Permaculture: what is it, why we need it and who is working with it?

permaculture image

WOMB’s passion for sustainability and mindfully sourced and produced products is… pretty big. The deeper we dig, the more passionate we become though! Every day we discover new things, we learn, we bust myths. We are not ashamed or afraid to say that there are things we still do not know - we are geeks, we are diggers, and we love to do more research. Our recent adventures in Morocco has led us towards people who work with “Sustainability and Permaculture” (more about who, where and what coming soon).
We had to face the brutal fact that we knew very little about what permaculture is, what it means and how it’s done. We did some research and here we go, dear readers: Permaculture vol. 1, straight outta WOMB!

What is permaculture?

Let us start with what permaculture is not.
Permaculture is different from/an alternative to a cultivated ecosystem that is intended for the use of humans and/or their livestock. A household ecosystem is human-centered, relating to and focusing on the needs of people. With permaculture, a shift occurs based on leaving the anthropocentric, designed system and aiming to reach a nature-oriented, circular ecosystem.
Permaculturenews.com came up with a definition stating that “[Permaculture is] … a design system for ecological and sustainable living, integrating plants, animals, buildings, people & community”. Permaculture can be understood as a palette of different sustainable solutions on various arenas that, merged together, aim to create an ecosystem as close to natural as possible. The term was first introduced by Bill Mollison (an Australian ecologist and professor at University of Tasmania) in 1970s. After years-long observations of the nature and the wildlife (and the destruction thereof!) he stated that the solution to, and prevention of any further, damage would be living based on nature’s own rhythm and patterns observed in nature. 

"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system."
Bill Mollison (from the permaculture.net)

What is implied in permaculture - how do we “reach” it?

Permaculture is not limited to eg. farming or composting. It is a network, a matrix of architecture, anthropology, physics and biology - it’s a system, an overall way of living. Permaculture implies circularity and lack of waste, and yes, that brings us to solutions like composting or using the organic waste as natural fertilizer. But no waste is only one of the many permaculture principles! In his book “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability” David Holmgren described 12 principles of permaculture. You can see them listed below, but for a more comprehensive, but really fun explanation, we’d suggest you to watch this YouTube video. It was made as a part of the course called “Learn Permaculture Design Online for Free” by Oregon State University, which you can look into more here.

And now to the 12 principles of permaculture as described by David Holmgren.

  1. Observe and Interact
    Taking time to observe first, then build the ecosystem based on patterns we see in nature.

  2. Catch and Store Energy
    Collection of resources in times of abundance, making sure to have enough for times of need.

  3. Obtain a yield
    Making sure that there is a reward / a positive outcome of the work you’re doing.

  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback
    Constantly keeping an eye on the processes, accepting and learning from negative feedback.

  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
    Prioritising and preferring natural, renewable resources to non-renewable ones.

  6. Produce No Waste
    Reusing and implementing all the resources - seeing and implementing by-products as potential resource too.

  7. Design From Patterns to Details
    Basing the design on patterns observed in nature, filling in the details afterwards.

  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
    The bigger and more (inter)connected the network, the stronger the whole system - following principles of inclusion rather than exclusion.

  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
    Slow and small-sized systems can rely on local resources and are easier to monitor and maintain.

  10. Use and Value Diversity
    Permaculture sees diversity as a strength and an asset; appreciating diversity, understanding its components and the differences between them and making them work/grow together, makes the whole system stronger.

  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
    New solutions, new ways, new paths need to and will be discovered. Not letting anything stay overseen.

  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change
    Accepting the unplanned and using it as a catalyst for new ideas and solutions.

permaculture sustainable gardening kale image

Who is working with permaculture?

More and more farms and gardens start implementing the permaculture principles, like Beacon Food Forest in Seattle. Soon, we hope to bring you more information on permaculture in Morocco, where 50% of WOMB is based at this moment.
But reading and researching on permaculture has brought us to the conclusion that it all starts with a mindset or rather shift of same. Each and every one of us can start working and living by (at least some of) the principles of permaculture by eg. not using plastic or at least making sure that all plastic used is recyclable and actually ends up being recycled, composting food waste at home or using natural, home-made cleaning remedies that aren’t harmful/pollutant to the environment etc. 
Not everyone is a gardener, not everyone can start a farm, but each and every one of us can rethink the way we live, and eg. question our own consumption habits. Referring back to point no. 9 from Holmgren’s 12 principles, as a “consumer” it is crucial to be aware of the limitations of the ecosystem we’re living in. Choosing small and slow solutions implies an awareness of available solutions and a basic understanding of the supply chain of eg. foods or manufactured goods. Say you live in a place where eg. strawberries don’t grow naturally, if you see strawberries in the supermarket, you can assume they have been imported from somewhere else - most likely packaged in plastic, most likely treated with chemicals to stay fresh for the transportation, most likely with a significant carbon-footprint…

Conclusion? Don’t wait for someone else to start a “sustainable farm” that you can visit for a Sunday Market. Start asking questions, start reading labels, start perceiving yourself and other human beings as a part of a bigger chain, bigger ecosystem that’s not “supposed to serve us”. Rather it is our job to figure out how we can symbiotically become a part of the system, how we can preserve it, cultivate it. Every day, more humans are being born, the population expands, but the same can’t be said about our resources.
And the moment we realize that, is already a spark for a bigger positive shift.

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