This Thing Called Permaculture

Permaculture was a term first coined in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to describe techniques they believed supported a more permanent form of agriculture. There is plenty of information available on the web that can provide more information on the history of permaculture and the beginning of permaculture design certification (PDC). PDCs were created to standardize and preserve the information passed on as people were taught to teach others.  At this point in its evolution, permaculture has become known for having multiple meanings. Search on the web and read a variety of sources to fully develop your own sense of what permaculture means and how you will choose to apply it. I strongly encourage you to NOT just digest a full plate of permaculture served by just one person. Cut it up, examine it, question it, decide what parts look good and eat only the parts that look fully cooked.

Cute visual of simply showing what permaculture strives to do to our landscape. From

Simple visual showing what permaculture strives to do to our landscape. From

As any discipline or complex system does, it grows over time and properties emerge that weren’t there in the beginning. Concepts get revisited (or should get revisited rather than be thought of as a holy grail), original principles morph, gain a new shape and are refined and re-defined in order to polish the original insights. Until recently permaculture has not been integrated with academia or thorough research. It has reached a time when that is necessary to its continued growth and acceptance and there are pioneers that are making it happen. There is plenty of research in agroecology, agroforestry and other fields that can be linked to some permaculture techniques, but there is much to still explore. Undoubtedly permaculture has ideas to offer these fields as well, particularly by combining design, technique and philosophy into one package. For more information on what permaculture is and what it is not, here are a few starting points from academics for objectively digesting permaculture.

Rafter Sass Ferguson’s

Liberation Ecology post that leads to Permaculture Activist articles

Permaculture for agroecology: design, movement, practice and worldview. A review

Diego Footer’s Podcasts on Critiquing Permaculture

What Permaculture Isn’t, And Is- A Deeper Look Into Permaculture- Part I

Critiquing Permaculture- A Deeper Look Into Permaculture- Part 2

Permaculture Principles and Ethics

Permaculture principles around the ethics as presented on David Holmgren's website

Permaculture principles around the ethics as presented on David Holmgren’s website

In a nutshell- permaculture is a decision-making system guided by values/ethics of taking care of the Earth, People and Fare Share.

Earth care is exactly what it says- taking care of the Earth. It is this ethic that is behind the principles for designing permaculture farming and production systems. It emphasizes working with nature rather than against it, focusing on practices that build off of each other and into each other to create a flow within systems that reduces input needs to function productively and that conserves or even generates environmental benefits rather than depletes resources. Permaculture is not the only system focused on earth care- there are multiple systems or terms that lead us to take an eco-minded approach rather than a solely anthropocentric or people-first approach to production systems. (agroecology, agroforestry, organic agriculture, sustainable agriculture, integrated farming practices, etc.)

In my opinion, people care and fare share should be one and the same ethic.  These principles bring the “permanent culture” part of permaculture into the “permanent agriculture” practices of permaculture. Taking responsibility for ourselves, our actions, our well-being, while also remembering to share with others and contribute to our community are values that feed each other. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we won’t have what it takes to contribute to our community. Contributing to our community is an investment in ourselves because you never know when you will need to lean on your community for support.

Rough outline of how I see permaculture ethics and the triple bottom line fitting together.

Rough outline of how I see permaculture ethics and the triple bottom line fitting together.

In our society, taking care of ourselves still often requires financial means. So I see permaculture ethics closely related to the triple bottom line in business lingo. The triple bottom line focuses on the accountability in the 3 P’s: People, Planet and Profit. Profit can be thought of as yield. We want to create systems that provide benefits to the environment, to ourselves, our family, our local community and to society. The production systems we design should produce multiple types of yields.

Is Permaculture Really a New Idea?!

Mollison and Holmgren may get credit for writing down principles in a form that made a larger array of people aware of them, but most of the principles are rooted in traditional ecological knowledge or indigenous knowledge. When people are connected to their landscape and rely on it to supply their needs and want to live in harmony with their natural environment in relatively small communities, the principles and guidelines that permaculture provides seem common sense. I’ve spent a lot of time in rural villages in Latin America where aspects of permaculture were simply a way of life. I believe it says a lot about our society that we find permaculture so intriguing to learn rather than being inherent in our way of knowing and interacting with the world around us. When did the principle of observe and interact stop being common sense and needed to be written down as a principle we should learn to live in harmony with each other and care for the Earth?

I originally thought I would only write one post on permaculture, but its too broad a topic to fit into one post. So I will be writing other posts on how permaculture fits into community food forests by providing a design process for both the vegetation of the food forest and the social relationships.

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