What is Permaculture? by Starhawk

Permaculture is ecological design aimed at creating systems that meet human needs while regenerating and healing the environment around us. It does this by applying a set of ethics and principles that guide us in designing connections, flows, and beneficial relationships among various elements, whether in a garden, a building or an organization, and mimicking the way that nature works. Permaculture is no one technique or process, but rather weaves together multiple approaches, technologies and solutions to problems of sustainability. Instead of designing separate things, we design connections and beneficial relationships.

The word ‘permaculture’ was coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s, from ‘permanent agriculture’, but has come to encompass many sorts of systems: ‘permanent culture.’

We see permaculture as a vitally important set of ideas and practices in this crucial time. We have a very narrow window of time left in which to respond to climate change and environmental degradation. If we don’t, we face ecological and human catastrophes that are beyond imagining. No one solution or technology can save us: in fact, applying single or simplistic solutions generally will create new, unforeseen and possibly worse problems. One example is biofuels— when rainforests are cut down and new land is plowed for biofuel cultivation, when human food supplies are diminished in favor of growing fuel, biofuels simply worsen the problem. When ‘wastes’ such as used restaurant grease are turned into biofuels—as the city of San Francisco now does to run its busses—they can be part of the solution. Only an integrated systems approach can find effective solutions to environmental and social ills.

Permaculture has three basic ethics: Care for the earth, care for people, and care for the future—sometimes framed as “return the surplus” or “limit consumption”. It has a set of principles that direct us to observe natural systems and mimic the way they work, catching and storing the sun’s energy, using biological and local resources, with minimal inputs of fossil fuel energy, and getting multiple uses out of each element. Permaculture favors low-tech solutions that empower ordinary people to take responsibility for their own needs and impacts. Our goal is more than sustainability: we work for abundance, regeneration and healing.

Permaculture is also a global movement and network. A permaculture design course includes a seventy-two hour basic curriculum that introduces the principles, practices, techniques, and spectrum of solutions available for food growing, building, energy and economics. Permaculture practitioners are involved in projects all over the world—we have more on-the-ground projects in the third world than the U.N. Vietnam adopted permaculture as its core agricultural system, and increased production over 15%. Cuba turned to permaculture after the Soviet Union collapsed, taking with it their major oil supplies and markets, and now feeds its people with organic crops, many of which are grown in and around cities.

Permaculture is a set of tools for shifting our thinking—from separation to connection, isolation to interdependence.

To learn more, please visit our Schedule page for upcoming courses.