Jasmine and I taught a workshop on Permaculture last Thursday. This was a topic I’d wanted to teach after studying abroad in Australia and visiting a Permaculture Garden called Djangbung in Nimbin, New South Wales. For those of you who have never heard of Permaculture (most of our participants hadn’t), it is an intentional, holistic approach to agriculture and sustainable land use created by Bill Mollison & David Holgram in the 1970s in Tasmania, Australia. It encompasses a whole systems thinking and living based on ecological principles. It is also a design philosophy that seeks to imitate naturally occurring patterns. By doing so, you are working with the land instead of against it and can have longer-living and healthier plants.
There are twelve principles:
1. Observe & Interact: good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship between nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration, repertoire and patterns. Each morning, Jasmine and I check on our plants to see what they need.
2. Catch & Store Energy: we need to learn how to save and reinvest most
of the wealth that we are currently consuming or wasting, such as sun, wind,
runoff water flows, and wasted resources from agricultural, industrial and
commercial activities. We catch rainwater with multiple rain barrels at PTF as well as compost all weeds and plant scraps.
3. Obtain a Yield: this principle reminds us that we should design any system to provide for self-reliance at all levels (including personal), by using captured and stored energy effectively to maintain the system and capture more energy.
4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback: with better understanding of how positive and negative feedbacks work in nature, we can design systems that are more self-regulating, thus reducing the work involved in repeated and harsh corrective management.
5. Use and Value Renewavle Resources and Services: permaculture design should make best use of non-consuming natural services to minimize our consumptive demands on resources, and emphasize the harmonious possibilities of interaction between humans and nature.
6. Produce No Waste: look for ways to minimize pollution and waste through designing systems to make use of all outputs. We have very little waste at PTF 🙂
7. Design from Patterns to Details: the commonality of patterns observable in nature and society allows us to not only make sense of what we see, but to use a pattern from one context and scale, to design in another. Examples are terracing, contour farming, and agroforestry (forest layers).
8. Integrate Rather than Segregate: the purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of other elements. Our community garden utilizes poly-cropping, or planting multiple types of vegetables (and flowers!)
9. Use Small & Slow Solutions: systems should be designed to perform functions at the smallest scale that is practical and energy-efficient for that function. AKA the exact opposite of most agricultural systems (like corn) in the U.S…
10. Use and Value Diversity: diversity needs to be seen as a result of the
balance and tension in nature between variety and possibility on one hand, and
productivity and power on the other.
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal: this principle works from the premise that the value and contribution of edges and the marginal and invisible aspects of any system should not only be recognized and conserved, but that expansion of these aspects can increase system productivity and stability.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change: permaculture is about the durability of natural living systems and human culture, but this durability paradoxically depends in large measure on flexibility and change.
In creating this harmonious relationship between humans and nature, we can be more sustainable, productive, and responsible for the earth’s health.