WHAT IS PERMACULTURE?
In the media currently, there is a lot of focus on the worsening of storms and natural catastrophes and the havoc they wreak as a result of climate change. Journalists repeatedly comment on how the opportunity for change is quickly closing, but the discussions tend to focus on solutions that seem too far-reaching or abstract to be attainable. Permaculture offers concrete, accessible solutions for people of all walks of life, in all living situations and environments. It allows us to see the endless possibilities at our fingertips and gives us the power to change our human trajectory.
Permaculture is a term coined by founders Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is a morphing of the words, “permanent,” and “agriculture” and has been used to describe integrated and evolving systems of plant and animal species useful to humans. 1 Just as these systems have progressed, so too has the term. Today, permaculture has evolved into a concept that goes beyond creating a system of permanent agriculture to include the building of sustainable homes, communities and societies, thus the term now has become a portmanteau of “permanent,” and “culture.”
As it focuses primarily on design, permaculture mimics the relationships and patterns observed in nature to organize people, their buildings, food, water needs, daily routines and habits resulting in a design that yields an abundance of food, fiber, energy, building materials and all necessary provisions that a person would need to not only survive but thrive. It is not a specific discipline, rather it is an approach that assists in organizing and deciding when to use various disciplines or tools by connecting a variety of strategies and techniques. By integrating the best features of whatever is available to it, permaculture design can solve a particular challenge in the most ecological and sustainable manner. 2
IT ALL WORKS TOGETHER
An Integrated Design Science
Unlike other practices rooted in sustainable living, permaculture does not adhere to a strict set of actions that tout leading towards a positive outcome but more often tend not to deliver. Instead, its uniqueness resides in its focus on designing a system specific to each individual and their distinct circumstances resulting in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Through this process of design, it achieves its end goal of creating sustainable, closed systems by utilizing whatever tools and concepts are available to it. This results in systems designed to regenerate themselves thus creating evermore abundance.
The design process starts with observation and consideration of the general and works towards the specific. When determining what to plant in the yard, one would first consider their climate, how the sunlight changes location in their yard and its path across the sky. They would think about the change of seasons, the amount of precipitation they get and in what form. Taken into account would also be the amount and direction of the wind and their type and quality of the soil.
Also important would be how one uses their yard. Do they have children that need a place to run and play? Is outdoor socializing important? What are the typical traffic patterns around their property? Are they more interested in food production, beautification, wind shelter, security or something else? These questions and more would be contemplated before choosing one’s plants and the placement of them.
To aid the design process towards these regenerative systems, permaculture engages 3 ethics and 12 principles. Ethics give us direction, the principles guide our actions.
12 Principles of Permaculture
“You are what you eat, and you are what you eat eats.” – Charlie Jones
All of us live here on earth and all of us depend on the earth to provide for us the basics of what we need to survive – air, shelter, water, and food. We can choose to exploit and diminish the resources available to us or we can choose to nourish them, thus creating abundance for all. As soil is the basis of terrestrial life, caring for it allows all plants, animals, and the resources we depend on for our survival to flourish.