What is Permaculture?

For my first week here in Canada, most of my energy is focused on getting settled and appreciating the neighborhood. However, very soon I will be diving into my research. I want to be certain all my friends, family, and followers know what it is I’ll be talking about for the next 8 months, and that is PERMACULTURE.

So, what exactly is permaculture?

Permanent + Agriculture + Culture => Permaculture

Permaculture is a theory of design for human landscapes and societies. Many of these design strategies pertain to agricultural or food production landscapes that are well-suited to the local climate and modeled from nature’s systems. An example of this is would be a polyculture with many different crops being growing in the same space, benefiting eachother like they would in an ecosystem, without GMO’s, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. Permaculture theory can also be applied to building construction and social systems, but for my research I am going to focus on agriculture.

Permaculture can often be difficult to define because its applications vary greatly from place to place depending on the local climate. I am certain I will discuss the finer points of defining permaculture soon for my research and on this blog, but for now consider the defining feature of permaculture the three ethics. If a system does not follow these three ethics it cannot be permaculture:

  1. Care for the Earth
  2. Care for People
  3. Setting Limits to Population and Consumption*

*Many rephrase this last ethic as “Fair Share of Surplus” to sound more positive, but I personally prefer the original wording.

Here’s a nice video I found that sums up the permaculture movement well in a few sound bites (though I don’t know anything about the quality of the website it is advertising.)


If you have any questions about the basics, comment on this post, and I will do my best to respond. Expect posts in near future delving deeper into the subject of permaculture, my perception of a need for academic research in the field, other editorial pieces, and updates on my research. If you’re interested in how permaculture is being practiced around the world sign on to geofflawton.com for some high quality videos.

For those of you following me, I don’t want you overburdened with emails, so I have combined this informational permaculture post with some photos from my neighborhood.  The frost on the trees is amazing.  These photos are not totally irrelevant; the featured photo shows my back yard filled with wintering fruit trees. Permaculture always has room for appreciating nature 😉

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Caroline says:

    “Return of surplus” is the third ethic of permaculture. It refers to using what you need for day-to-day use and reinvesting the surplus. In economics, this process is called building capital. This capital can then be used for later consumption (sometimes called dissaving) or can be gifted to others. Capital can also be reinvested in better equipment or processes that will increase real productivity (output) resulting in true progress. When true progress happens everyone ends up better off. With true progress, everyone in society over time gets richer.

    Since I first learned about permaculture back in the late 1980s, many ideas in permaculture have evolved towards a more socialistic and top-down ethic. I’m not surprised to see “setting limits to population and consumption” and “fair share of surplus” replace the original third ethic. My question to you is who gets to decide the limits to consumption and population and who gets to decide what’s fair?

    You might find “Crusoe Economics” of interest to your study of ecology and permaculture. Do some research into Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”. Good luck with your research project: https://mises.org/library/crusoe-social-philosophy

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