So I wanted to write this post because permaculture is starting to become more known and talked about, especially at festivals and special events. Many people aren’t exactly sure what permaculture is, and I agree definitions are often vague. The word permaculture is a contraction of the words permanent and agriculture. It is a word coined in 1978 (yes permaculture has actually been around for a long time) by professor Bill Mollison and his graduate student, David Holmgren. Literally permaculture means permanent agriculture or sustainable agriculture, and covers concepts ranging from land management, animal husbandry, building design, community organization, alternative technologies, and of course, agriculture and gardening.
Sustainable, or sustainability, is a word much more familiar to most people than permaculture, but it also tends be defined in rather vague terms. Sustainability has become synonymous with words like renewable energy, recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation and environmental protection. One definition for sustainability I learned in college was “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
I always found this to be a perfect definition. It begs the question, “How am I meeting my own needs?” and more importantly, “Am I taking responsibility for my own choices?” When we get down and honest, it becomes obvious that the majority of our needs are being met at the expense of something or someone else. The lumber for our houses comes from the clear cutting of forests, the electricity running our computers, televisions and refrigerators comes from the burning of coal or natural gas, our clothing is made by the hands of oppressed workers in third world countries, the food we eat is shipped over thousands of miles and grown using a system dependent on fossil fuels (this topic itself merits an entire blog post)…the list goes on and on. And when we continue to be honest, most of us have the feeling that there is very little we, as individuals, can do to change this current system.
But maybe there is something we can do. Enter permaculture, a design system based around three core ethics – earth care, people care, fair share, and further defined by 12 principles created by David Holmgren.
To me, permaculture is about personal empowerment. Permaculture provides techniques, technologies, tools, and approaches to help make YOUR lifestyle more sustainable. Permaculture is about taking a good look at the elements in your life that you have control over – your living space, your consumption choices, your land, your transportation, your job, your community involvement, your waste – and applying strategies that connect and synergize these elements, so that they fuel each other and create regenerative cycles. We can use the ethics and principles of permaculture as guidelines to lead healthier and more productive lives.
For example, that sunny part of your house has enormous potential to produce useful energy (obtain a yield). You can grow plants there, you can heat water, you can generate electricity, you can use thermal mass to moderate your house temperature – there are as many possibilities as your creative mind can generate. Or another example is your transportation and your job – is there some way you can connect these two things (integration) that can make your life easier, such as living closer to work, or working from home, or working in your car. These are all just ideas, but by using these concepts we can create more abundance and flow in our lives.
I want to emphasize what I mean by lifestyle. Permaculture is a lifestyle choice. By definition, the systems that permaculture aims to create are based on human interactions – YOU are as much a part of the natural cycles as are the plants, the bugs and the animals. It is a fact that is easy to forget in our modern, technological age – humans are still a part of nature after all. By joining and teaming with the other members of the cycles, we can actually reap great benefits from nature herself. But walking that road is definitely a choice.
Some people think permaculture is an appropriate solution to our modern dilemmas. I believe this too, but it is important to consider that this is similar to saying that love is the solution to war, or that acceptance is the solution to racism. By loving our friends and family, we aren’t ending world war – but we are ending the war between each other in our daily lives. By practicing acceptance, we aren’t ending racism – but we are ending the degrading judgement of our fellow humans. So in this same vein, by practicing permaculture in our daily life, we aren’t going to end all of the environmental catastrophes we are facing, but we are respecting and honoring the environment around us while at the same time becoming part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
So I present you with a challenge. Take one, just one, of the permaculture ethics or principles, and see how you can apply it in your every day life. Most of us already recycle, or ride our bikes to work, or even have a few plants. That’s awesome, keep doing it! But see if you can try something new – try buying some local food at the farmers market, see if you can synergize different elements of your life, see if you can produce something from your own waste products, do some volunteering at a local environmental or humanitarian project. Whatever you can come up with. By getting involved and taking actions, we can create a more harmonious community for all of us!
-The Abundance Gnome