Dr Dennis Touliatos writes about Permaculture in this week’s column.

dennis toulI first encountered the word ‘permaculture’ sometime during the late nineties, when I was studying agricultural sciences in Greece. I was looking at different approaches to organic farming and I discovered the term ‘permaculture’ amongst other equally confusing words such as biodynamics, do-nothing farming and biointensive agriculture. Permaculture was often described as a method to reduce inputs in food production by using organic growing methods, perennial plants and lots of companion planting.

Since then permaculture, as well as my understanding of it have come a long way.

Stripped down to its core, permaculture is applied whole systems thinking. This is a way to see the relationships between things, and how they influence one another within a whole system. Systems are a set of elements that are organized in a specific way in order to do something. The relationships are the links that hold the elements together. For example, a soccer team is a system comprised of a coach, the players, a field and a ball (the elements) which are organized by a set of rules to play a game and to score a goal!

Systems thinking is used every day by many professionals that want to understand how complex systems work. For example, systems thinking is used to predict the weather by meteorologists, by corporations to understand their complex supply chains, and by ecologists to explore interactions between species in an ecosystem.

The exciting thing about permaculture is that it is systems thinking with a strong ethical framework, based around the three ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. The ethic of Earth Care is there to remind us that every decision we make has an impact on the world around us and that we are empowered to step lightly on the earth. People Care is at the core of permaculture because when people feel safe and heard they have the security and stability to care about the land they live in and treat each other with compassion. Fair Share is about equity and social justice, it’s there to remind us to govern our own needs and to live within limits.

Permaculture is now applied worldwide to design self-sustaining human settlements, to regenerate degraded environments and is also used to support informed everyday decisions.

If you want to find out more about permaculture locally you could visit Middlewood Trust in Wray, one of the oldest permaculture demonstration sites in the UK, or you could ask the folk at Claver Hill community farm.

The Permaculture Association’s website is also rich in resources.

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