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What Is Permaculture? A Sustainable Farming Practice

by Jonathan Foley

Countless communities are making incredible efforts to bring the wave of environmental responsibility back to life. Permaculture is a system of teaching the principles of permanent agriculture and culture to those interested in the farming, environment and those who want to thrive in such an environment.

What is Permaculture?

Definition: It is a set of tools for creating communities that work in harmony with the natural world and work with nature, not against it. For example, It creates communities that can adapt to climate change while improving the health of the land and those involved. It helps grow food.

Initially, it included agriculture and permanent but has evolved into a more inclusive field, combining permanent and culture. This concept was pioneered by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978.

What is Permaculture Farming?

Permaculture farming is a sustainable and regenerative farming practice that is based on the principles of natural ecosystems. It involves designing and creating a self-sustaining, harmonious, and balanced system of agriculture that mimics nature.


It aims to produce food in a way that is ecologically sound, socially just, and economically viable, while also preserving and regenerating the natural environment.

One of the key principles of permaculture farming is the use of perennial crops, which are plants that live for several years and do not require replanting every season. This approach reduces soil erosion, minimizes the need for tilling, and improves soil health. These farmers also make use of companion planting, crop rotation, and natural pest control methods to maintain a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

Another important aspect is the use of renewable energy sources and efficient water management techniques. This can include using solar panels, wind turbines, and other forms of renewable energy to power farm operations, as well as collecting and conserving rainwater for irrigation.

It also emphasizes the importance of community involvement and social justice. By working with local communities and promoting fair labor practices, its farmers can create a more equitable and sustainable food system.


Ethical Basis of Permanent Agriculture

The principle of equitable distribution is based on the fact that the land belongs to all of us, and we all share land that has everything – food, energy, money, and time.  These three ethics provide the moral framework for permanent culture design and guide the use of its principles:

  • Care for the Earth: This emphasizes the respect and sustainable use of all forms of life, considering the planet’s finite resources and the interconnectedness of its ecosystems.
  • Care for People: This ethic promotes creating systems that provide for people’s needs in sustainable and equitable ways.
  • Fair Share: Also referred to as ‘Return of Surplus,’ this ethic focuses on limiting consumption and ensuring that resources are distributed fairly.

It is these three ethics on which practitioners can build and transform their local systems. These ethical principles ensure that its practitioners can apply a variety of transformation techniques that can be applied in it.


The Permaculture Institute has conducted research in conjunction with the Purple Care Fund, which provides an outstanding example of how natural systems feed each other, producing both abundant food for farmers and a healthier ecosystem.

Using the principles to revitalize relationships with local communities and the environment is also a key part of projects like City Repair, which apply the ideals to artistic and eco-friendly activities.

Ethical Basis of Permanent Agriculture or permaculture

History of Permaculture Farming

Permaculture history can be traced back to the 1970s, when Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed the concept in Australia. Mollison was a biologist and Holmgren was an ecologist, and they were both concerned about the environmental impact of conventional agriculture.

They believed that it was possible to create sustainable agricultural systems that could provide food and other resources without harming the environment.

He said: “Sometimes there are two stories that tell how the idea actually came about. One story is that Mollison was my scientific advisor and I was just a technical assistant working with him. And then there is the opposite of what is; I was a brilliant student and he was an academic who stole my work from me. Neither of those is true. I mean, to begin with; he was my mentor while I was working on the manuscript. ”

Exemplary Application of Perma culture

He further said that “If it had been left to me the manuscript would have just molded away in a draw. It was Bill who was like, no we’re going to take this to the world. The core of the idea really came about when I was coming towards the end of my first year in Environmental Design and my interests were gravitating around ecology, agriculture and landscape design”.

Here is a more detailed look at the history:

  • 1970s: Bill Mollison and David Holmgren develop the concept in Australia.
  • 1978: Mollison and Holmgren publish their book, Permaculture One.
  • 1980s: It begins to spread around the world.
  • 1990s: It becomes more mainstream, and there are now thousands practitioners.
  • 2000s: It continues to grow in popularity, and there are now many permaculture design courses available.
  • 2010s: It is recognized as a viable solution to the environmental challenges facing our planet.

Role to Boost Sustainable Agriculture

It plays a crucial role in boosting sustainable agriculture by providing a holistic approach that emphasizes regenerative practices, biodiversity, and community building. Here are some ways that permanent culture supports sustainable agriculture:

Role of Perma culture to Boost Sustainable Agriculture

  • Regenerative Agriculture: It prioritizes regenerative agricultural practices that work with nature to restore soil health, increase biodiversity, and reduce the need for chemical inputs. This includes techniques such as crop rotation, composting, cover cropping, and agroforestry. These practices help to build healthy soil that is rich in organic matter, retain water more effectively, and support the growth of a variety of crops.
  • Biodiversity: It recognizes the importance of biodiversity in agriculture and seeks to create systems that support a wide range of plant and animal species. This includes incorporating perennial crops, creating habitat for wildlife, and supporting pollinators. By promoting biodiversity, these systems are more resilient to environmental changes and better able to adapt to different conditions.
  • Local Community Building: Permanent agriculture also emphasizes the importance of building strong local communities that support sustainable agriculture. This includes creating community gardens, farmer’s markets, and food cooperatives. By connecting local farmers with consumers, it helps to build a more sustainable and resilient food system that benefits everyone.
  • Education and Training: It provides education and training opportunities for individuals interested in sustainable agriculture. This includes courses, workshops, and apprenticeships that teach its principles and practices. By educating a new generation of farmers and gardeners, it is helping to build a more sustainable future.

What are the 12 Principles of Permaculture Farming?

David Holmgren later defined a set of twelve principles in his book “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability” (2002). These principles are often used as a set of guidelines when designing sustainable human habitats and agricultural systems.

Principle Feature of Permaculture

  1. Observe and Interact: Closely observe nature’s patterns and successions.
  2. Catch and Store Energy: Focus on harnessing and storing energy.
  3. Obtain a Yield: Insists on ensuring that you are getting a beneficial output.
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback: Recognizing and correcting imbalances within the system.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services: Encourages the use of renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste: Value all the resources available.
  7. Design from Patterns to Details: Understanding broader patterns in the landscape.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate: Encourage synergies between different system elements.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions: Focus on starting small and scaling up gradually.
  10. Use and Value Diversity: Diversity leads to resilience, as it provides a buffer.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal: Recognize the most diverse and productive areas in a system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change: Anticipate and use changes in a positive way.

However, the principles are not a step-by-step guide but rather a set of guidelines to consider when designing sustainable systems. They are interconnected and dependent on one another, often overlapping in their implementation. They can be applied at any scale, from personal homes and community gardens to large-scale farms and even urban environments.

How to design a permaculture system and zones?

In its design, “zones” are a key concept used to organize the layout and placement of elements in a way that minimizes effort and maximizes efficiency.

The main idea is to arrange things based on how often you need to visit or interact with them. Here’s a basic rundown of the zones:

  1. Zone 0: This is typically the home or main living space. It’s the center of activity, and thus should be designed for energy efficiency and comfort.
  2. Zone 1: This is the area closest to the home that you visit daily. It’s ideal for elements that require regular attention or provide frequent yield e.g., kitchen garden.
  3. Zone 2: This zone is still frequently visited, but less often than Zone 1. You might find perennial plants, larger fruit trees, larger vegetables that don’t require as much care (like pumpkins), bees, and storage sheds in this zone.
  4. Zone 3: This is the semi-managed or “farm” zone, which is visited less frequently. It may include large-scale crop production, orchards, pastures, larger farm animals, and water storage ponds.
  5. Zone 4: A semi-wild zone, this area is typically used for foraging, grazing, collecting firewood, and possibly timber production. It’s not visited often, but its resources are harvested when needed.
  6. Zone 5: This is the wild or unmanaged zone, typically left to its own devices to promote biodiversity and serve as a “wilderness” area.


Remember, these zones aren’t always distinct circles radiating out from a center point; they can overlap and intertwine based on the individual characteristics of the site and your needs. The goal is to design your system in a way that maximizes efficiency and minimizes unnecessary work.

What are the advantages of permaculture farming?

Permanent culture gardens aim to save everything. Nothing should be wasted:

  • Among the many plants used in a garden are some designated for food consumption, others for medication, others to attract beneficial insects, and still others to deter pests. It is a great way to enjoy the abundant benefits of nature like medicinal plants, wild edible flowers, and so on. All this can be found in a perma oasis.
  • It is entirely self-sufficient once established, and once watered and harvested, the garden needs no additional care. It require only occasional mulching and require no other maintenance.
  • Many perma gardens recycle rainwater from gutters to fill water containers, to keep soil and plants hydrated, and attract wildlife. They also use water to attract wildlife.
  • These gardens do not have pests because water sources attract insects, birds, frogs, and other small creatures that consume pests in the garden.
  • Using garden waste makes compost, which can be used as fertilizer and soil amendment.
  • In addition, companion plantings are helpful in keeping insects and other pests away.

There are no places on Earth to grow money. The Earth is a place to grow food and live.

Example of permanent culture systems

Let’s take a look at the renowned Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden in the UK as an example. Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden is a wonderful example of an established and successful system. Located in Dartington, Devon, England, the garden covers about 2 acres of land and has been in operation for over two decades.

  1. Food Forests: The Forest Garden is designed in accordance with its principles, and its primary feature is a food forest. Crawford’s food forest includes various layers of vegetation: the canopy layer includes apple and cherry trees, the low-tree layer consists of smaller fruit trees like quince and apricot, the shrub layer includes a variety of berries, the herbaceous layer has various edible plants, the ground layer includes edible ground cover crops, and the root zone has root crops such as potatoes.
  2. Biodiversity: There are over 500 edible plants thriving in the garden, demonstrating the abundance of biodiversity that a well-managed system can support. The variety of plants helps control pests and diseases naturally and reduces the need for external inputs.
  3. Composting and Soil Health: Martin Crawford utilizes composting methods to enhance soil fertility, feeding the soil with organic matter and creating nutrient-rich compost that is used to maintain the health of the garden.
  4. Water Management: Rainwater is captured and stored using various techniques. Swales and ditches are used to control water flow across the landscape, preventing erosion and enabling the garden to retain more water.
  5. Education and Community Involvement: The Forest Garden is also an educational center where Martin Crawford teaches about permanent culture, forest gardening, and sustainable agriculture. Many people from around the world come to learn about these practices and take the knowledge back to their own communities.

Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden is a fantastic real-world example of a thriving permanent culture system, showing the viability of such systems in providing food, supporting biodiversity, and promoting sustainability.


In conclusion, permanent agriculture is a comprehensive and dynamic approach to sustainable living and land use. The examples highlighted, such as the real-world model of Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden, demonstrate its effectiveness. Its isn’t merely about agricultural practices but encompasses a broader philosophy of living sustainably and ethically within our ecological means.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why permaculture farming is important?

It is important for its ability to promote sustainability, enhance food security, build resilient communities, and contribute to resource conservation. By adopting its principles and practices, we can create a more sustainable and regenerative future, addressing environmental challenges while fostering self-sufficiency and community well-being.

2. What positive role does permanent agriculture play in an ecosystem?

Permanent agriculture plays a positive role in ecosystems by promoting biodiversity, enhancing soil health, conserving water resources, and supporting natural habitats. By mimicking natural systems, it creates balanced and resilient ecosystems that provide habitat for diverse plant and animal species.

3. How does it work?

It works by observing and mimicking natural systems to create sustainable and regenerative designs. It involves understanding the interconnections between various elements in an ecosystem and utilizing them to enhance productivity and resilience. It incorporates principles such as diversity, efficiency, and integration to create harmonious relationships between plants, animals, and humans.

4. What is a permaculture farm?

It is a type of agricultural system that utilizes principles and practices of permanent culture to create a sustainable and regenerative farming environment. It focus on maximizing resource efficiency, minimizing waste, and promoting biodiversity. They often incorporate techniques like agroforestry, polyculture, composting, and water conservation to create self-sustaining and resilient farming systems.

5. How to start a permaculture farm?

To start a farm, conduct a thorough site assessment, considering factors like soil quality, water availability, and climate. Design the layout based on its principles, utilizing zones and sectors to optimize efficiency. Establish diverse perennial plants, implement regenerative practices such as composting and companion planting, and focus on building healthy soil for sustainable farming.

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