Perma-what? In which humans mimic nature. With sexy results.
A friend of mine started tossing around the word permaculture recently. Permaculture? Sounds like an expensive and vaguely unpleasant medical procedure.
Turns out, permaculture is a gardening term — and that’s when I got interested. Rather than current agricultural methods that deplete soil and necessitate crop rotation, permaculture develops sustainable edible ecosystems which mimic their wild counterparts.
Quick history: The founder of the modern permaculture movement was an Aussie by the name of Bill Mollison, who introduced the western world to it’s principles via a series of books published in the 1960s and 70s. The hippie culture embraced it and spread the word. Though Mollison is credited with popularizing the permaculture concept, he didn’t actually invent it. For that we can thank China, who has been using the method for centuries.
Tangential but totally related question: why do the Chinese get to invent all the best things? Fireworks. Kites. Crossbows. An indefinitely sustainable method of agriculture that doesn’t eventually deplete the land, turning it into a desert. I mean, fuck.
So okay, let’s say you get over your China-induced inferiority complex and decide to try out this ‘indefinitely sustainable’ idea for your own yard. When you begin to investigate permaculture, you run into all sorts of words like holistic management, synergy, and the maximum power principle. Which honestly makes it all sound like a New Age self improvement technique.
It’s not that far off. When done right, permaculture eliminates the need for crop rotation, reduces or eliminates waste, improves yields and drastically lowers the need for human intervention to be successful. So you do less and get more. That sounds like an improvement to me. Nature might just be on to something here.
There are 12 permaculture design principles that serve as a guide to re-designing our broken environment. They include ideas that may sound familiar because they are also be found in most groups ending with “-aholics anonymous”: accept feedback, observe and interact, integrate, value diversity and respond to change, among others.
If you’re liking the idea of getting your garden more in sync with nature, you’ll want to hook into the thriving permaculture community to get advice on where to start for your particular situation.
The Austin Permaculture Guild has a lively Yahoo Group. And I mean LIVELY. Those people are passionate and prolific. I had to eventually unsubscribe from the madness. They also know what they’re talking about, so if you’re into it check ‘em out.
Transition Austin has a wider mission, of which permaculture is just a part. They also take into account current events such as climate change, the global financial meltdown, and the end of the oil age. It’s permaculture for the activist set.
The Permaculture Institute updates their Facebook page regularly with useful info. These folks, headquartered near Santa Fe, are founded on the principles developed by Bill Mollison and are considered the “official” permaculture organization for North America.
At whichever level you decide to wade into it, incorporating one principle or all 12, the rewards of a self-sustaining ecosystem will be worth it. As Joseph Smith (not that one) wrote in "A Permanent Agriculture": "Forest -- field -- plow -- desert -- that is the cycle of the hills under most plow agricultures... When we develop an agriculture that fits this land, it will become an almost endless vista of green, crop-yielding trees."
Wouldn’t that be a sight?