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What is Permaculture Design?

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

There are many definitions for permaculture, and here's one of them. Permaculture is a design science that celebrates, respects, and incorporates the intelligence of nature in order to create sustainable human settlements while extending our natural resources, and generating natural abundance. It's based on a set of ethics, and is comprised of a set of principles and attitudes. Everyone is already a designer, whether they know it or not. There is a design methodology that we can follow to help us become better and more conscious designers. Keep reading to learn more!

Ethics Earth care - Respect for the Earth as the source of all life People care - Help each other and ourselves to live sustainably Fair share - Use the Earth’s limited resources in ways that are equitable and wise Principles Observe - Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and its elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and cultures. Connect - Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements. Catch and store energy and materials - Identify, collect, and hold useful flows. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield, every gradient (in slope, charge, heat, etc.) can produce energy. Re-investing resources builds capacity to capture yet more resources. Each element performs multiple functions - Choose and place each element in a system to perform as many functions as possible. Beneficial connections between diverse components create a stable whole. Stack elements in both space and time. Each function is supported by multiple elements - Use multiple methods to achieve important functions and to create synergies. Redundancy protects when one or more elements fail. Make the least change for the greatest effect - Find the “leverage points” in the system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change. Use small scale, intensive systems - Start at your doorstep with the smallest systems that will do the job, and build on your successes, with variations. Grow by chunking. Optimize edge - The edge—the intersection of two environments—is the most diverse place in a system, and is where energy and materials accumulate or are tranformed. Increase or decrease edge as appropriate. Collaborate with succession - Systems will evolve over time, often toward greater diversity and productivity. Work with this tendency, and use design to jump-start succession when needed. Use biological and renewable resources - Renewable resources (usually living beings and their products) reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.

Attitudes Turn problems into solutions - Constraints can inspire creative design. “We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities.”—Pogo (Walt Kelly) Get a yield - Design for both immediate and long-term returns from your efforts: “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Set up positive feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment. The biggest limit to abundance is creativity - The designer’s imagination and skill limit productivity and diversity more than any physical limit. Mistakes are tools for learning - Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you’re trying to do things better. Design Process

1. Collect data Conduct interviews to determine client needs and wish list. Work with client to establish clear project goals. Research any relevant local regulations and climate history. Observe, take notes, photographs, etc. Analyze all challenges, opportunities, goals, and existing elements within the system to develop design solutions. 2. Identify solutions Summarize data and offer possible solutions. These should improve the ecology of the site and meet the clients needs. Assemble site resources including: Biological (plants, insects, animals), energy opportunities (wind, sun, wood, water), and social resources (development, community, business opportunities). 3. Create base map Create simple map of site including: Permanent structures, streets, date, north indicator, location, key, scale, and anything that cannot be changed. This will be useful to create other maps including sector analysis and zoning. 4. Create sector analysis Overlay onto the base map to represent the site’s natural energies including: Sun (Summer and winter), wind (Summer and winter), water (How does it flow through the landscape?), noise, wildlife, fire, traffic etc. Identify themes affecting the entire site including fire control, legal issues, neighbors, market opportunity, etc. 5. Develop concept plan Identify existing hardscape elements, species and location of plants, species of animals (domestic and wild), plus anticipated soft and hardscape elements. Placement of elements within design. Concept drawings are generally loose drawings prepared with pen and marker on paper. Share and apply feedback. 6. Develop master plan This is a visual representation of the larger design brief, used as a tool to communicate all elements and strategies of the project in a holistic way. Work through each area, developing your design for each in depth. Also, begin to detail specific functional areas including; orchard, chicken system, composting/waste, energy systems, etc. 7. Implementation Lead a team to implement final design. This can be completed in phases, each with measurable goals. 8. Maintenance and evaluation Provide any maintenance and evaluate success of design solutions implemented through observation and built in feedback loops. 9. Offer supporting materials Recommend retrofit recommendations, garden placement, rainwater collection, etc. Also includes a documented/recommended plant list and where to find key species. List of relevant resources including a bibliography of important reference books/reading, a list of individuals or organizations that may assist client, and other hardware/technology resources.

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