Permaculture. what it is and how its changing the world.
and why you need to be a permaculturist too.
Permaculture was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holgrem in 1970's as a system of sustainable agriculture coined from the words permanent and agriculture and permanent and culture Permaculture was based on the wisdom of traditional farming systems and observations of natural systems. Since its humble beginnings as alternative gardening and farming, it has now developed into a solution based thinking revolution that is applied to every type of situation and system imaginable all around the world. It is at the forefront of sustainability and it is a game changer for many third world communities. It is the solution to our societies needs and can be used on small scale to the largest of scales. From designing of buildings and towns to ethical and sustainable agriculture, From how you place furniture and kitchen items to be more efficient through to how we think about problems, how we design businesses and think about the future. Permaculture is about designing properties, businesses and communities that are productive, sustaining and largely self reliant with minimal impact on the environment.
Permaculture is based on three ethics and has 12 principles that provide the foundation for applying these skills to what ever you do. I discovered permaculture over 10 years ago and it has changed my life. It put all of the things I had been searching for into a package I could use in my everyday life and beyond. Permaculture revolutionised the way I think about every action and every thing I do. It has taught me to really question the things I need, the way I look at the world and our resources and most importantly the connection between all living and non living things. To become an observer and a designer who really thinks before action.
I would encourage everyone who is looking for a more sustainable and ethical life, who loves people, animals, and likes to connect with those who think bigger who dreams of a better world.......then do yourself a favour and either do a permaculture course or get educated in permaculture and think and act like a permaculturist. Read books on this subject on homesteading, become a rurbanite (an urban farmer). Be the change. The skills you gain enable you to always think bigger than yourself, allow you to see solutions instead of problems and empower yourself to be who you want to be.
The Ethics of permaculture
Permaculture recognises that everything we do has an impact on either the environment or other people. Therefor it aims to consider the three ethics in all actions and decision making:
Earth care: Ensure that we make provisions for all of earth life systems to continue.
People care: In all we do, ensure we provide for all people to access the necessary resources they need to survive.
Fair share: That sustainable limits are set in regards to consumption and population and excess surplus is redistributed to further enhance the other two ethics.
The principles of permaculture and how you can use them in your every day life
Observe and interact: Use your powers of observation to understand patterns in your life, (In your household, your garden, your work) so you identify how your ecosystems works and what seasonal changes you notice such as temperature, sounds and light so you can work with not against these elements. How this applies in real life? It can be as simple as putting a couch in an area where its gets winter sun saving electricity on heating or growing bananas in southern climates in an area you have identified as a microclimate (with warmer conditions) within your garden, or designing which part of your property to build your house so it can be built in a passive design.
Catch and store energy: Develop systems that collect resources when their at peak abundance and save them for in times of need. Designing systems ensures that you make every part of the design catch and store energy when its available. This can mean, freezing or dehydrating mangoes, bananas or making cider with surplus apples from your tree and jam from the stone fruit when in abundance, or putting in as many rain water tanks as you can so you can store water for the dry periods or it can be as simple as putting money away for your future and not spending it when you have earnt some extra money one week.
Obtain a yield: This refers to the effort it requires to work and the yield produced. The idea is that for the amount of work you put into something you get an equal amount or a higher yield. If this fails to happen time and time again you will end up exhausted and depleted. Ensure that what you are doing is providing useful reward. A system yield is the sum total of all the surplus energy produced, stored, conserved and converted or reused. In real life this translates as working smarter not harder and is about putting in minimal effort for maximum gain and can refer to planting vegetables and having a harvest with surplus that you can give to others, store or sell. It could be the location of bee hives in which you get honey in return for some effort or harvesting your own timber from a wood lot you only have to visit once per year.
Apply self regulation and accept feedback: In all systems everything is related. Positive and negative feed back loops operate within all systems and systems self regulate and correct themselves and if they cannot imbalance occurs. If we observe what is working and what is not, we can enhance the health of our situation to bring balance and health back. This can be applied to a garden, a financial situation and even our own health. By listening to our bodies needs we can see when we are out of balance and we can easily return to a state of balance if we remove the obstacles to healing and honour our body through nourishing foods, our minds and reconnecting with our soul.
Use and value renewable resources and services: My favourite principle as it's so easy to apply to all of our life. It is about recognising that nature provides us with an abundance of renewable resources. It is about researching, educating and using the less impacting solution where ever possible. Solar panels, rain water harvesting and gravity feeding, eco light bulbs, putting on jumpers instead of using a heater, purchasing the best energy standard white goods that reduce consumption and always looking to see where we can reduce our consumption. I sometimes ride to markets instead of driving (muscles are renewable, fossil fuels are not), I buy in bulk saving packaging and travel, I purchase christmas and birthday presents from those who either hand make or are unique small businesses and/or support communities around the world (oxfam shop etc.)
Produce no waste: A most important principle. Nothing should go to waste. We have invented a society of waste and it needs everyone to jump on the reducing bandwagon. In a sustainable system nothing is ever wasted, it is recycled back into the system. This principle is about reducing and keeping waste to a minimum. See my zero waste lifestyle page for more info on creating a zero waste household.
Design from patterns to details: This is similar to observe and interact. It is about watching patterns and then designing around elements that will be in a system and ensuring the most efficient and renewable options are included in designing anything. I use this principle in everything, from how I set up my classroom (tables, chairs), in my gardens (the most visit garden to the least), to how I plant into a garden. I think about how I place things in a system so I will use less energy to get to them if frequently visited like my worm farms and compost bins. This is a powerful principle as it can be the long term vision design that means one does not have to constantly change and rearrange or waste energy.
Integrate rather than segregate: Segregating invariably leads to separation and disharmony whereas integration encourages a harmonious whole. By putting elements and things in the right places, relationships develop between these things and they work to support each other. This make systems more dynamic. For example placing ducks in an orchard. The ducks feed on the rotten fallen fruit, reduce pests and insects and provide manure and fertiliser for the fruit trees.
Use small and slow solutions: The modern world seeks fast and large scale solutions, which often has detrimental and devastating effects on the environment and society (people suffer and the earth is exploited. Think Syria, or the American gas lines in native indian reserves). Slow and small solutions act locally and make better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
Use and value diversity: This is a great principle as it is basically saying don't put all your eggs in one basket. It is about diversifying your life, your garden and your financial income so you are less vulnerable to predators (financial crisis as well as garden pests) disease (in a system or our own health) and unforeseen circumstances (and in the modern world, it seems this is common). This strengthens systems on a whole and makes life a little bit more relaxed knowing you have back up systems if one falls. Very smart principle this one.
Use edges and value the marginal: This represents the borders of eco systems where the liveliest exchanges take place. When we value these areas and their productivity one can live on the edges of both worlds and take advantage of both. This is like living in a city and being part of an urban farm where you can access the best of both worlds.
Creatively use and respond to change: A creative outlook and a readiness to face change with an attitude of flexibility and solution based thinking means one can overcome most problems. Change is inevitable, what you see today will be different tomorrow. So learning to be adaptive and flexible allows for better outcomes and lots of fun in the process. As Bill Mollison once said " You don't have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency" (beautifully said you legend)
Putting permaculture into action. What it looks like:
Think about every action and consequence. Will it have an impact on someone or something? Think bigger than you. Always
Support, eat, grow organic and spray free food. Grow garden not lawns
Produce and practise a zero waste lifestyle
Bring back biodiversity. Plant local native flowers, make habitats for local species, get some native bees, a worm farm etc.
Focus on co-operation not competition. There is plenty for every one. Remember this and support each other.
Make sure everything you place or buy has a multi purpose and can be used or work at least two ways.
Bring food production back to cities by supporting farmers markets, urban farms, slow food revolution and CSA and co-ops.
Recycle, upcycle, repair and reuse items.
Install environmentally safe and efficient fixtures, fittings and furniture.
See solutions not problems. Cultivate an attitude of optimism and solution thinking. It's an incredible gift.
Work where it counts. Don't waste your energy on things, people or situation that just deplete you and provide nothing in return.
Join groups that support permaculture, seed saving, community building etc. It is so nourishing and empowering to be part of the solution.
For more information on permaculture, homesteading, seed saving and becoming a rurbanite check out:
Books to get you started:
Permaculture In a Nutshell: Patrick Whitefield
The Rurbanite: Alex Mitchell
Permaculture: David Holgrem
Earth Users Guide to Permaculture: Rosemary Morrow
100 Ways For Earth Wise Living:
Check your local area for permaculture groups and courses. They are everywhere once you learn to look.