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.
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.
My first introduction to Permaculture happened before I even knew there was such a system. As a teenager with a keen interest in horticulture, watching neighbours, friends and family removing trees from their property and loading them onto (often) several trailer loads and taking them to the tip. Then within days seeing a truck deliver a load of bark or woodchips to rejuvenate old or create new beds in the freshly trimmed landscape. Seeing these delivery trucks my thoughts went back to the loads of biomass that went to the tip only days earlier that could have easily been converted to woodchips.
Now, with an understanding of Permaculture and its ethics I recognise what I was observing to be the 3 ethics (Earth care, People Care and Return of Surplus / Fair Share) as well as several principles including – “Produce no waste”, “Catch and Store Energy”, “Obtain a Yield”, “Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services”, “Creatively use and Respond to Change”.
Sustainability through Permanent Landscapes and Food forests is a design process that copies the interaction and relationships found in nature. A systems approach to sustainability that can be utilised for all aspects of human survival from agriculture to ecological building, from utilising appropriate technology to economics, from education to energy production.
Permaculture takes the focus off us being consumers and puts the emphasis on us being producers. Its a system that can be applied to a property as small as a balcony garden through average quarter acre urban home sites to properties that are literally hundreds of acres.
Despite popular opinion among those who dabble in Permaculture it is not about Gardening – though gardening forms a large part of a productive system, it is not about Solar Panels and energy – though producing, storing and saving energy is a part of the system, It is not about Catching, storing and using water more efficiently – though the smart use, storage and flow of water forms part of the system. Rather it is a complete systems approach to sustainable thinking.
Although my first introduction to Permaculture was based on a similar mindset without knowing there was such a design system, I soon started to read about people like Bill Mollison – the Tasmanian who started the design system, David Holmgren who co-reated the system with Bill and other students of these originators – Geoff Lawton, Rosemary Morrow, et al.
It was a light globe moment discovering how all these people were thinking about the same methods, the same logic of sustainability that I was. I wasn’t going mad after all. My thoughts were already being put into practice by a group of awesome people – Permaculture was not only born – It was quietly in practice right around the globe.
Permatil (Permaculture Timor Leste), xpandFoundation and Disruptive Media have joined forces to update the 2005 Permaculture Guidebook for Timor Leste.
To make this happen we need your support. Please contribute to our crowd funding campaign so that we can grow the change in tropical countries that is desperately needed.
The original guidebook has been widely used in Timor Leste and Indonesia, and is successful because of the easy to follow style explaining tropical permaculture in essence and practice.
a stunningly effective hand book, largely because of its massive number of commissioned drawings which capture the practicalities of permaculture in action at the family or village level.
In Timor Leste the 400 page guidebook has been reprinted 3 times and used by government departments. In Indonesia over 160 000 guidebook chapters were downloaded in 18 months, and its been translated and used in Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Uganda and Thailand. We are building on a very well proven base.
recommending the ‘Permaculture Guidebook’ as being THE go-to manual for tropical human settlement design, development and management.
To update the guidebook technically, to improve the content, to add more permaculture design knowledge and to generalise the focus so that it’s appropriate for all tropical countries. Once reformatting is complete, the guidebook will be available in hard copy and, importantly, online for FREE download chapter by chapter, so that it can easily reach our target audience. We will be seeking partners to translate into other languages as well.
What does your money support?
Permaculture and sustainability education, food sovereignty, water security, community resilience, climate change reduction, environmental protection and restoration. This resource is useful for all urban and rural communities with techniques that everyone can duplicate no matter their income.!
I had some chapters of the book translated into Luganda in Uganda and it was immediately swallowed up by keen students and we could have printed many many copies.
This project will again rely on the knowledge and skills of Permatil staff and the original guidebook artists, so your money will also be supporting them in their work.
I’m Ross Mars from Western Australia. I’m a permaculture educator and author, having written The Basics of Permaculture Design. I’ve been doing practical permaculture for decades and now it’s time to put it all in a new book, Permaculture Practices.
Authors need proofreaders to correct typos and delinquent grammar, and to comment on what they read. That’s why I’m requesting your assistance in joining this participatory proofreading offer.
Publishing runs to deadlines. I plan to email the chapters to you in early January and it is critical that you return them by the end of the month.
In return, I offer to mention your name in the book’s acknowledgements and to offer you a copy of the new book at 50 percent discount. I will post anywhere in the world free of charge.
Here’s how it works…
Take a look at the chapter descriptions that follow, then email me your preference list, in order, of any three chapters you would like to proofread. List your favourite first.
You may only get one chapter, however, and it may not be the favourite you listed.
Chapters will be sent to you in early January, but if you take this on, you must commit to returning it by the end of January so I can stick with the publishing schedule.
Chapters usually have the theme of ‘top ten’ and can be anywhere from six to 16 pages in length.
Here are the chapter details…
A resource book of skills, strategies and techniques for the transition to a sustainable world. Dr Ross Mars. Illustrations: Simone Willis
1 Setting the scene
What is changing? Is there a problem? Climate change. Peak oil. Food security.
2 Sustainable living practices
Sustainability. Permaculture: designing for a sustainable future. Permaculture design fundamentals.
3 Planning a garden
Ecological principles. How ecosystems work. The design process. Designing for others. Implementation schedule. Sharing the surplus, thriving and surviving.
4 Getting the soil right
What is soil. Compost making. Soil amendments. Mulch. Green manure crops. Fermented fertilisers. Weeds as indicators of soil conditions. Simple soil tests.
5 Edible food plants
Top 10 vegetables. Top 10 garden fruit salads.
6 Fruit and nut trees
Dryland fruit and nut trees. Cool climate fruit and nut trees Warm humid climate fruit and nut trees. Some other considerations about fruit and nut trees.
7. Heavenly herbs
Herbs we use in cooking. Herbal teas. Pest repellent herbs. A herb medical cabinet.
8 Other useful plants
Dryland. Cool climate. Warm humid climate.
9. Fodder and forage shrubs and trees for farm animals