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Permaculture

Permaculture = Permanent Agriculture

Permaculture Design uses techniques and strategies modelled on natural eco-systems, to create secure permanent landscapes that rejuvenate the soul, restore trust among local communities, and provide free food and housing for our children. 

Permaculture, as a management and maintenance template, offers us the most efficient use of our time and resources, and allows ecologically rich habitat to flourish alongside our communities.

Permaculture is a design science that respects Mother Nature and her diverse ecology.  It is a system that will allow us to move from our present comfort zone to a more sustainable reality, allowing people to live on the Earth for thousands of years to come.

At a local level, permaculture design calls for an integrated landscape policy modeled on natural systems.

Mainstream western agriculture is currently modeled on an extractive system – everything the land produces is extracted with minimal recycling of resources back into the land itself.  Put in place by our great-grandparents, it’s the same intensified model we use today. Since the 1970’s many farms have specialised into all arable or all livestock mono-cultures reliant on fossil fuel energy.

This works fine while there are rich soils, plentiful oil and kindly weather, but if these do not conform to our preconceived patterns, then livelihoods are threatened, tax revenues drop and supermarket food prices rise.  Let’s leave out the loss of biodiversity at this stage, and don’t mention the ground water tables.  It is, however, worth pointing out that extractive systems traditionally result in soil erosion, collapse of soil fertility, pollution of ground water, and inefficient use and storage of water above and below ground – in essence, modern farming creates agricultural deserts.  This is bizarre, since the derivation of the word agriculture comes from agrarian culture…. literally enrichment of the soil.

Only by transitioning from an extractive to a permanent system can amends be made and fertility, prosperity and abundance restored. Such a transition requires a new look at landscape and farming.

Yes, we will still need our super farms producing dairy, beef and arable crops and they will require exceptional management if they are to consistently produce in the face of extreme weather events, peak oil and a teetering financial system.  It is more likely that, even with good management, they will inconsistently produce – so it is essential to vary our products and practices elsewhere to compensate.

What is needed is a diversification of polycultural small scale farming producing:  forest products such as fungi, fruits, seeds, meats, furs, honey, timber, coppice and firewood, pigs and poultry; mixed agroforestry systems of tree, vine and berry fruits and nuts, livestock, glasshouse crops, annual and perennial vegetables, medicinal and beauty products; and small scale land based aquaculture systems providing fresh fish, waterfowl, cane and reed products.  Such systems restore health and life enhancing opportunities, establish communities, protect biodiversity and create long term security.  Such diversity hedges against freak weather, collapse of soil fertility and resource scarcity. Local economies are re-built and trust is restored on a local level.

Market fluctuations and resource scarcity worldwide have encouraged huge overseas investment in New Zealand agriculture and forestry in recent years.  Such investments focus on profit and not on the communities the land traditionally serves and surrounds.  It is ironic that when land is so considered a commodity, the investment does not seek to protect and replenish the nutrients, humus and water holding capacity of soils that ensures rivers continue to run with clean water even in drought conditions.  Real wealth is natural capital: rivers, mountains, hills, forests, wildlife.

The transition to a resilient and coherent permanent agricultural system requires detailed observation of the unique qualities of our settled landscapes. Water needs to be held as high as possible in the landscape and re-directed over the longest available route through farms and gardens, restored and artificially created wetlands and lakes, through a network of small scale dams, ponds, swales and canals.  By far the most efficient way of storing water is in soils rich in organic matter, microorganisms and tree and perennial systems where huge amounts of water can be held like a giant sponge.  All this supports the creation of extensive food forests and integrated livestock farming and aquaculture in a balanced system of wholeness and health.

In the observation and design of unique landscapes, micro climates can be created to offer natural diversity and richness not found in intensive systems.  With complimentary plantings of agroforestry interspersed with seed, main crop and livestock, a host of traditional farm products can be re-introduced to provide valuable products and forage in tough years.

Urban landscapes also have potential for abundance if designed into compact systems. In the Philippines, a typical 4 square meter food patch will produce 40-60% of a person’s annual food.  Temperate climates cannot produce such tropical amounts but we can expect huge free food returns from urban gardens, reserves and parks if we want it.

One of New Zealand’s greatest assets will be the lifestyle blocks and hobby farms, and with careful design, these can provide long term security for communities when fossil fuels are in limited supply.  There are examples of sustainable systems already integrated into such landscapes from some enlightened farmer-gardeners.  Rural sections could support far more households than currently, and where land sharing is encouraged, such communities will be resilient and well adapted to any stress: a mosaic patchwork of Garden of Eden’s throughout New Zealand Aotearoa, a vision of wonder as unique as the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Well designed permanent agricultural landscapes produce abundance and long term security.  It is the only system that builds soils and produces quality nutrition in our food.  It allows wilderness ecosystems to flourish along side, providing habitat for native flora and fauna, and purifying and regulating the very atmosphere and air we breathe.

Written by Guy Redmond, Leaves of Green 2013.

This article acknowledges some spoken commentaries by Geoff Lawton in some of his online free films.  And uses the author’s interpretations of parts of Bill Mollison’s definitive book:

Permaculture A Designers Manual, Tagari Publications, Australia 1988.

Above, 2,000 year old food forest in Morocco….

Xochomilco Park, above, on the outskirts of Mexico City, is a beautiful and highly productive community asset, based on the ancient chinampa landscape system.

Chinampas are an ancient food production system used in wet lowland lying areas.  These floating fields, edged with canals, provide the most efficient food production on earth.  Xochomilco Park, Mexico.

Artists visualisation, above, of an integrated landscape with food, community and housing.  This is typical of new developments in Chinese landscape design.  Can the West afford to be left behind?

Part of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Centre (OAEC) Gardens, above, shows annual and perennial production surrounded by forest garden and natural habitat.

Loess Plateau, above, same view 1990 and 2012.  Permaculture strategies to recover this degraded landscape were introduced to the local community by John Liu, film maker and ecologist.

Loess Plateau, above 1994, and below, same view 2012

Loess Plateau, above 2012, following permaculture design strategies of penning domestic animals; annual crops on flat or gently sloping ground; and all slopes over 14 degrees to return to native plants.

Perennial and diverse annual seedling garden, part of The Edible Schoolyard, California.

Definitive permaculture texts.  King’s Farmers of 40 Centuries; Russell Smith’s Tree Crops A Perennial Agriculture; and Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution.  With Yeoman’s Keyline Design (not pictured), Mollison put it all together in the quintessential Permaculture A Designers Manual.

The key Forest Garden text for practical and philosophical inspiration.

Robert Hart, the father of Forest Gardening, with the author trying out the tree bog 1997.

The Edible Schoolyard, California, above.  Precedent project of sustainable community food production, the lady with pitchfork in the center is the school Principal.

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Tel: 03 553 0448 email: alice@leavesofgreen.co.nz