What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a part of environmental design specifically for sustainable agriculture and to configure agricultural systems to function similar to natural ecosystems. The discipline draws from several disciplines including organic farming, integrated farming, sustainable development, and applied ecology. It has three basic tenets:


Take Care of the Earth – Without a healthy planet, we will not survive.

Take Care of People – By provisioning people to get resources that they need.

Share the Surplus – By governing our own needs, we can set extra aside to meet the above needs.


Permaculture designs emphasize patterns of landscaping, function, and synergy of materials. It focuses on the relationships among elements by the way they are placed together, and uses this synergy to minimize waste, human labor, and energy input. Permaculture designs change over time and can become complex systems that produce a high density of food and materials with minimal input.


The most widely used systems that integrate permaculture are:


Agroforestry: Trees and shrubs are used within agricultural systems to take advantage of the interactive benefits from combining forestry with crops and/or livestock.


Hugelkutur: Large volumes of wood are buried to increase soil water retention. During the rainy season, buried wood can absorb enough water to sustain crops through the dry season.


Natural Building: Natural buildings are composed of a variety of building systems and materials that emphasize sustainability. Materials are chosen for durability, minimal processing, renewability, and recycling capacity. On-site handling of energy acquisition, water capture, alternate sewage treatment and water reuse are common as well. These components all aim to produce healthy living environments and improve indoor air quality.


Rainwater Harvesting: Accumulation and storing of rainwater is used to provide drinking water, water for livestock, and water for irrigation. Rainwater harvesting is an important contribution to the availability of drinking water, subsoil water level, and increase in urban greenery in many areas.


Sheet Mulching: Sheet mulching is a no-dig gardening technique that attempts to mimic natural processes occurring within forests. When used properly and with other permacultural principles, it makes healthy, productive, and low maintenance ecosystems.


Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing: This technique is used in areas where the vegetative type is grassland or Savannah. It can also heal desertified land. MIRG is a system of grazing where herds are systematically moved to fresh pasture or range with the intention of maximizing quality and quantity of forage growth followed by periods of rest.

Permaculture and its applications show promise to become dominant sustainable and productive agricultural practices and provide resources to those in areas that need them most.


By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013

One Reply to “What is Permaculture?”

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