Word origin: contraction of Permanent and culture or agriculture
The phrase “permanent agriculture” was first coined in a book in 1911 by Franklin Hiram King writing about agriculture that could be sustained indefinitely. It was scientifically developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s after seeing how destructive industrial-agricultural methods were to the land (resulted in problems such as reducing biodiversity, depleting topsoil, and poisoning the land and water.) In 1978 they explained their approach with the publication of Permaculture One. Mollison began teaching their ideas in over 80 countries and by the 1980’s the concept had spread and expanded from beyond just agricultural systems design towards the idea of complete, sustainable human habitats. Today there are several permaculture institutes and classes all over the U.S. and other countries such as this one is based in Santa Fe, or this one in San Francisco.
Permaculture is described as a sustainable design system or design philosophy that uses natural and human systems to create a stable environment that provides for everyone’s needs without depleting any of the environment’s natural resources. Permaculture can be used to build natural homes, grow food, restore diminished landscapes, recycle natural resources, etc. Nothing is wasted, everything is recycled and put to use. Relationships between elements are key. Imitating the world’s natural relationships working together keeps the system going: humans, plants, animals, and the Earth act in harmony.
This website provides a collection of definitions of permaculture according to various experts in the field as well as characteristics of permaculture.
Permaculture for beginners: an illustrated guide
Permaculture inspirational video:
An example of permaculture at work:
Permaculture is designed for all systems and environments so whether it’s urban or rural, it doesn’t change the design concept. Examples of putting permaculture principles to work in an urban setting: worm composting to recycle waste, creating energy efficient housing, planting companion plants, and collecting rainwater.
Permaculture Design Principles and Ethics:
Since permaculture is sustainable land use design, it’s important to have design principles to follow that take into account the holistic nature of the practice.
There are 12 Design Principles of Permaculture which, when implemented together, allow us to “re-design our environment and our behavior in a world of less energy and resources.”
Design elements are incorporated in relation to one another so that the products of one element feeds the needs of the next and so on in a harmonious cycle.
- Observe and Interact: Use the natural world as a guideline for your own design. Observe how various species interact with one another. Make yourself a part of the design.
- Catch and Store Energy: Collect rain, utilize gravity and slope, use trees for shade.
- Obtain a Yield: You cannot sustain yourself or continue your work without fuel. A yield is important to continue the cycle.
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: Be mindful of your practices. Take into consideration their long-term effects.
- Use and value renewable resources and services: Utilize solar energy and rainwater.
- Produce no waste: Vermaculture, compost, mulch.
- Design from patterns to details: Observe naturally occurring patterns. Implement these elements into your design.
- Integrate rather than segregate: Companion gardening.
- Use small and slow solutions: Smaller systems are easier to maintain and use fewer resources. Take on only what you can handle.
- Use and value diversity: Plant varieties.
- Use edges and value the marginal: Don’t ignore the margins. Explore opportunities in unexpected places such as roof gardens or hydroponic solutions.
- Creatively use and respond to change: Make changes when needed, keeping in mind the effects they will have on the next principle.
There are three overriding tenets of Permaculture ethics that ensure a fair and holistic system. It is important to keep all three ethical components in mind when designing a permaculture solution.
- Care of the earth: Ensure that all life systems on earth can continue to prosper and grow.
- Care of people: Ensure that people can access necessary resources.
- Fair share: Understand limits and divide resources fairly to continue all permaculture principles.
Video explanation of permaculture principles and ethics
Why Permaculture is different
In his e-book, Permaculture, A Beginner’s Guide, Graham Burnett describes the idea of permaculture zoning as they apply to the home. These ‘zones’ consist of 5 concentric circles in regard to design according to differing levels of human interaction and management necessary.
Home center. Permaculture principles applied here are focused primarily on the reduction of energy and water needs, as well as harnessing natural resources such as sunlight and creating a harmonious environment in which to live.
Zones 1 & 2
Areas nearest to the home/garden. This is the area in which the food crops are generally concentrated, ranging from those that need the most attention and maintenance closest to the home ranging outward.
This area consists primarily of those crops which require minimal attention such as large fruit and nut trees, as well as large crop areas and pastures.
Zones 4 & 5
Semi-managed and unmanaged brush. These areas are generally used for gathering wild food and timber.
Is this for real? Permaculture in action:
While a central theme in permaculture is the design of landscapes that produce food, the permaculture principles are now being applied to a host of different areas such as education, finance, urban planning and community development in both rural and urban settings and can be appropriate anywhere from the single family home to whole farms and villages.
Those eager to incorporate permaculture practices are encouraged to slowly adopt principles in order to study best practices for their specific piece of land. While full-scale models of permaculture farms are generally found among activists and educators, it is becoming more commonplace to see smaller-scale examples of permaculture in action. To learn more about examples of permaculture at different levels, feel free to visit the following websites:
Permaculture for Renters
“I would love to do this stuff, but I don’t have any land…”
Created by permaculture enthusiast Leonard Barrett, this website was created for those more transient residents who had the desire to incorporate the permaculture principles into their everyday lives without access to large amounts of land. Permaculture for renters provides workshops and tutorials to enable the urban or apartment permaculturist to format the principles to a more micro-level, as well as providing “a little dose of empowerment to the landless many.”
The Worldwide Permaculture Network
A project of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, this website was created in 2010 in order to catalogue permaculture projects around the world. Projects can be filtered by type (i.e. education, rural, urban, etc.) as well as climate. Project profiles are created to inform other about projects and attract volunteers as well as a forum for advice and support for projects worldwide.
Sounds too idealistic. Do people really do this here? Yes, you skeptic.
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is one of the first universities in the country to implement a permaculture garden in a public university campus. It is supported and funded by the UMass Amherst campus-wide sustainability initiative. Eight undergraduate students work with permaculture designer, Ryan Harb, to transform1/4 of an acre landscape into a highly productive, low-maintenance garden. The UMass Amherst Permaculture Planning Committee posts events inviting UMass students and the local community to participate in hands-on workshops and meetings:
Planning Committee members also blog on issues concerning permaculture implementation, feasibility, policy, and impact. Permaculture: A Silver Bullet?
UMass Permaculture Documentary Series (part 1/3)
Permaculture Institute of the Northeast (P.I.N.E.):
P.I.N.E. is a non-profit organization based in Amherst, MA that facilitates communications, research, and outreach of regional permaculture projects. It provides a network for designers, sites, and practitioners and is currently building a database for the permaculture community int he northeast. P.I.N.E. Facebook promotes events and workshops happening in their network.
Portland Maine Permaculture:
Portland Maine Permaculture is a group of advocates that are united by their interest in creating a truly sustainable future. They provide information on how to obtain a Maine Permaculture Design Certificate and an Advanced Permaculture Design Certificate. Expected outcomes of the PDC course include:
- Gain a thorough understanding of permaculture origins, ethics, principles and methodologies.
- Enhance your ability to build soil, capture water, reduce energy consumption, generate energy, grow and store food, read the landscape and create edible perennial ecosystems.
- Become a resource for your family and neighborhood, building resilience at the personal, household and community levels.
- Learn how to start transforming even challenging properties into healthy, hi-yielding, low energy systems of abundance.
- Be able to approach any property and apply a permaculture design methodology and set of applied techniques to achieve increased resilience and true sustainability.
Getting Started With Permaculture in Boston:
Greater Boston Permaculture Guild:
This group is about learning and sharing skills and techniques to thrive and survive through the challenges presented by climate change, peak oil, environmental degradation and cultural shifts.
Boston Permaculture events: Boston Permaculture aims to bring high quality Permaculture and ecological design education to the Boston area through workshops, trainings, film screenings and lectures.
Online Resources for Getting Started, Facing Challenges:
Permaculture Forums: Best practices, course and seminar announcements, general and specific permaculture resources, & discussion on varying permaculture issues
GardenWeb Permaculture Forum: This forum is meant for the discussion of permaculture. Permaculture is most easily defined as a philosophy that stresses the maintenance of horticulture or agriculture by relying on renewable resources and compatibility with the local ecosystem. This is the philosophy, which guides this forum.
(Ranges from using a/c water runoff to controlling snails with snakes)
Future of Permaculture: Urban Growth and “Sustainable” Profits
“Farmin’ in the HOOD” documentary by The Urban Farming Guys: Epic story of about 20 families that uprooted from suburbia and made their homes for good in one of the most blighted neighborhoods in the U.S. Lykins Neighborhood 64127 Inner City KCMO. And the game is changing! Together as Lykins Neighborhood we believe there is hope. Crime is dropping! 21% over the last 2 years and the adventure continues. Follow the story at TheUrbanFarmingGuys.com Featuring Aquaponics, Neighborhood Transformation, Permaculture, Urban Farming and lots of fun taking back the neighborhood.
Growstones: Growstones start out as discarded glass from the landfill. We reclaim and repurpose that glass into 100% eco-friendly Growstones that make your plants and our planet happy. Earth friendly products range from green technology building materials such as biodiverse green roofs to media for water filtration, soil enhancers for container gardeners, soiless media amendments and hydroponic growing systems.
Mycobond: Eben Bayer is co-inventor of MycoBond, an organic (really — it’s based on mycelium, a living, growing organism) adhesive that turns agriwaste into a foam-like material for packaging and insulation.