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  • By Kevin Childs

An Australian Environmentalist’s Next Act: ‘Frugal Hedonism’

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

David Holmgren at his home in Hepburn Springs, Australia, where he grows 200 types of crops.CreditYing Ang for The New York Times

David Holmgren at his home in Hepburn Springs, Australia, where he grows 200 types of crops.Credit Ying Ang for The New York Times

May 13, 2018 DAYLESFORD, Australia — David Holmgren grows almost everything he eats. He doesn’t own a mobile phone or a television, and most of his clothing is secondhand. He never flies, won’t go to a supermarket and can’t remember his credit card PIN.

Such is life for one of Australia’s leading environmentalists, who decades ago encouraged homeowners to turn their forgotten backyards into sustainable gardens and is now calling for suburbanites to go further off the grid and make the whole of their lives green.

That effort to combine global activism with personal frugality is at the center of a new book, ​

​“RetroSuburbia: The Downshifter’s Guide to a Resilient Future,” which Mr. Holmgren describes as part manual and part manifesto.

Inside the adobe home he built himself in Hepburn Springs, a spa town in the southern Australian state of Victoria, Mr. Holmgren, 63, is putting his words into practice.


Mr. Holmgren describes his newest book, “RetroSuburbia: The Downshifter’s Guide,” as part manual and part manifesto.CreditHolmgren Design

“We need to bring power back to local areas and local people,” he said in March from his home, which sits on more than two acres, where he grows 200 different crops. “The pursuit of local food is central to that and always has been. Frugal hedonism is our approach.”

That approach is seen throughout his home. In a corner of his living room sit a spinning wheel, baskets of nuts and piles of corn and apples. Excluding rice, coconut cream and his favorite soy sauce, everything Mr. Holmgren eats is grown on the property.

The house, known as Melliodora — a local variety of eucalyptus — is powered by solar energy and cooled, he explained, through passive design, not air-conditioning.

Unshaven, his ponytail graying and the nails of his broad hands dark from work in his garden, Mr. Holmgren looks the part of pioneering environmentalist, who more than 30 years ago helped coin the term “permaculture” and found a movement.

Read the rest here. Buy the book here.

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