Permaculture has been consistently growing in popularity for the last four decades. As contemporary regimes have further proven themselves in total discord with nature and good health, the permaculture design movement has become a more centralised rallying point for home gardeners, farmers, preppers, environmentalists, health enthusiasts, social activists, and just run-of-the-mill disillusioned office workers. People are learning about permaculture, and it’s changing their lives. It only takes a moment—the length of this TedTalk to understand why:
Most people arrive at the doorstep of permaculture theory through the portal of gardening. While permaculture ideas expand far beyond food production, it is within this subject matter where its ideas are often most approachable for beginners. Producing the food that feeds your family is an astoundingly rewarding experience, one we intrinsically recognise as purposeful, but it is one that many of us have lost touch with. Permaculture techniques—which account for and change based on climate, space, landscape, and so on—are simple, practical, efficient, and interesting. Because bare soil can go from barren to potential abundance in a day, gardening makes it easy to dive right into an important part of permaculture:
Unfortunately, today’s industrial food network is producing—instead of healthy, homegrown stuff—food that tends to be doused in chemicals and grown with methods that erode topsoil, poison water sources, and require tremendous amounts of gasoline. Factory farmed animals are bloated with antibiotics and misguided diets, their lives reduced to tiny cages and crowded spaces. The drawbacks only increase when we consider that this food is then trucked, shipped, and flown all over the world to provide “fresh” produce. In addition to threatening human health and the environment, the food that comes from this industrial agriculture lacks the nutrition and the flavour of vegetables grown in quality soil. Rather than merely protesting this problem, permaculture imagines how we might do it differently.
Permaculture, though, doesn’t stop with garden beds and happy animals. It is a design science that taps into the natural processes and abundant resources that are readily and locally available. One permaculture garden will be different from all others because each one is designed to match the space it is in, the people who are tending it, and the environment around it. For example, a desert garden will be adapted to harvest all the water available from the rare rains that occur to grey-water produced in the kitchen, and protect that water from evaporation with the use of things like trellises and shade. The willingness, the fundamental disposition, of permaculture designs to adapt this way is what makes them so special. It’s never one methodology (a round peg) being forced into inappropriate environments (a square hole). Permaculture uses what naturally works where it works, whatever that may be.
In doing so, permaculture practices are guided by three simple ethics: caring for people, caring for the planet, and returning the surpluses created from its abundant systems back to people and the planet, rather than, say, hoarding profits. In other words, the idea is to produce the needs of humanity by working with, rather than against nature, and ultimately using the overabundance created in doing so to benefit more people and more places. In this way, permaculture is actually a regenerative system rather than merely sustainable: It is taking dilapidated landscapes and makes them dynamic again, and it’s taking broken up communities and gives them meaningful association.
Permaculture, then, is far more than the gardening methods that initially attract people to it. Permaculture designs include ways to handle waste systems that are beneficial to nature, harvest and create energy from renewable sources, increase water cycles and land hydration, construct efficient homes, rehabilitate natural landscapes, build local but globally-connected communities, and even reimagine the economy as something cooperative rather than cut-throat. As the movement amasses more and more people encouraged by a lifestyle that’s enriched by enriching the earth and human connection, the local fingers of influence spread into states and territories into national impact.
Permaculture accesses the knowledge, new and old, technology has blessed us with but doesn’t yield to technological encroachment for every solution. Heavy machinery certainly made growing big fields of corn easier, but it has hardly made our food system better, or even more profitable. In the US, the biggest crops—corn, soy, and wheat—are also the most subsidised, but they aren’t feeding the world as advertised. They are damaging the environment and turning meals into products rather than nourishment. Technology was not a solution here but rather a new, much more detrimental problem. Permaculture takes what works for people and the planet and utilises it where appropriate. When it damages people and the planet, it isn’t working.
Even better, permaculture meets people where they are. Those who live in large acreage, rural settings can make the most of permaculture designs to create low-maintenance permanent production and increase fertility on their land. Those in the suburbs can reimagine their lawns and patios as recreational areas rich in the food and full of colour, fragrance, wildlife, and resources—no mowing required! Even urban gardens are possible, and homes in cities can be designed or retrofitted to be efficient, permaculture homes that reduce energy needs and build up local resources. In fact, it’s the intensely cultivated urban landscapes that can produce the most food per square foot. This is permaculture changes everywhere: It works everywhere!
Permaculture, whether you are ready to devote your life to it or simply further investigate what it’s all about, is available wherever you are. There are abundant free online resources, such as Permaculture News and Geoff Lawton Online, and there are wonderful courses that pull it all together in an immediately impactful way that takes beginners from novices to knowledgeable designers. Geoff’s online course is based on Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual written by permaculture founder, Bill Mollison, to act as the text for teaching permaculture students. Here’s Geoff’s one-hour summary of it, but the course is a six-month deep dive into each and every chapter, as well as professional assistance with your first design.