Permaculture – a portmanteau for permanent agriculture – allows nature to make the decisions that have been led by humans since agriculture was invented. As the severity of the climate change crisis hits closer to home each year, more communities have been discussing the role permaculture can play to help. Permaculture is a return to the older , more nature-led approaches to food cultivation and farming, with the belief that this approach will lead to a more sustainable way of life. Try searching for permaculture farms near me to get a feel for how it works and what’s involved.
Humans have manipulated land for centuries; permaculture is a practice that gives that power back to nature, combining ancient practices with modern science. Furthermore, the philosophy that permaculture embodies seeks to reintroduce and reinforce the idea of community through shared farming and other traditional experiences.
According to Bill Mollison, who created the term in 1978, permaculture is “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” There’s a huge variety of wildly inventive permaculture projects happening, and a lot of information available.
A key facet of permaculture gardening is efficiency, thoughtful resource planning and whole-systems thinking. This is accomplished in part by attempting to use all of the available resources while reducing waste and external supplies whenever possible. Interestingly, permaculture systems often introduce natural remedies for pests and diseases, such as ladybugs to control aphids. (There are a lot of animals, it turns out, that can replace manufactured products for things like pest control). For more: this article from Modern Farmer further explains how permaculture emphasizes a philosophy of letting nature work for you.
Permaculture in action
Village Homes in Davis, California, is a 70-acre subdivision with 225 homes built on 23 acres of agricultural land. Built in 1975, the designers created narrow streets to avoid overheating and planted trees for shade. The neighborhood uses swales (depressions in yards or grassy areas) to collect water, in part to combat drought.
Zaytuna Farm in Australia, is a newer example of permaculture at work. The regenerative farming project was built on 66 acres of farmland 20 years ago and mimics a natural forest.
Farms like Zaytuna that implement permaculture practices are capable of producing a wide variety of agricultural products from produce to animal products such as milk, eggs, cheese, and meats. (Backyard chickens, for example, are one way urban residents can get some of the best animal products for free.) By making efficient use of the land and combining multiple plants and animals, permaculture operations can provide food and a unique system of sustainability. These practices emphasize interconnectedness and a harmony of natural systems. A tree on a permaculture farm can provide shade for light-averse produce plants growing under them, and animals can provide compost for plants while grazing on them. Permaculture farms can also help emphasize the interconnectedness in individual communities by bringing together farmers and the local consumers. Sourcing information from a permaculture skills center (like this one in Sebastopol, Calif.), is a good first step on your permaculture journey.
Practices for the long term
Permaculture practices are designed with sustainability and the long-term health of the earth in mind. The approach often includes, for example, carbon sequestration, which helps take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stores it in the the structure of a living plant or in the soil, making many permaculture operations carbon negative. Rewilding, as covered in this piece from The Conversation, is a practice with similar, back-to-nature principles in mind, and impacts how we plan for the future of the planet.
Like every practice or approach to farming, there are some hurdles to permaculture. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks.
Pros and Cons of Permaculture
Let’s start with the pros:
- Reduces waste
- Mitigates soil pollution
- Less ground and air pollution
- Resource efficiency and sustainability
- Self-production of energy and renewable energy
- Long-term process
- Diversified against risks
- Protects natural habitats and avoids pesticides
- Protects endangered species
Now the cons:
- Costly implementation
- Short-term loss for long-term profit
- Permaculture practices can be complex and take time to learn
- Potentially slower economic growth
- Mass production may be untenable
As farmers, policymakers and communities consider the way forward for food production in the face of climate change, permaculture will increasingly become part of the conversation. The benefits are undeniable, while most of the practice’s drawbacks involve the time and money that goes into getting permaculture operations up and running.
[What is permaculture? Four permaculture books to read now.][f]
The only way forward to a better, more sustainable approach to agriculture is by implementing what changes we can now, however incrementally. So go ahead, find the proverbial “permaculture farms near me” to get a glimpse at this practice. Just maybe, we’ll see your own permaculture farm or home garden in the future.
As we continue to build new materials to help unpack permaculture and its various facets, we’ll also continue to update this piece. Be sure to bookmark it and check back for more.
- If you were running your own permaculture operation, what would your main crops and livestock include?
- What’s your sense of the quality of agricultural products that come from permaculture operations?
As we look for solutions to save the planet and adapt to climate change, the permaculture movement has been gaining traction. Permaculture, at its core, allows nature to make the decisions that have been led by humans since agriculture was invented. As the severity of the climate change crisis increases, communities are starting to explore permaculture as one way to help.