Permaculture is based on imitating the successes of
nature instead of fighting or trying to control it. If you
think of the way a forest works, you’ll get the idea. The forest
sustains itself, it provides everything needed for all the plants
and animals who live there, it accommodates a diverse array of
living things, it recycles all of its waste, it builds topsoil
instead of destroying it, it actually creates the microclimate
needed for the plants and animals who live there, it sequesters
carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen, and it the local water cycle
depends on it.
In every area of the flower that
Bob shared, dozens of specific strategies can be applied to shift
currently dysfunctional systems into highly productive ones.
One area of concern to many people currently
is the economy—the larger economy but also the economic conditions
faced by families and individuals. Both appear far shakier than
they did a few years ago. Here are some permaculture strategies I
put together to share with graduate students who expressed
interest. They help people and communities maintain and regenerate
Operating all businesses, governmental and
non-profit organizations using true-cost accounting and with full
transparency so that corruption/theft/waste can be
Moving money—checking accounts, for
example--from the big rip-off banks into local credit unions or
co-operative banks owned by the members or into privately owned
local banks that are willing to invest in the community during a
time when big banks are not lending. This keeps local
economies functioning, thus benefitting the whole community,
instead of profits going immediately out of state and directly into
Shopping at local stores for the same
reasons--to support our neighbors who own them. This results in
money circulating an average of seven times in the local community
instead of being sent immediately to the corporate
Putting food by—growing it and/or buying when
it’s plentiful locally and preserving it in natural ways which
saves money and also helps prevent expensive health problems
Setting up time banks based on hour-for-hour
exchange of services so that the amount of cash required to keep
families and businesses running is reduced.
Mapping existing food resources in an
area. To give just one example, making neighborhood
maps/lists of existing fruit and nut trees and posting them
online. From this could be developed small businesses to help
owners care for the trees, harvest the food in a timely manner,
sell it in local markets and share the profit with the tree
owners. This benefits all involved by making them less
dependent on the large grocery chains which have been unable to
supply people with food when their supply lines are interrupted by
disasters such as Katrina or fluctuations in the availability of
Investing in quality by buying appliances, cars, and homes that may
be more expensive up front but will save money over time because
they are made with locally abundant materials, will last longer, or
are more energy efficient.
Moving investments, savings, retirement funds
into highly ethical and sustainable companies that are aligned with
our personal values, operate with financial transparency, invest in
long-term infrastructure and reinvest profits in local communities.
See www.greenmoney.com for more information about the growing field of natural
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). According
to the blog at PACE Now (http://pacenow.org/blog/)
“PACE is a bipartisan local government initiative
that allows property owners to finance energy efficiency and
renewable energy projects for their homes and commercial buildings.
Interested property owners opt‐in to receive financing for
improvements that is repaid through an assessment on their property
taxes for up to 20 years. PACE financing spreads the cost of
energy improvements such as weather sealing, insulation, energy
efficient boilers and cooling systems, new windows, and solar
installations over the expected life of the measures and allows for
the repayment obligation to transfer automatically to the next
property owner if the property is sold. PACE is unique
Creates badly needed local jobs.
Uses private capital, not taxes or government subsidies.
Saves money for building owners and increases property
Is voluntary – not a government mandate.
Promotes energy security without driving up energy costs.
Avoids the need to build costly new power plants.
Reduces air pollution.”
Creating cooperatives—everything from
farmer’s co-ops to baby-sitting co-ops to natural food and
supplements co-ops to banking co-ops to worker-owned industries.
When the Argentine economy collapsed a decade or so ago, Workers
occupied the factories that were being closed because they had
failed, kept them running, managed them themselves collectively
eliminating high salaries for management, and began making profits
where none were being made before. To see how a collective of
worker cooperatives in the Spanish Basque country became the
largest corporation in Spain, see
These are just a few financial
permaculture strategies. We could add to this list of examples. We
could also generate similar lists for each petal of the
Permaculture is an
approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships
found in natural ecologies.
Permaculture is sustainable land use design. This is based on
ecological and biological principles, often using patterns that
occur in nature to maximise effect and minimise work. Permaculture
aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human
needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants. The
ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles,
climatic factors and weather cycles are all part of the picture.
Inhabitants’ needs are provided for using proven technologies for
food, energy, shelter and infrastructure. Elements in a system are
viewed in relationship to other elements, where the outputs of one
element become the inputs of another. Within a Permaculture system,
work is minimised, “wastes” become resources, productivity and
yields increase, and environments are restored. Permaculture
principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from
dense urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to entire
The first recorded modern practice of permaculture as a systematic
method was by Austrian farmer Sepp
Holzer in the 1960s, but the method was scientifically
developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the
1970s in a series of publications.
The word permaculture is described by Mollison as a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, and
The intent is that, by training individuals in a core set of design
principles, those individuals can design their own environments and
build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones
that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production
and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and
systematically destroying Earth's ecosystems.
While originating as an agro-ecological design theory, permaculture has
developed a large international following. This "permaculture
community" continues to expand on the original ideas, integrating a
range of ideas of alternative culture, through a network of
publications, permaculture gardens, intentional communities, training
programs, and internet forums. In this way, permaculture has become
a form of architecture of nature and ecology as well as an informal
institution of alternative social ideals.
In 1929, Joseph Russell Smith took up the term as the subtitle for
Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture,
a book in which he summed up his long experience experimenting with
fruits and nuts as crops for human food and animal feed. A revised
and updated edition was published in 1950.
Smith observed, "Forest -- field -- plow -- desert -- that is the
cycle of the hills under most plow agricultures... When we develop
an agriculture that fits this land, it will become an almost
endless vista of green, crop-yielding trees."
Smith saw the world as an inter-related whole and suggested mixed
systems of trees and crops underneath.
The work of Howard T. Odum was also an early
influence on Permaculture, especially for Holmgren.
Odum focused on system ecology, in particular the maximum power principle, which claims
that natural systems tend to maximize the energy embodied in a
system. For example, the total calorific value of woodland is very
high with its multitude of plants and animals. It is an efficient
converter of sunlight into biomass. A wheat field,
on the other hand, has much less total energy and often requires a
large energy input in terms of fertilizer if the wheat and straw are harvested
and removed from the field.
The definition of permanent agriculture as that which can be
sustained indefinitely was supported by Australian P. A. Yeomans in the 1973 book "Water for Every
who introduced an observation-based approach to land use in
Australia in the 1940s, based partially on his understanding of
geology. Yeomans introduced Keyline Design as a way of managing water supply and distribution. Holmgren based
his EcoVillage design on the keyline principle, (see
Other early influences were the work of Esther Deans, who pioneered No-Dig Gardening
methods, and Masanobu Fukuoka
who, in the late 1930s in Japan, began advocating no-till orchards,
gardens and natural philosophy.
Other recent influences include the Vegetable Aquaculture and
Animal enClosures (VAC) system in Vietnam
which is a government-supported system to recycle
Mollison and Holmgren
In the mid 1970s, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren
started to develop ideas about stable agricultural systems. This
was a result of rapid growth of destructive industrial-agricultural
methods. They saw that these methods were poisoning the land and
water, reducing biodiversity, and removing billions of
tons of topsoil from previously fertile landscapes. They
announced their permaculture" approach with the publication of
Permaculture One in 1978.
The term permaculture initially meant "permanent
agriculture" but was quickly expanded to also stand for "permanent
culture" as it was seen that social aspects were integral to a
truly sustainable system.
After Permaculture One, Mollison further refined and
developed the ideas by designing hundreds of permaculture sites and
organizing this information into more detailed books. Mollison
lectured in over 80 countries and taught his two-week Design Course
to many hundreds of students. By the early 1980s, the concept had
broadened from agricultural systems design towards complete,
sustainable human habitats.
By the mid 1980s, many of the students had become successful
practitioners and had themselves begun teaching the techniques they
had learned. In a short period of time permaculture groups,
projects, associations, and institutes were established in over one
hundred countries. In 1991 a four-part Television documentary by
ABC productions called "The Global Gardener" showed permaculture
applied to a range of worldwide situations, bringing the concept to
a much broader public. Excerpts are available online through
Permaculture has developed from its Australian origins into an
international movement. English permaculture teacher Patrick Whitefield, author of The Earth
Care Manual and Permaculture in a Nutshell, suggests
that there are now two strands of permaculture: Original and
Original permaculture attempts to closely replicate nature by
developing edible ecosystems which closely resemble their wild
Design permaculture takes the working connections at use in an
ecosystem and uses them as its basis. The end result may not look
as natural as a forest garden, but still respects ecological principles. Through close
observation of natural energies and flow patterns efficient design
systems can be developed. This has become known as Natural
Systems Design. (Dr. M Millington and A Sampson-Kelly)
Mature species on a keyline irrigation channel,
'Orana' Farm Temperate Victoria, Australia
Permaculture principles draw heavily on the practical application
of ecological theory to analyze the characteristics and potential
relationships between design elements.
Each element of a design is carefully analyzed in terms of its
needs, outputs, and properties. For example chickens need water,
moderated microclimate and food, producing meat,
eggs, and feathers as well as manure which can help break up
Design elements are then assembled in relation to one another so
that the products of one element feed the needs of adjacent
elements. Synergy between design elements is achieved while
minimizing waste and the demand for human labor or energy.
Exemplary permaculture designs evolve over time, and can become
extremely complex mosaics of conventional and inventive cultural
systems that produce a high density of food and materials with
Modern permaculture is a system design tool. It is a way of:
looking at a whole system or problem;
observing how the parts relate;
planning to mend sick systems by applying ideas learned from
long-term sustainable working systems;
seeing connections between key parts.
In permaculture, practitioners learn from the working systems of
nature to plan to fix the damaged landscapes of human agricultural
and city systems. This thinking applies to the design of a kitchen
tool as easily to the re-design of a farm.
Permaculture practitioners apply it to everything deemed necessary
to build a sustainable future. Commonly, “Initiatives ... tend to
evolve from strategies that focus on efficiency (for example, more
accurate and controlled uses of inputs and minimization of waste)
to substitution (for example, from more to less disruptive
interventions, such as from biocides to more specific biological
controls and other more benign alternatives) to redesign
(fundamental changes in the design and management of the operation)
(Hill & MacRae 1995, Hill et al. 1999)." "Permaculture is about
helping people make redesign choices: setting new goals and a shift
in thinking that affects not only their home but their actions in
the workplace, borrowings and investments" (A Sampson-Kelly and
Michel Fanton 1991). Examples include the design and employment of
complex transport solutions, optimum use of natural resources such
as sunlight, and "radical design of information-rich, multi-storey
polyculture systems" (Mollison & Slay 1991).
"This progression generally involves a shift in the nature of one’s
dependence — from relying primarily on universal, purchased,
imported, technology-based interventions to more specific locally
available knowledge and skill-based ones. This usually eventually
also involves fundamental shifts in world-views, senses of meaning,
and associated lifestyles (Hill 1991)." "My experience is that
although efficiency and substitution initiatives can make
significant contributions to sustainability over the short term,
much greater longer-term improvements can only be achieved by
redesign strategies; and, furthermore, that steps need to be taken
at the outset to ensure that efficiency and substitution strategies
can serve as stepping stones and not barriers to redesign...” (Hill
Permaculture on an organic farm on the Swabian Mountains in
Permaculture is a broad-based and holistic approach that has many
applications to all aspects of life. At the heart of permaculture
design and practice is a fundamental set of ‘core values’ or
ethics which remain constant whatever a person's
situation, whether they are creating systems for town planning or
trade; whether the land they care for is only a windowbox or an entire forest.
These 'ethics' are often summarized as;
Earthcare – recognising
that Earth is the source of all life (and is possibly itself
a living entity — see Gaia
theory), that Earth is our valuable home, and that we are a
part of Earth, not apart from it. Agriculturalists traditionally
exploit soil, plants and animals so intensely that serious internal
(e.g. diseases, soil erosion, decrease of production through the
years) as well as external problems (e.g. pollution from fertilizers, human diseases originating from
farm factories) occur. Permaculturalists have
introduced new ways of practicing agriculture, based on moderate
yet problem-free rates of production. These ways are fundamental in
restoring a mutually beneficial (and healthy) relationship between
man and the environmental factors indispensable to his
Peoplecare – supporting and
helping each other to change to ways of living that do not harm
ourselves or the planet, and to develop healthy societies.
Fairshare (or placing limits on
consumption) - ensuring that Earth's limited resources are used in ways that are equitable and wise.
The core of permaculture has always been in supplying a design
toolkit for human habitation. This toolkit helps the designer to
model a final design based on an observation of how ecosystems interact. A simple example of this is
how the Sun interacts with a plant by providing it with energy to
grow. This plant may then be pollinated by bees or eaten by
These may disperse seed to allow other plants to grow into tall trees
and provide shelter to these creatures from the wind. The bees may
provide food for birds and the trees provide roosting for them. The tree's leaves fall and rot,
providing food for small insects and fungus.
Such a web of intricate connections allows a diverse population of
plant life and animals to survive by giving them food and shelter.
One of the innovations of permaculture design was to appreciate the
efficiency and productivity of natural ecosystems, to use natural
energies (wind, gravity, solar, fire, wave and more) and seek to
apply this to the way human needs for food and shelter are met. One
of the most notable proponents of this design system has been David
Holmgren, who based much of his permaculture innovation on
OBREDIM is an acronym
for observation, boundaries, resources, evaluation, design,
implementation and maintenance.
Observation allows you first to
see how the site functions within itself, to gain an understanding
of its initial relationships. Some recommend a year-long
observation of a site before anything is planted. During this
period all factors, such as lay of the land, natural flora and so
forth, can be brought into the design. A year allows the site to be
observed through all seasons, although it must be realized that,
particularly in temperate climates, there can be substantial
variations between years.
Boundaries refer to physical
ones as well as to those neighbors might place, for example.
Resources include the people
involved, funding, as well as what can be grown or produced in the
Evaluation of the first three
will then allow one to prepare for the next three. This is a
careful phase of taking stock of what is at hand to work with.
Design is a creative and
intensive process, and must stretch the ability to see possible
future synergetic relationships.
Implementation is literally the
ground-breaking part of the process when digging and shaping of the
Maintenance is then required to
keep the site at a healthy optimum, making minor adjustments as
necessary. Good design will preclude the need for any major
An ideal permacultural system possesses the following structural
Large trees dominate but not saturate the area, i.e. there
exist patches barren of trees.
Edges that create special favorable conditions exist.
Initially the system is in a state of controlled -possibly
The use of patterns both in nature and reusable patterns from other
sites is often key to permaculture design. This echoes the pattern language of Christopher Alexander used in architecture which has been an inspiration for
many permaculture designers. All things, even the wind, the waves
and the earth on its axis, moving around the Sun, form patterns. In
pattern application, permaculture designers are encouraged to
Awareness of the patterns that exist in nature (and how these
Application of pattern on sites in order to satisfy specific
"The application of pattern on a design site involves the designer
recognizing the shape and potential to fit these patterns or
combinations of patterns comfortably onto the landscape"
Sampson-Kelly. Branching can be used for the direction of paths,
rather than straight paths with square angles. Lobe-like paths off
the main path (known as keyhole paths) can be used to minimize
waste and compaction of the soil.
Permaculture zones are a way of organizing design elements in a
human environment on the basis of the frequency of human use and
plant or animal needs.
Frequently manipulated or harvested elements of the design are
located close to the house in zones one and two such
as herbs for the kitchen.
Whereas chickens, for example, like to be close for their security
but need to be kept at a safe distance to reduce noise, destruction
of delicate plants such as herbs and vegetables and any risk of
contamination. Less frequently used or manipulated elements, and
elements that benefit from isolation (such as wild species) are
Links and connections
Also key to the permacultural design model is that useful
connections are made between components in the final design. The
formal analogy for this is a natural mature ecosystem. So, in much
the same way as there are useful connections between Sun, plants,
insects and soil there will be useful connections between different
plants and their relationship to the landscape and humans.
Another innovation of the permaculture design is to design a
landuse or other system that has multiple outputs. In terms of
Holmgren's application of H.T. Odum's work, a useful connection is
viewed as one that maximizes power: that is, maximizes the rate of
useful energy transformation. A comparison which illustrates this
is between a wheat field and a forest.
“It is not the number of diverse things in a design
that leads to stability, it is the number of beneficial connections
between these components” Mollison 1988.
An eighth layer, mycosphere (fungi), is often included.
A mature ecosystem such as ancient woodland has a huge number of
relationships between its component parts: trees,
understory, ground cover, soil, fungi,
insects and other animals. Plants grow at different
heights. This allows a diverse community of life to grow in a
relatively small space. Plants come into leaf and fruit at
different times of year.
For example, in the UK, wild
garlic comes into leaf on the woodland floor in the time before
the top canopy re-appears with the spring. A
wood suffers very little soil erosion, as there are always roots in the
soil. It offers a habitat to a wide variety of animal life, which
the plants rely on for pollination and seed distribution.
The productivity of such a forest, in terms of how much new growth
it produces, exceeds that of the most productive wheat
It is in this observation — of how much more productive a wood
may be on far less fertilizer input — that the potential
productivity of a permaculture design is modeled. The many
connections in a wood contribute together to a proliferation of
opportunities for amplifier feedback to evolve that in turn
maximize energy flow through the system.
The seven layers of the forest garden.
Polyculture is agriculture using multiple crops
in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural
ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture. It includes crop rotation, multi-cropping, and inter-cropping. Alley cropping is a simplification of the
layered system which typically uses just two layers, with alternate
rows of trees and smaller plants.
Permaculture guilds are groups of organisms - plants,
animals, fungi, bacteria etc. - which work particularly well
together. These can be those observed in nature such as the
White Oak guild which centers on the White Oak tree
and includes 10 other plants. Native communities can be adapted by
substitution of plants more suitable for human use.
Permaculturists maintain that where vastly differing systems meet,
there is an intense area of productivity and useful
The greatest example of this is the coast.[dubious– discuss] Where the land
and the sea meet there is a particularly rich area that meets a
disproportionate percentage of human and animal needs.[original
research?] This is evidenced by the fact that the
overwhelming majority of humankind lives within 100 km of the
sea. So
this idea is played out in permacultural designs by using spirals
in the herb garden or creating ponds that have wavy undulating
shorelines rather than a simple circle or oval (thereby increasing
the amount of edge for a given area). Edges between woodland and
open areas have been claimed to be the most productive.
Perennial plants are often used in
permaculture design. As they do not need to be planted every year
they require less maintenance and fertilizers. They are especially important in the
outer zones and in layered systems. Ken Fern of Plants For A Future has spent many years
investigating suitable perennial plants, as has Wes Jackson of The
Many permaculture designs involve animals other than humans.
Chickens can be used as a method of weed control and also as a
producer of eggs, meat and fertilizer. Some types of agroforestry
systems combine trees with grazing
Some projects are critical of the use of animals (see vegan organic gardening). However not
all permaculture sites farm the animals. The animals are pets and
can be treated as co-habitators and co-workers of the site, eating
foods normally unpalatable to people such as slugs and termites,
being an integral part of the pest management by eating some pests,
supplying fertilizer through their droppings and controlling some
Chickens in a chicken tractor prepare a section of land
before it's dug up for a new vegetable bed. (An organic farm near
monoculture such as a wheatfield can be considered a pattern to be
avoided in terms of space (height is uniform) and time (crops grow
at the same rate until harvesting). During growth and especially after
harvesting the system is prone to
soil erosion from rain. The field requires a hefty input of
fertilizers for growth and machinery for harvesting. The work is
more likely to be repetitive, mechanized and rely on fossil fuels.
No pattern should be hard and fast and depending on the design
considerations they can be broken. An example of this is broadscale
practiced at Ragmans Lane
Farm, which has a component of annual farming. Here the amount
of human involvement is a key factor influencing the design.
Applying these values means using fewer non-renewable sources of
energy, particularly petroleum based forms of energy. Burning fossil
fuels contributes to greenhouse gases and global warming; however, using less energy is
more than just combating global warming.
Using current agricultural systems the food production system is
not fully renewable. Industrial agriculture requires large amounts
of petroleum, both to run the equipment, and to supply pesticides and fertilizers. Permaculture is in
part an attempt to create a renewable system of food production
that relies upon minimal amounts of energy.
For example permaculture focuses on maximizing the use of trees
(agroforestry) and perennial food crops because they make a more
efficient and long term use of energy than traditional seasonal crops. A farmer does not have to exert
energy every year replanting them, and this frees up that energy to
be used somewhere else.
A good example of this kind of efficient design is the chicken
greenhouse. By attaching a chicken coop to a greenhouse you can reduce the
need to heat the greenhouse by fossil fuels, as the chickens'
bodies heat the area.
The chickens scratching and pecking can be put to good use to clear
new land for crops. Their manure can
be used in composting to fertilize the soil. Feathers could be used in compost
or as a mulch. In a conventional factory
situation all these chicken outputs are seen as a waste
In large factory farms (cooled by large air conditioning
systems), chicken heat is a waste byproduct, along with their
manure. All energy is focused on egg production. Thus it is a further principle of
permaculture that "pollution is energy in the wrong place".
Holmgren's 12 design
These restatements of the principles of permaculture appear in
Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond
also see permacultureprinciples.com ;
Observe and interact - By taking
time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our
Catch and store energy - By
developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can
use them in times of need.
Obtain a yield - Ensure that you
are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are
Apply self-regulation and accept
feedback - We need to discourage inappropriate activity to
ensure that systems can continue to function well.
Use and value renewable resources
and services - Make the best use of nature's abundance to
reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable
Produce no waste - By valuing
and making use of all the resources that are available to us,
nothing goes to waste.
Design from patterns to details
- By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society.
These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled
in as we go.
Integrate rather than segregate
- By putting the right things in the right place, relationships
develop between those things and they work together to support each
Use small and slow solutions -
Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making
better use of local resources and producing more sustainable
Use and value diversity -
Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes
advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it
Use edges and value the marginal
- The interface between things is where the most interesting events
take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and
productive elements in the system.
Creatively use and respond to
change - We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by
carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.