Permaculture: simple, but not simple!

Permaculture offers us a way of producing food, farming, managing animals, understanding ecosystems, building communities, supporting local economies and more. It is one of the very few professions or “industries” that is built upon a clearly stated¬† ethical framework designed to guide action towards a positive outcome for everyone and everything involved.

I stumbled across Permaculture in the gardening section of the local bookstore over 23¬† years ago, when I picked up Bill Mollison’s “Designer’s Manual.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a beginner’s starting point, but it quickly demonstrated the all encompassing nature of the concept, and its wide application to a range of scenarios. Having grown up on a small farm breeding and raising many different domestic animals I also immediately saw the permaculture concept as much bigger than “just gardening.”

People often come to a workshop or course with an idea that they will learn to design their vegie garden, or a food forest, or how to grow fruit trees. Almost without fail they learn that permaculture offers much broader possibilities.

Since its conception, permaculture thinking has been evolving and adapting, as any vibrant ecosystem will. Along the way practitioners, writers, educators, and “permies” all across the globe have contributed their experience and understanding to both the big picture or its component parts (patterns to details!).

In recent years there has been a move towards using permaculture design to look at personal, community and social development. Two leading contributors to this field are Robin Clayfield and Looby McNamara, who along with others, have generously shared years of experience with students the world over, and stretched the boundaries of our understanding.

Perhaps part of the beauty and cleverness of permaculture is that we don’t need to grasp all of these possibilities immediately. We can take what seems relevant to our immediate circumstances, apply, adapt and reconsider. No ecosystem is ever “finished.” The model of succession now recognizes that a forest doesn’t stop evolving once it reaches a climax state. Invariably nature interrupts and the process starts again. In the same way we can dip in and out of topics that interest us, and over time see a richer and more complex network of threads that connect them all.

Like a resilient ecosystem there are multiple connections between people, plants, animals, fungi, microbes, living and non-living structures and the wider environment. When we develop the capacity to think both critically and creatively in response to a design question, the answers might surprise you!