After spending some of the summer tidying up and preparing the garden behind The Warehouse for a natural makeover, a permaculture design is being drawn up for us. And seeing as we have a few permaculture courses at the Warehouse arranged, we thought it an opportune moment to briefly go over the subject.
Permaculture is a term coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, two Australians looking for practical solutions to world problems, but it is also referred to as agroforestry or forest gardening. It is a system of food production and an all-encompassing science which observes natural ecosystems and tailors them to produce for human needs, incorporating a wide variety of plants into a small area to encourage symbiotic biological relationships.
Because it is a system designed to mimic what works in nature, and because nature knows best, permaculture is a far more efficient way of producing food than agriculture. So much so, that Martin Crawford, Director of the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon, reckons up to 10 people per acre could be sustained by an agroforestry system in temperate regions. There is even a small urban homestead in California which claims to produce 3 tonnes of produce per year on 1/10 of an acre – the same size as The Warehouse garden.
The three guiding principles of permaculture are: Care of the Earth, Care of the People and Return of surplus. The most industrial agriculture is designed not to produce food, but to make money. And because agriculture doesn’t recycle its nutrients, it has to continually feed in more work or come up with dangerous new technologies, like GMO and chemical fertilisers, to keep the system going. The further we direct our land-use systems away from natural ecosystems, the more work we have to do to maintain that land-use system, only to see worsening results. Permaculture, which doesn’t put all its eggs into one basket, requires little work (there is no such thing as weeding in permaculture), yet produces enormous abundance and resilience.
Permaculture systems also sequester carbon and a global permaculture movement could be the best route to a low waste, low labour, egalitarian, sustainable economic system. As Geoff Lawton, permaculture teacher, says “All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden.” So let’s hope we can make a start at the Warehouse!