Permaculture Course – 1

In May and June 2011, Sanford welcomed Rakesh “Rootsman Rak” to deliver a course on permaculture to members of the coop. I took notes on the lectures and now they will be published in The San – with massive help from the editorial collective. Here is the first chapter.

1. Introduction: Three Pillars and Six Principles

Permaculture is made up of two words; initially “permanent agriculture” and more recently, “permanent culture”. This is because the concept has evolved to be applicable to all aspects of life, not just food-growing.

The Three Pillars of Permaculture

The main principles of permaculture are all based on three pillars. These are:

  1. Compassion towards yourself.
  2. Compassion towards other people.
  3. Compassion to all other beings.

When you make these pillars yours, then you genuinely care and will stand up against wrongs – even if you get broken ribs as a result. All actions you do towards building these pillars are effectively trying to make the world a bit of a better place.

Permaculture can be applied to anything, from home building to gardening. It helps to collectively tend to your own garden. The effort put into our food is something we take for granted. Permaculture makes us feel responsible for food production, for the piece of earth where this production takes place and for the creatures that pass through it.

The Six Principles of Permaculture

  1. Work with nature.
  2. Everything gardens.
  3. Multiple elements for multiple functions.
  4. Minimum effort for maximum effect.
  5. The problem is the solution.
  6. Yield is theoretically unlimited.


Work with nature. You can drive nature out of the door with a pitchfork, but she will always come back in through the window – and with a vengeance.

Everything gardens. Everything interacts with everything else in its environment and eventually everything composts. Everything has an effect in its environment: everything gardens, everything has its use and everything interacts. For example, four years after bees die out, the human race will also become extinct. Bees pollinate more than 50% of our food.

Use multiple elements for multiple functions. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For instance, mulch has many uses: it stops evaporation, traps moisture, stops weeds and it composts too. Moss is good as a sponge, to filter water, to light fires after drying – and so on. The same principles that make the system collapse, make it build. The more things you have in your ecosystem, the more resilient it is.

Minimum effort for maximum effect. Don’t just do something, sit there. Observation is as important as action. It is indeed more urgent and necessary in the process of designing. When we are still designing, action without observation is detrimental. It is important to observe the effect of each of our actions before deciding on the next one.

The problem is the solution. If you have too many slugs, it may mean that you are producing too much food of one type and not enough of the type that the slugs’ predators need. In other words, you haven’t got too many slugs, you have too few ducks.

Yield is theoretically unlimited. The outcomes of a system are only limited by the imagination and information available to the designer.

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