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What the Heck Is Permaculture?

Posted: 10/17/09 03:08 PM ET

Permaculture's popping up all over. It's really catching on with young green activists like Juno star Ellen Page, who recently took a break from Hollywood to talk on the Ellen DeGeneres show about her experiences studying permaculture design in an eco-village near Eugene, Oregon.

Teen Hollywood reports that Page "spent a month living on the settlement and learned how to live more simply -- and how valuable urine can be."

Page told Teen Hollywood "It's about living in a holistic way with the earth and reintegrating our lifestyles with the natural cycles ... It was amazing. Anyone at all who has a passion for it can learn about it and use it in their lives in so many different ways ... like peeing in a bucket and using it on your compost. Pee is an excellent source of nitrogen."

But what the heck IS permaculture, besides peeing into a bucket?

Permaculture is an ecological design system based on deep observation of nature, and can be applied to gardens, farms, landscapes, homes and also to "invisible systems" like communities, economies, societies, our psyches and even our spiritual practices. It's a path towards sustainable living that is patterned on the way nature works, and can be applied in rural, suburban and urban areas.

Permaculture was invented in Australia in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and is just now really catching on around the planet. The word "permaculture" is an abbreviation for "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture."

NaturalNews.com reports that "Permaculture is a way of living; it involves sustainability, ethics, community living, harmony with nature, appropriate technology, organic living, organic farming, etc. It is a way to integrate nature and people in the most sustainable way."

"In permaculture, ethics and design principles are used to help us make good decisions for the people and the environment." NaturalNews also tell us that Permaculture follows three ethics:

Care for the land: Actions to protect the environment and improve it. Earth should be seen as a whole.

Care for the people: It involves the physical and psychological aspects, for example providing food and shelter, natural medications, reduce daily hard work, and provide equal opportunities for all people.

Care for the future: It is very important if we want to conserve our resources. Some of the aspects that it involves are recycling, planning, cooperation not competition, supporting local economy, and the use of renewable energy and resources.

My husband and I took the Permaculture Design Course a few years ago and found it incredibly useful and eye-opening. (No peeing in a bucket during our class, though!) What we learned was that the permaculture principles can be applied to every aspect of your daily life as you move towards a happier, more nature-connected and sustainable way of living.

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Here are a few resources for those who would like to learn more about permaculture:

  • The Permaculture Institute
  • "Greening the Desert:" an amazing video of how permaculturist Geoff Lawton turned pure desert into a lush oasis using permaculture.
  • Ellen Page talking about permaculture on Ellen Degeneres.
  • "Introduction to Permaculture" by Cathe' Fish is a 6-DVD set of her 2-day workshop with comprehensive, practical information and lavishly-illustrated slideshows. Cathe' covers principles, land, water harvesting, soil, zones, gardens, plants, guilds, bio-remediation, food forests, solar greenhouses, buildings, villages, and more. Available here.