” So that’s what I set off to do. Halfway through that first year, I got a place to go and retrain as an electrical engineer at our top schools. This is an unemployed program and that’s what I did, and so in nine months, I came out as a qualified electrical engineer, very intensively, by which time my wife had decided to leave me and that was horrific. Three months later, when I was going to send postcards to the guy who was my best mate literally ran off saying, “Thank you very much, please don’t come back.” Because the whole new world opened up for me, which I hadn’t been expecting, and I joined the Green Party. During that time, I stood for Parliament amongst other things and I invented green fares, which are still carried out all over the world and the first one we ran was in a place called Deptford in southeast London, a very working class area very close to the River Thames and we had the most amazing time. All the other political parties turn out. We had stages with music going on, we had great food going on. We had the widest possible exposure to a whole range of ideas to do with all this now. During this time, I had a very good friend, Josta Rancor,  who was on the standing orders committee with me, where the reason it’s called the Green Party now, used to be called the ecology party. And there was a motion to change the name, which was defeated at conference until I pointed out having actually read the law of meetings to the chair that it’s not the way people vote that determines the sense of the meeting. It’s what the chair decides. So I suggested taking the vote again and when he did, it was passed.

During this time, I met up with my present wife, Nancy, who had done a doctorate in Aberdeen in biochemistry and kind of ran away screaming because this was just the pharmaceutical industry funding people in her case to find a cure for cancer. She was a very keen cyclist. She was also involved in the Green Party in Aberdeen in Scotland and she’d helped reestablish otters on the road D, for example. She once cycled from Aberdeen to Lisbon, I think she was allowed to use a boat across the channel, and so she ended up getting a job for the London site with the London cycling campaign, which is how I connected with helping people establish better cycle practice, encouraging cycle routes, and training people. She was the first female doctor bike in London teaching women to do their own cycle maintenance and so on and one day, we decided to start a family. So our daughter really was born at home in London 34 years ago and we decided we didn’t want to bring up a child in a Big City and we wanted to be part of a community and we met up with some other people who were into cycling and we ended up moving to where we are now, in the Scottish Borders, in 1988. We bought a whole load of buildings and divided them up together and which were fine til about three years down the line when basically everybody fell out with everybody else and it ceased being a community. They went away. We stayed here.

But why permaculture? Well, visiting Josta Anchor, she went out to a political meeting for the evening and left me with her library. [inaudible] was disgusting. I subsequently made some myself and it was even worse. But the library was very interesting and I ended up with just two books that I was looking at and it was flitting between them. The first was called the Findhorn Garden, it’s the story of the intentional community on the Moray Firth coast in Scotland, which was founded around meditation as a key principle. The lovely Dorothy, who was part of the setup originally spoke with plant divas, now an amazing book, the original version I commend to you, which is all black and white photography. There’s a modern version, which is color photography, and I don’t think it’s nearly as striking. It’s a beautiful read. Alongside that was a copy of the first edition of permaculture, one which looked as if it was printed on recycled toilet paper and had drawings and subsequently five year old children could do better than lollipop trees and things.

Morag:

Both those books I grew up with, they were part of my mom and dad’s library and they were what I was introduced to with permaculture. It’s so funny, those two you mentioned. I know exactly the editions you’re talking about. I have them here in my library now.

Graham:

So the thing was, as I flipped between the two books, you know that the Findhorn Garden was saying we’re fantastic people, but you can’t do this. Essentially, I’m sure they never intended to say that. But there weren’t any lessons on how to speak with plant divas and when Bill Mollison visited there, a plastic bank blew through one of the flowerbeds and they said, “Oh, that guy’s a fairy.” He wouldn’t have it at all, he just thought they were completely nuts, which they weren’t. And they’ve done a lot of good work over the years, but it wasn’t an enabling process and the thing was public culture one told me about all the things I cared about in one place. So we were talking about the importance of gardening, growing food, how much trees matter and how we need to manage water. There’s a fantastic illustration of a solid fuel stove, which does everything. I can reassure you that the public lecture one was a design, it wasn’t an actuality, and this stove would have never actually worked because it’s trying to do too many things. But it was a great idea and I just felt inspired and all this book was saying to me is you can do this. So that’s how I got into it. Nancy and I went on the first public auction weekend in the UK run by Andy Langford and Julian Filling. I never know what happened to Julian Filling and Andy Langford, who run the guy University in the US and Mexico. Which leads me as the longest standing teacher in the UK. I started teaching when we moved to Scotland that first August, there was the first full public launch and design course in Devon, run by Andy and Nancy and I went to that with babe in arms. So, Ruby is one of the oldest permaculture graduates in the UK at the age of six months and that was us on the road and by the following year, we taught a course here which I think Andy came and helped us with and then, 1990, set off on my own. There was one other person teaching us with us at the time, Steven [inaudible], who doesn’t teach anymore, but he’s still around. He is very involved in Bach flower remedy production, on the south coast of England and I’ve been teaching ever since then. So it’s 32 years now and that was the same year that Bill gave me a deployment. On the build system, you ticked all the boxes for which categories you claim to have done, and I think I ticked about six out of eight, because I was producing permaculture news, titled Taken Over by Geoff Lawton, later on replaced here by permaculture magazine some years ago and off we went.

After about five years of teaching PDCs closer design courses, I stopped. It seemed like every time you taught a course, everybody started teaching themselves. Now, I have 20 or 15 years experience in industry commerce. I’d been gardening for years. I’d grown up in an outside environment, but suddenly we had people who were 19 or 20, who decided they could teach a permaculture design course. Maybe they could. The problem was a lot of people see this stuff is so inspiring that people feel they want to share it with other people straightaway, which Bill wound them up to do. As opposed to David Holmgren going away and saying, “I need to prove this works first” and spending 20 years doing so. Bill was a fantastic [inaudible] and because he was so well informed and so funny and so engaging, he managed to teach effectively. David has kind of admitted that teaching isn’t really his thing and I admire his honesty with that. David is a much more cerebral person, his work is absolutely fantastic. But I constantly meet people who tell me they’ve read his magnum opus and I doubt most of them. To be honest, it takes me a week to read one chapter. It’s so dense and so detailed. Most of them know the diagram, which David didn’t make of the principles and so on and that’s the thing that stuck with them and it’s very useful.

So I went off and did other things. I ran the Prince’s Trust in Edinburgh for six years, I worked with over 1000 young people, 18 to 25, and some folks with access difficulties, as we’re supposed to say, these days, who are older than that. I had previously run an electrical contracting business and done a lot of work with retired people. So with the cycling business, we worked with a lot of people with physical disabilities. So all of this was introducing me to a number of key aspects of age as we might call it. 12% of people in Britain are registered disabled, that doesn’t count the ones who are disabled but aren’t registered. This idea that perfectly toned, male physique and beautiful women is the norm, which is constantly propagated in advertising. I love the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement has transformed that in the UK, people were talking about the connection with recognizing the value of people of color and we were engaged with that from the very first green fail we made because London is a very diverse community, one of the most diverse in the world and we had a lot of exposure too. So  I called Philip [inaudible] who went on to become the first black candidate for parliament for the Green Party in the UK. There’s a lot of involvement with these lots of different sectors of society and so a key thing that I tried to get across day one, when training trainers is it’s not up to you to be the cleverest person in the room. You are the cleverest person in the room when everybody else thinks they are and I came to this because I trained in the 1990s with the Agricultural Training Board as then was in the UK as a trainer and I subsequently went on to become a trainer of trainers with them. Today the organization’s called Lantra. But the first thing they tell you is you can’t tell farmers anything. So you’re trained to get the people you’re teaching to tell you what you wanted to teach them. So one of the greatest gifts we have is open questions. Rudyard Kipling in the Elephant’s Child wrote, there are six honest serving men and true they taught me all I knew there, how and why and when and what and where, and who. These are all open questions when you ask these questions. You can’t respond with yes or no, you have to give information. Yes or no questions are called closed questions and sometimes that’s what you need. When you seek agreement when you’re trying to close a deal. When you’re trying to tell somebody, “No, you can’t do that”, but this became an exploration for me and I came back. I think in 2006, I stopped working in Edinburgh and during that time, I’ve been engaged by Chambers of Commerce to do press and policy work for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce for Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce. I later went on to become Chair of the Federation of small businesses in this region, press and policy policy is a crucial thing and I never once used the word permaculture. But we were doing permaculture with industry and it was this, I discovered this wonderful kind of – I don’t know whether it’s a triangle, or a square or a star or what – but you’ve got the general public, you’ve got the media, and you’ve got politicians, or three points of that object, whatever it is and once you can connect all three together, you have the medium to educate and to move people on and to get them to change their perspective and that’s really what permaculture does, it’s about learning to see things differently. So the first thing we do is we unlearn.

Western education has a lot to answer for and has unfortunately been copied right across the world in the Far East even and it’s the idea that there are facts and there right. Actually, I don’t pretend to be a scientist. I know a bit about electricity. I know a bit about biology and so on. But I don’t pretend to be a scientist. So what I’m trying to do is teach citizen science. The way I would look at it is this: in our culture in Western Europe, way back when we had alchemists there were probably the first scientists, de facto, who were trying to make gold out of lead and things like that, which sounds totally impossible. But we now know, of course, that exactly what the sun does is to change metal, so it’s not entirely impossible. However, nobody ever succeeded in doing it that I know of. Beyond that, we started to get this new generation of people called herbalists and this was people like Culpeper and there’s a whole lineage that went through this to Linnaeus and the binomial system which he is credited with, he didn’t invent it, he just improved it and of course, the thing that got forgotten is the extent to which this knowledge actually came from wise women in the first place and that midwifery was in the hands of such women and these are the same people who started to get burned as witches. There are so many awful things in our history, which you and I are not responsible for. But they still weigh heavily on us and what has been done to indigenous people in many parts of the world. As we were spreading pink everywhere, and we weren’t the only people doing it out of the UK.

I love going to Australia and going down to the coast from Perth where we were at the international convergence in 2016 and we came out of Perth which is in the middle of Scotland. We went through High Wycombe, which is where I went to school in Buckinghamshire, and so on down the road, and passed Scarborough and Cambridge and all in the wrong order and in between their Aboriginal names all the way. It’s people who are lonely for home, who were often shipped involuntarily to other parts of the world and then they did things like a Bluebell, and there’s an Australian Bluebell, a New Zealand Bluebell, a South African Bluebell, a Canadian Bluebell, people missing home and finding a blue flower in the spring and wanting to be reminded of it. So along with diversity, a diversity of genders, diversity of skin color, diversity of culture, divulge diversity of climate. We have this great system that we can share with people and I find the three main reasons people come on permaculture courses. Number one, they want to go homesteading and a lot of Bill’s original description of permaculture is based on the Australian experience, it’s relatively easy to go find yourself 50 acres or 100 acres these days in Australia and do pretty much what you like with it. Yes, there are planning laws, but there’s nothing like the planning laws in this country. I know you know, there’s some great things in it. In Western Australia, you have to have X amount of water storage, so you’re going to be secure in a drought. But there are other things which are not so relevant here or possible. Here, it’s really difficult to get five acres in this country, because we are dominated by vast landowners and you can’t get planning permission unless you have something like 25 hectares. Because that’s considered enough to earn a living. I know somebody earns a living off a quarter of an acre making walking sticks out of Hazel. It’s just nonsense, but it’s the way things go. So all that stuff about zonation for example, which makes absolute sense if you’ve got 100 acres somewhere nice in Australia and preferably got your own Billabong and all that stuff and start making dams, etc. Most people’s zone three here is in the supermarket down the street. So the principal’s need adaptation and one of the things that comes out of this, I said commercial industrial agriculture earlier, the one of the things to be critical about here is – please don’t call it conventional agriculture. It’s not what we’ve been doing, it’s not using chemicals for 1000s of years, and when he was finally being discovered, NPK is the major nutrients in soil, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, he also said and there’s lots of lesser chemicals in the soil, which are also important. The one thing he didn’t say is that actually living soil produces all these things and does so better year on year if your husband (33:01) is right and as Masanobu Fukuoka, the great Japanese economist said, “Farming is about growing people long before it’s about growing food” and I think this is the beauty of permaculture to me, it is, and always has been, about people.

And some people talk about that as if that’s a recent discovery, but it’s not. Go read the permaculture designers manual, it’s in there. It’s in all the permaculture books I’ve ever come across and then we’ve got people like Terry Lee, who have been critical of where we’ve come with all of that, quite rightly so. But what we are trying to do is provide for all human needs, as well as possible, as equitably as possible, as quickly as possible, in a way that doesn’t yet predominate and in doing that, to ensure the right of all living creatures and plants on planet Earth to exist. There is no such thing as bad plants or bad creatures, they all have a place in the world of nature, and they have a role. Permaculture actually doesn’t give you any answers at all and that’s the second thing people come looking for is, “I want the answer.” Well, I can’t give you the answer for you. Many permaculture ticket teachers talk about empowering people. I’ve never empowered anyone. The only person I can empower is me. What we can do is we can create the right habitat in which people can learn to empower themselves and nobody gets it all right. We all make mistakes. I worry about people who don’t make mistakes because they’re not trying to do anything new. Try not to keep making the same mistakes, and try not to make fatal mistakes, and then you don’t get another chance. But we’ll all notice that we are ourselves if we’re honest, and we’ll say it and other people have some mistakes that take us longer to learn than others. The Jesuits say, “Give me a boy Sully seventh on his mind for life.” This is actually true of all people who tend to be made who we are. By the time we’re seven, it’s our early childhood who forms us, which forms us. That doesn’t mean to say we can’t change. But it does mean that we all have particular things that we struggle with. Probably most of us have met a man who’s been married four or five times and thinks women are the problem. They don’t understand that relationships need to be managed in a certain way and so on.

Morag:

I asked you about your family experience, because your children have grown up within a permaculture context. Can you describe a bit about their experience of that or what you’ve noticed of their experience? Because that’s helped to inform and shape who they are and what do you notice there?

Graham:

I’m sure they’d be much better at answering that. My daughter Ruby was, like a lot of teenagers. quite challenging growing up. She ran away from home at 16 or 15, came back at 16 learning a cycle for me about what doesn’t doesn’t work. She went to Lincoln University and studied. She was going to do graphic design illustration and turned it into studying creative advertising, which is copywriting as well as illustrating because somebody told her that was a better course to do. Then along came the economic collapse so that the winner found new jobs in advertising, came home, worked for me for a week and then turned up on the Saturday and told me she was pregnant with a bloke, who she’d been with since she was 15. But she basically came home from university pregnant obviously and so she went off having a baby and didn’t want to come back with me. She now works in the green shop in Berek described by The Guardian newspapers as green as Robin Hood’s underpants and she’s been trying to turn this into a coop so that the present owners could retire hasn’t quite worked out. But she’s very committed to all of this and she’s got an 11 year old son now who’s great and her partner is the sexton in Barrick. Thus, the guy who would make sure the graveyards run well and people get buried decently. So, in their own ways, they’re both doing special work, which is very caring for other people. The green shop sells food and also ethically produced clothing and women’s gifts and things. On Sunday, our son was born two years later. I’m home here in Coldstream and he’s a research guy at Leeds University. His speciality is air quality. He’s an environmental Kenner chemist and he’s the immediate past president of the Permaculture Association Association in Britain, from which he retired at the ripe old age of 31. He’s 32 now and he’s married and Ruthie has just got her doctorate and she’s now working at the Museum of Photography in Bradford. In West Yorkshire, that’s where they live and so in their own ways, I think Sandy sort of says, he kind of went away from it and came back in his mid 20s. So when I was running the Prince’s Trust and I finished, people said to me, “How do you get all these people to do what you want?” I’d work with over 1000 young people and the answer is, you don’t. You’re trying to help them do what they want. I never, in my wildest dreams imagined, that I would persuade people to do what I wanted. That wasn’t the point of the exercise and interestingly, talking about different abilities, I would guess something like half the people I worked with were dyslexic and as with many disabilities, it’s not the person who’s disabled. It’s society which is disabled not to be able to accommodate them and whatever it is they need in their lives. So we are all differently abled.

I think the third thing that people come on courses for doing the pill economy thing, you see, coming back to the story. The third thing people come back for is professionalism. They’re trying to add to their toolbox whatever it is they do for a living and I’ve seen so many people successfully do that. Community development workers, architects, landscape architects, gardeners, foresters, furniture makers, a huge range of different people who find use for permaculture in what they do, whilst it’s also enhancing the fact that they like to grow some of their own food and so on. I suppose one of the biggest challenges for me in all of this is that people wanted to be about growing food and that was the starting point, permanent agriculture. But it rapidly became apparent that it needed to be permaculture, as permanent culture. I think Randy Moss sums this up well in the introduction to permaculture, which she gathered for Bill later on, and that we need financial systems that support what we’re trying to do. We need ways of engaging and trading with others, we need communication systems that enable us, Bill called it, let’s stop networking and start worrying about netting and lots and lots of clever observations have been made in this process, which means that what we now have is a toolbox that’s full of questions, not answers. So what we’re trying to teach people is, given any situation, what questions do you need to ask that will lead you to the answer? And one of the first rules of permaculture is there are no rules, because what I teach is his words that you could usefully flushed out of the sink. Should, ought, must, right, wrong, good, bad. So you shouldn’t muster a sense of obligation, this is the monkey sitting on your shoulders, digging his claws in and you tense up and then you feel obligated and that takes us back to how we were taught in the 1950s and 1960s. And it’s wrong, it’s unliberating. That’s not to say that you should be without morals or ethics or scruples. But do them because they fit you and you want to do them not because somebody tells you you have too. Good and bad, that’s good for me, it might be bad for you. What’s good for Wednesday, they might be wrong for Saturday. What’s good at the North Pole, might be slightly different from what’s good at the equator and so on. And right and wrong, value judgments in the same way.

So what we’re trying to teach people to do is to be confident in designing systems that are as near to permanent as we can get that endure with a sustainable and that work with what we have. Noticing what we don’t have, if we need something else, then we need to consider will I learn to do that myself? Will I build it myself? Or will I ask somebody to help me? So this is not about self sufficiency. It’s about how close to self sufficiency can we get at a community level receipt. I like to eat oranges and bananas, and I have no intention of stopping. I can grow oranges and bananas in Scotland, but the energy cost is ridiculous. So let’s import oranges and bananas. But we can grow asparagus here. One thing I won’t eat is Peruvian asparagus grown in the high Andes. What a wonderful culture they’ve created. They’ve built schools and hospitals and medical centers for all these people who are living higher up on a plateau and using 4000 year old fossil groundwater. As Bill said, “The person who uses groundwater in the desert is a temporary resident” Where do we go? Cop 27 Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt? What does Sharm el Sheikh exist on? 40,000 year old groundwater out of the Arab world is one of the most unsustainable places in the world and when you go there, it is full of swimming pools. Ridiculous. Why can’t people see this? Well, because they haven’t been through this process of learning. Another aspect that’s very important, all this is to understand that we are all always learning. I learn something every day and I tell people, the day you don’t learn something is probably the first symptom of death, and I mean it. Because science is not exact. If we go back to the herbalists. What happened after that was that people started to categorize, make scientific discoveries and a lot of the early work was done by ministers of the cloth. Reverence, because they had the time and the education. All they had to do was turn up on Sunday and conduct services. Maybe there’s the odd service and a week they would do. Maybe they were visiting the sick and the poor. But take Gilbert White of Selborne and his work, he was combining archaeology with natural science because as he went around his parish, he just noticed all these things all the time and that is the starting point of permaculture being observant and noticing.

So one of the first things we teach people is to notice what’s going on. When people come and see the garden here, which you mentioned earlier, I don’t explain it to them, I ask them to have a walk around and come back and tell me what they notice and then we have a conversation about what matters to them. Because the garden speaks for itself. When we taught a course for people in food poverty in the town of week (47:06) in South Scotland, we did sell at the Salvation Army Citadel and they have a charity shop there and we now have a community garden there, behind the charity shop, which belongs to the people of that town. Over time, we realized that we were teaching a lot more than how to tackle food poverty and a lot of the people who come along to the courses are not in food poverty, but the left tenant who is the senior person in the Citadel, she came on the course as much as she could and in the fourth week – we were doing this, it ran across 10 weeks – the fourth week, we’re doing this, she turned up the following week and said that that Sunday, she had taught a sermon on observation, because she had been so blown away by practicing it, suddenly noticing all the plants that were growing in the middle of town, the wadeable, that she had never thought of before and it’s that kind of influence that we have to people. Lighting the blue touch paper and letting people fly off and that’s what we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to inspire people. It doesn’t need to be the case that people learn endless lists of facts.

So what that generation of natural philosophers did, as they called themselves, was they got people into the idea of citizen science and then some of them went on and became Avogadro’s hypothesis and all that sort of stuff. So many of the people who were early inventors, if you like chemistry, discoveries of chemistry, however you want to look at it, were again, ministers. But think about your own education in the conventional system. When you go to nursery school, they tell you a couple of things that are slightly educational, when you get into primary school, they start teaching you a little bit of science. By the time you’re in primary one, you’re getting sort of bite sized pieces. We go to primary 8 here. In primary 8, they’re telling you what you learnt in primary three isn’t actually so it’s like this instead, then you go to secondary school. And it all happens again and we’ve got a ridiculous system here where in secondary school, children are starting to decide their careers because that’s when they’re obliged to make the first choices of which exams they’ll do three years later. It’s just nonsense and we should go for a baccalaureate system, if anything like the French do and so on. So much of Europe does when you get credits for what you do and all the way through that process. You keep being told what you were told before isn’t actually how it is and when I was at Oxford, there were people studying chemistry and chemistry had been streets heard of everywhere else at Oxford, in the 1960s. In the 1970s, it was streets behind everywhere else, because they’d made all these major discoveries and moved on and at that time we were getting into Wave Theory and so on. Now we can start to look at things and really question what we know, as to, it’s the best possible explanation we have at the moment. It doesn’t mean it’s correct. So, for example, what are we made of? Well, we’re told when made of X percent water, whatever it is, then we discovered that actually, we are an entire community of living creatures. We’re filled with so many other living creatures that make us work bacteria in particular, so we’re a host, we’re not a living organism, we’re a host organism and then, when we think about it, think about how atoms and molecules are made.

Now, I’m living in a cold stream. If I was a hydrogen atom to scale here, the nucleus would be about the size of a soccer ball World Cup going on at the moment. The electron circling me would be eight miles away, or 10 kilometers, and it would be the size of a tennis ball and in between, is nothing. So we are mostly made of nothing at all. So I’m still convinced that once we’ve got it, and believe it enough, we’d be able to walk through walls, because so few of us actually exist. So this just constantly tells us that we know so little. I’m working with Dr. Elaine and Soul Food Web School at the moment and she’s done amazing work over the years, but the first person who really started this process was a Canadian female, who was the first person to really point out about living soil and how trees talk to each other. This really only began to be understood in 1997 by 1999, and moved on, and today, we’re still discovering things.

Morag:

I feel, somehow, that Permaculture is quite an expensive learning process at the moment connecting with researchers like Dr. Elaine and others are describing the kinds of lessons that people are sharing out through understanding science better and understanding science differently. I wondered whether you might reflect on how you’d seen permaculture shift and change over the decades you’ve been involved in where you feel like it can or could possibly open further in your understanding, where we could take it or where you feel that we need to take it?

Graham:

I’m just very busy at the moment and I didn’t really have time, but I’ve just helped a chap finish his diploma here. I did the senior tutor a bit of reassessing what his actual tutor had done with him and the reason I volunteered to do it is that he lives in Richmond in Yorkshire, which is where I went to school from second year up to fifth year and I have very happy memories of living in the Yorkshire Dales and Swaledale in particular. So I kind of felt an obligation to give something back for that and Stephen has done amazing work. He’s got a wonderful website with his diploma on it, it’s called Appalling Gardens, and if anybody wants to look, you can have a look. But I found that as I was reading it, I was very struck by the fact that he was giving a very literal interpretation of everything having to be permaculture and of the principles as stated by David very specifically and I was very pleased that he welcomed me to have a conversation with him after we’d finished the whole process, which wasn’t things that I particularly wanted to write to him and I just suggested that it was time he made this his own and feel free to break the rules, feel free to change things, feel free to write, get your own principles and he started a local organization that has ought to be all about permaculture and I said, “Please throw that out the window.” It can be about anything you want. It’s not what we call things. I’ve had people talk to me about, “Oh, that’s not permaculture, that’s agroforestry.” This is developed from Permaculture and is much better. Well, it’s in the tropics and is really about alley cropping. It’s just another technique and, yes, it’s derived from permaculture. But I don’t see anything in the tropics, about energy efficiency in buildings or what we do to the water table, particularly, so it’s not the labels that matter. It’s what we are doing and what we are not doing. So when you make a design, if it isn’t producing what you have consciously designed it to do, then revisit the design, and either change what you’re doing or just stop.

One of the things I discovered working with young people in the Prince Trust is, one of the most rewarding things you can say to people is, “It’s okay to stop.” Because when people try things, and they don’t work, they get into tears about it, they go, “What am I doing wrong?” Well, don’t worry about it. Worrying doesn’t change anything. If you’re worried about something, you can either change it or you can’t. If you can’t change it, there’s no point worrying about it, because that just makes you ill. If you can change it, change it. If you can’t change it, but you think somebody else can, ask them. With all the tidal waves we face right now, which aren’t going away anytime soon. Climate change, mass extinction, pollution of our continental shelves, which harvest more carbon dioxide and produce more oxygen than all the trees on planet Earth, half of which we’ve already cut down and there’s a good deal more burning, and we’re not slowing down the rate of deforestation. This is just idiotic, wonderful people piece on the BBC on Sunday about the tree planting program. They’ve now planted 850,000 trees across the UK. That’s one tree for every 73 people in the UK. We’re not even scratching the surface here. So permaculture, I think, had from the outset, certainly from the designers manual onwards in it, just about everything. I don’t think there was an international teachers meeting in Leeds in Yorkshire a couple of years back and somebody said to me, looked at my books and said, “Oh, you wrote this in 1990. He must have been a lone voice in the wilderness.” Then I said, “Well, no, but there’s a few more interesting things today.” And often I avoided using the word Permaculture, I wouldn’t have called it the Permaculture Garden. For example, when that happened, I would have called it Recreating Evening, but as the publisher had the right to set the title and I didn’t have spare time or energy to be my own publisher and all that stuff. So I think what has changed is we have much better skills in the teaching base and there are still the odd person in different parts of the world who think teaching means sitting people behind the desk and talking at them and I hope people learn from that.

I know people who’ve done courses like that didn’t come away enthusing about it. But what I think of people like Robin Clayfield, yourself, and Rosemary Morrow, and Delvin Solkinson is a completely different approach. We are not teachers, we are facilitators of learning. Adult Education is a very different thing from school and we have different habits, different skills, different attention spans. But everybody who comes into your classroom on a permaculture design course, brings with them all the knowledge they have gained and an experience they’ve gained through life. Nobody walks through that door, an empty vessel waiting to be filled with your immense wisdom. What you are there to do is to inspire them. Let me put it like this: A lot of people know how to drive, not everybody of course. My experience of learning to drive was very interesting. I learned to drive in central London. Not as bad as Tel Aviv or Bangkok, but it’s still pretty scary. The first day we went driving, my instructor took me down to a street market, there’s loads of stalls on each side of the street. I’ve seen similar things in Melbourne, for example, and people just walk randomly across the road in front of you and I’ve never driven a car before. – Not true. I’ve driven a tractor before – I got to the bottom of this steep hill and I got sweat patches under my arms and I’m shaking, and he turns around and he says, “Okay,” he said, “It never gets any worse than that.” Well, what a gift. The guy is sharing with me, extremes, right from the outset, be prepared. So you’ll be safe. Later on, at the end of our time together, he took me to the top of Herne Hill in South London, to a very steep hill about half a mile long and said, “Okay, the brakes have failed. I’m going to show you how to stop the car.” And he let him stop his car by crashing it through the gears down the hill, which meant that if that ever happens to me, I know what to do. But what’s going on? Well, I need to drive. No, we’re not. We’re learning to pass the driving test. So in a way, doing the diploma is a bit similar. Certainly doing the design courses like that you come out of a design course. All you’ve got is a sort of set of notes to say right golf and trophy things, that’s why it has to be two years since the design course before you get a diploma in any system I know of. Most people take longer than that. When you pass your driving test, that’s when you start to learn to drive. Because now you’re released into the real world and you discover what’s really going on and this can be crazy in this country. My wife took her driving test in 1989 in a town called Kelso, just near where we were at that time. He also had no pedestrian crossings, no traffic lights, and no roundabouts and she passed her test there. She could have driven in the middle of London the following day and legitimately and she wouldn’t have a clue what to do. Now they’ve changed that. So when you’re a learner, you’re now allowed to drive on the motorways with an instructor so that when you pass the test, you know what to expect. So we learn over time. But permaculture is exactly like that. All we’re ever doing is playing around with things, learning the ropes, and then we go out into the real world, and we have a shot.

Morag:

so I wanted to ask you about becoming a teacher, the process that you would take people through. So coming from your approach, how do you guide people through that process of your courses to become a permaculture teacher and how important do you think the process of the diploma is to enter into that teaching space? What makes a good tip? You’ve described what makes a good teacher. But how do you teach people to become a teacher? What does your trainer course include?

Graham:

Those are two very good questions themselves. So the first thing we do is we invite the participants to create the course culture and there’s a number of different ways you can do this. I’m just three quarters away through a forest gardening course teaching with Thomas Remy Arts at the moment and he led this process using a jam board. We just pick up people to write and post it and we stick them on and then when we’ve got all that, you can then start to arrange it into topic areas and eventually, if you want, you can turn that into a mind map, and so on. The beauty about mind maps is you can play with them more than once and if it doesn’t work as well as you want the first time we’ll just redo it, but it’s this connecting of ideas in the spatial way our brain works not in a linear fashion. That’s a key part of what we’re trying to teach people. The second we get that done, we have different ways of using it. Rakesh Bumbry, who I trained traders with, he has a process where he makes up a page with columns on and it says, “Seed, Shooting, Flowering, Shooting, Leafing, Flowering, Fruiting.” So using a botanical analogy, so that each time we look at this chart, people are invited to put the pointer, which column they think that item is in. So listening well would be one of the things that people commonly come up with. Having time to think, not interrupting, turning up on time. These are the kinds of things that people come up with, but it’s their culture, they create it.

Now, when I started doing this, I started handing out a protocol to people and saying, “This is what we’ll do” and I’ve learned that getting people to make their own culture is a much better process, because they then own it and one of the rules using Rakesh process is no post it goes further up the scale than the person who’s least happy with it. So my phrase is, “ The convoy moves at the speed of the slowest ship.” So what we’re doing is we’re respecting the person who’s least happy with where we’ve got to and that’s what we’ll be addressing in our concerns. We try not to get diverted in lessons into debates about issues. Because this curriculum is so vast, that in the time available to us, we want to make sure that in a teaching session, we do what we’re there to teach. But we also made sure there are lots of spaces in the timetable. Some of them were deliberate buffering points. So I’ll put something in the timetable and it doesn’t say the average point, it says something fairly innocuous but it’s deliberately there, because that doesn’t imply a lot of content. So if we overrun something or if people don’t get it, we’ve got a space, we can come back to it. So we also have a document called a Mystery as a panel, mystery is an old parking lot, some people call this, and if something comes up and it’s off topic and we don’t want to get diverted, we make sure it goes in there. We’re commonly teaching people of different language abilities and often English is not their first language. Although we’re teaching in English, I have taught in French, but I’m not brilliant at it. That’s because I turned up in West Africa and the translator spoke Spanish not English. My French isn’t bad. But I’m rubbish at all these complicated French tenses and I don’t have the technical vocabulary to the same extent. Well, the Africans forgive me for tenses because they don’t bother about them either and I had a friend who was and I had a dictionary, so we got by, but we will also contemporaneously translating into nine languages for whilst I was talking and then stopping every 10 minutes to do the other five and then you had to stop every day for prayers five times and you had to stop midday because it’s 50 degrees and you’re still teaching.

Morag:

It’s a different world, isn’t it? I’ve taught through translators, and it’s a very, very different world.

Graham:

Indeed. So anyway, I usually try and have a volunteer from the course, who is recording words that people struggle with and so we have a multilingual table, where we give the translations of each of these words and if necessary, we share an explanation of it and that can be done on a board or a sheet of paper on the wall or something, if you’re in situ, doing things online, you could just put all these courses and things into a Google Docs folder and so on. When we’re doing it online, we record everything. So people can go back and see it again. Because there’s always somebody who had to go to the doctor’s or pick up Johnny from school or something and sometimes it just helps to be able to just see the thing over again, because one of the things you’ll notice when you’re teaching is sometimes people aren’t listening, because they’ve been listening so well, the last thing that happened is still going around in their head. So they’re not hearing the next thing that happens because of that. So one of the things we teach teachers is to say everything twice, repeat yourself, and that’s very important. I think people sometimes think, “Oh, no, I already said that.” But actually repetition is a key part of learning and reiteration. So at the end of every session, we’re always asking people, how are you at the end of every day, we have a review session and every following morning, we have a review session. When we’re training teachers, we make the case that they end up teaching the course. So we start by leading these kinds of sessions and then we put people into pairs and every day, one pair will open the day, one pair will close the day. Another thing that we do is, we ask people to teach a pattern in pairs, when we’re doing the PDC. You can do that in teacher training. But usually I find we don’t have time. We don’t spend much time in a teacher training course, teaching the curriculum. We assume people already have to know that what we’re teaching is teaching and so when we have these review sessions, you’re trying to encourage people to use different questions. So how are you this morning? Okay, but I’ve been asked that 14 times, it starts to wear a bit thin. So, I invite people to be creative about that. If you were a bird this morning, what kind of bird would you be? If you were a water source and water feature, what kind of water feature would you be? And it gets people to think about being creative and illustrative, painting word pictures, which engages people, it often can be more expressive than inviting people to just tell you what’s going on in their lives.

Morag:

But was the word pictures that made me think of, which is something that you obviously weave in a lot to how you teach his storytelling. So can you speak a bit about how you share storytelling and how do you help to cultivate storytelling? Because some people would say, “Oh, I can’t tell stories.” But how do you encourage people into that space? Because it’s one of the things that I find the most powerful in terms of actually getting things to land.

Graham:

So we’ve got a three stage process and it goes like this, the first thing is a warm day. Rakesh says, “I want you to tell us the story of your name, you got two minutes. Go.” And we just go around the room and everybody does it and you’d be amazed, because people got prepared for this. “Okay, well, I can start,” he says, off he goes and it’s really interesting, because everybody knows something about their name and so it’s something they know. It’s about them and they’re just talking and we get through all of that and he says, “Okay, that’s great. That was all wonderful, wasn’t it?” The next stage in the process, which comes a couple of days later, is probably to produce a series of topics and we tell everybody they’ve got two minutes, you can make it more or less, more is better. But two minutes to teach this topic and you tell them what the topics are and you make a list and invite them to tick the one they want to do and you say, “If there’s not something you want to do, just tell us and we’ll find something else.” So we’re not applying pressure, that’s the thing. Because the main thing you’re trying to teach people is to be confident. Most of the people who come on to teaching courses know plenty to teach. But what they’re lacking is confidence and, of course, it differs from person to person, some people go straight into it and away they go and you will be cut off at the end. If you run out of time, you’ll be stopped. So we’re getting them to think about timing things and it’s interesting what people come up with. Originally, we just asked people to suggest a subject and we found that people were doing things that weren’t really much to do with permaculture, so we kind of narrowed it down. So it might be something very simple, it might say succession, or it might say Coriolis effect, or which is more complicated, or it might say your favorite tree. But whatever it is to get into this and by the time they’ve all been through this and you can do it, if we’ve got time, we do it twice. For each person, some people fail to put their names down, some people are too nervous about it. So you just have to keep encouraging people and then the third thing is they get 15 minutes to teach a lesson. Now, one of the things that you instantly come across with this is, of course, people tend to teach lessons that are an hour or whatever. But if you’ve got 24 people in a room, you’re not going to sit there for 24 hours listening to lessons over and over. So 15 minutes is what they get and we again, set topics these days, we used to just allow people to pick a topic. But again, we say, “If there’s not something here that you want to do, and you want to talk about it, that’s fine.” Some of the very best ones are people who do a practical demonstration of something. So we’ve had people grafting a fruit tree, we’ve had people binding a book, we’ve had people making soap. So these practical demonstrations, things are great, because it’s very visual and they’re explaining how to do something. Other people will talk about a theory or a process, or a pattern. I remember one person talking about the process of designing a community garden in India and you get some really interesting stuff and other people more challenging, or bring up things that are quite interesting in different ways and overlap between yoga and permaculture or Buddhism and permaculture, things that people care about themselves.

Morag:

I was gonna ask you about whether you encourage people in these short sections to show very clearly how soapmaking relates to the permaculture ethics principles?

Graham:

Oh, yes, that’s an essential part of it. Because we’ve gone through lots of other lessons about ethics and principles and how you would include them.. So this is not done in isolation. It’s part of the main course and I can share a timetable with you, if you want. But just stepping back from that to where we were about this beginning or end of the day, these questions get phrased very differently and, again, we invite people to make creative ways of asking them, but one of the things we’re always trying to find out is what went well for you. So what did you take away from yesterday’s lesson that you were awake at night and suddenly thought of? Did you have any amazing insights afterwards into anything? And was there something that you didn’t get or want to hear more about? And try to make it so that every day, we have guild time, so we put people into guild and we asked them if they want to choose their own guilds and we asked them if they want to or they want to be appointed to a guild and we always say to people, “If you don’t like the guild you’re in, just say and we’ll change it.” And nobody gets thought badly of if they say that, it needs to work for you. But you’re with a group of people you get on with. Occasionally, we have people who say, “I’d rather be with somebody else.” Once we had a woman who dropped out and refused to do guilds at all, she got offended about something pretty silly, really. But that’s where she was at and she didn’t do a design at the end, so she didn’t get a certificate. If she turns out one day with a design, I’ll give her a certificate. But you have to attend 80% of 72 hours on the PDC. So we go with that for the training of teachers, you have to be there 80% of the time and you have to do the presentations. If you’re mindful, you get to do two presentations.

Online, we use Breakout Rooms constantly. So every now and then we just sent people into breakout rooms for two minutes, maybe for 10 minutes. There’s a listening exercise you can do where you send people in pairs into breakout rooms and they will have to listen to each other for two minutes. That’s the other thing we do with course culture, we do that with either breakout rooms or pairs in a row. We ask each person to listen to the other person for two minutes and then to come back and tell us what the other person said, not the person telling you what they said and the two questions: one very good experience of learning and one poor experience of learning and that when you do it with a whole group of people, gives you most of the things you’d want to say about what works well and what doesn’t work. Typically, I didn’t get listened to and I got put down. The guy didn’t know what he was talking about and couldn’t transmit, he just mumbled away or was just reading from notes. All the things that you would want people not to do in a classroom or they favored certain people in the room and that’s one of the issues when you’re doing this kind of course, there are always some people who are more willing to put their hands up. I try to make sure we don’t make it a direct confrontation. But one of the ways you can do that is instead of just asking people to put their hands up, you then select people that you want to give feedback to. So if you’re getting an overbalance in one direction, you just start asking the people who haven’t spoken. How do you feel about this? But you have to do it in a way that’s not pressuring people, you make it an invitation, and so every day, we will always do at least one go round of everybody and preferably, twice a day, depending on how we are doing for time.

Morag:

How long are your courses like on Zoom? Do you find that they’re shorter on Zoom? Because people get zoom fatigue or do you just spread them out longer?

Graham:

Well, they are shorter. We’ve settled out with training of teachers two days a week for seven weeks and we would typically be running The Forest Garden course. I’m online at the moment from 11 till four. So people turn up for 11, we start teaching at 11:30. We take half an hour for lunch and we finish it from 11 to 11: 30. It is open for people to come and socialize, chat, share time, it also helps make sure people get there on time. For we leave it open, if people want to stay, they can stay and chat for another half hour and sometimes when you’re doing the guild stuff, people say, “Oh, we want to meet with our guild at the end.” and I say, “It’s okay. Yeah, just leave that and go talk to each other.” I find that not too many times, if we have done it three times in a week, I find that’s difficult for me. Not because I get worn out because I’ve got too many other things to do in a week. But that seems to work and the President course, which is Forest Gardening in four days. Three days so far, people have just said at the end it was wonderful. I’ve learned a lot. It’s made me think differently. That’s what you’re looking for.

 

Morag:

Well, thank you for sharing all of that about your courses. What do you see as being what you hope people are going to go out into the world and do with their permaculture education and permaculture teacher training? What are the things that you kind of send them off and encourage them to – I know, there’s so many ways that they can apply this lens of thinking, but it feels to me that in our world today Permaculture is something that is so important. And have you changed the way that you’re sending people out into the world at the end? I think we’ve talked about this since the beginning of permaculture. I remember talking about the exact same things, but somehow it feels like the pressure is on now.

Graham:

People often ask me what my expectations are and I try to live without expectations. I used to be an optimist and I found I was often disappointed. So I became a pessimist and now I’m pleasantly surprised from time to time and humor is a very important part of teaching too. So I’ve got a PowerPoint I’ll share with you, which is about goal setting. So I like people to do that at the end before they go away on a course. If you haven’t got time to do it, I share it with them and they can do it in their own time. It’s just walking people step by step through what you’re going to do here. So we use the standard permaculture thing. What went well? What would you do differently? What’s the big picture and what are your next steps? So we use that as a standard with people. You asked about the permaculture way a bit about the way it’s about how you think and just to sidetrack slightly. When I wrote the Permaculture Garden, it was because people kept saying, “Oh, you mean like organic gardening?” And I kept saying, “No, it’s a design system.” And in the end, I saw the light and I thought, “If people want to know about gardening, let’s make it a portal.” So the Permaculture Garden has clearly explained in the introduction, it is really about using gardening as a paradigm and I know Jeff Lauren’s fond of saying, “Everything you want to learn about life, you can learn in a garden.” Some people say it was a Billism, but I don’t know, these things are for sharing. I believe very heartily in Creative Commons, which I know you’re brilliant at, moreover, that what’s going on with the world is too important for us to be holding on to things. Anything that’s on my website, anything that’s on my Facebook page, whatever it’s all shared with (1:26:10), if you belong to me, if it belonged to somebody else, it says so. You’re welcome to use this free, only if you agree not to charge for it yourself and you’re welcome to edit it and change it to see for yourself. But we do ask that you give credit to whoever you’re borrowing from. When you look at the work that so many people have done, voluntarily, over so many years to move this whole thing forward. It’s quite chastening and who are my heroes, you asked earlier. Well, I think a very recent one is Robin Wall Kimmerer. I think Braiding Sweetgrass is one of my favorite books ever. I’ve got about 4000 books in the house here. So I’ve got quite a few favorite books, but I’ve also got 400 kilos of apples if you know anybody wants apples. And Edward de Bono, especially Six Thinking Hats.

Morag

I liked The Happiness. What was that, with the hand? Do you remember? Each finger was something like a direction and I wish I could remember them now. But there’s one of the books that I use often about that and then I’ve added an extra one into his and it’s about joining hands in community and my dad, when I was about 19, sent me off to go and do some training with De Bono and I was so thankful to him, because I’ve used it. In all of the courses that I’ve done. It’s so easy.

Graham:

A particular thing, coming back to the science question again white is facts. Today, it’s the 22nd of November, it’s 11:45 where I am. Green is about brainstorming and open thinking, coming up with ideas. Yellow is about the benefits of doing something and Black is about giving those benefits, which is a realistic reconsideration of the facts and situation. It’s not about what’s wrong with something, it’s about realistic assessment, that’s one thing people often get wrong. And Red, it’s about how you feel about things and Blue is about what we’re doing now, which is thinking about thinking. Along with open questions, I think this is one of the most important things for people to understand. Because it allows us to manage our thinking and how we think and that’s what de Bono made a career out of and one of the brilliant things about it is that unlike many brilliant people, he just talks in very plain English. There are so many clever Maltese I’ve met in my life. I lived in Malta for three years. I always take my hat off to these kinds of guys and he has a doctorate from Cambridge, Dr. from Harvard, and just a common man. When he was asked by the Foreign Office in the UK what he should do to create peace in the Middle East, he said, “Send them Marmite. Vegemite if you like,” because vitamins in it calm you down. But the important point here for me is this thing about Red thinking.

People talk about emotional intelligence these days, another contribution to the debate. In the scientific community, I heard so many times that being rational is good and being emotional is not. But emotional is a form of intelligence, just as much as rational is, in fact, sometimes more so. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that thing of interviewing people for a job and you get a checklist and you’re supposed to tick the boxes and then we get to the end of the process and the people say, “I should have preferred him.” You just throw in a piece of paper and go with your gut instinct. So in all of this, by the way, one of the things I thank people for, mostly, is listening. So if anybody’s listening to this, thank you for listening. Because listening is much harder work than talking and when you’re being taught, you find it’s an imbalance. So you have to spend more time listening to people than you get listened to. So it’s very important that people recognize, from the outset, just how important that is.

Roger Phillips, the guy who made all these amazing books of plants and animals and some of the first people to pioneer exhaustive photography of different things. So his book, Wild Food, is one of the very best foot books on foraging and every plant has got recipes with it as well. He and De Bono both passed away this year, similarly, going on for 90 and around that age. As well as Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Rosemary Morrow, in particular, though Vince Arkinson just posted a whole thing praising me the day I’m quite embarrassed about, but Delvin and Grace are wonders in their own land and whilst Dellvin is often the person at the front there, they are really a team and that’s the most organized people on planet Earth I know. But they always make it sound easy, which isn’t.

A lot of my real heroes are just very ordinary people and I am teaching the soil food web stuff at the moment. I was talking to a guy who chairs the charity they support in Malawi, who’s based in England, and he said, “Is Vandana Shiva teaching on this course?” I said, “Well, not at the moment, no. I don’t know Vandana Shiva. I know how wonderful she is and all the rest of it.” and then, “Oh, don’t you?” I said, “Oh, she should” I said. But, the more that as teachers, we’re superheroes, the less enabling that is for other people. So I think that thing of modesty and humility is a key part of being a good teacher. We’re not here because we’re cleverer than you. We’re just here because we were here before you and we value this discipline so much that we want to share it as widely as we can as often as we can and, like Rosemary Morrow, find it difficult to stop.

Morag:

One of the things I really love about the work that we’re doing is being able to contribute to the publishing of books like that and the film that Dan Palmer was working on with David Holmgren before he passed, so I hope that that film gets finished too. There’s a lot of really good work in the flow, hopefully that goes.

Graham:

Well, that was a tragic loss to you, far too young and very sad. The trouble is, I’ll be 70 next year and I’ve made a commitment to keep going for the next 12 months and then I’ll see where I end up then hoping to teach in Derry and Northern Ireland, which is one of the crux points of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and I am 36% Irish myself in my DNA and I was brought up as a Catholic and that’s why dairy (1:34:46) was a crux point because it’s a Catholic dominated town, but there was a bomb there again yesterday.

Morag:

I hadn’t heard of that.

 

Graham:

Somebody was kidnapped and made to drive his car to a police station, there was some sort of explosion going on, they had to clear the district and so on. Interestingly, Shin Fane came out and said, “You’re living in the past , this past is gone.” Hopefully people are moving on. But you see when you have such inequalities and injustice, it has happened in Ireland across centuries, and a lot of people forget that actually, the English were invited in by the kings of Ireland who are squabbling amongst themselves. But, in a Chrome Wales occupation and the black and tans and the easter rising, and so on. It’s a horrific story and how do you forget these things? On the plane to Australia, I watched an entire series, I think it was called Murray River. It’s about the first settlers and how they treated or mistreated Aboriginal people and I didn’t sleep all the way from Scotland to Perth. So I watched the whole series between going there and coming back and I just thought how awful it is because we can never repair that damage. Although you and I do it, we still feel a sense of guilt that our ancestors did to some extent and it’s just how we in this world, forgive and move on and it’s not easy. It’s not easy at all.

Morag:

I hosted a masterclass the other week, as people were saying, “Well, what is permaculture got to do with indigenous cultures and is permaculture just a way of a new form of colonization?” And so I said, “Well, let’s ask people.” So I invited a whole group of people who are involved in some way in permaculture but are also indigenous themselves and we had a yearning about permaculture and one of those people is Dominic Chen, who’s who’s a member of our institute, and she’s working currently on developing a whole series of content that she can share with permaculture teachers around the world to to talk about these issues and how to communicate with them and it’s about rising together, how can we come beautifully together, there’s a lot of intersection that’s happening here with the permaculture community and indigenous communities, which from the call burnings, to the work of Bruce Pascoe, to Indigenous women’s natural food programs, and all kinds of things. So it’s really encouraging in that way and I find it’s a really wonderful space in which to engage in healing.

Graham:

I would have added Bruce Pascoe and dark emu (1:38:08) alongside Robin Wall Kimmerer. One of the things that’s lovely about Bruce is, again, his tone. He’s not calling names. He’s not blaming anybody. It’s just so well written from that point of view and he’s just saying here’s what you missed and so I’m very keen that we’ve got people from indigenous communities involved in the online PDC I’m making just now and I’m hopeful that I’m gonna get some good information about Aboriginal practices and contributions. I was very disappointed in 2016 not to have more connection with Aboriginals. There were a few turned up at the Showgrounds when there was a day and there was one guy there, I had long conversations with who was an Aboriginal but looked white. But he’s about, you get accepted and told if you’re an Aboriginal. I’m told I’m an Aboriginal and he was very interested in it and Nancy and I went to the place in Queensland, where there’s an Aboriginal art center, just below African table and for an evening and I had fallen and twisted my ankle and one of them kindly took me around in a wheelchair, it’s actually quite a long distance to walk, and I had a long chat with him and he was all dolled up and all the rest of it to do the stage show and I found it very difficult and he said, “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve had enough.” and actually, although it’s run by Aboriginals and funded by the state of Queensland, I found it very difficult because I felt it was still kind of patronizing in some way. And I thought, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy doing this at all and then you go up onto the Atherton Tablelands and it’s like being in Hampshire, totally turned over. One of the people I’m working with is a guy called James Atherton who’s a lovely guy and very clued up and he’s just doing his diploma with me at the moment.

Morag:

Oh, fantastic! I’m really excited that here in Australia we have the Uluru Statement From the Heart and the indigenous voice in parliament is now without. Only now with our new prime minister is that going to start to get in and there’ll be truth telling and voice in parliament and treaty heading towards that and it’s kind of unbelievable that now we are here in 2022 and that we’re only just doing that now. But it’s a really positive step forward.

Graham, thank you so much. We’ve been talking for two hours, I should let you go now. Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure to hear your perspective on ways that we can ship permaculture out into the world and how we can ground it, how we can bring it into our daily life and our daily practice and just be calm and present with it. I think that’s kind of how I get this great sense of calmness about how you share it into the world.

Graham:

Just tell stories, really, and that’s the one great thing that people get, very soon, in training teachers to get good at telling stories, avoid jargon, just chat with people, make it easy for them to do the same. Thank you so much for the invitation, Morag. It’d be very kind if you just type your email address in the chat because I couldn’t find it just now and I’ll send you those things I promised.

Morag:

Let me just put it in here right now. I think that’s right, moragamble@gmail.com.

Graham:

Brilliant. Thank you.

Morag:

Also, is there a preferred bio or headshot that you’d like because I make up a little graphic to put at the front of the podcast and use for show notes. What’s your best link to also share in the show notes, is that your graham bell website?

Graham:

Great. Yes and grahambell.org is the email address.

Morag:

Okay, I’ll add that in. Probably, these episodes will go out just shortly after Christmas. I’m currently working with Urban Agriculture Month here in Australia and so every week, this month, I’m releasing a podcast talking to someone who’s doing great stuff in urban agriculture. Next month, I’m focusing on permaculture writers and so right at the end of that, I think that’s where I’ll include you going to Permaculture Teachers. So I just sort of take a different theme each month and explore different ideas and people really enjoy the possibility of hearing different perspectives on ways of being in the world of permaculture and it sort of cracks open the possibilities, it gives people permission to take a step forward. Sometimes, like what you’re saying they look to an expert, but the things you were saying it’s like, just go and do it. Just get out there and be proud of it.

Graham:

I like this term about perspectives. I use it all the time myself. People say, “Why don’t people agree about what permaculture is?” Well, that’s a misunderstanding. There are lots of different ways of looking at things, if you go look at the Statue of Liberty from a different direction, you’ll see something completely different. If you’re up there on the crown, it’s a bit different from being on a boat, going across the sound, if you’re on hills miles away, it looks different. Again, it’s a bit like that, you can see permaculture as being entirely about energy management. You can see it about botany and arbery culture, you can see it about being about soil. You can see it being about fair trade. People care, earth care, fair shares is a bit of a cop out because it rhymes you know, so more people saying future share, but there’s a whole load of things in molar sodium principles which aren’t covered by fair share, for example, limits to growth, which you can imply from fair share, but isn’t exactly.

Morag:

You can also weave that into Earthcare as well. Like the way you describe it, EarthCare can definitely have that. So that’s how I’ve tried to embody that in.

Graham:

Well, so we passed a billion people this week.

Morag:

I know. Yes, and growing.

Graham:

So yes, I like this idea of it being different ways of saying things and multiple descriptions.

Morag:

Someone who’s inspiring me a lot at the moment is a woman called Nora Bateson and if you’ve come across her work with Warm Data. Do you know Gregory Bateson? She’s his daughter. I’ve been studying with her for quite some time and we talk a lot about permaculture and Warm Data and systems thinking and these multiple descriptions and opening up the possibilities and her work is brilliant and it has helped me to really shape how I teach permaculture. So she’s one on the spine. I also work closely too, with Fritjof Capra, and I really enjoy a relationship with him.

Graham:

You’re very lucky. I have been a big fan of Fritjof Capra for years. A question you asked earlier, I didn’t answer and I’ll just take a moment to do so, about hopes for people. I don’t essentially have hopes. I think one of the things I’ve learned about teaching, and this is worth saying, is that as a teacher, you have no idea what the outcome of what you’re doing will be. We always ask people for feedback and, personally, I don’t put a lot of store by it. One of the reasons is that some people will always want to say nice things to you. Some people will feel that’s a good time to be critical. What you’re not getting is an even response from people and you could do this thing of having tick boxes, one to 10, I think three is fine, it exceeded my expectations, or I was disappointed.

Morag:

By being in conversation with people, by creating the context where your learning community is so rich in relationships, that you kind of know what people are going to say, anyway, there’s no surprises.

 

Graham:

What I say to people is whatever people say to you, you have to be your own best judge. How well you did when you got things wrong. There are areas that you might want to research a bit more or practice, it’s up to you to be the judge of what you do. And the year Bell was here, 1990, joined in a course we taught. There were two couples on that course and there were three couples. One of them was a vegan couple who had a real go at them and there was one couple who always had their hands up, they were always answering the questions. They were so enthusiastic, they made you feel good, glad to be alive and lucky enough to teach them and there was another couple, you couldn’t get in to answer a question. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose, you get the occasional squeak out of them. Five years later, I happened to meet them both in the same year. The couple who wouldn’t say anything, had got a 15 acre plot, they’d build a house. They were running a food market, they’re just doing it all and it was only the woman of the other couple I met and she was a pole dancer in Soho. So it’s just a classic example of you can’t tell whether this will take people, who knows, pulled on so and so may have gone on to have 15 acres herself and who knows what she’s doing today. I’m not brilliant at staying in touch with people, some people I know do. But I feel like the best thing I can do for people after teaching is let them go.

Morag:

Back to starting to create a space where people can stay as long as they want and they can come and go from it. So that there’s this place where they can keep coming back in dipping back in and coming to a conversation so that there’s a spot if they get stuck, they can come back and ask a question and move in and out and it’s always a space where they can come and that’s kind of working quite well. Just looping back to that.

Graham:

You know, sorry. Just on that point. I always say to people, I’m always here.

Morag:

I think that’s so important. Just on the feedback thing, another sort of dimension of that whole kind of loop of feedback is thinking about being a reflective practitioner. How do you describe that to your students when you’re asking them to be reflective on their own practice? Do you have tools that you use or do you just encourage them to notice?

Graham:

The goal setting presentation I’ll share with you, it’s got some of that in. Yeah,I think I’ve usually only got one piece of advice, which is never give advice. Because it doesn’t work. I think taking time to think is good and it may be a disability, but my brain doesn’t stop. If I want to stop my brain, I read rubbish or watch rubbish on television, but rubbish that I enjoy. So nature programs a bit, but I find I get a bit irritated by that. We’re talking as if the world’s fine and it isn’t but I watched detective programs and stuff and I read novels and poetry that gets my brain out of gear a bit.

 

Morag:

But how does it affect you? How’s it landing in you with the continuing global crisis? What’s your coping mechanism?

Graham:

To stop, and I sleep more as I get older, some people sleep less as they get older. But sometimes I’m awake at night and I just can’t stop thinking about all the things I’ve got to do. So I write, I write poetry, I write books. I have actually written the third book called Life Through A Kaleidoscope, which I’m trying to find a publisher for, because I don’t really want to do self publishing. It’s finished. I’ve got printed copies of it and so I’m talking to a few people about that. Permanent publications weren’t interested. I thought I was winning with Chelsea Green, but they’ve kind of, “Oh, we don’t do biographies unless you’re really famous. Thanks.” So I still hope Margo Baldwin will see the light and say, “No, that’s worth doing.”

Morag:

Yeah. So this is an autobiography. I’d love to read it.

Graham:

It’s subtitled Learning To be Green. So I put it on Facebook, just the cover, and I had 300 people in two days saying, “I want a copy” and then I go to publishers and they say, “There’s no demand.”

Morag:

I wonder whether you could easily do it if you don’t have the time to self publish it. Maybe the systems are out there so much more now to make it easier to self publish than it ever was before.

Graham:

Well, there’s a company in America who will publish it if I pay for the printing and then I get 100% of the royalties. But as you know, I have to think about whether that’s the right way to do it or not and I’ve got somebody who will print it for me here in the UK at a reasonable price. But then I’ve got to distribute it and I don’t want to send books in envelopes.

Morag:

No,you definitely don’t. There are better things to do with your time.

Graham:

I can send you a PDF.

Morag:

That will be amazing. I would love to read it. Thank you.

Graham:

This is not for broadcast, all this.

Morag:

When we said goodbye we kind of chopped it there, but there was some bit where you were talking just about permaculture, if I could chop that little bit out about sort of.

Graham:

Oh, sure. I know it’s about what we were talking about. That’s fine.

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