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Design, Culture, Permanence; where should the emphasis of Permaculture be?  RSS feed

 
                                                    
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We live in England. In the UK, the emphasis of Permaculture seems to be in this order

1) design
2) culture
3) Permanence.

Is this the same in your country? I personally believe that we should be reversing this order of emphasis:

1) Permanence
2) Culture
3) Design

I am interested in your thoughts on the emphasis on Permaculture in your country and whether or not you see a different order of emphasis from mine above.

I am seeking ways in which to move forward; a way of seeing 'What does Permaculture look like?' What models could be most useful?

Examples of areas that I believe could support a more effective Permaculture model:

Systems, feedback, not using templates (designs), bottom-up thinking.

When the emphasis is on a completed outcome (the design) then it denies the very essence and spirit of PRACTICAL permaculture. Permaculture SHOULD be an ongoing, fluid, dynamic process which changes over time.  It should be a PERMANENT self sustaining system.

How do we achieve this?
 
paul wheaton
master steward
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Yowzers.

Well, I'm not a permaculture instructor, so this is just one obnoxious opinion ...

I don't think in those high level terms at all. 

I think in terms of:  I wish to find a path where I have more food for less work.  Later, I wish to add into that:  I wish to earn more money for less work.

As an example:  If I plant a mulberry tree along with a lot of perennial things that feed chickens and then run chickens in an area, I buy less feed, I have less chicken health problems, I have higher quality meat and eggs.  The chickens harvest their own food rather than me harvesting it and giving it to them.

As the full farm eco system evolves, I do less and less work while harvesting more and more.

If I plant my guilds wisely, I will not need to irrigate, fertilize, weed or control insects.  Even better, I will not need to worry about it - I just show up for the harvest. 

I suppose some folks could say that I'm thinking about your three things and I might be ordering them in some way, but ...  I really don't think about those three words at all, let alone their order. 

But ... again ... just one perspective.  I'm sure several folks much wiser than I will have a better answer.

 
Susan Monroe
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Location: Western WA
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I don't think the emphasis needs to be so cut-and-dried. 

Permaculture is a new concept to most people, and a complicated one, at that.  The very few people who really know what they're doing (have done it for a long time) might be able to come onto a new property and come up with an all-encompassing plan for all three main facets of permaculture, but new people and the new permie designers simply wouldn't be able to do that.

Most things require some kind of plan or design, even if it's just to arrange your thinking.  I suspect that the ones that start somewhere else will discover that they overlooked some major facets of design, and either have to do a major overhaul because they just didn't know enough when starting out to do the job correctly.

It's easier to make changes on paper than it is to move trees.

Everyone needs to do it the way that works best for them.  You can do yours differently.  I can do mine differently. Some people need to be reminded that permaculture is NOT a religion! It is NOT cast in concrete. It's an ongoing learning experience, and no one knows it all in the beginning.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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I suspect that no one will know it all in the end either every thing is relative to the situation, therefore the scenarios and solutions are infinite.

I believe that form must follow function. culture is a by-product. and permanence is a shadowy uniquely human concept /illusion.

I think that permaculture  is current name attached to the concept of trying to  live as naturally as possible. The chink is that humans are decidely unnatural. we are not willing to live the same old survival of the fittest game like the rest of the world. we don't adapt to the enviroment we adapt the enviroment to us. it is what makes us human and that is ok. I'm not a proponent of civilization suicide.  I think with this ability/gift comes the responsibility to adapt our enviroment in a responsible way. a way that will do the least damage to the world that we inhabit.
 
Kelda Miller
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Tricky semantics if,

permanence (energy descent)
design (observe and work with)
culture (adapt to our ecology)

i would think the human bit comes first:
Culture
Permanence (a bad word for energy descent)
Design

"how should we change? towards our environment...let's take a look with new eyes..."
But this is just in response to Bella, other of you had interesting ideas to think on.

I'm interested though, permaculturebella. How do you feel, specifically, that pc in the uk expresses itself in the order you mentioned? and what, specifically, would a different order of priorities feel like?
 
                                                    
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Kelda O. wrote:
Tricky semantics if,

permanence (energy descent)
design (observe and work with)
culture (adapt to our ecology)

i would think the human bit comes first:
Culture
Permanence (a bad word for energy descent)
Design

"how should we change? towards our environment...let's take a look with new eyes..."
But this is just in response to Bella, other of you had interesting ideas to think on.

I'm interested though, permaculturebella. How do you feel, specifically, that pc in the uk expresses itself in the order you mentioned? and what, specifically, would a different order of priorities feel like?


The permaculture design course in the UK, is run in many different places. The whole emphasis of the course is DESIGN; an end product that is drawn out with written portfolio evidencing learning. Students are not expected to physically, nor practically do the design; it is only a paper design/exercise.

We (husband Steve, wife bella) got interested in Permaculture around 1983 one of the key lessons we have learned is that until you start physically, actively doing Permaculture, any paper design you draw is totally useless. By that I don't even mean that with practical experience your latest drawn Permie designs are any better. The issues are, that there are infinite numbers of outcomes, to make it easy I will explain given real life examples:

When planting burr-reed around a pond the original plant quickly deteriorates, sets seed and in effect walks to other locations. Where it then flourishes. This demonstrates that there is no way of knowing where this particular plant would be best located to thrive. So any designs are just exceptionally temporary initial ideas.

Establishing a new ecosystem takes time. A LOT of time, which is outside of most people's tolerance and experience. This is where the issue of Permanence comes in. By Permanence we meant that in effect there should be a beginning (the start of your interaction) but there would be no end. To assume that you can draw a pretty picture (a design) and be able to predict that ANY of the elements within it will still be there even within the short term is, in our view arrogance and ignorance.

A good example is the establishment of wild flower meadows. It has been found that after a period of time none of the original planted species still exist. A whole new community of plants have become established. Whilst it may be argued that this is just succession and should be taken into account in any Permaculture design, to believe that we can draw 'paper Permaculture Designs' and for that to be adequate the 'designer' has to believe that his/her designs have some longevity ie some permanence or he/she is wasting their time.

What your reading, knowledge and past experience directs you to believe to be true is not a guarantee of success. We bought our smallholding ten years ago and have been working on it sporadically ever since. Planting shelter belts/food forests, digging ponds, keeping livestock, attempting to grow veg, mulching etc. What our reading/knowledge/past experience directs us to believe often it is totally inadequate. Even now, with ten years experience on our smallholding if we were asked to do a design on paper we would still face exactly the same problems. The outcome would be one of embarrassing simplicity. Ecosystems are examples of self organizing complex systems that we can't even start to understand.

We have planted about 1, 500 trees on our site. On paper we have done it right. In reality in the food forest/shelter belt we still only have a collection of standing trees. It will take a lot, lot longer for an actual ecosystem to evolve. Even the most founding ideas, such as collecting apples from the food forest have not come to fruition - literally, there is no fruit as there is not enough light on our small holding in our part of the world to keep the trees healthy and for them to bare fruit.

So, we place Permanence at the top our list for any Permaculture project because we feel that designing away on paper is the opposite direction that we should go. The actual design is the outcome of our initial actions and the resultant reactions. This is the feedback.

The energy descent idea, as far as we are aware, is the terminology used by David Holmgren and Transition Towns etc. To us Permanence is about Permanent Agriculture. Whilst this may include aspects of energy decent (our coppiced trees will provide some of our fuel and building materials) it is not all that Permanent Agriculture means to us. It also means providing a much needed habitat for other fauna and flora etc - fair share, people care and earthcare. 

 
Leah Sattler
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bella you have eloquently expressed my beef with any "system". We cannot even begin to understand the complexity of an ecosystem and recreate it.in my opinion we should only seek to alter it as little as possible. It is sad that permacultre is already succumbing to it own idealistic, woefully inadequate ideas in some areas. i think it is important that we realize that any modification to our enviroment is for self serving purposes. ulitimately it is for human benefit. our obsession with changing the world is often justified with things like "creating biodiversity" when in reality some areas are quite naturally less diverse than others and it is evidence of our arrogance to suppose that we know better for the world than what has naturally evolved. even ideas such as increasing soil fertility and depth can be detrimental to certain ecosystems. the term "improve" must be used within the context of human desires. we are not improving the world. I think unfortunatly that we are, like it or not, in a battle with our own enviroment  fighting for life, unconciously fighting to pass on our genes, just as every other creature on this planet. as it turns out, for a at least a relatively short period of time, we have proven quite good at it. I hope that we can find some balance, or maybe those that will truly survive in the long run are those who do/will. those who can say "no" to their instinctual desire to accumulate more resources and can say "I have enough now".
 
Steve Nicolini
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I think there is something to be said about design.  Especially when it comes to building homes or other structures.  This may be less valid in plant and garden world.  If you want to build a home and have little to no design b/c it would set you off in the "opposite direction", then you are in for a world of constant repairs, more materials used, and run the risk of having to abandon the home entirely.

I think this emphasis thing is relative to what part of permaculture you are dealing with.  Like Sue said it doesn't need to be so cut and dry... in my opinion.
 
Susan Monroe
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Location: Western WA
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Your arguments are good, but I don't really think there is a totally right or wrong design.  Permaculture is agriculture, it isn't really mimicking Nature.  It is a way to produce food without doing so much damage to the Earth.  Although it tends to follow Nature's way, it simply isn't, and never will be, Nature.

Your example of the wildflower meadow shows that we aren't going to sow some seeds and have those plants growing there until the end of time. It just doesn't work that way.  We can't control what seeds passing birds, animals and the wind drops in any particular spot.  Some seeds are strong growers, stronger than the plants currently growing there, and they will gain a foothold and take over.  And what seeds are 'delivered' this year probably aren't the same ones that arrived last year, and won't be the same ones that show up next year.  Some can't compete well, and you'll only find a few of those plants.  Others will take over if conditions are right for them.  A few years later, conditions may be different, those plants won't do well, won't reseed well, but something else will, and it will move in and take over.

I have noticed on other discussion boards that many of the newcomers to mulching think they can plant, then lay down a foot (30cm) of mulch, and it will stay there, thick, for a year, or forever.  They're actually shocked when they find that weeds are growing through the mulch because it has decomposed down to only 3"(7cm).  Some of them then think that mulching is a waste of time and effort.  It wasn't perfect and forever!  My, my!  What is

I think a general plan is good, a rigid plan isn't.  But working without a plan altogether seems unwise.

Sue
 
Steve Nicolini
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Perfect and Forever?  Nothing is.  The only thing that is perfect and forever is "nothing."  It is something, because when I say "nothing" you know what I am talking about and get an image in your mind. 

This may be for another forum...

 
Matt Ferrall
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Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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Yea,we wouldnt want No Work models which translates to no personal relationship with the landscape cause the "work" is the relationship.Thanks for the clarification on permanence,permaculturebella.So many people into permaculture are also into culture change so whats it gonna be folks?
 
Susan Monroe
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Do you mean culture change from bad to good, mediocre to worse, or from what is happening now to what should be happening? 

Sue
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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I may be wrong but I think the answer is..whichever aspect is needed most in your own property.
If you have a poor design but have a lot of permanent plantings and buildings..then your top priority is to rethink your design, to where it will funciton better for you.

If you need work on the culture aspect, then that is your priority

and Permanence is something that takes some time..but if you put in something permanent in a poor design, then you may be having to attempt to move it, and likely kill it.

My husband and I had planted a forest and put in a huge raised bed garden east of our house..but when our son needed land for his house..we ended up having to cut down most of the forest and move most of the garden..we had always told him if he needed land we would provide it..but we weren't planning for future design when we put the forest and garden on the only viable land for a home site for him..
 
Kelda Miller
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oh, 'permanent' is just a lousy word for this stuff, and by extension even the word 'permaculture'.

I mean we don't really want to create Permanence, that's impossible. Things change.

I think what david & bill were going for was a 'long-thinking-culture' OR 'not-going-to-kill-itself-culture' and the closest word they could find for that was 'permanence'

I don't know, maybe I should try using that anyway: "Hi! I'm put up flyers for this Austrian not-going-to-kill-itself-culture guy. He'll be in town later this month. Can i post one here?"
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I've always thought of 'permaculture' as meaning perennials rather than (totally) annual crops with the necessary tillage.  That leaves a lot of room for changes in plans, in plantings, and so on.  I do think that *some* design work is a good idea (would probably have saved ronbre and her family some trouble if they'd known before they planted their forest that that was the only good location on their property for another house).  But even the best plans have to be flexible.  I've had to move things around on the place where I live -- it belongs to my grandmother (my daughter and I live with her), so I don't have final say on anything.  Because she didn't want the animal shelters 'out front' they are now sitting on half of the only good garden ground we have, instead of on the rock that the contractor put down for the trucks when they were preparing the ground for the manufactured house we live in.  I can't grow anything on that compacted rock (maybe with raised beds, and I may get that far some day), but it was a good location for the livestock -- close to the road, with easy access for bringing in feed.  Now I have to carry hay and grain back to them in a sled or garden cart most of the year, and the size of the vegetable garden is limited.  I could think of other examples, but since I was just out doing chores, that one came readily to mind, LOL!  (And I need to get back out there, because I have a doe about to kid.)

Kathleen
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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Katleen what you said there is so true, My husband I were so very sad to see our forest and our orchard have to go because we eneded up having to give the land to our son for his house..yes..it was poor planning, even though we never did believe he would want to live there..

I have been trying to work with the little of that forest left to get things growing between our two houses now, he needs the privacy as we do and he needs the windbreak they will provide..it is hard work growing a forest.

we also have the misfortune of county planners..they have now directed local water runoff ONTO our property..at first it appeared to us as a curse..however..when we thought about it ..it is water..water is important..so we have been working on an arrangement of filtering swamps, ditches and ponds to control that flooding spring runoff..so far we have a swamp that it runs into (a natural swamp) and then an overflow pond, an overflow ditch, another 60 x 60 odd shape overflow pond, and then another overflow ditch..which carries the overflow back into the deep woods behind our property, there is a really wet area back there..of course..as the entire 2 mile square area drains this way..so our hope is to (now that we have a tractor) work with the woods and create a wetland area of a real pond back there in the woods rather than just a swampy area..and then allow the water to continue to run back toward the river 2 miles North.

it is like making lemonade out of lemons.

they rerouted the water about 10 to 12 years ago, but it has taken us this long to get this far with our work to make good use of the water that we were"blessed?" with.

we will continue to work on the property improving the design, but no, design does not seem to come first here..it is generally an outcry from the lack of design by us or other people..which means necessity is the mother of invention
 
Bruce Weiskotten
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I am a permaculture teacher and my experiences both here in the US and in Italy is that there are two fundamental branches of permaculture: 1) Permaculture Design as a methodology and discipline where we use the design process as the co-creation engine of change in our socioety and
2) permaCulture which is really what more people are interested in - being a part of a society that advocates and works toward a sustainable culture.
While the design discipline deserves peer review and professionalism it will never have as much interest/popularity as the cultural movement which includes all the people who will never bother to draw up a base map, evaluate the multiple functions of whatever or commit to a particular cultural practice.
The idea that you have to complete a PDC to use the word permaculture has failed and fallen by the wayside. But maybe we need to hang out in the kitchen and hear the women talk/teach about cooking with home grown food from scratch.
Whatever we do we have to be able to sustain culture and design/redesign is as essential as pro-creation because it is procreation which reverses entropy. How we number these things is a bit like Which came first the chicken or the egg. Culture is always the context for the design process and impermanence will always force culture to redesign itself.
Maybe the answer is just what works best for you and your community.
 
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