Permaculture in a Nutshell

Permaculture is an ethically based design system for creating human habitats that are in harmony with the natural world.  Permaculture systems are diverse, stable, resilient, and produce abundantly.  Usually the abundant part comes in the form of food.  But permaculture is not merely edible landscaping on steroids as I feel it is commonly perceived.  A permaculture system not only produces food but also conserves water and energy, enriches the local biosphere for both people and wildlife, and brings people together.  It produces more than it consumes.

The term ‘permaculture’ was coined by Bill Mollison in 1978.  It was  a contraction of ‘permanent agriculture’, but it has expanded to ‘permanent culture’ because true sustainability encompasses more than just farming.  The governing design ethics and principles reflect permaculture’s agricultural roots, but they are applicable to pretty much all industries.

The three governing design ethics of permaculture:

  • Care for the Earth – Without a healthy earth humans cannot flourish.
  • Care for the people – Provide the necessary resources for life.
  • Return of surplus – Use only what is needed and return waste back into the system.

The twelve design principles of permaculture:

  • Observe and interact – By first observing we can create solutions that are well suited to our situation.
  • Catch and store energy – Having a surplus of energy in storage is pretty much the definition of abundance.
  • Obtain a yield – The system needs to produce something useful, of course.
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback – Providence and an open mind ensure systems will keep working.
  • Use and value renewable resources and services – Make use of nature’s abundance.
  • Produce no waste – In nature there is no waste, our systems should be the same.
  • Design from patterns to details – Use the big picture the lay the frame work, then fill in the details.
  • Integrate rather than segregate – Individual components support each other.
  • Use small and slow solutions – Simple systems are more resilient than complex ones.
  • Use and value diversity – Diversity increases resilience and better takes advantage of natural elements present in the system.
  • Use edges and value the marginal – The interfaces and edges of the system often contain valuable resources.
  • Creatively use and respond to change – Recognize that challenges are opportunities.

I’ll go into more detail of each of these in future posts.  That is the textbook definition of permaculture in a nutshell.  But what does permaculture look like in the real world?

Like the Garden of Eden

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