Ecological Farming: A Conversation With Fukuoka, Jackson and Mollison

Published: April, 1987 

Last August, three leaders of the global movement for a natural, permanent agriculture (also called permaculture) gathered at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, for the Second International Permaculture Conference. MOTHER EARTH NEWS was there, too, obtaining the only three-way interview ever with the men our Seasons of the Garden columnists half-playfully labeled “the Holy Trinity” of ecological farming. The following edited discussion is a head-to-head exchange between men who are taking key roles in defining our planet’s future. But first let assistant editor Pat Stone, who conducted the interview, fill you in with some background on the three subjects:

Australian Bill Mollison created the concept of permaculture in ecological farming. A gravel-voiced graybeard, Bill has a dry sense of humor, a feisty temperament, and absolute dedication to his cause. Introduced before his keynote conference speech as “a great yarn teller who’s motivated thousands of people to action,” Mollison has held every job from seaman to Tanzania bush researcher to senior lecturer in environmental psychology. He left that secure university position two years before retirement to blaze the permaculture trail.

To Mollison, permanent agriculture means carefully designed, sustainable systems in which the array, organization, and interactions of plants and animals are the central factors. Perennial plants-especially tree crops-play a large role in his multispecies landscapes. A permaculture system takes much planning, and a good bit of work, to set up, but it should then almost run itself.

Wes Jackson researches perennial crop mixes in Salina, Kansas. A hulking midwesterner with broad hands and a ready smile, Jackson combines a warm nature, down-home humor, and impeccable scientific scholarship (he has a Ph.D. in genetics). For example, his favorite lecture title is “Herbaceous Perennial Seed-Producing Polycultures: Their Contribution to the Solution of All Marital Problems and the End of the Possibility of Nuclear Holocaust.”