Patrick Whitefield RIP

I just got back from abroad to hear the sad news that Patrick Whitefield has died. Patrick taught the permaculture design course I took in 2000 which first switched me on to the possibilities of a different way of being to my urbane London life. I’ve joked with him that he was single-handedly responsible for the calamitous decline in my income over recent years, as I traded the life of university academic for that of a veg grower. A decline in income, perhaps, but not in wealth, because I find the life I now lead immeasurably richer in ways that are more important than money, and I have Patrick to thank at least in part for that.

I didn’t know Patrick well, but I kept in touch with him over the years. He visited our holding when we were starting out, and offered us much useful advice. And he contributed regularly, if infrequently, to this blog. It’s a source of slight regret to me that my last discussion with him on here arose because something I wrote thoroughly pissed him off. Well, I didn’t always agree with him about everything, but I always learned things from engaging with him. Characteristically, his intervention prompted me to clarify and refine my arguments to produce something better, and I’m glad at least that the last thing he wrote on this site was an appreciation of me for taking his criticisms in my stride. It’s surely a measure of his zest for his subject that he kept engaging right to the end of his life not only with a blogger like me, but even with a blogger like Graham Strouts.

Patrick wasn’t the intellectual wordsmith sort, but he wrote four great books, each one more subtle and expansive than the last, and he introduced a whole load of people to permaculture thinking at its best. He had an immense knowledge of farming, the countryside and the natural world, though he wore it lightly. These days, to be described as a ‘countryman’ is tainted by conservatism and a faux, twee and touristic version of England. I think of Patrick as a countryman in a better sense, with a huge appreciation of the importance of the rural which was critical and political, albeit grounded in the practicalities of life.

Goodbye Patrick, and thanks for all you gave us. You’ll be sorely missed by many.

8 thoughts on “Patrick Whitefield RIP

  1. Thanks for the news and the link. Patrick was just a youngster, so one might reasonably also mourn the loss of potential insights he might have shared had he been blessed with more years.

    In the article you linked to he makes the point that regardless of how mankind in general behaves, we individually make our own decisions. And he decided:
    “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.”

    My calculation would be he garnered some success in that.

  2. Oh that’s sad. I started looking into his videos because of that comment he made (incidentally one polyculture success – three sisters – does not a summer make) on your site and he is now one of my heroes. I loved his manner and his attitude, not to mention his (even if it was just on youtube) urban backyard focus. I warmed to him, even though I didn’t meet him.

  3. Thank you. A fitting tribute to an inspirational man. I have all four of his books as the backbone of my permaculture library

  4. Thanks for those comments. Yep, he was a fine man indeed. I’ve been thinking about him a lot these past few days.

    • A good tribute Chris and much appreciated.
      Patrick’s teaching completely changed my life a few years back. I’ve also been thinking quite a lot about him and also about what I learned and why it is so important to me. I guess he had this effect on countless people over the years which is pretty amazing when you think about it!

  5. Well done, very nice tribute. I recall reading that series of exchanges you had with him last year. And, I’ll add, Chris, that you handled that potentially nasty misunderstanding with skill.
    Well our winter seems never to end this year. Another system has delayed the planting of potatoes and cabbages.

  6. Patrick was indeed an inspirational man and will be much missed. He influenced me at an early stage too. When I was a geography undergraduate, a friend introduced me to the concept of permaculture with his book, “Permaculture in a Nutshell”, and helped set me on a life-path towards sustainable agriculture. When he came to visit Bill Acworth’s agroforestry planting at Little Hidden Farm, in Berkshire, where I was working, I was a little star struck, but he was so kind and approachable. Later I got to know him when I lived at Tinkers’ Bubble, and he was a regular customer at our farmers’ market stall in Glastonbury. I too took one of his permaculture design courses at Ragman’s Lane and he was endlessly encouraging when I told him of my idea to write on the subject how to sustain human energy when working on a smallholding. I was delighted with the endorsement he wrote, when Surviving and Thriving on the Land was published. Even though I have not been in touch for several years, I will miss knowing that he is there and know he will be much missed at the coming International Permaculture Convergence. Thank you, Patrick, for communicating so effectively the ideas of Permaculture to so many of us. Bee

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