I remember the first time I heard about permaculture. I heard someone mention the word at Chewonki and asked them about it. Permaculture is hard to describe without providing a lot of details and examples, but its essentially a way of living and farming, of applying certain techniques and ideas in order to grow food in the most healthy, efficient, self-sustaining way. I’m talking about permaculture on here because I think it’s a great solution to a lot of the problems we face with food and energy shortages, but also because it is such a fascinating system with all sorts of unique techniques and ideas.
Permaculture or permanent agriculture is described by one of its creators, Bill Mollison, as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than premature and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single project system.”
Permaculture is built off three core ideas of taking care of the earth, taking care of people, and sharing. By keeping in mind what is needed by people, the earth, and all that lives here, we can figure out how to live in balance, taking what is necessary and giving extra to others and back to the earth. It is a holistic approach; the ideas overlap and work together. We need the earth and sustenance from it. We can help the earth get what it needs.
There are also 12 principles which govern the cycle of learning and improving the permaculture system. They include producing no waste, using biodiversity, and learning from nature’s patterns. More details and examples can be found here by clicking on the icons.
Permaculture is essentially the opposite of the wasteful, pesticide-ridden monoculture that produces most of our food. Instead of a flat field of homogenous corn, permaculture integrates several layers, learning from the efficiency of a natural system like a jungle. The layers, from the ground up, consist of cover crops (to reduce erosion), root crops, low herbaceous plants (the kind of annuals we have in gardens), woody shrubs (like berries), small and large trees, with vines crossing all of these layers vertically.
Other things that separate permaculture from more typical agriculture are its zones and patterns. The zones move out from a central house to the most frequently used and needy plants, main crops and orchards, through semi-wild areas for foraging and in the end an area kept completely wild. The plants may grow in a spiral pattern, from the top of a hill down with water trickling out to get the most of the resource.
Permaculture isn’t really plausible for most people without a huge commitment of time and money. That’s not to say we can’t learn from these principles or adopt some of them in our own houses, even if on a much smaller scale. Whether it’s composting chicken manure to cycle waste back into your garden or giving extra veggies to your neighbors, it’s a great approach to living in harmony with your surroundings.