What is permaculture?

What is permaculture?

Permaculture can be described as humans dance with nature where nature takes the lead. The word comes from ‘permanent agriculture’ and was later broadened to include ‘permanent culture’ – it is about living lightly on the planet and making sure that we can sustain human activities for many generations to come, in harmony with nature.

This combines three key aspects:

1. an ethical framework

2. understandings of how nature works, and

3. a design approach.

Permaculture diagram

Permaculture diagram

This unique combination can be applied to anything from a market garden design to a large farm or even a building. Its purpose is to support the creation of sustainable, agriculturally productive, non-polluting and healthy settlements and systems. In many places this means adapting our existing settlements; in other cases it can mean starting from scratch. Both offer interesting challenges and opportunities but some may look at permaculture and ask ‘have we not been doing this already for thousands of years?’

The history of permaculture

Given the mirror-like relationship between indigenous peoples and the natural world, it would appear so. We can see permaculture principles at play when we observe the innovative ways the Amazonians have created top soils despite the rapid ruin of rainforests or, the Aboriginal’s use of control burning techniques to germinate seeds and shape the landscape.

Amazonian top-soil

Amazonian top-soil [via purefixion.com]

However, in many ways permaculture has become a more essential practice after the intensification of agriculture post-World War Two and the ways it has allowed the world’s population to grow in excess of its natural capacity and resulted in a dangerous consumption of fossil fuels. Since then, permaculture has become an international movement; hundreds of specifically designed permaculture sites have been developed and it was endorsed by the White House in 2012.

How can it help you?

Permaculture is there to address our needs without producing a huge carbon footprint, mimicking the natural laws of nature and catching energy in multiple ways before it is dissipated. It can also be a way of observing the relationships between plants, which has in the past led us to further understanding how companion crops and undersowing in your garden can produce maximum yield, minimal waste. For example, the ‘three sisters’ are a good crop companion to try at home; a pea plant, squash and maize plant all work well to support each other as the maize offers the pea support to climb up, the pea fixes nitrogen in the soil for the maize and when the maize dies and decomposes it feeds the undersown squash.

'Three sisters' crop companions

‘Three sisters’ crop companions

Humans need to learn to live more reciprocally and reverse the alienation that mechanisation and industrial society has brought. Permaculture is a reaction to this alienation: a choice to restore and maintain the balance which keeps so many natural systems in delicate relatedness. A true working natural system produces no waste; everything gets broken down and used again. Why should it be any different in human settlements? The excess use of both fertilisers and pesticides in large scale farms has killed much of the microbial soil life and it also has a direct relationship with the existence of cancer in humans.

What can you do?

1- Think about where your food comes from. You can convert lawns to grow your own food, especially vegetables. Alternatively, you can try to source as much of your food from local and organic sources, or find out about local veg-box schemes.

2- Conduct a simple home energy audit. Permaculture is not just for the green-fingered among us; it can simply mean reducing waste energy and water use and instead harnessing natural resources. This isn’t as stressful as it sounds! It’s as simple as turning off lights when they aren’t needed, keeping the thermostat at a lower temperature and putting on a sweater, or choosing not to use machines like dishwashers or tumble dryers when air drying could be just as effective.

3- Watch A Farm for the Future to find out how else you can help. It’s an interesting documentary that looks at the problems with large-scale farming practices and addresses how permaculture can offer a real solution.

Permanence is not about everything staying the same. It’s about stability, about deepening soils and cleaner water, thriving communities in self-reliant regions, biodiverse agriculture and social justice, peace and abundance for all.

4-Free online permaculture course by Regenerative Leadership Institute –  72+hour course lectures free (mostly videos) at http://www.permaculturedesigntraining.com.

This post was written by Jennifer Condell who is the newest member of the Healthy Planet team and has studied Permaculture / Practical Sustainability in West Cork Ireland. http://www.kinsalefurthered.ie/courses/fetac-level-5/permaculture-2/

Green Pioneers Interview: Catherine O’Brien on Sustainable Happiness

To help celebrate the work of green pioneers and share great environmental achievements with the world we have decided to produce a series of interviews with a huge range of green champions from across the world. 

To kick-start our series we have interviewed Catherine O’Brien who developed the concept of sustainable happiness – a theory which examines the integral link between happiness and sustainability.

Catherine O'BrienSustainable happiness reinforces the fact that we are interdependent with one another and with the natural environment and therefore our mutual well-being is in-explicitly interconnected. 

Catherine defines her concept as:
”Happiness that contributes to individual, community and global well-being and does not exploit other people, the environment, or future generations”.

Sustainable Happiness

So Catherine, what is your background? How did you come up with this concept?

My background is in sustainability education. Whilst I was at the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India I began to think about the relationship between happiness and sustainability during my doctoral research. The college itself had an award-winning and extraordinary education process for sustainable community development. I lived there with my husband and two young children and truly felt that we were living in a culture of joy. This therefore inspired my first notion back in 1995, that people might be happier if we lived sustainably.

Later, as I became more familiar with positive psychology I realised that happiness research was very consistent with sustainability. However, most of the happiness literature didn’t make a connection with sustainability and the sustainability literature didn’t make a connection with happiness.

Also, the media had picked up on the happiness buzz and were often equating their products with happiness. It struck me that it could be valuable to have a concept that reinforces the connection between sustainability and happiness. I felt that sustainable happiness could assist individuals, organisations and nations to find new ways to foster happiness, well-being and sustainability.

The Happiest Cities in the World [Infographic]

What work have you done so far to help develop this concept?

I have created a university course on sustainable happiness that I teach at the Cape Breton University in Canada. I have also co-developed a course for UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health that integrates sustainability, happiness and health. Whilst developing these courses I was frequently asked about creating a course for the general public so I worked with colleagues, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks, and my husband Ian Murray who is a filmmaker to create an online course for everyone.

Since my field is education, I have also developed a free education resource for teachers which includes sustainable happiness lesson plans. In addition I have been involved in research that investigated the emotional experience of children and their parents on the trip to school. I see the positive emotions that children experience while walking to school as an example of sustainable happiness. Our research has found that children who walk to school reported more positive emotions than children to who were transported passively. The results were even more dramatic for parents. Parents who walked to school with their children reported more positive emotions than parents who drove their children.

You can see a full list of my publications and presentations on my website.

What plans do you have for the future?

I will be publishing a book very soon called ‘Lessons in Sustainable Happiness’. The first part of the book is specifically for teachers to enhance their happiness and well-being. The remainder of the book includes sustainable happiness for grades K-9.

I am very interested in encouraging municipalities to recognize how they are currently fostering sustainable happiness and also what measures they could take to enhance this. I’ve teamed up with 8-80 cities to create a brief brochure that outlines sustainable happiness for municipalities. We often see reports about the world’s happiest cities. I’d like to see the conversation expand to incorporate sustainability with happiness.

Why do you think this is so important?

It is important for all of us to understand that every day our life touches and is touched by other people, other species and the natural environment. We are deeply interconnected, but those interconnections aren’t always visible or obvious. Consequently, in a consumer society we can lose sight of the fact that we are all making daily choices that contribute or detract from, well-being.  I believe that sustainable happiness can make those connections more clear, and encourage people to make choices that contribute to their well-being and the well-being of other people and the environment.

196649_361785440564836_1765972281_nOur formal education systems haven’t taught us explicitly about happiness and I think it is important for all of us to develop a happiness literacy. I also believe that learning about sustainable happiness can assist with positive mental health.

Another factor is that indulging in over consumption is neither the path to happiness nor sustainability. Sustainable happiness can assist us to shift towards more sustainable lifestyles whilst maintaining a high quality of life.

Sustainable happiness week

Sustainable happiness week

What can people do to take part?

There are lots ways that individuals can have a sustainable happiness lifestyle. One of the activities that I give my students is the Sustainable Happiness Footprint Chart. They can use that to chart their activities for a day, a week, or longer to notice how daily choices are impacting their well being.

There are a range of other activities on my website and suggestions in a recent article entitled ‘Sustainable Happiness? 6 ways to Get There‘ in YES! magazine.

You can also take part in Sustainable Happiness week from April 13th – 20th
http://www.happycounts.org/about-sustainable-happiness-week/

Are you passionate about green issues if so which?

Absolutely! That’s part of sustainable happiness!

A key area where my work has focused is on child friendly planning and creating municipalities that support active travel for children. I also co-developed Child Friendly Planning Guidelines for Canada. Sustainable happiness links happiness and sustainability together. It reinforces the fact that we are interdependent with one another and the natural environment – that our mutual well-being is interconnected. It can also be used as a road map to explore what truly makes your heart sing.