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What is Permaculture?

Permaculture Resources

Common Sense Permaculture Principles

What Is Permaculture? - by Starhawk

Permaculture is ecological design aimed at creating systems that meet human needs while regenerating and healing the environment around us. It does this by applying a set of ethics and principles that guide us in designing connections, flows, and beneficial relationships among various elements, whether in a garden, a building or an organization, and mimicking the way that nature works. Permaculture is no one technique or process, but rather weaves together multiple approaches, technologies and solutions to problems of sustainability. Instead of designing separate things, we design connections and beneficial relationships.

The word ‘permaculture’ was coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s, from ‘permanent agriculture’, but has come to encompass many sorts of systems: ‘permanent culture.’

We see permaculture as a vitally important set of ideas and practices in this crucial time. We have a very narrow window of time left in which to respond to climate change and environmental degradation. If we don’t, we face ecological and human catastrophes that are beyond imagining. No one solution or technology can save us: in fact, applying single or simplistic solutions generally will create new, unforeseen and possibly worse problems. One example is biofuels—When rainforests are cut down and new land is plowed for biofuel cultivation, when human food supplies are diminished in favor of growing fuel, biofuels simply worsen the problem. When ‘wastes’ such as used restaurant grease are turned into biofuels—as the city of San Francisco now does to run its busses—they can be part of the solution. Only an integrated systems approach can find effective solutions to environmental and social ills.

Permaculture has three basic ethics: Care for the earth, care for people, and care for the future—sometimes framed as “return the surplus” or “limit consumption”. It has a set of principles that direct us to observe natural systems and mimic the way they work, catching and storing the sun’s energy, using biological and local resources, with minimal inputs of fossil fuel energy, and getting multiple uses out of each element. Permaculture favors low-tech solutions that empower ordinary people to take responsibility for their own needs and impacts. Our goal is more than sustainability: we work for abundance, regeneration and healing.

Permaculture is also a global movement and network. A permaculture design course includes a seventy-two hour basic curriculum that introduces the principles, practices, techniques, and spectrum of solutions available for food growing, building, energy and economics. Permaculture practitioners are involved in projects all over the world—we have more on-the-ground projects in the third world than the U.N. Vietnam adopted permaculture as its core agricultural system, and increased production over 15%. Cuba turned to permaculture after the Soviet Union collapsed, taking with it their major oil supplies and markets, and now feeds its people with organic crops, many of which are grown in and around cities.

Permaculture is a set of tools for shifting our thinking—from separation to connection, isolation to interdependence.

Earth Activist Training is Starhawk’s organization that teaches permaculture design with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism. For course information, see: www.earthactivisttraining.org

Permaculture Resources

Besides the online resources for those interviewed in the film, there are dozens of other online resources for permaculture. We can't possibly list them all, but here are some important additional informational sites:

Bill Mollison
Tagari Publications
Permaculture Research Institute of Australia permaculture.org.au

Bill Mollison, the legendary Permaculture teacher, promoter and designer – who, over 26 years of non-stop travelling, designing, teaching and writing, personally planted the seeds of Permaculture in over 120 countries. Bill is the co-founding director of The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, the first and longest running Permaculture Institute in existence.
Geoff Lawton
Permaculture Research Institute of Australia

Geoff Lawton who is world renowned for field expertise and extensive teaching experience in the ecological “badlands” of Earth, areas of extreme cultural conflicts, as well as more friendly environments. Co-founding director of the acclaimed Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, Geoff is working in more countries and co-coordinating more projects on the ground than any other Permaculture Institute today.
Darren Dougherty
Australia Felix Permaculture

The principal of Australia Felix Permaculture since 1993, Darren has had extensive experience across the planet in Permaculture project design, development & management, with a focus on retrofitting broadacre agricultural systems, and has been identified by Permaculture Co-Originators Bill Mollison & David Holmgren as a pioneer in this important & often overlooked field. Darren has taught on over 20 Permaculture Design Certificate Courses (PDC's) including co- teaching PDC's with both Bill Mollison & David Holmgren & a range of other quality Permaculture educators. He is a registered teacher with Bill Mollison's The Permaculture Institute (Registration No. 25), a qualified Whole Farm Planner (University of Melbourne), Approved Keyline Design Consultant, & Accredited Permaculture Training (APT) Trainer.
Toby Hemenway

Toby Hemenway is the author of the first major North American book on permaculture, Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, and an adjunct professor at Portland State University. He is also Scholar in Residence at Pacific University.
Dave Jacke
Dynamics Ecological Design

Edible Forest Gardens

Dave Jacke has been a student of ecology and design since the 1970s, and has run his own ecological design firm—Dynamics Ecological Design—since 1984 (click here for a PDF of Dave's resume). Dave is an engaging and passionate teacher of ecological design and permaculture, and a meticulous designer. He has consulted on, designed, built, and planted landscapes, homes, farms, and communities in the many parts of the United States, as well as overseas, but mainly in the Northeast. A cofounder of Land Trust at Gap Mountain in Jaffrey, NH, he homesteaded there for a number of years. He holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Simon's Rock College (1980) and a M.A. in Landscape Design from the Conway School of Landscape Design (1984).
Patrick Whitefield

Patrick Whitefield is one of the leading permaculture teachers in Britain, indeed in Europe. He combines a deep knowledge of the subject with an inspiring and professional teaching style. He’s written three books on permaculture: Permaculture in a Nutshell, How to Make a Forest Garden and The Earth Care Manual. His latest book is The Living Landscape, how to read it and understand it, a subject especially close to his heart. He also practices as a design consultant.
Joel Glanzberg
Regenisis Group, Inc.

Joel Glanzberg brings a background as naturalist, Permaculture designer and educator, and green builder. His work includes regenerative development, restoration, and agriculture assessment, planning and design.
Permaculture Activist Magazine

The magazine's purpose is to supply information which enables people everywhere to provide for their own & their communities' needs for food, energy, shelter, & a decent life without exploitation or pollution & from the smallest practical area of land.
The Permaculture Association (UK)

The Permaculture Association is the UK national charity that supports members and the public with advice, support, information and training about the theory and practice of permaculture.
Earth Action Mentor

Earth Action Mentor is a community collaborative dedicated to furthering permaculture principles and practices. We are working towards bringing permaculture to the forefront of people's actions and awareness through multiple avenues of mentorship. Our team is dedicated to enhancing the permaculture commons through permaculture mentoring, community inspiration and direct application.
Sandy Cruz
High Altitude Permaculture
Ward, Colorado and Salida, Colorado

Sandy Cruz has been working towards greater sustainability at 9,200 feet for over three decades, experimenting with plants and refining strategies for living in extremely harsh conditions. She teaches diverse permaculture courses, trains new Permaculture teachers, and consults on site planning and solar greenhouse design. Sandy is currently relocating to Salida, Colorado, where she and her partner are establishing a new permaculture research and demonsration site.
AppleSeed Permaculture

AppleSeed Permaculture LLC is an edible landscaping and regenerative design firm. We integrate humans into their environment by creating regenerative organic landscapes that are full of food and beauty. We also lead Permaculture Design Courses around the world and blog on ecosystem restoration, carbon farming, and community resilience.
Kay Cafasso
Permaculture Designer and Permaculture Design Certification Course Instructor

I offer design and consultation services to homeowners and land stewards in the northeastern US (primarily in the Hudson Valley of NY); and I offer permaculture courses and workshops to organizations, ecovillages, colleges, and more across the northeaster US. I also lead natural building and earth plaster workshops, courses, and presentations.
Regenerative Design Group
Jono Neiger, Keith Zaltzberg, Sebastian Gutwein and Associates

The Regenerative Design Group is a professional ecological design/build firm with a focus on productive, permaculture landscapes based in Greenfield Massachusetts committed to creating a more vital, beautiful future.
P.I.N.E Permaculture Institute of the Northeast

The Permaculture Institute of the Northeast (P.I.N.E.) is a regional permaculture and sustainability organization in the northeast United States. It supports local and regional societal change based on ecological and social justice principles. PINE aims to bring together and support communities.

P.O. Box 3461
Amherst, MA 01004-3461
Andrew Millison

Andrew Millison has been studying, designing, building, and teaching about Permaculture systems since 1996. He is an instructor in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University, teaching the Permaculture Design Certificate Course. He is currently working with the State of Oregon to train workers and developers of low-income housing.
Brad Lancaster


A dynamic teacher, consultant, and designer of regenerative systems. He is the author of the award-winning, best-selling books Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, the information-packed website HarvestingRainwater.com and the Drops in a Bucket blog. He lives his talk on an oasis-like eighth of an acre in downtown Tucson, Arizona, by harvesting over 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year where just 12 inches per year fall from the sky.

Permaculture Artisans

Sebastopol, California

Permaculture Artisans offers a wide range of services in designing and building regenerative landscapes, farms, and neighborhoods. We have three basic programs: Ecological Landscapes & Farms, Ecological Neighborhood Training Program, and a first class Maintenance Program.

Starhawk’s Common Sense Permaculture Principles

Everything is connected.

Abundance, health and happiness come not from things, but relationships. Money can’t buy me love!

As designers, we look at connections in space and time. If we put things in the right place, do things in the right order and at the right time, we save work, money and energy.

“To every thing, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

We look at flows between things—flows of water, energy, nutrients, information. Every time we link things together, we create more abundance than when they are separated.

Nature Moves in Circles.

Birth, growth, death and regeneration—everything in nature is part of a cycle.

Waste is food—one thing’s waste is another things’ resource. So—produce no waste, re-use, recycle, and look for places where we can close loops—find a use for a former waste product. Pollution is an unused resource.

To maintain the cycle, we must give back. If we use a resource, we must replenish it.

Energy is abundant but not unlimited.

Every day the sun shines down on the earth, showering us with energy. The sun’s energy gives us our solar budget—that extra that creates growth and abundance. But we must use it wisely. So—catch and store energy. Cycle energy and resources multiple times. Use renewable energy.

Do more with less.

Make a way out of no way. Kill two birds with one stone (sorry for that!). Every element serves more than one function—so choose and place it carefully. A climbing rose, in the right place, might produce a bouquet, filter the wind, and keep out intruders.

Use on-site and local resources whenever possible.

Let nature do the work—if you can use a biological resource, chances are it will be cheaper, easier and more effective than chemical or mechanical means.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Work smarter, not harder! Use your eyes and your brains more, and your money, your muscles and your fossil fuels less. Look before you leap. Observing, thinking, designing and planning can save you time, sweat and money.

Resilience is true security.

Value diversity—for diversity creates resilience. This is true for ecosystems, gardens and humans! Give your plants the right companions in guilds, polycultures and crop rotations.

Edges and margins, where two things meet, are often more dynamic and creative than either one alone, so make use of them.

Have more than one way to fill a need—don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have more than one source for food, energy, income, etc.

Make mistakes—carefully! Start slow and small so you can try new things and tweak what doesn’t work.

Weak links and constraints—design for the limiting factors. Design for catastrophe—the hundred year flood could come tomorrow!

Small-scale, intensive systems are more diverse, creative and resilient than giant megasystems.
Build from the ground up.

First things first. Prepare the soil before you plant the seeds. Respect the roots of culture, place, and people as well as plants.

In nature, there’s a succession of evolution—pioneer plants prepare the ground, grasses move in, then trees….work with those patterns to speed them up or hold them back.

Take responsibility:

Feed what you want to grow. Create the conditions that will favor the things or behaviors you want, rather than making war on what you don’t want. Trying to kill the pests simply breeds resistance.

You break it—you bought it. If you change something, you become responsible for the consequences.

Monitor and maintain what you create. Permaculture systems rarely work perfectly at first—they are living things that need adjustment.

Get some! Obtain a yield.

You’ve got to get back for what you put in. You have a right to a life of health, abundance, joy and beauty—and that’s why we’re doing this.

Grow what you want to eat. Decide what yield you want, and plan for it.

Get the biggest bang for the buck—observation, creativity and planning will let you use the least amount of time, money and energy to get the benefits you desire. Don’t use a chainsaw to cut your cheese.

The gift multiplies. Nature is generous—when we give freely, we create more abundance for everyone.

Creativity is an unlimited resource.

Nurture creativity in nature and in people, and you will reap rich rewards.

Focus on solutions rather than just complaining about problems. The problem is the solution.
Look for ways to add creativity and you will add value.


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