What is Permaculture?

I’ve been asked this question a few times as it comes up during my travels, and I like many other permaculturalists have found it difficult to sum up the movement in a few sentences that would not devalue the concept.

Most people who have a vague understanding may think it’s something to do with gardening. One of my favourite one liners is “Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening” so I suppose that’s at least on the right track! On the extreme end, i’ve heard people associate permaculture with hippies running away to live in a ‘cult’ like commune. The reality is, most people have no idea what it is.

It’s true that Permaculture is dynamically defined. It is a broad and ever evolving topic of discussion. Permaculture doesn’t just apply to growing food or living on a farm, it could apply to an area as small as your kitchen window sill, or even social systems, business structures and anything that could be designed with a guiding set of principles in mind.

The word ‘Permaculture’ comes from the combination of the words ‘Permanent Agriculture’, although in recent times, one could say it is a fusion of ‘Permanent Culture’ as the movement has grown to a worldwide community that is actively changing the way they live and interact with modern day society.

Here are two definitions given by the originators of Permaculture themselves; David Holmgren & Bill Mollison. The pair coined the term in 1978.

David Holmgren, gives his definition in his book Retrosuburbia; a downshifters guide to a resilient future

A design system for resilient living and land use based on universal ethics and ecological design principles. Also, a global movement of individuals, groups and networks applying permaculture in diverse ways in privileged and destitute communities around the world.

David Holmgren

The definition given by Bill Mollison in his ‘Permaculture Bible’ Permaculture; A Designers Manual is a little more concise:

Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non material needs in a sustainable way.

Bill Mollison

My friend Bree who I’m studying the PDC alongside has given a nice definition. Bree is a Chef who recently quit her job in the city to pursue a more sustainable way of living:

“Permaculture is fluid. Its principles allow us to build a ‘permanent culture’ that provides and looks after both nature and people. It has this amazing ability to apply to anyone and everyone, and it’s not just applicable to the garden or outdoors. Permaculture has ethics and values that apply to the household and the community as a whole. It inspires a creative and sustainable way of thinking and living. To me, permaculture creates a way of life that integrates people care and earth care.”

Bree Spence

There are a range of principles and ethics considered and taught in permaculture. David Holmgren’s system is the most easily understood and capture the concept in a wholistic yet simplified way:

In my second week of completing my PDC I feel as if Permaculture can not be put in any one box, it is the boxes. It is a a system and way of life that encourages self development, reflection and action to do good in the world by taking personal responsibility for your actions, waste and overall footprint.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s definitions of Permaculture. I feel as if everyone has the ability to interpret the ideas fostered by the movement and to bring about action in continually new a creative ways. There is an abundance of potential out there to utilise innovative technologies, diverse resources and traditional practices to create a more sustainable way of life.

Feel free to comment your ideas, questions and definitions below in the comments below.

Thank you for reading 🙂

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