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Defining permaculture

 
                                
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Hi, I am trying to come up with a short but strait forward definition of permaculture. How does this look?

Permaculture is a system for designing permanent, self-sustaining communities. It is primarily an agricultural based system that attempts to mimic the patterns found in nature; this includes integrating humans and human activity as an active part of the system. Efficiency is emphasized, as is eliminating waste and wasted effort, everything within the system should play a part in strengthening the system, nothing is wasted.

I tried to avoid buzzwords and phrases, such as "design system" , because I don't know myself what a design system is, and I am trying to keep it somewhat short and not overly wordy.  The definition I am trying for should make sense to someone who has never seen the word permaculture before, and has no real background in agriculture or related subjects.  Thanks for any help. 
 
Tyler Ludens
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I have a little trouble with the phrase "primarily an agricultural based system" because permaculture food-growing isn't by some definitions "agriculture" it is closer to horticulture, from an anthropological perspective.

Essay about the difference between agriculture and permaculture:  http://kennysideshow.blogspot.com/2008/05/agriculture-or-permaculture-why-words.html

Some might say this is nit-picking, but I think words do matter when we're trying to communicate. 

 
                                
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Feedback is a good thing, really I am somewhat familiar with permaculture, but more from a peripheral standpoint, I don't have anything close to a full grasp of the subject, so my definition is suspect. I am happy that no one has taken me to task over it, so it would seem I at least got in the ballpark. I don't have a good substitution for "agricultural based" yet. Horticulture as a word is more cerebral then what the intended audience would endure.  You or I would might understand how "horticultural communities" differed from "agricultural communities", etc. but a complete layman likely would not. On the other hand I want to be as correct as possible, so I will think about it, and I am open to suggestions. Oh, and I need to reread that essay a couple of more time to let everything sink in. 
 
                                
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As I see it, "permaculture" isn't the system; it's the goal.  Permanent agriculture, permanent culture... to me, those words describe the destination we're heading for, not the journey.

The journey, the method... I can break down to three words: comprehensive functional design. 

But we can't even strictly define that.  How to explain to someone that you can use the same methodology for designing everything from a patio garden, to the entire planet?  Methodology may not be the right word.  Perhaps "way of thinking," or  practical problem solving to achieve a certain end.  Any attempt to define the method remains stubbornly vague.  One is reduced to using examples and telling stories to convey the concept, an educational technique employed with moderate success by various prophets, termed the "parable."

I find it easiest to articulate to folks what I want.  I want clean air, clean water, clean food, healthy living, freedom.  It's like saying "I want to build a house."  I don't describe the entire process from slab to paint... I say, "I want to build a house."  The steps to get there are implied.



 
                                
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Things in this world are changing fast, faster than I would assume most people realize. Where I live (central Texas), we have maybe two years of water left in our local reservoir, and that's being generous, and we have no alternative source of water. If this current drought continues unabated for two more years, and as of now that looks highly possible, where I live will no long exist. No water = everyone needs to move on to greener pastures, you can't truck in enough water to offset the loss.  Go a hundred miles in any direction, and every community not drawing their water from an aquifer is in the same position.  The large metro areas of the state, you could economically pipe water in, or along the cost, use desalinization plants, but any area that does not have a large number of people is out of luck. It's not going to be economically feasible to run a water pipe from who knows where into most of the smaller communities, and time is running out to do that even if it was a practical solution. In short the state of Texas is going to become much more urban very quickly, and the people who stay in the state are going to have to rethink a lot of their basic assumptions.

So the opening is there for change, out with the old and in with the new, the only question as I see it is what's the "new"? I think permaculture has a lot of the answers that people need now, and even more so if I am correct about the water situation. So the question is how do you "sell" permaculture to a mainstream audience (yes I know sell is a dirty word, but it's the correct mindset). People don't have the time or the money to follow something that they don't fully grasp, that they cannot clearly visualize. If you cannot put it into simple terms, then it won't be permaculture that will supply the answers,  and if it's not permaculture, it might be something much less palatable to the readers of this forum.

We are Americans, and as Americans we want things simple and mostly spoon-fed too us. But then that really how it is in most places around the world, it's how most human beings are. Too many people are already trying to squeeze 26, or 28 or 30 hours into a 24 hour day, and if it's not simple and clear and largely spoon-fed, they don't have time for it, whatever "it" happens to be, and will choose something different, even if it in the long run that turns out to be a bad choice.

I am trying to take something that is fairly complicated, and not that simple, and give it relevance to a large cross section of the population who avoid the complicated and love the simple. There has to be some value within permaculture that transcends.  I am not worried about being entirely orthodox or reaching nirvana, I am worried about being relevant.

How do I come up with a definition of  "comprehensive functional design" that is good enough? Not perfect, but just workable? If I say "I want to build a house" it works because the listener understands and values a house. If I say "I want to build a widget", it does not work because the listener does not value a widget, nor do they understand what a widget is or why it should be of value.  And unfortunately in this state, at least where I live, if you start talking about clean air, water, and living, people will tune you out. Which is how we got in this mess in the first place. Here you need to talk up self-reliance, etc.

Anyway, I guess my goal then is to find an imperfect,  but useable definition of "comprehensive functional design", and go from there.
 
Guy De Pompignac
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For me permaculture is not the system, neither the result/goal, but the process. How to design.
 
Burra Maluca
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Much the same for me, except not just 'how to design', but 'how design systems'.  In particular systems where each element supports and feeds other elements, ultimately aiming at systems that are virtually self-sustaining and that we fit into as an integral part. 

I've always thought that the phrase 'design system' was back to front - 'system design' would describe it better for me. 
 
Guy De Pompignac
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I think permaculture can be described with only one word, but it needs huge underlying assumptions that fex people have (see link in the post of H Ludi Tyler above)

Permaculture = neo-horticulture

But not very useful to introduce permaculture

To decompose a bit, see is how i see permaculture :

* Goals
    - mid-term : create landscapes that provides human needs (food, medic, fuel, fiber), in a sustainable way (low input, self-renewing fertility, no pollution)
    long term : create a sustainable culture based on those landscapes (use, improvement, preservation, perpetuation ...)

* Method/design
    - Mimic nature : patterns in space and time, fertility from top to above, cycling nutrients, connecting input and outputs within the system ...
    - Efficient way to create/manage the system : locations of each sub-system, relations between systems, catch energy in the most usable form, ...

* Tools
  - Lateral  thinking, zone of use, sectors, mapping ...
 
Tyler Ludens
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Are you avoiding existing definitions for a particular reason?  Here's one definition by Bill Mollison:

"Permaculture  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. "


I agree with you Central Texas desperately needs permaculture.  To me, the best way to get people to implement it is to implement it ourselves and show our neighbors what we're doing.  That way we don't have to define it, we just have to demonstrate it. 

 
                            
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permaculture is artificial system that aims to be as natural as possible but still to be able to support life of humans.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Not sure what is "artificial" about permaculture....   Unless all human technology is considered "artificial".....
 
                            
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I'm not sure if it will help, but every time I try to come up with a definition of Permaculture, it always seems to include the words "applied ecology," and usually "engineering."  Basically its agriculture based on ecology (i.e. how things interrelate) rather than biology (the classification, structure and chemistry of individual organisms).  The above seems to leave out extending PC beyond growing food, but it should not.  Ecology is the study of relationships and for humans that includes how they relate to each other, their jobs, education etc.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Maybe rather than "agriculture based on ecology" - permaculture might be "human culture based on ecology"?
 
                                
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The worst drought in US history is the drought of the dust bowl years, the 1930's, that's the worst drought for the US as a whole. The worst drought Texas has endured was the 1950-1957 drought, not only was it more severe than the dust bowl drought, it was the most severe drought to plague Texas in about 600 years, based upon what we can tell from tree rings and other indicators. The current water year ends September 30th, and unless something changes between now and then, October 1st 2010 - September 30th 2011 will set a new standard where in a single year as much damage has been done as was seen during two to three years of the 1950-1957 drought. That's the bad news. The really bad news is we still have one to two more years of this drought ahead of us - beyond that time period its anyone's guess. If this does last for two more years, the banks are going to have to write off every loan on every home in this town and the feds are going to have to step in and help relocate people. If that is the future, then this town is already beyond salvaging and nothing I can do here will make a difference.
 
What I can do is try to find answers so that hopefully the future is better than what we are currently facing. The future at least for myself is likely to be physically located somewhere far from where I am atm; some things you can mitigate the damage from, but I don't see how  you go without water.

I have two books by  Bill Mollison or associated with him, and filliping though them I failed to see any official definition. The definition that H Ludi Tyler posted was the first official or semi-official definition from Mollison I had seen. It's a definition that is certainly technically correct; however, when I read it there's no sense of "WOW", that's something I would want to be involved with. Instead to me it sounds as though a bureaucrat had written it, it fails to inspire. After reading it I found another definition by Mollison that I think is far better and does inspire and I really like it:

"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labor; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system." (found here http://www.permaculture.net/about/definitions.html)

I also really like what Burra Maluca wrote:
Burra Maluca wrote:
In particular systems where each element supports and feeds other elements, ultimately aiming at systems that are virtually self-sustaining and that we fit into as an integral part. 

I've always thought that the phrase 'design system' was back to front - 'system design' would describe it better for me. 


and permaguy:

permaguy wrote:

Permaculture = neo-horticulture

To decompose a bit, see is how i see permaculture :

* Goals
    - mid-term : create landscapes that provides human needs (food, medic, fuel, fiber), in a sustainable way (low input, self-renewing fertility, no pollution)
     long term : create a sustainable culture based on those landscapes (use, improvement, preservation, perpetuation ...)

* Method/design
    - Mimic nature : patterns in space and time, fertility from top to above, cycling nutrients, connecting input and outputs within the system ...
    - Efficient way to create/manage the system : locations of each sub-system, relations between systems, catch energy in the most usable form, ...

* Tools
   - Lateral  thinking, zone of use, sectors, mapping ...



After reading that, I get it, and before I likely did not. Earlier today I was thinking of a way to word things so that someone who never thought in terms of ecology or horticulture would also get it. Now that I am here sitting at a keyboard I just have to remember what that line of thought was 

Anyway I am taking it for granted that time is not on anyone's side due to the weather, and that people who today might not give permaculture a second thought, soon might be open to some of the ideas behind permaculture. And that a lot of people who today are interested in sustainability and being green might be very open to permaculture in a more full context.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Since it seems you're mainly concerned with water issues, you might want to look into rainwater harvesting specifically instead of trying to figure out the entirety of permaculture at this point.   Rainwater harvesting is a lot more accessible to the casual passerby.

http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQ-FBAmvBw

But of course we need some rain eventually in order to harvest it.  We've only  had 6 inches or so in the region this year and the drought is expected to continue another year at this severity.  Severe drought and floods are predicted to become the norm in this region.
 
Guy De Pompignac
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Or Keyline system, depending on the land / climate / goals
 
Tyler Ludens
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permaguy wrote:
Or Keyline system, depending on the land / climate / goals


Keyline is great too.    I see it as a subset of "rainwater harvesting."

http://www.keyline.com.au/
 
Guy De Pompignac
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Ok

for a lot of people "rain water harvesting" = all techniques in the "Rain water harvesting for dry climates" books
 
                            
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i have posted on my blog some stuff about p.a. yeomans and keyline, take a look:

http://kadbudugorjeligradovi.tumblr.com/tagged/keyline
 
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