Can Permaculture Replace Industrial Agricultural Farming Methods?

Sebastian von Holstein
Monday, 19th November 2012

Rafter Ferguson, a doctoral student from the University of Illinois is the man in charge of an exciting new project that seeks to map out, catalogue and test out the viability of the use of permaculture methods in mainstream agriculture.

He claims that there is currently no comprehensive scientific data to back up the use of permaculture methods, certainly not enough to convince the mass that there is scope to change to more sustainable farming practices.

A Strong Response

In preliminary research, he received 900 responses from permaculture farmers across the world, with 10% of these reporting that they earned a significant source of income from their work. This, states Ferguson, "was much more than expected. So when I put away my flawed assumption and went looking for US permaculture farms, I found them - over 150 so far, and the list is growing."

With the project taking off, he has devised a system called participatory functional mapping, which will "map and evaluate the distribution of different ecological, production, and cultural functions throughout the farm landscape. This functional mapping will reveal the complexity of farming systems in a way that conventional agronomic methods can't."

As the results come through, Ferguson hopes to achieve and gain insight on the following topics:

  1. Evaluate how permaculture influences farming practice in the US, in terms of key ecological, economic, and social outcomes.
  2. Forge a connection between permaculture and existing science and policy.
  3. Help move forward with the larger conversation about sustainable agriculture.

Providing Hard Evidence for More Sustainable Types of Agriculture

Importantly, this project "is not about 'proving' or 'disproving' permaculture. These are hard times for all farmers - no matter what their approach. Whatever we learn about permaculture farms in this project will improve our understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead as we work to change the face of farming."

However this project will provide us all with the necessary arguments to succesfully question our current agricultural pathway, while also providing some solid evidence with which to provide new theories, ideas and solutions. has a wide variety of inspiring articles, to help encourage a transition to more sustainable modes of agriculture. 

You can also visit for useful books, DVD's and tools.

To follow Ferguson's project or to make a small donation please visit his crowdfunding page.

For more information, you can also visit

Dustin Bajer |
Mon, 19/11/2012 - 13:46

I applaud Mr.Ferguson for taking on this project and am eager to see what the result of his study are.

As a side note, I'm eager to see how permaculture design continues to develop and expand, over time. I have met dozens of practitioners; each with their own unique approach and spins on the original concepts. Though, some of our techniques may be old, as a design science, permaculture is sill in its infancy; a broad-view study, like this one, might be a great opportunity to showcase what's working and where.

Thank you for the article and your work, Mr.Ferguson.