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RIP Patrick Whitefield 1949-2015

Patrick Whitefield 1949-2015

Maddy Harland
Friday, 27th February 2015
Patrick Whitefield, respected permaculture teacher and pioneering author, died this morning.

It is with great sadness that we announce that permaculture teacher and author, Patrick Whitefield, died peacefully this morning (27th February) at his home in Glastonbury, Somerset.

Patrick was loved and respected by the permaculture community worldwide for his books and teaching methods that defined temperate permaculture design. He leaves a wife, Cathy, and a son, Caleb.

Patrick was born on 11th Feb 1949 in Devizes, Wiltshire to the Vickers family. He was brought up on a smallholding in Somerset and qualified in agriculture at Shuttleworth College, Bedfordshire. After several years working in agriculture in the Middle East and Africa, he settled in central Somerset. In 1983, he bought a flower-rich hay meadow, The 'White Field', to save it from destruction and kept it as a nature reserve for 25 years before handing it on to the Somerset Wildlife Trust for safe keeping. He adopted the name 'Whitefield' in honour of this field.

Patrick was a countryman and he loved the part of Somerset where he lived. He has always been a vegetable gardener, and some years ago he planted an orchard at the field which gave him an abundant supply of apples from September to May. In his earlier days, he made his living by a variety of country crafts, and for a while he was a prominent member of the Ecology Party (which became the Green Party).

From 1990, he devoted himself to permaculture, especially to teaching his own form of land based practical permaculture. He said, "I find permaculture makes use of the varied skills I've acquired during my life," he says, "and puts them into a cohesive whole."

Patrick was one of the leading and pioneering permaculture teachers in Britain, and indeed in Europe. He taught at various locations around Britain, including Ragmans Lane Farm, Gloucestershire where he developed a two week design course that offers a wide range of experiences yet covers the essential syllabus. He also worked with Andy Daw at Kingston Maurward College of Agriculture in Dorset to work the permaculture design course into a BTEC qualification. This enabled the creation of a nine week Sustainable Land Use course which was accessible to those on insome support at Ragmans Lane.

Patrick set up Patrick Whitefield Associates to pass on his skills and experience to a new generation of teachers. During his last months he set out his ideas in a short book on teaching permaculture which will be published in due course.

In his legacy of books and films he has combined a deep knowledge of the subject with an inspiring and professional style. He's written three books on permaculture: Permaculture in a Nutshell (1993), How to Make a Forest Garden (1996) and The Earth Care Manual (2004) and a book, Tipi Living (1987), inspired by his days living on his field. He also wrote The Living Landscape (2009). His latest book How To Read The Landscape (2014) was a subject especially close to his heart. He had a deep love of both the rural and urban landscapes and how to understand them. It was said of him that he used to 'farm' the landscape as he travelled. Patrick also practised as a permaculture design consultant.

Patrick has appeared in several BBC TV programmes, made popular YouTube videos and was a consulting editor of Permaculture Magazine: Practical Solutions For Self-Reliance since its launch in 1992.

Patrick was a warm and dedicated man who devoted his life to teaching permaculture and the preservation of the Earth. He was a stalwart friend and an honest and hard working editor and writer. He helped steer Permaculture magazine in its fledgling days, giving feedback on every article and a detailed critique of each issue that he humorously termed 'Slag the Mag'. Later on, he kept his benign eye on Permanent Publications' publishing work and was always available as a sounding board and advisor. It is hard to imagine working without him.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Patrick's wife, son and extended family and friends.

One of the most moving passages he wrote is from The Earth Care Manual and it beautifully sums up the great compassion and humanity of the man.

"This book is much more about solutions than about problems, more about what we can do in the present situation than about how we came to be in it in the first place. Yet there’s no escaping the fact that the Earth is in a dire state, and getting worse. In the twenty-three years I’ve been actively involved in the ecological movement almost every aspect of planetary health has got worse.

"This raises the question: Is it all worth it? If we do our best to heal the Earth and make our place in her a sustainable one, is there a good chance that we will succeed? Or is it a forlorn hope? It’s a big question, and one which can lead to depression if we look at the facts honestly and dispassionately. But to my mind it’s the wrong question. Even if we could answer it – and we can never know anything about the future for certain – it would beg the question, How do I want to live my life?

"Here I find the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi very useful. One of his precepts was that of non-attachment to the fruits of our labour. All we can do in life is to make sure that we play our own part in it the best way we can. Much as we would like to, we can never do more than that. Everything we do is so complex, and relies for its ultimate completion on so many different people and natural forces, that we can never take responsibility for the final outcome of our actions. We can only take responsibility for our actions themselves.

"So my answer to the question, How do I want to live my life? is that I want to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem."