Introduction to permaculture

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“Is it all worth it? If we do our best to heal the Earth and make our place in her a sustainable one, is there a good chance that we will succeed? To my mind that’s the wrong question. Even if we could answer it – and we can never know anything about the future for certain, it would beg the question how do I want to live my life? So my answer to the question is that I want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.” Patrick Whitefield – Earth Care Manual

What is permaculture?

The central hub in the development of a Permanent Culture is permaculture.

For those who are unfamiliar with permaculture it is a design system that intentionally creates a harmonious integration of the natural landscape and people as a means of providing food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. It is also the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience that is found in natural ecosystems.

The origins of permaculture

Permaculture was originally developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s; they created the term “permaculture” which is the contraction of the phrase “Permanent Culture” or “Permanent agriculture”, in 1978. Both the mentor (Mollison) and the student (Holmgren) developed concepts that can help humans to create enduring agriculture systems. Since then it has been constantly developed by a huge range of people in many different countries and it is now a worldwide phenomenon with a multitude of different strands and approaches.

The Ethics of Permaculture

The ethics that underpin permaculture are:

  • Earth care
  • People care
  • Fair shares

These ethics specifically maintain that we can develop systems where the planet and its inhabitants achieve and develop a state of well-being through using resources in a balanced way. In particular, resources should not be simply frittered away in the name of personal gain and individual profit which ultimately results in the depletion and destruction of our natural eco systems.

Why Use Permaculture?

A key question in the development of a Permanent Culture is why permaculture should be central to its development and proliferation?

The answer to this is simple, modern agricultural methods and methods of taking resources from the natural world are very destructive and completely unsustainable in the long term. They are detrimental towards the survival of the land, the people, and flora and fauna that make the land their habitat. The Permaculture way of doing things still provides us with our basic needs, only without all of the profiteering, exploitation and ecological degradation that is part and parcel of Capitalism and its control of abuse of resources

Not only will permaculture and its tools help us to create sustainable agricultural systems whilst enhancing the fertility of the locale eco systems, but it is also capable of improving how we build our homes in terms of ecological architecture and building design. There are many examples of eco-build houses that work on the principles of permaculture, indeed, as permaculture has flourished and gathered momentum over the last 3 decades so too has sustainable low impact houses. There are currently communities all over the UK living in low impact homes, including the Lammas Project in Pembrokeshire, Land Matters in Devon, Tinkers Bubble in Dorset, to name but a few.

Permaculture Creates Independence

When you have no control over the basic resources that you need to survive, you are effectively a slave reliant on others to meet these needs. Often these ‘others’ are large corporations driven by money and profit and not by human needs and compassion for people. This is can be plainly seen with the recent speculative trading on food that caused food riots by increasing the cost of food, thereby making it inaccessible to many. Ironically, it is often these very areas that produce large quantities of food for the rest of the world, but then cannot afford to buy the food they produce.

Having a sound grasp of permaculture can help us extricate ourselves from these issues and practices, as it provides a way to meet your needs outside of the capitalist system whilst living an ecologically sound existence. Permaculture has the ability to give us complete thus reducing reliance on those organisations whose operations we have no control over. Permaculture principles are not only about food: they can also be applied to many aspects of life.

Permaculture in Action

There are many examples of why permaculture is a sustainable alternative to the current system which has an underlying assumption of there being an unlimited pool of natural resources.

One particular project that shows precisely why permaculture should replace the capitalist model is the Greening of the Desert project that is taking place in Jordan under the guidance of Australian permaculture pioneer Geoff Lawton. This project has reclaimed an area of extremely arid desert and converted it back into fertile productive land. This land now provides members of the local community with a new and sustainable supply of resources in an area of land previously written off. The Greening of the desert project really shows that permaculture can achieve results from the most extreme landforms in terms of their usability both now and in the future.

Rising to the challenge: From built in obsolescence to a permanent culture

The temporary Culture of built-in obsolescence that is at the core of consumer capitalism puts the profit motive of a few individuals before planet and people, it takes no account of, and has no interest in the extremely negative effects it has on the ecology of the planet, and the well being of any of its inhabitants. The future cannot be a Capitalist Neoliberal one, the continual and insatiable economic growth demanded to maintain it’s economically would destroy the planet as the Banks and global financiers ask us to pay off their Debts, these debts are three times the size of our planets usable resources in terms of putting a cost to them.

In order to move away from this very serious mess that Capitalism and individual human greed has created we need ideas and practices that are the exact opposite to that which now enslaves us.

Built in obsolescence needs to be ‘Built to last’ local food groups and collectives need to flourish and shove supermarkets out of their respective areas, instead of being consumers, we should be looking at we can stop consuming. Workers need to run and manage their places of work and be valued for the experts that they are within their given field. There are a lot of issues to address in terms of bringing about a Permanent Culture, but these issues are pulled together and solutions found within permacultures ever developing storehouse of knowledge and practices.

In permaculture systems the fertility and health of a particular system is not only maintained but it is also enhanced, this is the exact opposite of agriculture where the soil loses its own fertility every year and has to feed with oil based fertilizers. Permaculture is able to replicate natural eco systems, within a food growing context this means less work for us as each part of the eco system works together to maintain itself, less work means less energy use which equates to food production without the need of fossil fuels.

Permaculture applications are not quick-fix solutions. Its design principles insist on a slow and gradual integration as a means of developing a sustainable and resilient Permanent Culture. This makes the adoption of these models crucial as the sooner people begin to utilise permaculture principles, the more likely a smooth transition to a new way of living will occur. Within the ethics and principles of permaculture there is a possible future that is ours to mould, a future where division, exploitation and control are things of the past. Any system of ideas that has the care of the earth and people and the limitation of resources at its heart has the ability transform societies and ways of thinking that are quite literally evolutionary as opposed to the knuckle dragging savagery of Capitalism.


The Earth Care Manual – Patrick Whitfield

For latest permaculture articles click here.

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