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What Would Nature Do?

Blake Burrett

#1 from a series of TEND THE EARTH articles on permaculture.
By: Marianna Burrett


Permaculture provides us with valuable tools that are forged in connecting more deeply with Nature’s patterns and wisdom. Initially this is engaged through observation of Nature and deepening an understanding of what fosters the sustaining endurance of these natural systems. When we ask the question: “What would Nature do?” we open up a dialog and a relationship that seeks to partner and emulate rather than dominate. Permaculture shapes our ideas and how we approach designing the structure of our lives as well as the structures in our lives.

Permaculture shifts our perspective in such a way that allows us to mirror what is modeled for us in the natural world and mimic these processes and systems within our own habitats, be they our gardens, our homes, our farms, our businesses, and our communities. We end up connecting the seemingly separate parts to envision a greater whole. It is a synergistic effect. Thus, it translates into all aspects of our lives, as we focus on creating mutually beneficial relationships that encourage more harmonious, efficient and energy wise systems.

The term permaculture is derived from two words: permanent and culture, and was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid-1970’s to explain
an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species
useful to man”. This definition has evolved to reflect a larger focus on “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs”. Thus, the aim of permaculture is to design sustainable human communities based on ecologically sound and economically prosperous practices and principles.

At the very heart of permaculture is its three core ethics: 
1) Caring for Earth, 
2) Caring for people, and 
3) Fair share (reinvesting surplus created). 

This is the bedrock upon which permaculture is founded. Earth is recognized as the source of all life, and humanity is not separate from nature. We are a part of it. The way agriculture is practiced today has produced a myriad of problems for earth, such as soil depletion, top soil erosion, heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and GMO seed, and pest vulnerabilities based on monocropping. CAFOs (confined animal farming operations) are highly polluting and are known to originate human diseases. Permaculture’s approach to Caring for Earth is to focus on moderate and local rates of production using methods and principles that restore healthy and mutual relationships between people and the environment. In People Care, emphasis is on supporting and helping each other to develop alternative ways of living that create health and well being. It asks that the basic needs of any society be met, such as food, shelter, education, employment and social relationships. Fair Share is living lightly so that others may live, by placing limits on consumption, and using earth’s resources in wise and equitable ways.

Nature teaches us that change is inevitable. How we adapt to and cope with these changes is entirely up to us as individuals as well as collectively. Permaculture provides us with the toolkit necessary to cultivate a world that is more healthy, equitable and ecologically balanced for all; a world suitable for the 7th generation.

While these are globally shared ethics, not exclusive to permaculture, these philosophical ideas are put into actions that are definable and measurable. We go from thinking to doing, which gives rise to the twelve design principles found in permaculture.

Next time: We will focus on permaculture in action by putting ethics into practice based on the 12 design principles.