From time to time, you’ll see me reference permaculture on this site. If you’re not familiar with permaculture, those references could seem cryptic. Meaningless at best.
Well, we can’t have that! This quick introduction to the concept should get you up to speed.
What is permaculture? It’s a portmanteau of “permanent” and “agriculture“.
Initially developed in Australia by Bill Mollison and David Holmes, permaculture is a system of design based on following the principles of nature. The idea is that you want to set up a system that supports itself, at least mostly, without a lot of tending.
Instead of clearing and preparing a field, then growing a crop, then harvesting, clearing and preparing all over again, permaculture aims to set up systems that are, well, permanent.
The ideal is something akin to a food forest: a place where you can wander in, grab a quick harvest, and leave the rest of the system intact to continue producing, season after season, year after year. Once the system is set up, it goes on with very little additional effort by the farmer.
That’s the ideal, anyway. The reality is getting there. It’s still very much a work in progress. Every climate region needs to fine-tune its own system. Every desired crop has to have a place found in that system that allows it to produce abundantly, but without encroaching too much on the system as a whole.
Done well, it creates a remarkably resilient system for growing both plants and animals–even if that ideal self-sustaining system isn’t always fully realized.
Over the last few years, permaculture has begun a bit of a migration out of standard agricultural use. Its practices and principles have been used to re-green deserts, to remediate toxic superfund sites, and to design healthy communities.
I’ve been working on applying permaculture design principles to my life. I’m a part of nature. So are you. So let’s explore how this system of nature-aligned design might apply to creating sustainable, successful lifestyles.
Let’s start by taking a quick look at the basic principles and approaches of permaculture, as tweaked by me to fit a model of personal, sustainable success:
- Define Core Values – What are yours? Permaculture sets the standard at: Care for the Earth, Care for People, & Return the Surplus. I like to add “Care for Your Self.”
- Optimize Edge – We thrive on edges and intersections: the places where things come together. (Our brains are the intersections where mind/soul/spirit meets body/community/world). Edges are also constraints on chaos. They provide order and structure.
- Collect and reinvest resources sustainably – This one improves with practice. Start with keen observation of the resources available to you.
- Foster connection – Develop diverse relationships. The number and quality of connections in a system is more important than the overall number of elements.
- Multi-purpose resiliency – Build a network of practices, tools, connections that is self-supporting and self-healing.Everything you have and do should serve multiple purposes, and every purpose/goal you have should be served by multiple actions/tools/connections.
- Leverage – Find points of leverage, where the smallest changes have the biggest effects.
- Dream big, Start small – It’s been said over and over again that even the longest journeys begin with a single step. It’s cliché, but it’s true. Don’t expect too much all at once. Start where it’s easy or at least close to home. Then move outward.
The key principles are a great starting point for designing anything for sustainability: a farm, a garden, a community, or a lifestyle. On top of those principles, there are four ideas often referred to as “Permaculture Attitudes” or “Permaculture Approaches” that help us to implement the above principles.
- Problems contain their own solutions. Limits inspire creativity. There’s nothing harder to start filling than a blank page. Embrace your obstacles for the direction they can provide.
- Get a sustainable harvest. Plan for both short and long-term returns on your investments. Starting small, create upward spirals for ever compounding yields.
- Creativity is the ultimate limit. Your own imagination is the foremost limit you’ll ever encounter. You can’t make something happen if you can’t imagine it in the first place.
- Failures and mistakes lead to fertile compost. They are a critical part of the “nutrient cycle” of life, and also serve as proof that you’re doing things that have impact.
This is just a quick and dirty introduction to the main ideas of permaculture. There are a ton of details that I’ve left out for the sake of brevity.
If you’re interested in learning more about permaculture as it applies to growing plants and animals, check out the links below. And if you’d like to learn more about how permaculture can be use to design a successful, sustainable lifestyle, stay tuned!
Permaculture links and resources:
(Note: I have set up an affiliate account with Amazon.com to help support this site. Nonetheless, I only post links to books and products that I truly believe are helpful and worthwhile. If you happen to decide that you would like to purchase something I’ve mentioned on this site, please consider making that purchase through one of my links. Thanks!)
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