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What is Permaculture?

By Natasha Stafford, permaculturalist, Albury

Permaculture is a concept often relegated to the ‘alternative’ area of agriculture. It is thought of as a concept used to apply to some third world country, irrelevant to modern systems.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The term ‘permaculture’ or ‘permanent agriculture’ was originally coined by William Mollison, who, with David Holmgren developed a way of looking at farming the earth based on the vast knowledge from ancient (and not so ancient) agrarian cultures outside the west.

These cultures, which had developed with the natural world (rather than upon it) took all of their cues to produce food and materials from the earth from the cycles and patterns of it. The wind, water, waves and sunlight determined how they manipulated their world through the seasons. They needed to gain most benefit from least effort, as every calorie of energy expended needed to reap more than that in produce. This is pure sustainability. It is the original economy.

Mollison and Holmgren observed and collated both the active and the remnant ideas and devised an overall concept which is easy to understand and apply in a western context with the advantage of western technology. It was developed in the 1970s and published as Permaculture One and Permaculture Two. From this they spread the word by teaching and later produced further books elaborating on the idea.

The concept has far reaching applications from growing a garden in a pot on a porch to devising a plan for an entire community. Food production, architecture, energy systems and water management are all included. The concept is intrinsically sustainable and once established, is supported entirely by the natural environment in which it is created. All design takes into account the macro and micro climate and the incredible diversity and extreme nature of the earth’s systems. Because the strength of permaculture is this ability to adapt to change, it is vital knowledge in adjusting to a shifting climate.

The concept of permaculture can be studied in many editions published on the idea. However, because it is, by its very nature, a practical concept, the best way to learn is by taking a course or workshop.  Sessions vary from a few hours to a few months but are more than worth the calorific and financial outlay! Courses are available in the Albury/Wodonga area.