Permaculture isn’t super easy to explain, but since I personally find it inspiring and seem to be hearing the term more and more here in Seattle, I’ll risk an explanation. Read on only if you’re interested!
Permaculture—short for “permanent culture” or “permanent agriculture”—is a set of design principles and methods that mimic the relationships found in natural ecosystems.
Permaculture can be applied in a garden, but also in many other ways that we interact with our environment. At base, it’s a whole-systems approach to design and problem-solving, with an ethical foundation of care for the earth, care for people, and the sharing of abundance.
Chiwara Permaculture explains that:
“Permaculture as a pedagogy and ecological design science has been practiced for over 30 years. Developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, permaculture is now a worldwide educational approach at the forefront of sustainability. With foundations in bio-mimicry, ecological engineering, systems thinking and appropriate technology, the essence of permaculture is the transition of human landscapes, buildings and infrastructure towards regenerative, closed-loop and zero-waste communities that are integrated with nature.”
So how does permaculture relate to a green schoolyard at Gatewood? As we design improvements to our playground and school garden, we can use a permaculture lens to regenerate our natural environment while meeting the needs of our community. In an era of climate change, increasingly precious water, and squeezed school district budgets, we can design and demonstrate how to thoughtfully use our resources. We can interact with and care for these spaces and learn from the natural and built systems they contain.
In practical terms? We can prioritize use of renewable resources. We can catch rainwater and use gravity to water our plants and trees. We can transform our compacted dirt into rich soil that feeds the plants, and choose diverse plants that support each other. We can create gathering spaces and environmental learning opportunities for the community. In the playground, we can plant trees that provide shade, prevent erosion, and drop leaves for mulch and children’s imaginative play. In the garden, we can use solar energy to prolong the growing season, compost garden debris for use on site, use perennials to reduce maintenance, and share garden produce with those in need.
The regenerative nature and message of permaculture—that we as humans, by working with nature instead of against it, can leave a landscape or system in better shape by being a part of it—is certainly a hopeful one for ourselves and our children. That’s what I love about it.