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What Is Permaculture?

What is Permaculture ? The word is a contraction of two other words : Permanent and Culture. Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Natural ecosystems are resilient under normal circumstances, the ones that did not disappear long ago; so they are a good source of inspiration. The goal is to make an harmonious integration of landscape and people to provide food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.  The idea is to work with nature, rather than against it.

Permaculture is both a method and a set of techniques to design sustainable and resilient human settlements. The idea is to use the assets of a site in a very efficient way in order to provide the inhabitants with most of their needs.

Permaculture Design Method. There is a strong general methodology which is applicable anywhere in the world, and a collection of technical solutions which can suit each context. Knowledge and practices come from various sources: traditional practices, modern techniques, patterns found in nature… And solutions are sought for all aspects of human living: food, energy, water, shelter, waste, sanitation, materials…

First, community needs are assessed: how much food, water, energy, non food items… does the community need. Then, the site is thoroughly observed: topography, climate, flora and fauna, sunlight and wind, soil, seasons… Also, nearby ecosystems, local regulations, and risks and opportunities are taken into account. After this preliminary assessment, the development plan can be designed.

Permaculture Design Principles. The strength of the permaculture methodology is based on its principles. Here are the main ones: – To put the elements of the design (the house, the garden, the pond…) in locations where they can be useful to each other. – To value diversity (in the plants grown, in the type of energy used) and to value intensity (to have as much production as possible in one place). – To use biological resources (sun and animals and gravity can do the work!) and to recycle nutrients. – To have the elements of the design perform as many functions as possible and to have the vital functions of the design being supported by as many elements as possible.

Each Element Performs Multiple Functions. The idea is to be efficient and to have an element of the design have as many uses as possible. If a pond is  an element of the design, it can – of course – be used to store water. But it can also be used to raise fish and to shelter ducks from their predators. If properly located, it can also serve as a firebreak or – using the light reflection – as a way to warm up crops or the house. It can also be used for recreational purposes. There are often many ways to use a single element of the design.

Catch and Store Energy and Materials. The idea is: whatever comes through your site: store it! so it can be used in dire times. For example, water. Swales and dams can be built on the site so that rain and run-off can be collected. And  if the location is on a slope, it’s better to store water at the top, so it can be easily distributed with gravity.

Use Small-Scale, Intensive Systems. The idea here is that there can be a lot of productivity on a small surface and this is often achieved with diversity. An example is the food forest, which is a forest of edible plants. This forest uses seven layers of plants which all have access to the sun and the nutrients. There is the large tree layer, the low tree, shrub, herbaceous, root crops, soil surface, and climbers layer.

Use Biological Resources. The idea is that whenever nature can do a work, let it work ! One example is the chicken tractor : it is a mobile coop. To prepare the soil for planting, let the chicken eat the grass and fertilize the soil with their poop, then move the coop to the next piece of land.

Permaculture Design Benefits. There are many benefits to a permaculture design: the main ones are that the site is more productive and more energy efficient. There is better food and water and energy security. The local environment is in better shape. Communities are stronger, more resilient and more self-reliant.

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