Like the food she writes about in her Land and Ladle blog, Erin Meyer has produced a fresh and nourishing interpretation of permaculture’s principles of design.
These are the principles expounded in David Holmgren’s 2002 book, Permaculture — principles and pathways beyond sustainability. I mention this because, for many, David’s principles are all the principles there are. Somewhat neglected are the principles developed by the other co-founder of the permaculture design system, Bill Mollison, quite some time before David’s.

Systems soft and hard

As expressed in David’s book and by permaculture educators and practitioners, his principles are about the design of infrastructure, about building, the design of land-based systems such as farms and resource management. These are permaculture’s ‘hard systems’, systems that have a physical presence.
Yet, they are more than that because the principles are about how we think about the design and building of those things, those physical elements in the landscape. That ‘thinking about’ design and construction makes the principles also a ‘soft system’, something that is cognitive, conceptual, a product of thought, logical reasoning, deduction and making those important mental connections between things.

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The principles of permaculture design are commonly applied to the design of the physical infrastructure of productive systems. Photo: Home garden around the fenceline of a small urban lot in New Plymouth, Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Rules for living

Erin Meyer’s interpretation of David’s principles of design is a soft systems approach too, though in a different way to David’s. As “rules for living” her interpretation applies the principles to personal life, to the psychology of individuals. It is about personal practices and ways of thinking. It is about about our personal psychology.
This is less a new element in what we have come to know as ‘social permaculture’ than a revival of a concept whose presence seems to have declined in permaculture — the ‘Zone Zero’. Envisioned as an additional element to permaculture’s zoned landuse system which traditionally stipulates five zones for different landuses according to distance from the dwelling and availability of resources, Zone Zero was variously defined as the behaviours and practices of people living in a home that is the centre of a permaculture design — Zone One — and as the relationships between them and how they manage the home. It is perhaps Australian permaculture educator/designer, Cecelia Macauley, who is the leading exponent of this idea with her application of permaculture principles in the personal domestic space.

Into the psychological space

In her blog in Medium, Erin goes through each of the principles and suggests a personal action for applying each.
One I found affinity with was her take on the principle of ‘small and slow solutions’. I have written elsewhere that this is an appropriate approach in many circumstances but could be too-little-too-late for others, that sometimes we need big and rapid solutions rather than small and slow. Erin has come to the same conclusion, saying that some of the big challenges we face require the big and rapid response. Examples are ameliorating climate change, finding solutions to the loss of livelihoods to workplace automation, urbanisation.
There is a saying in the tech world that when a technology is used for things it was not designed for, then it is successful. We could apply that to Erin’s interpretation of David’s principles of design to the psychological space of individuals. This repurposes and enlarges the principles, taking them into territory if not completely new, then territory too seldom visited.

Erin writes in the Land and Ladle blog on Medium. Medium is where you will find insightful, critical and analytical writing on a range of topics including the permaculture design system.

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