It was back in 1978 when two farmer friends, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, first coined the term; ‘permaculture’. They formulated the concept in opposition to Western industrialized methods and in congruence with Indigenous or traditional knowledge . They defined permaculture as “The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”
If your take away from that definition is that permaculture is some kind of agricultural methodology, you would be correct! However, permaculture is far broader and encompasses much more that simply agricultural applications. Due to permaculture’s focus upon cultural, social, and economic contexts, it does share numerous practices with agroforestry and, also, agro-ecology.*
Probably one of the most interesting and noteworthy aspects of permaculture is that it ‘..uses creative design processes based on whole-systems thinking, considering all materials and energies in flow that affect or are affected by proposed changes.’* That’s a mouthful, but think about how this type of thinking can abate or possibly even eliminate future problem issues! The ramifications are profound to say the least. And here is where that realization begins to be the basis for real change to non-sustainable systems. As Bill Mollison put it;
“We can teach philosophy by teaching gardening, but we cannot teach gardening by teaching philosophy.”
The Nature of Permaculture –
The practicality of solutions which Permaculture presents are myriad! Permaculture has many branches including ecological design, ecological engineering, regenerative design, environmental design, and construction. It also includes integrated water resources management, sustainable architecture, and regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.*
Because permaculture is an applied science, its focus is on the practical application of scientific knowledge in order to achieve certain ends or goals. However, permaculture is also an empirical science, based firmly in observation and experience of the natural world.
In summary, permaculture is defined as a holistic design system for creating sustainable human settlements and food production systems. While the practical uses of permaculture can be applied within many different aspects of life, the common element of any permaculture systems are 3 ethical principals. These are 1.) care of the earth, 2.) care of the people, and 3.) setting limits to consumption and population. Recent revisions now have now added a fourth principal, 4.) the redistribution of surplus.
** In Part Two of our Series, we’ll discuss foundational Ethics of Permaculture.