By Davie Philip
“It is our collective responsibility to protect and nurture the global family, to support its weaker members and to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live.” ~ Dalai Lama
In this issue of Positive Life, I want to introduce a design system called Permaculture, which I believe could provide a toolkit for making practical and creative responses to the many challenges we are facing. Permaculture is really a design philosophy that helps us to see the world in a different way and is an approach that assists us to apply whole systems thinking to the way we live. In times like these, redesigning the way we live is becoming more of a necessity than just a simple lifestyle choice. Permaculture could assist us in doing this.
Back in the 1970’s, two Australian ecologists, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, coined the term “Permaculture” after the first oil shocks to describe an agricultural system using ecological principles. Their initial system of permanent agriculture has been extended to the redesign of the whole of society using ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing, energy provision and sustainable communities. “The people, their buildings and the ways they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus, the permaculture vision of permanent and sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent and sustainable culture.” ~ David Holmgren
Permaculture takes the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems as the basis for an ethical design system to create human environments that are ecologically sound and economically viable. This design system is based on ethics and a set of principles which can be used by individuals, households and communities to initiate, design and manage all efforts towards a sustainable future. Permaculture principles are being applied at different scales from individual homes, the garden and on the farm, to the design of communities and entire regions. Within a Permaculture system, work is minimised, yields are increased and waste becomes a resource. Elements in a system are viewed in relationship to other elements, where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another.
As well as a set of principles that are based on patterns seen in nature, Permaculture is based on three ethical positions. These help us to think and act responsibly in relation to each other and the Earth.
Earth care – which suggests good management of resources, including plants, animals, land, water and air.
People care – which places a focus on our responsibility for looking after everyone.
Fair shares – which indicates the need for justice, equality and the redistribution of surplus.
Permaculture has, to date, been restricted to a few enthusiasts who are committed to the ideals of sustainability and are working, for the most part, on small-scale projects. However, to provide for human needs in this uncertain world, Permaculture really needs to be mainstreamed, scaled up and emulated worldwide.
Permaculturist, Geoff Lawton has converted a stretch of land in the Dead Sea Valley of Jordan into a lush, productive, plot of land full of figs, pomegranates, guavas and citrus fruits using Permaculture principles. If Geoff and his team can rehabilitate salty soils and create an oasis of sustainable agriculture in the Jordanian desert, surely we can adapt and use this design process anywhere.
The design of the ecovillage in Cloughjordan where I live uses Permaculture principles in its design to integrate green building, woodlands, organic agriculture, renewable energy and edible landscapes within a living community. Other characteristics of Permaculture that can be seen on the ecovillage would be rainwater harvesting, seed saving, community supported agriculture and forest gardens. Permaculture can be seen as the glue that holds the different aspects of the system together. Our primary objective in developing the ecovillage was to build a model of sustainable community and Permaculture as a design methodology that can help us develop more sustainable human settlements. In this economic climate, though, it is unlikely that we will be building more houses, and the challenge will be to retrofit existing communities to be more resilient. Permaculture is a powerful tool to do this.
Dr. David Suzuki, the international environmental advocate, believes that, “…what permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet. We don’t know what details of a truly sustainable future are going to be like, but we need options, we need people experimenting in all kinds of ways, and permaculturists are one of the critical groups that are doing that.”
Architects, planners, farmers, activists, economists, social scientists, as well as homeowners and gardeners can all utilise the principles of Permaculture design in their work. It has been said that Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening and it is worth taking a course and skilling up in Permaculture if you’re interested in positive change in any way.
Green Works, the training programme managed by Cultivate with hubs in Sligo, Cork, Kilkenny, Dublin and Tipperary, offer a five day FETAC accredited introduction to Permaculture and an Applied Permaculture module. These are now very popular courses and information on them can be found at www.green-works.ie
Most of the people involved in Permaculture design have completed a full Permaculture Design course which, for over 20 years, has been the main vehicle for Permaculture training worldwide.
A full, immersive Permaculture Design Certificate course takes place at the Cloughjordan Ecovillage at the end of August and offers the unique opportunity to learn about Permaculture embedded in a real living community. This course, which is organised by Cultivate, includes focused sessions on natural building, local economics, forest gardening, renewable energy, ponds and aquaculture, community design, along with new areas such as eco-enterprise and resilience thinking. Northern Ireland’s first accredited full Permaculture Design course is happening from the 12th of July in Holywood, Co. Down. For details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Kinsale College of Further Education offers a fantastic two-year course called Practical Sustainability. This is for people who want to make a difference, and covers a range of practical modules that includes Permaculture Design.
A new island-wide Permaculture Gathering is to take place in Co. Wicklow from the 12-14th August 2011 on a site next to the Sugarloaf. This weekend camp aims to support the growing number of Permaculturists in Ireland and to provide an opportunity to meet, network, celebrate and learn together.
As Bill Mollison, one of the initial creators of Permaculture, states, “Permaculture isn’t culture-changing, it’s culture-enhancing.”
Skilling up in Permaculture design is an essential way to build our resilience, our capacity to be better change-makers, and will help us to face the challenges of our times.
Davie Philip runs the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate, is the Communication Manager at the Green Works Hub in Tipperary and is a resident in the Cloughjordan Ecovillage.