A few thoughts on permaculture

An example of permaculture application at the household scale.

Have you ever heard the term permaculture? If you do any gardening or have investigated methods of living more efficiently and sustainably, you might have heard about it (even if you aren’t entirely sure what it is).

Permaculture is the combination of two words: perma (short for permanent) and culture (short for agriculture). It was coined by Australian researchers Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978 during the rise of the sustainable agriculture movement. While most commonly used in reference to food growing systems, permaculture has now evolved to apply to all aspects of our lives. Simply put, permaculture is a set of principles developed to help us meet our basic human needs by utilizing and imitating systems found in nature.

As expressed in Holmgren’s 2002 book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, there are 12 design principles most commonly associated with permaculture. They are as follows: Observe and Interact; Catch and Store Energy; Obtain a Yield; Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback; Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services; 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. Mark D. Hathaway also explores these concepts in his 2015 research article titled Agroecology and permaculture: addressing key ecological problems by rethinking and redesigning agricultural systems. 

Permaculture gardening, specifically, takes a holistic approach to how plants, animals, and humans interact together to make each garden plot more sustainable. These gardens use natural forces to provide everything the garden needs to flourish while seeking to reduce the need for any external inputs, such as fertilizers or pesticides. It can be quite flexible to implement and can be done in rural or urban places, started on a balcony, in a backyard, or on a small farm.

Permaculture is often promoted as an ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change or a strategy or action that employs the use of nature-based solution (looking to nature for tackling socio-environmental challenges). Just as an ecosystem is healthier when filled with multiple species, a diverse garden also tends to be more resilient to climatic variability. Companion planting (planting numerous mutually beneficial species of plants together) can also support greater yields, as well as having the capacity to reduce erosion and water runoff during storms.

Permaculture attempts to ensure that humans and the natural environment can adapt to climate change. An example of this is utilizing permaculture gardening as a cost-effective way to promote food subsistence and security for individuals and communities. The permaculture and circular economy movements are also closely linked, as both strive to avoid the generation of waste by promoting recycling and the reusing of materials.

Applying permaculture principles to gardening can help the garden itself to be more productive while also reducing the work needed to maintain it.  The micro-climate and fertile soil found in the Niagara Region also makes for an ideal location for utilizing permaculture principles to provide healthy and nutrient-rich food. Incorporating permaculture into your next garden project can help you enjoy a diverse range of foods, while also allowing you to do your part to combat climate change in the process.

The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock-Caspell, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

 *Holmgren, D. (2002). Principles & pathways beyond sustainability. Holmgren Design Services, Hepburn.


Categories: MEOPAR-Lincoln Blog, Updates of the Chair