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What is Permaculture?

A Definition often used: ​

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centred around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

And here a glimpse of what I have learnt :

After having undergone several training sessions, among them two PDCs (Permaculture Certified Course) in France (with the association « La Rigole ») and in Colombia (with the foundation « Viracocha »), I would like to share with you this method that in my opinion, the application of its founding principles would be very beneficial on a daily basis to all of us and to the community.

It encourages the opening of a collective and ecological awareness, and its ethics are very close to those of the ancestral medicines.

The observation and the studies of the civilisations that have been able to live in harmony over thousand of years within their environment without destroying it have been a foundational pillars of the different principles of Permaculture.

Permaculture fosters essentially the fact of taking back our responsibility on our existence and those of our children. Its ethic is based on the following three values:

  • Earth Care

  • People Care

  • Fair Trade

Some founding principles have been elaborated by David Holgrem (Co-founder of the permaculture movement with Bill Mollison) to help to design a strategy that respects the founding ethic, as below:

  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.

  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.

  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.

  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

To those twelve initial principles further principles have been developed, and I particularly love the one hereafter shared during my last PDC.

13. It has to be FUN: If it is not FUN, it is not sustainable.

The educational methods used during the trainings are also quite « alternative ». They are very close to those offered by the schools like « Montessori » or « Steiner ».

The learning process is done through activities carried in groups (of different sizes) or individually, which allows the participants to interact with each other and ensures a smoother integration of every one.

Each participant also has the opportunity to become the « trainer » by sharing a competency that he knows well and that is in the interest of other people in the group.

In general, before a permaculture training we don’t expect that the « human » aspect be so important. Most of the times, there are sessions about the methods of effective and friendly communication, about non-violent communication, about the collective intelligence, as well as the methods of collective decision.

Some organizers require also the trainees to participate to the organisation and the maintaining of the place (for example, support in the kitchen, in the garden, to the animation, and to the cleaning). This allows us to put in practice what is learnt during the sessions, to self-govern, to get to better know the rest of the group through a lot of interactions and then to better live together.

Now, let’s have a closer look to the « Agricultural » aspect :

A keystone of permaculture is the alliance between ethic and efficiency. It has been demonstrated many times (and officially by the National Institute for Agricultural Research of France) that over the same area, the food yielding is higher when the permaculture methods are used over those of conventional agriculture (i.e. monoculture, industrial).

The idea is to create a harmonious system that is self-sustainable as much as possible. The involvement of humans is « just what is necessary » to maintain a balance and encourage this sustainability, no more, no less.

On top of having a better yield, the products are tastier and healthier, as they are more nutritious and less polluted.

Some strong points that I love about permaculture are that:

  • It affects and attracts all socioeconomic and cultural levels, as well as all the generations from all nations

  • It also opens the discussion about a new form of education, different from the traditional one. This changes a lot from the system that we know where one sole person has the possibility to convey the information before a passive group.

  • It can largely contribute to facing our current environmental and societal issues. Tensions and wars mainly come from starvation, and if we reduce this risk, we also then reduce the risks of war.

And to conclude !

The content of the permaculture trainings as much as the experience of living within a group that needs a daily organization is a source of great enrichment.

A lot of questioning blended with an emulsion of emotions come out with the emergence of new horizons.

All that can be read and seen on the web about this topic can often be too reductive to the actual scope of permaculture. We can often wrongly connect this method to organic agriculture and it is easy to neglect the « human » and « fair trade » aspects that are as essential as the one of « Nature ».

Here was a brief glimpse of what permaculture can make you live over a training period and more importantly its impact to our future!! Through a simple definition, such a rich human experience and a possible solution for facing today’s challenges can’t be explained.

How about you - what is your opinion on Permaculture?

Cathy and Mikhaël

Translation: Many thanks for the great support of Samyuktha M.

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