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By Guest Blogger Jenn
Jennings, PRI certified Permaculture Designer
“Permaculture” is the latest environmental buzzword, but what
exactly is permaculture? As you may have guessed by looking at the
word, it involves permanence, culture, and agriculture, all of which are
important for the health and survival of humans on this planet. Permaculture has been described as “organic
gardening on steroids,” but it’s much more than just growing vegetables; it’s a
way of integrating human behavior with the environment in a way that both
benefit and improve each other.
Permaculture is a system of design that strives to
incorporate all aspects of human society harmoniously with nature, while
improving the environment. While that
sounds seriously hippie-ish, like something out of a Woodstock documentary,
it’s not all communes and kumbaya around the campfire. Permaculture is all about finding the most
environmentally beneficial solutions to human problems. That includes wind and solar power,
biodiesel, organic gardening, water management, land remediation, government
systems, green construction, and everything in between. Anything involving the needs of human beings
and the impact those needs have on the planet can fall under the permaculture
In fact, you may be a bit of a “Permie” (the nickname for
permaculture practitioners) already and not even know it; many of the things
you might already do, like recycling and composting are cornerstones of
permaculture practice. There are three
basic ethics, or guidelines, that define the goals of permaculture: care of the
Earth, care of people, and the return of surplus (to the Earth and
These three ethics all influence each other and are
intimately intertwined. The evidence of
what happens when any one ethic is out of balance can be seen all over the
world; drought and famine, war, and poverty are examples of how both people and
the planet suffer when environmental and governmental systems are out of
kilter. Dwindling resources, like water,
become the tinder for bigger issues that, eventually, affect all of us. Permaculture tries to manage, conserve, and
improve systems so natural and human resources thrive.
Still a bit confused?
Some examples might be helpful.
Care of the Earth is pretty self-explanatory, but
permaculture takes it to a higher level.
It means that instead of having a big expansive lawn that requires a lot
of water, fertilizer, and a gas-powered mower to maintain it, you could replace
it with a drought-tolerant herbal lawn.
Or, you could plant shade trees to cool your house in the summer, and
native plants that support bees and beneficial insects. Those changes would not
only be beautiful, but would save you money, water, and fossil fuels – they are
also part of the “people care” ethic.
The third ethic, the “return of surplus,” is basically a
recycling and redistribution concept. It
means reinvesting any excess back into the people or the planet to support the
growth and success of the system as a whole.
The band Formidable Vegetable
Sound System (see video below) summed
it up nicely in their lyrics, saying: “There is no such thing as waste, only
stuff in the wrong place.” So food waste
get composted instead of going down the garbage disposal, plastics and metals
get recycled instead of being dumped in the woods, and clothing and household
items can be donated to the less fortunate.
Is this permaculture stuff starting to make more sense
yet? Well, maybe the great idea of the
Food Bank of South Jersey came up with will light your lightbulb...
Every year, tons of peaches were landfilled (at a high cost
to peach farmers) just because the peaches were not perfect and unblemished
enough for produce shelves – but the Food Bank of South Jersey saw an
opportunity, not wasted fruit. The
worked together with farmers and food packers to create “Just Peachy Salsa,” a
delicious, fresh salsa that used all Jersey produce while keeping the peaches
out of the landfill. The peach farmers
saved money, the peaches weren’t wasted, and the salsa sales proceeds help fund
the Food Bank - a perfect example of all three permaculture ethics in one sweet
and tasty solution.
There’s a lot more to what permaculture is, but it’s not a
religion, a philosophy, a cult, or a worldview.
Permaculture is a system of design for improving the Earth and the lives
of the people that live on it. It’s not
difficult, it doesn’t require a lot of money, and it can be profitable and
great fun as well – all while making the world a better, cleaner, healthier place.
About our Guest Blogger:Jenn is a Jenn PRI certified Permaculture Designer. You may
have seen her during her workshop at our 2015 Earth Day Festival. For more
information about permaculture, you can contact Jenn at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views, opinions and
positions expressed are those of the author alone and do not represent those of
The Atlantic County Utilities Authority.
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