One of the great things about Permaculture is that there is no set definition for Permaculture.  This gives us the freedom to personalize Permaculture for our own journey within the realm of co-creating with the planet and our local communities.  I encourage all my students to frame their own definition so they can begin to teach others about this philosophy and course of action.

The definition is a bit wordy, I know, but it serves to try and shorten what I really believe is the reformation of culture.  Not easy to describe how to go from a Insta-culture to a Permaculture, that is a culture based on Permanence, in two sentences.  But basically it takes the idea of the triple bottom line which is reflective of the ethics of Permaculture and combines with our mimicking of nature to produce outputs of quality.   Below is a look at the phrases within the definition to make it more comprehendible.  

Breakdown of TreeYo Permaculture Definition

Through design work that patterns ecosystems, integration allows for more time in the shade-covered hammock because efficiency is created.  That efficiency comes from interactions that are harmonious- that being those that bring a benefit from the interaction.  For example a food forest with goats in it is not a harmonious integration.  However, a Food Forest designed with lots of fodder crops in relative location to the goat pin can be a harmonious integration through a cut and carry system.  The chickens and comfrey above show this relationship, the chickens need greens and through systematically managing the comfrey, it can be the green feed that they need daily.  An over harvest doesn’t leave a sustainable amount behind each day so it must be managed appropriately.  Also the comfrey is slightly downslope and is right in the path of nutrient flow from the pin.  It is a concentration of Nitrogen, which comfrey needs to be able to be cut often.  Furthermore the comfrey is right next to the pin so when going to check on the chickens, it can easily be cut and given to them.  And frankly they love the comfrey!!!! It reinforces the old adage that its not the amount of elements you have on site, but rather the functional interconnections that matters.

These interconnections are made more efficient as we incorporate all life kingdoms into the cycles of life and death.  Our agriculture now is too focused on annual crops and feeding those crops through chemical and degenerative methods.  However through re-elivining the soil food web we can achieve balance and growth.  Our agriculture also needs to incorporate trees for staples such as chestnuts for ourselves and our animals should also be supported by trees like the honey locust.  Growing this species in an Oak Savannah like fashion will bring water back into the ground and the soil food web alive. In those plantings we can also use the power of Nitrogen fixing plants and their association with bacteria to bring this precious nutrient into the ground for it to passed around again by the soil food web.  Lastly we need to understand that nature has checks and balances and pests become food for predators when we create habitat.

By relying more heavily on perennial crops, like the starchy tuber Jerusalem Artichoke above, our overall agriculture becomes productive in a myriad of fashions that have a cascading affect.  Permaculture creates soil, cleanses water, and gives people a safe working environment.  Those are all choices of production not just total yield or kg’s/ HA.  It can be both beautiful and functional, there is space in the suburbs, cities and rural areas.  All can be habitat and food producing at the same time. For example the montado of Portugal is the system where black pigs forage under cork and holm oak trees.  As the seasons change so does the food for the pigs and it is one of the perennial systems Bill Mollison’s used to form his ideas around agriculture that has permanence.  They also provide lots of fodder for the honey bee which needs all the help it can get.

Our systems should prove to be equitable of all people, not using and abusing and ownership and entitelment, but rather environments that give people back the freedom to share ideas and companionship.  By sharing in our surplus, we can create jobs, we can create gatherings, we can create celebration.  Ideas flow, laughter is heard, and joy is experienced.  This is exactly what the great group City Repair in Portland, Oregon, USA seeks to do with its intersection repair movement.  Energies are allowed to pool, patterns are manifested, people connect, and community is formed.

This particular image reinforces the need to use all life kingdoms to create more jobs and profit through eliminating huge amounts of waste.  Being creative cyclers of carbon can bring about ways to funnel and cascade nutrients into a system that generates life and income.  The ZERI company does this oh so well and Gunter Pauli’s Blue Economy book and model lead a path forward for ingenuity and natural resource abundance.  We should always aim to be reducing our monetary dependence and increase our local economy and the resilience that comes from it.  Reach out to your local community by investing in farmers, food processors, fiber processors, fuel providers, holistic medicine providers and many more that contribute to the regeneration of humanity and ecosystems alike.

The backbone of Permaculture is that it uses design as a way to construct a plan that allows us to move with intention.  Without intention we often do but not co-create.  Henri Fayol said it explicitly in the following quote, “Without a plan, there is no commitment, hence no accountability.” So create your vision through a series of drawings, texts, poems, songs, diagrams and then begin to manifest all that allows the abundance to flow.

When we move from our strict, rational, material based thinking into one that encompasses a holistic perspective, one that is pattern based or mimicking nature, our true ability to co-create with nature and each other is possible.  We need balance, a balance that unfurls naturally like the ferns, a balance that radiates circularly like this roof, and we need balance from color and form that ignites images of beauty.  Our homes are not to be sterile compounds, but rather places that nurture.  Our gardens should reinforce the love and the interconnections of nature. Our animal husbandry should mimic the herds that built top soil in the Midwest of the states to an unprecedented levels.  A great short essay by Also Leopold, the father of Game Management,  explains the idea of pattern based thinking beautiuflly: Thinking like a Mountain.  

Through interconnections the idea of competition is forgotten, rather the enhancement through interaction is seen.  Our plantings become islands that merge over times, the weeds become storytellers, and the wildlife whisper blessings and ideas from the ether.  It is harmony we seek, a balance brought by whisking away fears wrought by competition, and guilds of people and plants flourish.

David Holmgren in front of his house

Our energy is an important resource whether it is electricity or human labor or money itself.  When we design with nature, we reduce our dependence on fuels that are unsustainable and have a negative affect on the planet and society.  Rather, like David Holmgrens house that is featured in the film series from Bill Mollison, we aim to be net producers not just consumers.  In the case of housing and electricity, our solar PV systems would need to be huge and unaffordable if we rely on large systems of refrigeration.  However by using the cooling action of the earth, he reduces his reliance on a refrigerator dramatically  and the houses design creates light, heating and cooling, and air movement.  All things that may require electricity and would grow the initial investment even more.  As Bill says, Permaculture is just as much about Architecture as it is gardening.  I just happen to be an ecologist.

Ultimately what we are after is abundance; be it community, energy saved, food, medicine, and financial return.  Through our connectedness, resources that one needs can be swirled inward from that initial design intention, from supporting all life kingdoms, from building interconnections.  We are one, we are all. Abundance is around us, open the eyes with the Permaculture lens and you will see.

Just as a recap…. I am sure the definition will change over time as it has for quite sometime.

Written by Doug Crouch

Header art by Sien Verpoest

sien art intro


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