Permaculture is an ethical design science. It is a system that supplies all the needs of humanity — all the basic needs and all the intricate needs — in a way that also benefits the environment.
It works from the intimate small space of human habitat right up to the broad, damaged ecosystems which can be repaired with the design science system.
– Geoff Lawton
Permaculture is a design science of perennial agriculture.
The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.
What is the origin of permaculture?
Permaculture was created in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor. He had spent many years out in nature as a wildlife biologist observing how natural systems work and became very distressed at the destruction that he saw going on around him. He decided that instead of being angry about what was happening and reacting against the destruction he wanted to work on creating a positive solution And he thought the solution would be living based on the patterns he had observed in nature.
By observing nature, Mollison came up with several important insights. He observed that natural systems, such as forests and wetlands, are sustainable. They provide for their own energy needs and recycle their own wastes. He also observed that all the different parts of a natural ecosystem work together. Each component of the system performs important tasks. For example, bees help to pollinate, birds provide pest control, certain plants pull nitrogen out of the air and fix it into a form that other plants can use. So everything does useful work. He applied these and other insights to design and create sustainable agricultural systems.
In the 1970’s he and his student David Holmgren wrote and published some books explaining his ideas. In the 1980s he published his design manual and started teaching permaculture design courses to spread his ideas around the world. By the 1990s permaculture had started spreading throughout the US, although it’s more well-known in other countries around the world. To this day, it’s continuing to grow as a global grassroots movement and people primarily learn about it through permaculture design courses and workshops that generally happen outside of academia.
Who is practicing permaculture?
Besides permaculture practitioners who study and learn about permaculture and consciously use permaculture to live in a more sustainable way, there are many people who practice permaculture without realizing it – concerned environmentalists, organic gardeners, conservationists, land use planners, urban activists, recyclers, indigenous peoples and anyone working toward creating a sustainable human civilization. The reason for this is that the philosophy of permaculture draws on a lot of ideas and practices that have been around for a long time.
Have you heard the terms ecological design, sustainable design, applied ecology or green design? These are other terms that describe the basic philosophy of using nature as a model to foster sustainability. The difference between these approaches and permaculture is their scope and focus. Permaculture draws on these systems and incorporates them into a broader framework. Permaculture is a comprehensive system that can be applied to all aspects of one’s life although food production remains an important focus. As mentioned earlier, it is a dynamic, living philosophy which is continuing to evolve.