Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Creating sustainable neighbourhoods (book)

The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighbourhoods: Lessons from Low-Carbon Communities

How do you achieve effective low-carbon design beyond the building level? How do you create a community that is both livable and sustainable? More importantly, how do you know if you have succeeded? Harrison Fraker goes beyond abstract principles to provide a clear, in-depth evaluation of four first generation low-carbon neighborhoods in Europe, and shows how those lessons can be applied to the U.S. The four case studies are: Bo01 and Hammarby in Sweden, and Kronsberg and Vauban in Germany. Each was built deliberately to conserve resources: all are mixed-used, contain at least 1,000 units, and have aggressive goals for energy and water efficiency, recycling, and waste treatment.

Stories of enviromental mediation (book)

Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator

In our increasingly polarized society, there are constant calls for compromise, for coming together. For many, these are empty talking points—for Lucy Moore, they are a life's work. As an environmental mediator, she has spent the past quarter century resolving conflicts that appeared utterly intractable. Here, she shares the most compelling stories of her career, offering insight and inspiration to anyone caught in a seemingly hopeless dispute.

Transport beyond oil (book)

Transport Beyond Oil: Policy Choices for a Multimodal Future 

Seventy percent of the oil America uses each year goes to transportation. That means that the national oil addiction and all its consequences, from climate change to disastrous spills to dependence on foreign markets, can be greatly reduced by changing the way we move. In Transport Beyond Oil, leading experts in transportation, planning, development, and policy show how to achieve this fundamental shift. The authors demonstrate that smarter development and land-use decisions, paired with better transportation systems, can slash energy consumption.

Empathic green building design (book)

Design for an Empathic World: Reconnecting People, Nature, and Self

Despite an uncertain economy, the market for green building is exploding. The US green building market has expanded dramatically since 2008 and is projected to double in size by 2015. But green-building pioneer Sim Van der Ryn says, “greening” our buildings is not enough.  He advocates for “empathic design”, in which a designer not only works in concert with nature, but with an understanding of and empathy for the end user and for ones self.  It is not just one of these connections, but all three that are necessary to design for a future that is more humane, equitable, and resilient.

Bokashi Composting (book)

Bokashi Composting: Scraps to Soil in Weeks

Bokashi is Japanese for "fermented organic matter." Bokashi composting is a safe, quick, and convenient way to compost in your kitchen, garage, or apartment, using a specific group of microorganisms to anaerobically ferment all food waste (including meat and dairy). Since the process takes place in a closed system, insects and smell are controlled, making it ideal for urban or business settings. The process is very fast, with compost usually ready to be integrated into your soil or garden in around two weeks. While bokashi has enjoyed great popularity in many parts of the world, it is still relatively unknown in North America. From scraps to soil, Bokashi Composting is the complete, step-by-step, do-it-yourself guide to this amazing process.

Research review on urban green infrastructure (report)

Urban Green Infrastructure - POST Note

Urban green infrastructure is a network of green spaces, water and other natural features within urban areas. A green infrastructure approach uses natural processes to deliver multiple functions, such as reducing the risk of flooding and cooling high urban temperatures. This POSTnote summarises research evidence of the effectiveness of green infrastructure, and challenges to its implementation.

Doing sustanability science requires organisational change (#journal)

Sustainability research: Organizational challenge for intermediary research institutes

This paper compares strategies for agricultural sustainability based on natural sciences with alternatives captured under the umbrella of sustainability sciences, based on systems and mixed sciences approaches. It is argued that intermediary research institutes by their position in between academia, practice and between government and society are well positioned to incorporate sustainability science. This requires boundary management beyond the traditional boundaries of biological and technical disciplines and their fields of application and retention of methodology and knowledge within with units of scientists with complementary knowledge and skills. To become effective doing sustainability science can probably only be achieved after a prolonged period of experimentation and evaluation, while the shared base of theories, methods and networks form the core of such a knowledge system, as contrasted to disciplinary groups.

Livestock farming with care (#journal)

Livestock Farming with Care: towards sustainable production of animal-source food

This paper introduces a concept for sustainable production of animal-source food. This concept of “Livestock Farming with Care” is founded on care ethics with an integrated approach based on four principles: One Health (i.e. healthy and safe for animals and humans); Customized Care (i.e. from the individual animal's perspective and integrity); No Nuisance (i.e. from an environmental and societal perspective) and Credible Performance (i.e. from an economic and public prospect). It is acknowledged that the diversity in farming systems ranging from typical smallholder practices to high output production systems requires integrated and customized solutions based on this general concept. Emerging technologies as included in “Precision Livestock Farming” can be beneficial to the implementation.

Agro-ecology special issue (#journal)

Agricultural Ecology Research: its role in delivering sustainable farm systems 

We face major global challenges to improve food security whilst recovering and maintaining those aspects of production systems which are known as ecological services. These services underpin the environmental and economic fitness of our food production system, and are supported by those primary producers - arable plants. Arable plants include crop and wild species, and their essential roles must be both understood and exploited in a more sustainable fashion, as success in this regard will underpin our capability to eliminate food insecurity. It is therefore anticipated that cropland management and food culture will be altered considerably. 

Biomass research special issue (#journal)

Biomass and Energy Crops IV

This journal tracks the development of perennial and annual biomass crops and the use of food crops for energetic applications, primarily focusing on developments in the UK and Europe. It provides an opportunity to gain an understanding of the progress and achievements being made in this rapidly developing sector and the drivers for further development. It also highlights areas where there is still further work to be done to increase the productivity of biomass, a necessity in order to minimise impacts on the amount of land that will be required to meet ambitious targets for biomass production.

Restoring diverse grasslands special issue (#journal)

Restoring diverse grassland: What can be achieved where, and what it will it do for us?

Grassland is a major feature of the landscape, and the major resource for livestock production, in the UK and across much of Europe. It is also of vital importance for wildlife and the wider natural environment and many hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent within agri-environment schemes  attempting to restore grassland with a diversity of plants, invertebrates and birds. Restoration of coherent ecological networks is a high priority. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are also imperatives, as is resource protection, and grassland can play a major role by improving soil structure and infiltration, preventing erosion and storing carbon. And food security is a further driver – grassland must support livestock, ideally producing more and of higher quality.

Crop rotation special issue (#journal)

Making Crop Rotations Fit for the Future

Crop rotations play an important role in maintaining crop productivity and soil health in a wide range of farming systems. They are important for sustaining crop yield and fertility building, as well as weed, pest and disease control. UK farming systems have tended to adopt simplified rotations; however, more crops are now available to farmers and there is support to diversify rotations through the inclusion of cover crops as well as new market opportunities for non-food crops. Increased crop diversity is also known to support increased biodiversity on farm. It has also been suggested that increased crop diversity will give added resilience to farming systems in the light of climate change

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The local grain growing revolution (book)

Uprisings: A Hands-On Guide to the Community Grain Revolution

If we want to reduce our environmental impact, build resiliency in our community and improve food security, it's up to us to make it happen. In many North American communities, the instrument of change is ... grain. Grain is the perfect metaphor for how we've lost control of our food supply, and with it the skills and tools to feed ourselves. Uprisings shows how communities can take back their power by reviving local grain production to improve food security, local economies, and the environment.


Heritage chickens and ducks (book)

Pure Poultry: Living Well with Heritage Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks

Pure Poultry is the first book in nearly a hundred years to focus specifically on heritage breeds of chickens, turkeys and ducks and their role in a self-reliant lifestyle. Providing an alternative to commercial breeds and hybrids, heritage breeds each boast their own unique characteristics and personality traits, and are a valuable (and entertaining) addition to a sustainable food system.

Academic research on essential oils (#journal)

The Journal of Essential Oil Bearing Plants 

Not a journal that The Digest will be featuring regularly, but I wanted to bring it to people's attention if they have an interest in essential oils, their properties and their production.

To celebrate IPC 2013, a Cuban agroecology article (#journal)

Agroecology and the Development of Indicators of Food Sovereignty in Cuban Food Systems

The recent volatility of food crop prices and the rising cost of inputs—fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides—have made it nearly impossible for many of the world's smallholder farmers to continue managing their agroecosystems, leaving their countries dependent on ever more costly food imports. Thanks to its mass organizations and popular participation in national policy, Cuba is one of the few countries with the capacity to implement food sovereignty, which could help it minimize the threats posed by food price fluctuation, extreme climatic events and the persistent U.S. hostility towards its national project. Guided by the principles of agroecology, Cuban researchers are developing indicators of food sovereignty for practical use at the smallholder farm level.

Indonesia's integrated pest management programme (#journal)

Empire Strikes Back: The Making and Unmaking of Indonesia's National Integrated Pest Management Program

Indonesia's 11-year national integrated pest management program (IPM) (1989–1999) is considered to be one of the most successful examples of IPM in a developing country. The program is best known for introducing the innovative farmer field school model of agroecosystem-based experiential learning, subsequentl disseminated and adapted  throughout the world. In the 12 years since the termination of the program in 1999, government support for the national IPM program has wavered, contributing to a resurgence of the pesticide-induced resurgent pest problems that had led to its establishment. This article examines the socio-political basis and drivers of Indonesia's retreat from IPM.

Nitrogen fixing trees crucial in tropical forests (journal)

Key role of symbiotic dinitrogen fixation in tropical forest secondary succession

This study identifies a powerful feedback mechanism in which N2 fixation can overcome ecosystem-scale deficiencies in nitrogen that emerge during periods of rapid biomass accumulation in young tropical forests. Over a 300-year chronosequence in Panama, N2-fixing tree species accumulated carbon up to nine times faster per individual than their non-fixing neighbours, and showed species-specific differences in the amount and timing of fixation. As a result of fast growth and high fixation, fixers provided a large fraction of the nitrogen needed to support net forest growth (50,000kg carbon per hectare) in young forests. These findings show that symbiotic N2 fixation can have a central role in nitrogen cycling during tropical forest development.

Potential of multi-functional agriculture (journal)

Multifunctional Agriculture in the United States

The authors evaluated possible changes to current farming practices in Minnesota to provide insight into how farm policy might affect environmental, social, and economic outcomes. They found that environmental and economic benefits can be attained through changes in agricultural land management without increasing public costs. The magnitude of these benefits depends on the magnitude of changes to agricultural practices. Environmental benefits include improved water quality, healthier fish, increased carbon sequestration, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions, while economic benefits include social capital formation, greater farm profitability, and avoided costs. We suggest that redirecting farm payments by using alternative incentives could lead to substantial environmental changes at little or no extra cost to the taxpayer

Getting the best from your woodburner (book)

The Log Book: getting the best from your woodburning stove. 

Using a wood burning stove effectively is both an art and a science. In this friendly, comprehensive guide, chartered forester and woodfuel expert Will Rolls talks the reader through the theory and practice of getting the best results from their stove. From finding the fuel and seasoning it, to lighting the stove and operating it cleanly, this book describes the best techniques for looking after your log stove. The Log Book covers log suppliers, avoiding too much smoke and ash, checking fuel quality and picking the best wood for your fire.

A cultural history of sustainability (book)

Sustainability: A Cultural History

From diets to economic growth, everything these days has to be ‘sustainable’. But the word’s currency should not obscure its origins: sustainability is an age-old aspiration; a concept deeply rooted in human culture. Though in danger of abuse and overuse today, it can still be recovered from its present inflationary coinage. In clear and thought-provoking terms, Ulrich Grober reassesses the concept of sustainability using a range of fascinating historical instances of its application. This book offers a historically rich and nuanced introduction to a concept that could not be of more pressing importance for the twenty-first century.

Household waste and what happens to it (film)


The first feature-length film to feature on The Digest!

“Trashed” is a provocative investigation of one of the fastest growing industries in North America. The garbage business. The film examines a fundamental element of modern American culture…the disposal of what our society defines as “waste.” It is an issue influenced by every American, most of whom never consider the consequences. Nor, it seems, the implications to our biosphere. At times humorous, but deeply poignant, “Trashed” examines the American waste stream fast approaching a half billion tons annually. What are the effects all this waste will have on already strained natural resources? Why is so much of it produced? While every American creates almost 5 pounds of it every day, who is affected most? And who wants America to make more?

Keeping a famliy cow (book)

Keeping a Family Cow: The Complete Guide for Home-Scale, Holistic Dairy Producers

The cow is the most productive, efficient creature on earth. She gives you fresh milk, cream, butter, and cheese, and promotes human health and happiness. Originally published in the 1970s as The Cow Economy this is the book that launched thousands of holistic small-scale dairy farmers and families raising healthy cows in accordance with their true natures.
The cow is the most productive, efficient creature on earth. She gives you fresh milk, cream, butter, and cheese, and promotes human health and happiness. She helps the homesteaders and small farmers who offer her bounty up to the community with a chance at turning a profit. She provides rich manure for your garden or land, and enriches the quality of your life as you benefit from the resources of the natural world.
Originally published in the early 1970s as The Cow Economy and reprinted many times since, Keeping a Family Cow is the book that launched thousands of holistic small-scale dairy farmers and families raising healthy cows in accordance with their true nature.
- See more at:

Biggest permaculture literature review ever published (journal)

Permaculture for agroecology: design, movement, practice, and worldview. A review

Permaculture is an agroecological movement with a broad international distribution and a unique approach to system design. Despite a high public profile, permaculture has remained relatively isolated from scientific research. Though the potential contribution of permaculture to agroecological transition is great, it is limited by this isolation from science, as well as from oversimplifying claims, and the lack of a clear definition. Here, we review scientific and popular permaculture literature. A systematic review discusses quantitative bibliometric data, including keyword analysis. A qualitative review identifies and assesses major themes, proposals, and claims. The manuscript follows a stratified definition of permaculture as design system, best practice framework, worldview, and movement. 

Silvopasture is the future for livestock (journal)

Sustainable, efficient livestock production with high biodiversity and good welfare for animals

What is the future for livestock agriculture in the world? Consumers have concerns about sustainability but many widely used livestock production methods do not satisfy consumers' requirements for a sustainable system. However, production can be sustainable, occurring in environments that: supply the needs of the animals resulting in good welfare, allow coexistence with a wide diversity of organisms native to the area, minimize carbon footprint and provide a fair lifestyle for the people working there. Silvopastoral systems, pastures with shrubs and trees as well as herbage, are described which are normally more productive than pasture alone. When compared with widely used livestock production systems, silvopastoral systems can provide efficient feed conversion, higher biodiversity, enhanced connectivity between habitat patches and better animal welfare, so they can replace existing systems in many parts of the world and should be further developed.

Agrobiodiversity to feed 9 billion (#jounral)

Agrobiodiversity for food security, health and income

By the year 2050, agriculture will have to provide the food and nutrition requirements of some 9 billion people. To maintain that level of productivity indefinitely it must do so using environmentally sustainable production systems. This task will be complicated by the effects of climate change. This article reviews science-based evidence arguing that diversification with greater use of highly valuable but presently under-valorised crops and species should be an essential element of any model for sustainable smallholder agriculture. It concludes that a change in policy is needed to influence behaviours and practices but also strong leadership able to implement an action plan.

GMOs vs. agricultural biodiversity (#journal)

Feeding the world: genetically modified crops versus agricultural biodiversity

The growing demand for food poses major challenges to humankind. Agricultural sustainability is no longer optional but mandatory. There is still an on-going debate among researchers and in the media on the best strategy. One strategy favors the use of genetically modified (GM) crops, while another strategy focuses on agricultural biodiversity.  The claim that genetically modified crops are necessary if we are to secure food production within the next decades has no scientific support, but is rather a reflection of corporate interests. However, there is a shortage of research funds for agrobiodiversity solutions in comparison with funding for research in genetic modification of crops. Favoring biodiversity does not exclude any future biotechnological contributions, but favoring biotechnology threatens future biodiversity resources. An objective review of current knowledge places GM crops far down the list of potential solutions in the coming decades.

Assessment of compost benefits for farming (#journal)

Compost benefits for agriculture evaluated by life cycle assessment. A review

As compost use in agriculture increases, there is an urgent need to evaluate the specific environmental benefits and impacts as compared with other types of fertilizers and soil amendments. This study reviews the recent progresses made in the quantification of the positive effects associated to biowaste compost use on land by using life cycle assessment (LCA). A total of nine environmental benefits were identified in an extensive literature review and quantitative figures for each benefit were drawn and classified into short-, mid-, and long-term.

Why wheat farmers choose chemical inputs (#journal)

Why wheat farmers could reduce chemical inputs: evidence from social, economic, and agronomic analysis

Though European policies recommend pesticide reduction, most farmers still manage their crops with a high level of chemical inputs, notably in arable crop-based systems. Factors influencing farmers’ practices are not well-known. The authors interviewed 71 French farmers to understand the factors influencing their choice of crop management plans. Results revealed three main types of practices: (1) 29 % of farmers use low levels of inputs and get low yield, (2) 38 % of farmers use medium levels of inputs and get high yield, (3) 33 % of farmers use high levels of inputs and get medium yield. We showed that farm profile, individual motives, and social commitments explain the level of input use. High-input practices are often implemented by farmers who have less family labor availability and who rarely join extension groups, whereas low-input practices are conducted by farmers bearing civic responsibilities and showing environmental awareness. 

Composting biochar improves its effects (#journal)

Positive effects of composted biochar on plant growth and soil fertility

It is claimed that biochar addition to soil improves C sequestration to prevent CO2 from atmospheric cycling. Biochar addition should also increase soil fertility in a similar way as anthropogenic dark earths of Central Amazonia. Previous studies have shown that biochar stimulates plant growth, especially when biochar is combined with organic fertilizers such as compost. However, little is known about optimum addition amounts and mixture ratios of biochar and compost.This study considered optimum biochar and compost amounts and mixture ratios with respect to plant response and soil fertility. Results show that biomass production was increased with rising biochar and compost amounts. The positive influence of composted biochar on plant growth and soil properties suggests that composting is a good way to overcome biochar’s inherent nutrient deficiency, making it a suitable technique helping to refine farm-scale nutrient cycles.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Social sciences and humanities in environmental research (#journal)

Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: Integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research

There is growing recognition that humans are faced with a critical window of opportunity to halt some of the key indicators involved in the environmental crisis. Given human activities’ scale and impact, as well as the overly narrow perspectives of environmental research’s dominant natural sciences, a major effort is necessary to place the perspectives and insights of the humanities’ and social sciences’ perspectives and insights at the forefront. Such effort will require developing integrated approaches, projects, and institutions that truly do so. This article’s goal is to help mobilize the social sciences and the humanities on the topic of sustainability transitions, but also call for a meaningful research agenda to acknowledge the profound implications of the advent of the Anthropocene epoch.

UN calls for small-scale, sustainable farming (report)

Wake up before it is too late: make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate

A new UNCTAD report has been published which states that farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food. More than 60 international experts contributed to the report, launched last week.
The report states that monoculture and industrial farming methods are not providing sufficient affordable food where it is needed, while causing mounting and unsustainable environmental damage.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Tell me your views; help make The Digest better!

Tell me your views; help make The Digest better!

The Digest has now reached its 200th entry, and has well over a thousand page visits a month! This is a great start, but I'm sure it can get better. So I am taking a little pause for thought, to gather your feedback and your views. Please take a few minutes to write comments below on any aspect of The Digest, such as;

What you like
What you don't like
Why and how you use it
What you'd like to see in it
Journals or publishers I haven't yet discovered
Where I could publicise it to find new users
Or anything else you would like to tell me!

Many thanks and best wishes,


Introduction to ecosystem restoration (#journal)

Ecosystem Restoration is Now a Global Priority: Time to Roll up our Sleeves

Ecosystem restoration is now globally recognized as a key component in conservation programs and essential to the quest for the long-term sustainability of our human-dominated planet. Restoration scientists and practitioners are now on the frontline and will be increasingly called upon to get involved in large scale programs addressing immediate environmental crises and challenges. This article summarizes the advances in mainstreaming ecological restoration in global environmental policy deliberations during the last year, culminating in the recent meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. We also provide key references for those seeking more information, and set out an agenda as to how the restoration community could respond to and act upon these recent developments.

Restoring sustainable silvopasture in Chile (#journal)

The Chilean Espinal: Restoration for a Sustainable Silvopastoral System

The mediterranean habitats of central Chile are rich in endemic species, but threatened by land-use changes.This article suggests that restoration of the traditional espinal silvopastoral system could improve its sustainability and conservation value. Past research recommended abandoning the silvopastoral system, but ignored the value of the espinal as a classical Chilean cultural landscape. Drawing on lessons from Latin America and the Mediterranean, the authors suggest management interventions and incentives that could be developed to restore the espinal. Recommendations include sustainable production and use of biochar and bark extracts to improve espinal soils, the promotion of shrubs and the use of small mammal disturbances and rotational livestock herding to form mosaic landscapes. These techniques could lead to higher forage biomass and increased livestock weight.

Mainstreaming Agroecology Discussion Paper (on-line)

Mainstreaming Agroecology: Implications for Global Food and Farming Systems

Coventry University's Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS) has unveiled its new discussion paper, Mainstreaming Agroecology: Implications for Global Food and Farming Systems. The challenge of feeding the world's growing population without further damaging the natural resource base is becoming increasingly urgent and, say the CAFS researchers, must be met in ways that also allow adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. The discussion paper outlines how mainstreaming the process and practices of agroecology can meet the challenges facing agriculture and food production - providing not only food, but also fuel, fibre and a wide range of other ecosystem services. The CAFS paper has a specific focus on policy implications for the development of resilient food systems - and concludes with "an agenda for change":


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

European Handbook on CSA (report)

European Handbook on CSA

The European Handbook on Community Supported Agriculture – Sharing Experiences was published as part of the Community Supported Agriculture for Europe project conducted 2011 – 2013 by ATTAC (Austria), CEPTA (Slovakia), DIO (Greece), Gute Erde Kattendorf (Germany), Pro-Bio Liga (Czech Republic), Soil Association (UK), TVE (Hungary), and URGENCI Network (France).

The publication seeks to describe the essential aspects of what CSA has been found to mean within the partnership and offers some basic tips on how to get started with it. The document is aimed at people who are aware of the problems of the contemporary food system and are willing to tackle it with an active, community and solidarity-based approach represented by CSA.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The seven best permaculture-related journals?

Favourite agro-ecology journals for those interested in peer-reviewed science literature

To follow last week's tentative list of the ten best permaculture books, here is Rafter Sass Ferguson's suggestion for the seven best permaculture-related journals (Rafter's website is Liberation Ecology):
  • Agronomy for Sustainable Development
  • Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (formerly Journal of Sustainable Agriculture)
  • Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
  • Agroforestry Systems
  • Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
  • Agriculture and Human Values
  • Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development
It would be good to get this list up to ten; I have a couple of ideas but does anyone have any additional suggestions? Leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.

A plan for zero carbon Britain (report)

Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future

Zero Carbon Britain draws on the Centre for Alternative Technology's 40 years of experience to create technically viable future scenarios. It brings together the latest knowledge from a wide range of disciplines, to explore synergies that create employment, increase well-being, have a positive impact on the economy, and future-proof us for the challenges of the 21st century. The report integrates new research in two key areas 'keeping the lights on' and 'feeding ourselves properly' on a low carbon diet. By combining cutting edge technology with a smart approach to agriculture and land use, energy supply and demand, buildings and transport, it is possible for the UK to meet the challenge of climate change.

Creating places for urban agriculutre (book)

Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture

Showcasing the best examples of current design, Carrot City presents strategies for reintroducing urban agriculture to our cities. Over forty innovative projects explore creative approaches to making space for urban food production, ranging from ambitious urban plans to simple measures for growing food at home. The authors show how city planning and architecture that considers food production as a fundamental requirement of design results in more community gardens, greenhouses tucked under raised highways, edible landscapes in front yards in place of resource-devouring lawns, walls that bring greenery into dense city blocks, and productive green roofs.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The ten best permaculture books? (on-line)

10 of the Top Permaculture Books

My colleague Alan Thornton has done a quick survey of people doing the UK Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. Here are ten of their favourite permaculture books. The current favourite is The Earth Care Manual. Do you agree with their choices? Anything obvious missing? And how many of these have you read? The list might also give you some inspiration for your Christmas present list, or for a student reading list.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Should trees have legal rights? Special issue (#journal)

Journal of Human Rights and the Environment: Special Issue 'Should trees have standing?'

Nothing could be more urgent than the quest for ‘worlds other’ than the unsustainable status quo. Philosophical and jurisprudential engagement with questions of legal standing, of legal subjectivity and personhood, of legal ‘rights-bearers’, form an important part of the urgent search for an eco-humane future worthy of the name, for we live in a world pervasively structured by law's power to foreclose – or open – the ‘categories of the possible’ – a world in which law's intervention always has inescapably material effect. The rich contributions to this edition represent a fabulous meditation upon one of the most refreshing juridical re-imaginations of possible ‘worlds other’ to have emerged from legal scholarship in the past 40 years.

Property law and upland commons in England and Wales (#journal)

Property pluralism and the partial reflexivity of conservation law: the case of upland commons in England and Wales

Property is a relational concept. However the ways in which its relationality unfolds are multiple, as are its impacts on the conservation of nature. This article argues that property's relationality can be interpreted by reference to two distinct paradigmatic views: the first emphasizing its socio-legal relationality, the second focussing on property's ecological relationality. The first paradigm finds its justification in modern property law theory and culminates with a conceptualization of property as stewardship. The second paradigm, anchored in phenomenological thought, places the accent upon practices, movement and dwelling. It is argued here that UK conservation law operates with an understanding of property stemming uniquely from the first paradigm, yet the context it seeks to regulate is also permeated by the manifestation of ecologically embedded property. What counts as property is therefore contestable, and certain answers are marginalized by current conservation law. It is demonstrated that without acknowledgment of the presence of the two meanings of property, conservation law is unlikely to achieve full environmental effectiveness.

Is growth good for biodiversity? (on-line)

Is Growth Good for Biodiversity?

The Economist hosts a fascinating virtual debate, linked to a series of well-researched on-line articles and some perceptive comments. Lots of the arguments will no doubt confirm what you already think, but for the open-minded there is the chance to be challenged.

Human rights and nature (#journal)

Human rights and nature: intercultural perspectives and international aspirations

What is the impact of human rights on the protection of Nature? Considering the development of human rights law during the last century and the parallel degradation of the environment, it could be concluded that human rights have had a negative impact on environmental protection. This article aims to investigate whether this is true, and if so, how the issue can be addressed. The article challenges the mainstream approach to human rights and proposes that intercultural perspectives provide the basis for alternative approaches with the potential to recognize and better protect the environment. It argues that the protection of Nature would benefit from the evolution of the concept of the ‘common inheritance of Humanity’ into the concept of the ‘living commons’, thereby identifying Nature and Humanity alike as living beings to be protected at the international level. The underlying supposition of the argument is accordingly that Nature is a living being with its own dignity and therefore is a subject rather than an object.

Human right to governance of Earth's natural resources (journal)

Universal Covenant affirming a human right to commons- and rights-based governance of Earth's natural wealth and resources

The Journal of Human Rights and the Environment has published this covenant drawn up by the Commons Law Project in the US. It states the human right of all people to be involved in the management of the natural resources of the earth,and to benefit from their bounty. It makes interesting and provocative reading.   

2nd International Research Survey results published (on-line)

Permaculture Association 2nd International Research Survey 'What Research is Wanted?'

The Permaculture Association has published the report on their 2nd International Research Survey. The report, written by Cat Richards, analyses 45 responses to the survey conducted at the end of 2012. The key findings are:
1) 82% of participants said they would be interested in being involved in an international permaculture research network.
2) Participants felt that creating more empirical evidence about permaculture methods should be a priority.
3) The same number of participants proposed social science based questions
as suggested physical science based questions.
4) Eleven key aspects of a potential research network were identified.
The full report can be found on The Association's website, following the link above.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Videos on farming, water management and soil care (on-line)

Felix Keenan's Google Plus Page

Taking 'publishing' in its widest form, this month The Digest embraces video for the first time. While I intend to keep the focus firmly on word-based publishing, from time-to-time I will also include high quality video. To start with, here is the Google Plus Page of Permaculture Association member Felix Keenan, which contains a number good videos with a strong focus on regenerative agriculture, water management and soil care. I would welcome any comments you may have on this new direction for The Digest.

How to cook forest garden produce (book)


Food from your Forest Garden: How to harvest, cook and preserve your forest garden produce

How do you cook heartnuts, hawthorn fruits or hostas? What’s the best way to preserve autumn olives or to dry chestnuts? When it comes to harvest time, how do you make the most of the produce from your forest garden? Food from your Forest Garden offers creative and imaginative ways to enjoy the crops from your forest garden. It provides cooking advice and recipe suggestions, with notes on every species in the bestselling Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford.

Act local and change the world (book)


The Power of Just Doing Stuff: How local action can change the world

In his latest book, Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins argues that the growth of local community action represents the seeds of a new economy - the answer to our desperate search for a new way forward - and at its heart is people deciding that change starts with them. Communities worldwide are already modeling a more local economy rooted in place, in well-being, in entrepreneurship, and in creativity. And it works. Packed with inspiring real-life examples of how to change things, this book ties in with the increasing focus on community action during our tough economic times.

Science news: Latest IPCC Report (journal)

The Final Assessment

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports next week. A Nature editorial discusses the implications of its latest report and where the IPCC should go from here.

Science News: Animal antibiotics and human health (journal)

Farming up trouble: Microbiologists are trying to work out whether use of antibiotics on farms is fuelling the human epidemic of drug-resistant bacteria.

The spread of antibiotic resistant infections like MRSA is terrifying doctors. Could the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals be contributing to their rise? Nature discusses the evidence.

Science news: Himlayan nations act on climate change (journal)

Floods spur mountain study; Himalayan nations take action in response to changing climate and its deadly effects.

Following a series of extreme weather events in the Himalayas and resulting widespread death and destruction, eight countries have come together to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change in the region.

Science News: Oil pipeline divides America (journal)

A line in the sands: The scientific community is sharply divided over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's tar sands.

The proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline will ship millions of barrels of oil extracted from tar sands across North America. The debate over the pipeline has become the key battle ground in the US between those favouring cheap oil and those favouring a low carbon economy.

Science News: Monsanto drops GM in Europe (journal)

Monsanto drops GM in Europe: Region abandoned owing to stalled approval process.


Nature reports that agri-giant Monsanto has abandoned its plans to get approval for its GM crops in Europe. There is no doubt that this is a major triumph for anti-GM campaigners, including many in the permaculture community.

A Permaculture Literature Review (on-line)

A New Permaculture Literature Review

Thanks to Dr. Steve Emery of Birmingham University and the wonders of SCOPUS, a new permaculture literature review is now available. It contains 51 journal articles and conference papers items published between 2001 and 2013. As far as I am aware, it is the most thorough list produced to date. Thanks Steve! If you know of items that are missing from this list, or have a good list of your own, please send them to me:

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Introduction to Evaporative Cooling (on-line)

Evaporative Cooling: Technical Briefing

This short guide from the charity Practical Action was recently sent to me by Rhamis Kent of The Permaculture Research Institute. It is a few years old but so clear and useful I thought I'd put it on The Digest. Thanks Rhamis!

Much of the post-harvest loss of fruits and vegetables in developing countries is due to the lack of proper storage facilities. There is therefore an interest in simple low-cost alternatives to powered refrigeration systems. Many of these depend on evaporative cooling. Evaporative cooling occurs when air passes over a wet surface; the faster the rate of evaporation the greater the cooling. This short guide shows you how a range of tried and tested evaporative coolers can be built using simple tools and materials.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A Critical Review of Permaculture in the US (thesis)

Permaculture involves the systematic design of ecological systems that sustain human communities and the natural environment. Since its introduction in the United States in the 1980s, it has spread via publications and educational workshops. The author was trained in permaculture design in 2000, and spent seven years developing a permaculture project in Urbana, Illinois that focused on community gardening and education. However, when looking to supplement his first-hand learning with scientific research, the author found scarcely any dialogue between environmental science and the grassroots movement for permaculture in the United States. Recent permaculture literature in the United States does not often cite scientific research, and environmental scientists do not often test permaculture ideas. Further benefits would likely result from refereed reporting of permaculture results.

Permaculture and dance choreography (#journal)

Ecologies of choreography: Three portraits of practice

How are dance artists dealing with ideas about environmental change in their everyday practice? How are discourses of environmental change contributing to the development of new ways of thinking about choreographic practice and the role of the dance artist in contemporary society? By sharing portraits of practice of three ecologically concerned dance artists, Eeva-Maria Mutka, Tim Rubidge and Nala Walla, this article offers some insight into what might constitute ecological choreographic practices.

Creating an indigineous PDC in the South Pacific (report)

The authors decided to create an integrated indigenous programme of sustainability in all areas of life, one that drew on ancestral knowledge and could also embrace new ideas. They wanted to tune this into a certified teaching programme so that each participant would emerge qualified to take these ideas and practices out to their tribes. The idea was to teach the programme for free so that it was attainable for all people and for each participant to teach another ten people, thus rapidly increasing the knowledge base. So, they designed an innovative Pacific permaculture course, free of the colonial mindset, by and for indigenous people to apply to their own communities: Kaitiakitanga Island Permaculture Design Courses.

Creating a permaculture school garden in California (thesis)

Astronomical rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and Attention Deficit Disorder are all symptoms of our society’s relationship with nature. Psychologists are labeling this Nature Deficit Disorder; children are increasingly deprived of the outdoors and nature experiences, supplementing playtime with addicting media devices. In this context, school gardens have innumerable benefits. Not only do they reduce or eliminate the food desert phenomenon, but heal, educate, inspire, and develop a child’s understanding of, and compassion for the Earth. The skills learned by children in a school garden cultivate a lifetime of food awareness. School gardens foster community, ecology awareness, discipline, creativity, and most of all, exploration and fun. School gardens contribute to a students “normal” school experience by magnifying and in many cases applying the knowledge and skills learned inside.
This hands on educational tool should be a vital addition to any school system, and is a crucial part of learning about your surrounding ecology.

Permaculture and resilience on Canadian small farms (thesis)

Nature itself as our guide: A resilience perspective on permaculture and an empirical investigation of its use in three case studies in British Columbia, Canada

In general, small farms have significant social and ecological advantages over industrialized large farms. However, a combination of complex pressures is making it difficult for many small-scale farmers to stay in business. Creating social-ecological resilience in small farming systems is key to ensuring more options for long-term food procurement. This study evaluates permaculture from a resilience perspective on three farms in British Columbia (BC). Results imply that permaculture use does in fact increase social-ecological resilience of small farms by encouraging ecological, social and economical diversity while recognizing the need to address the interrelated nature of social and ecological issues.

Permaculture in Malawi (thesis)

Permaculture : a vision and strategy for sustainable development?: a Malawian case study

This thesis is a study of perceptions of sustainable development and whether permaculture contributes to sustainable development in Malawi. A qualitative, ethnographic case study approach was employed, using semi-structured interviews, in-field observation and permaculture document analysis. Research revealed perceptions of sustainable development were very similar to perceptions of permaculture, suggesting that most people saw permaculture as significantly contributing to their understanding of sustainable development. A key finding was involvement in permaculture arose from a plurality of instrumental goals and identification with social movement values, which in turn influenced perceptions of sustainable development. 


Forest gardens mitigate diabetes risk (thesis)

Permaculture and Public Health: Mitigation of the Lifestyle Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes Through the Establishment of Permaculture Edible Forest Gardens

 Over the past thirty years, the incidence of type 2 diabetes and obesity has greatly increased in the United States. This paper compares the living environment of hunter-gathers to that of modern humans, in diet and activity levels, and discusses the recent increase of type 2 diabetes as a 'disease of civilization'. To address these changes in dietary composition and activity levels, an alternative agricultural model, permaculture edible forest gardening, is proposed. Permaculture edible forest gardening is an agricultural model which mimics natural ecosystem structure while consisting of entirely edible, perennial plant species. Permaculture edible forest gardens can potentially play a role in the mitigation of the diet and activity level related risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

A call to arms for permaculture research (#journal)

Feeding and healing the world: through regenerative agriculture and permaculture 

Despite a paucity of detailed peer reviewed research published on permaculutre and regenerative agriculture, there is overwhelming evidence both that the methods work and they may offer the means to address a number of prevailing environmental challenges. What is lacking is a proper scientific study, made in hand with actual development projects. This article is intended as a call to arms to make serious investment in researching and actualising these methods on a global scale. Since over half the World's population lives in cities, it seems likely that strengthening the resilience of these environments, using urban permaculture, may be a crucial strategy in achieving a measured descent in our use of energy and other resources, rather than an abrupt collapse of civilization.

A permaculture demonstration garden in Barbados (report)

As a part of the Barbados Interdisciplinary Tropical Studies (BITS) program a permaculture demonstration site was created in the garden of the Future Centre Trust (FCT), in St. Thomas, Barbados. Overall, the intention of this permaculture site was to demonstrate,on 450m2 of land, how an alternative and low-maintenance food production system can be implemented in a tropical environment like Barbados. It intends to encourage Bajans to grow their own food using this sustainable farming system.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

An environmental index for household food use (#journal)

The design of an environmental index of sustainable food consumption: A pilot study using supermarket data

Monitoring of the environmental impacts of consumption is necessary for the evaluation of current performance and to support the understanding of how initiatives for change can be implemented. The article discusses design issues and methodology for an Environmentally Sensitive Shopper (ESS) index to measure the environmental sustainability of food consumption at the household level. The ESS index is based on revealed consumer preferences and uses scanner data provided by the largest UK food retailer. As a pilot illustration of the methodology, we use the index to identify environmentally critical periods during the calendar year.

Testing simple soil carbon measuring tools (journal)

Soil organic carbon assessment using the Carbon Management Evaluation Tool for Voluntary Reporting and the Soil Conditioning Index 

Simple, yet reliable models are needed to quantify soil organic carbon (SOC) changes for a wide diversity of agricultural management conditions. This article compares the outputs of two relatively simple models currently available for farmers and government-financed farm support agencies: the Carbon Management Evaluation Tool for Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases (COMET-VR) and the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI). Our results suggest that both models have value and limitations and that measures of SOC sequestration are predictable with these tools under a diversity of typical management conditions.

Make the most of small interior spaces (book)

Compact Living: how to design small interior space

This book opens our eyes to the possibilities of living a compact and low impact urban life. It is about learning how to live happily with less clutter. Most of our society is struggling to pay the bills, whilst chasing the ideal of a ‘bigger’ lifestyle. Compact Living: how to design small interior space is the perfect antidote to this; teaching us how to make the most of what we already have – through assessing and designing our spaces to suit our needs, as well as future proofing for changes. This is a book of design solutions for small spaces, ideally suited to the compact urban dwellings in which the majority of us live in the UK.

What has nature ever done for us? (book)

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

 We take most of nature's services for granted, imagining them free and limitless ... until they suddenly switch off. This is a book full of immediate, impactful stories, containing both warnings (such as in the tale of India’s vultures, killed off by drugs given to cattle, leading to an epidemic of rabies) but also the positive (how birds protect fruit harvests and how rainforests absorb billions of tonnes of carbon released from cars and power stations). Tony Juniper's book will change whole way you think about life, the planet and the economy.

The truth about fracking (book)

Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future

The rapid spread of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") has temporarily boosted US natural gas and oil production... and sparked a massive environmental backlash in communities across the country. SNAKE OIL casts a critical eye on the oil-industry hype that has hijacked America's energy conversation. This is the first book to look at fracking from both economic and environmental perspectives, informed by the most thorough analysis of data ever undertaken. Is fracking the miracle cure-all to our energy ills, or a costly distraction from reducing our fossil fuel dependence?