By Micheal Sunanda
Permaculture (PC) is the embodiment of sustainable food growing at home. It’s the ancient art and science of homesteading, constantly evolving with nature. Bill Mollison defined PC in 1970s Australia to mean an organic design process; the concept quickly spread throughout the 80s and 90s, and can now be found prominently in over 40 countries. Permaculture is the ultimate natural back-to-the-land family settlement growing system.
There are hundreds of PC design courses per year that train people how to survey, design, landscape, build and grow at home, maximizing creative fertility in harmony with nature and make conscious decisions about self-sufficiency and health.
Here are 12 questions about Permaculture to embark the path to food freedom:
1. Why do (we need) permaculture?
Because we need its natural growing living systems, awareness, healthy organic living in balance at home. Engaging in permaculture helps us understand and love our bioregion, weather and watershed flowing into local fertility that’s constantly changing. We need to reduce stress, consumption, traveling, waste, and competing to survive and succeed. We need simple low-tech home systems to grow fresh food to eat, we use by instincts and STOP polluting ourselves. Millions of people traditionally do PC daily at home, plus our new trend of homesteading. PC is growing our cooperative network of whole systems we connect with each other and nature. We also need PC to restore the vast deforested, poisoned and eroded (denatured) lands to repair organic fertility.
2. Why haven’t I heard of Permaculture?
Permaculture, as a whole system, is omitted from schools, business and modern farming that ignore ancient food growing methods that mimic nature. It’s been missed in Western landscaping, agriculture and land use planning; but is used eternally in “less-developed” areas like parts of Asia, many tropical islands, Africa and in South America. It has been typically ignored by modern countries where fossil fuel-aided industrial agriculture dominates commercial food markets. Permaculture is mostly a small-scale alternative/underground home-ecology work, but the revolution is growing.
3. What does it cost in time and energy to begin on land?
Permaculture is totally flexible, costing as little or as much as has resources to invest and how comprehensive they desire the design to be. Usually starting PC requires more work to prepare the site properly, than actual capital investment. Buying already developed land usually costs more. Most of the effort required is studying, designing, digging, landscaping and building the system. Simple planting is quick and easy, then nature takes over from there.
Permaculture is a closed-circle methodology, therefore we love to use recycled local (free) materials to build our designs — which keeps cost low. It is far less expensive than buying prime or settled land and implementing “modern” industrial farming techniques — and the results are far better. You may have to pay a consultant if you have not educated yourself in permaculture design, however this will still represent a fraction of the cost of starting traditional farming methods.
4. How does organic gardening go with permaculture?
Organic gardening and growing chemical-free food at home are central to PC being integrated in the total design within a bioregion: weather, soil, animals, neighbors, and energy flows/sources. In fact, central to permaculture is designing the system to naturally deter pests and maintain the quality of the soil. PC also applies to gardening food all year in most climates, and in greenhouses where winters are extreme.
5. How do animals/livestock work in permaculture?
Permaculture requires the use of many animals as if they are essential to nature. They are essential to permaculture: birds, chickens, cats, dogs, geese, ducks, horses, donkeys, worms, llamas, rabbits, goats, fish, snakes, etc., in certain eco-zones pastures, yards, pens, or coops. These animals need our energy and support to grow and thrive, but in return their energy, activity, and waste greatly contributes to the overall vitality of the permaculture systems. In PC we have wildlife corirdors for them to nest, grow or visit – each with the purpose of benefiting other parts of the system.
We use animal products: manuer/fertilizer, eggs, fur, and meat to eat. They make great pets, lawn-mowers, protectors, composters, and they eat pests. Permaculture would not be a healthy natural design system without a variety of animals.
6. How does recycling work in permaculture?
Recycling is the eternal process of nature reusing all its energy and by-products, constantly circulating systems like using gray (wash) water for gardens and plants. We may use local wood to build with, food scraps and organic waste for compost to naturally provide soil fertility. Permaculture recycles sunlight, heat; animal products, earthy materials for building many things, in addition to exchanging surplus with neighbors who need it.
7. How does PC use ancient primative food systems in modern landsites?
PC uses 100s of natural, simple food growing techniques from homesteading systems from many cultures and bio-regions. We study and utilize native species, handicrafts, local wildcrafting techniques, food foraging, water-works, energy-harvesting, recycling and food processing for maximum efficiency, balance and healthy living at home.
8. Is PC ‘set’ or adaptable to my unique land conditions?
Permaculture designs are specifically based on using the natural capital of eternal local conditions and adapting to your design to work optimally within those conditions. Maximizing your goals, needs and resources; from an urban porch, roof or yard, to farmland to wilderness; from temperate, semi-tropical, dry prairie to frigid zones.
We consider the natural elements of air, energy, water, and growing-fertility in all designs, with 12 essentials: spacing/zonations, animals, natives, weather, seasons, gardening, tree/forests, water flows, soil systems, structures, and human needs and movements. All these work together at home with centers, edges, paths, places, eco-fertility and the food we grow.
9. Do I have to take a PC design course or be very educated to do it?
No, you begin wherever you are. Learn about growing with nature on your land, in your climate, with your available resources. If you are already gardening, it helps using intuition to determine sensitive awareness of plants needs. All of your human experience with growing, building and innovating will help in PC. Taking a PC course will help maximize growing food at home and to better understand your bioregion so we can create a total land-design that will expand naturally. Reading as many good books about homesteading and permaculture is also recommended.
10. What about PC in harsh extreme land and weather?
PC is great in tropical, temperate, and even arid growing conditions, but uses many very different methods/systems for channeling natures elements depending on the area. Your bio-region’s watershed sets the stage for all growing. Survey for 100-yr flood levels and drout maximums, and test the soil for PH levels and fertility. PC is excellent for restoring neglected and damaged land by rebuilding natural fertility organically. It may take patience and steady work for years to heal very eroded, bare lava, dry and poisoned lands. Research what locals do about these conditions to recycle and repair earth in the most organic way.
11. How can I start a PC design process on my land now?
The best time to start is yesterday. Intensely study your site relative to local watershed flows, weather, soil/plant fertility, native species, seasonal changes and extreme land terrain contours, native bugs and other visiting animals. Determine your longterm goals and needs. You may plant food, herbs and trees immediately upon determining their ideal locations, while preparing the landscape maximize the potential of your system. You may be amazed at how much easier and effective your food production becomes once nature takes root.
12. What advanced PC courses are available? Where?
Many specialized PC systems and courses are available. There are also training demonstrations done in dozens of PC landsites, perhaps even in your bio-region. They give tours, workshops, apprenticeships, internships, work-study programs, and even intensive boot camps. Most PC designers enjoy the open exchange of information as it fits with the circle mentality. Google permaculture design courses for more information. Start with trying to find a local program.
Permaculture may indeed be the savior for the catastrophe that is industrial factory farming. This integrated design system can produce healthy abundance without damaging the biosphere. It deserves great attention, not just by individuals, but by nations as well.
Author bio: Micheal Sunanda is publisher, editor and author of Oness Press since 1982. Michael is an expert in East Asian natural therapies and a certified permaculture designer.