What is Permaculture? A Primer in Patterns and Pictures – Introduction and Inspiration

Note: This is the INTRODUCTION to a series. See also:
Part 2: Gardens
Part 3: Building
Part 4: Organizing
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Ask 10 “Permies,” folks interested in Permaculture, and you’ll get 10 different definitions. 
Some will tell you it’s an easier way of vegetable gardening. In fact, “most people enter Permaculture “through the garden gate” as Permaculture Designer and author Toby Hemenway used to say. 
However, recently I’ve met people who had no idea that Permaculture had anything to do with gardening! For them, Permaculture was about forgotten building skills, meat farming, or primitive skills, sustainability, or even community organizing. 

Permaculture is about Patterns

But one thing ALL these definitions have in common is PATTERNS. In this series, we’ll be exploring Permaculture by looking at some of these patterns. So, before we even attempt to define Permaculture, lets take a quick glance at a few of the biggest broadest Permaculture “patterns” and the various realms we might see them in. 
We’ll also be pointing you towards some of the best Permaculture sites on the internet!
My suggestion is to skim this series, take in the patterns, let them speak to you and inspire you. Then double back and go into more depth on the topics that most inspire you. That is the standard Permaculture journey. Use this piece as a choose your own adventure. Let it be a roadmap in pictures and patterns. 

Permaculture is About Meeting Needs

Our needs, the needs of the planet and its ecosystems. The needs of the future. So, Permaculture is applied to any of the systems we use to meet our needs. This is seen in the Permaculture Flower by, co-founder David Holmgren, from Holmgren’s site PermaculturePrinciples.com. 

Permaculture can help us in the garden.

Permaculture is often found in the garden, making things easier, more productive, more profitable and more beautiful. This is a shot of our food gardens at Lillie House. We’ll be looking at other Permaculture gardens in this series, too. 

Permaculture is about a healthier, safer, more just and sustainable food system for everyone.


It’s being used to change the concept of farming


This image is from Zaytuna Farm, one of the most famous Permaculture sites in the world. 

Permaculture helps us build more livable, sustainable homes. 

This image shows a form of natural, sustainable building from Strawbale Studio, a fantastic resource in Michigan, a place I have been lucky to take attend some classes. 

It can give us more sustainable forms of energy


In this case, a rocket mass stove, by Ernie and Erica Eisner, can heat a home sustainably while emiting almost 0 carbon pollution! 


It can help us take back control over our health

An image of homegrown medicines in our apothacary cabinet in Lillie House


Permaculture is being used to create more vibrant, healthy neighborhoods and communities.


This image is from the  City Repair Project, which applies the patterns of healthy communities, such as the “village square” to bring people together. In this image, neighborhood residents used a street painting and gardens to make their neighborhood safer, slow down traffic, and build a community out of formerly issolated neighbors. Now, there is a Village Building Convergance to help people re-design their own neighborhoods. 

Permaculture can heal degraded landscapes

Our site in 2012 and 2015.

And it can even heal whole communities, holistically, starting with their ecologies. 

The story of the Loess Plateau is incredibly inspiring. This transformation helped stabilize the community, increased income by 4 times in just 10 years, increased measures of health, academic performance… all from starting with healing their ecosystem. 

It can fight climate change, soil loss, the depletion of our aquifers, the decline of fisheries, and ecosystem collapse. 



And finally, it can help us design more beautiful, meaningful lives, with a richer connection to nature and our communities

And if we can get that right, then we can create viral change. If we can create truly beautiful, rich lives by working with nature, instead of against it, and healing the planet and communities instead of exploiting them, then we won’t have to twist people’s arms to create change. They’ll line up for it like it’s the new iPhone. 




Next: Defining Permaculture and Patterns Part 1:

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