One of the best examples of following the priciples of nature's wisdom is the practice of Permaculture. "Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system." - Bill Mollison
Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. The term permaculture (as a systematic method) was first coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978. The word permaculture originally referred to "permanent agriculture" but was expanded to stand also for "permanent culture," as it was seen that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system as inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming philosophy.
Mollison and Holmgren
In the mid-1970s, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren started developing ideas about stable agricultural systems on the southern Australian island state of Tasmania. This was a result of the danger of the rapidly growing use of industrial-agricultural methods. In their view, highly dependent on non renewable resources, these methods were additionally poisoning land and water, reducing biodiversity, and removing billions of tons of topsoil from previously fertile landscapes. A design approach called permaculture was their response and was first made public with the publication of their book Permaculture One in 1978. "Modern agriculture is not about growing food, it's about making money." - Bill Mollison
By the early 1980s, the concept had broadened from agricultural systems design towards sustainable human habitats. After Permaculture One, Mollison further refined and developed the ideas by designing hundreds of permaculture sites and writing more detailed books, notably Permaculture: A Designers Manual. Mollison lectured in over 80 countries and taught his two-week Permaculture Design Course (PDC) to many hundreds of students.
In 1991, a four-part television documentary by ABC productions called "The Global Gardener" showed permaculture applied to a range of worldwide situations, bringing the concept to a much broader public. In 2012, the UMass Permaculture Initiative won the White House "Champions of Change" sustainability contest, which declared that "they demonstrate how permaculture can feed a growing population in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner".
In 1997, Holmgren explained that the primary agenda of the permaculture movement is to assist people to become more self-reliant through the design and development of productive and sustainable gardens and farms.
Forest gardening is a term permaculturalists use to describe systems designed to mimic natural forests. Forest gardens, like other permaculture designs, incorporate processes and relationships that the designers understand to be valuable in natural ecosystems. The terms forest garden and food forest are used interchangeably in the permaculture literature. Numerous permaculturists are proponents of forest gardens, such as Graham Bell, Patrick Whitefield, Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier and Geoff Lawton. Bell started building his forest garden in 1991 and wrote the book The Permaculture Garden in 1995, Whitefield wrote the book How to Make a Forest Garden in 2002, Jacke and Toensmeier co-authored the two volume book set Edible Forest Gardening in 2005, and Lawton presented the film Establishing a Food Forest in 2008.
Tree Gardens, such as Kandyan tree gardens, in South and Southeast Asia, are often hundreds of years old. Whether they derived initially from experiences of cultivation and forestry, as is the case in agroforestry, or whether they derived from an understanding of forest ecosystems, as is the case for permaculture systems, is not self-evident. Many studies of these systems, especially those that predate the term permaculture, consider these systems to be forms of agroforestry. Permaculturalists who include existing and ancient systems of polycropping with woody species as examples of food forests may obscure the distinction between permaculture and agroforestry.
Food forests and agroforestry are parallel approaches that lead, sometimes, to similar designs.
In agriculture and gardening, mulch is a protective cover placed over the soil. Any material or combination can be used as mulch, stones, leaves, cardboard, wood chips, gravel, etc., though in permaculture mulches of organic material are the most common because they perform more functions. These include: absorbing rainfall, reducing evaporation, providing nutrients, increasing organic matter in the soil, feeding and creating habitat for soil organisms, suppressing weed growth and seed germination, moderating diurnal temperature swings, protecting against frost, and reducing erosion. Sheet mulching is an agricultural no-dig gardening technique that attempts to mimic natural processes occurring within forests. Sheet mulching mimics the leaf cover that is found on forest floors. When deployed properly and in combination with other Permacultural principles, it can generate healthy, productive and low maintenance ecosystems.
Sheet mulch serves as a "nutrient bank," storing the nutrients contained in organic matter and slowly making these nutrients available to plants as the organic matter slowly and naturally breaks down. It also improves the soil by attracting and feeding earthworms, slaters and many other soil micro-organisms, as well as adding humus. Earthworms "till" the soil, and their worm castings are among the best fertilizers and soil conditioners. Sheet mulching can be used to reduce or eliminate undesirable plants by starving them of light, and can be more advantageous than using herbicide or other methods of control.
Managed intensive rotational grazing
Grazing has long been blamed for much of the destruction we see in the environment. However, it has been shown that when grazing is modeled after nature, the opposite effect can be seen. Also known as cell grazing, managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG) is a system of grazing in which ruminant and non-ruminant herds and/or flocks are regularly and systematically moved to fresh pasture, range, or forest with the intent to maximize the quality and quantity of forage growth. This disturbance is then followed by a period of rest which allows new growth. MIRG can be used with cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, geese, turkeys, ducks and other animals depending on the natural ecological community that is being mimicked. Sepp Holzer and Joel Salatin have shown how the disturbance caused by the animals can be the spark needed to start ecological succession or prepare ground for planting. Allan Savory's holistic management technique has been likened to "a permaculture approach to rangeland management". One variation on MIRG that is gaining rapid popularity is called eco-grazing. Often used to either control invasives or re-establish native species, in eco-grazing the primary purpose of the animals is to benefit the environment and the animals can be, but are not necessarily, used for meat, milk or fiber
Twelve design principles
Twelve Permaculture design principles articulated by David Holmgren in his Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability:
1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.