What Is Permaculture?

New to the world of permaculture and a little unsure what this global three-million-member movement is all about? We reveal exactly what is permaculture?

What is permaculture? Is it gardening, is it chooks and composting, or as one concerned Japanese mother put it “angry people growing vegetables”? It must be something more. How did two plant lovers in Tasmania create something that grew so big? 

It is nearly 50 years since Bill Mollison and David Holmgren began piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that became the permaculture concept during the 1970s. Since then, it has been practised by millions of people globally, and become a household name. 

“Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” Bill Mollison 

vegie patch

So what is permaculture exactly?

Permaculture inspires positive action. Without government control or centralised power systems, people just do it. Permaculture designs turn deserts into forests, weeds into food, and catch and store energy in passive solar homes. 

Permaculture plays a leading role in the global transition to a world beyond mindless consumerism. 

“Permaculture is not the landscape, or even the skills of organic gardening, sustainable farming, energy efficient building or eco-village development as such, but [it is a system that] can be used to design, establish, manage and improve these and all other efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future.” David Holmgren 

Early permaculture research was influenced by the work of the American ecologist Howard Odum and the need to understand energy – where we get it from, how we use it, and what happens once we have used it. Eight billion people currently rely almost completely on fossil fuel energy, which is both polluting and unsustainable. The scientific basis of permaculture comes from both natural systems ecology (an ecological approach to agriculture) and thermodynamics. 

Double Digging a Biointensive Veggie Bed

Tell me more about what is permaculture

Permaculture starts with ethics and principles that totally change the way we look at and interact with the world. David Holmgren uses the permaculture ‘flower’ (see below) to show the three ethics that create a sustainable culture: earth care, people care and fair share. 

Permaculture has focused on land and nature stewardship as the starting point for its ethical and design principles. Those principles are being applied increasingly to human, social and economic systems (often called ‘invisible structures’ in permaculture teaching). 

The three-core ethics are supported by principles which are tools to help make decisions and guide choices. Permaculture also offers practical planning techniques and methods to support the process of design. It is not so much a thing you do but an approach you use, which can be applied to your home, garden, property, business and community. 

permaculture flower

Back in our very first issue of Pip Magazine – launched in 2014 – we penned the article The permaculture story: from ‘rugged individuals’ to a three-million-member movement.

In it we explored:  

  • The origins of permaculture and how it came about
  • Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs)
  • And the relevance of permaculture decades after its genesis.

This article is just as pertinent today as it was upon first publication and is well worth a read.

You can access this article online here as part of our digital subscription offering, or subscribe to the print version of Pip Magazine here

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