As populations grow, so does the demand for resources. Every 40 years or less population doubles. With current agricultural production requiring half of the arable land already, humanity stands at a tipping point. Historically the separation of food production and consumption has caused societal turbulence and destruction. There is ample evidence that today is no different. With eight hydrocarbons calories in every one calorie of food consumed, and 660 gallons of water in a cheeseburger, our society has an gross appetite for oil and water. Permaculture offers solutions to increasing agriculture quality and supply, while building resilient communities and unwinding environmental damage already inflicted.
Permaculture is a relatively new term for what humanities ancestors has been doing since the beginning. In the 1970s, the back to the land movement saw renewed interest in living with the land highlighted by a small migration from the cities to rural landscapes. At the same time in Australia and Tasmania, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren were tracking how agriculture and culture are intertwined. Stemming from “permanent agriculture,” they would coin the term that would become synonymous with sustainable development. Perhaps permaculture’s best and most simple definition comes from Geoff Lawton, current director of the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia and student of Bill Mollison. Geoff describes permaculture as
“a design science. It is a system that supplies all the needs of humanity in a way that also benefits the environment.”
Permaculture gives us a process and method for transforming landscapes. If animals are instruments played by the landscape, by changing the landscape we change the people. The process starts with observation. Design is the process of thinking about things before they are implemented, and without understanding the baseline of an area through observation, the right design will be overlooked. The new permaculture practitioner is advised to spend the first year making notes of your area. As you gain a firm understanding of what to look for, the skills of observation will come faster. Moving too quickly through the observation phase will cost you thousands of dollars and hours of your time. You don’t want to put a greenhouse in a shady spot, a building on a septic tank, or start your project in a flood zone.
Today, permaculture designers are on the forefront of tackling issues of erosion, toxic remediation, ecosystem degradation, and the closing of waste steams through an ever-evolving toolkit of management strategies. Plants that benefit each other are planted in groups called guilds that work together to eliminate oil-based fertilizers. Mushrooms provide bioremediation to polluted landscapes. Earthworks harvest water, create planting beds, an even sequester carbon! Permaculture is the game to input the least, and get the most change through integrating systems and stacking functions. A small example of integrating systems to reduce cost is how The Sustainable Homestead Institute gets the most out of kitchen waste items using chickens. First, the coop floor is covered in straw bedding harvested from a wheat patch. As it becomes soiled, the straw is collected and turned into compost, which in turn grows the vegetables and starts the cycle over providing nutrients for more plants and a better environment overall. The integration of this system reduces feed cost, keeps the grass mowed, contributes soil for greenhouse starts, and not least of all eggs!
Nature is the king of vertical farming, and the permaculture prospective views the forest as the pinnacle of efficiency. The forest is made up of 7 primary layers. Tall trees, low trees, shrub, herb, ground cover, vines, and microbes all thrive together symbiotically in a healthy forest, and do not require fossil fuel based fertilizer. Instead trees drop their leaves so when they decay, fertility is added to the soil and enriches the cycle. There is a 2 acre food forest in Vietnam that has exceeded the family’s food, water, material, and medicine requirements for 300 years. Larger studies of the Amazon point to food forest cultivation by native populations on a massive scale.
The permaculture designer's tool kit is extensive. There is a lot of information available, but the fastest way to learn the basics is a Permaculture Design Course. The curriculum consists of 72+ hours of in class and hands on experience in the field working with the tools of the trade to gain a firm understanding of observation, design, and implementation. If you think the price of education is expensive, try the cost of ignorance. This class is life changing and essential to anyone who seeks to own land or design a better world.
Dates coming soon