What is Permaculture?

Adapted from Toby Hemenway’s Article, What Permaculture Isn’t – and Is:

Permaculture is a design approach to arrive at solutions.

In more concrete terms, permaculture tells how to choose from a dauntingly large toolkit—all the human technologies and strategies for living—to solve the new problem of sustainability.

It is an instruction manual for solving the challenges laid out by the new paradigm of meeting human needs while enhancing ecosystem health.

The relationship explicitly spelled out in that view, which connects humans to the larger, dynamic environment, forces us to think in relational terms, which is a key element of permaculture. The two sides of the relationship are explicitly named in two permaculture ethics: care for the Earth, and care for people.

The task set out by permaculture is to meet our needs (including food, shelter, water, waste recycling, energy, community, health, justice, and livelihood) while preserving ecosystem health.

Some background information & additional resources:

In the mid 1970s, Australian University Professor Bill Mollison and his grad student David Holmgren started to develop ideas about stable agricultural systems. This was in response to the rapid growth of destructive industrial-agricultural methods. They saw that these methods were poisoning the land and water, reducing biodiversity, and removing billions of tons of topsoil from previously fertile landscapes. They announced their “permaculture” approach with the publication of Permaculture One in 1978.

The term permaculture initially meant “permanent agriculture” but was quickly expanded to also stand for “permanent culture” as it was seen that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system. To find out about the roots of Permaculture, get hold of a copy of Permaculture One, Mollison and Holmgren, 1978.

There have since been numerous other authors who have tackled the subject. Some favourite books include:

  • Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, Bill Mollison, 1988
  • Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollision, 1991
  • Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, Rosemary Morrow, 1994
  • The Basics of Permaculture Design, Ross Mars, 1996
  • Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway, 2000
  • Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren, 2003
  • Edible Forest Gardens, Volume 1: Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture, by Dave Jacke