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What Is Permaculture? Defining The Unlimited


The first question I get after I say, “I am a permaculturist”, is, “What is permaculture?” I am living in an area that is unfamiliar with the term permaculture and until recently I really struggled to define it in a succinct way.

It is often considered synonymous with regenerative agriculture, but because it goes beyond the scope of gardening or land management, it is still limiting permaculture’s definition and possibilities in being applied to multiple systems outside the scope of land management.

It has taken me a while to publish my first post for this site.

I think the reason for that is because permaculture is such an enormous topic and can be applied to life on a holistic level that it makes it hard to know where to begin focusing.

So I will struggle with the definition, which can, in and of itself, be a challenge for permaculturists to define because the definitions found in books are often long and attempt to incorporate so many aspects of the science, or it gets boiled down that to new ears permaculture sounds simplified and obvious and therefore irrelevant.

Seven Springs: Defining Permaculture

The best definition I have heard thus far is from a permaculturist named Rob Avis, whom I had the privilege to hear speak at this year’s Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. He started his lecture by saying,

“Permaculture is the manipulation of matter that promotes the well-being of all life.”

Rob Avis

Simple.

Easy to extract against every situation to test if something is permaculture or not.

What is a PDC?

I have always used the term “PDC” for both “Permaculture Design Certification” and “Permaculture Design Course” but never looked it up until today.

The first two listings: one stated it as meaning “Permaculture Design Certification” and the other asserted that it meant “Permaculture Design Course“.

In truth, I have found that I can use the term interchangeably and whomever I am speaking with will understand that it represents that one has gone through an in-depth, experiential learning experience that revolves around the teachings of permaculture in line with the teachings of the “father” of permaculture, Bill Molleson. The Certification has a number of requirements, including 72 hours of learning and a design project at the end.

I took my PDC (or ‘got’ my PDC, depending on which definition you are using) about 4 years ago, and it was a great experience. I did an accelerated course and finished in 2 weeks, camping on the farm where the course took place.

And while I learned a lot in the experience, I am finding myself retracing my steps and the curriculum in order to have a deeper knowledge of the intensive learning situation.

Deeper Dives and Retracing Steps

Even though I have implemented much of what I learned in those two weeks, when I attempt techniques that I had zero experience with when I walked into my first permaculture design course, I feel like I am completely at a loss about where to start or how to implement it.

This is also where the complexity of permaculture starts to come up because one cannot just simply put in a new detail or technique on the land, mushroom logs, for example, and not be aware of how that new detail affects the ecosystem at a whole and how that fits into the larger scheme of things.

So recently I have decided I want to redo my PDC coursework in order to (1) get more familiar with many of the techniques I discovered during my PDC (which will help with implementation) and (2) in order to get better at connecting those techniques, and (3) get better at conveying those techniques and connections to my community.

This is the permaculture design course I am doing now.

It is a year-long, online, donation-based tuition.

(Sidenote: You don’t get your certification unless you upgrade, which you can always do later, but the information contained in the course is gold, which you can start NOW.)

I have finished a couple of lessons. The material is great, so if you are interested please join!

Connections and Community

I am living in an area that is not familiar with permaculture.

Sure, they have some of the techniques down, such as composting and the value of rain barrels. Some of the people here are raising chickens and are also using some of the outputs in those systems in other systems (like chicken manure to fertilize gardens) but the design aspect of permaculture which emphasizes these natural connections and relationships is not being used to the fullest.

Permaculture is Innovation

Permaculture is Innovation

Even though the term permaculture started being used in the 1970s, and is based on principles that go back well before recorded history, the science feels like innovation because mainstream society has been able to be clumsy about how it attains the necessities of life due to access to so many resources and technology.

An example of this is the emphasis on mono-crops, which is how a majority of the food in America is grown. Monocrops is one crop, like corn or soybeans, that often is grown in soil that has been over-farmed in a way that is so out of balance that the soil has no life in it.

Technology today can analyze the soil to detect what nutrients are missing and chemical companies have concocted amendments to apply to balance the soil, but that washes away quickly and the deadened soil is then again left behind.

This is an inferior way to grow food, so readopting permaculture into food growing practices is the best way to rebuild the soil and the health of our food.

Therefore, to a society that has forgotten how to let Mother Nature do her thing and help with the growing of food and healthy soil and ecosystems, permaculture feels like innovation.

And today permaculture is referred to in many ways, like regenerative agriculture or regenerative living or regenerative land management.

And you will see that the people that are at the forefront of permaculture today are using the principles that are inherent in nature and helping them along in the land that they manage. And then adding in their creativity to expand how those principles are implemented.

So at the same time, it is ancient knowledge but also just about as cutting edge as one can get in these modern times.

For Example, Rob Avis (mentioned earlier) and Alosha Lynov are two that spring to mind immediately when it comes to water catching systems.

Degenerative Living to Regenerative Living

I was introduced to the concept of moving from degenerative systems, which is an inevitability for most people living in the modern world, to regenerative systems by Karryn at Regenepreneurs.

This is another overarching principle that you will find in permaculture systems – it is regenerative… it can go on forever and is self-sustaining and healthful to all other systems.

The way the world is living now is degenerative. We are using up all of our resources and destroying many of the systems that are necessary for life on earth.

Becoming aware of this view really helped me in a couple of ways.

1 – It helped me to release the guilt I had about currently living in these degenerative systems. If you have this guilt, too, you should know that we are part of systems that were laid out for us long before we were born on this planet. It is not our fault. It is the folly of our forefathers… industrialists who either did not know the damage that they were doing or did not care. We care. And we want to change it.

2 – It helped me to really see if the new systems I deliberately adopt into my life are regenerative or not, and to that degree, they are an improvement. This allows me to be gentle with myself as I move away from degenerative systems. Improvement is sometimes a stark and sudden change, but often it is inching along, especially when the collective you live in is still way behind and stuck in the degenerative systems.

Again, going back to water catching, the community I live in is just beginning to learn about and encourage rain barrels, and only for watering plants, not as whole-house systems.

That’s not to say that I like incremental change. If I could snap my fingers, we would all be using regenerative systems today. But in one’s life, when going against the norms of dengenerative systems already built for us, sometimes it feels like baby steps in the right direction. Those baby steps, over time, will be one big leap and will encourage the shifting of giant systems if enough people make the changes to regenerative living.

There are other areas of this country where water catching is more the norm for whole-house systems, which is great.

Where I am living, implementation is going to take a lot longer because it is still a new and weird choice here. But in the meantime, I can improve the way I am living and step away from the degenerative system a bit by at least adding rain barrels to my land while I figure out how to make it a whole house system and go through all hoops that must be passed before a system is in place.

Now Is The Time

The hope with this website is that more people, especially in my community, start to pick up the tools, techniques, and philosophy of permaculture.

This will normalize it.

This will then adjust the current degenerative systems into regenerative systems.

And then it will be easier for all people to implement, even those that are not necessary “into” permaculture or regenerative living as an intention. It just becomes part of normal life.

Conclusion

So I am on this journey to build out systems in my own life that are regenerative.

The vision is to be 100% regenerative and having a positive & healthy impact/footprint on Mother Earth. To be in harmony with nature. To give to her and heal her and help her and to help others do the same.

And I am writing about this journey, here on this blog.

While I feel I am ahead in a lot of ways of the general population (especially in my area), I am always seeing little (and big) adjustments I can make to continue to align with nature and the well-being of all life.

So this blog is about that journey.

The value you will get out of reading it will be to see where I have succeeded in building out new systems, in how I have made mistakes and how you can avoid those mistakes and inspire you, which I think is a big part of making changes to our systems BEFORE Mother Nature demands we make changes to our systems by destroying our systems.

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