Since we cultivate our 25,000 square metres of land according to the principles of permaculture / regenerative agriculture and, for example, are creating a food forest, we would like to explain to you here in a little more detail what these terms are all about and what exactly is the meaning of them.
“Permaculture is a set of design principles that focus on thinking in terms of whole systems, simulating or directly using the patterns and characteristics observed in natural ecosystems. It applies these principles in a growing number of areas of regenerative agriculture, the restoration and resilience of communities.”
From “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway
What is permaculture?
The word permaculture is a combination of the words permanent, culture and agriculture. It describes a design process merged with respect and understanding of the principles of nature to create healthy plant communities so that the different plants and other elements are interconnected and nourish each other. It combines a low environmental impact, relatively little labour (once established) and high yields.
The focus is not on the objects themselves, but on carefully designing the relationships between them to create a healthy, sustainable whole. The key is to provide a large biodiversity.
One of the benefits is that diseases and insect problems rarely get out of control in a balanced environment, and a diverse habitat greatly reduces pest problems.
Permaculture as a design system was brought up for discussion by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Tasmania, Australia, in 1978. It originally meant “permanent agriculture”, but was expanded to also stand for “permanent culture”, as social aspects are integral to a truly sustainable system, as inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’s philosophy of natural agriculture.
And even though this term is still relatively new, the techniques are very old. Indigenous peoples of several continents have always used these techniques and worked in a resource-saving and regenerative way. Unfortunately though, most people have done it differently in the last 100 years and got us into a lot of trouble because of it.
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with rather than against nature; of long-term and thoughtful observation, rather than long-term and thoughtless work; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any one area as a single product system”.
What is regenerative agriculture?
“Our modern agricultural system is actually creating weaker food crops and stronger pests and diseases”. (Mark Shepard) And because we know now that we are destroying our planet in this way (we’ve actually known it for decades but, unfortunately, it has only gotten worse since then), regenerative agriculture is becoming more and more important.
It describes an approach to the conservation and rehabilitation of food and farming systems. Permaculture, as mentioned above, is a way of regenerative agriculture. The goals are to regenerate topsoil, create more biodiversity, improve the water cycle, increase resilience to climate change, etc.
“In an incredibly short period of time, we can restore and heal our farmland. We can restore some of the abundance that our ancestors saw. […] Instead of just stopping the negative impacts […], we can become active participants in the transformative restoration process. If we heal our farmland, we can heal our planet. […] Growing your own food is an incredibly powerful way for one person to change the world one step at a time.” (Mark Shepard in the book “Regenerative Agriculture”)
“Regenerative agriculture offers answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”
Why actually permaculture / regenerative agriculture?
Today’s environmental crisis has its origins in the way we produce and get our food. Conventional, industrial farming practices have caused us to lose nutrients over decades through the loss of topsoil. In addition, this type of agriculture is highly dependent on non-renewable resources, poisons land and water and reduces biodiversity.
We have already destroyed so many ecosystems in the recent past, and many more will follow due to changing rainfall patterns and more extreme weather situations in general.
“In less than the span of a lifetime, agriculture has evolved from biologically diverse systems […] to specialised monocultures that are mere extensions of the chemical companies that produce the toxic mixtures that are applied to the soil.”
What we eat and how we get that food has changed our climate (contributing massively to climate change, our environmental problems and the coming ecological collapse that will also become the biggest humanitarian crisis).
Restoration agriculture is described in Mark Shepard’s book of the same name (Restoration Agriculture – Real-world Permaculture for Farmers) as follows: “While producing an abundance of food for humanity, these systems remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, purify water, increase topsoil depth and fertility, provide wildlife habitat, and create incredible beauty that is increasingly necessary in our ‘modern’ world of concrete, steel, plastic and glass.”
And also the three ethics of permaculture are People Care, Fair Share and Earth Care – which means that we give more than we take and that we share.
“With the vision of a rich, lush, paradisiac ecosystem in our minds, let’s stand up and walk with tree seedlings in our hands towards that very future.”
Permaculture design principles
The three permaculture ethics (Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share), which we have already talked about above, form the basis for the design principles of permaculture. One often finds the 12 principles from David Holmgren, the co-founder of the permaculture concept. Here we show the 14 principles from the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway.
1. Observe (ideally in all seasons)
2. Connect (create useful relationships)
3. Catch and store energy and materials
4. Each element performs multiple functions (beneficial connections)
5. Each function is supported by multiple elements (redundancy protects)
6. Make the least change for the greatest effect (find “leverage points”)
7. Use small-scale, intensive systems (develop a small system that works well and repeat it with variations)
8. Optimise edge (the edge, the intersection of two environments, is the most diverse place in a system and is where energy and materials accumulate => increase or decrease edge as appropriate)
9. Collaborate with succession (living systems usually advance from immaturity to maturity, and if we accept this trend and align our designs with it instead of fighting it, we save work and energy)
10. Use of biological and renewable resources
11. Turn problems into solutions
12. Get a yield (design for both immediate and long-term returns)
13. Designer’s imagination & skill are essential
14. Mistakes are tools for learning