I have referred to Permaculture several times in previous posts and some of you will be familiar with that way of thinking and for others it will be new. I thought it might be helpful to write an occasional series of posts explaining it and how & why I use it – as much to make me clarify my thinking as to enlighten anyone else! Explaining something to another person is a good way of finding the places where I flounder and realise I don’t quite understand that bit! I also hope that ose of you who are familiar with the subject will tell me if I have missed something or got it wrong!
The name is a contraction of permanent agriculture and is the result of some thinking by two Australian men Bill Mollison (on the left above) a lecturer at the University of Tasmania, and one of his students David Holmgren (on the right) in the early 1970’s. They had observed conventional modern agriculture and natural ecosystems. The former required a lot of inputs – man hours, fossil fuels to run the machinery, agro-chemicals.. and, as well as the desired output of a harvest, some unwanted ones such as fertiliser run-off into watercourses, soil erosion of bare ground, pollution from engine exhausts… By contrast the natural systems were self sustaining. They needed no input other than sunshine and rain to keep them going and they created no waste products which could not be recycled by the plants and animals within them. Could it be possible to ‘do’ agriculture differently so that it was more like the natural system? In 1974 they ‘jointly evolved a framework for a sustainable agricultural system based on a multi-crop of perennial trees, shrubs, herbs (vegetables and weeds), fungi and root systems for which they coined the word “permaculture”.’
Originally it was envisaged as a way of designing self-reliant households and communities set in land which provide for their needs. Of course good design is good design and it wasn’t long before people realised that the principles could be usefully used to design all sorts of things from the layout of a desk or cupboard to a city, from gardens, buildings, livelihoods, communities, economies, businesses to a good death. I find myself using it all the time both formally for big designs and intuitively for smaller ones.
Underpinning everything are 3 ethics and a variable number of principles depending on which book you read. The principles interlink and overlap, which may be why different people make different lists, but separating them out is a useful way of checking the design for completeness and integrity. I will be looking at the ethics in a future post and then each of the principles (my list!) in turn. Hold onto your hats!
Please do comment on these posts and help me get a better understanding of the ideas and how to use them.