When I first learned about Permaculture Design in 1993 I was working part-time with a toddler on my hip and a lively pre-schooler in tow. I read lots of books in library, was inspired by the documentary Global Gardener. I experimented with bits and pieces of permaculture. There was no local permaculture network at that time. What I was doing, was trying imagineer a better future for family without the full set of permaculture design thinking skills.
So, with the support of my extended family I traveled to the mountains to learn with visiting permaculture teachers Jude and Michel Fanton and Rosemary Morrow. Rosemary’s books got me thinking about the power of simple art to teach complex issues with some clarity.
But the journey had to start at home. With small successes at home, growing delicious and rare foods, my interest in permaculture was sustained. If I hadn’t experienced the health from growing food I would be back shopping for the latest fashions, stressing over debt and working in a heavily competitive environment to earn enough to live a few glamorous weekends.
Not every day is a happy day. But every day is a lesson about nature. This I share with students and fellow permies. Pioneering Permaculture ideas helps build a healthy future for humanity.
Over the decades I have created designs for others but I know the most successful implementation has happened with those clients who actually understood how the design worked. Since I started teaching permaculture online in 1995 I have had students from 65 countries. These students have been remarkable and I am very proud of their work.
Imagineering is theimplementingofcreativeideasintopracticalform. That is exactly what permaculture design does.
Few people, once they are in the full swing of life, take time to sit down to study again. Most folks set up house, take a job in a new area, plan their holidays and embrace a family life without much planning. They might get the chance to do the odd one-day course and piece together a lifestyle that they enjoy.
The advantage of doing a full course in permaculture is that you get to piece together all the concepts – the tangible and the intangible.
Perhaps that sounds like a load of philosophy, not practical permaculture. Um, yes there is a bit of philosophy needed when you want to imagine a future. To imagine and engineer your future you might want to think about what you love most and how to nurture that. Other concepts are how to design a lifestyle, a community, how to use money effectively, or how to mimic patterns in nature. Other intangibles include dealing with debt and stress. How to see the world differently and not just as a set of problems.
It would be wonderful to be able to steer the permaculture design as your needs change. It would be paradise to understand how the design functions, know how to connect with it and build the abundance. Yet the ultimate permaculture experience is the empowerment.
In the earlier years of Permaculture interviews London asked: Short of starting a farm, what can we do to make our cities more sustainable?
Mollison answered: Catch the water off your roof. Grow your own food. Make your own energy. It’s insanely easy to do all that. It takes you less time to grow your food than to walk down to the supermarket to buy it. Ask any good organic gardener who mulches how much time he spends on his garden and he’ll say, “Oh, a few minutes every week.” By the time you have driven to the supermarket, taken your foraging-trolley and collected your wild greens, and driven back home again, you’ve spent a good hour or two — plus you’ve spent a lot of money. Permaculture can be as simple as sitting down and drawing the plan then a little effort in implementing it and then some time in harvesting the rewards.
Bruce French likes to remind us all. “More women than men grow food“. His experience is vast. He and his family have worked internationally to research and document a huge library of rare food plants and their uses.
Farmers have a broader knowledge of the land, water, native animals and the history of pests and disease. Farmers know soil biota, fungi, plants, animals and have a keen eye on the weather. The real farmer is grounded and deeply connected to the land.
Worldwide, most farmers work on small holdings close to home. They are closely connected to their extended family. When we visualise farmers – do we see their saris, beads, skirts and loose flowing pants?
Robyn Francis and Geoff Lawton are two permaculture leaders around the same age with same start time, similar training, both dedicated, full of know-how, work and self confidence.
Yet these two world leaders enjoy very different lifestyles. Geoff travels extensively. He has set up a global team with lots of people working for him and has spent well the hard earned permaculture money on educational videos. Robin is still very much in charge of her home-site, travels to teach in poor countries and blogs about her pet pig, Polly. They both look very comfortable with their permaculture choices. The difference is huge. Publicly, we encounter Geoff a lot more.
Professor Stuart Hill notes: Men will set up systems. Traditionally, women will maintain them. Permaculture teacher Chris Evans of Nepan witnessed the ability of the women in the patriarchal Himalayan society to rebuild, modify and improve on a wall that was originally built by the men.
Permaculture women in wealthy sub-cultures enjoy planting and nurturing trees, pick fruit, dig swales, fix leaky downpipes, repair steps, replace the oven light, screw a hinge back into place, retrofit stuff, sew, nurse sick animals, saw and bring in the wood. Although it is frustrating that women have not yet earned their right for equal pay, they have earned some flexibility.
Women value variety and flexibility. They are creative and innovative.
Women will nurture systems and develop incremental improvements.
When given an education they can enjoy a huge range of successes.
Women have the perfect nature to live ‘the ethical dream’. They dream of self-reliance, empowerment, being capable and feeling a little challenged. It is not a perfect dream. Life is not perfect. And they know it.
Give A Woman Your Support
Women get injured more when they ‘hit their shoulder with the shovel’. This is not just because they are new to it. It is often because they lack mentors and training. They will stubbornly learn the ‘traditionally’ male skills by looking over a shoulder or reading books or by just trying to follow a practical post on the internet.
Join the communal effort to give women equal financial and emotional support to do courses, ask questions, build their skill base and become empowered. We at Permaculture Visions offer a 40% discount so you and your partner can study happily together.
Terry Leahy writes: How can it be good that one in four Australians experiences serious attacks of anxiety at one time or another in their lives? In any twelve month period 14 per cent will get anxiety attacks.
What is there to be Anxious about?
What is there to be anxious about when we live in the lucky country, surrounded by mod cons and ever-increasing wealth? The environmental catastrophe that everyone knows we are in for but nobody talks about too often. Work and economic survival in the neo-liberal economy.
Once upon a time jobs were for life if you wanted that, and there was full employment. House prices were low and government supplemented the housing market by building low-cost rental accommodation. Now a huge proportion of the population in work are doing casual jobs rather than having permanent positions. Those who are in permanent work are scared that it cannot last. House prices are crazy and there is no security in renting. Unemployment seems minor at six per cent but most people who cannot get a job do not register as unemployed, it is so hard to stay on welfare.
Add to all that the sense that the recession of 2008 has never gone away and the realization that the Australian economy still hangs on a knife-edge. People are made constantly aware that their life security depends on constantly jumping through hoops and being ready for anything.
We need an economy where people’s daily well-being does not depend on the vagaries of the global market, where the environment has priority and where you can really expect your grandchildren to live as well as you have.”
Self-Reliance versus Self-Sufficiency
Self-Sufficiency is rare. It has the goal of complete independence from society. In the self-sufficient culture, the sick or elderly are often left to die. Self-Reliance is different. Self reliance is a way of thinking and living that enables others to be part of the responsibility of providing for our needs by trading and sharing. The ‘Self-Reliance’ economy would involve care for the weak. Permaculture promotes self-reliance.
Keeping the Power of Feelings
When we are faced with anxieties it is hard to maintain optimism. Yet “optimism has more power than fear” (Bob Brown). Optimism is patient, organised and forgiving. Whereas, Fear is reactive, quick and often unplanned, leading to panic and regret .
“Technologies can be soft or hard and everything in between. Soft technologies are those enacted by people, e.g. knitting needles are a soft technology – they need people to be of any use. Hard technologies are the ‘physical stuff’. A fridge is a hard technology – it can function without being enacted on by people.
We use hard technologies to make things easier and faster, by reducing the number of choices for users. Hard technologies are brittle and stifle creativity. They prevent us from doing things and that is why we use them. They are complete. Hard technologies act as filters – they structure our spaces and limit what we can do.” Jenny Mackness
Soft and Pliable Technologies
Soft technologies are flexible and empower creativity. The user has to plan and orchestrate processes, which is more difficult. Soft technologies may seem simple to produce (in retrospect) but require time, skills and observation to be used.
Mixed technologies can be an intelligent conversion or enhancement of technologies. A bicycle is the perfect mixed technology. It is the most efficient form of transport known to man. It requires human energy, skill and observation to operate it. And so we Segway to the Motor car. The common car is a mixed technology. The self-powered, self-driving car will be a hardened technology.
A Chicken-Worm-Tower is a mix of simple animal housing technology with good flow-management strategies (the waste from the upper level becomes food for the lower levels). A simple pit Toilet (the old hole in the ground) is a hard technology whereas a good composting toilet is an evolved mixed technology.
Modifying Hard Technologies
A building is traditionally a hard technology but with observation and adaptations it can become a mixed technology, we can learn adapt and drive the structure by opening windows to allow breezes through, installing heavy curtains prevent air circulation and heat loss, reduce heat through window panes by applying reflective foil, or plugging drafts.
Does a Technology have to cost the Earth?
Choosing a technology requires a little bit of cost analysis beyond the financial cost.
What is the embedded energy in the product,
how long will it last,
is it able to adapt with my needs?
Can it be repaired?
How much waste will be generated when it breaks?
Can it be dis-assembled for recycling?
A young Permaculture site is a soft technology, it requires vision, care, skill and training. The user needs to be flexible and creative. But when the mature Permaculture is designed well it becomes a harder technology. There is less work to do. Once the water management and forests are established, it is harder to manipulate or damage the environmental system and when we learn to work this technology it rewards us with food and improved habitat. Within this world we can still be creative and we have more resources to play with.
Our Christmas tree is now 10 years old and is slowly getting bigger! It is now over 2m tall. When it outgrows the doorway it will be allowed to reside in the garden. It is an indigenous Araucaria evergreen called a Bunya Bunya.
Bunya Bunya’s have massive (35kg) cones of edible nuts. We must be careful never to stand under a Bunya when it is in fruit. Bunyas are an ancient species, surviving over hundreds of millions of years. But very few of these proud ancestors were stuck in a pot and harassed by summer ornaments. Our Christmas tree has character. The young leaves are bright green and there is a positive glow about the tree. We must forgive this tree for having bent branches due to the annual decorations and an imperfect trunk due to constant traffic on the balcony where it usually resides in the ‘off-season’.
Before you rush out to buy one of these trees in time for Christmas just 8 years later, be warned! There is a reason that this tree species is an ancient survivor. Beneath the good looks is resilience (it is heavy and strong) and great self-defense strategies (it’s pretty anit-social). Getting a Bunya Bunya to come indoors is a battle that needs armory and planning. Even after using thick clothes, eye protection and gloves, we bear the scars. A Bunya Bunya gives nasty scratches to anything that goes near it including possums, deer, birds and festive revelers. The plan is to bring the tree in when the days are dry. This makes it lighter to transport. We then let it have Christmas ‘drinks’ in moderation to avoid the risk of death by over-watering.
‘Tis The Season Of
There are workable alternatives to living in a sea of toxic plastic. This is the season of great consumer-power. Lets enjoy supporting farmers, restorers, artists and craft-makers who make the effort to rid our world of non-recyclables and invest in ethical gifts.
Value Biological Resources
A fundamental principle of Permaculture design is to use biological resources. An investment in renewable resources such as a living tree requires only a little maintenance. Like a fine wine, it gets better as it ages. Traditionally, most people would cut or buy a cut tree (you can use a branch), bring it in and then find a use for it after Christmas. Most people have to compost there tree somewhere.
Real Is Better
A real tree is a far better choice than a plastic tree. The plastic tree not only gets shabby with age, it is nearly impossible to recycle because it made of many different types of plastics and not made to be easily disassembled.
A simple native conifer or pine tree that is fragrant and not spiky would be an excellent investment. If you have patience and skill, invest in a rare indigenous tree. This will give you pride and revolutionise the legendary tradition of having a real Christmas Tree. If you want to a few sample, dig up a weedy pine sapling from beside the road. If you are feeling highly skilled and have no growing space, try a bonsai Christmas tree. Bonsai’s can live for hundreds of years.
Let’s start a fashion growing potted Christmas trees and if we succeed we can give the spares as a special future Christmas present.
The Permaculture garden is a lot more than an organic garden. Although organic food production often has many clever design elements, the foundation of permaculture design lies in the ethics. The ethics are both care of earth and care of people.
Intelligent cultural design is mindful of its relationship with its environment. We are not just living in a period of energy resource limits. We are now heating the planet dangerously with our energy exhaust. Whilst wealthy people can cope better with the impact, most people cannot afford to move or get air-conditioning, or truck water in. Even the wealthy cannot fix the nitrous oxide build-up or save their beach homes. And we all need to eat.
Permaculture thinking can be applied to many physical and social structures. It is energy-wise and collaborative to minimise the impact of a culture on the surrounding environment. A good permaculture design has great potential. It can connect neighbours. The biggest Permaculture site in the world, The Chikukwa Project, has helped the whole community.
The permaculture environment is the result of a caring lifestyle.
You will see:
Focus on closing the nutrient and water loop by using waste, and reducing the dependence on inputs.
Creation of healthier soil and diversity of produce.
Responsibility for waste. There is an aim to eliminate waste. i.e. no excess nitrogen nor weed seed, released.
Variety keeps residents engaged and excited about growing their food.
Imitating nature by conserving the soil and water, and genetic capital. There is an intensive use of space. Plants are allowed to set seed and are inter-planted for pest control. You are unlikely to see food plants in rows. The permaculture site will look more like a food-forest with some open glades full of herbs and perennials.
Optimisation of natural energies, e.g. wind, dust, leaves, bird droppings.
Nutritious food and habitat for people AND native animals and birds.
Dependence on observation. Permaculture design is a mixed technology. Bill Mollison (co-founder of permaculture movement) said that permaculture, like a bicycle, it is adaptable and has great potential but is only as good as the user.
Minimal risk. If we fail at permaculture, nature simply takes over. The soil will continue to heal, the forests grow and someone else can step in to rebuild our efforts.
What’s the difference between Organic Farming and Permaculture?
Permaculture uses organic gardening and farming practices but it goes beyond. It integrates the garden and home to create a lifestyle that impacts less on the environment.
There is a significant difference between closed and open food-production systems. In a truly closed system (one in vacuum or in space) energy is not lost it is simply transferred from one being or element to another. In a permaculture system, (which can never be fully closed), energy is ideally used by one element effectively and passed on for the benefit of the next before it leaves the system.
Organic Farming promotes the use of natural fertilisers, making use of the natural carbon cycle so that waste from plants becomes the food (fertiliser) of another. In organic farming however, as with ALL farming, minerals are being lost from the farm every time a truck load of produce is carted to market.
The Ideal Permaculture ‘Farm’ brings production of food closer to consumers and the consumer’s wastes back into the cycle. It also reduces the energy wasted in transporting the foods by producing the foods where the people are. In permaculture, the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs.
When is Permaculture not Organic?
There will be times when a permaculture system is not strictly organic:
when we use local resources rather than imported certified organic resources
When we want to increase diversity by bringing in unusual plants/seeds from a non-organic plant supplier
Permaculture is capable of enhancing a supply and converting it to organic. for example: when we grow food-plants along polluted river or roadsides to filter out toxins and break them down to safer levels. We know we may not be able to eat these plants but we can keep them as our ‘catastrophe’ backup.
Essentially Permaculture is trying to close the energy loop by optimising what we have.
Fostering A Culture of Community Recycling
This is not usually due to an intentional use of pesticides, but often due to the use of a by-product that would otherwise be wasted. We could use old shoes as pots for plants, an old truck tyre/tire to hold the edges of a pond. Sometimes the choices are difficult and we have to do a quick cost/benefit analysis. For example: At Silk Farm we use recycled oil (to make fire starters) and the oil cans (for our simple worm-farm towers) from a non-certified organic restaurant who sometimes uses leaves and fruits from our garden. This ‘trade’ stimulates our local relationship and fosters a culture of resourcefulness.
Permaculture Can Actively Convert Resources
We would need to weigh the benefit of a using a free local waste (ie. horse manure) versus supporting a good organic supplier who may be in another country. When we design well, the permaculture system can act as a cleanser or processing agent. Sometimes, we can transform then utilise a polluted waste (within what is realistic achievable). In the case of the horse manure, we could ask the owner about their anti-worming medication, check that it can be broken down by high-temperature composting then go about re mediating it before using it. Good permaculture design will aim to have a better output than input. Organic gardening may not have checks to reduce the system’s impact on the wider natural system.
There are some amazing specialist varieties of trees that are very powerful. These ‘super-trees‘ produce diesel nuts, have leaves that can burn wet, produce abundant fruit, support a web of life, a big enough to live in, provide timber that never rots, live for thousands of years, support a wild-life of fungi underground, hold the steep slopes of mighty mountains and others can communicate for miles underground.
There are at least 10 types of trees that we can depend upon: Fuel, Food, Oils, Forage, Structural, Conservation, Carbon sequestration, Soil managers, animal barriers, and Fungal & Microbial Habitat.
Fuel – You can choose from solid fuel and flammable leaves, bark, oil and ‘diesel’ nuts. Solid fuel from trees can be collected either as natural droppings (cones from nut pines, fallen wood) or as planned cuts (thinning, or felling of short term forest for soil creation). David Holmgren writes that solid fuels are the most useful energy resource globally because: we can plan for their harvest, they are easy to cut, require little training to use, convert easily to energy, hard to steal or vandalise, and renew themselves. Some timber ie. Eucalyptus leaves will even burn wet.Diesel and Petroleum treesburn like candles.
The Brazilian tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii commonly known as Capaiba (Tupi Indian word cupa-yba) is a legume and known as the diesel tree. It can be tapped sustainably like maple trees. More powerful is Pittosporum resiniferum. This oil can also be distilled into a very pure form of n-Heptane. BioGas fuel can use coppiced tree material with animal manure for conversion of biomass via composting for methane collection. One of the biggest challenges for the conversion to natural energy use is finding a form that is compatible with the system we already have. Nicole Foss talks about our limitations due to the current dependence on particular forms of energy. At the moment, mankind is dependent on electricity from an aging grid network and liquid fuel or gas for transport. Biogas and other energy transition technologies allow us to convert existing equipment such as gas cookers and tractors.
Food & Alcohol (more than 80% of the world’s food species came from the rainforest). The permaculture food forest usually intercrops fruit and layers of nut trees. We use strong food trees to support vine crops and short-lived trees act as nurse trees to maturing species. Tall evergreen trees are positioned in the shaded corner of the orchard and often used as wind-breaks.
Oils – There are a myriad of herbal, medicinal, culinary and cosmetic oils from trees including Eucalyptus, olive, and Neem.
Forage/Fodder. This is an excellent resource that is often overlooked by conventional modern farming. Many trees provide excellent, nutritious fodder for animals. They can be grown as living fences,(applied at Avonstour) hedges or as shade trees in the corners of paddocks. The cattle fertilise the fodder trees and the run-off is filtered well by the abundant layers of forest shrubbery beneath. Forage Examples include: Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush)
Structural/Shelter – Many trees were known to be big enough to shelter a traveller. Even Plato wrote about trees too big to put his arms around.
Conservation/Wildlife Habitat The preservation of habitat makes good economic sense as much as ethical sense. If nothing more, we can keep healthy forests as a bank of diverse genetic material because most of it we have not yet recognised it’s full value to us. We may be able to create clean air, water, soil and find nutrients but we can’t recreate genetic material.
CarbonSequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. Long living trees are excellent guardians of carbon. Many trees live thousands of years (including olives) however, clonal colonies of trees have the potential to be immortal. Pando, an 80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspen, is the oldest known clonal tree.
Soil Management- able to hold banks of steep slopes, trap centuries of silt, create their own rain and micro-climate. Trees have been shown to seed the clouds to help make rain.
Animal barrier systems -, Hedges can be stronger, longer lasting and more durable than fences. Not all hedges have to be chaotic, some can be trimmed to sit up off the ground, allow small creatures to pass underneath and larger animals/people and cars to stay out.
Fungi & Microbe Incubation is an amazing new discovery for conversion of sugars into energy sources.Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world.
Permaculture is a design tool. The permaculture design principles can also be applied to the design of a small business. Here are some examples of applied Permaculture Principles. The principles used here are those taught by Bill Mollison (and some by David Holmgren).
1. Identify Your Elements
An element is a component of your system or business. Your list of elements may include: intellectual property, office, marketing, natural capital (such as water, fruit/nuts), presentation material such as boxes, jars, labels, product information, transport, time for delivery (especially for services), customer feedback processes. These elements are then analysed to determine their needs and all their potential functions, not just the functions we seek. We then use the principle of relative location to link them together to optimise efficiency.
2. Use Relative Location
Connect elements by their function and needs. Elements can be linked in a energy chain or network. Here’s how it could work in a simple system like an orchard:
An Orchard needs protection from fire, a good water supply. It also needs to be weeded and rotten fruit needs to be removed.
The processing shed can capture rain water which can be used by the fruit processing system then fed to the geese, then it could go to the orchard if we locate the shed uphill from the orchard and use gravity as part of the water management.
Geese can weed, mow the fire break, eat rotting fruit and provide droppings as a natural fertilizer.
Through the principle of relative location we link the shed, the orchard and the geese (a biological resource). Some elements are linked more closely ie. Workers need education and procedures. Procedures need feedback from workers.
Position elements of business so that there is minimal transport between them.
Use natural forces where possible to work for you. (Eg. Information transferred by email, mail or fax so workers don’t have to travel far to work.
Use local inputs. Physical elements such as manure can be collected, filtered and processed nearby, are easily relocated and you can determine manageable sizes (in the same way bee-farmers move their hives).
Sunlight can warm the wall of a processing unit – be aware and determine if this is helpful or increasing your refrigeration costs.
Solar power can be used to run computer monitor systems.
Your office can be mobile and paperless.
We can bring the information to the customer in a variety of ways.
Waste can be valued. It can be integrated into the system, process and sold. ie. waste water can also act as fire-prevention by being positioned in a useful location near a main path and up high where it can be distributed easily needed.
3. Enable Multiple Functions
Each Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range of functions.
Marketing is performed in a variety of ways, through different media, and to different types of customers.
Services and Products are modular and durable. Customers can tailor their purchase or use by purchasing the components they want, expand or reduce interconnecting parts and purchase as and when they want it.
Transport can be shared with other suppliers, businesses or projects.
Tools and equipment can be shared with other businesses. Sharing includes hiring.
Equipment and physical resources will be recycled or reused as much as possible.
Multiple elements for each function
The variety of skills can satisfy other functions either for other elements or for other like-minded businesses (for example: your efforts to promote sustainability will help other similar organisations). Therefore, you can band together and form a co-op or just a friendly relationship with other businesses.
A business function is satisfied with more than one element: eg. Other businesses refer customers to yours because your marketing has been general as well as specific and has helped build general interest in sustainability.
Use a range of inputs ie. herbs or fruit, especially seasonal and local ones, to create the products whilst maintaining the quality expected by your customers.
Rely on more than one source for your supplies. Ie. water, produce or power collection needs various methods to create resilience during dry periods. Rainwater tanks, condensation traps, in-ground collection such as swales and rain pits. Similarly, use a wide range of suppliers or types of inputs to build resilience when a supplier is suddenly unable to meet your needs.
Use a combination of security measures such as dogs, geese, friends with neighbours, fencing, hedges and housing.
Use variety of pest deterrents such as animals (cats or ratting dogs) indoors in warehouses to deter rats, ultra-sonic beams to scare away rodents, as well as rodent-proof construction of shed walls, floors and doors. Steel wool is eventually biodegradable and is an excellent rat-hole plugging material. Unfortunately a lot of degradable materials and techniques have been abandoned and forgotten in the Plastics era.
Use a combination of hazard prevention measures such as a building a culture of care, clear signals, clean workplace, good relations with workers.
Use different means of support. Ie for fences we can use metal stakes interspersed with wooden poles made from woody weeds. When a farmer plants living fences or hedges as well as wire fencing, she is creating a durable, long-term security system. Hedges can last hundreds of years. She could use the wire fence in the short-term (up to 20 years) and be confident that the hedge will only require low-tech (but specialised crafting) for good maintainance.
Pumps can be solar-powered with a back-up facility such as a windmill, hand pump or ethanol-powered generator. Etc.
4. Stress-Free Yield
By giving each element several functions we accept that not all the functions can be performed all the time.
The workers can choose to from a variety of tasks unless there is a strict time frame, then there should be a rotation system so they don’t get bored or injuries from repetitive work (such as picking fruit, or bending over to pick salads).
Listen to ideas of workers, suppliers and customers to improve the system.
Production may be lower than in forced conditions but the sum of all the functions is greater (ideas, harvest collected, respect and observation of trees).
A reduction of stress on each element in the business, if they are all working for the good of the business, will result in the sum of efforts will be greater. Every worker and component will run efficiently and have greater productivity.
Safety is a very important consideration, without safety in the workplace; the cost can outweigh all profits over the years of the business.
Early in the implementation of our permaculture enterprise we aimed for stress-free yield because we knew our work was pioneering, and vulnerable to stress. We didn’t borrow money for the business because this would have enforced a level of profitability that would be stressful. We didn’t seek government funding because the project would have to meet the government expectations rather than the real customer needs.
Small and Slow Solutions
A small business can be a pilot for a larger company or you may discover that you are happy staying small.
Some services and products can be expanded or contracted according to market demand.
Obtain a Yield
Ensure that your short-term efforts have some immediate rewards but keep some profit for long-term goals ie improved software and documentation methods)
refine work procedures (homework answering, student management),
Re-evaluated your measures of success
sharing surpluses once the business is functioning well by providing scholarships, support or donations to others in need.
5. Energy Efficiency
Use existing physical, social and biological capital to maximum energy potential: share resources such as cars, support local transport, build structures that can work to shelter the garden as well as store heat for night-time, require minimal energy in maintenance, and are durable. Avoid abandoning ideas, technology, machinery or computers that are not competitive without first examining ways to update/expand and increase their efficiency. Many users do not use their equipment to full potential, they are still learning the potential of the current one while considering a new model.
Some offices can be made more efficient by natural resources such as natural lighting, solar or sun-heating, coupling the room with a greenhouse window or room. Remember that customers will expect your office to be a working model of sustainability. Ideally it should not look expensive but should be simple, comfortable, accessible, well-lit, full of natural fibres and a view of a garden.
6. Biological Resources
Maximise the use of biological and physical materials.
Consider the full life of the product.
Search for biodegradable alternatives that can be used as mulch or compost at the end of their first use. Eg. A wide-spreading tree is a more efficient use of resources for a shade house than one made of wood and nails. In the promenade at Notre Dame Paris, the trees form a durable, seasonally adjusting, air filtering shade. In the narrow streets of El Bosque in Spain, citrus trees are the posts to guide to cars, their trunks are painted white and flowers grow at the base. Consider only biodegradable packaging and insulation such as popped-corn for fragile packages instead of plastic pieces.
A clever small business example is GroCycle in Totnes, UK where the business cut the processing cost of growing mushrooms by using an abundant pre-processed waste – coffee grinds.
7. Energy Flow
Design to harvest and use natural energy flows E.g. Wind, wave solar or running water. Animals can be guided into narrow paths that serve to compact and stabilise slopes on contour. Water can be used to maintain an edge. Gravity can aid harvest machinery by collecting fruits from the top of the hill and roll the machinery downhill as the loader fills with fruit and becomes heavier. We can position collection points, processing equipment and export sheds with a road out at the bottom of the hill. This can help minimise the need for imported energy inputs.
Reduce costs of storage of products or equipment by keeping the product fresh and utilizing the just-in-time processing concept. We can keep the order process prompt and maintain a closer contact with our customers.
Let nature do her work
In a Business design we can use natural energy as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to tell a customer that nature can offer a similar service. Consider the Osteopath that recognised that the customer needed to walk to help heal their back. The customer who takes this simple advice may no longer be a regular customer but will refer other.
On a chicken farm we can set up systems where the chickens can feed themselves.
On a Maron or Yabbie farm we can create ideal conditions that support natural breeding rather than engage in expensive artificial breeding systems.
Silk worms can be housed close to or in the trees if we can devise protective shelters.
Nuts may be able to harvested more easily during particular climatic conditions.
Allow crops to self seed or allow crop residues to act as nurse for a different crop.
8. Natural Succession
Imitate nature in your plans to help a system evolve to meet your needs.
For commercial crops investigate systems similar to Fukuoka. Eg: You could allow the grasses to become seeded with herbs and flat ‘weeds’, grow tall grasses and pioneer species that act as green manure (Oats, Wheat, Sorghum) to protect young climax species (eg. fruit trees) from frost and insect attack.
A social example would be to glean the wisdom of our elders (canopy and support species)
Be active in social or professional guilds (companions and guild people) and seek a niche for our talents (a place in a complex society)
Allow time to explore growth opportunities as they appear (as in the forest when the canopy opens and new light appears).
9. Value Bio-Diversity
A farm would aim to include a variety of species of food plants, pollinators, animals and workers. This principle works in Business when we value a diverse range of supplies, techniques and technologies.
Diversity in nature builds resilience and resistance to pest attack. It also lets us find which variety works well in our own particular climate and micro-climates.
There are some government subsidies, customer value (including organic and Forestry certification systems) and other Integrated Pest Management rewards for farmers who strive to preserve. These are tangible economic rewards for the active efforts of businesses to preserve and promote diversity in natural systems.
Diversity creates opportunity for initiatives and inventions.
Explore a range of biological solutions to complement and eventually replace the conventional.
This concept aims to maximise the productivity of a system. In the same way a food forest can have numerous layers. A business can have many layers and zones:
Family and friends provide support and promotion in personal circles
Associations, educational bodies and accreditation bodies provide support and quality maintainance
Like-minded businesses provide branches of promotion
Customer Relationships – we can use diverse channels for promotion and feedback. Observe and accept feedback as a chance to connect better with your customers.
11. Appropriate Technology
Optimise the use of a technology by making it serve more than one need, have it work to full potential without overload. ie. David Homgren says “the easiest way to double efficiency of a car is to take an additional passenger.”
Favour simple and effective technologies. Consider delivery and running costs, it is efficient, prompt and reliable. Here is a comparison chart to help choose the best-fit in efficient technologies.
Favour natural fibres and avoid destructive materials such as plastics or inefficient fuel-dependent delivery.
Information and Observation replaces Energy
Smaller, more intensive, localised systems can be more productive and adaptable. They can take advantage of reduced costs/waste involved for transporting a product to the consumer.
Specialised products and services develop by information and observation. The natural succession or staging plan can conclude with the sharing of the business experience or intellectual property with franchisees, senior employees, students or prospective business purchaser.
Ensure your business is well equipped with tax and legal information, for example if you are not aware of the tax costs upon sale of the land or business, then the overall profit figures may be greatly altered. If you have to pay more tax in capital gains than you have earned as a business based on the family land, then the net result is not worth the effort. On the other hand there may be a wide range of tax advantages. Information is critical in business.
Aim for optimum production with minimum intervention. This is how new farming techniques such as SRI have evolved.
Work with the natural and social context. Fit the design into its surroundings. Look at the wider social environment as a key to what will work. At the steps of parliament house, Berlin (The Reistag), there is a huge ‘lawn’ area that is designed to withstand wet conditions and high pedestrian traffic. It works with nature and provides for the needs of the people. Another example can be seen when planting expensive crops in poor regions. These require more human intervention (in the form of security). Whereas a design that considers the social environment involves the community; provides work; and shares the profits with that community. It also benefits from pride, protection and support from that community.
In nature: consideration of context can mean the choice of mixed species suited to the sites natural advantages. E.g. water collection, condensation trapping, shelter, sediment as occurs at an oasis. We can also see what to avoid. E.g. if the design is within an area of natural fragility we would avoid planting trees whose seed are carried by birds or wind.
The Web of Small Business:
From the initial source (sun, rain, wind, and animals) energy is diverted, used, released again and transferred from one element to another. Energy connects the elements. Their common use of energy forms the web of relationships.
From the source to the sink (the place where the energy leaves the system):
Energy stores increases
Organisational complexity increases (but there are many new management tools to help to enable better self- determination and team work between workers.)
A business can be truly sustainable and ethical when it is resilient, responsive and responsible. This is a hard conversion in the short-term, especially when competitors are cutting costs by using economic slaves and polluting the environment. However, being ethical and environmentally responsible facilitates long term market harmony and prosperity.
In-process waste recycling and choosing natural energies can reduce costs.
Environmental responsibility is a means of value adding to a product.
There are government funds and other avenues of support and some economic incentives for acts of conservation and protection.
When a business does not behave ethically it eventually faces market disapproval and risks failure through legal processes. Ethical is good. Many businesses have had to face huge legal costs of unethical, economic or environmentally damaging acts in recent years.
Innovative business that work with nature are complex and may require patience and development of specialist skills and knowledge.
You can team up with other business. Many businesses have been successful in forming partnerships that provide a hub for small, diverse and complimentary projects. Ie. The Eden Project provides a space for like-minded businesses to work with, Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm supports small business projects that use his large living capital.
Small businesses without debt have a better opportunity to grow according to the proprietor’s wishes.
There is growing network of environmental organisations and mentors to support ethical growers, producers and service operators.
The ultimate aim of production must be to create a harmonious network of rich and free beings. When there is fair share, care of the earth and care of people as our core ethics, we search for a way to integrate our needs and productive efforts. We can tread delicately upon others and other creatures and become mindful of the impact of our actions. We can minimise the unnecessary disturbances and waste and enjoy seeking that which truly feeds our bodies and minds.
Permaculture differs from other ecological and social movements because it’s core focus is design. It is not a lobby movement (although many of us may feel the need to lobby governments to achieve our community goals). It is not just about conserving our existing bio-diversity. It offers solutions that are based on consultation and seek a fair way to build a resilient future for humanity and for plant and animal life.
Permaculture design begins with ethics, optimism and planning. Permaculture design adapts dynamically as a result of keen observation and feedback. Each person’s design will be different but we all have the same ideals: to find a way to live that cares for other people and cares for the planet.