Why Permaculture?

What makes ME believe this wholistic movement is a positive change that can address our environmental crisis?

Around 2001, I was once asked if I’d ever heard of Permaculture and I had to admit that I hadn’t; then Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway, was published; I read it and was hooked by the ideas the author presented. It helped bring my though process full-circle, as it revisited my early interests in ecology (TESC) and later landscape design (Oregon). Not long thereafter I was heading to the Lost Valley Educational Center, near Dexter, Oregon, to take a two-week PDC (Permaculture Design Course) with Jude Hobbs, Toby Hemenway, and Rick Valley.

Since then I’ve been fortunate to take advanced design courses with some really outstanding teachers. David Jacke, in Helena, Montana, on edible forest design; Jenny Pell & Andrew Millison (OSU), at Breitenbush Hot Springs, Oregon, on community planning; and especially, David Holmgren, at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, in Seattle, on his book tour for Permaculture Principles and Pathways. Holmgren, a co-founder of the Permaculture movement, also created this diagram of the ethics and principles of Permaculture.


What this diagram tells me is that at the core of Permaculture there are ethical standards: care for the earth, care for people, and sharing the surplus. Surrounding that there are twelve principles which help to clarify the design process: Observe and Interact; Catch and Store Energy; Obtain A Yield; Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback; Use and Value Renewable Resources; Produce No Waste; Design from Patterns to Details; Integrate Rather than Segregate; Use Small and Slow Solutions; Use and Value Diversity; Use Edges and Value the Marginal; Creatively Use and Respond to Change.

These principles are altogether much more than anyone can briefly explain, and I’m not going to do that here.  But the process of design is a funny thing, and for me it’s a visual exercise in reimagining the world, seeing in new ways. There is no end point in design as we continually reinvent ourselves, thereby maintaining our resilence in a ever changing world. What I’ve learned from Permaculture is a way to meld together the ideas learned about ecology and the hippie idealism of my Geoduck days, with the landscape design theory and the aesthetic idealism of my Duck days.  Permaculture may not be perfect but it provides a tool kit for the design journey.

The kit asks us to think wholistically and at a variety of scales, and to consider relationships, living and otherwise.  At times it feels religious, but I can’t imagine a more useful practice than to try understanding our world from the perspective presented by Permaculture. In it I’ve found positive solutions to critical problems, and the potential for beauty, in harmony with nature. What more could you want? It has also spawned a social movement designed to use our collective energy to resolve critical problems. You’ll find that being addressed by Permies, as we affectionately call ourselves, in the Transition Movement, a response to Climate Chaos, Economic Uncertainty, and the Resource Depletion (Peak Oil). But more about that in later pages, perhaps.

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