top of page

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people — providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.  It fuses the words permanent, agriculture, and culture together. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.  

Permaculture is working with rather then against nature. We observe the deep wisdoms of the forest and of our natural world and strive to base the designs of our systems with respect to our planet.   The intelligent organization of Nature is our greatest teacher and try to understand we are a part of that design and in order for us to inhabit our world we have to understand work towards understanding our word.  


Permaculture is based on 3 main pillars that we use to build the structure upon which our communities and organizations are built.  These pillars are:

The Three Pillars:

1.       People Care

2.       Earth Care

3.       Share in the Surplus 

12 principles of Permaculture

We utilize 12 Principles of Design in Permaculture and in each of our programs we strive to connect these principles to how we interact with our students and the area we work in.  These principles are:

1. Observe & Interact.

Very simply, observe the culture and dynamics of any space. How do people and systems interact with each other, and how do we integrate symbiotically? Students will learn to observe their inner world in addition to the world around them.


2. Catch & Store Energy.

Energy includes wind, water, fire, and earth.  For example; energy can be stored in batteries via photovoltaic solar panels and wind or water turbines.  We can also use thermal mass to distribute heat effectively and efficiently. In addition, there is the potential energy of water captured and stored at a relatively high elevation and used to passively irrigate our food systems.

This principle also applies to our personal energy. Where is it leading you in this moment? How can you harness your personal energy and inclination in this moment to best achieve your goals?  Are you eating whole foods that are giving you the energy needed to relate to your environment in a positive way? How do you balance rest, work and play in your life? How do you safely release excess energy that is stimulated by emotional stress to bring the body back into balance?


3. Obtain a Yield.

Your efforts should pay off and provide something that you need, whether it is food, water or energy. Design systems around you so they best leverage your activities and don’t waste your personal energy and resources on something that ultimately is not going to provide value.

The same principle applies to our personal boundaries. How can we learn and grow from engaging in challenging situations and when should we walk away? Students will learn to be mindful of the emotional labor required from the people and activities in their life. They will begin to assess the impacts of relationship dynamics and how to best use their energy to navigate challenging interpersonal situations.


4. Apply Self-regulation & Accept Feedback.

Feedback is critical. Whether applied to natural ecosystems, business processes, or personal relationships, feedback gives us information on the effects of our actions and allows us to make better decisions based on that knowledge. It is fundamental to knowing and maintaining our limits and relationships with our surroundings.  We use this principle in creating stronger healthier and more adaptive individuals and communities.


5. Use & Value Renewable Resources and Services.

The principle of renewables is perhaps most tangible in smart economics. We try to live off of our income, not our savings. We generally prefer to avoid debt. Whether money, materials, energy, or water, the logic of renewable "incomes" helps ensure we honor limits.

Honoring our limits also carries over to our personal limitations. Students will learn to self-assess and determine their individual needs based on their personal energy resources. They will also discover how to replenish themselves in healthy ways when they become depleted, and self-monitor and check-in with themselves in order to maintain a healthy balanced life.


6. Produce No Waste.

Everything you produce can have value. The trick is to figure out how to best use it. Meat wastes become food for insect larva, becoming food for fish or chicken, becoming food for humans, who then create more meat wastes. We can create systems within systems and utilize our byproducts to create compost, new products, and new interactions.  With this principle in mind, we create a more renewable system that is designed to lessen our footprint.


7. Design from Patterns to Details.

Harness and leverage the observed patterns of sun, wind, rain and topology rather than work against them. If part of your property's pattern is that it naturally wants to be wet, don't try to fill it in and grow crops that aren't water tolerant. If you have a hill on your property, use the south face for buildings that need to be warmer, harness the shading on the north face, and capture rainwater near the top of the hill so you can gravity feed it to where it is needed. The goal is to minimize water demands and work in partnership with nature to provide heating, cooling, material transport and agricultural services free of charge.

This also applies to people within an organization, family, or community. What are each individual's natural patterns, gifts, and talents? How can we best work to harness our individuality to serve the greater whole?


8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate.

Use the synergy between different elements to your advantage. Integration allows complementary qualities to support each other. An example of non-integration is large bureaucracy which silos functions rather than fostering cross-connections. Bureaucracy creates systemic problems and is yet another pattern that can manifest itself at multiple levels. Bureaucracy blocks feedback, stifles autonomy and is rigid rather than resilient. When system shocks come, too often people aren't empowered to act, because action on the given shock is not their area of responsibility.

More robust, are management systems that decentralize decision-making to the extent that it can, train people to respond to a variety of requests and needs, and provide transparency through mechanisms like open-book accounting and collective goal-setting.

Our Wholehearted LEADERS program uses an integrative approach to teaching and learning. We weave concepts of emotional literacy into land-based projects in order to offer well-rounded programming that delivers personal development content in direct and in-direct fashions.


9. Use Small and Slow Solutions.

Here is where our economy has its real opportunities, scaling back from the industrial-sized systems we've developed. Slow solutions allow for feedback, adaptation and corrective action of any adverse impacts. By starting small, one can see whether there is wisdom making the solution larger, before any adverse impacts are created at a large scale.

This principle is also reflected in the teaching of responding, rather than reacting to emotional activation. Students will learn the value of understanding their emotional anatomy and how to slow down and respond when in a heightened emotional state.

10. Use and Value Diversity.

Diversity is one characteristic that is basic to any sustainable system. Diversity represents resilience. If one species, technique or initiative doesn't work in addressing a problem, another may.  We pattern our systems based on natural forest systems that are teeming with life.  Our agricultural systems are designed to attract life.  We create spaces that encourage microbial and fungal systems to flourish, thereby producing high quality soil that is then in turn creating a stronger system that is more resistant to shock, pestilence, and disease.

Our communities are stronger when we have the input of individuals from diverse ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientation, and age groups. We all come to the table with gifts and perspectives that have been shaped by our life experience and backgrounds. Our life is richer when we embrace our differences and invite all voices to the table.


11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal.

Edges and margins are typically the most robust areas of growth. Edge effects can be used to facilitate greater productivity. We can harness edges for rich experimentation, allowing more opportunities for innovation. In addition, finding our personal edge and expanding our comfort zone can create powerful growth opportunities.  At the edge we can find many examples of higher productivity and it is not a concept solely derived from permaculture but has been utilized in other design fields as well.  Some examples of edge are stores that are placed on the corner which we find can have increased clientele, some of the most biodiverse edge are where mangroves forests are created by water edges.  In the same way you can say when we are pushed to the edge is when we truly find out who we are and how we react to our edge is a very valuable lesson not only in design but in our own personal growth.


12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change.

Given how dynamic living systems are, it is unavoidable that changes and problems may arise. As they do arise, turn them to your advantage, drawing on your personal and organizational assets to best address them. Consider how these principles might apply to departments and functions within your organization, and lead toward greater security, resilience and self-sufficiency. Challenges can invite an opportunity for growth, whereby we can self-reflect and develop resiliency as we learn new skill sets to adapt to change. The problem can sometimes be the solution.

bottom of page