Permaculture as Systems Thinking

posted by Ariella Jew on April 13th, 2010

I just spent the weekend co-teaching at a Permaculture Design Certificate Course with Andrew Leslie Philips and Marie Grimaldi of the Hancock Permaculture Center. I always leave these weekends fueled and inspired – every time more convinced that Permaculture should be a required subject for a high school diploma! More on this in the future, but for now I wanted to share a lovely article that Andrew shared with us this weekend, Permaculture is Systems Thinking.

I am often asked, “What is Permaculture,” and have found that there are a number of ways to approach this question. Permaculture in itself is a simple idea that can fractal into a complex and infinite web of possibilities. Many students often express the challenge they face in explaining the new ways they are learning to look and interact with the world to friends and family. I am always searching for the best ways share these simple yet complex ideas and I rather like Andrew’s definition. The following is an excerpt from his essay and at the bottom of this post you can download the full article.

Would love here from you on your favorite definitions of Permaculture. Please share in the comments below.

Excerpt from Permaculture is Systems Thinking
By Andrew Leslie Philips

We are often asked: “What is Permaculture?” And we all have different ways of telling the story as we learn more about what permaculture is ourselves because it certainly is a journey, and a search – that brings us here today.

To me permaculture is systems thinking. Systems thinking is a process of understanding how things influence one another. In nature – systems thinking examples include ecosystems, where elements such as air, water, plant and animals all work together to survive, flourish or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy, sick or abundant.

And, of course, systems thinking is about connections. For without connecting nodes – creating and maintaining links, we are alone. Understanding that by connecting outputs to inputs within systems, to create webs of connections  including in our economic, social and cultural lives, we slow entropy, conserve and gain more energy to create redundancy and resilience. The model or pattern in nature we mimic is mycelium.

In the system of permaculture, we seek to create alternative, local, invisible structures to bind communities together. The conventional idea of competitive growth is replaced by cooperative sustainability towards local abundance and the necessities of living beginning with healthy food. Food, family and community are the roots for a healthy node of permanence. Connecting with others can build a sustainable and abundant community. It is not only a nice idea, but a necessity, if we are to create a healthy future for ourselves and our children.

Permaculture reminds us that down through time, from cave paintings and tattoos and songs, through observation and accrued knowledge, experimentation and learning, through observing patterns in nature, we can become better humans and continue the great narrative of nature. That the knowledge we share as we all venture deeper into this great experiment that is permaculture this system of thinking that helps us structure and connect many different disciplines and threads, leads us towards a common goal – the simple yet profound prime ethic of permaculture – to care for the Earth, to care for people and return a surplus to both.

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