What is Permaculture?
There is a great awareness these days that we are reaching the physical limits of the Earth.
We cannot go on creating pollution at the present rate, or filling our ever-growing appetite
for energy and materials for ever. We are so profligate with oil and other fossil fuels that we
have developed a way of producing food which consumes around ten calories of energy for
every calorie contained in the food.
Changing to organic methods of food production could reduce this high input by a signi-
ficant amount, as both chemical fertilisers and pesticides are energy intensive. But conven-
tional organic farming still relies heavily on machinery and the transport infrastructure, so
the whole process of putting food on our plates would still consume more energy than it pro-
duced. Simple peasant agriculture can reverse the situation and yield ten calories for every
one expended. The energy here is almost entirely in the form of the farmers' own labour and
that of their beasts, and herein lies the fear: that our only choice is between a high-energy
lifestyle and one of sheer drudgery.
But there is a third choice, called permaculture.
Permaculture includes many ideas and skills that are not unique to it; some are traditional
farming practices, others involve modern science and technology. What does make it unique
is that it is modelled very closely on ecosystems, which are natural communities of wild
plants and animals, such as forests, meadows and marshes.
Imagine a natural forest. It has a high canopy of trees, lower layers of small trees, large
shrubs, small shrubs, herb and ground layers, plus plants which are mainly below ground
and climbers which occupy all levels. The production of plant material is mind-boggling
compared, say, to a wheat field which is only a single layer about half a metre high.
If only the forest was made up entirely of food plants, how abundant it would be! How
greatly it would out-yield the wheat field!