Published on July 16th, 2013 | by growwny0
Terminology Tuesday: Permaculture
BY KRISTEN JANSON, THE GROWWNY TEAM
In recent years, I have been starting to hear more and more about the term “permaculture” through both my classes and my peers. The term was initially introduced to me by a philosophy student that I shared an environmental class with, and at the time, I didn’t have much of an understanding of what permaculture referred to. My vague understanding of it was in reference to a method of gardening; but after attending the UMass Amherst Permaculture Your Campus, International Conference at the end of June, 2013, I came away with a much broader idea of what the word meant.
Permaculture, it turns out, does not refer solely to gardening. Permaculture, as related to me by various speakers at the conference, is a design system intended to mimic ecology in a way that promotes sustainability. It is a different way of viewing the world, and acting accordingly.
Traditionally, permaculture is defined by Merriam Webster as, “an agricultural system or method that seeks to integrate human activity with natural surroundings so as to create highly efficient self-sustaining ecosystems,” and by the Oxford Dictionary as, “the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.”
The UMass Conference provided a collection of definitions from the Sowing Solutions education tool: “permaculture is a holistic approach to sustainable land use design; permaculture is applied design for sustainable living; permaculture is an ethical design system based on ecological principles; permaculture is about designing a sustainable human habitat while maintaining, restoring and enhancing ecological health; permaculture reaches beyond sustainability, designing to replenish and regenerate life, creating new stores of energy and productivity after providing for basic needs and maintaining of systems.”
The biggest lesson I took away from the UMass Permaculture Conference was that permaculture is more or less an ethical principle that can and should be applied to the design process for basically all relationships. In terms of actual gardening, I learned that permaculture involves planning a garden in such a way that involves, ideally, a yearlong study that takes into account factors like sunlight, rainfall, and soil composition, as well as what plants grow well together. This means that the current practice of plating rows upon rows of a single crop is not actually sustainable, despite its high yield. Planting a variety of crops together in one plot is actually better for the soil and more likely to last long term. For example, planting corn, beans, and squash together in a garden is a better practice because the corn provides a structure for the beans to grow up and the squash provides ground cover to stifle weeds. This is something that we likely learned back in elementary school when learning about Native Americans in our history class, but have since forgotten. Little changes like this can offer a more environmentally friendly approach to both gardening and business that will sustain much further into the future than our current practices will.
Permaculture is a dense topic that has taken years to understand; there are many people that have devoted their entire lives to the study of how to become sustainable by applying permaculture to their practices. After attending the UMass Permaculture Conference, for as much as I felt I gained, I also realized that I have so much more to learn. If you find yourself curious about the notion of permaculture, check out some of these resources:
- Assorted Definitions: http://www.permaculture.net/about/definitions.html
- Permaculture Across Borders: www.permacultureacrossborders.org
- Permaculture International: www.permacultureinternational.org
- Edible Forest Gardens Volume I and II, Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier
- Paradise Lot, Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway