What is permaculture? It’s good ecological design with a whole systems approach. This approach focuses not only growing food, but growing ethically and ecologically-minded households, communities, businesses, etc. The permaculture design philosophy models after solid ecological design, but approaches aspects of the design outside of the garden or food-growing spaces. When I was introduced to permaculture 10 years ago, it primarily served as methodology for growing food using bio-mimicry. We observed the natural world and mimicked the processes and patterns found in that system in creating our own food growing spaces.
Today that concept may be applied to our growing practices, something as simple as a kitchen remodel, or as complex as a business model. Some people talk of the concept of Zone 00, or the zone of self. While I really enjoyed Toby Hemmenway’s response to this labeling of the self evaluation process (and am guilty of using the label), self awareness, as any permaculturalist would agree, is a vital part of the initial and ongoing observation process. Whatever we call it, understanding the why and how of our approach to an environment can awaken a number of aspects of our personality that we may wish to enhance, change, or keep in check. If there is one enemy of the natural world, it isn’t the biocides or digging machines, it’s the human ego.
Permaculture today more than ever, focuses on three core ethics: Care for people, place, and sharing. (I feel like permaculture really deserves its own Care Bear with these three ethics represented on its belly. Anyone?) We must consider the impact we have not only on others, but on our environment. Further, we must recognize that we are not only individuals, but part of a larger natural community and that our surplus can help offset another’s deficit.
By modelling after natural systems, we create paths toward improved efficiency, smaller and smarter feedback loops that help us regularly improve on an initial design, and resource management practices that reduce our impact on the natural world. These three elements of permaculture design can reduce our system inputs significantly, all while improving yields or desired outputs.
Permaculture also values overlapping or stacking functions. In plant communities, greater yields are seen in places where plants provide some element of protection, nutrient cycling, etc. for neighboring plants. In other words, these plants are not all expected to behave in the same manner; each provides something to the whole that enhances the growing environment. As an employer, this concept may be extended to employees. Rather than asking people to perform at equal levels, it would serve the organization to examine the strengths of each employee as these strengths pertain to the larger picture. Overlapping these talents or including some kind of redundancy in the system is another to stabilize the system and prevent collapse, should one aspect of the system fail.
In the employment setting, valuing the employee as part of the success of the whole company, brings about a better work environment. Imagine the impact this can have on the families of those employees!
Permaculture design has many facets that may be applied to every aspect of our lives. We’ll explore more of these in the coming weeks because the answer to What is permaculture? can be as simple or as complex an explanation as needed in the context of your exploration.