Friday, September 11, 2009

What is Permaculture?

Up to this point, I have not really talked about what permaculture is.  I have done this on purpose, because I didn't feel like I had a good enough understanding of it to write about it myself for people who might be trying to learn from me.  This might seem strange, considering the fact that I decided to dedicate my life to living by the ethics of permaculture.  However, I made that decision based on the holistic nature of permaculture, and the way that the ethics and principles of permaculture brought the many differing ideas I had about life together to form a consistent structure.  In this post, I will attempt to explain permaculture to the best of my ability, with the important caveat that I am not yet "officially" trained in permaculture, so this interpretation is entirely my own and not necessarily representative of the thoughts of the founders or professional practitioners of permaculture.

Permaculture got its name, originally, from a conjunction of the words permanent agriculture.  The founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, had observed the sustainability of forests and believed they could develop a design approach to an agricultural system that would rely on more permanent perennial crops, rather than the annual mono-cropping of traditional farming.  With perennial, self-sustaining crops, a "forest" could be designed that would provide food as well as grow fertile soil for a sustainable and renewable multi-crop.  With further development of the idea, they decided to make permaculture short for permanent culture, as they had observed new ideas of sustainability that touched on more than just agriculture.

Take the homestead idea I mentioned in my previous post.  Making a house more able to heat or cool itself passively, without the use of non-renewable resources, is a "permanent" way of addressing the needs of the human beings residing within it.  Or, consider a town designed to catch and direct rainwater and put it to use watering large swaths of permanent crops that were are planted for the good of the community, rather than just running into gutters and carrying away debris that eventually pollutes our streams, lakes, and oceans.  Shifting your way of thinking from consumption and single-use to a systems approach of permanent, sustainable solutions, is the essence of permaculture, in my interpretation.  And when a large enough group of individuals shift their thinking to a paradigm of permanent solutions, that builds a culture of permanent solutions, hence, permaculture.

I will almost definitely refine and revisit my definition of permaculture as I learn more about it, and as I have more thoughts about how I will use it in my own homestead, but I think I will end this topic for now.  In my next post, I plan to start a series of posts about how permaculture ties many diverse ideas of mine into a coherent picture that has led me to formulate my homestead plan as it is now.

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