Paul McCrodden is a Product Manager who has been with X-Team for over six years. He helps ensure that your experience applying for an X-Team developer role is as smooth as possible. Paul lives in Japan with his wife and kids, and has a deep interest in permaculture. In this interview, we will discuss what permaculture is, how Paul got into it, and how we can all play a role in taking better care of our planet.

First things first. What is permaculture?

Permaculture means building ecological design systems. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren originally coined the term in the mid-seventies to represent permanent agriculture. It was a response to modern agriculture, which was (and still is) based on industrialized monoculture, i.e. mass plantings of single-species crops.

The permaculture system is based on a collection of land management techniques that originated within indigenous cultures. Bill Mollison visited and studied many of the cultures that had essentially made a pact with nature, as my permaculture course mentor so eloquently put it.

But permaculture has grown from that meaning since then. It now represents not just permanent agriculture but permanent culture as well. It's not just about plant crops. It's about creating ecological design systems for sustainable living in general. At its essence, permaculture is:

  • Grow your own food and live more sustainably.
  • Build spaces and communities to sustain & regenerate growth and abundance.

How did you get into permaculture?

When my wife and I lived in Ireland in 2016, we visited a friend in London who volunteered at a community garden. My friend's partner had some kind of permaculture qualification and was pretty advanced at it. He had lots of ideas about permaculture and the people running the community garden frequently looked for his input.

I remember finding his ideas intriguing. It wasn't just about plants. It was more about designing holistic systems that connected many different concepts (as well as growing mushrooms on logs, which is cool). Now they run a mobile sauna business in Ireland, so they're still in the field of 'permanent culture' that naturally ties into health.

The couple inspired us when we moved to Japan. My wife Miki, who had some experience gardening and growing veggies, flowers, and ornamentals, took an intro to permaculture/sustainability course in Shalom, Nagano. So my wife led the way, really. But I was reading Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, a nice and complete overview of permaculture in action on a small scale.

It continued from there with us buying land and a house to experiment with, and with me taking an online Permaculture Design Certificate course.

Tell me about that course. What was it about?

It was a two-year Permaculture Design Certificate, a standard permaculture qualification often referred to as a PDC. But this one was a double certification because it also included Advanced Social Systems Design.

It was all online, provided by the Permaculture Women’s Guild, an all-women faculty of experienced permaculturists. It gave me the skills I needed to not only provide healthy homegrown food for my family, but also to navigate big issues like climate change, social justice, and long-term ecological sustainability.

I liked it a lot and put a lot of time into it (as you can probably gather from my project presentation). I put more time into it than I did for my Master's Degree, but I got more out of it too. My kids motivated me, as I felt like the know-how and wisdom of this course were going to significantly benefit the trajectory of our family life.

It even benefited my work as a Product Manager in X-Team. I used some of the methods to make good holistic product decisions for some time. So I recommend taking the course (which is now one year instead of two) and making time for it in your life.

What place does permaculture currently have in your life?

It's pretty central to our life now. It's become a decision-making framework for things that affect our family and home life. In my opinion, it can unite many concepts that people otherwise come across separately, such as zero waste, minimalism, sustainability, etc. It also incorporates factors like your physical and mental health, and the limitations of the environments and systems we live in.  

For example, as a family, we try to focus on these 5 Rs:

  • Refuse
  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Repurpose
  • Recycle

But we do so while also being pragmatic. For example, plastic packaging is crazy in Japan, one of the worst countries in the world, so it can become really draining to be too strict about the 5 Rs. You have to pick your battles in the land of excess packaging.

On a lighter note, we built a house that makes partial use of passive solar. We also have a home-scale farm where we grow perennial plants, annual veggies, and some trees, including fruit trees.

We're conscious of our 'food miles' and try to reduce them by growing our own food, buying local organic produce whenever we can, and trying to limit the use of imported goods. We're far from perfect; it's always a work in progress. But that's emblematic of the permaculture path: It's a lot of small lifestyle changes that aim to reduce the negative impact and increase the positive impact you make to the local and even the global ecosystem.

Can you elaborate on how you implement permaculture practices into your daily life?

I like the word 'practice' in your question. As with Yoga, you realize that things are changing all the time, both in yourself and the environment. You have to continuously make small adjustments based on those changes.

In our daily lives, we started by composting food scraps and garden waste material. That now serves us as fertilizer to grow our food. We also catch rainwater to water our garden and use scrap wood for the woodstove fire that heats our home in winter.

Overall, it's about observing your environment, focusing on your input and output, and trying to 'close the loop' to create a system that is less wasteful and therefore more sustainable.

Sure, we still make mistakes, like our lingering want to fully migrate away from fossil fuels to heat water, and reduce our dependence on cars for transport, but permaculture has proven a nice and positive way to connect to our lives, our local environment, and to plan a positive future for the next generation. The kids are our biggest motivation.

That's a wonderful motivator. What's the one thing we can all do to take better care of our planet?

That's a challenging question to answer, because it's such a broad topic. It really depends on who you ask. Ideally, everyone asks this for themselves and comes up with an answer that is personally meaningful to them. Another way to ask the question could be, ‟How are we not taking care of the planet right now?”

The journey begins when someone wants to make a conscious change. You start looking at things from the perspective of our Earth, the people on it, and the future we're creating (Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Shares are the three permaculture ethics).

You start asking questions like ‟Does that make sense?” or ‟Is that the only way we can do things?” Then it's baby steps toward a better direction. But the best thing to do is to have others join you on this path. We are stronger as a community.

So the trick is to start on a never-ending journey toward a more holistic society that should feel positive and that you should be motivated about.

Personally, what I think matters most is that we work toward ending our connection to industrialized animal agriculture. The overdependence on meat, fish, and dairy products from industrialized systems seem to break all the permaculture ethics previously mentioned. It doesn't care about the Earth, its inhabitants (including the health of humans), and the future of our planet

There needs to be a collective shift to plant-based diets. The people who want to continue supplementing their diet with meats and dairy products can rely on regenerative farming methods, while everyone else can thrive on plant-based diets.

That's what I feel strongly about. But whatever cause you're passionate about, realize that it won't be an overnight switch. Permaculture is the path of small, slow solutions that make a real, permanent culture. So empower yourself and, in the words of X-Team, just Keep Moving Forward.

Do you want to join a company full of people like Paul, who care about our planet and the people on it? You can! X-Team is always looking for experienced software engineers. Send through your application today.