Permaculture is a methodology of holistic design described as the art and science of creating community eco-systems. This concept was created by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 70’s, as the contraction of the words Permanent Agriculture or Permanent culture.
Permaculture ethics and Principles (by Toby Hemenway)
- Care for the Earth
- Care for People
- Return of Surplus to Earth and people (also called “Fair Share”)
Primary Principles for Functional Design:
- Observe. Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and its elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and cultures.
- Connect. Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.
- Catch and store energy and materials. Identify, collect, and hold useful flows. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield, every gradient (in slope, charge, heat, etc.) can produce energy. Re-investing resources builds capacity to capture yet more resources.
- Each element performs multiple functions. Choose and place each element in a system to perform as many functions as possible. Beneficial connections between diverse components create a stable whole. Stack elements in both space and time.
- Each function is supported by multiple elements. Use multiple methods to achieve important functions and to create synergies. Redundancy protects when one or more elements fail.
- Make the least change for the greatest effect. Find the “leverage points” in the system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change.
- Use small scale, intensive systems. Start at your doorstep with the smallest systems that will do the job, and build on your successes, with variations. Grow by chunking.
Principles for Living and Energy Systems
- Optimize edge. The edge—the intersection of two environments—is the most diverse place in a system, and is where energy and materials accumulate or are tranformed. Increase or decrease edge as appropriate.
- Collaborate with succession. Systems will evolve over time, often toward greater diversity and productivity. Work with this tendency, and use design to jump-start succession when needed.
- Use biological and renewable resources. Renewable resources (usually living beings and their products) reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.
- Turn problems into solutions. Constraints can inspire creative design. “We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities.”—Pogo (Walt Kelly)
- Get a yield. Design for both immediate and long-term returns from your efforts: “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Set up positive feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment.
- The biggest limit to abundance is creativity. The designer’s imagination and skill limit productivity and diversity more than any physical limit.
- Mistakes are tools for learning. Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you’re trying to do things better.
Rules for resource use:
Ranked from regenerative to degenerative, different resources can:
- increase with use;
- be lost when not used;
- be unaffected by use;
- be lost by use;
- pollute or degrade systems with use.
“Permaculture is revolution disguised as organic gardening.”
“You can solve all the world’s problems in a garden.”
“A set of techniques and principles for designing sustainable human settlements.”
“Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”
“Permaculture is a holistic approach to landscape design and human culture. It is an attempt to integrate several disciplines, including biology, ecology, geography, agriculture, architecture, appropriate technology, gardening and community building.”
Photo: PDC in Terra Alta, Portugal.