If you’ve been wondering what exactly permaculture is actually about, you’re not alone. So here are some introductory explanations to give you a better idea, and some pointers to get you started if you’re interested in learning more about permaculture design!
Permaculture is way of thinking and an approach to designing regnerative systems. It is not really — as people sometimes assume — an organic farming technique. While permaculture does place great value on growing food locally and with natural, organic, non-chemical and sustainable methods, permaculture is about a lot more than just growing food.
The term permaculture is a fusion of permanent + culture. Find out more about the history of permaculture, and why Bill Mollison thought it’s “a revolution disguised as gardening” in this article.
Permaculture is a way of designing systems — be it a farm, garden, company campus, housing project, an organization or a project — in such a way that they become not merely “sustainable” but regenerative. That means they create and replenish resources rather than just maintaining the resource base. A truly regenerative system can run forever and actually add value to its environment and resource base rather than eroding it, as most of our present-day systems (including many that are running under the label of “sustainable development”) do.
The permaculture design process is rooted in a strong ethical foundation. The three permaculture ethics give the permaculture design process a clear direction and guideline: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share for all beings.
This poster by Holmgren Design Services illustrates the ethics and principles which are followed by permaculturists (or “permies”) in the design process. Download here in various languages.
In its holistic and interdisciplinary approach, the study of permaculture reminds me a lot of my studies of Geography at uni. Both essentially aim to look at phenomena in the world from a holistic, systems-oriented perspective. We cannot understand today’s world and its challenges fully without integrating an ecological perspective with social, economical and political analysis.
A quote by Bill Mollison, one of the founders of the permaculture movement.
In a highly entertaining one-hour lecture, Permaculture Professor Toby Hemenway argues convincingly “Why permaculture can save humanity and the earth, but not civilization”. In addition to giving a good introductory overview of what permaculture is about, he explains convincingly why an disproportionate number of permaculturists are pagans and why the contemporary chemical-industrial agriculture system encourages the belief in sky-gods. Very intriguing!
If all of this sounds intriguing and useful to you, you’ll find a plethora of great videos, articles, online resources, books and permaculture design manuals online. Some renowned permaculture teachers and practitioners whom you could search for include Bill Mollison, Dave Holmgren, Toby Hemenway, Looby McNamarra and many more. Personally, I found The Vegan Book of Permaculture by Graham Burnett a comprehensive and accessible introduction for a anyone fairly new to permaculture thinking. I also like that it takes an explicitly vegan angle, choosing to extend the permaculture ethics of people care and fair share to all animals including the non-human ones.
Graham Burnett: The Vegan Book of Permaculture
Another concise overview is offered by The Essence of Permaculture by David Holmgren which is available for download here. If you would like to go deeper into the permaculture design process, the Resilio Studio Design Primer is a concise document laying out the permaculture design process framework. It is available for free download.
In addition to permaculture-specific textbooks, I highly recommend the following two foundational texts that are at the core of permaculture thinking and natual farming. There are many more of course, so I hope you’ll excuse me for selecting these two in particular as I find them indispensable for anyone wanting to make more sense of our world.
Masanobu Fukuoka: The One-Straw Revolution
Donella Meadows: Thinking in Systems
Once you learned a few basics and are convinced that your life and anything you will design in the future — be it a garden, a project, an organization or a business — would benefit from permaculture thinking and design, the next step could be to take a course. There are short introduction to permaculture courses which are a good place to start and get to know teachers and likeminded people. If you want to go deeper, consider attending a Permaculture Design Certificate Course (PDC) which has an internationally standardized 72-hour curriculum and will teach you all the basics permaculture including a practical group design exercise.
There are many good places and teachers to learn permaculture from, so do some research first about places, teachers and costs to find the right fit for you. A good place to start your research is to look up a permaculture association or network in your area, for instance the Permaculture Association UK, or Permaculture India Network Facebook group in India. There are also many local and regional groups on social media which allow you to connect with likeminded people and find out about courses, events and volunteering opportunitities.
Free online intro to permaculture course taught by Andrew Millison at Oregon State University, starting this April 23, 2018: Sign up here for free!
Or if you’re not ready to take a course, volunteering on permaculture and organic farms in exchange for food and stay is a great way to learn from pracititioners. Check out the global organic farming volunteering network wwoof which comprises many interesting permaculture farms and projects across the world.
I took my own PDC in Darjeeling in 2015 with Rico Zook and organized a large-scale PDC at the International Permaculture Convergence IPC India 2017. Feel free to get in touch anytime with your questions and if you would like more reading or course recommendations!