Monday, October 30, 2006

What is permaculture?

So I just finished a month-long course in permaculture design at an ecovillage near Eugene, OR. People have been asking, "How was it?" and "What did you learn?" and "What is permaculture?" So I figure I should put some thought to these important questions and try to explain them in the greater context of the overall work that I am up to in causing this worldwide transformation for ecological sustainability.

So, the intent of permaculture is take a comprehensive approach to how humans interact with each other and with the ecosystems that support us in order to create high-quality human settlements that minimize the input of energy and labor as well as negative impacts on the environment.

What does that mean? It's basically ecological engineering. It asks, "How can we work with nature instead of against it?" And it strives to produce the greatest yield and the maximum well-being with the least amount of work -- efficiency, in other words.

Here's an example of permaculture practice: catch water off the roof of your house and store it until the dry season, then use it to water your vegetable garden. Or, pipe it through a graywater system in your house -- like use it to flush toilets. (Using 3 - 5 gallons per flush of drinking-water-quality water to flush a pee is kind of insane, especially considering a few billion people don't have access to sanitary water to drink in the first place.)

Here's another example of permaculture practice: put plants in your garden that attract ladybugs. Ladybugs eat aphids, which eat the plants that you want to eat. With ladbugs, you don't have to spend loads of money on toxic pesticides to kill the aphids.

OK, two more fun examples...

Chickens are tractors. Chickens scratch up the soil and fertilize it with their poo. So you don't have to toil away at the plough, or dump in tons of expensive fossil-fuel based fertilizers. Just let your chickens hang out where you want your garden to be. They'll prepare the soil nicely. They work long days, never complain, and you don't have to pay them. Plus, they lay eggs, and you can eat them.

And there's the story of the north Vietnamese peasant farmer in the '60's who wanted a pond on his farm. It's a lot of work to dig a pond, much easier to build a hut. So, he built a hut where he wanted the pond to be, and waited for the US Air Force to come along and bomb his hut and excavate his pond for him. Yup, that's permaculture!

So, the main point is that permaculure is easy, fun, creative, productive, efficient, environmentally benign or beneficial, inexpensive, accessible to everyone, aesthetic, and provides for high quality of life. I'll post some pictures as well as reflection and analysis of my experiences in the course soon.


Reto said...

Nice to see other interested in Permaculture! A few weeks ago I was on a seminar of Sepp Holzer, which pretty famous in Europa for his style of PC. He has a farm on 1500 meter and grows apples, kiwis and stuff. Have a look at his website.

Josh said...

Thanks Reto...looks cool.

Glad you stoped by the blog!