Thursday, December 24, 2009

Permaculture Principles

As I learn more and more about permaculture (or 'regenerative culture' as some practitioners are now calling it), I am more and more appreciating the perspective that it offers. I first blogged on 'Permaculture' almost a year and a half ago (7/22/08). In that post I wrote an overview of permaculture. Here I'd like to focus on ethics and basic principles.

As I wrote in my first post, permaculture comes with a lot of interesting techniques. (I'm particularly fond of sheet mulching aka 'lasagna gardening'.) However, it is as a design philosophy that permaculture really shines. Permaculture is truly a systemic way of looking at things. (See my post of 12/14/09 for more on 'Systems'.) And that's why the ethics and principles of permaculture are so important.

The ethics seem clear; three important points are laid out. There seems to be no questions on the first two: care for the earth ('Earthcare') and care for people ('Peoplecare'). There are a few versions of the third. The one that seems currently popular now is 'Fairshare'--placing limits on consumption and making sure that we equitably share Earth's resources. I have also heard it referred to as giving away the surplus, which I like even better.

However, there are many different lists of the basic principles of permaculture. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (aka ATTRA) lists thirteen principles. The Heathcote community, in its teaching module on permaculture, lists seven principles. David Holmgren, one of the founders of permaculture, lists twelve design principles. And Wikipedia, in its article on Permaculture, lists what it calls the O'BREDIM design methodology. (O'BREDIM stands for observation, boundaries, resources, evaluation, design, implementation and maintenance.)

I am going to pick and choose from all these lists. There is nothing original here--almost all of what's below has been lifted (rather directly--creative plagiarism) from one or more of the sites referenced above. (Occasionally I have fiddled with the wording so it makes more sense to me and I have combined stuff from different sites within some of the principles I list.) Here are what I think are the more important principles of permaculture in an order that I think makes sense:

1) Thoughtful and protracted observation: (I got this wording from Starhawk, Webs of Power.) Observation allows you first to see how the site functions within itself, to gain an understanding of its initial relationships.

2) Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

3) Stacking functions: Make sure that each element performs multiple functions.

4) Repeating functions: Make sure that each function is supported by many elements.

5) Reciprocity: Utilize the yields of each element to meet the needs of other elements in the system.

6) Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

7) Diversity: We want to create resilience by utilizing many elements.

8) Conservation: Use only what is needed.

9) Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

10) Use the edges and value the margins: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse, and productive elements in the system. Work to increase the edges within a system.

11) Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

12) Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

That's my list. By looking through the lists I referenced above, you can create your own.

Now, who wants to create a new society using these principles?

Quote of the Day: "The process of providing for people's needs within ecological limits requires a cultural revolution. Inevitably such a revolution is fraught with many confusions, false leads, risks and inefficiencies. We appear to have little time to achieve this revolution. In this historical context, the idea of a simple set of guiding principles that have wide, even universal application is attractive." - David Holmgren


Norah Cook said...

Here's another principle: "zones of attention," in other words, the vegetable and herb garden is in daily use during its season and will be best attended to if it's right outside the kitchen door, whereas the berry patch is fine far away, because you can hike to it during the short berry season. Here's another thought: that Earth responds and unusual plants may appear when you begin to work in this thoughtful way. These plants are important--part of the contemplative work is to understand why they volunteer. Oh, and another really mystical principle: The Solution Can Be Found within the Problem Itself.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for your comments and welcome to this blog

Those are also good principles. I didn't include the zone principle because it seemed specific to gardening. On the other hand, I really like the idea that 'The Solution Can Be Found within the Problem Itself'--there's a useful way to approach difficulties. Thank you for pointing that one out.