Permaculture. A word with many associated definitions depending on who you read, though a definition that both states what permaculture is – and is easy to remember – remains elusive. Or does it?
In describing my upcoming research trip to friends and family, the inevitable question, “so what exactly is permaculture?”- is usually one of the first questions out of the gate. While I feel I have a firm grasp on what permaculture is, what it means, and how to “do it,” describing it is wrought with limitations. For one, permaculture is complex and systems-thinking-based. It is cultivated ecology and earth-care. It is about designing ecosystems to meet human needs while not only not compromising the local ecological systems- but supporting and improving them. It is an ethic, a philosophy. A way of living.
Permaculture can also be understood by what it is not. Permaculture is not organic gardening or native habitat restoration or mulching. Permaculture might very well include some of these elements but it is not defined by or limited to these elements.
Rather than attempt yet another definition, there is one definition that we can turn to give us the most accurate definition of permaculture, as defined by its originators. While we might choose to emphasize one aspect of permaculture over another depending on who we talk to and what their interest and background is, we might help others understand what permaculture is by committing the original definition, as coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, to memory:
Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.
It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.
The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.
The prime directive of permaculture: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
~ Bill Mollison, Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual
Examples to help translate these words into a meaningful picture of what permaculture is will follow in the next post, along with discussion on the relationship between permaculture and public gardens. Stay tuned…