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Darren J. Doherty

Photo by Isaebella Doherty

Darren J. Doherty grew up on the family farm near Bendigo, learning rural and farming skills from his grandfather. ‘He saw that they would hold me in good stead,’ says Darren. ‘As someone who had lived through the Depression, he could see that those times may come again, so if economic circumstances collapsed I’d have the ability to survive.’

While it was a scary message for a kid, Darren says it was also a great one, because it was backed up by experiential skills he still carries today. When Darren became interested in permaculture, the set of agricultural and design principles already sounded familiar to his grandfather. “When I showed him Bill Mollison’s Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual, he said ‘we’ve been doing all of that stuff for forever’,” says Darren.

A farmer, developer, trainer and author, Darren coined the term ‘regrarian’, a combination of the words ‘regenerative’ and ‘agrarian’. He developed the Regrarians Platform, a framework to help people design and plan agricultural projects, and works with his wife Lisa Heenan and their daughter Isaebella Doherty as directors of the Regrarians.

‘Regrarianism came out after we did the world’s first carbon farming courses and world tour in 2007,’ recalls Darren. ‘We started to look at all of these different methodologies and built them into the framework that became The Regrarians Platform. It’s based on the Keyline Scale of Permanence which P. A. Yeomans developed in 1958. I did some work for holistic management educators and they determined that the Keyline Scale of Permanence would be a really good framework to build our training around. I looked at it and thought “how can I make it more holistic?” I brought in additional layers, such as the economy, energy and social issues.’

Darren also looked at what he perceived to be the strengths and weaknesses of permaculture and holistic management. ‘Permaculture is really good at land planning, but it lacks process,’ he says. ‘Holistic management is great on decision making and analysing people, but it didn’t have a land planning process. I looked at all of these different methodologies and saw that they didn’t have a workflow. That was a big moment for us to determine that we could use all of these different methodologies and bring them in together so that the weak links were addressed.

‘There’s not many people who come out with something absolutely original,’ says Darren. ‘I’m one of those people who has built on the shoulders of other people’s work.’

The Regrarians Platform is made up of 10 levels: Climate, Geography, Water, Access, Forestry, Buildings, Fences, Soil, Economy and Energy. The platform covers these areas according to specific contexts, with a day dedicated to each of them taught at Darren’s REX conventions. These conventions have gone global, with an audience evenly split between professional farmers and back-to-the-land types.

‘People have really resonated with it,’ says Darren. ‘We’ve done 200 trainings around the world now and hundreds of planning jobs using the platform.’ While the Regrarians Platform is effectively scale neutral, Darren says his work is geared towards agricultural landscapes. ‘We’re not trying to be all things to all people,’ he says. ‘We’re pitching to a particular segment of society who are involved with larger-scale land management.’

This is a reflection of Darren and his family’s own context. ‘We’re not urban people,’ he says. ‘Whilst we’ll come in and have a coffee in town, we much prefer working out on farms.

‘Bill Mollison said years ago that the purpose of the city is to keep people out of the country,’ says Darren. ‘Bill was brilliant in his understanding of environmental psychology; that the purpose of agriculture over time has been to reduce the number of people who are producers and increase the number of consumers. That’s been a very successful strategy, particularly here in Australia.

‘There’s been a radical deskilling and a disenabling, and permaculture has done a great job in helping people arrest that. Having more self-resilience in a community context is really important.’

Darren, Lisa and Isaebella shared their passion for regenerative farming with a wider community, making the award-winning Polyfaces documentary. The film, which took four years to create, focuses on the innovative Virginian farm run by Joel Salatin and his family. They were inspired to share Joel’s story to create change in agricultural and local food systems.

Despite the current status of the world, Darren says he still has a lot of hope. ‘I’d go sit in my room and find something else to do if I didn’t,’ he says. ‘We do see the hope and we have a responsibility to others in our lives, to help them do better.’


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