in the 20’s

In 1929, Joseph Russell Smith took up an antecedent term as the subtitle for Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, a book in which he summed up his long experience experimenting with fruits and nuts as crops for human food and animal feed. Smith saw the world as an inter-related whole and suggested mixed systems of trees and crops underneath. This book inspired many individuals intent on making agriculture more sustainable, such as Toyohiko Kagawa who pioneered forest farming in Japan in the 1930s.

in the 60’s

The definition of permanent agriculture as that which can be sustained indefinitely was supported by Australian P. A. Yeomans in his 1964 book Water for Every Farm. Yeomans introduced an observation-based approach to land use in Australia in the 1940s, and the keyline design as a way of managing the supply and distribution of water in the 1950s.

Stewart Brand’s works were an early influence noted by Holmgren. Other early influences include Ruth Stout and Esther Deans, who pioneered no-dig gardening. Masanobu Fukuoka who, in the late 1930s in Japan, began advocating no-till orchards, gardens, and natural farming and published his book the one straw revolution in 1975.

In the late 1960s, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren started developing ideas about stable agricultural systems on the southern Australian island state of Tasmania. This was a result of the danger of the rapidly growing use of industrial-agricultural methods. In their view, these methods were highly dependent on non-renewable resources, and were additionally poisoning land and water, reducing biodiversity, and removing billions of tons of topsoil from previously fertile landscapes. A design approach called permaculture was their response and was first made public with the publication of their book Permaculture One in 1978.

In the 80’s

By the early 1980s, the concept had broadened from agricultural systems design towards sustainable human habitats. After Permaculture One, Mollison further refined and developed the ideas by designing hundreds of permaculture sites and writing more detailed books, notably Permaculture: A Designers Manual. Mollison lectured in over 80 countries and taught his two-week Permaculture Design Course (PDC) to many hundreds of students. Mollison “encouraged graduates to become teachers themselves and set up their own institutes and demonstration sites. This multiplier effect was critical to permaculture’s rapid expansion.”