Permaculture is a growing movement mainly concerned with food production in order to build a sustainable ecosystem and to be self-sufficient. Permaculture is often viewed as a set of gardening techniques, yet it concerns itself with growing food and minimizing any environmental impact. Basically, it is a system for designing agricultural landscapes that work with nature.
The term ‘permaculture’ was used first by Bill Mollison and his colleagues from the Environmental Psychology Department at the University of Tasmania, in 1978. Initially the meaning of the term was meant to be ‘permanent agriculture’. These new ideas were a result of the fast growing use of industrial-agricultural methods and their apparent dangers: These methods were highly dependent on non-renewable resources, destructive to land and water, and rapidly reducing biodiversity. The term ‘permaculture’ was first made public with the book ‘Permaculture One’ published in 1978. By the 1980s, the concept had broadened from agricultural systems design towards sustainable human habitats.
In a permacultural landscape, rather than believing that nature is the enemy (a view common in modern agriculture – think weeds and pests), animals, plants, and humans exist cooperatively. According to Bill Mollison, “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.” Permaculture draws from several disciplines, including organic farming, gardening, forestry, sustainable development, meteorology, biochemistry, engineering, sociology, anthropology, social justice, and ecology.
Permaculture builds on three points of ethics and twelve principles to connect people to the ecology and potential of a landscape.
The 3 Permaculture Ethics Care of the Earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. Care of people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence Setting limits: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.
The Twelve Permaculture Principles These guiding principles are used while designing a property for permaculture, for it to work as efficiently as possible and all the resources of the land are used to their full potential. According to David Holmgren, these principles are as follows. Observation and connection: Observing the land before fully developing it allows us to notice patterns. By taking time to observe and engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation. The productivity of the land isn’t necessarily dependent on the number of food-producing elements, but how interconnected they are. Catching and Storing Energy and Materials: Developing systems to collect resources in abundance, to be used in times of need (water, for instance). Obtaining a yield: Making sure the work produces results. Self-regulation and feedback: Discouraging inappropriate and excessive activity to ensure that systems can continue to function sustainably. Using renewable resources: Using nature’s abundance to reduce consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources. No waste: Reducing, even eliminating waste by making use of all the resources that are available. Designing from patterns: By observing patterns in nature and society, these can form the backbone of designs. Integrating rather than segregating: When elements are properly placed on the land, the ecosystem can begin to maintain itself with less work. By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other. Using small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes. The aim is to do the least amount of work to accomplish the most. Making use of diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to threats and takes advantage of the nature of the environment in which it resides. Using the marginal: The interface between elements are often the most valuable, diverse and productive points in the system. Creatively using change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by intervening at the right time.
Permaculture marks a shift from conventional farming practices, as it aims to develop self-sustaining, ecological and efficient food production systems within the consumers’ own households, gardens and communities. The tools used in permaculture can help to restore land, as well as yield food for humans.