What is permaculture?
Popularly seen as a ‘cool’ form of organic gardening, permaculture could be better described as a design system for resilient living and land use based on universal ethics and ecological design principles. Although the primary focus of permaculture has been the redesign of gardening, farming, animal husbandry and forestry, the same ethics and principles apply to design of buildings, tools and technology. Applying permaculture ethics and principles in our gardens and homes inevitably leads us towards redesigning our ways of living so as to be more in tune with local surpluses and limits.
Permaculture is also a global movement of individuals, groups and networks working to create the world we want, by providing for our needs and organising our lives in harmony with nature. The movement is active in the most privileged and the most destitute communities and countries. Permaculture may be Australia’s most significant export for humanity facing a world of limits.
from David Holmgren’s latest book RetroSuburbia
In this video, produced by The Food Forest, in 2010, David reflects on how permaculture can be used as a template for survival and abundance:
One of the best places to learn more about permaculture, with a focus on the ethics and design principles (see below), is at permacultureprinciples.com
Rafter Sas Ferguson uses a ‘stratified definition of permaculture’, acknowledging permaculture as simultaneously a worldview, a design system, a framework for best practice and a world-wide movement, based on an academic review of published material.
Ben, from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, in Rutledge, Missouri, has written this tongue-in-cheek piece that answers the question: what is permaculture?
The Design System
Permaculture as a “design system based on ecological principles” draws together the diverse skills and ways of living which need to be rediscovered and developed to empower us to move from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers.
In this sense, permaculture is not the landscape, or even the skills of organic gardening, sustainable farming, energy efficient building or eco-village development as such, but can be used to design, establish, manage and improve these and all other efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future.
Permaculture is also a world wide network and movement of individuals and groups working in both rich and poor countries on all continents. Largely unsupported by government or business, these people are contributing to a sustainable future by reorganising their lives and work around permaculture design principles. In this way they are creating small local changes but ones which are directly and indirectly influencing action in the wider environment, organic agriculture, appropriate technology, communities and other movements for a sustainable world.
The Origin of Permaculture
Permaculture is a word originally coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid 1970’s to describe an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man.”
Mollison, B. and Holmgren, D. Permaculture One published by Corgi 1978 and since published in 7 languages (now out of print).
To hear David Holmgren talk about the origins of permaculture, you can watch this video, an excerpt from Permaculture The documentary:
Dr Carol Patterson, who lived with David in Tasmania in the late 70’s has written this piece, which first appeared in The Mercury.
You can read David’s personal account of his journey into permaculture in Permaculture Pioneers: stories from the new frontier, as well as the stories from other early adopters.
Permaculture Ethics & Design Principles
In this presentation, David Holmgren explains permaculture ethics and design principles as thinking tools for creatively responding to the energy descent future on a limited planet. Following a brief but insightful coverage of the three ethics… This video is an excerpt from the presentation available on the Permaculture Ethics & Design Principles DVD and also the Teachers’ DVD which forms part of the Teaching Kit. The Teachers’ DVD also contains an additional video and a range of additional digital resources as well as the cards, principle magnets and booklet which are all part of the Teacher’s Kit.
For further learning
For further explanation of the principles read Essence of Permaculture (now available in 15 different languages) or get the book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability both by David Holmgren.
But by far he best way to learn about permaculture is to take part in a PDC. The list of courses David Holmgren is involved in is listed here.