When I put together my presentation introducing permaculture to my master gardener class, in order to answer the question “What is Permaculture?” I chose a relatively long, very detailed definition of permaculture from Permaculture One, Bill Mollison’s first book on the subject. However, this week, after reviewing the articles and videos we were assigned, I most related to the shortest answer to that question in Steve Gabriel’s video presentation: Penny Livingston’s pithy statement, “We are nature, working.” That simpler statement took me back to what had initially attracted me to permaculture after decades of active involvement in a wide variety of environmental efforts, namely, that it is an approach which recognizes that humans are an integral part of nature on this planet and not merely the interlopers who would do better to get out of the way.
I see Permaculture as an approach to design, perhaps best expressed as a way to organize other disciplines into strategies and implementation techniques in an interdisciplinary scheme to achieve the standards expressed by its ethics. Grounded in permaculture’s ethics, I believe that its Principles are essentially a decision making tool, giving us the criteria to select and refine the choices we ultimately make in designing our permaculture sites.
There are similarities to other environmentally conscious disciplines in terms of strategies and techniques that can be employed within the framework of permaculture. However, while there are quite a few environmentally focussed philosophies and movements that proclaim the values of “Planet, People, Profits,” I think permaculture is distinguished from them by the ethic of Fair Share.