If you are interested in sustainability, food gardening, or just wondering surely there is a better way we can take care of the earth, then you may have come across permaculture. Permaculture seems to have come a long way since since 1978, when Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren coined the term to create a system around sustainable food production. And now we see it everywhere, in one-day Permablitzes where people get together to create edible gardens, permaculture movie nights, and the Permaculture Action Tour where musicians will leave a trace of permaculture goodness instead of trash after a concert. The ethics of permaculture are straightforward, it is all about:
- Earth care
- People care, and
- Fair share
Permaculture is mostly about agriculture, covering topics such as; food forests, patterns in nature, how to irrigate the land, creating healthy soil, and many more. But also ecological building; water harvesting, compost toilets, renewable energy systems, and so on. Really, it’s about living the on the earth in a balanced way, without depleting it’s resources and nurturing the mutually beneficial relations between people and earth. It’s principles can be applied even beyond, to education and even economics. The 12 principles will give you a taste of what it’s all about.
Grow Your Own Food
Even though permaculture can be applied beyond agriculture, food gardening has always been central to it. It is the most effective way of reducing our impact on the planet, with locally grown, unprocessed foods, while increasing resilience. Permaculture design principles can be applied to your city balcony, as much as to your many acres of land (if you are lucky to have that). Food gardening can also be an excellent way to teach children about healthy living and locally sourced food. Gardening can literally change minds, as Ron Finley in South Central LA will show in this powerful TED video.
Permaculture is Empowering
What I appreciate is the focus on positive change, on real solutions in a world of less energy and resources. We can dwell on all the misery, from plastic oceans, to climate change, the surge in diabetes due to unhealthy processed foods. And of course we need to raise awareness. But more important is to focus our energy on creating positive alternatives. If you start growing your own food, with respect for nature, reducing waste, using alternative energy, that will change things. We can reclaim our power as producers rather then frustrated consumers, generate at least part of our energy ourselves, from natural resources, start rethinking waste in our own lives, and so on. A famous quote says ‘Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening’, and so it is!
Permaculture for Designers
In essence, permaculture is a design philosophy. To create a more sustainable and resilient world, permaculture can be of interest for all sorts of designers. From urban designers, architects, interior and garden designers but also product, user experience and service designers. Permaculture fits in with Cradle to Cradle and Circular Economy thinking, which delivers not only more balanced business strategies, but also proven increase in financial gain. If you have a remote interest in caring for the earth, and want to step out of your usual curriculum, I am sure permaculture will be very inspiring.
Want to Get Your Fingers Dirty?
After much debate I finally booked my 10 day Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course last May. And now I have opened my mind to that I myself could do things like creating food forests, building compost, creating swales to irrigate land. Even though for the moment I still have close to zero practical experience, I am getting excited by learning how to live closer to the land, and enjoy digging in the earth more then I thought.
If you are curious, there are many permaculture projects and courses available globally, from 1 day workshops on How to build a rocket stove, to a full 10 day PDC Course, or even 6 to 12 month apprenticeship programs. You can find courses worldwide, for example on Permaculture Magazine or the Permaculture Research Institute (mostly Australia). If you want a taster first, or just can’t get the time off for a course, and there is a high quality collection *free* of online lectures at Open Permaculture.
When Choosing a PDC Course Keep in Mind …
- The course will cover mostly theory, and not so much practice. Even though I now have a PDC certificate, I wouldn’t know how to actually irrigate someones land, or how to build a raised bed, until I have gained hands on experience (there are plenty of opportunities for that, too. you can join Permablitzes from London to Hawaii).
- You may want to choose a course that takes places in the climate zone that you want to possibly start a project in yourself. Although to be honest most theory is applicable everywhere, and my priority was a beautiful, warm paradise .. may as well make it a enjoyable learning holiday!
- Be aware the quality and approach to teaching the Permaculture can vary widely. There is no real review or grading system, so research your course and teacher well. You can probably get a good idea based on the website and communication with your teacher, but also make sure to ask about the exact study program, accommodation, meals, etc.
- If you prefer to get stuck in learning practical skills, without spending any money on a course yet, try WWOOF’ing (meaning World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). You can work in exchange for food and accommodation. You can find projects via their dedicated website, or go to Permaculture Global if you want to find only permaculture projects. There are plenty!