what is it?
Permaculture is a design system. It’s the direct application of the principles of ecology in the design of sustainable human habitats. Many people think permaculture is just about growing things; and although there is a large focus on food production (we all need food), it goes way beyond that – into health, education, community, architecture, economics and more. It brings sustainability into all aspects of life.
Permaculture pulls its resources from 3 main areas: nature, traditional (usually less environmentally-damaging) systems, and modern scientific and technological knowledge.
what are the benefits?
The permaculture approach begins with a sustainable system and tries to maximise yield, whereas conventional agriculture begins with a maximum yield target and tries to make it sustainable; but it never is sustainable in the long term. It erodes soil, poisons nature and kills pollinators - none of which can continue indefinitely.
Permaculture can be applied to already functioning systems that have elements of unsustainability (high waste, high input systems), or to the blank canvas of a bare, degraded landscape.
The chief benefits of using permaculture design are that it reduces waste, pollution and work, by integrating systems and elements within systems. Just as in nature there is no waste, pollution or work – in a permaculture system, resources are recycled, and the needs of one part of the system can be met by the outputs of another part of the system. For example, a chicken in the wrong place can trash a vegetable plot, but in the right place it can eat weed seeds and insect pests, and scratch up and manure the ground as well as providing eggs and meat. So it’s about giving elements more functions by putting them in the right place.
Also, with its more efficient use of resources, it can reduce our need to earn so much, and therefore work so much. It is also empowering, because it shows us what we can do with our own skills and how we can live in a more self-determined way.
what can I do?
First, educate yourself. Do an introduction course (they tend to be over a weekend), or a design course (minimum 72 hours – usually over 2 weeks).
Link up with like-minded people. Even if you’re not a gardener, or don’t have access to land, you can involve yourself in the growing cycle by buying local, organic food from a box scheme or community-supported agriculture (consumers linked directly to producers – farmer’s markets, pick-your-own etc.).
Become a member of the Permaculture Association, and of your local group. If you don’t have a local group, find your nearest one and get someone to come and help start one. Local groups provide training, workshare days, seed exchanges, car sharing and demonstration days.
The most important thing is to start. Set up something that can be demonstrated, then allow people access to learn about the successes and problems involved. Network your experiences locally and regionally – use the Permaculture Association to help.
Thanks to Chris Evans for information.
'web of life' game on a permaculture design course - introducing students to the inter-relationships of the elements of a garden system
an edible forest garden, where every species has been chosen to emulate a natural system - almond tree, lavender, mint, fennel, sage (perennials or self-seeding annuals) - that reduces work and increases productivity
a stage in the development of a design, during a design course, where students are looking at the needs and yields of different parts of the system - in this case a fruit orchard
a chicken integrated into a recently-established forest garden - where it provides manure and pest control for the developing system