by Heather Jo Flores
“The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of those whom we bring into the world.” --Bill Mollison
It's a common misconception that permaculture is "revolution disguised as organic gardening," but truly: it's neither.
Revolution is a violent thing. It's war, and it's focused on attempting to solve problems between people, but time and again, revolution ignores those ecological ethics that we permies know are absolutely influencing every aspect of our lives. So no, revolution is far too limited of a term to describe what permaculture is and does.
And organic gardening? Yes, that can be a big part of your permaculture design, but the garden is the tip of Uncle Eddie's iceberg, in every way: the plants are the gateway to the knowledge we must acquire if we are to heal ourselves and the planet. But we have to do more than grow food.
So, what is permaculture?
It’s a question I hear almost every day, and I answer it in a variety of ways, depending on the moment.
The short answer:
A design system for sustainable living.
The long answer:
A set of tools and techniques borrowed from indigenous cultures and applied to physical, social, and emotional landscapes to create living, evolving systems that mimic nature, produce food and energy, and regenerate, rather than annihilate, the Earth.
But what in the heck does that mean? It’s got something to do with gardening, right?
Yes, gardening is part of permaculture. But what most people don’t realize is that gardening is only a small part of it. Permaculture includes gardening but really it’s all about design. Permaculture is about growing, harnessing, protecting, and cultivating environments that thrive. This connects to land use, social relationships, self-awareness, and so much more.
Imagine the permaculture design process as a starburst pattern that starts with the plants and spirals out in every direction, into every aspect of your life.
Here’s a video I made for the first class in the Permaculture Women’s Guild online permaculture design course, which explains a lot more about what permaculture is...and what it isn’t.
Permaculture forefathers Bill Mollison and David Holmgren taught from an ethical and ecological basis that used Birch’s Six Principles of Natural Systems, as follows”
Is it starting to make sense?
Can you see how these ideas and fundamental ecological truths could help you to design not only a garden and homestead, but also a social and emotional landscape that is more resilient, abundant, and joyful than the current (degenerative) systems in which most of us now exist?
Here’s a fun exercise, also from the first class in our online double-certificate course. It will help you tune into the living systems around you and begin to cultivate a “designer’s mind,” which is the first step in becoming a permaculture expert!
Choose a tree near your home. Perhaps it’s on your street and you pass it every day. Go to the tree and touch it with your hands. Look at it up close and from far away. Smell the bark, the leaves, the soil around the trunk. Hug it, lean against it, touch it with your tongue.
What benefits does this bring to your neighborhood? What do the people who live near this tree get from it? What resources does it provide?
And how do the tree’s surroundings affect the tree? Think of animals, insects, birds, wind, humans, water, weather, pollution.
How does this tree interact as a living, evolving element in a whole system?
Write about it, draw a mind-map about it, or just think about it for a while and then share your thoughts/drawings/writing in our Free Permaculture group on Facebook! See you in there!
Heather Jo Flores wrote Food Not Lawns: how to turn your yard into a garden and your neighborhood into a community. She directs the Permaculture Women's Guild and offers online courses for women writers.
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