The Nature of Permaculture

by: EJ on 12/11/2014

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.” – Bill Mollison, founder of the Permaculture Institute

The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country by Peter Bane is a step-by-step, beautifully-illustrated guide to practical, small-scale permaculture rounded out by extensive case studies of three successful farmsteads and market gardens.  As Peter explains in the excerpt from the introduction below, permaculture is about building self-reliance.

The Permaculture Handbook: shows that much of garden farming is about meeting household needs — what in permaculture is called self-reliance — a term that I distinguish from the more commonly used phrase, self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency implies not needing any supplies from outside. Many 19th and early 20th century farms in Europe and the US were self-sufficient, buying only salt, tea or yard goods and other luxuries. Self-reliance, on the other hand, is about taking responsibility for one’s own household needs as part of a resilient local economy. Trade and barter will be important components of a self-reliant economy. In the US, Amish communities produce a great deal of their own food, clothing, tools and household goods locally, but they are also involved in a great deal of trade. Where there is no local source for some items, they are purchased by mail order from other Amish producers or even “English” neighbors or commercial concerns.

Self-reliance is an aim of the permaculture design system. At the household and community level it increases security and independence, thus resilience, or the ability to absorb shocks and disturbances and to recover quickly from them. Self-reliance reduces dependence on distant sources and suppliers and thus reduces the energy intensity of food and other essentials, shrinking our ecological footprint. By meeting most of our own needs, we minimize the damage and dep tendency caused by global trade, more easily regulate our consumption and conserve resources. We also bolster our own capacity for survival and prosperity as well as our ability to aid others around us. Self-reliance is not about isolation, nor is it a dogma; rather it describes a rational hierarchy of independence and interdependence from which we can make ethical decisions about what we consume...and what we produce.

Download Chapter 4 "Permaculture Principles" from The Permaculture Handbook the accompanying "Permaculture Wheel"

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