Connecting the Dots: the Big Permaculture Picture


Permaculture projects are helping people connect with the land and source their food. Craig Mackintosh 

Jeremy Wickremer explains why he believes permaculture offers multiple answers to societal and environmental problems in a beautifully simple and effective way.
Permaculture is all about using common sense and applied ecology

The solutions to our current social, economic and environmental challenges can be split into two distinct categories, the ones that are zoomed in on specifics and those that are zoomed out looking at the bigger picture. As an example, if you were only zoomed in on the specifics you might take up jogging to improve your health, but pause every now and again for the brief 'pleasure' of a cigarette.

But by zooming out even a little bit, just enough to connect the dots, it can easily be seen that the two behaviours conflict with each other - like having a tug of war. Just as conflicted behaviour and short-term thinking on a personal level leads to distress, conflicted behaviour at a societal level leads to distressing results for society and also our natural world.

If we want to find effective solutions for a better way to live, it means connecting the dots between interrelated problems. Just like you need a holistic vision for a healthy mind and body, the same applies for a healthy planet. 

One way of living that seeks to do this is permaculture. To put it simply, permaculture is a design system that mimics nature, where everything in the design supports everything else to produce sustainably. The core principles are; caring for the earth, caring for people, and sharing any surpluses with others. It encompasses growing food, sustainable housing, water harvesting, eliminating waste, renewable energy, agroforestry, animal management, finance, building community and earth repair.

By connecting the dots and thinking sustainably permaculture is an antidote to the giant global game of tug of war that goes on around the planet, with each other and with the planet’s natural resources. Permaculture effectively looks to connect all the different parts of the ecosystem finding solutions where one person winning means everyone wins and the planet wins too.

“Because permaculture is a toolkit for designing low carbon systems and not one method or technique, we can find practitioners working in as many niches as we can perhaps imagine.

Permaculture is all about using common sense and applied ecology

There are hill farmers in Britain using permaculture to design more financially and ecologically diverse livelihoods; agro-ecologists in the Amazon planting forest systems for food, medicines and timber that are more biodiverse than surrounding rainforest fragments; urban projects in big cities involving community gardening on abandoned land and rooftops; smallholders the world over with mixed farms combining animals, annuals and perennial crops for food security; even low carbon enterprises that use permaculture principles to design 'invisible' structures.

What characterises all of these is the uptake of core ideas like mimicking natural systems, cycling energy, using and valuing the edges and the marginal, enhancing biodiversity and using renewables….. Permaculture is all about using common sense and applied ecology.” Maddy Harland, Editor of Permaculture Magazine.

Around the world permaculture projects are helping people connect with the land and source of their food; in addition it can play a vital role in ecological restoration. Witness initiatives such as the Water Retention Landscape of Tamera in Portugal and Greening the Desert in Jordan documented by film maker John D. Liu.

In London’s Lea Valley, a community food project, Organiclea has been growing food for over 10 years. In 2009, volunteers and friends took over the local council’s abandoned nursery, a 12 acre site with extensive glasshouses, scrubland and woodland edge on the outskirts of London.

A year of observation, mapping, trials and permaculture design helped to turn the site over to the production of a wide range of fruit, salad leaves, vegetables and herbs, with 4 acres of market garden, a forest garden, fruit orchards and a vineyard. Now food grown with high standards of sustainability, using organic and permaculture principles, is distributed by bicycle and electric milkfloat via a box scheme to homes, local market stalls, restaurants and cafes.

Resurgence & Ecologist magazine’s Satish Kumar has a two acre farm in Devon, UK where he integrates permaculture design and grows 80% of his food. He has also established a school for 11-16 year olds where, as well as the traditional subjects, every child learns to grow and cook their own food. Satish says: 

“The permaculture garden is the best classroom for biology, for chemistry, for physics, for poetry, for economics, for politics. Every subject you can learn in the garden...permaculture is one of the most beautiful and perfect models for resilient, sustainable, ecological and joyful ways of life.” 

You can view a clip from an interview with Satish Kumar on permaculture here. The full interview will be streamed on Grow Local Live!, a 24 hour webcast of events, reports and interviews from the global permaculture community for International Permaculture Day on May 5th. The programme will include leading permaculture designers David Holmgren, Dave Jacke and Geoff Lawton, and feature bioneers such as Vandana Shiva, Rob Hopkins, Helena Norberg-Hodge and Charles Eisenstein.

Take a look at the International Permaculture Day’s website for a whole host of events going on around the world: 

Jeremy Wickremer, Transformational Media Initiative