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Permaculture: Path to a Sustainable Culture
April 29, 2006 by Evelyn J. Hadden
 serviceberry in bloom
Serviceberries and other perennial native fruits represent a tempting and sustainable alternative to store-bought berries, which may travel over a thousand miles to reach your supermarket.

Permaculture is both a set of ideas and a way of living. It focuses on why and how to set up self-sustaining systems and processes, and it applies to many facets of society from urban design to exchanging goods and services to the way people interact with animals, down to growing as much of our own food as possible. Permaculture seeks lifestyle changes that will reduce pollution and energy use, improve health, and strengthen our spiritual connection with the earth and knowledge of our place in it.

The term was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren a couple of decades ago to denote "permanent agriculture", or forest gardening. Since then permaculture's many supporters have redefined the term as "permanent culture", a concept that embraces many interlinked aspects of sustainable living.

Permaculture is informed by cutting-edge research and theory in ecology, the science of natural communities. It also seeks to recapture the earthwise intelligence of native and aboriginal cultures and other groups with proven sustainable lifestyles.

Some of permaculture's key guidelines for designing a garden (or a lifestyle) include:
  • Honor the health of the system and of all components above their productivity; favor slow changes and low levels of work and input and output over the drive to maximize production, which pushes the system out of balance.

  • Maintain closed-loop cycles of all materials to keep the system in balance; what we might call waste is re-imagined as a surplus resource, to be used as an input into another process.

  • Designate zones of more intense and less intense energy use to maximize efficiency and minimize wasted labor and resources.

  • Build in redundancy—each element has many functions, and each function is performed by many elements—to ensure stability in the system.

  • Do not use stores of natural capital to sustain ongoing processes, but tap them for the extra energy needed when generating a structure or system or putting a process into action.

  • Use natural processes and features to guide our use of the land and to do as much as possible of the work required for production.

It will be obvious from the above list that the permaculture point of view favors wholistic, long-range thinking on par with the "seventh generation" approach of Native Americans, much different from (one might even say diametrically opposed to) the modern American lifestyle. Though confronting this enormous culture gap can be depressing, it does offer a broad scope of areas which we can work to change, and maybe within the wide range of possibilities will be one that really excites you.

Here, in no particular order, are a few places a person could start to make lifestyle changes that move toward the permaculture frame of mind:

  • Change how you eat!
    • Eat fewer animal products, and choose products made from free-range animals untreated with hormones.
    • Purchase locally grown or made foods from regional farmers and other small producers. A regional resource like Minnesota Grown or Idaho's Bounty can help.
    • Grow more of your own food in a low-maintenance perennial edibles garden.

  • Strengthen your ties!
    • Choose to participate in active and interactive rather than passive entertainments.
    • Volunteer within your community.
    • Spend less time and energy on things, making more room in your life for relationships and activities.

  • Reduce your waste!
    • Opt out of mailings you don't want or read to limit paper waste.
    • Maintain things well and keep them longer.
    • Carpool, work at home, or walk/bike/bus to work more often.
    • Compost your kitchen scraps and yard waste for your garden.
    • Relax your standards where any kind of fashion is concerned.

  • Help to reinvent your community!

Here's hoping we can find joy and fulfillment in improving the world for the next (and the seventh) generation!

Use permaculture concepts in your garden!

Delve into permaculture philosophy with David Holmgren, co-inventor of the concept. Each chapter of his visionary book will lead to insights and introspection about a different aspect of life.
info at Amazon

Meet folks in the Upper Midwest USA who are exploring and trying permaculture.
Permaculture Research Institute - Cold Climate

Mentioned in this article:

info at Amazon

info at Amazon
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