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.