Permaculture: You’ve Heard of It, But What the Heck Is It?

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Brian Barth

Permaculture - what is it other than a different sounding term that many of us have no clue about? If you guessed that it has something to do with gardening, STEM and/or the environment, you would be correct! Learn about the history and potential of permaculture in the excerpt below from Modern Farmer.

Maybe it came up during a dinner party: “I was just at this permaculture farm and they were planting mashua under their locust trees.” Or maybe a friend just came back from a permaculture course: “Dude, I am totally transformed! I’m moving to Kauai to join a community where they grow jojoba for biodiesel. If I work 12 hours a week, they’ll let me live in a solar-powered yurt!”

Not catching the drift? You’re not alone. Is permaculture a gardening technique or a special approach to farming, like biodynamics? Is it some type of back-to-the-land, off-the-grid intentional community? Is it about sustainable architecture, aquaponics, philosophy, horticulture, design? Permaculture is all that and then some, which is why it’s so hard for anyone to capture what it means in one neat sentence.

Bill Mollison, the Tasmanian son of a fisherman who first coined the term 1978, 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.”

In other words, permaculture is a holistic, living-in-harmony-with-nature worldview, as well as technical approach for how to do so. (Here is link to 50-some other definitions that have been espoused over the years.)

Mollison eventually became a professor of biogeography and environmental psychology at the University of Tasmania, where he met David Holmgren, a graduate student at the time, who helped him develop the principles and practices that are now taught around the world in the standard Permaculture Design Course, typically a two-week immersive experience held on a farm or property that has been developed with a permaculture approach. The word is intended as a contraction of permanent and agriculture, which, as Holmgren notes, has been expanded to include culture in addition to just agriculture. The root word “permanent” is intended as a reference to sustainability – an unsustainable society would, by definition, eventually cease to exist; it would be impermanent. Practitioners are known as “permaculturists” or “permies.”

Read more here.