Permaculture is restoration agriculture, modeled after forests and natural plant succession. It's an ecologically minded design system that was co-created in the late 1970's by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia. Permaculture (permanent culture) is also a philosophical way of viewing the world, similar in scope and thinking to that of sustainability, that seeks to maintain permanent human society by mimicking perennial food systems from nature. This biomimicry design process strives for increased biodiversity, biomass, and ever increasing outputs in terms of food, fuel, and fiber, all while creating healthy living soil. Also, these systems require consistently fewer inputs over time as they mature and grow, unlike annual crops that require high inputs every year.
(Whole Systems Design's Ben Falk discussing Permaculture on Teal Farm 5 years after being established):
Permaculture maintains living systems and seeks to manipulate nature to benefit both human and other biotic systems that exist on the land. For example, by planting nitrogen fixing trees or shrubs like Hippophae (sea buckthorn), dynamically accumulating perennial herbs and ground covers such as Symphytum Officinale (comfrey) in a mixed polyculture orchard of apples, pears, and other fruits, a permaculture farm can build soil, avoid adding minerals and nitrogen fertilizers and maintain yields over time. The following video portray's this self fertilizing and low/no input methodology at an orchard in southern Quebec, Canada:
(Stefan Sobkowiak's Permaculture fruit orchard at Miracle Farms):
While some ecosystems are naturally more brittle than others, today much of our agricultural systems would completely collapse without fossil fuel inputs to suppress weeds, pests, and to grow. Typical corn, soy, and wheat farms exist on depleted and dead soils that are unable to grow those systems without constant inputs. By tearing up the soil each year (sometimes many times) the precious and typically living top soil that takes thousands of years to accumulate is washed away by rain and wind. Furthermore, what remains becomes compressed by constant heavy machinery weight and cultivation. Permaculture recognizes the biodiversity and natural systems that coexist in nature to create thriving conditions for plant growth. Furthermore, Permaculture seeks to harness that knowledge through it's ethics and 12 design principles to become stewards of the land, repairing damaged areas, and to create abundance in the process.
Permaculture believes in care for the earth, care for people, and sharing the surplus. It is a fundamentally radical ecological, agricultural and belief system. It does not create negative externalities, and aims to increase resiliency and over health and well being for people, animals, and all living systems.
Today, a popular method of learning Permaculture is to take a 10-14 day (72 hour) Permaculture design course (PDC). They range from several hundred dollars to $1900 or more depending on the teachers and quality of the experience. Often times work-trade opportunities exist whereby student interns can work, live, and eat at a Permaculture farm and receive a PDC for "free", while making some or no money otherwise. Furthermore, many programs offer alternative building certificates and classes on medicinal herbs and other alternative classes for traditional knowledge and post-modern living techniques.
(Whole Systems Design Permaculture Design Course Promotion Video):
Useful Permaculture links:
(CC Image of Permaculture garden by Claire Gregory (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)