May 20th, 2013 BY Sherry Obenauer | 1 Comment

Permaculture is a design system applicable to food production, land use, and community design. It seeks the creation of productive and sustainable ways of living using processes observed in nature in order to minimize our environmental impact.


Permaculture originated in the mid 1970s with Australians Dr. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, whose goal was to create stable agricultural systems. Permaculture was a result of their perception of a rapidly growing use of destructive industrial-agricultural methods. By the early 1980s, the concept had moved on from being about the design of agricultural systems towards being a design process for creating sustainable human habitats.

There are now two strands of permaculture: a) Original and b) Design Permaculture. Original permaculture attempts to closely replicate nature by developing edible ecosystems which closely resemble their wild counterparts. Design permaculture takes the working connections at use in an ecosystem and uses them as its basis for constructing human habitats.

How does it work? Core values of permaculture are:
  • Earthcare recognizing that the Earth is the source of all life, so we should take care of it.
  • Peoplecare supporting and helping each other to change to ways of living that are not harming us or the planet, and to develop healthy societies.
  • Fairshare (or placing limits on consumption) – ensuring that the Earth’s limited resources are utilized in equitable and wise ways so that we do not run out.
  • Permaculture aims at reducing energy and water needs, harnessing natural resources such as sunlight, and generally creating a harmonious sustainable environment in which to live, work and relax. Energy used should come from renewable sources such as wind power, passive solar designs or biofuels instead of the traditional non-renewable sources of energy, particularly petroleum and nuclear based forms of energy.

    Permaculture involves choosing locally available or renewable materials for construction; houses can be built using wood, rammed earth or straw bales and have a fraction of the environmental impact of fired bricks or concrete. The location and design of buildings can be made that optimize air flow and use solar energy or water in order to minimize non renewable energy inputs. Reduce the amount of electricity and water used, reuse unwanted food and human waste as compost, and recycle household items are all things we, as individuals, can do to help.

    Native communities can be adapted by substitution of plants more suitable for human use. We can use multiple crops in the same space and avoid large stands of single crops. This way if one crop fails, we do not all starve. Or, we can focus on less prairie farming and more market and home gardens. Perennial plants can be used in permaculture design as they do not need to be planted every year and require less maintenance and fertilizers. The Forest Garden is an attempt to replace the wild plants of the woodland with fruits, herbs, vegetables and other plants that are useful to humans. Chickens can be used as a method of weed control and also as a producer of eggs, meat and fertilizer.

    There are several permaculture projects in place around the world, including Australia, Africa, the UK, Indonesia, Cuba, and Brazil.


    Despite its advantages, critics point out several disadvantages of permaculture. There is the potential to spread environmental weeds, it is unsuitable for a cool temperate country where there are smaller yields, trees are used that may not naturally occur in a given area thus disrupting the ecosystem, there is a lack of data about the performance of the system and a lack of a central body representing the system, and there is a current lack of broadscale permaculture projects.

    Permaculture has become a successful approach to designing sustainable systems. Its adaptability and emphasis on meeting human needs means that it can be utilized in every climatic and cultural zone. What is needed is more commitment to such projects as well as continuing research and experts able to properly train communities in how to effectively use permaculture. It’s become a cliché to say that we are living on the edge of eco-disaster. It’s also a reality which cannot be overstated. Permaculture is a design system aimed at averting such a disaster.



    1. Graham Burnett

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