The Permaculture Precipice

By definition permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. In practice it encompasses so much more; lifestyle, politics, ideology, science, stereotypes, elitism, activism….

Where permaculture is headed will be greatly determined by the attitudes and egos of the individuals and organizations heading the charge. It can present an option for an alternative lifestyle that works with our environment and helps individuals rely more on themselves and to provide for their needs. Or it can become elitist and cliquish, driving away would-be back yard gardeners and individuals who DO care about our planet and our future but aren’t willing to live in a Yurt and make their own cheese to prove it.

Permaculture isn’t something you have to apply for. There aren’t prerequisites to becoming a permacultarlist. You don’t have to be a hippie, or a biologist. wealthy or poor. You don’t have to don clogs and start replacing the medicine in your cabinet with medicinal herbs. You don’t have to be well versed in nitrogen fixers or hugelkulture and you don’t HAVE to grow Comfrey.

“I grow Comfrey”

“Oh, you’re a permaculturalist”

You may however love to garden. You may want to take it to another level and create your own ecosystems and experiment with biodiversity. You may want to create an oasis of food bearing species in your own yard or on your rooftop or balcony or in your community. You may want to do it this way because where is the fun and benefit to gardeners to spend hours tilling and weeding and buying expensive seeds every year to provide themselves with an abundant harvest come fall and all the work that it entails.

Critics of permaculture say it is not possible to farm on a large scale and have the same output using the methods associated with polyculture. I believe there is some truth to that. Ecologically speaking, monoculture is destructive but it works like a factory. Commercial permaculture farming has many sound advantages but will it ever be truly competitive? It will be healthier. It will be more ecologically sound. But if our global population increases while our farm land decreases what do we do? Are GMO’s the only solution? Advocates of permaculture will tell you the output per acre is higher with polyculture. In its’ infancy this is hard to prove. And what is the cost comparison?

I believe the answer lay somewhere in between. Diversity, crop rotation, low till and no till practices are a step in the right direction. Reduction of consumption and waste will play a huge role in the next few decades. But in the meantime, permaculture is a good thing – on any scale. Why have a lawn when you can walk out your door and pick fruit from your trees, berries from your vines and fresh vegetables and herbs for dinner. Why have empty lots and bare parks in our communities when we can grow food forests with very little maintenance. Why not make the choice to green our communities and add to the health of ourselves and our environment when permaculture offers an easy sustainable way to do that.

Most of us will never live ‘off the grid’. Most of us will still have to go to work and pay our bills. But we will all have to change our lifestyle. It is only a matter of time. And if you’re willing to do that don’t let the naysayers or the gurus or the elitists’ dissuade or intimidate you. Ask questions, read, experiment and learn. We all have a right to put a seed in the ground and we all have the choice to do as much or little as we can.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”   Charles Darwin



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2 responses to “The Permaculture Precipice

  1. Terry Wilson

    Interesting, provocative, informative – requires several readings 🙂
    Question re: “Or it can become elitist and cliquish” How exactly might permaculture become elitist?

  2. I have found with certain groups and individuals that have gained a lot of knowledge and experience with permaculture that they tend to lord it over less knowledgeable or ambitious permacultaralists and forget that the end goal is to encourage people to adopt the practice – not exclude them. A lot like horse people (equestrian) if you have had any experience with that lol.

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