Updated: Mar 18
Since the 1970's when permaculture hit the world like a puff of dandelion dander, several of the industry's luminaries have taken to their computer and typewriters to sketch out what permaculture (and its offspring/cousins regenerative agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and Productive Urban Landscapes) could mean in the wider global food conversation.
The movement has come a long way over the last 40 odd years, growing an ever-growing backlog of brilliant books along the way. To help you make sense of it all, we've put together this handy guide to the top 10 books about permaculture and regenerative agriculture. Think we missed anything? Hit us up in the comments, or drop us a line.
The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience
By Toby Hemenway
Toby Hemenway is one of our biggest inspirations and guides for our work. The Permaculture City offers solutions for many of the social and environmental challenges that are becoming more and more dangerous the longer we ignore them. The key lesson is, when we design our spaces for food and ecology, it also solves a lot of the other issues we face. The book discusses abundant food, energy security, close-knit communities, local and meaningful livelihoods, and sustainable policies, all centered around edible and ecologically friendly landscapes.
Bonus Read: Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. Gaia’s Garden is a practical guide to building a permaculture ecosystem around your house by working with nature instead of against it. Hemenway makes small scale permaculture fun and accessible for beginners. The second edition includes insights for urban and suburban growers, making his approach available for growing spaces of all sizes.
The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
By Masanobu Fukuoka
The One Straw Revolution is the incredible journey of Masanobu Fukuoka, whose career as a scientist focused on increasing farming yields using synthetic chemicals. After a mid-life crisis, Fukuoka realized how little he actually knew about nature, and therefore about the world itself. He wondered how it was that a forest with no chemical inputs was more vibrant, healthy and productive than the farmland he taught farmers how to improve using man made machines and chemicals. He was reborn as a “natural farmer” and spent his days observing nature in order to maximize his production while minimizing (or outright eliminating) input needed to grow successfully. In a few short years with a lot of hard work, Fukuoka’s methods proved more productive and more resilient than his neighbors who ignored and laughed at his methods. A must-read for both his farming technique and philosophy on life.
Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C.
By Dr. Ashante Reece
In a brilliant study of the Deanwood neighborhood in Washington D.C., Dr. Ashante Reece examines how corporate food systems leave urban communities without access to fresh, healthy food, an extension of the plantation based food system American was built upon. Reece connects food access to gentrification and segregation, while questioning the notion that Black families lack knowledge or agency to define what they need. Instead, Reece shows that Deanwood is an example of hundreds of neighborhoods who created resilient, micro food systems to serve their needs that have since been disrupted.
Bonus Read: Farming While Black - Leah Penniman. Author, activist, and farmer Leah Penniman connects racism to health and wealth inequality in explicit detail while offering a comprehensive, concise “how-to” for all aspects of small-scale farming for people of African descent.
A Continuous Harmony
By Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry’s work as a farmer, activist, and essayist inspires almost everyone who comes across it. A Continuous Harmony features one of our favorite essays, Think Little, which makes the case for environmental activism as a means of achieving racial justice, denuclearization, and world peace, starting with the actions you take in your house and your neighborhood. Berry also raises concerns about activism as a fad, and argues that the long term nature of environmental activism will lead to long term results. It is virtually impossible to read Berry’s essays and not be inspired to improve yourself and your community.
The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food
By Janisse Ray
Without seeds, we wouldn’t have much food at all. Today, there are fewer and fewer seed varieties than ever before, with seed saving traditions making way for genetically modified organisms. In an age where GMO seeds are considered intellectual property and farmers have been successfully sued when GMO crops appeared on their property thanks to the wind, the diversity of our seeds are at serious risk. Ray highlights the quiet revolution taking place in thousands of gardens across America to preserve our food by growing old, heirloom varieties and eating them.
Bonus Read: Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith - Barbara Brown Taylor. A former priest who left the church for a farm in North Georgia, Taylor details her journey from the altar to the fields and describes her deepening connection to faith and God by living with nature.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
By Michael Pollen
In Michael Pollen’s seminal work, and almost certainly his most influential, he departs on a simple mission to find the farm that raised the cow that produced the hamburger at a nearby fast food restaurant. What used to be a straightforward journey is now a complex maze of subsidies, pesticides, processing units, and transportation networks. While Pollen suspects he gets close to his destination, he can never be sure. Ultimately, the book gets its title from the moral and ethical question of whether Pollen can continue supporting a meat industry that perpetuates environmental destruction, animal cruelty, and subsidies that distort the true cost of food.
Hog And Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America
By Frederick Douglass Opie
Hog And Hominy highlights foodways created by people of African descent throughout America, discussing the concept of “soul” and why soul food is a combination of West and Central African social and cultural influences. Opie connects food traditions to the Great Depression and Civil Rights movements while highlighting the cultural importance of foodways to building healthy communities. An excellent and informative book that highlights the critical role African people played in defining food culture in America despite the injustice they have experienced from slavery until today, as well as the necessity of culturally appropriate approaches to food and community building.
Bonus Read: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South - Michael Twitty. Culinary historian Michael Twitty offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.
Introduction To Permaculture
By Bill Mollison
It wouldn’t be a top ten list without including Bill Mollison. Mollison first coined the term “permaculture,” simply described as permanent agriculture. Introduction to Permaculture is illustrated with diagrams and drawings, and includes a listing of useful permaculture plants with descriptions and uses, and a further species list in useful categories.
Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for Justice
By Eric Holt Gimenez, Raj Patel, and Annie Shattuck
How is it possible that we have more people overweight and hungry at the same time? Why are an ever shrinking number of multinational corporations raking in record profits during a time of extreme inequality? Using a socio-economic lens, Food Rebellions is an excellent resource for understanding the root causes of hunger, growing inequality, the food-industrial complex, and political unrest.
The Overstory: A Novel
By Richard Powers
This powerful novel is a sweeping, impassioned story of activism and resistance that pays homage to the natural world. With narratives that take the reader on an emotional journey filled with highs and lows, The Overstory makes the case that trees -- not humans -- are actually the most evolved species of earth, and why it’s so critical to protect them.
Bonus Read: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World - Peter Wohlleben. This book was the inspiration for one of the characters in The Overstory, and tells the true story of the social network formed by trees.