The word “Permaculture” was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, together with one of his students, David Holmgren. It is a contraction of “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture.”
Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is a land use and community building movement which strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, productive communities. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way we place them in the landscape. This synergy is further enhanced by mimicking patterns found in nature.
A central theme in Permaculture is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. Emphasis is placed on multi-use plants, cultural practices such as sheet mulching and trellising, and the integration of animals to recycle nutrients and graze weeds.
However, Permaculture entails much more than just food production. Energy-efficient buildings, waste water treatment, water harvesting techniques, recycling, and land stewardship in general are other important components of Permaculture. More recently, Permaculture has expanded its purview to include economic and social structures that support the evolution and development of more permanent communities, such as co-housing projects and Eco-villages. As such, Permaculture design concepts are applicable to urban as well as rural settings, and are appropriate for single households as well as whole farms and villages.
“Integrated farming” and “ecological engineering” are terms sometimes used to describe perma-culture, with “cultivated ecology” perhaps coming the closest. Though helpful, these terms alone do not capture the holistic nature of Permaculture; thus, the following definitions are included here to provide additional insight.
Four ways to learn about Permaculture include:
• the Permaculture design course,
• the Permaculture literature,
• the Internet,
• and Permaculture workshops.
The Permaculture Design Course is the primary vehicle for transfer of Permaculture expertise. The standard course is 72 hours in length and lasts two weeks. Graduates are issued a Permaculture design certificate and are entitled to use the term “Permaculture” in the pursuit of livelihood and for educational purposes.
The Permaculture literature is a rich source of information on a wide range of topics dealing with land use, plant and animal agriculture, water management, appropriate technology, energy-efficient and toxic-free housing, and community design.
Since 1995, the Internet (e.g., World Wide Web and E-mail) has become an important resource and networking tool in the dissemination of Permaculture information.
Permaculture workshops are commonly held as one- to three-day events to provide training on technologies such as vermi-composting, solar greenhouses, straw bale construction, sheet mulching, and organic gardening.
The Ethics of Permaculture
Permaculture is unique among alternative farming systems (e.g., organic, sustainable, Eco-agriculture, biodynamic) in that it works with a set of ethics that suggest we think and act responsibly in relation to each other and the earth.
The ethics of Permaculture provide a sense of place in the larger scheme of things, and serve as a guidepost to right livelihood in concert with the global community and the environment, rather than individualism and indifference.
1. Care of the Earth
…includes all living and non-living things-plants, animals, land, water and air.
2. Care of People
…promotes self-reliance and community responsibility-access to resources necessary for existence.
3. Setting Limits to Population & Consumption
or Share The Resources
…gives away surplus-contribution of surplus time, labour, money, information, and energy to achieve the aims of earth and people care.
Permaculture also acknowledges a basic life ethic, which recognises the intrinsic worth of every living thing. A tree has value in itself, even if it presents no commercial value to humans. That the tree is alive and functioning is worthwhile. It is doing its part in nature: producing oxygen, sequestering carbon dioxide, sheltering animals, building soils, and so on.
The Principles of Permaculture Design
Whereas Permaculture ethics are more akin to broad moral values or codes of behaviour, the principles of Permaculture provide a set of universally applicable guidelines, which can be used in designing sustainable habitats. Distilled from multiple disciplines-ecology, energy conservation, landscape design, and environmental science-these principles are inherent in any Permaculture design, in any climate, and at any scale.
1. Relative location
2. Each element performs multiple functions
3. Each function is supported by many elements
4. Energy efficient planning
5. Using biological resources
6. Energy cycling
7. Small-scale intensive systems
8. Natural plant succession and stacking
9. Poly-culture and diversity of species
10. Increasing “edge” within a system
11. Observe and replicate natural patterns
12. Pay attention to scale