Grave Danger of Falling Food
Tony Gailey (1989)
This documentary is about Australian Bill Mollison, the father of the international permaculture movement. The title, which is ironic, refers to air drops of food aid (by the industrial north) to compensate the third world for destroying their food production systems. Mollison defines permaculture as a design system for housing, energy, water management, waste recycling and food production that follows nature’s engineering principles. Permaculture purposely mimics natural systems to create a permanent, sustainable culture for human beings.
In addition to exploring Mollison’s personal history and philosophy, Grave Danger of Falling Food offers a good introduction to permaculture design and the concept of permaculture zones.
Lifestyles that Restore the Planet
Despite Mollison’s lifelong concerns about the environmental devastation wreaked by industrial agriculture and multinational extractive industries, he has reservations about the war mentality of the environmental movement. Instead of “fighting” to save rain forests and endangered species, he thinks it makes more sense to get people as many people as possible to adopt lifestyles that naturally restore the planet.
The purpose of industrial agriculture, in his view, is to create profit rather than food. In their single minded search for profits, corporations essentially declared war on soil in 1940. In sixty years they have destroyed 70% of the planet’s topsoil by deluging it with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and killed off the wealth of microorganisms that make it fertile.
Applying Forest Principles to Food Production
Beginning his adult life as a lumberjack, he got fed up with destroying pristine forests to build homes for rich people and went to university to study and teach forest management. In 1972, it suddenly came to him that applying forest principles to food production would substantially increase yields, while simultaneously repairing the environmental destruction caused by 150 years of industrial capitalism.
He coined the term permaculture in 1978. From 1981 on, he has devoted his life to helping people to design farms and gardens based on permaculture principles.
Mollison has a special interest in urban permaculture, as it has the highest productive potential. By becoming self-sufficient in food production and water management (ie eliminating stormwater runoff and recycling gray water from showers, laundry etc and where possible, sewage water), cities offer the greatest potential energy and resource savings. By eliminating transport and packaging costs, locally grown food is automatically 95% cheaper.
A strong believer in lawn liberation, Mollison has a special distaste for suburban lawns, which he considers a tremendous waste of water and energy. A food forest in the front yard uses 50% less water, is far less work and provides a continuous supply of healthy, chemical-free food. In the video below, a Denver woman has transformed her front lawn into a mini-food forest using permaculture design. According to Juliet Schor in The Overspent American, by 1995 were spending $7.6 billion annually on residential lawn care.