Introduction S Diver

This page is a reprint of a pamphlet written by Steve Diver for NCAT. It is our understanding that it is in the public domain. It can serve as the start of an overview. The first 4 sections are fairly universal and timeless, while the latter part (not reprinted here) were specific to certain regions and a bit out of date.

Introduction to Permaculture by Steve Diver
1. Introduction to permaculture
2. Permaculture defined
3. Characteristics of permaculture
4. The practical application of permaculture
5. Permaculture resources: United States Australia Around the World
6. Books on permaculture
7. Electronic sources
1. Introduction to permaculture

The word "permaculture" was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and his student, David Holmgren. It is a contraction of "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture." Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is an approach to land use which integrates human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water management into stable, productive communities.

A central theme in permaculture is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. Emphasis is placed on multi-use plants and the integration of animals to recycle nutrients and graze weeds. However, permaculture entails much more than just food production. Permaculture design concepts are being applied in urban as well as rural settings, and are applicable to single households or whole farms and villages. "Integrated farming" and "ecological engineering" are terms sometimes used to describe permaculture. Though helpful, these terms do not capture the holistic nature of permaculture and thus the following definitions are included to provide insight.

2. Permaculture Defined

From the Permaculture Drylands Institute and published in The Permaculture Activist (Autumn 1989): Permaculture: the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing, appropriate technology, and community development. Permaculture is built upon an ethic of caring for the earth and interacting with the environment in mutually beneficial ways…

From Lee Barnes (editor of Katuah Journal And Permaculture Connections), Waynesville, North Carolina: Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture Or Permanent Culture) is a sustainable design system stressing the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth. To paraphrase the founder of permaculture, designer Bill Mollison: "Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. Designs stress ecological connections and closed energy and material loops. The core of permaculture is design and the working relationships and connections between all things. Each component in a system performs multiple functions, and each function is supported by many elements. Key to efficient design is observation and replication of natural ecosystems, where designers maximize diversity with polycultures, stress efficient energy planning for houses and settlement, using and accelerating natural plant succession, and increasing the highly productive "edge-zones" within the system." Permaculture designs have been successfully and widely implemented in third-world countries, but there is current need to expand these principles in temperate climates, and especially urban areas to create more enjoyable and sustainable human habitats.

From Michael Pilarksi, founder of Friends of the Trees, and published in International Green Front Report (1988): Permaculture is: the design of land use systems that are sustainable and environmentally sound; the design of culturally appropriate systems which lead to social stability; a design system characterized by an integrated application of ecological principles in land use; an international movement for land use planning and design; an ethical system stressing positivism and cooperation. In the broadest sense, permaculture refers to land use systems which promote stability in society, utilize resources in a sustainable way and preserve wildlife habitat and the genetic diversity of wild and domestic plants and animals. It is a synthesis of ecology and geography, of observation and design. Permaculture involves ethics of earth care because the sustainable use of land cannot be separated from life-styles and philosophical issues.

From a Bay Area Permaculture Group brochure, published in West Coast Permaculture News & Gossip And Sustainable Living Newsletter (Fall 1995): Permaculture is a practical concept which can be applied in the city, on the farm, and in the wilderness. Its principles empower people to establish highly productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs, including economic. Carefully observing natural patterns characteristic of a particular site, the permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchment, human shelter, and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennial plants, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture. Permaculture adopts techniques and principles from ecology, appropriate technology, sustainable agriculture, and the wisdom of indigenous peoples. The ethical basis of permaculture rests upon care of the earth—maintaining a system in which all life can thrive. This includes human access to resources and provisions, but not the accumulation of wealth, power, or land beyond their needs.

3. Characteristics of Permaculture

Permaculture is one of the most holistic, integrated systems analysis and design methodologies found in the world.

Permaculture can be applied to create productive ecosystems from the human-use standpoint or to help degraded ecosystems recover health and wildness. Permaculture can be applied in any ecosystem no matter how degraded.
Permaculture values and validates traditional knowledge and experience.

Permaculture incorporates sustainable agriculture practices and land management techniques and strategies from around the world. Permaculture is a bridge between traditional cultures and emergent earth-tuned cultures.

Permaculture promotes organic agriculture which does not use pesticides to pollute the environment.

Permaculture aims to maximize symbiotic and synergistic relationships between site components.

Permaculture is urban planning as well as rural land design.

Permaculture design is site specific, client specific, and culture specific.

(Source: Pilarski, Michael (ed.) 1994. Restoration Forestry. Kivaki Press, Durango, CO. p. 450.)

4. The Practical Application of Permaculture

Permaculture is not limited to just plant and animal agriculture, but also includes community planning and development, use of appropriate technologies (coupled with an adjustment of life- style), and adoption of concepts and philosophies that are both earth-based and people-centered, such as bio-regionalism. Many of the appropriate technologies advocated by permaculturists are well-known.
Among these are solar and wind power, composting toilets, solar greenhouses, energy efficient housing, and solar food cooking and drying. Due to the inherent sustainability of perennial cropping systems, permaculture places a heavy emphasis on tree crops. Systems that integrate annual and perennial crops such as alleycropping and agroforestry take advantage of "the edge effect", increase biological diversity, and offer other characteristics missing in monoculture systems.
Thus, multicropping systems that blend woody perennials and annuals hold promise as viable techniques for large-scale farming. Ecological methods of production for any specific crop or farming system are central to permaculture as well as sustainable agriculture in general. Since permaculture is not a production system, per se, but rather a land use planning philosophy, it is not limited to a specific method of production.

Furthermore, as permaculture principles may be adapted to farms or villages worldwide, it is site specific and therefore amenable to locally adapted techniques of production. As an example, standard organic farming and gardening techniques utilizing cover crops, green manures, crop rotation, and mulches are emphasized in permacultural systems. Yet, the use of the Keyline chisel plow, rotational grazing, the Aerway implement in no-till farming, and a whole number of other techniques are adaptable to farms working within a permacultural framework. The decision as to which "system" is employed is site-specific and management dependent. Farming systems and techniques commonly associated with permaculture include rotational grazing, agroforestry, swales, contour plantings, the Keyline method (soil and water management), hedgerows and windbreaks, and integrated farming systems such as aquaculture, intercropping, and polyculture.

Gardening and recycling methods common to permaculture include edible landscaping, keyhole gardening, companion planting, trellising, sheet mulching, chicken tractors, solar greenhouses, spiral herb gardens, swales, and vermicomposting. Water collection, management, and re-use systems like Keyline, greywater, rain catchment, constructed wetlands, aquaponics (the integration of hydroponics with recirculating aquaculture), and solar aquatic ponds (also known as Living Machines) play an important role in permaculture designs.

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