Permaculture definitely incorporates a lot of ideas and literature on growing food, but to narrow the practice down to a type of gardening is a mistake. Permaculture is about much more, from streamlining practices to designing green homes to minimizing environmental woes.
In actuality, it’s a sort of life philosophy, a way of looking at things – really looking, observing nature’s way, and figuring out how most efficiently, ecologically and simply a task can be done. It’s suggested that practitioners simply observe a piece of land for a year before putting in major gardens or choosing a spot for building!
Honestly, my initial interest in permaculture stemmed from a desire to grow my own food, but I soon learned that many of the life choices I’d made were right in line with the idea as a whole. Here’s how permaculture isn’t just about gardening.
Empowerment and Ecology
Perhaps one of the reasons permaculture is often confused for a particular style of gardening is that it is often introduced as a way to turn a yard or balcony into an edible forest. While food production on some scale is certainly important in a permaculture home, the idea stems more from the fact that culturally we need to be more efficient, more self-sufficient and more ecological. And, we need to do it ourselves.
Growing our own food, be it an edible balcony garden or full-on food forest, means we don’t need the supermarket for it, which means it doesn’t need to be packaged or shipped, which means we are using less fossil fuel and plastic for that basil, the lettuce leaves and whatever else is growing around the house. It’s good for us, both physically and economically, as well as for the environment, due to our sound organic growing practices and a reduced dependence on the rigors of mass food production.
Energy and Resources
With the same line of thought, permaculture systems seek to minimize the impact of the energy we use while maximizing the output of the resources required for it. Food from the home garden fits into this idea, but the way our homes are built, the way machines are utilized and the way resources are collected are all vital. Solar, wind and other green energy sources are, of course, much more sustainable and clean than fossil fuels, but the idea doesn’t stop there.
For example, permaculture systems seek to find ways of making the most of our own resources, such as water. Catching, storing and utilizing rainwater rather than letting it drain away means we take less from our fresh water sources. Repurposing grey water (water from sinks, showers, washing machines and so on) means we lessen water usage in the garden (or toilet) and don’t further strain our struggling water and sewage systems. Also, properly designed gardens require much less water than the expansive lawns we see in typical suburban neighborhoods, all while providing food and diverse animal habitats.
Observation and Design
It’s within the design — of gardens, homes, communities, roadways and even cities — that permaculture is most deeply rooted. The idea is to first observe, especially nature, which has spent millennia evolving its systems towards efficiency and sustainability, and then design things in a similar way that works well for both people and the earth. Gardens become diverse food forests instead of mono-cropped fields, and communities are to minimize impact and reap our own rewards, not just bolster commerce.
Our communities should be designed well (Check out this neighborhood in Davis, California) to be cooperative (shared edible gardens, not competing decorative lawns) rather than isolating. They should be energy-efficient rather than profitably wasteful, and nature- enhancing rather than decimating.
Permaculture is not just about gardening, but growing food certainly can and should play a role. It’s not just about any one thing, really. It’s not static but evolving, encouraging practitioners to experiment, to fail and to adapt, searching for the cleanest, greenest, easiest ways to do things as varied as DIY ecological hygiene products to building quality eco-homes that use on-site materials and renewable energy sources. It’s definitely something worth getting more involved in. In fact, here are four ways to incorporate permaculture into your life starting now!
Lead image source: Planet a./Flickr