Agroecology or simply Ecofarming has a much more clearly definable definition. Permaculture by contrast is an almost meaningles catchall word that can mean almost anything to anyone, and so almost functions as a secret handshake for those in the know.
Permaculture: at it's best represents more than "just" growing food, for those in the know, it represents an entire way of living that is much more benign or even benefishial to the Earth than mainstream culture. However, food and growing it is the heart and of course stomach of the term permaculture, it is the main topic of most literature and discussions under the heading "permaculture". And rightly so, food, is not only how almost every living thing survives, it is what defines culture from an anthropological view. Human cultures have always been based around food and its attainment.
So isnt permaculture then a perfect name for what we are discussing on this website? In someways yes, but glaringly no in one big way, food is not implied in its definition. O.k. Sure, once you become aquainted with the word as secret handshake you know growing food is part of the game. The problem, as i see it, is that its such a broadly defined word that just about anyome or anything can define it in almost any old way. Yes im being a bit polemic now but bear with me. Lets move on to the other term.
Agroecology. This has a specific meaning! Agriculture or Agronomy is the discpline of growing food in abundance. And ecology is this amazing word that really is only 50 or 60 years old in acedemia and really only become widely accepted in the early 70's means the study of the relationships on earth. Specifically the economic relationships between species. Economic? Yes how a species gets its food is the basis of the word eco nomy the sustainable use of Resources.
So this word conjuction agroecology is the practice of using the earths model of relationship economics to help us grow alot of food. As opposed to the by any means nessisary method that has been applied in the industrial civilization and more specifically since ww2 with the onset of chemical agriculture.
So we all know what agrononmy is but how many know what ECOLOGY IS? What i like to think of it is civilization slowy figuring out what all of our ancestors already knew living in the real permacultures of band socities and tribes.
Ecology is the thing that created every living thing, including us. It is first and formost species relationships with each other forming communities which for the last billion years or so has meant plant communities as its backbone, fungi and all the other kingdoms of course, but plants get the damn energy from the sun and turn it in to something we can use, biological energy.
The real issue with this word play definition is that permaculture at its worst ignores what it purports to want to help and is no differnt in that regard than chemical industrial ag. Yes. By supperimposing the will of our species hubris onto the amazing planet that created us. Chemicals sl ag says we need P K and H right? Phosphorus potasium and nitrogen and you just dump that in and grow what you want. Permaculture practice sometimes says just dump these species in and they will make a bunch of food. The ecology is often lacking, not entirely absent but lacking. Sure legumes fix nitrogen etc... But this is nothing compaired to all the divese interactions that happen in a native plant community.
At its worse permaculture totally ignores even dismisses these miracles of evolution, many plant communities are 10's of thousands of years old, many are 100's of thousands of years old. Make no mistake the members of these communities NEED each other to survive. Permaculture at its worse seems to ignore the 6th great extinction we are now making on Earth and arragantly thinks we can throw a few species together and it will be not only o.k, but better than what a billion years of evolution could create.
So ecology, seems to me, needs to be the cornerstone of what is called permaculture. So much of what is though of as permaculture origin is actually agro ecology. Fukuoka's rice beds were not permaculture it was agriculture but with the study of ecology included. His amazing transformative story of the mandarins is not permaculture its ecofarming. Meaning in order to grow an unnatural amount of food to feed and unnatural amount of our species we still need to work our asses off in a less diverse environment. Holzers used agriculture to support themselves, they learned how to do it in a more ecological way for their speciific ecosystem.
Your not going to form any alternative to chemical farming with what many people call permaculture. Permaculture for many is a hobby, what used to be called a gentlemans garden. It is what i would call an introduction to ecology. A great hands on introduction to ecology.
At its best permaculture opens peoples minds! Opens their eyes! To the natural world. But its mostly gardening. And when you get hungry you go to the store and buy some food! Hopefully from a organic farmer and maybe if your lucky and ecofarmer. The united nations has declared that in order to feed what will soon be 8 billion people we must adopt agroecological small farms.
And i would like to believe that most people that follow permaculture ideas want that. Small independent self sufficient ecologically sound farms. Soooo, they will all need to grow more than is natural. Not by gimmicks or getting disposable income from lucky folks in rich countries or selling ideas in "design courses and books and video but by growing a hell of a lot of damn food!
I am grateful that permaculture exists as an umbrella to push ideas and a place for folks to gather to think together.
Permaculture is, in the main, a urban suburban pasttime, a healthy progressive wholistic societal force. Its not a culture, its not permanent.
In damaged or destroyed urban and suburban landscapes and old ag land you can hardly do any wrong by any ole growing of anything. But on large scale growing enough food to feed a community and not get forclosed... Without residual income...without a trust fund, is hard dirty work, and many permaculture ideas are just that, ideas. Not something to bet the farm on, as it actually would mean. Can you imagine what it would take to do a 40 acre hugle bed? How much it woukd take away from the local nutrient cycle of the local ecosystem? If your fortunate to have anything that could vaguely be classified as a intact ecosystem.
Ill leave you with this, ecologists, botanists and anthropologist have found many examples of food forests and agroecology practiced by indigenous natural cultures. We used to know how to live on Earth as not only a benign species, but actually as a benefishial species just like all others.
In order to do this again we need to listen and learn from the amazing diversity that is left on earth. And first do no harm.
Can you protect and even restore native plants communities while growing an abundence of human food?
I believe we can , i have done it.
First, do no harm. In order to do no harm. Understand nearly everything about the land your at. We need "new" approaches, local approaches, natural is, in stark reality a very local reality in deed.
Nessesity is the mother of invention. And nessity means poverty, it means hunger. This is and has been the great inovator and this i believ is one of main missing components to seeing permacultures true virtue and its honest limitations.
Be well. Grow food, together.
But what about damage caused by invading plants and wildlife that are not indigenous to the area.. Ie Tasmania, (Australia) the impact of western plants and animals has been devastating. But the reality is that the surviving humans are now mainly white Western Europeans who have invaded the land and we are trying to manipulate the land to fit our western diets.
So by your statement if I have understood it, permaculture is tokenism and we are just seeking to placate our guilt to restoring some sort of eco agriculture?? Heavy!!!
Emelle Tuesday wrote: Permaculture by contrast is an almost meaningles catchall word that can mean almost anything to anyone,
I disagree. It is a word with a meaning defined by the person who invented it, Bill Mollison "Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of cultivated ecosystems which have the diversity, stability & resilience of natural ecosystems. "
Also, It is impossible to credit a word to an individual. Somewhat less difficult to credit any word to a certain century.
Lastly, the article can be argued word for word to avoid and distract from its real purpose which is to ad to a contructive dialog surounding issues of importance.
I am no one special I have no qualifications in this area, how ever I have tried to understand the theories behind permaculture etc. if I am misunderstanding any of this please update me.
Giselle Burningham wrote:TBut do you get what I am trying to say. Permaculture in this example would not work.
I think invasive plants can be managed in Permaculture. Yes, other people's mistakes become our responsibility, and it might be difficult to solve some of these problems. But I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "Permaculture in this example would not work." Permaculture cannot magically make inappropriate plant choices work in any situation. An invasive plant might be a "Type 1 Error." One needs to use appropriate methods in Agroecology and/or Permaculture, in my opinion.
I haven't read it yet, but this is from the Library Journal: "Here is a brilliant, alternative way of dealing with nonnative, invasive species. Oregon State University permaculturist Orion’s emphasis is on plants, and her survey of relevant literature is a virtuoso incorporation of books, journals, electronic resources, and personal communications, written in commendable expository prose. In the face of overwhelming political correctness, which dictates that invasive species should be eliminated, the author offers ways to exploit and adapt to them in addition to extolling the virtues some of the species exhibit. As an instructor, Orion teaches ways to manage ecosystems with an eye to long-term results, free of herbicides and destructive attempts to remove species seen as undesirable. She pays special attention to the behaviors of ‘primitive' societies in relation to their surroundings. In her view, pre-Columbian America was already far from pristine; it underwent many changes wrought by Native Americans, especially through fire. This thoughtful, controversial, and well-documented book is guaranteed to infuriate many and to provoke us into rethinking our attitudes about what is natural and best for the land. With essays such as 'The Myth of Wilderness,' the reader is challenged to confront revolutionary ideas about our landscapes."
I, too, have a problem with invasives on my land, but am interested in doing more than just trying to get rid of them. Why are they there? Can I discourage them? Can I use them?
Writers popularize ideas and spread language.
Are you not interested in the topic? Sustainable ag and agroecology or permaculture in practice?
Species evolve in certain conditions and find themselves in an ecological niche'. All species do this. They have everything they need to survive in that specific niche'
within certain parameters.
Before planes and ships, the parameters stayed relatively stable for long long periods. When they changed they changed slowely. Sudden changes were rare and catastrophic. Causeing mass extinction. What civilization is doing now is the 6th great extinction to have occured on Earth in 6 or so billion years.
It is the only one caused by a species.
A huge part of that is us spreading species around the globe and destroying outright what us there.
Before the spread of european colonizers the lands abroad were "pristine" meaning they were ecologically intact.
This is the apologists creed, "humans have always messed up the environment." This is varifyable and easily proven wrong.
Civilizations in the western hemisphere and africa and se asia caused local destruction. But the local ecology was able to rebuild itself becuse enoigh intact plant and animal community remained.
Your land? You likely wont eradicate all thise invasives. They are filling a niche a huge hole left when the land was logged or plowed and geneally destroyed.
Some plants are colonizers ecologically speaking, their job is to invade damaged or new land, in the cae of volcano or earthquake.
There are native weeds. But just as in some permaculture teachings, ecosystems have successional species and climax species.
The idea for thoughful science based Earth care is to restore the native plant community as best as you can while also growing a nice amount of food.
Many, many native plant nurseries exist acrosss a large swath of plant communites check your local area.
Even if you dont care about native plant communities you will care about all the insects and microbes and fungus and birds and etc etc.. That live in close symbiosis with those plant communities. Did you know that many insects benefishials only use one native plant species to survive.?
Its all very resiliant ubless your a civilization , then the whole thing is as fragile as a china shop.
Once you get a portion of your land back into some stable native plant community, you can experiment with some selective rotational use.
The thing is real permaculture, the only kind that is anything close to perma and culture is on a non human time frame. Meaning it will take, in a temperate climate a decade or decades and millenia, in tropical areas you can shorten that time span but then you also have invasives that never rest.
Certain species of invasives basically need to be eradicated or will eat up time and resources, buckthorn and canada thisle are 2 that will utterly make it impossible to do anything with eradicating. If you dont get it all it will be back even worse. Completely shading out and preventing any growth.
A native plant community often will have hundreds of species in a few meters. When we say community we mean these species form a bond and interdependence that makes a permaculture "guild" look like a one night stand. Can you dig that?
Paul staments work on mushrooms in Pacific Northwest has uncovered a tip of the ice burg inregards to fungus role. What we dont know about what we have and are destroying vastly outweights what we do know.
Do the best you can, its all we can do.
"Permaculture is a word coined by the author....(it) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way." Bill Mollison, Permaculture a Designers Manual, Tagari Publications, 1988
Giselle Burningham wrote: I didn't realise that this issue was so contentious. It is good however to see that everything is still evolving and we are not fixed in our thoughts.
I think in most instances invasive plants are taking advantage of a niche which formed due to faulty land management practices, usually some kind of disturbance such as erosion or overgrazing. Here we get huge stands of non-native thistles in overgrazed pastures or eroded watercourses. I think in this case the permaculture approach might be to use the plants as a resource for compost, and replant the disturbed area with native species, and of course, implement better grazing strategies.
That approach of looking at everything you deal with in a holistic way is what got us into permaculture. That has set the aspirations levels on what we want to achieve. It will be a very long process, with many little steps.
If you would consider what Bill Mollison says about zone 5, what he calls "the wilderness" you would find that permaculture attributes a very important role to nature in its complicated and interconnected way of functioning. Mollison states that we are king in our zone 1 where we take full control, but that our influence and our management decreases ever further when we move out through zones 2 to 4, to eventually end in zone 5 where we should consider ourselves just visitors who come there to learn rather than to manipulate anything.
I personally don't think nature has always been so stable. Maybe for a few (hundred) thousand years it was in some parts of the world. But species travel, they show up in different places, transported by wind, or floating on water. New species arriving either find a role or die, nature's processes are long term. People in the past century have greatly increased the amount of invasive species in many parts of the world, if not everywhere, but in the long run things will balance out. It always has, because it has no other option. If one species totally dominates it's digging its own grave in the long run. That goes for us humans as it goes for any plant or animal.
To finalize: Bill Mollison has in my view been very successful in defining a holistic approach to life on our planet. I like it that we can call permaulture a design science, because it's a guide to getting things right and it leaves very little subjects out. The judgement what is "permaculture" or what is "using (some) permaculture techniques" can be made based on if your life is beyond sustainable. If your actions respect nature, increase biodiversity and if your land produces more resources than you consume (or sell) I think you can claim to practice permaculture. We're working on it, but we're still a long way off.
Regarding "wilderness" and permaculture, Boll Mollison mentions that eventually, due to the tremendous productivity of permaculture systems, most land can be returned to wild nature. This also will be an incremental process.
As such ideas like agroecology fit within permaculture and are available to be utilized as appropriate.
Regarding "invasive" versus "native" plants and animals: on a geologic scale, all life is invasive; on an evolutionary scale all life is invasive; it is only when we get down to a scale measured in lifetimes of individual life forms that we get "natives". Natives got to be native through successful invasion.
I really find the words worse than useless, because they are divisive and contain inherent bias and even hostility.
The important thing about a "native"? It is well adapted to its place. It is successful there. The same is true of an "invasive". We're it not well adapted to the place it would not be successful.
And so for me the major issue is "what roles do these plants play in this ecosystem?" With me wanting to both keep the ecosystem healthy and provide for my needs and so my choices are based around balancing my needs with the needs of a healthy ecosystem. Not around whether someone has branded a plant as invasive.
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