Personalizing Permaculture: Principles of Sustainability to Live by
The Earth is a network of integrative, resilient, self-perpetuating and responsive systems, and we humans are one tiny part of that. An organizational design system, known as Permaculture, is increasingly informing the ways in which our contemporary human cultures can function in synergy with those natural earth systems, rather than in spite of them.
Indigenous peoples have been practicing what is now known as Permaculture for thousands of years, reflecting their food systems and societies to what they saw in nature. The term was academically coined in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren to mean, “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs.”
While Permaculture was originally studied in reference to agriculture and energy, it has evolved into a comprehensive ideology, rooted in the natural processes of the earth, that can organize everything from our personal daily lives, to our interactions with other living beings, to the ways we build our cities, to broad movements for environmental and economic justice. There are formally twelve principles that outline the philosophy of Permaculture. They can function as a beautiful foundation for living a sustainable, conscientious and resilient lifestyle.
Observe and Interact
Observation is an opportunity to listen, to identify what feels good or where problems are arising, and to sift through the chaos. It is important to understand how your surroundings function on their own accord before you jump into the mix. It’s the classic listen first, speak second approach.
Catch and Store Energy
Every single biologic and mineral entity is embodied energy. In nature, plants capture and harness the energy from the sun through photosynthesis. An animal eats the plant and stores its energy, a predator eats the prey and stores its energy, and so it goes up the food chain. We might think of energy in terms of how to physically fuel our bodies and our infrastructure, but what about the energetic needs of our emotional and mental states? Learn to recognize what is feeding you and steer away from what is feeding off of you. Is joy an energy that can be stored for a darker time? Surround yourself with what comforts you, or excites you, or supports you, so you’ll have a battery to recharge from when you need it most.
Obtain a Yield
When energy is spent, it needs to be replenished. In a garden, hours spent caring for young plants, weeding, and improving soil quality are rewarded with the sweetest berries and the meatiest winter squash. Labors and labors of love are often the human input. But food isn’t the only yield. What are you receiving from your efforts?
Self-regulate and Accept Feedback
We make mistakes. This seems to be a unifying quality of being human. And as a species, we’ve made a lot of them. To restore our place of balance in our ecosystem, we must account for wrongdoings and take the responsibility to change course. To preserve balance in your personal ecosystem, stay open to change and shifting winds.
Use and Value Renewable Resources
There are differences when we operate out of scarcity and when we thrive from plenty. Not only is it better for our planet to rely on resources which can be replenished, but there is a fundamental attitude shift when there is the perception that there is enough to go around.
Produce No Waste
In nature, there is no waste. Absolutely everything is recycled through the system again and again. See this as a guideline to examine your waste streams. What aren’t you using? Could someone else use it? Can you simplify or streamline a process to reduce the excess at the end of the cycle?
Design from Patterns to Details
Distracting ourselves with details can obscure the bigger picture. Recognizing patterns gives you insight from your past into your future, or from one scenario to another. The proverb “can’t see the forest for the trees” tells us to look beyond the individual pieces to see where they lay.
Integrate Rather than Segregate
When have you walked through a forest to find the different species of plants and animals and fungi self-segregating into organized rows or groups of monoculture? That doesn’t happen. They share space and often coexist in many ways. We are constantly segregating our lives, our time, our social circles, our societies, our cultures. When we learn to fully integrate our inner lives and our surroundings, we can truly thrive.
Use Small and Slow Solutions
A tree can take years to react to a change in its environment. A river erodes through rock one grain of sand at a time. Time is much more vast than our 40-hour work week or our political cycles would lead you to believe. Often, the best way forward is just to take a step.
Diversity shields us from evolutionary threats. It is essential to any species’ continued existence. Centering diversity makes everyone stronger.
Use Edges and Value the Marginal
All space is valuable and should not be overlooked. You can amaze yourself with how productive that tiny balcony outside your bedroom window can be when filled with growing food. What other margins in your life aren’t you considering? What opportunities could be hiding in plain sight?
Creatively Respond to Change
Change, of course, is inevitable. In latin, the word permaculture means permanent culture. Or another way of reading that is sustaining culture. The philosophy of permaculture builds a system that is alive and responsive and self-managing. There is a built-in efficiency. Approaching change with creativity and openness continues the cycle. Rigidity breaks it.
The guiding light of the permacultural mindset is one of integrity, humility, and interdependence. Making this earth a place of beauty and bounty for all beings may seem like an impossible goal. However, starting small and integrating just some of these ideas into our everyday lives can shift our behaviors and our habits to build a better, more sustainable world.