A Need for Research

Permaculture needs rigorous academic research. Most permaculture practitioners or “permies” are endlessly enthusiastic about how permaculture can save the world, provide food security, improve human health, create communities, and restore the environment. I have a lot of hope that permaculture can do all of those things. As person with background in environmental sciences and a passion for ecology, permaculture makes sense for me. But that same background in sciences makes me aware of a huge deficit in controlled academic research supporting permaculture. There are many practitioners who test specific permaculture strategies on their own lands, like food forest garden designs and chicken compost tractors, but there is no formal research about the big picture questions like “Can permaculture compete with conventional agriculture?” and “How much greenhouse gas emissions are permaculture projects around the world really offsetting?”

Other people see this deficit as well, and use it as an excuse to write off permaculture. Take for instance this article. It is highly critical of the permaculture movement for being too idealistic, not practicing what it preaches (based one example of a poorly executed site), and not being backed up by science. While there are many things I disagree with in the article (see my comments at the bottom), it is a reasonable critique of the movement. We don’t have enough research behind us and it hurts our credibility.

The reality is that if permaculture can in fact save the world, it doesn’t matter unless it is accepted my mainstream society and the majority of the world is practicing permaculture. To be accepted we need credible proof from mainstream institutions that permaculture works better than other alternatives. Some permies turn away from mainstream society to live out their dreams off the grid. I respect and feel that pull, but if we really want to practice People Care, we need to go through the institutions that be to improve our methodologies and share our knowledge with the world.

This is why I am in Canada. My personal goal is to start filling that hole of academic knowledge pertaining to permaculture.  I won’t be able to answer the question “Can permaculture save the planet?” but I hope I can start asking the questions and inspire some people to join me in trying to find the answers.




4 Comments Add yours

  1. Dave says:

    Hey there! A fellow fan of permaculture thought here. I just saw a post on a thread at permies.com where someone was requesting scientific evidence about why hugelkultur works. Is this something you could work on answering?? 😉

    Here’s her post….

    Post by: Lacia Lynne Bailey,
    on Feb 16, 2012 10:23:36
    I certainly get what Dale is saying about higher uses for solid wood, that’s always been an elephant in the room for me on this topic when I hear of whole logs used for example.

    There does seem to be these 2 approaches using the word Hugelkultur:
    There’s the folks that say what makes it work GREAT is the trench to collect moisture, and the solid big wood to wick it up again, with the composting of the wood being secondary.
    And then there’s the folks that say “use anything” and basically treat it like a soil covered woody compost pile, and see the rotting as a key component.

    I’d still like to see any systematic study/comparison of the two approaches.


    1. I’ve seen many debates online and off about hugelkultur. Apparently there are a lot of ways you can do hugelkultur wrong that can be really destructive as well, but I don’t have any firsthand experience. I’ll keep an eye out in my research for more info!


  2. Dave says:

    One more random permaculture-research-related thing I heard from Paul Wheaton and Helen Atthowe on his podcast (33′ mark on podcast 032) was the need for more measurement around food/acre coming from well-designed food forests vs. conventional ag. (+ the need to measure sustainability of the acre in addition to measures of efficiency).

    Eh?? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very happy to hear Paul Wheaton and I are on the same page!


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