The Permaculture Series: Beginnings
Updated: Mar 4
Are you up to speed on the basics? Great, read Part 2 here!
Greenscape Geeks wants to help educate our customers to promote the increased utility of sustainable practices in landscape design. Whether through the native plants we use, chemical-free yard services, or supporting community-sponsored agriculture, changing the way we think and interact with the land around us is a process that requires constant re-examination. Giving nature a wide berth to run things can demonstrate many opportunities for growth and idea integration that works for balance and harmony! This conscious decision-making dovetails into a discussion about the topic of urban permaculture. Permaculture is a bit of a head-scratcher in some areas, but we will try our best to make learning about it fun and accessible! This first part of the series is meant to be a primer of sorts with an expanded reading list at the end. As always, dear readers, reach out to us on our Facebook page, contact page, or leave a comment below if you have questions.
Every decision you make over a day feeds into a system. We’re talking about systems in the very textbook sense here, not the “fight the system” t-shirt slogans from Hot Topic. Some of these systems aren’t especially deep in their complexity, (using coffee grounds and water to make coffee in the morning, for example) but can have an influence on other systems you are working with (coffee breath during a morning client meeting). Most systems go unnoticed or do not directly affect us, but the gears still keep turning. However, when you want to put effort into creating a network with positive feedback loops with measurable results, you can start to see how seemingly disparate elements work together. This type of system coordination theory goes beyond the clothes you wear and the food you eat. The way we travel, build our homes, and, most importantly, how we sustain ourselves and our families all feed into the cultures we manifest for ourselves. Without getting too metaphysical, (we keep it geek-lite) everything is a system in some way! That’s why it is important to focus on creating something self-sustaining that gives continuous returns. In other words, a permanent culture.
A chance meeting and humble beginnings
This idea of permaculture originated as the combination of permanent agriculture, but as we mentioned before, it can include so much more than just agricultural pursuits. At least that is what David Holmgren and Bill Mollison thought. You can’t talk about permaculture without mentioning these guys, as they coined the term "permaculture". Holmgren was studying landscape design, ecology, and agriculture at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. It was the same university where Mollison taught and lectured. A chance meeting in the spring of 1974 brought Bill and David together to talk about local rabbit population control, initially. Over time, David’s analytical mindset and Bill’s idea-centric meshed together in a way that began examining many different domains and hierarchies of a sustainable culture. They formed a framework for a sustainable agricultural system based on observed values, designs, and methods of management that stemmed from a holistic understanding of interconnected domains. The concepts grew large enough in scope for the duo to co-author a book titled Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements. The book gained traction in the following years as Bill worked to found the Permaculture Institute in 1979 to help teach design courses that would educate and prepare permaculture leaders to spread the message in their respective communities.
‘What exactly is permaculture,’ you may ask? The answer is malleable depending on the context surrounding the term. For the sake of simplicity and continuity in these blog post installments, we’ll use a description from David Holmgren’s 2011 book, Permaculture Principles, and Pathways Beyond Sustainability:
“Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber (meaning useful materials), and energy for provision of local needs.”
Now that we have a working definition, we can explain the design principles that comprise the backbone of permaculture. There are twelve principles in total, and while this post won’t go into detail on any one, future posts will expound on them to share the thought experiments behind them. The twelve permaculture design principles are as follows:
While seemingly straightforward in its composition, the idea behind these principles was to create a mode of thinking that could translate easily between industrial societies in large or small-scale applications.
What permaculture is—and isn’t
With one overarching concept that juggles so many smaller ones, it can be easy to get lost in the weeds surrounding permaculture. Because permaculture is vast in its systemic scope, here are just a few common perceptions or observations that can be expanded for clarity.
-Permaculture isn’t very well known-
In the United States, permaculture design and activism are still in a fledgling state, but in other countries, permaculture has served as the basis for an agricultural revolution! Central America is an excellent example of what permaculture practices have done to sustain and enrich the agro-economy there. Affordable access to learning materials for rural farms is an obstacle that needs to be addressed, but new generations of farmers are already benefitting from permaculture systems put into place years prior. Australia (where founders David Holmgren and Bill Mollison are from) is also a prime example of how the country’s generation of leaders are being trained to pass on what they’ve learned with advocacy at state and federal levels.
-Permaculture is just for farmers and agricultural businesses-
Any budding green-thumb, backyard enthusiast, or urban farmer can incorporate design methods and principles of permaculture into their landscape, and Greenscape Geeks encourages you to do so (see our recent chemical and compost blog entries)! Aside from providing your family, neighbors, and/or community with freshly grown produce, you also become a pioneer in spreading the word about the work you’re doing with permaculture. Ethical, environmentally-sound decisions will become second-nature over time, and the windfall that follows will be enjoyed for many years to come.
-Permaculture is political-
This can be a tough subject to tackle because of the complications that come from intertwined systems that rely on each other to function correctly. For example, laws regarding renewable energy resources may be stifled by differences in political ideology, or a hunting preserve at risk of being destroyed receives no opposition due to the lack of a unified community. However, the beauty of permaculture ethics and design is in its bottom-up, grassroots approach to problem-solving; promote communal unity and self-determination without waiting around (or looking for) government solutions. Comprehensive design solutions that set up an enduring and bountiful harvest don’t require political commentary to ‘work better’ as some may suggest. At its core, permaculture embraces the virtues of caring for the people, caring for the planet, and abiding by the principle of fair share. Put that phrase on a wall, Etsy artisans!
-Permaculture isn’t easy to get involved with-
Great news! You don’t need to own vast tracts of land or immediately buy an entire solar array** to install on your house to start your journey to become a “permie.” This blog post was a major crash course on the beginnings and current structure of permaculture, so we’d suggest some further reading on the matter. There is an entire philosophy outlining the methods and decisions David Holmgren, and Bill Mollison made when conceptualizing their ideas that we can't do justice here. You can also reach out to Greenscape Geeks for permaculture projects and solutions!
For more information, check out our reading list below and look for Part 2 of this in the coming months!
**If you are interested in starting with solar power, we recommend Rectify Solar Company in Indianapolis! Phil Teague and his crew are ready to help with your renewable energy projects.
"Permaculture One" by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren
"Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability" by David Holmgren
"Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture" by Toby Hemenway
"Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth" by Jessi Bloom and Dave Boehnlein
"The Vegetables Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem" by Christopher Shein w/ Julie Thompson
Greenscape Geeks, LLC
"Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability" by David Holmgren, 2011