"Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains"

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What is permaculture?

By Lisa Rayner

Permaculture is a new term for the old practice of ecological design. It means both "permanent agriculture" and "permanent culture." Permaculture involves working with nature, arranging human gardens and communities into fully functioning ecosystems. Permaculture embraces the ecological patterns of whole, living ecocommunities.

The Permaculture Designer’s Manual, written by co- founder Bill Mollison, describes permaculture as: "The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems that have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way."

Permaculture farms and gardens create "food forests" of fruit, nut and other useful trees with understory berry shrubs, herbs, vegetables, beans, grains and vining plants. Meaningful relationships are established between the different elements in a garden system to allow the different species and inorganic elements to meet each other’s needs naturally. As in wild ecosystems, different life forms and inorganic elements cooperate to take care of one another and recycle each other¹s wastes. The "waste" of one becomes "food" for others.

The heart of permaculture is pattern. By observing the relationship patterns between species and inorganic elements in natural ecocommunities and then applying these patterns creatively in our own gardens, we can create productive ecosystems that exist and evolve as a forest does. Human gardeners set up permaculture systems and observe them for feedback. Permaculture maximizes garden productivity while minimizing human labor. Indigenous peoples with successful long-term horticultural and agricultural systems have grown food this way for thousands of years.

— Adapted from "Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains."


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