Friday, September 16, 2016

Permaculture Design Offers Solutions

The term, Permaculture, was coined by Bill Mollison, Australian scientist, research professor, and author, who borrowed the concept from the book title, Tree Crops, a Permanent Agriculture, written in 1929 by Virginian, J. Russell Smith, geographer, conservationist, Wharton School of Business economics professor.  

Permaculture Design by Wilson College student for rural homestead.

A culture can not survive without a permanent, or sustaining, form of agriculture.  

We can all become producers as well as consumers. Permaculture Design is a methodology for creating human habitats, which produce more of our daily needs for food, medicine, water, energy, shelter, waste cycling and fiber.  Permaculture design is a process for managing your land and dwelling to be highly productive in an ecological manner.  By making relationships between design components, we expand efficiency and create a living system that regenerates itself, rather than depletes itself.  The result is increased security.

I first discovered Permaculture in 1990, after a year a searching for a more ethical design approach than that which I was practicing as a young architect.  My boss had just asked me to design a gigantic strip shopping center with a parking lot as large as a football field (not the glamorous type of building I was used to designing as a college student).  I attended Mollison’s workshop at San Xavier Indian Reservation near Tucson, AZ and was hooked.  

Mollison was inspired by his childhood experience growing up in Tasmania, where he lived next door to aboriginal people. He had the unique opportunity to observe their life-style, and later compare it to that of his western culture.  He noticed that natives did not live in a true wilderness, but rather cultivated their forest ecosystem.  If they observed an animal or fish dwindling in numbers, they stopped hunting it until it recovered.  If a tree species started dying off, they collected its seeds & planted them.  Mollison’s experience eventually led him to direct his life path to collecting and sharing universal indigenous knowledge as applied ecology.  

What do all native cultures have in common?  They practice a behavior code of ethics, making decisions that insure their own survival, and that of all species.  We are all descendant of indigenous peoples.  We can learn how to become native to place, wherever we are, by adopting life-supporting ethics, by becoming intimately familiar with our land and natural resources, by evaluating our daily needs, planning for the long term, and thinking creatively. 

Permaculture Design students plant a pear guild with a swale and berm.

With his graduate student, David Holmgren, Mollison developed the current 2-week Permaculture Design Certificate curriculum so that it could be taught to anyone, anywhere, with no prerequisites for college education or specialized experience.  The methodology contains a set of guiding ethics, a set of planning principles, mimicking those found in nature, and a tool-kit of strategies for optimizing production.  Permaculture Design is site-specific.  A design for one site cannot be replicated elsewhere because it is a response to its particular climatic and geographic conditions and built structures.

A recent Permaculture Design Course graduate presents her design.

The Accokeek Foundation is offering this 72 hour course over the span of 9 months this fall 2016 and next spring 2017.  This time-frame enables participants to digest the comprehensive course content in between classes and produce a design of their own.  Many students design their own properties.  Others have designed more public habitats such as schools and neighborhoods.  Here are a few:
  • Multi-functional residential “Green Alley,” Baltimore, MD
  • Colorado vineyard
  • Low-income housing project, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Multi-family townhouse complex, Annapolis, MD
  • Organic CSA farm, Eastern Shore, MD
  • Historic family vacation compound, southern France
  • Public & private schoolyards in Hershey, PA, Baltimore & Rockville, MD, & Washington DC
  • Suburban house, Accra, Ghana
  • “McMansion,” Washington DC suburb
  • Adjacent empty lots converted to a farm/park/school garden, Baltimore, MD
  • Rural Montana mountain homestead
  • Rural cohousing community, Libertytown, MD

For more information about the upcoming Permaculture DesignCertificate course, see 

More on Bill Mollison: