Graham Burnett

Graham Burnett founded Spiralseed in 2001 and is the author of Permaculture A Beginners Guide and The Vegan Book of Permaculture. He teaches permaculture and works with projects and organisations including Comic Relief, Capital Growth, Furtherfield, Arundel Green Camp, Bioregional, Naturewise, OrganicLea, Birmingham Decoy, Trust Links, Green Adventure, the Vegan Organic Network, Thrive, Ars Terra (Los Angeles), NuArc (Puglia), Wild Earth Farm (Kentucky, USA), Ekosense EcoVillage (Croatia) as well as a number of Transition Town initiatives. As well as cultivating his own garden and allotments, Graham contributes to publications as diverse as Positive News, The Sunday Times, Permaculture Magazine, Permaculture Activist, New Leaves, The Raven, Growing Green, Funky Raw, Barefoot Vegan, The Vegan and The Idler.

Graham Burnett, founder of ‘Spiralseed’, Interviewed by Permaculture Magazine

Who are you?
Graham Burnett, author and illustrator of ‘Permaculture, A Beginner’s Guide’, ‘Earth Writings’ and other titles self-published through ‘Spiralseed’. I also co-run permaculture courses, both with North London based ‘Naturewise’ and at Dial House, a 16th century ‘open house’ in West Essex.

Where do you live?
With my partner Debby and our 4 children in a terraced house in Westcliff on Sea, about 30 miles east of London. A fairly typical large town steeped in ‘Essex Culture’ and facing the usual issues and problems associated with urban life.

When & How did you discover permaculture?

I first came across the word in an article in ‘Peace News’, way back in the early 1980s. However it wasn’t until 1994 that I read Graham Bell’s ‘Permaculture Garden’ and the penny dropped that it was about more than herb spirals and sheet mulch beds. About a year later I did an introductory course with the late Carl Smith, followed by a full Design Course with ‘Naturewise’.

Why was it of significance?

Up until then my focus had been around various campaigning and protest movements, such as CND, animal rights and so on. I was feeling the symptoms of ‘activist burnout’ – whether ‘we’ won or lost on any particular issue, ‘They’ always had the next struggle lined up for us. Permaculture was the big ‘thinking switch’, enabling me to make a paradigm shift and work towards I was ‘for’, rather than always being ‘against’ something or other. I realised that I could make a difference by, in Ghandi’s words, “being the change I wished to see in this world”, whether it was on my allotment, in my workplace or inside my head.

What example of permaculture practise has made a big impact on you?

I’ve seen so many visionary projects and met so many creative, positive and generous friends within the permaculture movement that it would be impossible to list them all. But particularly inspiring are urban and community based initiatives such as Naturewise and Organic Lea. By setting up local food growing and distribution networks, LETS schemes, city forest gardens and sustainable employment and training projects, these organisations are not only making real differences to ordinary people’s lives throughout London, but are also mapping the pathway to abundant post-energy descent futures! My other shout-out would have to be to the Anarchist punk band Crass, who, though they never used the word ‘permaculture’, motivated a whole generation of world-changing activists with their central message that ‘There is no authority but Yourself’. Its great that we are now running courses at their house – it’s like the closing of a circle spanning some 25 years…

How has permaculture changed your life?

Principles like ‘the problem is the solution’ and the ethical basis of ‘Earthcare, Peoplecare, Fairshares’ have given me the confidence and self-belief to take responsibility for my own actions rather than moaning and complaining about the things I can’t change. Also the principle of minimum effort for maximum effect – through Spiralseed the aim is to eventually quit my day-job and become an Integrated Designer of Local Ecological Resources (aka a full time IDLER)!!

From ‘Permaculture Magazine’, issue 51, Summer 2007