Overstory #2 - Permaculture Principles: A Foundation for Sustainability
Being caught up in the day-to-day aspects of developing or managing field projects can be very exciting or frustrating. There are new design challenges continually. Often, conventional solutions alone are too expensive and not sustainable or feasible in the long run. It requires a lot of creativity and original thought to come up with appropriate sustainable solutions for each site and need.
When facing new design challenges, we often have to step back and remind ourselves of the fundamental principles of sustainable design that drive our practices. We find it works to examine not just the issues, but how we look at and think about the issues. One of our favorite design philosophies is "permaculture." Permaculture focuses on how to think about planning sustainable solutions.
What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is a practical design approach which enables people to establish productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, material and non-material needs, as well as providing the social and economic infrastructures that support them. Permaculture aims to create systems that will sustain not only for the present, but for future generations.
The modern concept of a design system based on modeling natural processes was first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Tasmania in 1974. Since then, permaculture has created a respected paradigm for agriculture rooted firmly in time-honored traditional strategies of resource use and drawing on modern innovations in sustainable agriculture. From a philosophy of co-operation with nature and each other, of caring for the earth and people, permaculture presents an approach to designing environments which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. This approach also addresses the need to regenerate damaged land and preserve existing ecosystems.
Some Permaculture Principles
- Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.
- Everything is connected to everything else: Plan for maximum synergistic connections between elements in your system.
- Each component in a system performs multiple functions, and each function is supported by many elements.
- See solutions, not problems. Perceived constraints can mean unique opportunities.
- Systems should be diverse, therefore able to withstand economic and environmental changes.
- Increase the sum of yields: look at the total yield of the system provided by elements. Also regard energy saved as a yield.
- Start on a small scale and expand on successes.
- Use native/naturalized plants and proven exotics before unproven species.
- Use primarily biological and low-energy environmental resources first, rather than non-renewable and fossil fuel dependent resources.
- Make the least change for the maximum effect.
- Hold water and fertility as high on the land as possible.
- There are not mistakes, just learning opportunities.
Permaculture References and Highly Recommended Resources
Bill Mollison's excellent Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future, a comprehensive guide to permaculture in all climatic zones, published by Ten Speed Press and available from many bookstores.
Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay's Introduction to Permaculture, is a very complete introduction and is published by Tagari Publications.
Rosemary Morrow's Earth User's Guide to Permaculture is a wonderfully practical complement to the above books. Published by Kangaroo Press, and widely available.
About the Authors
Kim M. Wilkinson is the Education Director for Permanent Agriculture Resources and editor of The Overstory. She has B.A. degrees in Anthropology and Ecology from Emory University.
Craig R. Elevitch is an agroforestry specialist with more than ten years of public and private sector experience in tropical agroforest and forest management. He has a M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering (Dynamical Systems) from Cornell University.
Related Editions to The Overstory
- The Overstory #75--Agroforestry Glossary
- The Overstory #57--The Agroforester's Library, Part Three--Organizations and Periodicals
- The Overstory #54--The Agroforester's Library Part Two--Species References
- The Overstory #52--The Agroforester's Library Part Two--Books
- The Overstory #44--Integrated Systems Approach
- The Overstory #39--Agroforestry Resources for the Practitioner
- The Overstory #18--Designing Resource Systems
- The Overstory #7-- Agroforestry Systems