Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Toby Hemenway, a leading writer, teacher and crusader for permaculture, died Tuesday at his Sebastopol home because of complications from pancreatic cancer.
Hemenway, 64, wrote a top seller on permaculture, a term coined in the late 1970s mixing “permanent” and “agriculture” to describe a new approach to agriculture and community design bringing together elements that sustain and support each other.
“He was really a big deal,” said Kellen Watson, senior programs coordinator with Daily Acts, a Petaluma-based sustainability education program. “He wrote the top-selling permaculture book in the world,” for many people their first introduction to the subject.
That book, 2009’s “Gaia’s Garden — A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture,” was considered the most easily understandable book on the topic, presenting basic permaculture concepts and principles with clarity and elegance, as well as detailed how-to tips for implementing them in a garden.
It was named by the Washington Post as one of the 10 best gardening books of 2010 and has sold more than 250,000 copies.
Hemenway could talk about soil from a cosmic perspective — how the elements of life were molded during the Big Bang, inside stars, and in explosive supernovae.
Then he would bring it down to earth.
“Soil is miraculous,” he wrote in “Gaia’s Garden.” “It is where the dead are brought back to life.”