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Permaculture: Beyond Sustainability

The term sustainability is getting used more frequently, but what do we really need to create sustainability in our world? 

A Permaculture-inspired vegetable gardenThe 3 R’s of reducing, reusing, and recycling are helpful and important, but simply not enough to pass down a healthy and resource-abundant world for future generations. We will need a new design and a set of ethics that is extended to what cultural ecologist David Abram has called the "more-than-human world," in other words, the earth community that extends beyond humans. 

That is where Permaculture comes into play.  Permaculture is short for permanent culture, in other words, a sustainable culture. It is, first and foremost, a design principle, but at its heart is a sense of environmental ethics, much like the Land Ethic that conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold formed over a half century ago. Leopold wrote, “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” A permaculturalist works as observer and steward, just as Leopold modeled in the last century and Angelic Organics Farm has been working toward since the 1990’s.  

Permaculture values all aspects and functions of a community - from heirloom plants and animals, food forests, backyard farm animals, rain water harvesting, ecological services and economics, waste management, watershed restoration, natural building, and designing for multiple functions - but also looks for the connections and observes how the natural system works – much like Biodynamic agriculture does. On Farm Educator, Randy Mermel explains, “Like the farm, biodiversity is encouraged, but the quality of connections between the species is more important that the shear number of species.” Our farm is full of ecological and social connections; just think of the possibilities if this holistic way of thinking penetrated mainstream design and planning!

For the first time ever, Angelic Organics Learning Center is offering an introductory Permaculture design class, called Designing a Sustainable Revolution: An Introduction to Permaculture to inspire these concepts deeper into the community. This class, which takes place on the afternoon of February 9th, will teach basic permaculture principles, allow students to observe connections around the farm and create their own permaculture designs for an edible landscape. The class is taught by AOLC On-Farm Educator Randy Mermel and Judy Speer of Small Waters Education. 

Judy Speer has been working with permaculture for over 10 years. She explains, “It has been extremely useful in all aspects of our lives. It is user-friendly, practical, energy saving, money saving and it works.  It has also helped me to observe nature and connect more deeply on an ongoing basis. I am much more aware of the natural energies and forces and the other species that I share my home with. Working with them as community has enriched my life.” 

With permaculture, we can create diverse and interconnected ecosystems, like forests, but edible ones. Permaculture principles can be scaled large or small and in rural, suburban or urban areas, helping to create sustainable human habitats.  As we witness at Angelic Organics Farm, nature wastes nothing; everything is a cycle.  Permaculture is a model of ecological systems thinking that examines how the pieces fit together and works creatively to enhance those connections so that we are contributing members of the more-than-human community, not simply withdrawing resources and depositing back our waste.  Simply trying to do less harm in the world in terms of sustainability is selling ourselves short.  We have the intelligence, creativity and conscience to recreate a system that is mutually beneficial to the human and more-than-human community.  


By: Jessie Crow Mermel, On-Farm Educator

Photos courtesy of Judy Speer