What is Permaculture?

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”
– Bill Mollison, father of Permaculture

What is Permaculture?

The term “Permaculture” is a contraction of the words “permanent” and “culture.” Although the original focus of permaculture was designing sustainable agriculture (food production), the design philosophy of permaculture has expanded over time to encompass economic and social systems, too. Permaculture advocates designing human systems based on natural ecosystems. It is a dynamic movement that continues to grow and evolve.

What is the origin of Permaculture?

Permaculture was developed in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist at the University of Tasmania. As a wildlife biologist, Bill had spent many years observing how natural systems work, and he was distressed at the destructive practices that he saw being used in modern agriculture. He decided that, rather than being reactionary against these forces of destruction he was witnessing, he wanted to work on creating a proactive solution based on the patterns he had observed in nature.

Observing nature, Mollison came up with several important insights, which became the Permaculture Principles. He observed that natural systems, such as forests and wetlands, are in balance and self-sustaining. They provide for their own energy needs and recycle their own wastes. He also observed that all the different parts of a balanced natural ecosystem work together. Each component of the system performs multiple important functions. For example, bees help to pollinate, birds provide pest control, certain plants pull nitrogen out of the air and fix it into a form that other plants can use. So every part of the system contributes, and does useful work. He applied the important principles he developed and other insights to design and create sustainable agricultural systems.

In the 1970’s he and his student David Holmgren wrote and published several books explaining his concept. In the 1980s he published his design manual and started teaching Permaculture Design courses to share his design system across the globe. By the 1990s Permaculture began to spread throughout the US, although it remains more well-known in other countries around the world. Today, it continues to grow as a global grassroots movement, with adherents continuing and adding to it’s development and application in all climates and contexts.  Permaculture Design Courses introduce newcomers to the ethic and principles around the world and throughout the year.

Who is practicing Permaculture?

Besides Permaculture practitioners who study and learn about permaculture, and consciously use permaculture to strive to live in a more sustainable way, there are many people who practice permaculture without necessarily being conscious of it – environmentalists, organic gardeners, conservationists, land use planners, urban activists, recyclers, indigenous peoples and anyone working toward creating a sustainable future where the human ‘footprint’ is a positive thing for the environment. The reason for this is that Permaculture draws on a lot of ideas and practices that have been around for a long time.

You may have heard the terms “ecological design”, “sustainable design”, “applied ecology” or “green design”. These are terms that describe the basic philosophy of using nature as a model to foster sustainability. The difference between these approaches and Permaculture is their scope and focus. Permaculture draws on these systems and incorporates them into a broader design framework.

What does Permaculture have to do with Unadilla and The Meeting Place?

I received my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2014 from the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, and the Permaculture ethic of ‘People Care, Earth Care, Fair Share’, as well as the Permaculture design principles were integral to the design of the original ‘The Meeting Place’ business plan, and they come into play daily in our operation.

Our objective in our ‘Hyper Local’ campaign is to further develop Permaculture as a way of creating the kind of community we want to live in.  In addition to putting the Permaculture principles to work in the design of our new ‘forest farm’ and kitchen garden, to conserve energy and eliminate waste while providing fresh, quality food for our Meeting Place customers, our farm and coffee shop will also become a sort of ‘living museum’ of social and economic permaculture, as well as a laboratory/nursery for The Village Green group which has formed in Unadilla, and which will be creating a ‘Permaculture Park’ just down the street on the grounds of the Unadilla Food Bank and the United Methodist Church.

Back in October, we kicked off our ‘Three Thursdays” Film Fest with a look at the ills of the modern industrialized food system (Food, Inc), and introduced Permaculture as a possible antidote in the film ‘Inhabit’.  For a more multi-media view of this thing called ‘Permaculture’, I invite you to view the trailer for ‘Inhabit’, and to stop by The Meeting Place sometime to talk about Permaculture and sustainable design.

INHABIT: A Permaculture Perspective – TRAILER 2015 from Costa on Vimeo.

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