What is Permaculture, Anyway?
By Tayler Jenkins
Permaculture has received a lot of hype in the sustainable farming world — perhaps you’ve even incorporated some of its principles in your own garden or life. But what exactly does it mean? How is a permaculture farm different than any farm that uses organic or sustainable practices? In order to uncover what permaculture actually entails, I’ve taken a look at what prominent permaculturists have had to say what it is.
Permaculture differs from other methods of gardening largely because it is underlied by a holistic perspective of the environment and our roles within it. Permaculture’s co-founder Bill Mollison describes permaculture as a “philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any areas of a single-product system.” Graham Bell, author of The Permaculture Way, says that permaculture is a “harmonious integration of the landscape with people,” and involves systems which have the “diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” Essentially, it is a way of producing our human needs by mimicking nature. To me, this means that instead of using inputs like pesticides and fertilizers, we should create a self-sustaining landscape that takes care of all those processes itself. It’s all in the design. Leonardo da Vinci understood this concept well. He is famously quoted stating that “human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does Nature, because in her inventions, nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.”
You know what they say—if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This saying can be extended to our relationship with nature; since humans have not been able to create any system as infinitely complete, complex, and holistic as nature itself, why not try to utilize nature’s time-tested functions in our gardens and lives? In permaculture, just as in nature, there is no such thing as waste—instead, the excess is returned to the system as an input as part of a cycle achieved through careful creative and innovative design. By working with rather than against nature, the efficiency and longevity of our gardens can reach levels that we otherwise could never have imagined.
Want to enlist the secrets of permaculture in your garden or even your everyday life? Courses to earn a Permaculture Design Certificate are being offered all over the world. A quick Google search is all it takes to find out where courses and workshops are being held near you.
Tayler is an Arizona native living in Portland, OR. A self-proclaimed “real foodie,” has done extensive research on food systems and took a leading role in activism on her college campus to spread education and awareness about healthy, ethical food. In 2013, she spent a few months living on a permaculture farm in Nepal conducting research on conservation farming and local food system governance. Tayler received a BS in Sustainability from Arizona State University in 2015 and is the operations manager for Urban Farm U and editor of two newsletters: Urban Farm Lifestyle and The Permaculture Life. She intends to use these as a medium for sharing knowledge and generating interest in urban farming and sustainability. Tayler can be reached at Tayler@urbanfarm.org.