As a permaculture designer, planner and teacher, the question I get the most is “what is permaculture,” as if I can answer it in one neatly defined sentence or even in an elevator speech. Permaculture is a movement, a lifestyle, a feeling and to define it in simple terms would do it no justice. So I thought through a series of blogs I would attempt to peel back some of the important layers of permaculture so we can all get a better look at its core.

For some people, dissecting the parts of permaculture has lead to the idea that permaculture simply means “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture” but that’s misleading since permaculture is a science that adapts and evolves, much like the natural systems it emulates. And dissecting the parts is contradictory to permaculture’s intent to look at the whole and not just the parts. Others look at permaculture as live-in-the-wilderness, barefoot, meditating, practicing yoga several times a day and eating wild roots and herbs. Although this may be true in some permaculture settings, and certainly a setting in which I would be very comfortable residing, these are simply some expressions of permaculture strategies and not exclusive to a permaculture lifestyle.

In my opinion, one of the best definitions of permaculture is provided by Bill Mollison, which is not surprising since he is, after all, the grandfather of permaculture. And Bill calls his a “philosophy” rather than a definition. He says, permaculture “is a philosophy of working with rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems and people in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.” He goes on to ask us to consider two questions: “’What can I get from this land, or person?’ or “What does this person, or land, have to give if I cooperate with them?’”

When I first observed these, a nervous chuckle escaped as I read the second question and literally felt the words “yeah, right” come into my stream of consciousness as I thought of how our current systems work. When have we ever as a society lived from a foundation of “what do we have to give and how can we cooperate”? But it did happen, long ago, when indigenous cultures inhabited the earth. Exploitation, conquer, growth, power and “what’s in it for me” are new philosophies that came over on the ships of the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria lead by Enlightenment philosophers who believed we needed to control nature. Ironically, as Europeans, we came to America to be free of hierarchies and monarchies and had the knowledge and passion to do things differently. But instead of listening to the native people who had successfully lived on these lands for hundreds of years, we only taught them our ways, ignoring nature as sacred, as a system with it own laws and principles.

Permaculture helps us get back that which we lost in those early settlement years. Permaculture guides us by way of ethics, not decision and power by the privileged few. Permaculture tells us that the relationship between living species is more important than the living species alone. Permaculture is about building resiliency and independence while caring for all living species, valuing diversity, abundance, and fertility.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I take a moment to observe what is currently going on in our world, and I allow time to listen to people’s heartfelt concerns and walk in nature to listen to the animals, the trees and the wind, it seems to me that we could use a new way of thinking, and doing, and living that honors ethics, relationships, resiliency, independence, diversity, abundance and fertility. What if there is a different way and its ideas and principles have already been applied successfully in homesteads and cultures that are thriving without chaos and hardship and imbalances? Why not give permaculture a try? What’s the result of not trying to shift or change? Staying the same. As a species that was meant to evolve, I say our current situation must not be accepted and set in stone. It’s time to move forward, to evolve, to live.

So I’ll be spending some time over the upcoming weeks sharing more insight on permaculture because I truly believe this is our path forward. As a teacher and permaculture practitioner, I’m leading a Permaculture Design Course from late February to early May to give others the opportunities I have gained in applying these philosophies to my life and designing systems that allow me to live my life more fully while respecting the lives of others and respecting the natural world. I’d love to have you join us for the course.

Stay tuned for future writings on permaculture as a way of living and a path forward. . . . . .


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