I have always been a bit of an idealist at heart. I suppose I just like to have a theory to explain what I experience. Give me a book on how things ‘should be’ and I’ll enjoy reading it and then debating the relative merits of the ideas. So when two friends of mine recently recommended that I take another look at permaculture I was certainly up for it. Previously I had thought of permaculture as a growing method for the really committed self-sufficient radical. What I discovered was something far more accessible and wide-ranging in application.
Permaculture (which stands for ‘Permanent Agriculture’) did start out as a method for creating self-sufficient growing systems with strong similarities to the organic movement. But the scope of permaculture has always been wider – looking at the whole impact humans have on their environment. Unlike strict organic standards, permaculture is more of a design method which has been spreading in influence and application since its inception in the 1970s.
The essence of permaculture is to design our environments to:
- Create sustainable agricultural systems which do not deplete the earth’s resources
- Minimise our impact on the earth, leaving as much of the natural ecosystems as possible
- Live holistically, so that our decisions in one area of our lives are in harmony with the rest and with our community
- Increase the efficiency of what we do: ‘maximum contemplation, minimum action’
It is this last statement that surprised me the most. It means that, for example, we should order our gardens so that the most-used and most-tended crops are nearer the house (a system they call ‘zoning’). Or, that we should work towards community gardens where each person specialises in their own skill area, thus making more efficient use of our resources. In wider application it can influence how we travel to work, design towns or where we go on holiday.
What is refreshing about permaculture is that it can be applied widely, or in small steps, all the time bringing about a sense of purpose and rationale for positive change. Intriguingly, permaculture principles lead us to the conclusion that the most efficient way to live in the modern world is for most people to live in towns, reducing the amount of travel, and organise our food production cooperatively. All of this can start in as small a place as our own back gardens – where some quite brilliant ideas have emerged from this system: keeping greenhouses frost free by linking them with chicken huts for example.
I do like to indulge in a bit of idealism. But it’s even better when it’s bringing about a quiet revolution in communities around the world. So, for next year’s garden plan I think I’ll take another look at permaculture and report back any flashes of inspiration I get from the ‘maximum contemplation, minimum action’ mantra! If you have taken any steps along the permaculture route then do add them as comments below...
A good resource for more information is the Permaculture Association.