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What Is Permaculture and How Does It Apply To Organic Farming?

By definition, permaculture is a design system, inspired by nature and based on environmental ethics, that helps man coexist with the earth in sustainable ways. The word, which was derived from “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture,” was coined by a young Australian ecologist, David Holmgren, in the mid-1970s.

Photo credit: green-house via Flickr

12 Core Principles of Permaculture

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

Permaculture provides a way to make human habitats and food production environmentally sustainable. It’s recently expanded to include economic and social structures, like eco-housing developments and LEED certified office buildings, which support positive evolution and permanent community standards. Here’s a few ways that permaculture has become relevant in modern organic farming:

Natural Building

Natural buildings must be minimally-processed, focused on durability, and incorporate plenty of renewable and recycled resources. Without sacrificing safety, comfort, or aesthetics, buildings on organic farms must lessen the environmental impact of the structures around them, while making the most of local climate and site conditions.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is as simple as catching rainwater before it seeps into the ground. On organic farms, it’s been used for drinking water, livestock water, and irrigation water. Not only can collected rainwater contribute to the availability of this natural resource, but it can also supplement subsoil water levels to increase urban and residential greenery.

Rotational Grazing

When grazing practices are modeled after nature, the environmental impact is far less devastating. Managed intensive rotational grazing, or cell grazing, systematically moves flocks and herds from one range, pasture, or forest to another. Whether you’re raising cattle, sheep, goats, or turkeys, this practice improves the quality of forage growth and stimulates subsequent periods of rest and regrowth.

Sheet Mulching

Organic farms and gardens can benefit from organic mulches that absorb rainfall, reduce evaporation, supply nutrients, and reduce soil erosion. You can use everything from leaves to stones, cardboard, wood chips, and gravel for mulch. Sheet mulching is a low-maintenance, no-dig technique that aims to mimic natural mulching of leaves in forests.

Permaculture may be a philosophy by definition, but it’s one that we can put into practical application on our organic farms, backyard gardens, and local communities. To learn more about how permaculture can benefit your farming operations, check out David Holgren’s book, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability and Bill Mollison’s book, “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. If you’re in the business of organic farming, you also might want to look into the Regenerative Leadership Institute’s permaculture design certification courses.

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