Permaculture: A Plan for Sustainable Agriculture

Gardeners are learning about permaculture: a plan for sustainable agriculture. Homesteaders can use these concepts to create an energy-efficient, low-maintenance, high-yielding and intricately interconnected system.

| September/October 1982

Gardeners are choosing permaculture: a plan for sustainable agriculture . . . beginning in their back yards. 

Permaculture: A Plan for Sustainable Agriculture

Readers of this magazine are no doubt familiar with the word permaculture. . . the term coined by Bill Mollison (see MOTHER EARTH NEWS issues NO. 66, page 14 and NO. 72, page 142) to describe his concept of a self-sustaining, consciously designed approach to agriculture. Mollison claims that the permaculturist can weave together the elements of microclimate design, annual and perennial plant use, water and soil management, and human needs . . . forming an energy-efficient, low-maintenance, high-yielding, and intricately interconnected system.

Well, it seems that the Australian gardener's ideas have caught the attention of a good many folks in this country. As a result of Mollison's visits to the United States in 1980 and again in 1981, a number of regional permaculture centers have been established, and workshops are being conducted — throughout North America — to acquaint more people with the rudiments of eco-agricultural design.

In fact, last April John Quinney, of the New Alchemy Institute (see MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 61, page 118), led a five-day seminar at the New Homestead School near Murphy, North Carolina. As part of the course, the participants (including a MOTHER staffer, Emily Stetson) pooled their newly learned skills and developed a permaculture design for the school's site . . a 3.8-acre spread consisting primarily of gently rolling pastureland. We've reproduced the results of that study in the following pages because we feel that, while it is only a preliminary plan (owing to the time and resource limitations of the course), it can nonetheless serve as an excellent illustration of exactly how anyone, regardless of time and money restrictions, might apply the principles of permaculture to his or her own land.

Mollison's system differs from conventional agriculture primarily in the emphasis it places on skilled design, planning which must be attempted only after thoughtful and prolonged observation. The placement of elements in a landscape, their relationship to each other, and their evolution over time are all taken into consideration.

In addition, an effective permaculture design must be developed in concert with the people who'll be implementing it. Therefore, in planning their layout, the students worked closely with Mike Oliphant and Martha Dysart (who run the New Homestead School) to develop realistic goals for the site. The couple's intentions were to provide a year-round food supply for their family (with enough surplus to feed students attending the courses), to furnish a forum for teaching, and to reduce their energy needs . . . all while operating on a limited budget. To meet these requirements, they determined to make full use of both on-site and local resources.

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