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  • A Beginner’s Guide to Permaculture

    Permaculture is a coined term from the 1970’s from Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison.  Permaculture incorporates design principles that bring about a change for the better in social, political, economic, and personal approaches to living beyond existing. There are twelve design principles that are centered on   three core ethics concepts: care for the Earth, care for the people, and a fair distribution of goods.

    The first core idea of permaculture is care for the earth. In essence, this core value means that we have to take the time to keep the earth healthy.  This is done by keeping soil health so that other living creatures can stay healthy. All living things rely on the same soil, the same water and the same food.  It is essential that all things be respected regardless of how insignificant they may seem to us. Each living entity has its place in the circle of life.

    The second core idea is that of care for the people. Simply put, it comes down to focusing on opportunity rather than obstacle. No one, no matter how talented and resourceful, can make it through the world on their own. It takes a cooperative effort from as many possible people to get things moving in a positive direction.

    Rounding out the core values of permaculture is sharing and equal distribution. This is about knowing when and how much you need and how much you need to leave to others. The mentality of hoarding or retaining more goods than what is needed promotes negative waves on society as a whole. By learning to balance what is needed to what is available others will learn to follow suit to bring about positive change to the masses.

    The combination of these three core values is set into motion and sustained by twelve guiding principles. The first of these design principles is to observe and interact. This means that you take time to see what is going on around you and become involved. It may be something such as a community garden, or understanding the interrelations between all living things and understanding their value. For example, the bee is considered by many to be a pest, but in reality the bee is our top pollinator. Without the services provided by this species, we would not have food to survive.

    The second designing principle is all about renewable resources. Solar energy, heat energy from the earth, wind energy, and hydro energy are all methods that can be used to capture and store energy for later use with little to no use of non-renewable sources. Rain water can be collected and used to irrigate crops. Trees and other plants produce material to use for shelter, heat, clothing, and nourishment. Permaculture relies heavily on a significant reduction of the carbon footprint.

    The next principle in our design schematic is obtaining a yield. This means that something will come from the activity we are taking. It may be an immediate use such as grapes or other fruits that we can eat, or it might be something gained over time like a jar of honey.

    Following the yield is the principle of self regulation and feedback.  This comes down to understanding what your role is on the grand scheme of things. For instance do you really need three lights on in a room when one would work just as well?

    Design principle five involves knowing the use and value of renewable resources and services. An example of this is the goat. Goats are great eaters of grasses and plants that may not be appealing to cattle or other grazers. Their consumption of these less desirable products allows other animals to graze on better goods. The goat can also then be used for a source of milk, and even a source of meat.

    This fits in nicely with design principle six which states that we should not be wasteful even in times of abundance. It is all too easy to discard things because we feel there is too much, but in thin times what we have wasted would be much desired.

    Imagine yourself looking out your back door. Do you see all the things that are around you, or are you fixed on a specific zone? Principle seven is about being able to distinguish the forest and the trees. Often times we get so hung up on the details that we forget to look at the big picture. This is a permaculture nightmare. Every detail is important to the overall outcome.

    Working together as a team rather than segregating differences is the backbone of design principle eight. The idea here is that by working in a cooperative spirit rather than trying to split away more can be accomplished for the greater good.  We are all people with the same goal, to live a peaceful life amongst each other. There is no place in permaculture for separation to succeed.

    Design principle nine exemplifies the resilience of utilizing local resources in small amounts. Just because something is bigger does not mean that it is better. Sometimes having something to big can be more of a detriment than an advantage. A permablitz is a community scale garden that is designed specifically around the area it inhabits. Local residents can then receive items specially grown in their immediate area.  

    We have seen diversity incorporated into the workplace, and it is the mantra of many a corporation. This train of thought also lattices its way through permaculture principles. Understanding the use and value of diversification is a cornerstone to the whole element. Just as it is important to recognize we all strive for the same goal, so is it important to understand that our differences combine to make us stronger as a whole.

    The final two design principles are about knowing what path to choose when and finally knowing when to make a needed change. The most followed path is not necessarily going to be the best path to achieve the goals you have set.  There are specific elements that apply to your area that will need to be incorporated. Listen, watch, and observe the surroundings, and you will know what needs to be done.

    Resource Box

    Permaculture is a growing and needed plan of action for sustaining nature and life on earth by making use of natural resources and reducing the carbon footprint. It is a series of principles to be employed by all inhabitants of our planet to ensure the continued success of a lasting relationship between man and nature.

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