Introducing Permaculture


maddy polyculture gardenPermaculture is primarily a thinking tool for designing low carbon, highly productive systems, but its influence can be very pervasive! Discovering permaculture often starts in the garden or on the farm, but permaculture isn’t just about growing food (although it can be a big help with designing productive food systems and I will be talking about this aspect a lot on this blog). Permaculture is a means of connecting each of us more deeply to nature’s patterns and wisdom  — and of applying that understanding in our daily lives. That is the inspirational nature of permaculture.

The disciple of permaculture design is based on observing what makes natural systems endure, establishing simple yet effective principles, and using them to mirror nature in whatever we chose to design: gardens, farms, buildings, woodlands, communities, businesses — even towns and cities. Permaculture is essentially about creating beneficial relationships between individual elements and making sure energy is captured rather than lost in a system. Its application is only as limited as our imagination.

Before we learn the principles and how to apply them, however, there is the bedrock in permaculture: its three ethics. These are its motivation, its heart. They are not exclusive to permaculture, and actually were derived by looking at the commonalities of many worldviews and beliefs. These ethics are therefore shared ethics, indeed shared by most of the world. What permaculture does is make them explicit within a design process that aims to take them out of the realms of philosophy and practically root them in everybody’s lives, transforming thinking into doing. It is their combined presence in a design that has a radical capacity for ecological and social transformation.

Earth Care 

Imagine the originators of permaculture, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, looking at the Australian landscape in the 1970s and seeing the devastating effects of a temperate European agriculture on the fragile soils of an ancient Antipodean landscape. Like the dust bowls of Oklahoma in the 1930s, an alien agriculture has the capacity to turn a delicately balanced ecology into desert. Their initial response was to design a permanent agriculture with tree crops and other perennials inhabiting all the niches, from the canopy to the ground cover and below. The soil is left untilled to establish its own robust micro-ecology. Key to this is that the land must be biodiverse and stable for future generations.

This ethic of Earth Care was bound to grow and pervade all aspects of permaculture: How can we have an organic agriculture or horticulture and manage our landscapes to sustain themselves over generations on one hand, and then consume goods from industries managed in ecologically damaging ways? The original vision of care for all living and non living things has grown to embrace a deep and comprehensive understanding of Earth Care that involves our many decisions, from the clothes we wear and the goods we buy to the materials we use for DIY projects.

People Care 

Embedded in permaculture is the concept of Permanent Culture. People Care asks that our basic needs for food, shelter, education, employment and healthy social relationships are met. Nor can genuine People Care be exclusive in a tribal sense. This is a global ethic of fair trade and intelligent support amongst all people, both at home and abroad.

Travsi Halverson
4/20/2011 4:38:10 PM

I agree. Just listened to Paul Wheaton's interview with her over at and learned she wrote here. Thanks Mother Earth News! The following links to the podcast.

4/20/2011 1:06:06 PM

Great to see permaculture on MEN at last - it has so much to offer those of us wanting to co-create a better world. Thanks Maddy!

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