What is Permaculture?


PIJ View

Permaculture International Journal provides a succinct statement that permaculture "is a design system for sustainable environments providing food, energy, shelter, material and non-material needs, as well as social and economic infrastructures that support them."

A Course Definition

In a course given in 1995 the instructors (Michael Pilarski and Garry Lean) defined permaculture as the conscious design and maintenance of productive ecosystems which have the diversity, sustainability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonius integration of landscapes and people providing food, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.

Steve Diver Article

The August 1999 issue of ACRES U.S.A., A Voice for Eco-Agriculture, had a special section devoted to permaculture. Steve Diver provided an article entitled Living by Design... An Introduction to Permaculture. The portion of his article quoted below provides a well stated overview.

"The word permaculture was coined in the mid-70s by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and one of his students David Holmgren. It is a contraction of permanent agriculture or permanent culture. Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is a land use and community-building movement which strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, productive communities. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way we place them in the landscape. This synergy is further enhanced by mimicking patterns found in nature.

A central theme in permaculture is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. Emphasis is placed on multi-use plants, cultural practices such as sheet mulching and trellising, and the integration of animals to recycle nutrients and graze weeds. However, permaculture entails much more than just food production. Energy-efficient buildings, waste-water treatment, recycling, and land stewarrdship in general are other important components of permaculture.

More recently, permaculture has expanded its purview to include economic and social structures that support the evolution and development of more permanent communities, such as co~housing projects and eco~villages. As such, permaculture design concepts are applicable to urban as well as rural settings, and are appropriate for single households as well as whole farms and villages. "Integrated farming" and "ecological engineering" are terms sometimes used to describe permaculture with "cultivated ecology" perhaps coming the closest."

Our Additions

Permaculture, as a design based activity, implies the conscious manipulation of the landscape to provide for a life-style that is harmonious with the land of the bioregion in which it is located and which will enhance the self-reliance of the local community. Given the number of professions that are involved in design activity (architecture, landscape architecture, planning, engineering) or growing of plants (horticulture, agronomy, organic gardening), it is fair to ask what is unique about the permaculture approach.

We feel that permaculture is distinctive in that the designer declares clearly stated principles that are specific enough to allow them to be used to make and test design decisions. These principles include an ethical stance dedicated to care of earth, care of people, and sharing that set the tone of the design approach. You will find that the stated principles vary from designer to designer. The important point is that the fundamental motivating forces of the designer's thinking are stated and used as the basis for design decisions.

We have done considerable study of various sets of 'design principles' and arrived at a set of 10 workable permaculture principles. These are reviewed in the Principles section of this Primer.