Friday, September 14, 2018

What is Permaculture? It's not just about gardening!

by Heather Jo Flores

“The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of those whom we bring into the world.” --Bill Mollison
What is permaculture?
It’s a question I hear almost every day, and I answer it in a variety of ways, depending on how deeply I want to go in the moment.

The short answer:

A design system for sustainable living.

The long answer:
A set of tools and techniques borrowed from indigenous cultures and applied to physical, social, and emotional landscapes to create living, evolving systems that mimic nature, produce food and energy, and regenerate, rather than annihilate, the Earth.

But what in the heck does that mean? It’s got something to do with organic gardening, right?

Yes, right. But what most people don’t realize is that gardening is only a small part of it. Permaculture includes gardening but really it’s all about design: It’s about growing, harnessing, protecting, and cultivating environments that thrive. Imagine this design process as a starburst pattern that starts with the plants and spirals out in every direction, into every aspect of my life. This connects to land use, social relationships, self-awareness, and so much more.

Here’s a video I made for the first class in the Permaculture Women’s Guild online permaculture design course, which explains a bit more about what permaculture is...and what it isn’t.

Permaculture forefathers Bill Mollison and David Holmgren taught from an ethical and ecological basis that used Birch’s Six Principles of Natural Systems, as follows”

  1. Nothing in nature grows forever. There is a constant cycle of decay and rebirth.
  2. Continuation of life depends on the maintenance of the global bio-geochemical cycles of essential elements, in particular carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus.
  3. The probability of extinction of populations or a species is greatest when the density is very high or very low. Both crowding and too few individuals of a species may reach thresholds of extinction.
  4. The chance that a species has to survive and reproduce is dependent primarily upon one or two key factors in the complex web of relations of the organism to its environment.
  5. Our ability to change the face of the earth increases at a faster rate than our ability to foresee the consequence of change.
  6. Living organisms are not only means but ends. In addition to their instrumental value to humans and other living organisms, they have an intrinsic worth.

And when I first started learning permaculture, way back in the 1990’s, I started by learning these seven principles (as presented by Mollison and Holmgren):

  1. Work with nature, rather than against it.
  2. The problem is the solution. "You don't have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency."
  3. Make the least change for the greatest effect.
  4. The yield of a system is limited only by the information and imagination of the designer. 
  5. Everything gardens, and is in relationship to its environment.
  6. It is not the number of diverse components in a design that leads to stability, it is the number of beneficial connections between these components.
  7. All design is ecological design, in that all designs, whether intentional or not, affect their environment.

Is it starting to make sense?

Can you see how these ideas and fundamental ecological truths could help you to design not only a garden and homestead, but also a social and emotional landscape that is more resilient, abundant, and joyful than the current (degenerative) systems in which most of us now exist?

Here’s a fun exercise, also from the first class in our online double-certificate course. It will help you tune into the living systems around you and begin to cultiivate a “designer’s mind,” which is the first step in becoming a permaculture expert!

Choose a tree near your home. Perhaps it’s on your street and you pass it every day. Go to the tree and touch it with your hands. Look at it up close and from far away. Smell the bark, the leaves, the soil around the trunk. Hug it, lean against it, touch it with your tongue.

What benefits does this bring to your neighborhood? What do the people who live near this tree get from it? What resources does it provide?

And how do the tree’s surroundings affect the tree? Think of animals, insects, birds, wind, humans, water, weather, pollution.

How does this tree interact as a living, evolving element in a whole system?

Write about it, draw a mind-map about it, or just think about it for a while and then share your thoughts/drawings/writing in our Free Permaculture group on Facebook! See you in there!
Via Permaculture Women's Guild - free permaculture